Not quite winter, not yet spring

Sunny day at Shapwick HeathIt’s a funny time of year. Everywhere you look, there are tantalising glimpses of spring being just around the corner – indeed, I was writing the notes for this blog while sitting in the sunshine in the park, with my coat off and surrounded by courting pigeons, blooming daffodils and even the odd bee. I had to sit on a wall because the sudden and unexpected warmth and sun had filled with park and all its free benches with people, all desperate to soak up the best of the weather during their lunch breaks.

It’s also the 1st of March – funny how a mere change of date can make it feel so much more spring-like!

And yet the winter is still very much evident – the trees are all bare, there’s little hint of blossom yet (aside from a few stray blooms that appeared unseasonably early a few months ago), the wintering black-headed gulls are still scrapping over discarded lunches in the park, and there’s still a distinct chill in the air despite the sunshine. It could easily return to icy, cold weather any day, and despite the optimistic T-shirts and ice creams I saw a few hardy people with today I’m definitely not ready to sit out and sunbathe just yet!

The Levels in early spring

This turning of the seasons – not quite winter still, but yet to be properly spring – was very much evident on a walk I took down at Shapwick Heath and RSPB Ham Wall on the Somerset Levels at the weekend. The countryside still has a very wintry feeling – a nip in the air despite glorious sunshine; bare, barren trees that you can’t quite imagine soon having leaves; and plenty of “winter” birds still around, from wildfowl to redwings.

Blue sky reflecting off the water at Shapwick Heath Wintry trees at Shapwick Heath

Spring has not quite fully sprung, yet the first promising glimpses are there – the first signs of hope that winter is nearly over. The woods are nowhere near as full of birdsong as they will be in a couple of months, and the trees and reeds on the reserves are conspicously lacking in summer migrants, but the resident birds are all busy gearing up for the breeding season. Mixed tit flocks were busy feeding and calling, while treecreepers, chaffinches, robins, blackbirds and wrens were all singing, and – most exciting for me – the first male bitterns were starting to “boom”; a loud, deep, slightly bizarre sound that lets you know that these elusive and well-camouflaged birds are out there somewhere amongst the reeds.

Reflections on water, Shapwick Heath Sunshine through the reeds, Shapwick Heath

All the birds are also starting to look very handsome in their breeding plumage, and many were beginning to court and check out nest sites. The insects and invertebrates are starting to appear again too – it was hard to capture on camera, but if you look closely at the photo below you might be able to see the fine gossamer threads of spider silk, floating in the breeze:

Gossamer threads floating in breeze

It was a good day for birdwatching, particularly as the bare trees makes seeing the birds a bit easier. I also couldn’t get over the intense blue of the sky reflecting off the lakes and ditches! Although I didn’t manage to get many shots of the waterfowl that were about, I did manage to get up close to this little guy – a handsome male goldcrest, who obligingly sat in a bush next to me and preened, showing off the stunning crest that gives this tiny bird its name:

Male goldcrest (Regulus regulus) Male goldcrest (Regulus regulus)

Male goldcrest (Regulus regulus) preening, showing off his crest

Starlings on the Somerset Levels

One of the main sights I had gone to the Levels to see was the million-strong starling roost that visits the area every winter. I’ve not had that much luck with starlings this year – the last time I went to see the roost on the Levels, the birds decided to move elsewhere and simply flew over our heads, and despite some lovely up-close views of a smaller roost at New Passage, just outside Bristol, a second attempt to see that roost didn’t give much in the way of the spectacular “murmurations” this species is famous for. I did manage to get a few video clips the first time round though so have included one below!

It seems it’s just not my year for starlings, as again at the weekend the roost on the Levels decided to go over Shapwick Heath and Ham Wall, ending up quite far away at the far end of Ham Wall. The birds pretty much went straight down into the reeds, and didn’t put on any sort of aerial display. Still, it was great to see the flocks go past and, albeit through binoculars, to see the sheer number of birds turning the reeds black and looking like thick smoke every time a group rose up from the ground.

Starling flock coming in to roost, RSPB Ham Wall reserve Visitors watching the starling roost, RSPB Ham Wall reserve

I also managed to catch a beautiful sunset, topped off by views of the moon and two planets against a deep blue sky.

Sun setting over RSPB Ham Wall reserve Sunset on the reeds, RSPB Ham Wall reserve

Sunset at RSPB Ham Wall reserve Moon, planets and silhouetted tree as the sun sets at RSPB Ham Wall

I’m sure if I was to go back to the reserves in just a couple of weeks it would all be completely changed again – assuming the wintry weather doesn’t return in the meantime! Hopefully by then it will be more spring than winter, and I look forward to all the new sights and sounds that that will bring.

6 thoughts on “Not quite winter, not yet spring

  1. Guess spring is a bit further forward in the west than over here in the east. Heard reports of frog spawn weeks ago from Devon.

    Saw a bittern at the weekend at Minsmere but no hint of booming. Soon though. Drake smew was good too. This year I am really looking forward to the spring. Fed up with winter but it does have its charms.

    Your blog reminds me that I must visit the levels when I am down in Exeter in the summer.

    1. Yep, I’ve heard reports of frogspawn in and around Bristol too. Spring is definitely on its way in the west!

      Ooh, smew is something I haven’t seen in a while. I know what you mean – there are good things about winter (eg, seeing thousands of wildfowl and massive starlings flocks) but I’m very much looking forward to spring now! You should definitely drop by the Levels next time you’re over that way, always well worth a visit at any time of year!

      1. I will have to wait a few weeks I think. Used to live in Swindon so Devon and Somerset was an hour away. Bit further now.

        Male swew appear to be nothing like as common as the females. There are about ten there at the mo. Get a bit blase about them when they are so common.

        Keep up the blogs. I enjoy reading them.

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