A rare grebe & night-time ploughing

Going after a rare bird is a great way to spend a day off! With overcast skies in Worcestershire – limiting photographic opportunities considerably – I decided to travel down to Somerset to the RSPB’s Ham Wall reserve.

This is part of the Avalon Marshes, which is an ambitious project to return the area to its former wetland state. Commercial peat extraction during the last century left pits that soon filled with water, providing an ideal environment for the wide swathe of reedbeds which now exist there. It’s become a hotspot for rare bird sightings, also recently scoring national firsts for breeding little bitterns (2011) and great white egrets (2012).

Looking for the pied-billed grebe at Ham Wall

Looking for the pied-billed grebe at Ham Wall

Just to prove that I did actually see the pied-billed grebe at Ham Wall!

Just to prove that I did actually see the pied-billed grebe at Ham Wall!

I was hoping to see a pied-billed grebe, a bird usually found in the Americas, but which turns up in the UK roughly once every couple of years. I arrived at the site, and as I was setting up the scope the guy next to me asked whether I’d like him to point it in the right direction. I did – but it was a while before the grebe emerged from the reedbed it had slunk into.

For the entire time it was there, it remained on the far side of the lake from the viewing platform. It had its own agenda… once, after catching a large fish, it slipped back into the reeds for a while to digest its meal, and it was about half an hour before it re-emerged to swim around again.

I remained there for a couple of hours, glad of the extra layers I’d put on in the morning – until my toes began to lose contact! It was enjoyable sharing views with other visitors, though – returning the favour for the countless occasions when I looked at rarities through other people’s scopes.

Why farming here is hard

Night-time ploughing in Wichenford

Night-time ploughing in Wichenford

A few days ago I returned to the house at night and was rather surprised to hear activity on the farmland at the back. In fact the field was being ploughed – utilising the first opportunity in months when the land has been dry enough to do this. A couple of photos during the last month of one of the neighbouring field shows what local farmers have been up against. These are fields which would normally have been planted with winter wheat, but this has been impossible this year.

A scene last month at Hilltop Farm in Wichenford, a few minutes walk away

A scene last month at Hilltop Farm in Wichenford, a few minutes walk away

The same field in Wichenford, a month later

The same field in Wichenford, a month later: no ice, but just as wet

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