Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Jim Bowen's RSPB reserve

Way back in Sept 1977 I started big boys school and shortly afterwards discovered rambling, not the speech type like this blog but the walking type visiting Magpie Bottom near Fackenden Lane, Shoreham, and then later on Cliffe Pools a short distance from home and with Graham Nicholls my French teacher and the newly formed Wildlife Club, birding as it's now known. The visits to Cliffe opened up a whole new World of excitement complete with SEOwls, Harriers, huge numbers of Waders and Linnets!!! Yes, Linnets which we thought were rare and used to stay hidden next to some bushes in the hope that one may come along and land near to us, we we're new to this birding game!
Little Egret once very rare in the UK, I remember missing oneat Cliffe in the late 1970's early 80's!
I've called Cliffe RSPB 'Jim Bowen's Reserve' as that's how it seems to be at the moment with the Bullseye catchphrase, 'This is What you could have had' ! having missed a Pacific Golden Plover a few weeks back and on Sunday a White-winged Black Tern that decided it would fly off with it's 40 tern mates to pastures new shortly before I arrived. Cliffe has a great history of some cracking birds and I've found some good stuff myself but this autumn they seem to refuse to stay put or reveal themselves to me when I get there. Cliffe is a great reserve, it just needs more coverage in order that it's full potential can be seen once again.
I'll keep plugging away on the North Kent marshes watching the birds fly away before I get to them in the hope that the 'dip' will soon end and the highs be reached once again. Fortunately with the art of modern technology and a mountain bike the area can be covered quite well and with ease
The day that Cliffe RSPB fully fledges as a reserve will hopefully come soon and the evening jaunts for the wader roost and who know waht will re kindle the great days of a bygone age.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Elmley RSPB, Kingdom of the Raptors

Living in Kent and especially North Kent we're very fortunate to have some great RSPB reserves, home to huge numbers of birds in some quiet corners out on the marshes and over the years have had their fair share of rarities. One such reserve is Elmley RSPB, and on entering this reserve along the new motorway entrance track, well I say motorway, it is nowadays compared to the late 1970's when it was like driving 'or cycling' along a dirt track complete with the Big Dipper ' a frequent occurrence' and Land Rover style manoeuvering around the potholes...........happy days!!! Over the years I've seen Wryneck, RB Shrike, Cattle Egret, Dotterel, Sharp-tailed Sand, Semi-p Sand, oodles of Marsh Sands, White-rumped Sand, countless Pecs, Stilts, Oriental and Collared Prat, etc etc and not forgetting the ever popular Pallid Harrier. But today I was looking for Montagu's Harrier, and it would appear to be a good year this year, with many sightings in Southern England. On arrival I casually wandered past the Asio invisiblis that lives in the orchard at Kingshill to a small group of birders looking at an empty piece of marshland. Fortunately it wasn't long before both the juv and the 2nd sum Monti's put in an appearance and showed well at times as the following photos will show, 'don't get too jealous' of my photographic prowess!

I eventually reached the hide known locally as Southfleet, one of the nearer hides and much nearer than Spit end ' the Carn Near of Sheppey' or Swale Hide. I have many memories of Southfleet or the double decker as we used to call it where I've been fortunate enough once again to tick off such celebs as Bill Oddie, Frank Thornton 'Mr Peacock from Are You being served and of course not forgetting Gibbo, the Meteorologist!! As a double decker it had a certain appeal to it, cramped, creaky, and in a big twitch on a sunny day a certain sweet smell of stale sweat and Darth Vader heavy breathing as the hordes arrived breathless from their long walk and the car park. Today though was predicted to be a HUGE high tide with possibilities untold, and luckily on arrival I secured my position in the hide before it filled up.
Lapwing, Ruff and a Red box, mega
A scenic shot with incidental Montis' 2nd sum bird as can clearly be seen with the barred tail, grey washed head, white inner primaries
A close up of the juv Monti's clearly showing it not to be a Pallid and ample identification points can be seen in this piccie.
Elmley is a mega spot for Raptors, with at differing times of the year and historically, 4 sp of Harrier, RL Buzzard, White-tailed Eagle, and great place to see Peregrine and Merlin. In the next blog we'll visit another fantastic RSPB reserve in North Kent, or Jim Bowen's Reserve as I like to call it?

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Anal Appendages . A day out in Suffolk!!

Last weekend news was just breaking of a rare species of Dragonfly in Suffolk, Willow Emerald 'Lestes viridis'. I finally decided that I needed a break from Kent and indeed Kentish scenery and it's litter bugs. I guess the above would come in handy for a re-greasing a Morris tripod before taking it out on another outing! Saturday 15th August broke and off I sped to Suffolk with a car load of keen Odonata twitchers, ie. just me.... The 91 mile drive to Butley in East Suffolk was reasonably painless and I parked at the indicated locality for the short walk to the site. On arrival there were two other birders, Alan 'Huey' Lewis taking a break from puring scorn on Slender-billed Curlew records on the internet and Mike Duffy another Hants birder. After a few initial strings we found the big one, Willow Emerald followed by another 6 or so individuals hanging virtually motionless in the tress above the ditch allowing up close and personal views of the all important 'anal appendages' and pterostigmas the gritty bits of Odonata ID, none of this tertials and scaps terminology with birds. Following a photo session with the Willows and recording a few other Dragons in the area I wandered off to Orford Ness where eventually a Montagu's Harrier cruised by, tough the big white and obvious birds known as Spoonbills remained invisible. Flushed with success I headed back home to enjoy the delights of the money grabbing Dartford Tolls resulting in a seven mile tailback on the M25. Fortunately I paid £1.50 each way to enjoy this Great British experience made even better by the grotty, dirty, small almost insignificant signs on the bridge. saying 'Welcome' to Kent the Garden of England, what a joke, as you look ahead and see a highly polluted concrete jungle that is North West Kent!
Russell Gardner spots something good on Mikes back!
Huey, and Craig discuss the finer points of anal appendages!
Lestes viridis ' what a corker'
MEGA and my 41st species of Odonata for the UK. Stiil need to see two in Scotland plus some more vagrants!

(RBS) Royal Bank of Shrike

Situated East of the River Medway and North of the well watched and visited New Hythe lies the village of Wouldham, a small village nestled next to the river and with fantastic views across to the West and Halling marshes. Fortunately a birder lives there, Ian Shepherd who also has notched a fair few good birds on his local patch over the years testament to the efforts of a birder diligently checking his area and having the thoughtfulness to allow others to see the birds he finds. A singing Pallas's Warbler in the spring, Pec Sand in the autumn, Grey headed Gull of unknown origins plus Red-rumped Swallow and Leach's Petrel. Incredibly this year he found a second Red backed Shrike hot on the heels of the autumn 2008 bird and as it just so happened to be on route from Northfleet to the Ashdown Forest I went and had a butchers 'so to speak' . Often distant it showed well in exactly the same bushes as the bird I didn't see in 2008.
Prime Shrike habitat complete with typically Kent decor, white polystyrene and copious amounts of Moo pooh!
The RBS, the smaller brown fuzzy object .
A close up out of focus in the heat and dung haze taken through the scope and a dust screen.
A stop at Bough Beech on the way to the Ashdown Forest produced lots of birders, and this Little Egret, in fact more birders than the week before when there was a rarity here? The Ashdown was quite bird wise but we had a nice picnic none the less

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Marsh Sand at Bough Beech, pulls in the crowds

Thursday 6th August 2009 was a red letter day for Bough Beech and indeed West Kent when a Marsh Sandpiper decided to make land fall at this West Kent hotspot. Found late on in the day accompanying Greenshank news of this this gem of a wader allowed very little time to get to see it and the 20 min journey from Dartford to Bough Beech came and went in a flash. The weather was atrocious, the light was failing rapidly and I was concerned that there would be limited parking on site due to the immense rarity of this stunning wader. As the car taxied in to an available parking spot next to the other 4 cars!! I had a quick squint through Miles' scope and sapped up the moment of this cracking bird. As you can see above there was limited viewing as the crowd numblers steadily stayed stationary, and indeed Miles and Sylvia were well dressed for the occasion.
The 4 Amigos, comprising two saganauts one of whom has appeared to have fallen asleep standing up, the other is full saganaut regalia and Arsenal branded water absorbent footwear. Josh looks on as Gary has a rummage for his keys I hope!
Big Mick recalls the Beeeaters at BB as the light improves and we take a break from watching the Marsh Sand
PHOTO of the YEAR................ showing the size comparison to a Greenshank. The black splodge on the right is a rain drop one of many migrating through at the time. An excellent twitch, good company including Steve Webb . Bring it on, what will turn up next. Copies of the Marsh Sand photo are available for printing if anyone wishes to have a copy for their notebook, framed or unframed.

Blackwits and Halfwits .North Kent Birding!

Birding in North Kent is certainly an experience whether it be, dodging the traffic, the crowds, soaking up the atmos and the clean air, enjoying the stunning views complete with three local power stations, or negotiating piles of rubbish. North Kent has it all. In terms of birdlife though it's a gem of a place to bird though with a long list of rarities to it's name and a great spot to see birds migrating up the River Thames. Property can be hard to find at times in sought after localities and some have even chose to live locally but bird elsewhere to find richer pastures and more scenic sites.
Allhallows, gateway to the North of Grain, a mega place to bird if only birders would take the time to venture out here instead of sticking to better known localities.
The North Kent marshes looking towards St Mary's and Coombe Bay complete with local seating facilities thoughtfully left by the locals awaiting tenancy

Swanscombe marshes, another gem of a place as viewed from Galley Hill Swanscombe. The habitat here is getting better all the time ans surely it's only a matter of time it is graced by a rarity once again as has happened before with Glossy Ibis and Marsh Sandpiper in bygone times.
The CTRL pool at Swanscombe, awaiting a rare wader!
The recent star attraction at Swanscombe, this sumptuous female Red crested Pochard that graced the pools for a few days in August and attracted a crowd of TWO birders including me! Better than a gaudy Bee eater anytime, like the Murphy's I'm not bitter!
Snipe, first of the autumn at Swanscombe

Blackwits, up to 27 have been at Swanscombe in the last few weeks, noisy, graceful and a pleasure to watch. All they need now is a rarer cousin to join them!

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Spring and Summer in a nutters shell !!

Ok then as I've got way behind was the art of blogging I've just spent an hour or so digging out some pix from the past 4 months !! The Good, the Bad and the Ugly!
Let's deal with the ugly first or should I say stunning bird as would have been the case if the grasps of the NHS would have allowed me, 'not be working that hallowed Weds in July' ! Generally speaking over the years I've been reasonably lucky with seeing birds both locally and further afield but sadly a variety of factors meant that 'the NHS show must go on' and a potential evening trip to Bockhill was potentially called for........ The bird sadly couldn't wait for me and departed at 1337 much to the disappointment of those with more flexible jobs or living too far away from that migrant tepid spot, Bockhill. Still that's two records for Kent now 20 years apart, I'll get the next one. But in the style of Bullseye the photo above is from Israel, 'this is what you could have had' !! Well done to the Old boys, Tony and Jack true testament to their efforts in the fields and the desire to forget sport on the box and find some fellow birders a MEGA in Kent. 'Shame the Bee eater and the finders couldn't coincide with the weekend. Of interest Bockhill has got to be one of the most picturesque localities in Kent to dip a bird and I've been fortunate enough to dip Arctic , 3 Radde's , a Barred Warbler, numerous Pallas's, an Icky, and best of all a Nutcracker!!! though I was in South America at the time so it doesn't really count. Such is the locality of Bockhill it's a great place to see the blades of grass or twigs frequented by long gone rarities but on the other hand we do get to know about them all, and that is a quality to behold and may it continue with lots more rarities up the proverbial Chantler sleeves yet !

Following a trip to Cameroon now well and truly blogged to death I managed to see some good birds in the spring with a superb pair of Ring Ousels at Preston near Wingham, found by wandering around specifically looking for Rousels and Wagtails! A purple patch at Stoke Lagoon and a Purple Heron at Crossness allowed me to see a not so showy Purple Heron eventually after 2 hours or so, emerging from the reeds of picturesque East London and a surprise find in the form of a very photogenic Spoonbill at Stoke whilst looking for a not so showy or photogenic Great White Egret! The Spoonbill didn't hang around and the GWE remained very elusive at times ! In fact these southern Herons seem to be getting decidely common in the SE these days, no longer is GWE a major UK rare.
Above we see a deserted beach near to Aberdaron on the Lleyn peninsula, in fact deserted of people, dogs, and even birds that, despite gorgeous sunny weather, we had it all to our selves for a week in June yet further along the coast little did we know that a Royal Tern also had peace and quiet for a while on these beaches until someone stumbled upon it at Abersoch...........If only it had turned up here a week or so earlier. A bit tricky to catch up with at times this eluded most birders who travelled to see it and for some was yet another dip to contend with this summer, despite being big, white and with a stonking luminescent bill, though not always apparent off the Welsh coast!
Wales was good though with Wood Warblers, Choughs galore, ridiculous numbers of Painted Ladies and mega auks at South Stack pre-Simon King and Springwatch. In terms of rarities I found bugger all, not a single thing bar a Marsh Harrier on the first day!!
The Spoonbeak at Stoke
Whitey the elusive GWE
A surprise find over woods near Canterbury were these two Spoonbeaks. At this site I've now seen Spoonbill, Grey Heron, Little Egret and White Stork!!! Not bad for a viewpoint over a wood in East Kent!!
An early Thursday morning in April following a restless night's sleep found me at Dungeness along with many others waiting day break and The Alauda enigma............ Sure enough the call went up, the legs moved into action and I suddenly remembered I wasn't 21 anymore as I was for the Roller in the New Forest in 1987 when a similar surge happened and we scored heavily. CRESTED LARK laid to rest on British soil, so near yet so far at Calais these Larks do NOT like crossing the Channel. Duly scorched and grilled I drove back to work and the panic was over. The last twitchable Cresty was at Landguard but that stayed only a matter of hours whereas this individual spent nearly a week at Dunge!
Mr Evans fresh in from the Western Palearctic awaiting 'more' views of this elusive sod of a Lark.
Another day dawned in Kent and another Kent tick, this time in the shape of Black-winged Pratincole at Reculver. Following a message early am about a Probable Collared Pratincole at Reculver, my lust for Prats was undiminished and I decided to travel down to look for this bird which as fortune would have it turned out to be a Black-winged, MEGA ......job done, special thanks to Marc Heath for finding this crippler and then amazingly re locating it at Grove Ferry later in the week.............Incredible!!
Above we have Team Lawson in hot pursuit !
A pram tick !!
Way back in 1984 there was a Collared Flycatcher at Northdown Park, Margate and this remained the only one I'd ever seen in the whole World!!! Therefore when news of an Eastern Bonelli's at Portland broke I cadged a lift with Andy A and headed down to Dorset. Sadly the EBWarbler had gorne but the Collared Fly put on a great show and I caught up with lots of old friends, some very OLD!
Rarer than Collared Fly, Dave Brown on a twitch out of Kent, captured on film for the archives!
Portland, yet another lighthouse in the same week at the Dunge double.
The main real reason for going to Dorset to see the LONGggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg staying Hooded Merg at Radipole, a corker of a bird and hopefully 'finger's crossed' a UK tick !! Elusive to start with I was wondering whether I'd left it too late to see this bird, ie 18 months!! but fortune was on my side and it appeared for the gathered crowd of 6 birders!
The Crossness Purple Heron

One of the Preston two!
So what will Autumn 2009 bring, will it be as good as 2008 in Kent and the bird bonanza. At the time of writing the long staying Hooded Merg is still in Dorset and the 'plastic' Falcated Duck is still up[ the road at Broadditch. Long live the Ducks!! Keeping with the quacker theme a bonus yesterday with a Red crested Pochard at Swanscombe CTRL still present today and a site tick.