Chris Chappell has suggestions for your visits to our reserves this month, from hawkers to godwits.
By the end of the month the starlings will begin to roost on the levels. They are usually found on the Avalon marshes, somewhere between Westhay and Shapwick Heath. The latest information can be found on various websites. It is estimated that 3 million birds arrive each evening, resident birds are joined by migrant populations arriving from the harsher climate of continental Europe. As they appear they circle and swirl, creating patterns in the sky. The vast flock often attracts the attention of peregrine, sparrow hawk, marsh and hen harrier, hoping for a meal. This will excite the starlings into even more impressive patterns, behaviour that is thought to confuse the predators, making it hard to select an individual. You may have seen this phenomenon on TV, or in photos, but they really don’t do justice to the experience, which is spell-binding. It is best on a dry clear evening, as the birds take longer to settle. If you do go, please be considerate to local residents when parking.
This is a great time for a country walk at any of the many Trust reserves. Autumn colours are now developing, and after the strange year, meteorologically speaking, it is likely to be particularly vibrant. Choose a sunny day and take your camera. Try Harridge Woods, near Shepton Mallett.
Goldfinches are forming large noisy flocks, and will start to appear on your feeders, so now is a good time to invest in some nuts and seeds. Pied wagtails will move into the villages, and will be heard calling from the roof tops. Jackdaws seek out wild walnuts, and will drop these onto stone paving from a height to break the shells. It has been a good year for butterflies, and the numerous red admirals can still be seen. Also look out for comma, and if you are very lucky, you may see a clouded yellow. The dragonflies are now reduced to just migrant hawker and common hawker, but there are large numbers, and they are easy to photograph.
Migrant Birds at Meare Heath
The lagoon at Meare Heath is managed by controlling the water level to provide a scrape, an area of shallow water and muddy islands. This attracts migrant and resident waders, ducks and herons. You may see a flock of 50 or so black-tailed godwit, numerous lapwing, green and common sandpiper. Occasionally rarities will appear, such as the passage migrant little stint, ruff and golden plover. In addition this is a regular haunt of Little and Great White Egret. Whilst the Little Egret has become fairly common here, the Great White is still rare in the UK. Last year six overwintered in the area, out of an estimated UK total of just 10. Ducks include numbers of gadwall and wigeon. Peregrine and marsh harrier will appear hunting over the reeds. Bittern will be seen crossing the lagoon, and with luck, an otter will make an appearance.
Photographs© Chris Chappell