Tuesday, 25 December 2007

I'm dripping from a wet Christmas'

The South Quarry at Cliffe the Xmas Eve late afternoon venue

Christmas Day 2007, certainly not the driest day of the year hence a walk that day at Trosley country park was somewhat wet. Very few birds were seen though incredibly there were several families out walking in the rain also pus a few walkers with their 'packed lunches'

Christmas Eve on the other hand was an excellent day weather wise and a few good birds to boot!

First port of call, Chetney and Funton with 3+Marsh Harrier, 820+ Knot, and an RBMerg. At Lower Halstow, the Whimbrel was in residence on it's usual 'rock' shoreline together with 350+ Brents some of which allowed me to photograph them, plus a Peregrine causing chaos and hassling a male Marsh Harrier. At Motney, very few birds bar a Peregrine and 60 Avocet. Next stop, Copperhouse Lane and 9 cracking Mergs. last stop Cliffe with 2 Scaup on the Timber lake and a second winter Caspian Gull in the South Quarry, not a bad day!!
Admitedly the piccies are pretty naff but the light was very poor by then!!!

Here's a better photo of some Brent Geese at Lower Halstow the same day!

Saturday, 22 December 2007

'Bean and Gone' A Livid Goose chase!

Working Saturday morning for the jolly old NHS I was some waht dealyed from getting across the water to savour the delights of Rainham RSPB, a cracking reserve close to home and a haven for birds and other wildlife. My quest, two species of Geese, Barnacles or 'Barnies' and Bean Goose, another great bird in the LNHS (London Natural History Society) recording area. I quickly rushed around to the area where the Geese wer in view but when I got there there was an absence of all things Goose like and only after nearly circumnavigating the reserve did I connect with the Barnies though sadly the Beanies had done a bunk................ I should have finished work earlier!!

Anyway here's another piccie of the Barnies at home in sunny East london

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Redhead or Deadhead 'Hoo are you'

Just recently there has been an 'Aythya' duck at Cliffe on the Hoo Peninsula that has been very elusive at times and took me two attempts to finally connect with the bird. The bird was initially found on the North Quarry by Paul Larkin but when I looked for it on the Wednesday it was nowhere to be found though I did see a Grey Wagtail, heard two Green Sandpipers and a pair of Yellowhammer (a rare bird at Cliffe) and some cracking Brambling, maybe 20 plus amongst the Chaffinches at Allens Hill Cliffe.
A phone call from Andrew on the next Saturday found me zipping towards Cliffe and the 'hidden pool' on the RSPB reserve. Fortunately Paul was on site still with Dave Mercer and I watched the bird for the next few hours with Mike Buckland and Marcus Lawson though it was very difficult to pick out from the Pochard that it was with. The bird at rest when asleep looked basically like a roughly Pochard sized Aythya with a slightly darker toned upperparts and darker tertials though in the bright light this was extremely difficult to see at times. The best way to pick the bird up was it's habit of 'spinning' which the Pochards tended not to do.
Eventually it work up and then it's appearance changed considerably with a 'Redhead' head and bill pattern!!! The orange-yellow eye was a bit bright but very different to the red eyes of Pochard. The photos show the bill pattern quite well with the black ink 'dipped' into the grey bill which also showed some dark at the base alike a Pochard.
The time spent awake was minimal though until later in the afternoon when it started to feed with the Tufties and nearby Pochards. The photos shown here were taken on the Timber Lake and North Quarry over the next week or so and indicate the features of this bird which is a hybrid for certain but as to which species is a matter of opinion.

Sadly not a 'pure' bird but a very instructive bird that helps in our knowledge of these 'aythya' delights and shows that it's always worth checking out those Pochard and Tufted Duck flocks!!
Thanks to Paul for keeping me posted with the bird and it's movements.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Caspers the friendly Gulls

As I had a bit of spare time following work on Dec 9th, I visited the Littlebrook/New diggings area of Dartford Marshes in the hope of locating some Caspian Gulls. I was told by Andrew Lawson that a sub adult Caspian had been seen at the New diggings but when I arrived there was a first winter bird here instead. The picture below indicates a bird with apparently dark underwing but this is due to the lighting on the photo and has in fact got a whitish underwing. a cracking bird and worth the visit.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Weekend Blues and yet more rain

A whole 2 days off from work, there's a Great Blue Heron on Scilly, it's virtually impossible to get over there, a weekend of strong wind and rain, what more could you want!!
I eventually got my act together on Saturday and visited a few sites along the Darent Valley in the vague hope of seeing something of note out of the car window.Near to Lullingstone Villa there was a lone Little Egret feeding along the river and a pair of Teal. Other than that, it was a bird free zone and next stop was Sevenoaks reserve as there's a hide there and I'd be sheltered from the rain. Once in the Tyler hide, there were many Greylags and Black-headed Gulls on view plus 30 or so Teal. Scanning through the Geese I noticed a juv White-fronted Goose and at times it was quite vocal, a good reserve record I expect.

Commuting up town......No thanks

On Friday I had a course to attend as part of work, at Colindale nearly 2 hours from home. I'm not a great fan of trains or London though despite limited viewing across a mass of commuters and oversize papers I did manage to see a Wren feeding alongside the line whilst we stopped for no apparent reason, a Sparrowhawk over Charlton Athletic FC and a Grey Wagtail at Colindale along the brook. I think I'l take a book next time!!

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Allhallows and beyond!

Brent Geese flying over the exposed mud flats off Allhallows with essex in the background. The Black Brant is the third bird in from the RHS.
The Black Brant is clearly visible here showing the 'black' plumage and gleaming white flanks
One of the Snow Buntings that was certainly NOT very photogenic

Saturday 1st Dec found me on the Isle of Grain wandering around in an attempt to see some good birds. First stop was St Mary's Hoo to check out the Biffa tip, complete with Gulls though only viewable as they flew to and from the tip. A scan across the marshes towards St Mary's Bay reveled very little bar ten Mute Swan and a Sparrowhawk. Next stop, Alhallows and a stroll along the foreshore by waking out from the British pilot pub. Almost immediately 2 Stonechat were seen and on the river side of the sea wall, 2 Snow Buntings that managed to remain in the shady part of the river wall and hence difficult to photograph. In the distance I could hear Brent Geese calling but failed to see any! I walked westwards infront of the caravan park and located the flock of Brents on the foreshore. Within minutes I found a Black Brant that from a distance was easily picked out as a result of the very black plumage and the broad white neck 'cob web' collar. I walked close to the birds, 221 Brents plus the Brant. On getting closer to the bird it was still obvious but in the bright sunlight showed some brown tones at times on the upperparts. A search in the evening of Brant images illustrate that this is within range for a pure bird but there's always a nagging doubt that there may be some hybrid influence. Other birds seen were 32 cracking Golden Plover and 200+ Black-tailed Godwits.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Welsh Pipit off the menu!

The weekend of 24th-25th November should have included a drive to Wales to see a Pechora Pipit but sadly the bird had done a bunk and I opted for a long drive (all 8 miles of it) to Cliffe to look for the Green-winged Teal (GWT) . A pleasant few hours were spent in the area around the pools though no GWT and I had to make do with 2 Siskins flying over and 3 Goldeneye, one a drake. There was a large roost of waders, Dunlin, Blackwit, and Redshank though I didn't count them. Next stop was Stoke saltings and a complete lack of birds! With a few hours of daylight left I opted for Motney Hill sewage farm a delightful area complete with real sewage and an RSPB reserve next door!! In the deep water channel I failed to find any rare Grebes or Divers though did see 4 Red-breasted Mergs with their punk hairdos and a distant ringtail Hen Harrier.
Not a bad day but no 'rarities' and little variety

Monday, 19 November 2007

'West Kent on a cold day'

Sunday 18th was a more laid back day with a trip to Knole Park to walk the dog and a quick stop at Sevenoaks KWT Wildfowl reserve.

Bird wise Knole Park was incredibly quiet with only Jay and Green Woodpecker being worthy of note, though the Deer showed well!
At Sevenoaks, a group of ten Snipe showed well outside the John Tyler Hide and a Sparrowhawk flew overhead.

North Kent strikes again

The Grey Phalarope at Elmley was a real bonus but equally good was the week before that I ventured into North Kent. As it would appear that most of the Little Auks have cleared out of the area now or succumbed to the local Raptors or Gulls, I thought I'd give an idea of waht the previous weekend was like.
The last few weeks have been pretty good in North Kent, partly due to the weather conditions, not being at work all the weekends and some lucky breaks regarding choosing where to go birding. With reports of thousands of Little Auks 'up north' I decided along with John Tilbrook to bird the South side of the Swale adjacent to Conyer through to Oare on 11th Nov. Conyer appears to be little visited, yet is a great place to bird with a variety of habitats and more importantly, the possibility of a Little Auk !! Fortunately luck was on our side as within an hour of being on site and seeing Peregrine, several Marsh Harriers and waiting for tidal surge to be added to the list, a Little Auk whirred in from the west and dropped onto the Swale. Pleased with our quarry a second bird did the honours and flew past us and up the Swale towards Elmley................MEGA .

A couple of small groups of Kittiwakes also flew up the Swale, 22 in total whilst a walk along the river wall overlooking Luddenham marshes revealed a stunning male Hen Harrier quartering the marshes. Next port of call was Oare via the scenic route that skirts along Luddenham marshes and towards Uplees. Very few birds of note along here toady bar a Little Owl calling, and a large flock of 50+ Fieldfare. Once in position at Oare we ignored the flood to concentrate on the Swale once again. Incredibly within minutes of arrival John picked up a Little Auk slowly moving twards the shore and my camera!!! The bird is depicted here, a real cracker. Things got better though with another 3 Little Auks located looking towards Harty Hill and then the icing on the cake, a superb Leach's Petrel that flew into view and remained albiet hidden at times in the Swale looking towards Harty. In flight the plumage features could easily be seen including the 'narrow' tube nose and the dark line that cuts across the centre of the tail. A cracking day out, the main quarry in the bag plus a few extras and finished off with a Barn Owl.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

The 'elusive' Grey Phalarope that almost got away!

The Little Egret is a familiar sight in Kent today especially in North Kent where extremely large roost can be seen in late summer to early autumn. It's incredible to think that as recently as the early 1980's Little Egret was a 'mega' in Kent and many other parts of the UK. Now they are expected. They breed in Kent and rarely a weekend passes when I don't encounter them somewhere or other on the North Kent marshes.
Another week of work and news of a Grey Phalarope that was 'showy' and tame on Elmley RSPB was high on the agenda this weekend. James Hunter at the wheel together with John Tilbrook (JT) and myself headed off towards Elmley RSPB on the Isle of Sheppey arriving at 0815. Parking was a struggle with not knowing which space to choose in the empty car park!! This is a typical feature of some sites in Kent, great for birding but not always many people around. We slowly made our way down to the Swale hide, seeing 4 Short-eared Owls as they flew from their chosen roosting area near to the river wall. The ditches were diligently checked but only a white plastic bag and a Moorhen were found. Looking out from the Swale hide, 68 Great crested Grebe, 10+ Little Egret, Curlews and a few Marsh Harriers. On the marshes behind the hide, ie looking towards the prison we located 3 Merlin, a Peregrine and 10+ Marsh Harrier but still no Grey Phal!!!

A Stonechat sitting quietly on the gate near the disable parking area was some compensation and good views of Frank and Tom Cackett ready for their go at dipping Grey Phal!
Just as we were getting back to Kingshill Farm Frank phoned to say that they had found the Phalarope. We started to return to the Swale Hide when Frank phoned 'again' to say it had flown off again. undeterred we walked to the site and fortunately gained permission to view the bird away from the main track. What a corker! It was difficult at times to photograph the bird as a result of it's constant spinning but with the finger on the shutter trigger I got a few. This was the first Grey Phal I'd seen in Kent for a couple of years and well worth the effort.

With the Grey Phal under the belt we set off back to try our luck at a few other sites, via a close Grey Heron. Next port of call was Warden Bay for the hoped for Velvet Scoters. Despite the cold, conditions were ideal, a flat sea, little wind and a thermos of tea. Common Scoter numbered 25 and eventually 2 distant Velvets were picked out on the deck and then in flight.
A convenient viewpoint overlooking Chetney marshes was next, with Short-eared Owl, Sparrowhawk, a few more Marsh Harriers seen. Further along the road at Funton, Pintail numbered several hundred with a distant female Red-breasted Merganser and 5+ Little Grebe for variety. With constant scanning the Brent Goose flock was eventually loacted though nothing unusual amongst the 200+ birds, so onto Lower Halstow. With the tide gradually coming in, two Med Gulls were located, an adult winter and a first winter, plus a Kingfisher, Hen Harrier, and the usual wintering Whimbrel called a few times. In the deep water channel, 9 Goldeneye were found though no rare Grebes or Mergs. Another scan of the Brent Geese revealed a Black Brant with the Dark bellied Brents, easily picked out by it's flashy white flanks and blacker plumage together with it's 'cobweb' on the neck meeting at the front. There has been a bird wintering in the estuary here for several years now.