September 2, 2008

A Picture Perfect Day on the Levels

This time of the year can be very rewarding, even if you're not a steadfast birdwatcher - and if you like to be surrounded by nature of all kinds, then the Somerset Levels are for you.

Talking to RSPB site manager Steve Hughes on the day of my latest visit revealed that an osprey had been reported fishing on the lake at Shapwick Heath.

I didn't need much of an excuse to try my luck at getting a quality image of this magnificent bird catching fish - but even if that didn't happen there are so many other opportunities for good pictures if you keep your eyes open and your wits about you.

At Shapwick Heath, wild otters are regularly seen and any amount of people photograph them - except me, I have seen an otter on the Levels but I wasn't quick enough to capture an image.

So, with otters and ospreys on the photographic menu, I set off across the heath to the first bird hide at Noah's Lake where a great deal of excitement among the half dozen or so birders was apparent - an osprey was on the top of an old rotten tree eating a fish.

It took me two or three minutes to find the bird, even through my 800mm lens, but annoyingly he was just too far away for a full frame quality image.

Undeterred by the three-quarters of a mile distance between myself and the osprey, I waited one and a half hours for the bird to go fishing again - and when he did he dived and caught his fish on the lake next door, bringing his prey back to the same perch, seemingly his favourite place to eat.

By this time I'd had enough of the bird hide; in fact for a brief moment I had nodded off as I looked through the camera lens and nearly dropped it through the viewing slot.

Making my way back to the car park I passed Meare Heath, where the lake has been drained to help the wading birds as they begin their great migration south.

Without warning a flock of a hundred lapwings suddenly took flight from the mud flats - and looking upwards I could see why. A peregrine falcon had just flown over the reed beds, but luckily for them it wasn't in hunting mode.

Next to the lapwings were four angelic white little egrets, all catching small fish trapped in one of the ponds forming as the water drained away. Egrets always end up falling out with each other, and when they do they flick their wings out as they clash, making for a more spectacular picture.

The last picture of the day was a silhouette of three cormorants squabbling over position on an old tree half submerged in the lake.

It was a beautiful early evening on the Levels and a shame to call it a day, but all good days come to an end - and this was a particularly good day.

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