Monday, 31 January 2011

Monday 31st. January 2011

With a dry day forecasted , we set off early , arriving at Dungeness just before 9 o'clock to cloudy skies and just above 0C. temperature . With several Bitterns on the reserve this winter , that was our main target , but we were hoping for some other good species too , and I can say that we were not disappointed . It was such a full day , that I've decided to mention the highlights with comments , as a full write up would take for ages , and I've got an early start hedgelaying in the morning .
We started at the Arc pit , as work was being done on the entrance at Boulderwood Farm . The Hanson Hide wasn't very productive apart from the common species , and no sign of Bittern either . We moved around to the screen hide on the other side , which initially only produced Tufted Ducks , Teal and Mallard . We scanned the reedbeds until Cliff whispered , 'Bittern on the left ' . Deja vu enveloped as the Bittern stayed well within the reedbed , never offering a shot opportunity . After what seemed like ages , it did work it's way into thinner reeds and it was possible to get a few shots . It then returned to thicker reeds , before appearing to break cover in front of the reeds , only to be seen catching a good sized fish , which it took back into the thicker reeds . We waited some time , without a sighting , then it flew to an adjacent reedbed and disappeared .
Now able to get onto the reserve , the feeders produced 8/10 Reed Buntings amongst others .
From Scott Hide , a pair of Pintails , male on right . From the same hide , a very smart drake Smew , one of at least 2 seen today . Late afternoon , two redhead female Smew , in total 8 were seen . In the bramble/scrub before Christmas Dell Hide , a Firecrest was found .From Dengemarsh hide , a Black-necked Grebe , looking tiny against a Mute Swan .From the same hide , a Marsh Harrier swooped into the reedbed .
A run to the fishing boats failed to find the Glaucous Gull or the two Ravens which have be residing in the vicinity .
With the sun finally coming out , three of a large flock of Bewick Swans flew off .
The soft afternoon light showed off one of several female Goldeneye . At least 3 males were also seen , but stayed well out of camera range .Flitting around the reedbed were two Chiffchaffs .
Also seen , but not photographed were , Peregrine , Curlew , Cetti's Warbler and Water Rail . We didn't find the Slavonian Grebe or a female Merlin that had been seen earlier .
In total , 54 species were recorded , which could increase to 55 , if this duck can be identified !

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Sunday 30th. January 2011

Having finally finished off all my chores , the sunshine that broke through just after lunch , had me heading for a look around a bitterly cold Hayes Farm . The first sightings as I crossed the stile were a small flock of Finches and with them a few Redwings , which flew off immediately . I put up more Redwings as I passed the remains of the Brussel Sprout PYO patch , along with a large flock of Woodpigeons . In the scrub behind the farmyard was a flock of Goldfinches with an odd Greenfinch amongst them . The first horse paddock contained a large mixed corvid flock , evenly split Carrion Crows and Jackdaws , but included 3/4 Rooks as well . Over on the far side , around a wet patch , there must have been 75/100 Redwings feeding on the ground , a small proportion pictured here . They were very flighty , moving further away as I closed on them , but I did find one specimen sat up in a bush , seemingly enjoying the warmth of the sun , but even this one flew off just after the shutter went . Usually the paddocks are covered in Black-headed Gulls at this time of year , but very few were about today , but they were replaced by fewer Common Gulls in small parties all over the site . The usual Rose Ringed Parakeets screeched by arrival as I headed down towards the Trout Fishery and in the paddock before , spotted a new resident amongst the usual horses , a Shetland Pony . The Fishery was quiet apart from the constant honking of the farmyard Geese , but Coot , Moorhen , Mallard , Little Grebe , 'Bitser Duck' and Mute Swan all put in an appearance . There were in fact a pair of Mute Swans feeding on the far side , but the cob kept a watchful eye all the time I was there . On my return , I spotted several Pied Wagtails feeding around the horses in another paddock , including several immature birds like the one pictured . Alongside the path which runs parallel to the ditch , I found a mixed feeding flock working it's way along the scrub/trees the other side of the ditch . It was made up mainly of Long Tailed Tits , hardly ever stopping in the constant search for food , and whilst try to get a few shots of them , noticed movement in one of the larger trees , which turned out to be two Tree Creepers . I got myself into position to get a few shots , when a runner in a reflective tabard and his dog came along , and that was the last I saw of the Tree Creepers . Further along the ditch , I did find a Goldcrest , as usual constantly on the move . I tried for ages to get a decent shot , but the best I could manage was one with it's back towards the camera and two sticks in front of it , nothing changes . Almost back to the car , I spotted two small birds fly in to an area of longer grass . Eventually one showed briefly before disappearing again , but then for a split second the two of them showed and I was able to identify them as Meadow Pipits , well camouflaged in the shot above .
By the time I got back to the car , my hands and feet were numb , but when I totted up the species seen/heard , which amounted to 34 , I headed off home well pleased .

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Saturday 29th. January 2011

Because I had been out all day for the last four days , many things at home were stacking up , so I didn't get out today , instead , caught up with most of the outstanding chores , and did maintainace of my hedgelaying tools , ready for Tuesday and Wednesday next week , given that I hope to be heading for Dungeness on Monday , weather permitting .
I also spent more time processing the 348 Waxwing shots that I took yesterday . Speaking of which , I neglected to mention last post that not long after the Common Buzzard sighting , a Peregrine did a low fly through , no doubt hoping for a Waxwing breakfast . Mid afternoon , we also had a sighting of a male Blackcap .
Apologies now to anyone fed up with Waxwing shots , but I am posting a few of the unusual shots , and a couple of my favourites , that I have found amongst the many , just with a caption to each , linked to the text of yesterday's post :
One of the many 'smash and grab raids' on the Privet berries .
One of my favourites . 'Let me at them Privet berries' .I'm posting this shot for a fellow blogger , I hope he likes it !One of the acrobatic immature birds .Close up of those fabulous colours , with the red spots of 'wax' , from which they are named .
Soaking up the the brief warmth of the late afternoon sun .
Right , that's it with the Waxwing shots , unless of course , another flock turns up !

Friday, 28 January 2011

Friday 28th.January 2011

Following Allan Woodcock/Snodland and Surrounding Area's post yesterday , and after three hard days volunteering , I made arrangements with a fellow enthusiast , who I knew was desperate for some Waxwing photographs , to make an early start , to arrive at Snodland just after light . We found the Cotoneaser bush/tree , perfectly directed by Allan's post , and waited in the gloom to see if anyone had told the Waxwings . Within 10 minutes , the first few birds arrived and started to gorge on the berries . It was quite windy and this seemed to be making the birds very flighty . Within the same 10 minutes , whilst photographing the Waxwings , a Common Buzzard drifted high overhead on that wind . It wasn't too long before all 25 birds that Allan had seen last night , were seen in adjacent trees . From here they made quick sorties to the Cotoneaster , before returning to their high perch to digest the berries , before returning the compost to the soil beneath . We watched and photographed for some time , before everything went quiet and there were no birds to be seen . We took the opportunity to sit back in the car and try to warm up as the temperature probably didn't rise above 3C. , but in the bitter wind , felt well bellow zero . With the birds not returning , we went looking for them , and eventually found most of the flock sitting high above some houses that were being built , with all the attendant noise of a building site , including delivery lorries which sometimes spooked them , but they settled back again , a bit further away . The attraction of the building site turned out to be Privet berries on the side of the lane leading to a few houses behind the site , and these too were avidly devoured . The flock did eventually disappear and this time we could not find them , but , when returning to the Cotoneaster , found fellow blogger Ken/Focusing on Wildlife , who had stopped to get some sightings/photographs , whilst out doing some errands . It was good to meet up with you and Pam again Ken .
That middle part of the day was probably the quietest part of the day , so we decided to give the Waxwings a rest and have a look around Brooklands Lake at New Hythe . I would like to post that we found several Bittern , but we didn't , just the car of Mr.Bittern , although that title is beginning to slip recently , Phil/Sharp by Nature , who I assumed would be well over the other side of the railway by the time we arrived . The wind was even colder at Brooklands lake , and with not a lot to see , apart from a flock of 50+ Siskins in the Alders in the N/NE corner of the lake , Some were coming down to wash and drink at the side , and one male posed for me , but once again a branch ruined the shot . Also around was a flock of 15/20 Goldfinches , some of which I got a shot of . A look at the river from the small wood felt like standing in Siberia , with the wind coming straight down the river , so we did a quick scan , and headed back towards the warmth of the car . Later we stopped at the small Alders Lake and found the male and immature Goldeneye , but wit anglers present , the pair kept well out of range .
By now , the skies were breaking up a bit , but the forecasted bright spells and blue skies did not happen . Heading back to the Cotoneaster area , we soon made contact with the flock again , and some of them , like this immature bird without it's yellow and red wing markings , came down to a low tree , I think of the Malus family , and feasted just a few metres in front of us . At one time 7/8 birds joined the juvenile to feast and for us to feast on the beauty of this winter visitor . Another feeding place was found along the road a bit in a front garden , where a Crab Apple had dropped all it's fruit on the grass below it , but the birds were much more wary when feeding on the apples , apart of course from another immature that just tucked in .
It was a very cold , but very pleasurable day , and I would like to thank Alan for letting us know that the flock were about . But , most of all , I would like to thank these little Scandinavian visitors for doing their best to keep us warm , chasing from one food source to another . As we were leaving , the Waxwings were getting ready to roost , and in a brief moment of evening sunshine , several sat enjoying the warmth it gave , whilst they trilled a goodbye to us .

Monday, 24 January 2011

Monday 24th. January 2011

I decided to get out early this morning , and arrived at Sevenoaks Reserve before it had got light , and headed straight for the hide by the reedbed , where I had watched a Bittern on Friday . Only trouble with my plan was that no one told the Bittern about it . The cold wind was blowing straight in through the open hatch , and after a couple of hours waiting and watching , I gave up . I did get several sightings of at least two Water Rails in the ditch , but it was no substitute for my main target . Walking back around the main lake , the water level seemed even higher than my last visit , and the islands outside the main hide had all but disappeared . No sign at all of the redhead Goosanders or the Black-necked Grebe , in fact most species seemed to be well down on numbers . From the far side of the main lake I spotted two wakes converging , but couldn't see at first what they were . Eventually , out of the gloom I could see that it was a pair of Great Crested Grebes , one still in winter plumage , that had come together to do a bit of bonding . They faced each other , and mirrored each other's movements . The whole thing only lasted a few seconds , before they both went their separate ways . I shall be hoping to photograph a pair in sunshine doing the whole ballet routine , if I am lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time . One thing that hasn't got smaller is the size of the Siskin flocks , still making a din as they arrive at or leave their chosen Alder tree . They are still choosing the tallest trees and landing in the very tops of them , making photographs almost impossible .
Walking back to the car , a stand of Lords and Ladies-Arum maculatum was showing well .
Having warmed up with a coffee , I headed for New Hythe , to see if I could do any better there . On arrival at Brooklands car park , I could see that Phil/Sharp by Nature was on site , but as I had left my mobile at home , I couldn't contact him . I searched the reedbeds around Brooklands Lake without success , and headed to the river , only to find it at low tide , and only Gadwall , Coots , Cormorants and Black-headed Gulls on show . I didn't find any of the more unusual ducks today , in fact the only interest found was a male Kestrel alongside the railway , lots of female flowers on the Hazel trees , waiting to be pollinated by the male catkins , and a small flock of Long Tailed Tits that were foraging further along the railway line , and a Song Thrush in full song near the car park .
I then drove down and parked in Lunsford Lane , to be greeted by a second singing Song Thrush , but no sign of the Goldeneyes on the small Alders Lake . I walked back to the 'usual spot' for the Bittern on Streamside Lake without success , and even a full circumnavigation of the Railway Lake failed to turn one up . The scrub area produced a couple of small Goldfinch flocks and the odd Corvid , but not a single Winter Thrush was seen or heard . Nothing unusual was seen on the way back to the car , but at least a Stock Dove took pity and posed on the wires .
I will be interested to read how 'Mr.Bittern' got on during his visit .
Three days volunteering now , so won't get out again before Friday .

Friday, 21 January 2011

Friday 21st. January 2011

After two days up on the Greensand Ridge and yesterday working up on the Common , and tomorrow out hedgelaying with the Surrey Group , yet another dismal , damp , cool day was what I woke up to this morning . I had thought about Dungeness last night , but today's forecast for the area put me off , so I decided to go back to Sevenoaks Reserve for another attempt at the Bittern and also to see if the Barnacle Geese , posted by Ken / Focusing on Wildlife , were still around . On the way to Sevenoaks , sleety rain showers were unexpected , but it was dry when I arrived at the car park . A quick look from the main hide showed that there was very little on offer , especially no sign of the large number of Common Snipe that have been on the Reserve . Just the usual wildfowl on the way to the other hides , and on arrival , found another birder / photographer already there , and with a Bittern located in the adjacent reedbed , magic I thought . He was worried that my arrival might have scared the bird , but it carried on moving and feeding , albeit on the far side or the middle of the reedbed , but at no time more than 10 metres away . The bird seemed nervous , so we agreed that neither of us would start photographing until it was out in the open area between the hide and the front of the reedbed .
The next one and three quarter hours were spent with the bird in sight , for most of the time , but alas never coming out of the reedbed . At one time the distance between us and the bird was down to 6/7 metres , but the bird's superb markings and the dead vegetation , made it very difficult to see . Towards the end of that time , it did start moving out of the reedbed , only to turn at the last moment , and disappear back into the thickest stand of reeds , and out of view completely .
Frustrated , we decided to have a look around the rest of the Reserve , and whilst walking , I mentioned that I had been looking for Scarlet Elf Cup fungi last Sunday up on the Greensand Ridge , and Cliff said that it was found here on the Reserve , so off we headed to see if I had better luck with the species here . Sure enough , in conditions exactly the same as I was looking at last Sunday , were good numbers of the fungi , mostly still in the early stage of development , but some specimens were found at a later more open stage . With no sign of the Barnacle Geese , we headed for the Willow Hide , to see if they were on the lake behind , but there was no sign . Egyptian Geese , lots of Coots , many of them squabbling amongst themselves as they seem to do at this time of year , no sign of Wigeon , but the most numerous duck on the lake were the Gadwall , with many very smart looking males , showing off their finery in the weak sunshine that had broken through . A few of these males had already seemed to have paired up with the
drabber looking females , but together making a striking pair . We walked on down past Long Lake , in the hope that the Barnacle Geese might be in the field behind , but it only held Canada Geese and the white goose that Ken had posted . Walking back towards the Visitor Centre , we found the long staying Black-necked Grebe busily feeding , but unfortunately not in a good spot for a shot as the sun was half behind it . Also in the vicinity were two Little Grebes , and at one stage , one of these and it's cousin posed , once again with the sun not helping the shot . Before heading to the car park , we decided to have a last look for the Bittern , and on the way Cliff mentioned that there had been a Peregrine seen on several occasions near the first hide , which probably explained why there were no Common Snipe about the area .
The reedbed looked very quite when we arrived , but we set about concentrating on our quarry .
After half an hour or so , with no sign where we had seen the Bittern earlier , I sat down and had a look along the ditch which had provided good views of Water Rail on recent visits . Within seconds , a Bittern walked out of the reeds on the left of the ditch and crossed into the reeds on the right , a bit further away from where I photographed the Water Rail running across the ditch , whilst my camera was on the tripod pointing out the other opening . Although we stayed on hoping that the Bittern would show again , it didn't , and so ended a visit in which I had seen more views of a Bittern than I have ever seen before , but came away without even a record shot of the encounter .