Backwell Environment Trust

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Higgy’s Magical BET Visit – February 2017

Colin Higgins, AKA ‘Higgy’ of YACWAG and Somerset Wildlife Photography fame, was brought up in Backwell and recently re-visited the two BET reserves in February.  Here is his story of the visit:

Having been suffering with this awful virus that has been doing the rounds for 4-5 weeks, and waking up to sunshine following my first full night’s sleep for five days, the decision was easy; some good old fashioned 'medicinal' fresh air was required!

Where to go? Having grown up in Backwell but moved away when my wife and I bought our first home some 25 years ago, I couldn't resist a visit to my old 'stomping ground' of Backwell Hill!

Despite only living in Yatton, I rarely get back and enjoy those long walks up over the top of the quarry and out to Long Lane, so with some excitement, I left home and drove to the Jubilee Stone reserve now managed by Backwell Environment Trust (BET). Having long been involved with my own local conservation group YACWAG, it's always a treat to go and see the good work that other local groups are doing.

Parking up, I could immediately hear the usual suspects in the form of Blue Tits, Great Tits and of course a friendly Robin, who was first to greet me at the gate.

Robin Erithacus rubecula 6

I moved down the path towards the Jubilee Stone and bumped into a small flock of Goldcrest who were actually being quite vocal for a change! The usual wrestling match with my camera whilst trying to get a snap of this tiny but beautiful bird as it flitted in and out of branches was difficult, but I was finally rewarded with a couple of pictures that might be OK as a 'record shot'.

Goldcrest Regulus regulus 7

Moving on, the sound of bird song was obvious and I was accompanied through the wood by the alarm calls and chattering of Tits who clearly gave away my position and any hope of a stealthy approach!

With my cover blown, I veered left and crossed the road over into Badgers Wood Reserve. I noticed straight away the work that has been carried out to make the site accessible to fellow nature lovers. I was heartened to hear the sound of birdsong actually increasing on this side of the road and at the top of the slope I was met with an amazing view over the old quarry and across Backwell and beyond. The clear sunny February day made it a pleasure to stand there and take in this wonder! Unfortunately, a huge flock of Jackdaws were in full voice and although I do enjoy Corvids, they can tend to be a bit noisy!

Jackdaw Corvus monedula 7

But I'm stuck to the spot at the amazing aerial display that these unappreciated birds were now giving me, tumbling and diving one after the other, truly spectacular!

Jackdaw Corvus monedula 2

'Honk Honk', the Ravens are also in full voice but beyond the trees and out of sight, a Buzzard calls high up on the thermals but again is as mystical as the Ravens.

Over the stile, which is always a bit tricky with one false hip, but with no one watching, I take the chance and luckily land on both feet! I love this section now on top of the quarry or as kids forty years ago we would shout 'On top of the world'! I pass the horses feeding and then I'm in the open field, but keeping close to the fence I can observe the Buddleia, Gorse and Hawthorn bushes that abound the top of the quarry and I strike gold! The February sun has bought out hordes of Bullfinches that are stripping the berries and seedheads.

Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula

Although wearing camouflaged clothing and hat, I'm exposed here and only manage a couple of snaps before they take to the air like a squadron of RAF fighter jets with their pale rumps following them! I sit and wait to see if they will come back and I'm joined instead by another small flock of Goldcrest after the same seedheads. They 'pose' a little, just long enough for me to get a couple of slightly better snaps.

Goldcrest Regulus regulus 4

I spot some Fieldfare, a Wren and of course plenty more Finches and Tits before I turn around to head back, but something catches my eye and yes I'm right in full flight and flying with purpose a Peacock butterfly passes me heading in the opposite direction! This reminds me that I must come back here for butterflies this summer...

Great Tit Parus major 2

I wander back to the viewing platform and something is wrong! It's quiet, ghostly quiet! One of those moments when in a horror film a 'mad axeman' might run out of the dark damp woods, but it's clear and bright and the sun is causing me to pull the peak of my cap over my eyes.... and then there it is right in front of me! 'Agggh I hadn't expected that' I exclaim as I wrestle with camera and binocular straps to get a shot at this beautiful predator and the reason why not a bird can be heard. The Peregrine must have been sitting up right under my nose and now it's racing across the huge void of the quarry and I'm struggling to get focus on it or even keep my camera following it! I snap as many pictures as I can, I think I may have a blur that looks partially like a Peregrine but it's proof if nothing else!

Peregrine Falco peregrinus

I wait to see if this magnificent bird will grace my presence again but realise that it's fruitless when the Jackdaws go into overdrive and at full voice appear to come tumbling out of every tree. But the target of their excitement soon becomes clear as the huge Buzzard comes over my head, probably only twenty feet above me and now firmly in my sights.

Buzzard Buteo buteo 6

Fulfilled and content, I stroll back across the coombe and back up into the Jubilee Wood Reserve and then take five minutes sitting on the wooden bench by the two ponds to have a sip of tea from my flask. The day has been so busy that I'm several hours in and haven't thought to stop until now! As I sit there in the sun, a second Peacock butterfly flutters by as in a determined race as the previous one seen above the quarry. A real treat to see not one, but two, of these beautiful insects out in the February sun. Some rustling to my left alerts me to more company and this time it presents itself in the form of a beautiful brightly coloured Blue Tit, again so often overlooked but one of the first birds that we all learn as a child and one that should be admired along with the rest!

Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus 2

It really is time to go now and although I could stay here for several more hours easily, I have chores to do. I head back to the entrance of the reserve and I'm happy to see more Goldcrest and then in the top clearing I come across a family of Long-tailed Tits chattering away together. They always make me smile and it's now that I realise what a tonic nature is, even when feeling ill or of low mood, the wonder of simple pleasures is unquestionable.

I'm close to the gate and a Coal Tit darts across in front of me and finally I'm back at the car and it's time for another quick brew before I leave this wonderful place. But of course I couldn't leave without my new best friend 'Mr Robin' coming to wave me off!

Many thanks to all at BET who have done a wonderful job saving what was my playground as a boy forty years ago. I truly enjoyed a wonderful day with easy access and lots to see! Great work, keep it up!

All photographs courtesy of Colin Higgins and Somerset Wildlife Photography.

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