HAPPY NEW YEAR !
Pull on your gumboots with Chris Chappell for a sloshy walk on the levels.
The continuing damp weather has had a significant effect on our wildlife. Waders and herons have been seen in places not normally suitable for them. Access to many reserves has been difficult, with high water levels persisting at the time of writing. However, if you take your gumboots, this won't stop you having a good walk. There has been a huge influx of snipe from Northern Europe, and they can be seen all over the moors. They often crouch unseen until you get quite close, then zig-zag off into the sky with a harsh rasping call. Water rails have been forced out into the open by the high water, and these normally shy birds can be seen on the droves, or at the edge of flood water. In our gardens and parks snowdrops are coming through, along with early daffodils, and while spring is still a way off, there are signs of seasonal change.
Catcott Nature Reserve
It is well worth making a further visit to Catcott reserve, the site of a major 30-acre restoration project by the Trust.
From the main hide at Catcott Lows you can watch great flocks of wigeon, along with good numbers of teal, shoveler, and pintail, plus mallard, tufted duck, and the occasional gadwall. If you are not familiar with our winter ducks, it is a good project to learn how to distinguish them, as there are not too many. Take a good bird book and binoculars. It is helpful to browse the hide record book to see what other visitors to the hide have spotted. You will soon get to know the whistle of the wigeon, and the shrill call of teal, or the harsh grunting of the tufted duck.
Great white and little egrets are regular visitors to Catcott, along with grey herons, and sometimes a bittern. A whooper swan has been regularly spotted near the hide. Whooper swans travel down from Iceland for the winter. They can be distinguished from the more common mute swans by the beak markings. The rarer Bewick's swan can be seen in Somerset, and is similar to the whooper, but smaller in size. Marsh harriers patrol the area, along with buzzard, kestrel, sparrow hawk and peregrine. If you are lucky you may see a barn owl, or short-eared-owl hunting across the reed beds.The trees around the reserve have taken on subtle winter colours, the alders with a shade of purple, and willows in tinges of reddish pink and yellow. Roe deer can usually be seen at the edge of the water, feeding at a safe distance. Remember to wrap up well, and it is a good idea to take a flask and sandwiches, it does get very chilly!
For more information and directions visit our Catcott page.
Winter mists and frosts provide good opportunities for the photographer. Close ups of dewy cobwebs or vegetation make good subjects. Frost transforms leaves and grasses, especially when sparkling in the bright winter sun. The Somerset landscape is particularly good for misty views, the river valleys are prone to fill with fog toward the day's end, creating beautiful atmospheric scenes. The flooded moors punctuated with pollarded willows provide iconic images of the Somerset levels. The light is generally more interesting early and late, when the sun is low, which helps to define the landscape by casting shadows. The colours at sunrise and sunset are deeper, and often create spectacular effects across the Somerset countryside. Digital photography can get as technical as you want, but the important thing is to develop an eye for the composition, and an appreciation of the colours and shapes. Now that we all have camera phones in our pockets there is every opportunity.
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Photographs © Chris Chappell
Floods at Othery
Great White Egret
Whooper Swan with Wigeon