Monday 27 May 2019

The Levels

One of at least eight Cattle Egrets at Catcott Lows.
Derek and I popped up to the Somerset Levels this morning, in the hope of some dragonflies and some good birding. It was cool and overcast at first but it warmed up throughout the morning and the stuff we saw surpassed our expectations. The highlight was the famous large roosts of Four-spotted Chasers, but Variable Damselfly and Hairy Dragonfly ran a close second, and a pair of Black-winged Stilts at Catcott was an added bonus.
Catcott Lows - 2 Black-winged Stilt, 2 Marsh Harrier, 8+ Cattle Egret, c60+ Greylag Goose, 1 Barn Owl, 2 Shoveler, 35+ Mute Swan, 2 Little Egret, 8+ Gadwall, 8+ Lapwing, 4 Black-tailed Godwit, 1 Kestrel and 2 Great White Egret.
Ham Wall - 7+ Great White Egret, 6+ Garden Warbler, 1 Bittern (with several others booming), 1 Jay, 2 House Martin, c100+ Swift, 10+ Tufted Duck, 7+ Pochard, 7 Cetti's Warbler, 3+ Marsh Harrier, c30/40+ Gadwall, 1+ Shoveler, 1 Hobby, 3 Great Spotted Woodpecker and 1+ Cuckoo.

Great White Egret and the two Black-winged Stilts at Catcott Lows first thing this morning.

One of at least seven Great White Egrets seen at Ham Wall.

c60+ Greylag Geese were counted at Catcott Lows, several being recently-fledged juveniles.

Male Marsh Harrier - Ham Wall.

Variable Damselfly (female) - one of the targets for this morning's trip up to the Somerset Levels, and large numbers seen. The 'goblet' on S2 is what you need to see to confirm id, but they stand out as having more black on their abdomens than the Azures, and the goblet varies in size and shape. I probably sound as if I know what I'm talking about but I'm still on a very steep learning curve with the dragons and damsels! Edit - a big thank you to Dave Smallshire for help with the damsels.

Huge numbers of Four-spotted Chasers filled the skies at Ham Wall this morning.

The huge roosts of Four-spotted Chasers were the absolute highlight of a wonderful morning - worth the trip up to Somerset alone.

Azure (above) or quite possibly another Variable and female Variable Damselfly. We saw masses of damsels - Variable, Azures and Blue-tailed. Edit - thanks again to Dave for putting me straight. I did wonder about the top one.

Female Black-tailed Skimmer.

Hairy Dragonfly - Derek and I found several of these patrolling a wide ditch, thanks to a tip-off from another birder. It was a relief when one finally landed, allowing us to take its photo - a new species for me and a real beauty! A few Emperors were also on the wing.


  1. Great write up and superb morning Matt really enjoyable. The levels never fail to deliver. Lovely photos. I’ll post some photos on my Twitter feed tomorrow evening Derek C @exebirding thanks again Matt D

    1. Thanks Derek - yep a truly special place and those Four-spotted Chasers will live long in the memory! Looking forward to your photos. All the best. Matt

  2. A nice visit! Your Variable Damselflies are females (blue form), but the Azure above the female Variable could also be a Variable: the shoulder stripes look broken and the S2 marking could be a small 'wine goblet' (can't see clearly enough on screen). All good stuff though!

  3. Thanks Dave - I did wonder about that one. Trying to work out if I saw any Azures at all now! Think so. Was surprised not to see any Common Blue Damsels but was amazed at the shear numbers up there. Incredible. The Four-spotted Chaser 'roosts' were just stunning. As the weather warmed up they filed the air. Aim to go back up for those alone. All the best. Matt. PS - any tips for photographing Downy Emeralds?

  4. Downy Emeralds: either wait for them to land (but usually up in a tree!), or find one patrolling a little bay where it pauses for a few seconds (though not easy with anything but a camera with very fast autofocus!).