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.


Saturday, 18 October 2008

Vis Mig close to home

This morning as I was walking the dog I got the impression there were a few birds on the move and a timely call from Frank Cackett found me heading approx 2 miles South of Northfleet to a high point that I found a few weeks ago to be good for scanning for visible migration.
The area overlooks a number of fields and to the North lies Northfleet, Gravesend and the A2.
The two sessions I spent today proved to be pretty rewarding with rarely a dull moment and always something of note to count.

First session (1055-1210), second session (1550-1650)

Chaffinch 290 all moving West often in small groups, 129 later on

Siskin 1, 6 in the afternoon

Redpoll 4

Fieldfare (as pictured 'poorly' above) 24, another 26 in the afternoon

Redwing 124, 98 in the second session

Mipit 2

alba Wag 3, 2 later on

Skylark 9, only 1 later on

Starling 459

Grey Wagtail 1

Yellowhammer 2

Jay, possibly a local bird.

On the raptor front, the day saw a cracking Peregrine this afternoon, 2 Common Buzzards, 3+ Kestrels, and 3+ Sparrowhawks. It would be interesting to know the full scale of the movement today and numbers involved, clearly across quite a broad front.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Essex Shrikes and the Bishopstone skulker vs the Young Ones

Raddes' a great bird but not worth jumping off the cliff for

As has become typical over the past 15 years or so there are 'expected' birds that appear in the autumn and those that you dream about turning up........generally they don't! As the years go by the dream lives on but the same old favourites keep appearing with that 'rare moment' of a five star rarity in Kent turning up, but not for long.
The spate of westerlies ending up being the 'Alder' of the day with an Alder Flycatcher, the first for Britain and Ireland making landfall, 'just' near Lands End. A hoped for visit to the far end of the UK last Friday didn't quite work out and instead I went to work as per usual. Friday night and scouring the Internet for gen for the weekend was brightened up with news of a Lesser Grey Shrike near Rettendon, South Essex. A visit on the Saturday ended up being a good day with stunning views of the Lesser Grey Shrike feeding alongside the busy road and nearby at Hanningfield distant but good views of a Velvet Scoter and a Black-necked Grebe. Whilst here I found out about a Great Grey Shrike just South of Braintree and within an hour I was on site enjoying this superb bird feeding at close range despite being lost and asking several locals including a 'village idiot' where Thistley Green was?
Sunday morning dawned misty and calm when suddenly a message from Derek Smith appeared on my mobile. RADDE'S AT BISHOPSTONE
Five minutes later I was hurtling down the A2 and 30+ minutes later at Bishopstone Glen where fortunately the Radde's Warbler made a couple of brief but close appearances allowing me to finally enjoy 'watching' a whole identifiable Radde's in Kent. This was my seventh attempt over the years but perseverance pays off in the end. It was a tricky bird to see and was seen very little later on despite much searching and attempting to listen for it's quiet call above the 'sounds of Bishopstone' with kids, dogs, walkers, cyclists and cliff climbers. Radde's is a good bird in the SE but the cliff climbing looked decidedly unsafe.
John Cantelo was evidently getting some hot news on birds or the announcement that Sats tests for 14 year olds had been scrapped.

The Lesser Grey Shrike in Essex
Great Grey Shrike in Essex
The crowd at the Lesser Grey with The Young Ones passing by on their way to see Cliff

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Another typical autumn in Kent !!

As is often the case in Kent, September and October are dominated by South- westerly winds, but as a special treat for 2008 we had some Easterlies......hoorahh. The only trouble being I was still in Cornwall and due back at work on the Monday!! The brisk drive home from Rame on the Saturday to the birdless playground complete with BMX bikes and burger van 'that is Swalecliffe' was extremely un productive as the Fan tailed warbler decided it did not want me to tick it and promptly flew whilst I was roughly passing Stonehenge!! I did manage to see a Sedge Warbler and Whinchat though plus the gathered post twitch crowd, all six of us worked the slopes from Tankerton back to Swalecliffe but the bird was no more. The Sunday found me missing Honey Buzzards as they appeared to outnumber Buzzards and passed overhead, though the Paws in the Park Dog show at Paddock Wood was ample compensation for missing a second for Kent and numerous HBs! With the easterlies continuing and the East coast up North awash with rares JT and myself ventured into that dark and distant corner of Kent. Certainly by the end of the day it was either a case of jumping off the cliffs at North Foreland as above or moving to east coast to be nearer to the action. If there was a PGTips that had flown onto the clifftop grass as above, would you jump though?

Despite a full days birding Reculver and North Foreland, the best we could muster was good counts of Redstart, Whinchat, Wheatear and Buzzards plus bird of the day, Yellow-browed Warbler in the trees at Reculver caravan park. Evidently we may have to change our tactics at Foreness in order to find rare birds, maybe the above mode of transport is the answer to locate those low to the ground skulking rares that lurk in these parts. (what a good way to bird Elmwood Avenue) The Saganauts were out in force and the Saga Hound, but sadly no rare Shrikes or mega rare Warblers or Flycatchers in these here parts.
It had a been a long day and the Whinchat pretty much sums of the autumn in Kent so far if weekends are the only time to get out, though I did manage to see an Osprey at Stoke Saltings, a Wryneck over in Essex at Rainham RSPB, such a great reserve.
Another trip out to East Kent saw us watching this superb Red backed Shrike in the allotments adjacent to Margate cmy. Steve Tomlinson has watched this area for many years and turned up some good birds, as cemetries and allotments often do. To keep track of the recent sightings see A typically autumn bird in Kent, but it would be better if we had a good steady trickle of rare birds to see in Kent as with the NE or Shetlands. Foreness and East Kent are clearly under watched and there is plenty of good habitat to check, though easterlies in Kent are often very hit and miss hence the absence of rares. Historically if you look at the rarities recorded at Foreness/Margate the list is endless, with Isabelline, Woodchat, Great Grey and Red-backed Shrike, Booted Warbler (2), Aquatic Warbler, Radde's Warblers, Pallas's, Yellow browed and Dusky Warblers. Rustic Bunting, Pied Wheatear, Trumpeter Finch, Red-throated Pipit, Alpine Swifts, the list goes on.........
Could this autumn in Kent get any better?
Will the birds 'only' appear mid week and fly before the weekend?

Sunday, 5 October 2008

The highlights from Cornwall

Finally found some time to attempt to update this blog, it's raining, I'm on call, there's no birds about unless you're in Galway or abroad and better late than never. My weeks holiday in Cornwall was conveniently timed to miss a Grey Phal at Bough Beech, a Fan-tailed Warbler at Swalecliffe, and too early to enjoy one of most wanted photographic targets at close range, Buff breasted Sandpiper!
News of a Buff breast at Davidstow a mere 40 mile aways found us having a day out in North Cornwall enjoying the persistent rain, high water levels at Coliford Lake and my first ever visit to Davidstow airfield, home to many a good wader over the years and a known hotspot for Buff breasts. As you can see from the photo above the military were on site presumably also looking for Yank waders or just simply enjoying the many facilities that this great site has to offer. The old Control tower was the place to be but sadly despite much searching there were no Yanks around, (they waited until I got back home to Kent a week later)! For photographing waders though this is a superb place where you simply drive around and slowly and carefully approach the waders that can then be photographed at very close range.
This Dunlin was one of many scattered around the airfield, if only it was a bit rarer, the photo opportunities here are excellent.
This Ringed Plover was also completely relaxed at our presence and allowed a good many shots to be fired off.
Fortunately for our Sheepdog, he was very much under the impression that we had come to 'SheepWorld' as the Sheep also very very approachable and despite the two hours or so spent driving around the airfield we never heard a sound from him, he was mesmerised by all the Sheep.
Back on the Rame Peninsula, a pleasant day watching the oats coming in and out of Devonport allowed for mega close views as HMS Talent shows above, that's the name Louise gave it after grabbing the bins off me and checking out the crew!
A visit to St John's Lake, a good place to see Med Gulls, though we've got plenty of them in Kent, still a good bird to see and watch from the car as you cross the ford towards Milbrook.
Despite many early mornings spent wandering around looking for migrants, this was the best I could come up with, a Ring Ousel that was present for two days near Rame Head. I also saw Tree Pipits, Crossbills, Redstart, stacks of Chiffs, the resident Ravens, Buzzards and plenty of Yellowhammers as seen below.

It was always a pleasure of an evening though to be able to relax in our farmhouse and enjoy watching the Badgers from the warmth of the living room, as well as Foxes and most memorable a Tawny Owl. What an excellent week, shame about the Yank waders!!