Monday, 31 March 2008

Spring has sprung...

...the grass is riz,
and our Border Reiver
was about his blogging biz

Warmth in the air
Out with the lark
Summer time is hear
Nearly 8 before dark

Spring has definitely sprung down here in the warm south west. Saturday morning had an hour down at Sand Bay. Winter birds are dwindling, but a couple of Wheatears were a nice find. The one on the right is a juvenile (I think). It crept about in the rubbish on the beach so hard to spot. But it has a mottled buff/white head which made me think juvenile rather than female. But any suggestions welcome. Later in the garden had a singing Chiffchaff in the tree, and then this buff tailed bumble bee which kept coming into the consrevatory to talk to my bi-coloured muscari.

Sunday : I'll let the pictures below of Priddy Mineries up on the Mendips do the talking with this posting. What a glorious, glorious time of the year to be up there. Because I went to bed an hour before I got up due to the arrival of BST, I found myself on the Mendips at 7am, 6am old money!! Glorious.

Reflections in Blue

As it was so early explored this pool, which usually is a waste of time. However today, 2 Chiffchaffs, my first Willow Warbler (126), a Reed Bunting, and a number of Skylarks on the hill display/courtship flying. The air was so still birdsong everywhere, but cutting through it all, a Raven, Cronk-Cronking from a tree perch about half a mile away, letting all and sundry know he was there... can there be anything as atmospheric as being on the hills and hearing a Raven's call, drifting over the valley.

Eventually though the populous of Somerset started to arrive, and the atmosphere was lost. I then headed to Chew Valley Lake to look for the Gargany, not found. But a duetting Little Grebe pair were wonderful (completely ingnored by a sleeping Tufted duck)

Other signs of Spring. In the garden at Dorset yestrday, 3 butterflies; a Brimstone, Small White and Painted Lady, 2 seven spot ladybirds, a red tailed bumble bee and bizarrely a common wasp. And a Swallow over Wick St Lawrence as I drove home yesterday afternoon.

March Wasp......

Postscript : After writing my blog, thought I'd add this link to Shirl's blog http://blog.shirlsgardenwatch.co.uk/2008/03/spot-birdie.html as those of you interested in birds, can view a presumed leucistic Siskin. I have checked with a colleague and he's confident this is what it is.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

March 26th just got better and better and better!

What a day, what a day!! Because of the weather forecast (driving rain) my planned digi-scoping day with mate was cancelled on Tuesday night. To console myself, for lunch I had a tin of Heinz Alphabetti Spaghetti (typical man, impulse purchase from Morrisons's in the morning) and managed to write the blog's name in pasta. Very worrying.

But while doing this the rain departed, I rang my mate to see if we could re-schedule. Didn't quite work as he is 50 miles away, so I left him to Oldbury Power Station and I planned to go to Cheddar Resevoir to see the 1st Winter Bonapart's Gull - but something said to me, go to the Somerset Levels instead. So I did.

Positioning myself in Catcott Hide, I had a bit of a play about with the digi-scope. Still need to practice, but getting there. Wigeon, Teal, Shovler.

Then this Carrion Crow perched itself on a post. So thought I'd post these as a selection of preening photo's, plus the one botom right shows how birds like Crows position themselves, into the wind, crouch down slightly to take off. Notice how it's almost ready to "spring into action" compared to the preening position.

And I was also thinking how does one show the "panorama" out of a hide. If one takes a photograph from the hide opening, doesn't give the impression of the panorama, so why not frame the view from inside. All a bit arty, but I'm happy. (1 Catcott hide north, 2 Catcott hide east, Glastonbury Tor in distance, 3 North hide Shapwick/Meare NNR)

1 2


After Catcott, popped over to Shapwick/Meare Heath NNR. It was about 5pm, but still time to have a mooch about. Reports of a Great Egret here, not seen but did get my first Swallow (123) of the year and Marsh Harrier (124). There were a good number of Cetti's Warblers singing, poss 7, and another first for me, I had the briefest of glimpses of a Cetti's as it sang, flew then sang again out of view. The whole area was covered in Hirundine's too, must have been 3-4oo. 2 Little Egrets and 3 Chiffchaffs singing....no Otter, but.....


I was watching Jackdaws coming into roost, when a flock of about 2000 Starlings flew into the reeds. This area is well known for the massive Starling displays in the winter, but the end of March is usually way past anything worth seeing. Quite nice to see "winter" and "Spring" colliding, Starlings and Martins. 2 or three flocks of similar size came in as I walked back (photos 4 & 5 below). But one flock was trapped by a Sparrowhawk and a Peregrine (125).

I'd seen the female Sparrowhawk earlier flying over the reed beds, but this one seemed to be circling a small copse. Then above me a spied a female (I think, it was getting dark) Peregrine. the effect of these 2 hunters was that a flock of about 5-600 Starlings were trapped in trees by the reeds. The Sparrowhawk then flew at speed into the tree causing pandemonium (photo 6 and video below). As the mass of starlings left the tree, the Peregrine dived into the mellee from above. It was unsuccesful and I lost sight of the Sparrowhawk, until it returned again about 2 minutes later as did the Peregrine, to once again have a go at Peregrine - Sparrowhawk hunting co-operation. Was it co-incidence or opportunistic behaviour or have these two species learnt to co-operate in an area where huge numbers of Starlings overwinter? I'd welcome any suggestions as I don't know. But it was a fabulous end to the day.

4 5


Second mass exodus from the trees. Sorry about the quality, it all happened so fast, and this was on my compact camera.... hope no one's watching from the NHU!!

And finally, just before 7pm, stopped briefly at a place where Barn Owls are quite numerous. Nothing tonight, but this colourful picture, reminded me why I absolutely love the Somerset Levels. Nowhere else like it in the UK.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Larmer Tree Gardens - wildlife free (almost)

Is this really the 4th posting this Easter Weekend? (read below if you missed the others - good for insomnia apparently). I really should stay in, or stay out, which ever is correct. Ahh well, at least it meant I didn't have an Easter Egg.

Mind you we did spend an hour in Stalbridge graveyard yesterday afternoon looking for the grave of Reverend Powys. We'd dropped chocolate off at Thelma's offspring and then walked to the Church to have a mooch about. I'm reading Llewellyn Powys's book, Earth Memories and he talks about going to see the grave of his grandfather under a Holly tree, then walking the lanes his grandfather walked. This was back in the 1920's and I love associations with writers and past experiences. This association being on our doorstep was too much to miss. I know how to treat a girl to a good time! We never found the grave, but a sign of the times the church was locked even though it was Easter weekend.

This afternoon though we spent a few hours at the Larmer Tree Gardens near Tollard Royal in Wiltshire. Although I'm writing this in Stalbridge (Dorset), we are at the boundary of Wiltshire and Somerset. All makes it complex to know which County we are in, for example to visit Stourhead, we set off from Dorset, seamlessly move into Somerset, pay our dues and re-enter Dorset again to finally end up in Wiltshire, a journey of only 10 miles or so.

The Larmer Tree Gardens has the Dorset and Wiltshire border running through it and a stone pyramid marks the spot. With the weather as it is, maybe not the best time to go as it is more of a pleasure garden, designed for picnics and lazing about. But gloriously quiet (allowing me to spot 2 Goldcrests) and more importantly the tea room was open, with the benefit of a woodburning stove, a Dorset Cream Tea with both apricot and strawberry jam all of which had to be tried of course to escape the hail storm which ended all other exploration.

Does anyone know what the "Arum" is bottom right?

On the way home as the weather improved stopped at Melbury Down to watch Buzzards. 5 in total circling along the escarpment. Sadly although a fabulous vantage point where many extensive woods can be seen from above, no Goshawks. Not the right time of day, but I live in hope.

Sunday, 23 March 2008


While having lunch just now a Seafire flew over the house (the marine cousin of the legendary Spitfire from WW2). It was heading for Henstridge Airfield about 2 miles away, so we watched it from the garden. Photo isn't great as hand held at a distance, but what a gorgeous sound as those Merlin engines waffled and warbled, unlike anything else in the history of Aviation .... Yes I know it's not a bird, or a real Merlin, but one fabulous flying machine.

Hail and Gale an Easter Saturday Tale

Blimey O'Reilly, it was a bit blustery yesterday and absolutely freezing. Mind you as I write this at 8am Sunday, it's snowing quite heavily in Dorset.

After shopping in Yeovil in the morning, always a treat for a countryphile such as myself, plus a spot of lunch at Castle Gardens in Sherborne (amazingly re-opened 2 days after a fire destroyed 50% of the building), in the afternoon I left Thelma to snooze in the warm conservatory, and himself ventured out onto Bulbarow Hill in the teeth of a gale (with a grey wagtail at a ford on the way). And at 900 feet up it was surely a gale. Struggling to get out of the car my first view was an incoming hail shower... which was nice!!

Apart from a woman walking dogs, presumably because she had to, I seemed to be the only one stupid enough to be up there. It was glorious, as I'm addicted to severe weather. I always become depressed in the summer when it's hot and humid as just don't like hot weather. I've always been odd. Give me a cold winter's day, a gale and some wildlife, and I'm in heaven. I have to admit though, this was quite challenging, some gusts really took your breath away and twice I nearly took a tumble. The only way to use the binoculars was to wrap myself around a fencepost to stop them shaking too much. But worth it.

Huge numbers of Corvids up there, particularly Rooks and Carrion Crows. Spent a bit of time watching Rooks pestering a Buzzard which was flying a bit too close. Amazing how agile Buzzards can be when being mobbed. That was the second Buzzard being mobbed, one at Clifton Maybank near Yeovil earlier. Very few passerines about, but hunkered in the lee of a hedge Red-Legged Partridge and pheasants, numerous rabbits. Sadly though no Brown Hares - unlike me they had the sense to lie low and keep out of the wind.

However even for me, after an hour I had had enough of being buffeted, so drove to Hammoon. 600 feet lower, the weather could not have been any different. Was it the same day? Still a wind, but I could stand up. Scanning the Stour River, 2 Little Egrets were faffing about by the river.

Also today's quiz - Spot the Duck in the water meadow. Click to enlarge.

In the opposite direction to the Little Egrets, Hambleton Hill. I keep meaning to go up there, not today though.

Finally as it was heading towards sunset, popped to Fiddleford Manor. Absolutely stunning spot with the Mill, a weir and unspoilt scenery. I was watching a "charm" of Goldfinch and some Long Tailed Tit in a tree when a "seep seep" attracted my attention. And indeed, 2 Kingfishers. I watched them flying to and from a branch as I stood on the sluice gates here. Not far from this spot I also found their nest hole. In the evening light, the male particularly turned almost Azure-Purple, glorious. By the way incase you're wondering, females have an oranger lower bill, though not easy to see at times.

And last but by no means least, sunsets. Top was a wonderful cloud formation as a I left Fiddleford, and below it, sun through Common Plantation near Stalbridge, which holds a sizeable rookery, presumably as less than a mile away where most of the rooks in the garden come from. Also a good spot for Roe Deer.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Dorset Miscellany & Robin courtship

Well it must be Easter. Sunny but absolutely freezing. A good excuse to stay in and eat Easter Eggs then.

What do you think of this? The local free paper "Blackmore Vale Magazine" had this article this week. Now this would be something to add to the Dorset County List. What a wonderful bird, I wonder where it came from? Surely not global warming, ha ha!!

Following on from my posting about Crows earlier in the week, just for Oldcrow and ST (their blogs are worth a peek, on my links), I spent half an hour in the garage before her indoors awoke to try for some Corvid pictures through the window (which is why they're not quite sharp). I'd put some fat balls out on the lawn and in the end 13 Rooks and 3 Jackdaw came to feed, plus the usual squabbling starlings. The photo bottom right just shows how fearsome a Rook can look. Especially to an earthworm.

Finally, I wonder how many of you have seen Robin courtship? I forgot to mention earlier in the week, while walking into work on Thursday I stumbled across this wonderful behaviour. Robins like many birds "food pass" between the male and the female to strengthen the bond as part of the courtship ritual. It also helps the female build up energy/fat reserves without having to forage herself. Producing eggs is an energy sapping business, so the man of the house is doing his bit for his lady, before the actual mating takes place, known affectionately as "treading".

The female basically takes up the posture of a juvenile, this one was on a branch. Fluffing herself up, flitting her wings, calling (can't describe it well but a "scheep scheep" is sort of there) and keeping her gape open, the male searches for tasty morsels to feed her. Robins being quite bold in towns, I was lucky enough to be only a few feet away and so able to watch this for about 2 minutes. In that time the male returned 3 times. Keep a look out as it was a wonderful experience to behold.

I mentioned this to Thelma and she said sounds good, bring me a cup of tea in bed......