Out for a duck


Close up on a watchful Teal

I've been in need of some serious bird therapy lately with the stresses and strains of life getting the better of me. So when my friend Paul Joy suggested to take me on a trip to the Somerset Levels on a duck photo hunt then I was not going to turn him down.

As ever we were up at stupid o'clock and began our journey across to England  from Wales in the dark. Whilst en-route the skies were getting brighter and despite cloudy skies the eastern horizon was turning a rather nice shade of pinky purple. The colour was apparently due to Saharan sand in the clouds. It looked pretty amazing.

Paul found a spot for me to put the drone up and for a quick flight.

Amazing skies over the Somerset Levels

 From up on high the sky was absolutely stunning. The picture above was taken at sunrise. The sun hardly put in an appearance but it did a good job of backlighting the clouds and the colours were amazing.

Our first destination was a RSPB Nature Reserve called Greylake. Its renowned for having huge amounts of wildfowl during the winter.

Well when we arrived at the first hide aptly named the "Look Out", we did exactly that. We were going to be in for a shock - there was not a duck insight!

I am jesting around - in truth I have never see so many ducks in my life.

Ducks everywhere

We spoke to some fellow photographers and one of them showed me a picture of a Hen Harrier ( Ringtail - female bird) he had seen a little earlier, which was amazing. There were birds as far as the eye could see. Huge numbers of Teal and Wigeon ducks were present. Mixed in with them were Pintail, Mallards, Gadwall and Shoveler Ducks.

On the wader front there were huge numbers of Lapwings which were either roosting on the marshes or airborne in huge flocks. Harder to spot were the masters of camouflage of the wader world - Snipe. The harder we looked along the scapes and edges of reeds the more we spotted.

Snipe pick spots on the Marsh where they can just blend in.

Suddenly it was like a massive explosion had gone off and the previously calm marshland became a riot of frightened wildfowl. I could not believe my eyes - the sky was just rammed with birds flying around in a panic.

Ducks hit the panic button

Lapwings were in big numbers

The first protagonist causing the chaos was a Peregrine Falcon and the second a Male Marsh Harrier. That morning we would be treated to at least three different Marsh Harriers that frequently quartered the reed beds and caused absolute havoc.

A Marsh Harrier quarters the reeds.

After spending several hours being entertained by the hoards of ducks we headed off for a change of scenes. 

Whilst travelling to West Hay we noticed a herd of cattle surrounded by a flock of Cattle Egrets. I have never seen them actually with cattle doing there thing so was super eager to get some photographs. The field they were in was bordered by a rough track and Paul using his driving skills was able to get us a bit closer without disturbing the birds.

Cattle Egrets

Our final destination was a great reserve called Catcott. Our venue for the afternoon was a wooden construction called the Lows Hide.

In front of the hide was big flock of Wigeon Ducks. In amongst them was the odd Teal and Shoveler but the Wigeon were by far the most numerous species.

A pair of Marsh Harriers were regularly swooping in across the reed beds and giving the ducks a really big fright. The male had lovely plumage and spend his time harrying on the outskirts of the flock.

The bigger female however was far more bold and at one point came trundling in and flew right through the flock and was surrounded by panicked ducks.

Marsh Harrier (Male)

Marsh Harrier (female) trying to find a weak duck in amongst the flock

I must admit by the end of the day I just could not believe how many ducks and Marsh Harrier we had seen.

I was really impressed by the quality of the hides throughout the Somerset Levels and Avalon Marshes. They were well made, often quite spacious and located in good places that were often quite close to the birds.

My final photograph features not a duck but a little over wintering Chiffchaff. It should by all accounts have migrated a lot further south to warmest Africa but this particular bird was bucking the trend.



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