Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Total Eclipse of the Duck

Sunday, was very very hot and as I was still recovering from doing non birding stuff on Saturday I decided to venture out as far as Broadditch Pond, Southfleet to see the long staying Falcated Duck that was now in full eclipse plumage. I initially thought the bird had gone or at least wandered off to another pond with it's stumpy quill wings, but sure enough it was still there hiding under the overhanging trees.
The birds' appearance has changed even from my last visit and could easily be lost amongst a large flock of Wigeon or other duck on a marsh.
Also at the pond were the usual 'bitzer' ducks, Greylags, and a family of cure Moorhen.

Moorhen chicks attempting to hide from me.

Other birds seen locally, 2 Peregrine over the Darent Valley Hospital on Monday at 5pm and a.Hobby over Northfleet on the Tues whilst walking the dog.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Waders and Jousting!!

OK, not a strictly bird based account this, 'but' I still managed to be birding whilst doing the touristy bit today. Following reports of a 'Stint' at Cliffe RSPB on Friday 25th I decided to visit the site early am on the Saturday. I met the guy that saw the 'Stint' and shortly after saw a 'presumed Little Stint' on the Black Barn pool briefly before it flew off calling 'alike a Little Stint' with a Dunlin. Other waders seen were 4 LRP, Green and Common Sands and a small group of Grey Plover and Whimbrel. Later on that morning with the late shift of birders the bird was confirmed as a Little Stint. The next venue was a bit different and so I found myself heading towards Hever Castle, a superb place I've never visited to look at the gardens, castle and enjoy a bit of Jousting made ever more popular recently by the film 'A Knight's Tale starring the late Heath Ledger, see

Anyway back to the birds, Hever has some great grounds and I'm sure that over the years a few rarities have found there way there and not been detected, ie. Egrets, Herons, marsh Terns and possibly even a rare duck or two? I managed to see a few Mallard, heard a Great Spot and several broods of Moorhen. To visit Hever Castle see a great day out and a good place to relax and enjoy the grounds Hever Castle, a great place to enjoy as we walked, 'ambling' Ann Boleyn around the grounds. Surely this lake has had something rare in the past, I wonder if King Henry was a birder?
Mallard, but could a rare duck go undetected here, eg Black Duck ?
Small Red Eyed Damselfly (SMED) on the water near the castle, also Red eyed Damselfly. It's incredible to think that until recently SMED was a rarity in the UK and a recent colonist, though following my discovery of this species at Bluewater shopping centre lakes a few years ago they are widespread across much of the UK and Kent nowadays.
The stuff of days gone by, but great to see and a change to birding, though it won't become a habit, this blog will NOT be renamed Birding and days out in Kent!

Monday, 28 July 2008

GODwit Heaven

Another day in North Kent, another visit to the Allhallows area. Sun 20th July and I found myself wandering across the marshes yet again in the vague hope of scoring with the 'big one'! Fortune was on my side not in terms of rarity but the sheer numbers of Waders present and akin to the 'good old days' of birding at Cliffe the waders were approached without any disturbance and superb views obtained. The butterflies were once again in profusion across the marshes with huge numbers of Gatekeepers and a few Peacock and Red Admiral plus Odonata overload with hundreds of Ruddy Darters.
The waders were order of the day though and I managed to count the following
Black wit 710+
Dunlin 4
Whimbrel a vocal group of 16 flying over
Greenshank 27 stunning birds
Redshank 50+
Garganey 7
A great few hours once again in the area and a good opportunity to see waders at close range

Saturday, 19 July 2008

10 years ago. Travelling the World

July 21st 1998, I embarked on a year long epic journey across three continents having negotiated a few days off work, well 380 to be precise. The destinations were mostly remote, rarely visited, requiring a sense of adventure and a little bit of pioneering spirit but the rewards were plenty and remain as 'mostly' good memories.

Neil Bostock had decided to take 'another' year off whilst Keith Turner had a years sabbatical and the three of us had come up with an itinerary that was complicated, full and ultimately very tiring. Travelling across South and Central America, the West Indies with a 5 day break at home in February 1999 we encountered many 'dream' birds, destinations and our fair share of mis fortune and mishaps. Departing Eastwards in the February on the second leg of the journey my short time at home allowed me to purchase new optics, clothes and swap fieldguides plus enabling me to fly back out of the UK just before a Pied billed Grebe took up temporary residence near Ashford.

The second leg of the trip across Asia and the Pacific was incredibly tiring and demanding with trek after trek into the remote mountains of the Bismarcks off New Guinea, the Solomons and finally the awe inspiring Vanuatu! To repeat this journey would require sheer determination and logistical back up and we owe a huge debt to Jon Hornbuckle for sorting out the Pacific part of the trip whilst we were travelling across Asia. The list of rarities and mega birds was endless but these came at a price in terms of sanity, at times health, fitness and sleep deprivation. A trip of 70+ flights and connections, gruelling treks into the humid mountains with fantastic local porters, numerous boat trips including a capsize, earthquakes, two robberies, one at gun point and a host of helpful locals plus Gunnar and Jonas in S America and great company with many other birders partaking in the trip. Looking back the trip was a success on most parts with the help of keen, sharp eyes and logistical skills. Simon, Martin and Ashley enabled us to see some great birds, on their parts of the trip and thankfully we all returned safely back to the UK despite the trials and tribulations of life.

(Rennell Shrikebill . endemic to the island of Rennell in the Solomons)

10 years on would I do it again.......................... Probably not!!

Did I miss much in Kent that year......................Oh yes, July 98-99 was almost certainly the 'best' year ever on record for rarities in Kent.

Even now I'm asked as to whether I'll be travelling away again for a long time as it produced the goods in Kent!!!

It was a great year, never to be forgotten birding truly remote parts of the World and seeing birds rarely recorded before including some re discoveries and new information on some species.

What a fantastic hobby birding is and a great way to see the World.

The photo above though appearing somewhat 'dodgy' shows Jon on the RHS, Keith at the back and me at Camp Professor on Kolombangara a volcanic island in the Solomons sheltering from the rain. This island itself is host to many endemic bird species and a great place to bird.

Stour Crazy !!

Friday 18th July, relaxing at home, just about to have something to eat, Tour de France on the box, then.................. Back on the A2 'yet again' heading East towards Canterbury and the Stour Valley. I arrived at Seaton at 2020 to a birderless Seaton and Littlebourne and to make things worse, no mobile network coverage whatsoever. If the bird had been showing a mere 1/4 mile away I would have been none the wiser and therefore I set about driving the local roads and looking for big black birds!! 2105, I'd had enough of being Billy no mates in 'no mobile land' and with a distinct lack of birds I headed back home to settle down for the evening.

Saturday 19th July, 0245 I awake and drive back down the 'same route' of a few hours before to Seaton again. In position on the hillside I await the crowds only to be joined by Gibbo and the Mrs, Mike Buckland, a couple from Essex, and then shortly after Gary Howard. The next few hours saw us watching Barn Owl, Marsh Harriers, Hobbies, Sparrowhawk, Greenshank and a Little Egret, but still no big black flappy things.

Still in the land of no mobile network I return to Seaton once again with another birder and we check out the fields, but still no joy. Then suddenly, just before 0900, whilst retreating from the rain I notice a large dark bird walk off into the stream I'd just walked past.

BLACK STORK . Suddenly like a message from above, the mobile network appeared and I politely 'not' told Gary that I've got it!!

Seconds later some dog walkers flush the bird and it settles in a tree that they wander towards. Fortunately the bird remains on view as the 'crowds' appear and the rest is history so they say.

Gary, laden with his gadgets storms towards the site travelling at such velocity that his features are not frozen and in focus. JT's phone springs to life and he is matter of metres away when the news comes through and enjoys the mornings events. A relief to finally nail the bird, and memories flood back to the 'older' birders reminiscing about 'Fred' the Black Stork that escaped many years ago and stories of sheltering in barns when suddenly it was realised there were no longer 2 sheltering as 'Fred' was also in the barn!!
The 'snoozing' Stork Tree.

Brendan couldn't bear to look as his 'office' bird was taken from his grip collection and was outside of his Stour Valley recording area.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Isle of Grain 'yet again'

Another day on the Isle of Grain but this time in the company of John Tilbrook (JET) checking out the wader haunts and looking for that July rarity. A very enjoyable walk/stumble with good views of the waders and ducks as well as some cracking Damsels and distant views of the 'marauding cows', 'fortunately'

Birds counts today of note were

Greenshank 8+
Ruff 2 'still'
Hobby 1
Wigeon 1 still present
Little Egret 20+
Blackwits 100+ distantly at Yantlett creek
This stunning Peacock was seen on the way back
Lestes dryas or Scarce Emerald Damselfly, at one time rare in the UK the population in the ditch system here must be huge as they were easily seen in large numbers though difficult to photograph due to the wind.Mystery bird Photo 1 . Any ideas??
Johns' prowess at dealing with the 'Stoke' footpath system and user unfriendly stiles and fencing proved a bit too much to handle. Fortunately his banana was safe in the car, unscathed from the mornings events.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Old Friends Reunited

Still trying to get enough of a run up to fly away!! Having not visited Broadditch Pond at Southfleet for several weeks I decided to drop in on the way home from work today to look up an old friend. I approached the area with caution so as not to disturb the 'wild' ducks and as I parked the car, there he was chugging along on the pond but looking less dapper than before, and now in heavy moult. The Falcated Duck, had lost his fine plumage but still retained some of the better bits and was clearly still hoping that his mate from Topsham, Devon would join his chosen home. As the weeks progress, hopefully I'll get more piccies to illustrate what a Falcated Duck looks like in full eclipse plumage.
Also present were the usual gaggle of Geese, Mallards and young plus a few family parties of Moorhen. What a pleasant way to spend 30 mins following a hard days work

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Isle of Grain revisited 'once more'

A day of mixed fortunes with a Tawny Owl at Camer park this morning heard but not seen despite being very close, and the one 'common' Owl I see least of in the County. With an appointment at 1840 back home on BBC ONE I decided to head out to the Isle of Grain for a few hours and wander around the Allhallows area. A very pleasant walk, camera at the ready for the 'Black Stork' that never was! I'll see one of these one day on my jaunts out and about, though I did see it's smaller cousin 'the Oystercatcher'! The birding was excellent despite the strong wind and the 'marauding cattle that decided to charge towards me on a one way track, bordered by water and a fence. 'They won'

The birdlist included the following highlights.
Peregrine 1
Sparrowhawk 1
Med Gull 1ad
Little Egret 10+
Greenshank 15+
Spotted Redshank 1sp
Blackwit 55+

Ruff 2
Wigeon 1
Swift 100's
Teal 35+
plus Black headed, Common and Herring Gull, Sand Martins, Shovelers, and 50+ Gadwall
A great walk with a chance to get some piccies of Swifts, with 1/100 good one as below.

Pochard were present in good numbers
Swift. My best attempt despite lots of shots being taken, they're too fast for me.