Birds head Chris Chappell's list of things to look out for in November. But try a walk on the Poldens as well to enjoy the views.
Most of the wildlife interest in November revolves around birdlife. As winter approaches many birds of different species will flock together. You may see a party of long-tailed-tits moving through the trees, calling as they move, with a little high pitched trill, and a regular 'tsk-tsk', often accompanied by blue and great tits. Finches will gather in the tree tops in large noisy groups, chaffinch, goldfinch, greenfinch and siskin together. Look out for the very pretty brambling, chaffinch sized, but with orange breast and pale underbelly. Feeding in numbers offers protection for the flock, as any predator, such as the sparrowhawk, is more likely to be spotted. Large numbers of birds also make it more difficult for a raptor to focus on individual prey. You may notice that pied wagtails will appear in towns and villages, calling from the rooftops, as they search for spiders and flies. They often roost in large numbers, even in the heart of busy city centres. Mixed crows will be found feeding in the fields, carrion crows and jackdaws together, combing the ground for insects and worms. Reptiles and hedgehogs will now be going into hibernation. Please bear this in mind when lighting bonfires, or clearing up the garden, as piles of logs, stones or vegetation provide attractive wintering sites for many creatures.
The winter migration should be complete by the end of November. The patterns and scale of bird migration vary greatly. Birds leaving Britain have gone, heading south, many for central Africa. At the same time birds are arriving from the Scandinavia and the north. Common birds such as robin, blackbird and starling will leave northern Europe for the winter, swelling the native numbers. Great flocks of redwings and fieldfares have now arrived. The redwings like to feed on berries and apples, while the fieldfares more often on open farmland, but they will both go where there is food, as winter moves on. A special bird that you stand a good chance of seeing this month is the short eared owl. While there is a small resident UK population of a few thousand, they do not generally breed in the West, but at this time of year a much larger number arrives from Iceland, Scandinavia and Russia to over winter here. They survive almost entirely by hunting voles, and seeing a short eared owl glide silently over the heathland is a special experience. They have huge wings, pale underneath, extraordinary yellow eyes, and glide about like a giant moth. The short eared owl is diurnal, so will often seen in daylight. Unfortunately their numbers have declined, causing some concern, so we are lucky to host a good number which may be seen on the Levels.
Ducks and Waders
Ducks and waders also travel south to feed on our marshes and ponds. Look out for shoveler, with their oversize bills, used for sifting the water for plant matter and small insects. The Somerset Levels are also an important habitat for teal, pintail, wigeon, pochard and gadwall. These are small ducks, swift in flight, but can fall prey to raptors like the peregrine falcon. Our small resident population of tufted duck are also joined by a greater number of birds from Iceland and the north. There has been an influx of common snipe to the Shapwick Heath in recent weeks. Our UK resident population of about 60,000 birds is joined by around a million migrant snipe. If you are lucky you may see a jacksnipe, a smaller bird, about half the size, and with shorter bill. They are not resident birds. Woodcock can also now be seen, albeit they are largely nocturnal, you may disturb one feeding on marshy ground. The woodcock is a larger, dumpier version of the snipe. They do not breed in the southwest, so are absent in spring and summer. All three birds are beautifully camouflaged, their markings allowing them to blend into a background of reeds and grasses. Each wader has different feeding habits, principally related to the length of the bill, and the invertebrates found at different depths in the mud and silt.
On a fine day the Polden Hills provide a lovely place for a walk. SWT reserves New Hill and Tannager, plus Great Breach Wood can all be explored in a day. In addition, the National Trust own adjoining land at Collard Hill and Walton Hill to the west. The area offers mature trees, where you may find nuthatches and green woodpeckers, and also open areas where buzzards will soar overhead, or you may hear the deep croak of the raven. There are fabulous views from the ridge across Kings Sedgemoor, showing the Somerset countryside in all its glory. Ancient hawthorn bushes are heavy with berries, and old man's beard looks its very best, sprawling over the landscape with the silver seed heads sparkling in the sun.
Old Man's Beard