Reflections on initiation- what a brilliant birding year!

In April this year (2018) I challenged myself to learn the ropes of birding over the next couple of years by regular outings to local reserves armed with camera and Collins guide (later in the brilliant App format). My aim was to note and if possible photograph my findings and to reach 50 species in 6 months, maybe 100 in a year. The Bird Journal app was also a super find for logging sightings and making notes. April was a slow start as I was on holiday etc. so May was when I really got going! 63 species were logged that month, all in Somerset and I was going well! 9th May was fun, walking the dog along the lane locally and totting up 15 species in a ‘speed birding’ 1/2 hour! Blackcap and Linnet were joined by many of the more commonplace but equally lovely local British birds (see separate post). June was also great with 20 further species in 8 outings. On the year went with Friday afternoons at Ham Wall when work allowed and some Wednesday morning outings plus the rare weekend foray when not tied up elsewhere. I actually reached 100 species in October with a day at Steart where I saw my first ever ringtail hen harrier, first ever merlin, along with , linnet and golden plover  – both year firsts, and at least 2 short eared owls which I’d first seen only a few days earlier!

Highlight of the year has to be seeing osprey (Pandion haliaetus) at Westhay NNR on 5th October, a chance sighting walking to the hide and mid-chat with two gentlemen who’d been waiting for the bird to fish earlier and were making their way back home. The bird had indeed succeeded and I managed a following shot of the beautiful raptor heading west with a large fish clasped in his talons (see below) .

I continue to learn fast and as we enter the New Year of 2019. I have logged 106 species and photos of about half of these, I guess. These images are of variable quality and learning how to use a camera while attempting to identify new birds has been a fun and not always totally successful challenge.

I have posted some of my more satisfying shots below, most with a brief caption. More will follow in a separate ‘year of 2018’ post. The ID’s are all mine and I am hopeful for feedback from more experienced birders especially if anyone spots a mistake. I intend to learn!

lapwing and the Tor from Ham Wall Sept 18
A number of my pictures feature Glastonbury Tor as backdrop : it is a prominent and intriguing landmark visible from most places on the somerset Levels.
homeward bound nr. Ashcott Sept 18
While only featuring a single distant carrion crow (look hard) this was the end of a lovely day at RSPB Ham Wall and believe me these colours are real! This sunset was one of the most stunning colour displays I have ever seen in nature.
osprey farewell Westhay Oct 6 2018
This osprey paused to feed for a couple of weeks on the Somerset Levels before continuing his southbound journey from Scotland (probably) to Africa.
ringtail Steart Oct 18
The first glimpse of a hen harrier, only identified confidently from photos later; slightly better images were captured a few weeks later (see next image) with the piercing yellow eye clearly seen.
Ringtail hen harrier 6 yellow eye WWT Steart 17 Nov 18
A better view of the female ringtail with my new (pre-loved!) camera rig in action for the first time – Nikon D7000, Sigma 150-500
SEO buzzed me Steart 17 Nov 18
This short-eared owl gave me a low fly-over narrowly missing the beanie hat much to other birders’ amusement. I took my first shot of a SEO, the classic ‘backside shot’ which is the lot of the novice birder….!
SEO 2 yellow eye WWT Steart 17 Nov 18
The same short-eared owl that gave me a low fly-over then proceeded to put on a display of flying and hunting which mesmerised onlookers on a sunlit afternoon at WWT Steart. 2 more to follow…..
SEO 3 what you looking at bud WWT Steart 17 Nov 18
The same short-eared owl that gave me a low fly-over then proceeded to put on a display of flying and hunting which mesmerised onlookers on a sunlit afternoon at WWT Steart. I titled this ‘what you looking at bud’ for obvious reasons. 1 more to follow…..
SEO 4 I'm off WWT Steart 17 Nov 18
The same short-eared owl that gave me a low fly-over then proceeded to put on a display of flying and hunting which mesmerised onlookers on a sunlit afternoon at WWT Steart. Then off it went..
curlew sunset 2 WWT Steart 17 Nov 18
The ‘breach’ at WWT Steart is an atmospheric place where waders are seen and sunsets create mysterious lighting effects. This is a curlew or curlew sandpiper.

 

On the edge of Storm Ali: a breezy day at Steart

Wednesday has just become my day again for the first time since I started working in the 70’s – freedom!  So after doing my chores and picking apples in the breezy sunshine, I headed down to WWT Steart near Hinckley Point in Somerset for the high tide, to see what I might find.

The wind was picking up as I arrived and with it came squall after squall of heavier and heavier rain, the coat tails of Storm Ali, which was wreaking havoc not much further north of us. It merited a name, the first of the year, because of its ferocity, and the birds seemed to have heard in advance and hunkered down.

Braving the breeze were plucky little egrets, gulls in profusion, a flash of kingfisher and flocks of goldfinches and starlings. Stately swans pointed upwind and remained calm, while a little grebe (my first) dashed for cover in the reeds as I arrived. The waders were nowhere to be seen. All for another day.

Swan Steart 19 Sept 2018Steart skyscape 19 Sep 18Rainbows Steart 19 Sept 2018Rainbow over the Parrett from Steart Sept 19 2018charming finches Steart 19 Sept 2018Birds on wires Steart Sept 19 2018 And all this just for me, with no-one around except distant farmers on the fields and reserve staff doing their brilliant work, always ready with a smile and a wave.