Somerset Wildlife Trust

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Wildlife to look out for

Kingfisher

The kingfisher is one of our most colourful birds, with a bright orange breast and a vivid metallic blue streak down its back, but its habit of sitting quietly on bankside vegetation can make it surprisingly hard to see. It is most often noticeable as it flies away up the river, when the blue on its back makes it very obvious. It feeds mostly on small fish and aquatic insects, which it usually hunts for from a perch on the riverside or, sometimes (if you are lucky!), by hovering over the water. When it sees its prey it swoops down and, in a cascade of water droplets, grabs it in its bill. It is said that a hungry brood of chicks need over 100 fish a day, so summer can be a great time to see these birds as they are constantly hunting.

kingfisher

Moorhen

Perhaps a classic 'water bird', moorhens can be shy and secretive, but at other times are bold as brass, and can even be seen climbing in the lower branches of trees! They feed on just about anything, bankside vegetation or aquatic insects. Their grey-brown plumage is offset by brilliant flecks of white on their sides, topped off with a bright red bill with a yellow tip. Their chicks are little balls of black fluff with red bills, but they grow quickly and the first brood of the year will, as 'teenagers', often help mum and dad look after the second brood, one of the few examples of this behaviour in the bird world.

moorhen

Little Egret

The Little Egret is quite easy to identify, given a good look, for it is the only small (around knee-high) all-white heron that is common in the UK. Its legs are black, but it has amazing yellow feet, which trail behind it as it flies, and, in summer, has wispy plumes hanging down its back like feathery dreadlocks. It lives on small fish and crustaceans and so can often be seen feeding in the shallow margins of rivers and streams. It can be remarkably tame sometimes, allowing you to get close-up views and you might see it almost anywhere there is water and shallow edges, but has only really become common in the country in the last 30 years.

little egret

Mallard

The mallard is the most familiar of all the dabbling ducks (e.g. those that feed from the surface of the water) and is probably one of the ancestors of our modern domestic ducks. The male’s summer plumage is unmistakable, a grey back streaked with black, a browny chest and a blue-green iridescent head, whilst the female (who needs to be camouflaged when she is sat on eggs) is a dull brown almost everywhere. In spring you will often see one female in the company of several males, all vying for her attention, nodding their heads and showing off their plumage to the best effect. Often they will all take off together, with her leading the way, a kind of trail by flight, as the one that manages to keep up with her will be her mate.

mallards

Mute Swan

The mute swan (which is far from silent) is one of the most familiar birds in Britain, its long curved neck and graceful glide a regular sight on our waterways. They feed on many different types of aquatic plants, even those that grow in deep water, where they 'up end' to reach them with those long necks. Traditionally owned by the ruling monarch, flocks of mute swans were once given to noble lords as a sign of favour, or a thank you for services given (in war, for instance) but most of those favours have been 'taken back' and now, apart from one colony in Dorset and some birds on the Thames, all mute swans are once again owned by the crown. You can tell whether a swan is a male or female by the size of the bulge at the base of the bill, which is very small and almost inconspicuous in the female and large and bulbous in the male.

mute swan

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tits are tiny birds of hedgerows, woodland, parks and gardens and, with a call that is a rapid, rolling mixture of trills, tweets, clicks and whistles, are often heard before they are seen. With tails that are longer than their bodies, and a plumage that is a mixture of flushed pinks, black and white, they live up to their colourful name of flying lollipops. At around the weight of three dry tea bags, they can suffer badly in cold weather, but can raise large broods in a spherical nest that is made of moss, hairs, cobwebs, lichens and feathers, so, given good conditions, can bounce back. They are very active feeders and can often be seen moving in small groups through the trees and bushes in parks and gardens.

long-tailed tit

 

Kingfisher © Brian Phipps, Moorhen © Lynne Newton / http://lynnenewtonfoxybiddy.zenfolio.com, Little Egret © Lynne Newton / http://lynnenewtonfoxybiddy.zenfolio.com, Mallards © Ben Simmonds / http://www.bensimmondsphotography.co.uk, Mute Swan © Ben Simmonds / http://www.bensimmondsphotography.co.uk, Long-tailed Tit © Lynne Newton / http://lynnenewtonfoxybiddy.zenfolio.com