Wednesday, 31 December 2008

A year to remember

As 2008 nears it's end and the Aussies start to enjoy 2009 time to think back to a year that had good birds, some memorable dips, and not just the FTSE, some good friends that sadly were taken from us and memorable trips to India, Cornwall and Ireland. The good birds of 2008 were many from a Kentish perspective and though there were lean times through the year the autumn threw up some great birds and the spring had a few good moments of magic 'in the valley'. The star birds would have to be the Green Heron at West Hythe, Black Stork at Seaton, American Golden Plovers, Desert Wheatear and Red-footed Falcons. From a national perspective I rarely wandered out of the county bar a few trips to Essex, a trip to the White-crowned Sparrow in Norfolk early in the year and a memorable day in South Wales watching paint dry 'plus a few Little Egrets'
I gained five Kent ticks this year and saw some good local birds with Caspian Gull, Waxwing, Firecrest, Dartford Warbler and Fulmar!!
The World list neared the magical 6000 mark only to be cruelly brought back down 30 species or so again with the recent Clements updates and American alliance species lumping session! Hopefully 2009 will be bird filled, and another batch of goodies in Kent and maybe' just maybe that 'Great Bustard' will once again set toe in the grand old county of Kent for all to see
Happy New Year

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Fairytale of New Medway !

Last weekend I was just about recovering from a bad week of flu like illness and decided to bird the North Kent marshes 'for a change' pre Xmas just to get a bit of fresh air. Now I'm certainly not a festive person, the meaning of Xmas is either going to work and getting paid extra or going birding with a bit of socialising thrown in. Long gone are the days of the build up to Xmas MFI or no MFI, no Woolies, Whittards on the brink of coffee meltdown, it's a pretty depressing time of year that warrants getting out in the field with your bins and seeing a few festive birds.
WAXWING That'll do as one conveniently was found by Frank at lower Halstow and off I shot past the Medway shoppers looking for a bargain to the bottle bank of Medway, Lower Halstow, Sure enough there it was still on it's favoured tree and performed well for the next 30 mins or so.
Next stop Sharps Green a good locality for photos of Gulls and as luck would have it a Med Gull seen strutting it's stuff and attempting to charm the feathers off a Common Gull. That would be an interesting hybrid, must get a feather sample and send it for DNA analysis and time wasting.

All was going well, fine weather, no disturbance, birds showing well then suddenly all the Gulls flew and the viewfinder in my camera went dark/yellow.

Fred bleeding Skuttle of the camouflaged photographers club had entered the arena and all the birds flew off while megaphone bird scarer and camo man wandered up to a boat to photograph it oblivious of the disturbance he'd caused. Hopefully his camera didn't work.
I drove off disgruntled and partly blinded by his attire.......certainly no parking attendants needed here.
And there ends the pre Xmas moan.
Oh well nearly Saturday It'll all be over!!!!

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Dartfords like Sewage farms!

Sunday 7th Dec was a wonderful sunny day, not a breath of wind, clear skies and a heavy frost early am. A visit to Camer Park near Meopham was very enjoyable with an orchard full of Thrushes and a few finches, the best of the bunch being 400 Fieldfare, 35 Redwing, 2 Redpoll and a Brambling. In the afternoon I stopped at various spots along the Medway hoping to find a Green winged Teal or Black Brant or even a Shrike but at the back of my mind was the possibility of a Dartford Warbler that hopefully would be lurking but show itself in the still and sunny weather.
The orchard at Sole Street, near Meopham, Thrush heaven!

One of the many abandoned shopping trolleys at Motney RSPB, neglected by the shoppers, empty and not an RSPB gift in sight!
At Lower Halstow, I failed to find the wintering Whimbrel and the Brents were too far off to be sure that there was a Brant amongst them, though a possible was seen. These bottle diggers were showing very well though and very proud of their finds, that apparently can be found on EBay under "pot lids" !! Apparently it's not allowed here as the sign above says but as soon as the tide comes in the holes are filled in and they appeared to be far way from the river wall to cause any damage to sea defences, though I expect the birds are slightly further away than they would normally be.

One of the prize pot lids found that day.

Anyway, the birds were hard to come by but all of a sudden whilst walking around Motney Hill, I heard the distinctive call of a Dartford Warbler and sure enough there it was just inside the turd farm sitting up on top of the vegetation for all to say. My hunch had paid off and it's not often I find a migrant Dartford so I was well pleased with the find. Once again another superb site for birding that just needs coverage, it's a place I've only ever seen other birders a few times and during severe winters the deep water channel can be a great site for Scoter, Divers, rarer Grebes and other sea Duck.

Woodlarks like Stubble

Saturday 6th Dec, a busy morning at work, I'd just got home when something started vibrating in my pocket..... I'd missed a call from Guy but got the message that there's a report of nine Woodlark off Riverside Rd, near Footscray Meadows, close to Albany Park. Following a short break we made our way towards the area using our state of the Ark navigational tool, the Mot mot of the Sat Nav World with up to date maps, no indication of hidden speed cameras and very small print, the 'compact A-Z of London. The site was duly found and within minutes the crowd of two birders was boosted by the arrival of the A Team, fresh in from Sheppey, all Raptored up and ready for action. The Manfrottos and Kowas were assembled, placed in a seemingly good spot overlooking the stubble field (that's what the gen said) and shorty after I managed to see the sneaky sods shuffling along in the stubble at the end of the field.
Excellent, Woodlarks this close to home, well former home, and showing incredibly well. Photos were taken, birds were counted and verified by an independent birder and as the birds got to their closest position so far, the mere hint of a video being carefully taken out of a camera bag found them flying off to the back of the field out of sight. Or it could have been the lady with the Hound of the Baskervilles.

An excellent break from work and a great bird in the LNHS recording area. Cracking stuff.

Grey weekend in North Kent

In the last weekend of November I was really hoping for a final farewell to a good autumn and a last minute Brucie bonus with a good bird or two........... Sadly it didn't happen, not only did we see a Strictly favourite leave the floor and no longer brighten up a Saturday night but the birding was pretty quiet and at time hard, and wet work!! A visit to Abbott's Court on Grain failed to produce the pale bellied Brents and I settled for a Kingfisher, 2 Goldcrest, 69, yes 69 Moorhen!! and a few Little Egrets.Sadly their larger cousin wasn't on the cards and the best I could do was grab a shot of something big and white flying away in the drizzle......................... Mute Swan. Once again another great site in North Kent to bird but that's the problem with Kent, too many good birding sites, it just needs time and patience. Some regularly watched sites may only produce a really rare bird once in a blue Moon ?? but they're worth waiting for. Think of the Royal Military Canal at west Hythe, no rares then like buses two rare Herons in a short period of time!
Sunday afternoon was spent on Sheppey, looking for the teeny cousin of Little Egret, Cattle. Now I did wonder as I was driving across Sheppey what I was doing looking for 'another' Cattle Egret, a cosmopolitan species I've seen millions of, but I tried, and I failed to locate the Swale Egbert. I did manage a Pink-footed Goose, an unexpected Goosander on the reserve and the usual array of Harriers plus a huge Peregrine. The Rough-leg was not visible but two SE Owls put on a great show at the mega raptor fest that is Capel Fleet.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Delawarensis Dip!

Sunday 23rd Nov, certainly a day to remember. I had a late start from home but was on site at Motney Hill by 8am literally just as the first few flakes of snow started to fall. As I made my way across towards Otterham Creek there appeared to be very little exposed mud but plenty of Gulls to look at. Once in position, the snow got heavier and heavier and viewing was somewhat difficult, though despite the conditions I persevered and managed to record quite a few species and even had a visitor come and have a look at the 'nutter in the snow' . Finally, the snow stopped, then the rain started. My sanity was challenged, a common occurrence though I refused to give in and continued looking for Mr Bill Gold as a colleague at work once called Ring-billed Gull, in an attempt to relay a message to me about a bird at Dunge years and years ago. This real rarity in Kent once again failed to give itself up, and it's highly likely it was Rossi from Essex on an away day from Westcliff on sea. I finally gave up and made my way back back to the car, cold, wet, ring billed less and there was certainly no pot of Gulled at the end of the Motney rainbow, just the usual Motney odours, a Stonechat and a few cold looking dog walkers.

The final tally for Otterham though was as follows. Peregrine, 4 adult Med Gulls, 4 Spot Shanks as seen above, a Green Sand, King Ice fisher, 61 Avocet, a Sproghawk, but best of all the icing on the scope, bins, birder, and indeed Fox, this cracking Fox out for an early morning stroll complete with snow, cataract in it's right eye and a nice warm coat!

The highlight of the morning

What a fantastic sight, brightened up a cold and wet morning.

West Kent wanderings

Last weekend, Sat 22nd Nov, I decided on a visit to Bough Beech to attempt to see the Great Northern Diver that had taken up residence, and also try my luck with the not so showy Bearded Tit. With a lack of news from West Kent I decided to go West anyway and give it a go. On arrival at the causeway I saw Miles who had failed to see the Diver so far but had only just started scanning. I wandered off to the Oast House past the feeding station and the gathered Tit admirers to begin my own Tit watch or to be correct, Reedling watch. This was short lived though as Miles had located the GND and I shot off round the Res to see it passing Josh on the way, see his excellent blog

Fortune way on our side and the GND showed incredibly well as reasonably close range allowing a few piccies to be snapped. Still a very rare visitor to the Res, and a BB tick for me though I'm hardly a BB regular!! Back down at the Oast House I heard the Bearded Tit briefly and saw a few Marsh Tits but nothing else very unusual. It was still pretty cold and I decided to go home the scenic route via Goathurst Common. Whilst driving down Back Lane a pair of Common Buzzards were hanging in the wind and a few groups of Fieldfare flew over.

Passing along the A225 heading towards Otford I noted that there was a large gathering of Gulls on the fields opposite the V W garage and I couldn't resist scanning them from the conveniently located lay by. Mostly Black heads, Commons, a few Lesser Blacks and a good gathering of Herrings to test the larid ID skills. Eventually I located a bird I was happy with as a Caspian, a 3rd year bird that eventually decided to have a snooze on the grass. The bird is depicted above. Not a bad mornings birding with a GND, Bearded Heardling, Casper and a pair of Buzzards.

The Great Northern in pre snorkeling mode in roughly the same spot shared by a Leach's Petrel in 2005 and Percy the Wandering Pelican a few years ago!! Bough Beech has it all, a birders dream!!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Premature Tick Elation !!

Yes, as winter sets in, memories of past events come to the fore and as this blog is a year old and it's too dark to bird after work I thought I'd quickly stick in a bit of waffle.!
Nov 17th 1991. A day to remember as we drove up North to Catterick to see a Franklins' Gull. I was in the company of Keith Holland and his mum and if I remember correctly it was a very foggy day and we inadvertently ended up in a service road off one of the main roads as we couldn't see the road ahead!!
Catterick was lovely, a bit dull and foggy at times and a complete absence of a certain Mr Frankin's !!
As the day wore in and the birds seen were few, suddenly out of the blue a mobile phone rang, yes one!! They were as rare as Franklin's Gulls in those days, pre Internet, pre X factor, pre Amur Falcon !! A loud announcement was made as the phone was carefully lowered back down (they were also very large then) MUGIMAKI FLYCATCHER................ STONE CREEK..... HUMBERSIDE.
Now at this time the gathered Gull dippers looked blankly at one another as few had heard of Mugimaki Fly, but we'd all heard of Flycatcher. We quickly piled into the car, got the SAT MAP out, (the paper form) and aimed the car at Stonecreek roughly, as it was very difficult to find on our map. Eventually we arrived at the area, run along to the site and there it was a Mugimaki Flycatcher, still the only UK record and still not on the official British List as a 'wild' bird.
A case of 'Premature Tick elation' now 17 years old had developed, thinking you'd ticked a real crippler only to find out that your excitement peaked too soon and it was not tickable according to the 'national list' !!
Those heroic fog travellers that day still live in hope of a being able to get a British tick. Nowadays in these Internet controlled times we see photos of many of the birds before we've even travelled to see them, and in some cases look at them again when we realise we recorded them as a different species.
The good old days have gone, but at least the World is a 'bigger' place now with many countries no longer 'off limits' as they were in the 80's and 90's. Fortunately for some of us we've now seen many of these 'gems' abroad and some of them have even graced Kentish soil or air space.
Stonecreek also just so happens to be the site of the Green Heron of 1982 seen nearby, yet no one would ever have guessed that 26 years later one would be seen in Kent and photos of it 'available' an hour or two later!

Friday, 14 November 2008


Saturday 8th Nov and the purple patch in Kent continues, with a late morning jaunt back to East Kent to hopefully see and photograph a female Desert Wheatear that had taken up residence on the golf course adjacent to the Ancient Highway, Sandwich Bay. On arrival a small group of birders sheltering from the strong winds were huddled up next to a pill box minus the soldiers, and shortly after the Wheatear was seen feeding on the golf course completely undisturbed by the golfers nearby. As it appeared to be favouring the coastal footpath we wandered over to get better views and luckily it came along to inspect us. This was my 8th DW in the UK, and my 4th in Kent but represented the first ever record of a rare Wheatear for the Bay. A superb bird as all Wheatears are, and 'an expected' species in the UK in late Oct/early Nov this bird was one of at least four birds nationally this late autumn period.
The bird clearly has an affinity with golf balls as above, and hasn't laid a large and somewhat 'painful' egg.

The 'watchers' watching/looking for the bird. Is this the final good bird of the autumn in Kent?
Will there still be more rarities to find?
It's been a fantastic few weeks and has proved the point the East Kent really is mega for birding, who knows how many 'Desert' species have lurked, lurk along this coastal strip in the autumn. A great area to bird, full of potential, its just needs more coverage but all credit to those that regularly bird the area, they are fortunate to live near to a brilliant area, and deserve everything they find for the countless hours they spend in the field.
keep up the good work

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Old friends reunited in East Kent

Tuesday 6th Nov and a day off work. The NE'ly winds had dropped a few rares into the UK over the last few days and with Kent having a good run a crack team was put together to bird North Foreland in the hope of finding a big rarity. In the fast car, Andy 'blue tail, formerly Gull and raptor boy' Lawson, John Tilbrook, Nigel 'Weirwood' Driver and myself, in the white with a shade of grey and rust van, Gary Taylor. First port of call at 0720 the clifftop scrub at North Foreland, except that the council had already cut it down and hence we birded the clifftop grass and scrubby patches that they missed. At one time I was wondering whether I had sufficient paper to write down all the birds, Dunnock, another Dunnock, Blackbird, Robin, oh another Dunnock. The thoughts of an early breakfast appeared more appealing until we met Mr F Solly and shortly after Dartford Warbler was in the bag, a particularly showy individual as my photo below indicates. Stunning views at times.
Undeterred by a notebook full of Dunnocks and a superb Dartford Warbler as a boost we walked further towards the Captain Digby and it's very viewable tamarisks that could hold a dozen Dartfords. A dog in mid faecal drop off flushed a Snow Bunting off the clifftop path that fortunately landed in the grass and gave cracking views. Overhead the calls of Redpoll, Siskin and a fast moving Sparrowhawk kept the interest up.
A look around the Whiteness area post breakfast and cholesterol top up revealed a vocal but elusive Ring Ousel, three Swallows overhead and then out of the blue three Waxwings flew over and away calling all the time. Add to this up to eight Firecrest and things were getting to fever pitch.
Next port of call Elmwood Avenue where a flock of 21 Pink foot Geese flew over and away plus a few small flocks of Fieldfare, Redwing and out to sea two Little Gull.
Andrew decided to bird the Ramsgate area next and the Bluetail park gave us a Yellow browed Warbler, a few more Firecrest, Chiffchaff, Reed Bunting and stacks of Goldcrests, but still no Pallas's Warbler.
With time getting on we birded Cliffsend, a great place that just looks like a rarity hot spot but despite all our efforts, Tree Sparrow, four Swallow, Chiffchaff and more Goldcrests was the best we could manage. Nigel and John look intently into the bushes, waiting for that 'sprite' to appear. It didn't though!!

( Did Andy tell you he's got a new scope ?)

Snow Bunting at North Foreland. Mega bird

Palm Bay cafe and arterial feeding. Home of a good Big breakfast

The incredibly showy Dartford Warbler at Foreness, I should have posted this photo on Surfbirds!
We finished up at Newland's Farm on a wild Goose chase that was very wild and flighty and we left without seeing a Bean.
Great day out in a much under watched corner of Kent, North Foreland is the best spot in North Kent for birds they're just waiting to be found.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Bockhill Blues and West Hythe Greens

Sunday 2nd Nov dawned bright and dry...ish! John and myself set off once again towards Bockhill to try our luck at the Sibe Stonechat once again. Shortly after arriving at 0830 the bird was seen in it's favoured area just adjacent to Bockhill farm and despite giving us the run around the day before performed brilliantly to to the small crowd of Sibe Chat watchers. A tricky bird to catch up with in Kent with several previous records but virtually all short stayers. No photos of any use were obtained though the views were cracking and afterwards a short walk to Freedown turned up a excellent little Black Redstart and a very tame and approachable Mealy Redpoll that fed on the footpath or on the track. There was still evidence of migration going on with Redpolls, Siskins, Brambling and winter Thrushes overhead.

As the weather appeared to be improving and there was a rare sighting of the sun we headed off south towards West Hythe for seconds helpings of the Green Heron that remained faithful to the Royal Military Canal at West Hythe. We decided to take the scenic route along Reach Road out of St Margaret's and as we passed the memorial on the West side of the road I noticed a huge corvid standing in the field next to a Carrion Crow. RAVEN ......... I quickly stopped the car and we managed to watch this hulking breat brute for a few minutes before it flew off down to the sheep fields. Only my second ever sighting in Kent and a bird that is more or less resident in Kent now though difficult to catch up with.

Back to West Hythe, the bird performed well. Once again the views were simply stunning and the bird even flew towards us at one time where 40 or so birders and photographers soaked up this real mega of a bird.

With a bit of time left over we checked Capel le ferne briefly but apart from a Tree Sparrow and some Med Gulls near Lympne no other birds of note. Another mega day, somewhat drier and a good chance to meet up with old friends
A rare sighting and a Millennium tick for me, Chris Ball an ex twitcher and keen Sussex birder.

The weather today will be wet and wetter

Saturday 1st November, and another morning at work. Three hours later I finally finished the last few tasks then back down the A2 'for a change' through the 50mph no work zones and on towards that paradise of ornithological dipping, the 'Chantler' zone, Bockhill. My track record at Bockhill to be fair isn't very good, especially when it comes to let me think, 3 Radde's Warblers, well 2 whole birds dipped completely and brief views of another, Arctic Warbler, Red-flanked Bluetail (ok not technically a dip I was in South America), Barred Warbler, and soon to be new addition, Sibe Stonechat. Despite arriving at just before midday and enjoying the persistent rain, the trio of Ray O'Reilly, John Tilbrook and myself mustered between us Sparrowhawk, Firecrest and lots of Robins, I only managed the Robin!!
My clothes were soaked through by 1 O'clock, even the waterproof trousers appeared to serve no purpose and my bins were steamed up and practically useless.
Fortune was on my side though as the Bonser/ Lawson info line together with RBA indicated to close Kent listing rival Terry Laws that a Red-flanked Bluetail was 'gettable' at Ramsgate. I twisted Johns' arm and off we set with Ray following 'briefly' North to Ramsgate, a prelude to the events in Sao Paulo a day later.
At approx 1340 we arrived at the park and a short sprint found a tight group of 7 or so birders enjoying close but very wet views of this much wanted bird.
Only the third record for Kent and the second to be enjoyed by birders and not mammals as the Sandwich Bay bird was nobbled by a weasel way back in 1956. The bird performed admirably to the slowly increasing crowd and worsening weather though, better than Dungeness we were informed! After an hour of enjoying this bird , my first in Kent it was back down to Bockhill to try again for the Sibe Chat.

The crowd at the Bluetail
Our timing at Bockhill was 'almost' perfect as we missed the Chat by a second or two and with torrential rain failed to see the bird that afternoon. undeterred though we returned the following morning !!

Friday, 31 October 2008

Halloween at the Pond

It's that time of the year again when I pretend I'm not at home in the evening, turn off the lights, try to keep the dog amused whilst stacks of kids patrol the streets 'trick or treating', it's almost as bad as Fireworks night, another waste of time and annoyance. Anyway, on Oct 21st at the pond, yes Broadditch Pond of Asiatic migrant duck fame, I was surprised to see this family of Mallard and 5 juvs wandering the pond trying to avoid the 'new additions' to the lake, and I don't mean 'more plastic ducks' but an exotic skeletal pole dancer and a miserable old sod on a tractor that looks like you've just wandered off a public footpath in to his patch!!!
Valuable additions to the pond?
Maybe!!! but at least the Falcated Duck was still present now back into pristine male plumage with all the frilly bits once again.


Sunday, 26 October 2008

Little Blues and Little Greens

Reminiscing about the past can sometimes bring back bad memories as well as good. 2005 was a good year for Trumpeter Finches after a 21 year drought and post Sparowhawk snack after the Sussex bird became a musical takeaway. My efforts to twitch birds 'beyond' the South-east have in the last ten years or so have had mixed results following a long journey to Peterculter in Scotland and good views of Grey Wagtails!! Saturday 25th Oct 2008 was a day out in South Wales complete with good company, fine scenery 'if it wasn't dark' and seeing old faces from the past and good views of Little egrets, always a hard bird to see in North Kent................NOT
The day dawned cloudy and with high hopes the masses assembled around the Kidwelly area hoping to see a Little Blue Heron a 'First for Britain' hot on the heels of one in Southern Ireland just days before. The area was scoured with a fine toothed comb, but as dusk fell Little Egrets had been very much order of the day together with some fine Peregrines, an unidentified small passerine that flew overhead calling like a Serin plus Hen Harrier, Buzzard and vocal Cetti's and Water Rails. Sadly though the Little Blue was nowhere to be seen, it was cold, damp and brought back memories of why I choose to stay in Kent more nowadays. Good views of the likes of Dave and Jackie Bridges, John Allan, Chris Collins complete with snacks, Steve Spooner, Webb, Mark Golley and Eddie Myers to mention a few plus the Kentish stalwarts adding another trip to their dip list.
On the journey home whilst not really enjoying a Burger somewhere in Wales, the pagers Mega alerted KENT GREEN HERON Royal Military Canal midday!
Now then, Kent is a long long way from the Americas and Green Herons are cracking little birds that I've been fortunate enough to see twice in the UK and many abroad, but Kent.............. incredible. Another short night with little sleep and a quick drive to West Hythe via the M20 to a car park already brimming with cars and shady figures. Fortunately the police didn't have a look in or they would have thought it very strange, car loads of men sitting in cars, middle of the night, steamed up windows! The assembled mass of 15 or so Kent birders wandered in the dull light up to the dam area of the canal where the sign above clearly shows what to look out for in the area. What can you spot? the sign says The troops scanned the reads, stones, trees, Botolph's Bridge, told a few stories, looked at some more reeds for next hour or whatever until suddenly the apparition gently flew past us all and landed in the reeds at the dam. GREEN HERON the 6th British record I think and what a corker
Almost a quick as it appeared it flew into the reeds and the trail went cold though fortunately following a few calls to wake others from their comfy beds the bird put on a spectacular show at reasonable range allowing all the enjoy and the dog walkers a mere day tick as they had already seen it on previous days
A first winter bird that had flown all the way from the USA and presumably across the country into Kent, surely one of the most unexpected finds in Kent alike American Coot in 1996 and Swainson's Thrush in 1976, 32 years ago on 27th Oct!!
The birders behaviour was impeccable and the waterproofs got an airing in the foul weather. Job done, back home late morning, not bad at all Green Heron 10 points, Little Blue Nil Points.