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Sunday, 15 October 2017

The wonders of Westhay Moor!

It's been a rather sparse week bird and photography wise, not helped by some rather dark cloudy Autumn weather!
   I went to Westhay Moor National Nature Reserve on the Somerset Levels on a particularly gloomy morning. This is the place where everyone goes to photograph the Bearded Tits on the boardwalk to one of the hides, they show here so well at this time of the year, coming down for the grit left out for them. If you're lucky, and it's not windy, they'll briefly come up onto the dead branches that rise up from the reedbeds, before disappearing from view again!
    However, Westhay has so much more to offer than just the Bearded Tits! It's actually a very big extensive reserve, as I discovered when I went for a walk to find the new 'North Hide' where Kingfishers have been seen. It's also very quiet, compared to it's much more famous and popular nearby reserves RSPB Ham Wall and Shapwick Heath, but the birds and nature are just as good, if not better! As it is under-watched in comparison to it's neighbours, you have a great chance of finding birds before anyone else.
   As I made my way past the Viridor and Tower hides to my right, I heard the familiar contact calls of a group of Long Tailed Tits in the trees to my left. During the Autumn, roving parties move through the countryside looking for spiders and bugs, and are often joined by other Tits and small birds! Sure enough, this group included Blue and Great Tits, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests! There was also a Treecreeper that seemed to be moving with them!
   I've always been fascinated by this coming together of different species of birds. There's obviously safety in numbers, and the birds keep in contact with constant calls.
   It's worth checking these groups out for the rarer Firecrest, which is often seen at Westhay in particular, but alas, not on this occasion!
  The awful light and dark trees still covered in leaves made photographing these tiny, permanently on the move birds hugely difficult, but I tried anyway! :)
  I got to London Drove which passes through the centre of the reserve and turned right.
Immediately a Cetti's Warbler made me jump with it's loud explosive call in a bush right beside me to my left. This elusive Warbler is more often heard than seen, but is doing very well on the Somerset Levels, helped by a succession of mild Winters. I managed a back view of this one, tail cocked like  a Wren, but face hidden. It's the view most people have to be content with!
   I hadn't seen another soul since leaving the Bearded Tit boardwalk, but now a woman walking a dog was approaching from the other direction. We said hello as we passed and she told me she had just been watching an Otter on the lake a hundred yards further along the drove! I hadn't seen an Otter in years, my one and only previous sighting being from the Meare Heath hide at Shapwick Heath 10 years ago!
 I excitedly made my way to the point where she had seen it and surveyed the expanse of water in front of me. Nothing. No Otter. It had obviously moved on or was out of sight by the reedline below me. My disappointment was tempered by a sudden Bittern which flew up from the reedbed near me, gave a loud call and flew across the lake before landing in the reeds on the far side. Fabulous! Other birds on the Lake were Shovelers, Mallards and Gadwall, plus a couple of Mute Swans. A Great White Egret sat at the top of a clump of trees on an island in the middle of the lake, like the lord of the manor!
 Finally I arrived at the gate to the North Hide, on my right. I walked along the short, reed-lined boardwalk to the impressive looking wooden building at the end and made my way inside. The open water in front was very quiet, and at first I couldn't see any birds here, but shortly a Cormorant flew in. A Grey Heron flew across and a Marsh Harrier made an appearance over the back of distant reeds.
    A lovely lady called Kim came into the hide, and we talked about the Kingfisher that had been seen here, and it was as if the conversation lured the bird in, because it came calling low across the water and landed in the trees to the right of the hide!
   Wonderful to see, but the light was particularly horrendous by now and it was a struggle to get any kind of even half decent shot. The Kingfisher dived from it's perch into the water and emerged with a fish, before landing deeper into the trees partially out of sight to eat it's catch. It then sat and preened, dipping in and out of the water to bathe.
   A couple of minutes later, another Kingfisher flew in and chased it off..... they were chasing each other about in front of the hide, left and right and over the reeds, I had the Benny Hill theme tune in my head as I watched!
 I left the hide and retraced my steps back to my vehicle, helped by the directional signs dotted around the reserve. A Great Spotted Woodpecker hopped along a branch high in a tree above me and I came across another roving party of Tits and little birds.
   I couldn't resist checking out the Bearded Tit boarwalk before I left, and sure enough there was a male and female picking up the grit in front of me.
As I drove out of the reserve, stopping to photograph a Greylag Goose in the long grass, it struck me how magical a place this was. An almost secret nature wonderland, in the shadow of it's well-known cousins in terms of popularity, but very much in a class of it's own in terms of it's natural delights, it's mood and it's magical unique atmosphere!

Below are some mostly record shots of my Westhay Moor visit , due to the gloom, plus some photo's from RSPB Greylake of Kingfisher and Kestrel and a few other bits and bobs taken since my last blog post;









^Above^ - Bearded Tits at Westhay Moor!


^Above^ - Bittern at Westhay Moor.




^Above^ - Kingfisher at Westhay Moor.



^Above^ - Goldcrest at Westhay Moor.


^Above^ - Cetti's Warbler giving a typical view at Westhay Moor!


^Above^ - Chiffchaff at Westhay Moor.




^Above^ - Great White Egret at Westhay Moor.




^Above^ - Cormorant at Westhay Moor.


^Above^ - Marsh Harrier at Westhay Moor.



^Above^ - Grey Heron at Westhay Moor.


^Above^ - Gadwall at Westhay Moor.


^Above^ - Long Tailed Tit at Westhay Moor.


^Above^ - Robin at Westhay Moor.


^Above^ - Partially hidden Treecreeper at Westhay Moor.



^Above^ - Greylag Goose outside Westhay Moor.




^Above^ - Carrion Crow in my home Somerset village!


^Above^ - Collared Dove in my village.


^Above^ - Starling in my village.


^Above^ - Skylark in my village.



^Above^ - Magpie in my village.


^Above^ - Jackdaw in my village.


^Above^ - Horse in my village.


^Above^ - Blanket of spider webs at Sunset at the park in my village!




^Above^ - Buzzard near Middlezoy in Somerset.





^Above^ - Kestrels at RSPB Greylake.



^Above^ - Chiffchaff at RSPB Greylake.






^Above^ - Grey Heron at RSPB Greylake.


^Above^ - The palest Buzzard I have ever seen! Taken at Greylake.






^Above^ - Kingfisher at Greylake.


^Above^ - Dahlia in my village.






^Above^ - And finally... the family dog, Charm the Flat Coated Retriever, having fun at the park!