Saturday, 31 May 2008

Falsterbo of the East

Saturday 31st May a day off work and a late start. With light winds, fine conditions and a Whiskered Tern at Grove Ferry I headed off East to the hallowed valley known as the Stour!! Looking at the photo above one could be mistaken for a scene of total chaos with everyone looking different directions, one looking at a Hobby, another a plane, or a butterfly or even just suffering with stiff neck!! The amassed crowd of Raptor followers worked like a well oiled machine though picking up the raptors as they headed up the Stour Valley from the East and funnelled their way through to and over Stodmarsh village and Collards's lake. The 4 hours that I spent there were simply magic with good company, good birding and extremely sensible parking on the narrow lane that allowed even the likes of Massey Ferguson and John Deere safe passage.
The tally was probably 15-20+ Hobby, 3+ Kestrel, 4+ Common Buzzard, a 'Montagu's Harrier' and Red Kite within minutes of each other, female Red-footed Falcon (as above), 3+ Marsh Harrier and and of course, the Whiskered Tern my second in the Stour Valley.

What a fantastic way to spend a Saturday afternoon, bring it on!

Monday, 26 May 2008

Another local tick!!

Bank Holiday Monday, what a day, I was a bit concerned that I may well run out of sun block!! With news of a Fulmar in the Thames off Rainham, Essex I met up with Andrew at Greenhithe to 'enjoy' 3 hours or so River and rain watching!! Fortunately Andrew already had a Fulmar lined up and during the watch we recorded at least 3 birds, plus a Brent Goose, Sandwich Tern, 2 Kitts, Arctic Tern, 2 Grey Plover, a John Archer and a Bob Watts both twitching the Fulmar. At times the views were pretty good despite the poor weather and yet another tick for my Dartford marshes area list, now a massive 205!! Also a good LNHS bird, but sadly no Gannets despite there being 'lots' off Canvey further East, they simply don't like coming past Cliffe or even beyond Allhallows at times.

The Joys of Travelling

It's on days like this, rain, more rain, even more rain that your mind wanders back to previous foreign trips and great times. It does seem that bank holidays are either wall to wall birds or very very quiet like now. With the high water levels I thought I'd post a few more pix from my recent trip to NE India as it's quite clear I'm never going to get the chance to post the whole trip here, Birdtour Asia website. The first set of photos were taken at Nameri national park, or should I say on the river as we couldn't access the park due to high water levels.
The Ibisbills had sadly moved on back to their breeding grounds but by taking a white water rafting trip we could enjoy cracking views of the following and still mange to keep the camera dry........ish!!
River Tern, a stunning bird.
Great Thick Knee, what a hooter and far more appealing knees than Robo Morris.
Small Pratincole, common here and a stunning bird.Crested Kingfisher, one of the big Daddies of the KF World.

Up in the highlands of Eaglenest Himalayan Buzzard is a great bird to see and this one was particularly photo friendly. The stay at Eaglenest involves staying in tented camps, at we chose to stay at the three main camps, Lama, for the Endemic Bugun Liocichla, Bomphu for the bamboo specialities and Sessni for accessing the lower slopes of Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary. Sessni Camp, a peaceful camp complete with en suite Elephants and big top!!, and simply stunning birds. One of the great joys of travelling is the opportunity to see some great birds, culture, fantastic scenery and sometimes mega mammals. The Elephants in the park are very numerous and you often see the tracks where they've been and even smell what they've just eaten!! The track through the park is very narrow but despite the Elephants being common we only saw them once though knew they were around. The early morning chorus of Nellie the Elephant. kept everyone looking on the bright side of life and was one of the memories of the trip as well as a certain person's comment that the Elephants came to visit us as we had set up a Big Top for them!!! 'our dining tent'
Simon did had a dodgy stomach but this was 100% elephant.
This one was at Kaziranga, and decided he would give us a warning.
The park guards at Kaziranga were very good at looking after the safety of the visitors though despite much looking we never saw a Tiger, though check out this one, courtesy of a link from Punkbirders. .
Another aspect of birding in the tropics is the chance to become attached to new friends, in this case, Leeches. A veteran of Leech bites, I managed to only get a few bite this trip but they really are fascinating things and incredibly adapt at finding someone to hitch a ride with.
Happy post breakfast.
At home, and not a leg to stand on.

The last piccie is of a Hoopoe, one of the best birds in the World and I'd rather be watching one of these in North Kent now, instead of sitting at the computer.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Morning Essex, afternoon Nurofen!

Saturday 17th May, often a good day in the birding calendar and a day not working. I decided to venture over to Essex to actually be on site at Rainham RSPB in the morning and hopefully enjoy the waders.
It's very local, it's just a shame that Dartford marshes on the South side of the Thames is rapidly becoming a concrete jungle, bike yard and shooting gallery. In the 20 or so years that I studied Dartford marshes on an almost daily basis the birding was often excellent and even last week I managed to add a long overdue species to my Dartford list with a cracking drake Garganey, though the Egyptian Geese had 'walked liked an Egyptian' elsewhere. Still, the Garganey brought my Dartford list to 204, if only the habitat was like Rainham, what else would I have seen.
The Temminck's Stints as expected weren't at Rainham though 2 Little Stint, a Golden Plover, 2 Turnstone, 3+ LRP, 2 Cuckoo, a Cetti's and some close Little Egrets kept me busy even though it was pretty cold and overcast. With news of a Red-footed Falcon 'still' at Seventy acres Lake, Lea Valley near Waltham Abbey at the Bitten watch point a mere 20 or so miles further round the M25 I felt was too good to miss as they're cracking birds and I was hoping to get some piccies. On arrival the bird was nowhere to be seen though was evidently hidden in a tree next to the No Bittern watch point. The bird well at times over the lakes together with 2 or 3 Hobby, and a supporting cast of Common Tern, Garden Warbler, Nightingale and Cetti's.

Not the best piccies in the World but it stubbornly refused to come any closer and that's the best I could get with my 400mm !!
By midday I was back in the hallowed county the 'Concrete Garden of England' and a kids birthday party. Fortunately Mr Nurofen was at hand, what a fantastic invention, ..... Nurofen not kids!!

Monday, 12 May 2008

Old 'friends', Kites, Polly and the Six Million Dollar Man

The weekend was reasonably good for birds despite working all day Saturday and it being very hot on Sunday. On the way back from work, I spotted an 'old friend', my old art teacher at school, Mr Daley. Incredibly he recognised me from 20+ years before despite my poor art skills and lack of ability with watercolours or anything art related. In fact mt bird sketches are very much of the Picasso variety!! Sunday morning was a visit to Cliffe RSPB in the hope of a raptor or 2 due to the good numbers of raptors esp Kites and Red foots passing through the UK.
A Wheatear was watched at the 'elder bush' whilst 5 Greenshank, 11 Whimbrel, a Hobby and a Short-eared Owl were also seen together with the 'dawnish' chorus of Sylvias and Acros. But no Groppers in residence despite much listening!! A siesta at home checking websites and catching up on paperwork enable me to see photos of 'The Six Million Dollar Morris'. and spurred on by his dedication to birding even in Robo Morris mode I ventured out again into the field this time to Oare. Even Lee Majors couldn't compete.
My arrival at Oare at 1515 coincided with a very showy Little Egret but not much else not even many birders!! Fortunately at 1558 my wish came true when one then another shortly after Red Kite came through the reserve and flew around for a time before heading off towards Conyer......Excellent stuff. 13 Blackwits, a Hobby and 2 Marsh Harrier also patrolled the area. Next stop Luddenham Court one of my favourite spots with 10+ Turtle Dove and another Hobby, finishing off at Conyer with another 2 Hobby on route and a first summer Med Gull, 'another' Hobby and best of all a 'green Parrot' still to be id'd that happily squawked across the marshes. The stuff of dreams !!! NOT

Friday, 9 May 2008

South Swale by storm (Prat side story)

Thursday 8th May seemed like any other day at work, and historically is a good day in the SE especially for Black Kites in Kent!! Relaxing at home early evening I thought I'd have a quick look on the internet to see what's about.............BIG MISTAKE !! News of a Collared Pratincole had me changing plans very quickly and enjoying the delights of late commuter traffic on the A2 for the 40 minute or so drive to park at Harty Church. On arrival I met Julian Russell and we duly set off for the brisk walk to the South Swale reserve to 'try our luck'. Whilst in R.E.M (rapid excited movements) we noted a small dark raptor coast pass us and commented that it looked Hobby/Kestrel like but chose to watch a nearby Barn owl instead!!! Shortly after meeting Ian Harding we were told by Adam Whitehouse that the raptor in question was a female Red footed Falcon !!! B******s or words to that effect !!! Undeterred though we located the Collared Pratincole at about 1945 flying over the marshes and the gathered crowd all vying for position on the almost deserted bank !!! ( a very small twitch) enjoyed this cracking bird until it sat down and became virtually invisible. A great bird to see though closer views would have been better, but an enjoyable evening with cocked up Falcon, Pratincole, 2+ Barn Owls and stacks of Marsh Harrier. On the way back a Sprog Hawk flew past..........easy!!
Incredibly the bird was not seen again, and I was therfore pretty glad that I went for it after all now, my 3rd Collared Prat in Kent, with a bird at Dunge in 1986, and a bird many years later at Elmley RSPB. Amazingly this bird was found by Derek Faulkner who has now found ALL 3 species of British vagrant Pratincoles at the same site, an excellent achievement and testament to the benefits of a local patch!
A very, very, very poor piccie but better than nothing and anyway you get the idea even from this photos taken by me very much in the school of 'close your eyes' photography!!

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

NE India, Assam and mega birds

Spring 2007 was pretty quiet at times in North Kent and my mind wandered to distant shores and mega birds. A chance encounter with Steve Webb and Neil Bostock at Oare and talk of Eaglenest in NE India got me thinking. Within a day or two I had looked at the various options for travelling to the region, rough costs, contacts and potential birds to be seen. A few close friends were rallied for support and all seemed well until it appeared that I was the only one left able to go in early 2008!!
I decided to book the trip with Birdtour Asia, and ended up having a mega time with the rest of the group, a trio from Norfolk, duo from Hampshire and an ex pat from Oz!! We all met up at Delhi in a good hotel near the airport along with James Eaton of Birdtour Asia and prepared ourselves for the 3 weeks of solid birding ahead of us. The morning flight to Guwahati and onwards to Dibrugarh was painless enough except for problems with Indian traffic control though once in Assam we met with Neil Law, our ground agent and local contact.
Within no time at all we were off to the first birding site passing the many tea plantations and rickshaws. Early afternoon and we were ready with the boat at the shores of the Bramhaputra for our first taste of NE Indian birding.
The afternoon was great for birds, scenery and just getting away from it all, and the birds started to fall, one by one !!!

Monday, 5 May 2008

Bank holiday weekend..Working again!!

A pre weekend walk found me at surprise surprise, Cliffe looking for Skuas as they were on my mind following the recent death of Dave Davenport, a man who lived for sea watching and migration. Sadly, as with recent visits the Thames was a Skua free zone though I did get to see the 'Elder Bush' a bush of great integrity and many stories to tell. The nearby sign indicates what one can and cannot do but there was evidently no room left to say, no river watching, birding, or even enjoying yourself!! Cliffe itself was reasonably quiet bar 20+ Whimbrel on the pools, a Sparrowhawk on the grass having been forced down by the storms, 2 very vocal Nightingales and a lone Wheatear on the river wall.

Saturday was a reasonably good day with news of a pair of mobile Black-winged Stilt at Elmley RSPB. I nipped off to the reserve and though distant at times the birds showed very well, and were clearly very happy together. A pair of Avocets were equally amorous and though at times it seemed as though nothing would happen Mr Avocet finally got his act together and so the line of cameras in the hide rattled off literally a machine gun fire volley of shots.
Along the track a pair of Garganey showed well, first pool below the farmhouse going towards the hides, 6+ adult Med Gulls in the fields, 3+ Hobby, and some luminescent Yellow Wagtails. Redshanks were also very visible, a great place for taking piccies.
Having left Elmley I decided to check the 'usual' sites along the Medway, 3 Greenshank and a sum plum Grey Plover at Funton, 300+ Brent Geese at Lower Halstow, and 102 at Motney. A Turtle Dove was a year tick at Motney, whilst this Nightingale gave stunning views nearby, a real performer, an excellent day.
Back at Cliffe on sunday, 21 Whimbrel, 3 Greenshank, a Spotted Red and a Hobby. Lastly the Monday was a bit of a let down with a no show Dix Pip at Crossness, London!! and few birds at Higham marshes, except 3 Dunlin and 2 Ringed Plover on the Timber Lake.