Sunday 15 February 2015

Amazing Starling Show

Today Nick and myself both lead tours on the Somerset Levels. It was an early start so we could find where the starling were roosting, we needed to see the Starlings leaving their roost site.

Arriving around 06:45 we made our way to the viewing platform, as we approached we could hear a distant roar from the reed beds and on closer inspection could see a mass of black moving within the reeds.

Just after 07:15 the first wave of birds left the roost and headed straight over us, an amazing sight and sound as they passed. We estimated that around 200,000 birds were in the group, In total five groups left the roost all roughly the same size which would suggest about 900,000 to 1 million birds!

After the Starlings had left the site a fine Marsh Harrier drifted in to clear up any dead birds that had perished over the cold night; this is a common sight here on the reserve and happens most morning after the starlings leave, as the Harriers are always on the look out for an easy meal to start the day.

On the way to the roost site we also heard a couple of Bitterns calling, not quite the loud booming call more of a whuff at the moment, also two birds seen flying low over the reeds before dropping in out of sight.

Another species seen on the day was Great White Egret giving some very close views as they hunted the shallow pools, in total around five birds were seen throughout the day, indeed we saw more of these than the usually commoner Little Egret

There are still plenty of duck spices around with Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Mallard, Goosander, Shelduck and Goldeneye all seen. Both little and Great Crested Grebe seen fishing around the reed fringes.

Heading back to the car park for lunch we picked up a nice pair of Bullfinch eating the early buds, the male looking rather splendid in his peach pink breast.

Also several Robin and Dunnock calling and posturing from the trees.

Back at the car park we found a tiny Goldcrest picking insects from the ivy clad trees, also a couple of Song Thrush and groups of Goldfinch feeding on the alder cones. Two Roe deer where seen crossing the path behind us and a few clumps of Snowdrops under the trees were in full flower.

After lunch we spent a couple of hours over at Shapwick Heath (A Natural England site) just across the road from Ham Wall. From the tower hide over looking Noah's lake, two Kingfisher were seen chasing each other around with one of them sitting on a branch just outside the hide giving us a fantastic view.

A Marsh harrier drifted over high as we made our way back to Ham Wall to watch the Starlings come back to their roost for the evening.

Whilst waiting for the Starlings to arrive several flocks of Lapwing arrived to roost on the many tiny islands, also joined by a few Snipe, and a large group of Pochard also dropped in to use the water for the night. Pied Wagtail flocks were flying over to their roost site, several Reed Bunting, a Chiffchaff, flocks of Long-tailed Tit and small flocks of Lesser Redpoll were also noted.

At around 16:45 the first group of Starling started to arrive and sat in the tops of the distant trees, with many more birds passing over our heads the numbers soon built up and an impressive sight could be seen in the sky, the birds did a small murmuration as they all joined together but soon started to descend into the reed bed, and after about five minutes the show was over what an amazing end to a wonderful day on The Somerset Levels!! DT/NA.

Friday 13 February 2015

Surveys aplenty

Darren and I do a number of surveys for different organisations as well as leading trips. We are very lucky to live and work in such a great area and its important to monitor the health of the wildlife. Last Sunday (8th) saw us at Cotswold Water Park (CWP) doing waterfowl counts for the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS). We each have a number of lakes we count each month throughout the Autumn and Winter. This is then added to all the other counts at CWP to give a monthly total of waterfowl, this in turn is added to all the counts through the UK to give a monthly total for the waterfowl in the UK. Its a great feeling to think of the 1000's of other people out and about at the same time as you doing these surveys. Between us we recorded in excess of 3,000 waterbirds - great stuff!

I have also been out and about on the Wiltshire Downland surveying farmland birds. We are reaching an important point in the winter, virtually all the overwinter stubbles will be ploughed up next week as farmers get their fields ready to plant spring crops of barley and oats. This means less food for the birds, but if we have an idea where they are we can improve things for them by putting out additional food. This picture shows part of a flock of 500 linnet feeding on an area of recently ploughed stubble, this on an organic farm which means there are lots of arable plants in the stubble and therefore lots of seed produced through the autumn.

Over the various farms I have been to I've recorded over 300 yellowhammmer, 250 corn bunting, 750 linnet, 25 reed bunting, 200 lapwing, 200 stock dove, 150 skylark, 15 grey partridge as well as a few tree sparrow, merlin, peregrine falcon and kestrels. Here are a couple of pictures of a male yellowhammer and a male corn bunting.

There are not many counties in the UK where you would be lucky enough to see such large numbers of these species other than Wiltshire. (NA)

Thursday 5 February 2015

Trip at the Cotswold Water Park

Today's tour was an afternoon walk around the Cotswold Water Park (CWP) looking for winter duck. The trip went very well with a full house of what is available at present - smew, goosander, teal, pintail, shoveler, teal, gadwall, wigeon, red-crested pochard, pochard, tufted duck, mallard, goldeneye and shelduck. The weather was great too as you can see in this picture of three smew.

Besides the smew, another bird a lot of people want to see at CWP on a winter trip is red-crested pochard, having originally escaped from a nearby wildfowl collection in the 1970, the numbers are thought to be in excess of 300 now, we saw around 100 today. Here's a picture of a rather dapper male.

At one of the sites we were lucky enough to watch shovelers displaying and generally chatting away to each other from about 20 metres away - brilliant!

Other species identified today included green sandpiper, chiffchaff, kingfisher, water rail, sparrowhawk and cetti's warbler. In total we saw 54 species, a great total for a winter's afternoon in Wiltshire! (NA)