With a return to wet and cloudy weather this morning . I was glad that I got out yesterday in much better conditions . I was torn between Sheppey and Dungeness , but although the Elmley Reserve would be closed , I decided to head for the former . Even though the reserve was closed , a slow drive along the track past the shooting club to the old bridge across the Swale was well worth while . A
flock of about 50 Fieldfare were gorging on the masses of well ripened hawes , and amongst them
was just a single Redwing . This was probably the largest number of Winter Thrushes that I have seen together this year , but they were very twitchy and impossible to get close to . Further along the track
were a couple of Curlew , and then , in the distance , a small bird of prey on a fence post , which turned out to be a female Merlin , confirmed as , as soon as I got two shots , she saw me and dropped
almost to the ground , and flew following every contour of the ground until I finally lost her from
sight . Almost at the end of the track , a Redshank posed willing for a few shots , but this Little Grebe allowed just one shot , before diving and not being seen again , no doubt coming up in an adjacent
reedbed . On the return , a few Fieldfare moved along in front of the car , but the Curlew had moved on . My next stop was Capel Fleet and the Raptor Viewpoint , where the Coot convention seemed to have finished on the former , and on the way to the latter , found a female Marsh Harrier working the
ditch that runs parallel to the road . From 5 metres above the ditch , she suddenly dipped down , then
hovered with talons down . I was sure she was going to come up with a meal , but in the end she
carried on along the ditch empty taloned , so to speak . Three birders were already at the viewpoint , scaning for Harriers or even SEOwls , but things had been quiet since they arrived . I had a listen for Bearded Tits in the nearby reedbed , but failed to hear any , but a female Stonechat posed nicely for
me . Lots of gulls on the area behind the piled bales of straw and hay , lifting off noisily whenever a Marsh Harrier came close , and lots of Starling perched along the wires and dropping down to feed . I did eventually hear one 'ping' , but didn't see the 'Beardie' either fly over or drop into the reeds .
Heading back towards the Fleet , just a single Corn Bunting on the wires , with 2 or 3 others in the brambles below , and a Green Sandpiper lifting and calling , out of the roadside ditch . Heading up the hill after the fleet , a white blob in the distance on the road turned out to be a Magpie , but as I got closer , realised it was having a spat with a Stoat . Both disappeared as I got closer , so I backed down the hill , pulled over and waited . After a while , movement on the edge of the tarmac revealed the
Stoat , but , as soon as I took the first shot , it heard the shutter and dived back into the long grass . Again , I backed off , an after another wait the Stoat reappeared , this time sitting up for a better
look , and again dived back into the grass on hearing the shutter . Once again I backed off and waited , but it didn't show again , until the Magpie turned up again and the spat started again , almost back where I had first spotted them . This time the Stoat was chased across the road , and that was the last I saw of it . Leysdown front was my next stop , finding the tide well out , but surprisingly , a
flock of Sanderling close in , constantly searching for food amongst the flotsam and jetsam further up the beach , looking like characters out of a silent movie . Also around , a couple of very tame
Turnstone , one on the sea wall and the other on the tarmac area off the road . A look down the Shellness track only produced a Kestrel and several Reed Bunting at the car park , a large flock of Brent Goose in the brassica crop and over 100 Mute Swan between them and the hides , and that
number was increasing with new arrivals all the time . A fellow birder said that there were a few White-fronted along with the Greylag Goose , but they were too far away to pick out just with binoculars . On my way back home , I stopped again at the track alongside Elmley , hoping for a SEOwl sighting , but it wasn't to be . Just four of the Fieldfare were still feasting in the Hawthorns .
A catch up on a few recent visits , starting with a morning trip to Bough Beech Reservoir on Saturday , which failed to find anything out of the ordinary , and not a single one of the 19 Goosander which were recorded on the Wednesday . A visit to the nearby feeders in the woods , again failed to produce the hoped for , Siskin , Brambling or Redpoll , and it appeared that the Marsh Tit numbers
were down on my previous visit . Other members of the Tit family were present , Blue , Great and
just a couple of Long Tailed , and good numbers of the very quick moving Coal . A couple of
Nuthatch arrived , but stayed on the periphery , no doubt waiting for me to go before moving in . A
small number of Bank Vole were active , particularly under the feeders . After one climbed on a mossy log , I baited the top with some seeds , but another local resident spotted the stash first , and
finished the seed before another Vole sighting .
Yesterday morning I spent some time looking around Hayes Farm and the Trout Fishery , accompanied by a very cold wind . Hoping for Winter Thrushes , I was disappointed , but the resident RRParakeets and a fly-over Common Buzzard provided interest on the way to the fishery . 3 Little Grebe , a juvenile Grey Heron and an Egyptian Goose were found along with the usual waterfowl . Most interesting was watching 2 adult Mute Swan , teaching their juvenile the art of take off , flying
and landing . I watched the 3 paddle to the far corner of the square lake , then , with the juvenile out
in front , closely followed by the pen , barking out orders , and the cob bringing up the rear , the trio
flew to the diagonal opposite corner , before making a graceful landing . After a couple of minutes , they paddled the two sides of the lake , ending up in the far corner again . Same again for take off , but this time the juvenile and pen gained more height across the lake and cleared the trees by the entrance gate and headed off over the fields , the cob having dropped down in the corner again . The two fliers disappeared behind trees near the athletics track . A few minutes later , I heard a splash from the centre of the lake , as the two landed back to be re-united with the cob in the corner . All three seemed to be well satisfied with the lesson and went in search of some food in the margins .
This morning , I got out in the sunshine and headed for Sevenoaks Reserve , in another search for Siskins . I thought I had succeeded when I saw a flock of Finches fly into the Alders at the end of
the West Lake , but they turned out to be Goldfinches . A look around the clay spit area only
produced a close up of the white goose that is seen regularly on the site . From the five bar gate , two Little Egret in the left corner , lots of Canada and Greylay Goose , and several Mistle Thrush and Fieldfare in the right hand corner . Then , I can only think that it was concealed in the far hedgeline ,
the juvenile White Ibis appeared in flight , fling at distance , left to right across the field . It landed over in the right hand corner and immediately went into worming mode . A couple of other birders arrived and we watched it teasingly moving a bit closer , then turning and heading back again .
Eventually , it did come within 25 metres or so and met up with the white goose on the way . This
was the closest that it came , still worming , before turning once again and following the geese
towards the corner of the field that it had flown from . Being in the shade , by now I was frozen , so headed back to the warmth of the car , on the way finding 3/4 Goldcrest , high in the trees alongside the East Lake , but they were soon spooked by some workmen in orange workwear passing by . The sun was already milky , and by the time I got home , grey cloud had filled in all round .
With reports of a 'weather bomb' hitting at the end of the week , I had an away day in East Kent yesterday with two species in mind . The drive down the M20 into a low Winter sun at times could only be described as perilous , especially in the Maidstone area , but thankfully all went well . My first stop was at Chilham , between Ashford and Canterbury , where a Great Grey Shrike had been showing well over the last week or so . On arrival at it's preferred hunting ground , not a single vehicle or person was present , and my first thought were that the bird had moved on , but as I approached the community car park , a small white spot in a hedge turned out to be my target . Parking up and getting my gear , I went back to the spot , and found that the bird had moved . A walk
down the lane to a small bridge , re-found the Shrike , on top of a bush alongside the small stream , still attempting to warm up in the slowly rising sun . A look down at the back of the camera to check the last shot , a look back at the bush , and the bird had gone again . Having warmed up , it was now in feeding mode , and using the long hedge at right angles to the lane to look for it's breakfast , often disappearing into the hedge at one spot , then reappearing several metres away , but never out of sight for more than a minute or so . At one point it flew and perched on the wires running parallel to the road , but by the time I moved to the spot , it had frustratingly moved back to the hedge line . After an hour or so , three other birders arrived and as they came down the lane towards the bridge , the Shrike
appeared from nowhere and landed on the wires almost in front of me , and at last I managed some reasonable shots . Before they could get to the bird , it flew over my head and proceeded to take it's morning ablutions in the stream , under an overhanging Hawthorn , before hopping onto the tree to
preen . Another flight over our heads , a quick hover over the wires and it was back to it's favoured part of the distant hedge again . I gave it another 30 minutes , chatting with the other birders , but the Shrike seemed happy to just sit in the sun drying itself off , so I made my way back to the car and headed for my second stop , Reculver , which was a different story to the sheltered valley at Chilham . Plenty of sunshine in clear blue sky , but the wind and temperature were definitely not the same , probably the reason for so few cars on my arrival in the car park . No luck with Black Redstart on the boulders around the Towers , and with the tide at it's top , very few birds on the tideline apart from the odd Turnstone and Ringed Plover , but a passing birder said that my target , the Snow Bunting , were showing down by the new outfall , which was good news . Only trouble was , he didn't mention the two people collecting driftwood from the beach , about 200 metres in front of me .
A few Stonechat on the wall and the vegetation inside , but still little on the other side , until a couple
of 'gas guns' went off in the fields by the railway line , putting hundreds of Brent Goose into the air , some landing on the sea , but many just circling around and returning to where they were . By the
time I reached those on the sea , they too were lifting off and returning to the fields . Soon after , and
still alongside the end of the oyster farm , a movement on the shingle produced my first Snow
Buntings , a small flock of 8/10 , but very twitchy , often dropping over the shingle ridge and
reappearing 20 metres or so in front or behind , then on approaching the new position , repeating the move . From there to the new outfall , just before Coldharbour , I hardly saw a single bird , unsurprising , as I had now almost caught up with the driftwood collectors . Three birders had been at the outfall watching a small flock of Snow Buntings and having left them in situ , passed me and confirmed that were still there , but as I got there , so too did the two on the beach , and like the majority of the beach , there was nothing to see . I carried on to the far side of Coldharbour , without success , then retraced my steps back towards the Towers , seeing the driftwood collectors in front of me , but walking along the wall this time , but the damage had been done . With the tide on the turn , flocks of Ringed Plover were moving along the coastline but not stopping , and none of the boulder groins or those around the Towers produced the hoped for Black Redstart . Before heading home , I had a quick look over the Thanet Way at Marshside , an area I had hoped to visit for Willow Emerald Damselfly earlier in the year , but was thwarted by heavy traffic after being successful with the Lesser Emperor Dragonfly at New Hythe . A good look around with not many leaves on the trees will hopefully pay dividends on a trip next season . The trip home was as bad as the morning one , with the setting sun now being the problem , but fortunately the journey home was uneventful .
A catch up on a few recent visits , none of which proved to be overflowing with interest .
The Down House bird survey produced an average 20 species , the highlights being a Sparrowhawk
and the only Redwing that I will record on site this year , as none were found during the late Winter / early Spring . No sign of the Roe Deer again , and very little left of the clusters of ripe Hornbeam
seeds on the tree in the formal garden , as at least four Grey Squirrel were feeding on those remaining . With the sun still shining on my return home , I spent a bit of time watching the
Callicarpa bush and the feeders . Goldfinch were the most common visitors to the feeders , but the hoped for Blackcaps on the Callicarpa didn't materialise , mainly due to at least 5 Blackbirds , at
times all together , gorging on the berries . With the majority of the berries eaten in a very short time , they seem to be leaving the awkward ones on the ends of the branches , so perhaps the Blackcaps will return for those . The sunshine also gave better light to get another shot of the female
GSWoodpecker . A look at Kelsey Park in Beckenham proved very quiet , probably as visitors have been asked to refrain from feeding the birds in an attempt to tackle the Brown Rat explosion on site .
I must admit that it seems to have worked as I didn't see a single one during my visit . Mandarin Duck were found in good numbers as is usual at this time of year , and the males are already in full
breeding plumage , and keeping in close proximity to their chosen mate . The same could be said of the male and female Egyptian Goose that were having to make do with the grass in the formal
gardens , instead of the usual left over bread . The biggest surprise came when passing the Nuthatch
nest hole in the large London Plane tree , with one of the pair already inspecting the site , the hole itself still bearing the gouges made by the Rose Ringed Parakeet attention in the Spring . Speaking of
which several were found and heard during the visit , but no sign of the Blue Crowned species , found in previous years . This morning , with the likelihood of the milky sunshine being replaced by cloud before lunchtime , I headed for South Norwood Country Park at Elmers End . My first sighting was a Wren , closely followed by movement in a small stream , which turned out to be a Water Rail . It
seemed very occupied , probably looking for it's breakfast on the stream bed . Unusually , it stayed
out in the open for quite some time , and gave good opportunities for a few shots , but what I would
have given for a ray of that watery sunshine on the bird . Eventually it turned a corner and was out of sight , but I really enjoyed watching it for the few minutes it was in view . The lake was partially frozen over and the only species out in the open were Gulls , mostly Black-headed , some of which
were still sporting black heads , either the remains of this breeding season or the start of the next ?
Two Common Gull kept themselves to themselves in the middle of the lake , and two other larger gulls had me scratching my head , as the reader will know , gulls are my nemesis , especially when
they look like these two , but sticking my heads in the noose , I'm going for juvenile LB-backed Gull . Rounding one corner of the lake , I just missed out on a juvenile Grey Heron sat on a 'No Fishing' sign and shortly afterwards missed out on a good view of a brown and fawn bird being mobbed by Corvids that were much smaller in size , and the gulls . By the time I got into a good position , the bird was disappearing over the tree line still with several Corvids in pursuit .I left the
site wondering what that bird was , not that the dozing drake Shoveler were bothered .