Wildlife To See in January
Reporter, Laura Sullivan, from ITV's Westcountry News discovers the wildlife at Catcott Nature Reserve on the Somerset Levels in January. Watch it again here
Tony Bennett is a volunteer with the Trust. He has chosen some of his wildlife highlights to look out for in Somerset during January. You can tell Tony what you've seen this month using the contact form at the bottom of the page.
As winter continues, the Somerset Levels continue to provide endless fascination for the bird watcher. It has been estimated that the Levels provide a home to some 100,000 wetland birds at this time of year, giving you a chance to re-visit old friends and see some personal novelties.
Some species will be present in great abundance; others in much more limited numbers. The region is amongst the best in the UK for wintering Mute Swan, Teal, Lapwing, Water Rail, Snipe, Shoveler and Wigeon.
Here’s a few to keep a look out for on your travels:
Great Crested Grebe
(copyright Amy Lewis)
• Grebes: Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe
• Herons: Grey Heron, Bittern
• Water Rail, Moorhen, Coot
• Ducks, Geese and Swans: Mallard, Gadwall, Pintail, Shoveler, Teal, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Smew, Goosander, Mute Swan, Bewick’s Swan, Whooper Swan.
• Waders Lapwing, Golden Plover, Snipe, Jack Snipe, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Green Sandpiper, Redshank, Greenshank, Little Egret.
Such an abundance of prey inevitably attracts the raptors so look out for Hen Harriers, Peregrine Falcons and Merlins too.
• How many species can you identify on a visit to the Somerset Levels?
• Can you identify the females as well as (usually) the more strikingly plumaged males?
A notable jewel amongst the species present in Somerset is the (Eurasian) Bittern, as in the UK, the main areas are Lancashire and East Anglia, with a few tens of breeding pairs.
These birds disperse widely in hard weather, and can occur in quite small marshy patches. The bittern is usually well-hidden in reedbeds. Generally solitary, it walks stealthily seeking fish, frogs, small mammals and insects. If it senses that it has been seen, it becomes motionless, with its bill pointed upward, causing it to blend into the reeds.
It is most active at dawn and dusk. Famously, the mating call of the male, which is a deep fog-horn or bull-like boom, is easily audible from a distance of 2 miles on a calm night so listen out for it on the Levels.
Don't miss the starling display
A truly remarkable spectacle is the winter Starling roost and you can join us in tracking these across the UK, see videos and photos on our Twitter Starling Watch on our Westhay page.
At this time of year millions of Starlings arrive to roost in the reedbeds on the Levels as the resident Starlings are augmented by millions migrating from Europe, including Russia, to take advantage of the British milder winters. As dusk falls, the Starlings stream towards the roost site from far and wide. The birds mass and give spectacular aerial displays as they wheel about in a remarkable synchronised manner before dropping into the reedbeds, filling the air with the sound of their calls.
To find out where you can see the starlings in Somerset call the Starling Hotline on 07866 554142. If you do take a trip out to see the starlings please use designated parking areas and avoid blocking gateways and parking on grass verges as the area can get very busy.
You may have the good fortune to see an Otter on the Somerset Levels - you can see our snap of otter tracks we found here, last month, on our Westhay Moor reserve page.
The Otter has a conservation status of ‘near threatened’. It declined across its range in the second half of the 20th century primarily due to pollution from pesticides. Otter populations are now recovering in many parts of Europe. In the UK the number of sites with an otter presence increased by 55% between 1994 and 2002.
Recovery is partly due to a ban on the most harmful pesticides, partly to improvements in water quality leading to increases in prey populations, and partly to direct legal protection.
January is a lean time for the plant-lover, although one in particular comes to mind the Winter Heliotrope. This is one of the first flowers that appears on the roadside verges, being a widespread and locally-frequent garden escape. It has lilac flower-heads, often vanilla-scented, which are rather like Butterbur in appearance.
Other flowers to be seen at this time are those of the Common Hazel, which displays the male catkins, pale yellow up to 5 cm. long, and which can be induced to liberate an impressive cloud of pollen if tapped at the appropriate time.
Drop Tony a line about your Somerset wildlife adventures this winter and we'll report back in the next e-newsletter. Don't forget to attach your photos.
(copyright Chris McGuire)
(copyright Tim Stenton)
(copyright Lynne Newton)
(copyright Darin Smith)
Common Hazel flowers
(Courtesy of Wikipedia)