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.