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 !!