Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Bunting bonanza in East Kent

Over the past few weeks there have been some very approachable Lapland Buntings or as the Yanks would call them, 'Longspurs' showing on the Ancient Highway near to Mary Bax Stone on the Sandwich Estate. Having finally found time to pay a visit to the 'seeded' track I was not disappointed despite waiting nearly 2 hours for some Bunting action.
On arrival the Laplands were playing hard to get as some walkers had the cheek to use the public footpath and the Buntings had become birder shy!! Fortunately no one else was walking that morning and the chosen hallowed ground on the public footpath was host to two Skylark, a cracking Pied Wagtail then finally a mega Lapland literally a few feet from the car!
With the camera ready for action the memory card set to work and I managed a few shots that I was happy with. Job done, next stop the Snow Buntings on the shingle bank near the old club house. The Snow Bunts weren't in residence though and the beach footpath was heaving with people, dogs, and joggers. A long long walk up towards Shellness Point in Pegwell Bay to check the hundred acre field, yes all 100 acres of it failed to give us the hoped for Jack Snipe and we settled for a superb rusty Woodcock seen twice in flight, 30+ Snipe and a Sparrowhawk. Luckily on the way back the Snow Bunts were feeding happily on the shingle ridge, mission completed.

Next stop was Stodmarsh and a stroll out to the Marsh Hide for the last few hours of daylight on what was a glorious sunny day. We met Dylan in the hide who was photographing the avian events that included a Little Egret and a bathing Grey Heron. Three plus Water Pipits were distant but seen well through the scope and the sunset over the reed beds was fantastic.

A great day out and an opportunity to see and photograph Lapland and Snow Bunting.

The Asian Duck and the local duck pond!!

In recent weeks a cracking male Falcated Duck has taken up residence on a small local duck pond popular with local families that like to feed bread to the ducks. In late Dec 2006 and early 2007 a drake Falcated Duck was seen at nearby Cliffe/Higham and briefly at Swanscombe further west. As the duck flies, these sites are very near to Southfleet duck pond or Broadditch as it's known being opposite the farm shop of that name. The bird is fully winged, un ringed though very tame alike the Mallard and other 'ducks' it associaites with. Where it came from no one really knows though apparently it first appeared late in 2007 and seems happy with it's new home. Falcated Duck has yet to be officially added to the Britsih list of Birds recorded and the problem of escapes especially with ducks will always exist. Whatever it's origins a cracking bird to see so close to home and is really photogenic.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Dungeness and Rye, winter birding at it's best

I finally managed to go birding at Dungeness today following a few aborted attempts at trying to go south! The day began early with a quick visit to Southfleet and it's duck pond for the Falcated Duck of 'probably known origin'!
By 0830 we were heading south out of Ashford and towards Snave where a convenient layby allowed us to see 47 Bewick's Swan and two Peregrine sitting hunched down on the fields seemingly trying to avoid the strong winds. Next stop Rye Harbour in neighbouring East Sussex where the hoped for Shorelark put in an appearance (see photo above) along with a cracking Purple Sandpiper feeding on the seaweed on the groynes. With the brief sortie into Sussex complete it was back to Kent and onto Scotney where constant scanning failed to locate the Long-tailed Duck in the strong wind, in fact Scotney was pretty birdless.
Next stop the Long pits and the wintering Red-necked Grebe which despite all our efforts couldn't be found so we sought refuge from the weather on the Dungeness RSPB reserve. Once settled into the hides we saw two superb Slavonian Grebes, a Shag !! 5 plus Goosander and 18+ Smew. The Red crested Pochards showed briefly then swam off out of view whilst a female Merlin perched on the shingle bank for a while before zipping off. With the no show RN Grebe still playing hard to get we finally located it and saw it feeding in the failing light. Last knockings at the ARC but only a Marsh Harrier and Sparrowhawk of note finishing another excellent day out in Kent.
Here's some piccies of the Slav Grebes.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Essex Gulls are great. Rainham strikes again

Sunday 13th Jan was a day of two halves. A visit to Cliffe pools and South Quarry in the morning was generally quiet with only an adult Med Gull and 2 adult Yellow legged Gulls on the South Quarry to enliven the proceedings, whilst the RSPB pools were busy with ducks but nothing unusual.
I had planned an afternoon visit to Rainham RSPB in Essex, a cracking 'new' RSPB reserve that has had an amazing track record of turning up good birds. The purpose of my 'late' afternoon visit was to specifically look for the first winter Iceland Gull that had been regularly seen on the reserve over the previous week. I arrived on site at 1400 and walked to the furthest point, the Target Pools where I set up position sheltered from the wind in order to check through the Gulls. The Barnies (Barnacle Geese) were still present ands showing well, all 36 of them!! Amongst the Gulls a 3rd year Yellow-legged Gull and a large group of Black-tailed Godwit, 213. Whirring around overhead, not wanting to land were 500+ Golden Plovers then without being detected, the Iceland Gull must have flown onto the pools and started to preen. A superb individual, only my second individual ever in the LNHS 'London Natural History Society' area, ie 20 miles radius out from St Pauls. The bird was still in view at 1620 when I walked back to the car park in near darkness.
An excellent few hours in the field.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

'The White Crowned Wonder'

Sunday 6th January was going to be a day out in the Dungeness area but due to a slight car problem I opted for North Kent 'again' visiting Cliffe and the Allhallows area. My efforts revealed a female Scaup on the Timber Lake at Cliffe, a Peregrine zipping through, a Black Swan (say no more) with 4 Mute Swans and a male Scaup on the RSPB pools and at Coombe Bay, and St Mary's Bay area, 1100+ Knot, 379 Brent Geese and lots of Gulls though sadly no Caspers!! Whilst wandering around North Kent I was acutely aware of a MEGA in North Norfolk, a White-crowned Sparrow that had been blown off course from North America presumably quite a while before and found a garden in Cley, Norfolk to be to it's liking. Only the fourth ever to turn up in Britain, it was a popular bird and despite rarely leaving the county these days, Tuesday 8th January and I was waiting patiently for no more than 25 minutes for the bird to show to the gathered crowd of 20 or so birders. Our luck was in and the bird showed well on and off for the next hour or so along with an early morning Brambling and a flyover Yellowhammer.

The Sparrow remained faithful to the garden feeding on grain thoughtfully placed on the gravel drive of the house visible to a gathered throng of people waiting patiently. The food had been carefully located in order that the bird would be visible to birders thus allowing a constant turn over of people. The bird is shown above, my best effort considering the poor light and viewing conditions.
Happy with our haul, we set off to Cley reserve and located a Water Pipit quietly feeding amongst Linnets on a field behind the reserve centre.
Next stop, Salthouse beach car park and the Lapland Buntings (2) and 50+ Snow Bunting showed superbly on the shingle and grassy slopes feeding on the grain that had been place there throughout the winter. Offshore there was a male Eider, 10+ Red-throated Divers but little else moving.
Heading west towards Wells we tried for the Black Brant in the harbour but had to make do with a pair of Goldeneye, a Kingfisher perched inside a boat!!! a male Hen Harrier and 20+ Knot.
Desperate for a pit stop and some grub we rested at Holkham Park but bird wise it was very quiet with a few White-fronted Geese, several flocks of Pink-footed Geese overhead and a few Marsh Harrier
Last port of call 'or so we thought' was the Wighton area just inland of Wells with literally 1000's of Pink-footed Geese, a distant 'white' Goose possibly a Ross's and a brilliant Buzzard and 3 Tree Sparrow also vying for attention.
Heading off home a last minute change of plan to take a 5 minute look at Lynford for Hawfinch gave us Marsh Tit, Firecrest and Great spotted Woodpecker.
Not a bad days work, and a change of scenery from North Kent....Excellent stuff.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

2008 A New Year, another day in North Kent!!

January 1st 2008, daylight has broken, the fireworks have ceased to be and it's a brand new year to start seeing birds. As with past years I often end up visiting a few sites around North Kent seeing 'New birds' for the year and checking through the wintering flocks of Ducks, Geese and Gulls. Today was no different with a short drive to Chatham Maritime and a cursory look at the marina which was virtually a bird free zone! A short drive up the road to Copperhouse and plenty to look at with Grey plover, Curlew, Dunlin, a few Brent Geese and a small group of Knot. At Motney Hill a delightful sewage farm on the Medway Estuary accessed from Motney Hill Road just east of Riverside Country Park, a scan of the area revealed a calling Chiffchaff in the roadside scrub, a Cetti's warbler in song, and a Water rail 'squealing' in the reeds to the east of the road.
Next port of call, one of my favourite localities in North Kent, Lower Halstow. Parking in one of the side roads, such as Heron Close accessible from Lapwing Drive, you can walk to the edge of the estuary with fantastic views across towards the Isle of Grain. This has been a regular locality for a wintering Whimbrel but the tide was incredibly low today and I couldn't locate it. Seven Goldeneye were some compensation plus a showy Rock Pipit feeding on the foreshore.
Funton Creek was quite productive with a Siskin that put in a brief appearance next to the road, hundreds of Pintail, a pair of Stonechat and a Peregrine.
With the day list rapidly building I opted for Sheppey and visited Capel Fleet that is accessed off the Harty ferry road. The Rough-legged Buzzard was distant but along with 4 Buzzards, a Merlin sitting in a tree, a Peregrine, several Hen Harrier ringtails and stacks of Marsh Harrier made for a pleasant 30 minutes or so. A quick look on the Swale behind Harty Church revealed a distant Bewicks' Swan and a Red-breasted Merg whilst Golden Plover must have numbered 1000's.
A brisk walk up towards Elliotts Farm allowed me to locate 20 or so White-fronted Geese and the wintering Hooded Crow, whilst another Chiffchaff called in nearby bushes.
The days events ended at about 3pm with 94 species for my efforts on a superb day in a great setting.