Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Wednesday 26th. September 2012

A catch up on a few bits of interest both before and during the recent deluges . Before all the rain started , I had a look up on the Greensand Ridge for any signs of Adder breeding this season . Although the conditions were ideal , I failed to find a single Adder , never mind a neonate . It wasn't a totally wasted journey though , as I managed to find a single Slow Worm and 8 Grass Snakes . Five of the latter were found singly , but the other three were found together . The two smaller specimens
were a good size , but the probable female was enormous . The same day , on my return home , I noticed a female Southern Hawker hovering around the pond . On previous occasions , by the time I have arrived with the camera , she has gone or only stayed for a matter of seconds , but this time she stayed for several minutes . She tried to lay her eggs on anything and everything around the pond ,
here attempting to deposit on one of Carol's flower pots . But her favoured spot was the mossy area just by the waterfall . She seemed to lay several eggs in the moss , and was not bothered by my close
attention . I left her to it , and asked Carol not to do any 'garden-heeping' in the area for the time being . The rains could have been great news for hedgelaying last Saturday , but the overnight showers seemed to miss the site that we were working on , and with the ground like concrete , it was impossible to drive in the stakes on the newly layed hedge , so we will have to make another visit later to finish things off . I had promised to help with a small mammal survey yesterday afternoon up on the Downs , and as things started to brighten up somewhat around lunchtime , I decided to have a look in at Sevenoaks Reserve before meeting up for the survey . That brightness didn't last long and the second half of the journey was in driving rain , which was still falling as I reached the Reserve car park , but again brightness was showing from over the West Lake , which duly arrived . I made my way down to Willow Hide , passing a very wet chap who had been caught out in the last shower . I
had the hide to myself and got set up . A good number of Teal , all females , were dabbling in the shallows and of course the Coots were arguing . A scan further out in the lake found a male Pochard ,
dozing , almost on the other bank . Then , from behind the left hand island , my first two Winter ducks of the Autumn , a pair of Wigeon , still looking very much an item , with the drake guarding
every move of his lady . The sunshine was nice , but more darkness was moving in . Whilst watching the Wigeon , a Kingfisher flew down from the far end of the lake and landed in the trees overhanging the island . Following it was what turned out to be a Chiffchaff . As the Kingfisher looked down for a meal , the Chiffchaff searched in the branches above . Twice the Kingfisher moved perched and both times the Chiffchaff followed . I was sure that the next move was going to be onto the stick outside the hide , and was ready for it . When the Kingfisher did fly , it was over to the East Lake , not to the stick , and again followed by the Chiffchaff . Whilst this was going on and the clouds gathered , a second pair of Wigeon appeared from the left of the island and started preening in the shallows .
Then , the heavens opened again , and the pair got a shower thrown in for free . I didn't see it fly in , but at some time during the shower , a drake Teal arrived , and when the sun came out , you could
almost see the smile on his face , the only male amongst the females present on the lake . With the sun , the feeding started up again , encouraging one of the resident drake Gadwall to venture near the
hide and show off his still splendid colours . Leaving the hide in the hope of reaching the car park before the next downpour , a quick look at the East Lake showed hardly anything on the water , but a large collection of birds , probably mainly Geese , down by Tower Hide , but I didn't have time to go down there to see if there was anything else with them . I also noticed that there had been recent clearance in front of Tyler Hide , possibly earlier in the day , which would account for the lack of birds on the water at the Visitor Centre end . I did make it to the car before the rain , but drove through lots of it on way to meet my fellow surveyor . On arrival , it was still raining , so it was wellies and wet gear , but by the time he arrived , delayed by local M25 traffic problems , the worst was over . We headed off to check the 50 pre-baited traps , thinking that not much was going to be out in the recent conditions , and so it proved . Although 11 Wood Mice and a single Yellow-necked Mouse were found in the morning survey , just a single , very energetic Y-nM ( pictured showing the
yellow band running right round the neck , and some very sharp teeth ) and a very wet Field Vole was all that was found , but at least we stayed dry . As I neared home I caught another shower , which stopped just before backing in . Carol was amazed how much rain I had managed to find , as that five minutes before I arrived was all she had had all afternoon . Perhaps that should tell me something ?
Oh , and in case you're wondering , yes , it is still raining as I post this .

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Wednesday 19th. September 2012

A catch up on some of the interest found over the last few days . On Monday , I had a look in at Kelsey Park in Beckenham , and was most surprised to find young Grey Herons still in one of the nests on the island . The book says one brood Feb/Apr. , but have read that a second brood has been recorded before , also that if the first brood was lost , the pair might go for a second . I'm reasonably sure that this particular nest was occupied earlier in the year , and can confirm that the youngsters ,
here begging for food from one of the adults , are just as noisy at this time of year . Elsewhere on the
lake and river , the Mandarin flock numbered at least 27 , with 12 drakes , 13 ducks and a couple of
juvenile drakes that were being kept in their place by the adult drakes . On  the waterfall from the main lake , a Grey Wagtail was searching for food in the shadows . It looked like a juvenile and I saw
adults flying with food in their bills earlier in the Summer , but could of course be an adult , as the male loses it's black bib after the breeding season . Only other interest found was what looks like a
Ringed Teal , again either a juvenile or male in eclipse , but either way an escapee , as they are natives of South America .
Even as I was driving along the M25 on Tuesday , I wasn't sure exactly where I would finish up . Oare Marshes was one option , but with a strong wind blowing plenty of cloud in , a last minute decision as I carried on past the A2 turn-off , and as I had my passport with me , headed through the Dartford Tunnel into Essex , trying not to let the £1.50 each way toll ruin the day . I headed for what is my closest RPSB reserve , Rainham Marshes , a first for me . It was here where a few days ago , Marianne / The Wild Side , made the great find of a juvenile Baillon's Crake . Naturally enough , it was the talk of the Visitor Centre , but apart from really early in the morning , sightings have been few and very brief , and the opening time has now gone back to normal , but I hoped that there would be other interest on site too . Still cool and with a strong wind I started around the path through the large expanses of reedbed , with the Thames on one side , a high-speed train line , roads and industry on the other and overhead power cables on pylons as well . One quarter of the way round , I met a volunteer who told me that sadly the local male Peregrine was no more , having hit a wire while chasing prey , but whilst we chatted a Marsh Harrier soared over the back of the reserve . Lots of Little Egret and Grey Heron activity , often dropping out of view when they landed in the ditches . At half distance I had reached the Butts Hide , and I must admit it was not as crowded as I had anticipated . A piece of paper stated that the Crake had been seen 0600-0620 straight out from the hide , but it was now 0945 . Five minutes later , a flash of brown across the little channel from the island to the mainland , was the Baillon's Crake , a sighting that must have lasted two seconds tops . Well , given that some people have spent days in the hide without seeing the bird , quite a result . It was heading right to left , so the reedbed left was scanned continuously , until , just after 1000 , 'there it is went up' and everyone strained to get a glimpse of the tiny bird . I got on it reasonably quickly , sat up on the swaying reeds above the water and had the camera ready . I managed to fire off nine shots into the sun , as the reeds swayed and the bird ran down them into cover below . The best of
what can only be described as a record shot , but none the less , a shot of the elusive Baillon's Crake . So it was back to scanning as the hide really started to fill up and I've got to say that I have never heard so many ringtones from mobiles and pagers in all my life . I decided to get out and leave the
crowd to it . As things warmed up , Marsh Frogs , also known as green frogs , started calling , until someone walked past when everything went quiet . In the warmer margins of the ditches were good
numbers of juvenile frogs of varied colouration . I spent some time watching two Kestrels hunting over some rough ground , and tried to get in front of them to get some shots head on , but every time I
got close they flew further along , leaving me just with the usual backend shots . At least three Water Voles were seen on the way round , some like this one , more happy to pose for a while , before it too
disappeared into the maze of ditches within the reedbeds . What Odonata I saw was very mobile in the windy conditions , but seemed to be dominated by Migrant and fewer Southern Hawkers .The rest of the visit was quiet , until I got back to the car and started down the track back to the road , when a fast moving bird caught my eye , diving low into the vegetation , then climbing quickly back up

again . I concentrated on trying to get it in the viewfinder , and later confirmed it as a Hobby , albeit a bit of a tatty individual , a really nice way to finish my visit . The last two shots show just how varied the cloud cover was , driven by the strong wind .
Today , I did what will probably be the last full butterfly transect of the season at High Elms as just
30 butterflies of 6 species were recorded , 20 of them Meadow Browns , some of which , like this female looked quite respectable , but the odd Speckled Woods , Large White and male Common Blue
had all seen better days , but the female CB was still quite reasonable . Two Comma and two Red Admiral completed the findings . Two Hornets were also seen , and followed , but unfortunately again not photographed . I did manage to get shots of a male Migrant Hawker , but would have been
 happier with the one of the Hornets .

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Sunday 16th. September 2012

With the sun still shining , I had a couple of hours at Bough Beech Reservoir yesterday morning , arriving to find really good numbers of Martins , mainly House , but just a few Sand , feeding and calling over the causeway . I tried for a few shots , but they all ended up in the recycle bin , but then the feeding seemed to come to an end , and the Martins seemed to become fascinated with the tops of the Willows just below the causeway on the edge of the main reservoir . It seemed that every single bird  wanted to get perched in a very small area of Willow branches , which , given the numbers , was impossible . So what looked like a tag game started , with arriving birds pushing incumbent birds from their perches , then being pushed off themselves . This went on for some ten minutes or so ,
until the vast majority of the birds were either perched or very close to the tops of the Willows , this
shot showing just one area of the Willows , in which I can see 65+ birds , and the second an enlarged
shot of the centre section , in which I can see 20+ birds .Then , as if someone had made a loud noise , they all flew en masse , and that was the last I saw of the Martins . I just wonder if this behaviour was a banding together , before heading off on their long journey South . During the rest of my visit , several Swallows went through heading South , but only two more Martins , I suppose there always has to be late arrivals . I've never seen so many Martins together before , and definitely haven't witnessed this behaviour before either . With the Martins gone and most of the birds on site being way down on the righthand side of the main reservoir , it was a case of scratching around looking for interest . Down at the culvert on the North lake , a juvenile Grey Heron and a juvenile looking Little
Egret were squaring up to each other over ownership of the fishing rights in the culvert , but the Little Egret sensibly retired , leaving the larger Grey Heron with sole ownership . A single Green Sandpiper , a large flock of Pied Wagtails some 30+ in number , and a couple of distant Common
Snipe on the North Lake , together with a single Little and many Gt.Crested Grebe , a few Cormorant and the group way down the reservoir was as good as it got . Until I heard 'cronk-cronk' from over the woods , and in the distance appeared  Raven , followed closely by some of the local Jackdaws . I
thought it was going to head directly over the North Lake , but the attentions of the Jackdaws drove it further away . Eventually the Jackdaws gave up and headed back to their patch , and the Raven
carried on it's way , venting it's spleen with a few more 'cronks' , no doubt to let everyone know who's in charge . A Buzzard was heard , but not seen over the woods and just before heading up to the Oast House / Visitor Centre , a Kingfisher sped across the road and down the stream that runs into the North Lake . Another Common Buzzard was soaring over the distant fields on my arrival , and strangely enough , another brief Kingfisher sighting as I crossed the bridge . Withe the car park full , I didn't go to the hide overlooking the scrape , instead spent some time photographing some of the Odonata around the bridge area . Lots of Migrant Hawker on the wing , mostly males , and some had
managed to find and catch a mate , like this one in the'ring' . Also found in the 'ring' , were a pair of
Common Darter almost lost in the jumble of a Hawthorn hedge . A male Brown Hawker was also in the area , much to the annoyance of the Migrant Hawkers , and when it finally came to rest , it was
obvious that it was a hardened veteran of many aerial skirmishes , having lost a good part of one of it's rear wings in the fray . All in all not a bad visit , but , what might have been had I decided on another early morning visit to Sevenoaks Reserve , where out left of Willow Hide , I read a Little Bittern was sighted , albeit briefly , before flying off .
And finally , with no more observations on the mystery bird at Shellness , I would like to thank ShySongbird , Warren and Mike.H for their input , and hope that if it turns up again , I can manage to get a better shot for identification .

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Thursday 13th. September 2012

Firstly , many thanks to ShySongbird and Warren for their thoughts on the mystery raptor on the last post . I now have three possible options , but I was never happy with my initial Sparrowhawk identification , which is why I asked for opinions . So , I have dredged up another not very good shot
and doctored it a bit , with the wings on the upbeat , showing similar coloured underwings to the top and a streaked breast . Combining those with the very close to the ground flight , I'm now leaning towards ShySongbird's suggestion of Merlin . The one I saw distantly at Elmley was initially sat on a slight rise on the ground facing me , but I only had back , then distant side views of this bird . Any further thoughts ?
Today , I was heading for the Downs to do a reptile survey , but decided when almost there , to let things warm up a bit , and detoured to Sevenoaks Reserve , arriving about 8 o'clock . It was only 8C in the car park , admittedly in the shade , so a brisk walk to Willow Hide helped warm things up a bit . One birder / photographer was already settled in , and had been for some time , but he hadn't had a single interesting sighting . Regardless , I set up the camera and had a scan around , and he was right . By 0830 I was thinking of moving on , when from over the trees the other side of the lake , the
Geese , mainly Greylag with a few Canada , noisily announced their arrival , mostly overflying Snipe Bog Lake and landing on the East Lake . Just six Canadas looped back and landed out front of the hide , but even they didn't stay long . A couple of minutes later , what I thought was a Teal flew from the far left side of the lake and landed 20 metres out . It proved not to be a Teal , but a Little Grebe , but , for all intent and purpose it might just as well have been one , as it started feeding in a very Teal
-like , non Little Grebe-like manner . I came to the conclusion that if it wasn't practising to be a Teal , then it must be practising for the 'bog snorkeling championships' . Needless to say , every now and
again it did come up for air . Whilst watching the Lt.Grebe , we did have a flyby from a Kingfisher , which landed in a Willow on the left hand island , only to get into an altercation with a Jay . Needless
to say , the Jay saw the Kingfisher off , then returned to it's preening . I went back to watching the Lt.Grebe , when the other birder started taking shots . I turned to see what he was photographing , to see a Kingfisher diving off the lefthand stick for it's breakfast , and I had missed it . But , seconds
later , it reappeared on the righthand stick , and this time I was ready . It must have missed on the first attempt , and was already lining up a second , so I only managed 10 shots , before it dived and then
flew into the bushes on the right , and that was the last we saw of it . A walk down between East and Long Lake produced lots of Coots , some of the Geese that flew in earlier and three Pochard . Heading back around the other side , it was more Geese from Tyler Hide and in the bay heading
down to Tower Hide a single male Pochard , enjoying the warming sun . Also enjoying the warm
sunshine were at least 15 Red Admiral , one Small Tortoiseshell and two Comma , that were
nectaring on the Buddleias around the site . With things obviously warmed up , I headed up onto the Downs to do the reptile survey . Given the conditions , I was expecting to get some good results , but in the end had to settle for 6 Adders , but they did include the first neonate , newly born , of the
season, which was good to see , not much thicker than a pencil . Just a single Grass Snake was
recorded together with 19 Slow Worms and a very odd looking lizard , a copy of which I have sent to
 the Sec. of Kent Reptile and Amphibian Group for his thoughts , which I'll post when I hear back . Most of the colour has disappeared now from the chalk grasslands , but I always look forward to the
show of Devilsbit Scabious / Succisa pratensis , a member of the Teasel family . From the look of the seed heads of the Fragrant Orchids , I will be looking forward to a bumper show from that species
next year too . On the way around I also recorded 11 species of butterflies , including a few very tatty Chalkhill Blues hanging on , making a total of 12 species on the day .

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Tuesday 11th. September 2012

With a change in the weather on the cards , I decided yesterday to see if I could catch up with some migrants , before they all left our shores . The weekend's almost unbroken sunshine was replaced with low cloud and some drizzle , how we could have done with that whilst hedgelaying on Saturday with the temperature in the high twenties . In fact , as I arrived at RSPB Emley , chasing the last remnants of brightness way to the East , the wind was blowing the drizzle almost horizontally across the track . Looking towards the car park , not a single vehicle was seen . Not only vehicles , but also birds were missing , with a few Starlings around the entrance and a few Swallows on the fence wires around one of the gardens . The next sighting , when almost halfway along the track , was a female Marsh Harrier that just appeared from one of the ditches , hung on the wind briefly , then disappeared
as quickly as it arrived , but in those few seconds , looked almost ghostly in the strange morning light . She was a marked bird with a plastic identification tag attached to her left wing , but in the light I had no chance of reading it . A Pheasant family crossed the path and quickly made for cover ,
then , at last , my first migrant , a Wheatear , which turned out to be the first of 10/12 birds , mostly seen just before the car park . Whilst photographing a pair on a fence , I spotted a smaller bird a bit
further along , which turned out to be a Whinchat . At the exact same moment , a tractor appeared coming my way down the track , and another Marsh Harrier started giving grief to the residents of the lake below the toilets . I concentrated on the Whinchat and got a few more shots before the inevitable happened , and everything disappeared at once . The usual House Sparrows were around the car park , along with several Pied Wagtails and just two Yellow Wagtails , seen just once . On the roof of
the machinery store and on the wires running above the car park , the Swallows were collecting ,
some very excited about what was in front of them , and some just casually making sure that all the equipment was in best working order . A look at the board showed that very few people had visited the site recently and very little recorded . As the tide was on it's way out as I crossed the Swale on my way there , I decided just to have a walk down to the first cattle grid , checking the orchard and small pond on the way . At one time , Long-eared Owls could be seen roosting in the orchard , but I've haven't seen one for ages . No sign either of the Little Owls in the Oaks below the track , but I did have a pair of Kestrels hunting to the right of the track , a few Teal on the flood to the left , and a small flock of Meadow Pipits trying to decide where to land , but unable to decide before they disappeared from sight . Just before getting back to the car , a distant Egret , looking too big to be a Little , had me snapping in hope of a Great White , but when I got the shots on the computer , it was confirmed as the former . No sign of the Whinchat on the way out , but as I approached the fenceline , a Weasel raced across the track a few metres in front , of course , by the time I stopped the car and picked up the camera , it was in the long grass on the other side and well gone from view . A couple more Wheatear sightings , then , near the first cattle grid , a flock of 13 Whimbrel feeding
right of the track . They were well spread out , but I managed to get six of them together in the viewfinder . The rest of the way out was uneventful until I got to the last gate , where sitting on one
of the posts was a juvenile Kestrel , trying to maintain it's position in the wind . From Elmley I headed for Shellness , right at the end of the island , stopping briefly at the beach at Leysdown . The tide was well on it's way out , and with it most of the birds , just a few Turnstones around the high water mark . Down on the water's edge , hundreds of Oystercatchers along with many Gulls and a
few Curlew . Down the track to the car park at the end , then a walk out on the edge of the saltings . Near the blockhouse , several Little Egrets were feeding on the receding tide , but on land , just a few
Meadow Pipits , and on my way back a couple of Wheatear , one posing for just a second . Just before reaching the first/last house of the hamlet , a raptor lifted from the shingle beach and flew directly away from me , turning later and flying along the water , I managed to get a couple of distant
shots . At the time I thought Sparrowhawk , but on looking at the shots on the computer , I would be interested in what the reader thinks . Along the path by the houses were a couple of typical plants of
the area , the first Sea Aster /Aster tripolium , although finishing , an obvious relation in the Daisy
family to the Michaelmas Daisy , and still from the same family , Golden Samphire /Inula crithmoides . My third visit was Harty Ferry Road / Capel Fleet , and after having to follow two Red-legged Partridges most of the way up the hill , slowly headed down the other side , not seeing very much on the way , until almost at the corner at Capel Fleet where another Wheatear , one of three
seen at the corner , posed just inside the fenceline , bringing the total number of the species seen to just under 20 . Just a single Marsh Harrier seen on the way to Harty Ferry and very little else . As turned around in the car park of the pub , a brewery lorry was delivering . I slowly made my way back along the very smooth resurfaced road , and just after the raptor viewpoint , spotted a male Marsh Harrier working the roadside ditch in the near distance in front of me . I carried on slowly getting closer , then got a rear view mirror full of the brewery lorry . I got into the next passing place and waved it on , and waved goodbye to probably the best opportunity of a shot , as the lorry passed
the bird , and off it flew . The only shot that was left was a rear end , as many of my shots of the species seem to be . All in all a most enjoyable day , with migrants found at all three sites , but a worry was the fact that I only saw 8 Lapwing , at Elmley , and 3 Redshank , on the saltings at Shellness .