Sunday, 29 December 2013

Sunday 29th. December 2013

Mainly due to the weather , I haven't got out much recently , apart from a couple of quick visits to Sydenham Hill Woods , almost under the Crystal Palace television transmitter , where two Firecrests had been seen off and on . The only trouble was that they were on whilst I wasn't there , and off when I was , so all I managed to get on the visits was cold . I would have loved to have got out yesterday in great weather , but we were coppicing material for the hedge that we are laying , starting next weekend . So I was pleased to similar weather this morning , so I made an early start to visit the Old Lodge Reserve on Ashdown Forest , hoping to find a Parrot Crossbill or two , as 9 had been reported over the last couple of days . I was second car in the car park , just beaten by a local birder , and after a quick chat , decided to go round together in the hope that four eyes would be better than two . We went left at the gate , searching alongside the road to the old house , where the last reported sightings had been made . No luck there , so we made our way down the very muddy diagonal track towards the stream , once again without any luck . Heading up the boundary fence with the MoD land , we noticed that the dead tree just inside the Mod land , favoured by the Great Grey Shrike in previous years , had succumbed to one of the recent gales . The horse paddock at the top held a good number of Redwing , with new arrivals dropping in at intervals . We met another birder who had walked the track under the wires to where we were , and he hadn't found any signs either . He set off the way we had just come , whilst we took the other path back down to the stream . Over the stream and up the hill , towards the area favoured by Common Redstarts in the Summer , and just beyond found a small group of birders , with optics and cameras pointing towards the top of a Pine . We joined them , and soon after , we were looking at some of the Parrot Crossbills .

They were feeding  silently on the cones at the top of the tree , often out of sight or in the shadow of the branches . At one point , a male plucked what must have been a particularly tasty cone , and
having extracted a seed , offered it to a nearby female , which she accepted . They stayed for about 10 minutes , then one call and they all took off , settling amongst the topmost branches of a large Silver Birch along the top fenceline , where they stayed preening for a while , before flying off again , all calling , and numbering 9 in total . No one saw them land , so I started back towards the car park , well happy with what I had seen . As I passed the top of the gully that runs down the middle of the reserve , I heard them calling again and a couple flying into the top of another Pine . I made my way down , meeting another lady birder at the tree , where we had good views of a male , albeit through a maze of branches . Eventually all the original watchers arrived , along with new arrivals from the car park . The birds were feeding again , but staying out of view for much of the time , apart from the odd

time when one or two birds perched right at the top of the tree . The clear sightings became fewer and fewer , so I once again made my way to the car park , answering 'yes' to the question asked by every new arrival , 'are they showing' . On the way back home I thought it was a good job the Parrot Crossbills turned up , as there was very little else about on the reserve .
On the way home , a quick stop in the car park on the Common , where a good number of Fieldfare
were congregated high in an Oak . At home , a single shot through the slats of the kitchen blind and the double glazing of a female Blackcap . Carol says she was a constant visitor to the Callicarpa bush
all morning , but after this one shot , I didn't see her again .
And finally , a poor shot of a Redwing in poor light in the garden , but it was feeding on berries of a
Cotoneaster bush which was a cutting I took from the large bush in my neighbour's garden . Hopefully , in years to come , it will attract as many Winter Thrushes as the original bush .

Monday, 23 December 2013

Monday 23rd. December 2013


Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Wednesday 18th. December 2013

With bad weather reportedly coming in later in the week , I decided to get out early on Tuesday and as the Thames estuary seemed best for the day's weather , headed for Elmley Reserve , remembering half way that that reserve is shut on Tuesdays , so continued down to Oare Marshes , near Faversham . I arrived to grey skies and drizzle , and that was the way it stayed all visit . I took my camera , but I must admit , it spent most of the visit under my fleece . From the pull in , halfway down to the car park , good numbers of Wigeon , Shoveler , Teal and Tufted Duck , together with a
fair number of Pintail , three pictured . I say a fair number as I read that another birder had c300 not that far away , down by the Sheppey bridge . As usual , lots of Lapwing , which , with every other species , took to the skies as a Sparrowhawk flew across the East flood , closely followed by a few Corvids . Parking up and checking the tide , well on it's way in , I made my way along the sea wall to
the hide at the entrance to Faversham Creek , finding not much more than the odd Curlew , several
Redshank and a few Turnstone , avidly turning over the seaweed looking for a meal . I could make out a good sized flock of waders in front of the hide from a distance which turned out to be Oystercatchers , but before I got half way , they took off en masse , moved on by the incoming tide .
When I got to the hide and opened a flap , just two Avocet and a flock of Black-tailed Godwit were
left , but they too were moved on by the tide , to the other side of the creek , where a good area of mud was still exposed . Just before leaving the hide , two Mute Swans approached out of the mirk ,
heading directly overhead , but with the light so bad , it was impossible to get a fast enough shutter speed to capture the wing movement . A small flock of Reed Buntings on the way back to the car park , by which time the tide was up to the foot of the sea wall , but in compensation , a nice hot cup of coffee was waiting in the car . Revived , I headed West along the sea wall , hoping for something good in the saltings , but it was just more Curlew and Redshank , with an odd Little Egret and Grey Heron . Along this stretch , the 'flotsam and jetsam' at the high water line , showed just how close the area came to being flooded during the recent storm surge . The highlight though was a Kingfisher , half way to the copse area , where I turned round with the drizzle turning into rain . Another cup of coffee went down well when I got back to the car again . Leaving the car park and half way to the viewing area , what I thought were two Moorhen on the side of the road from a distance , turned out to be just one Moorhen and a Water Rail .
Unfortunately , the closer I got and slowed down , the faster the Water Rail ran in front , somewhat like a Red-legged Partridge would do , and eventually disappeared into the reedbeds on the left . Pulling in at the viewpoint again , and seemingly one of the few birders on site as most cars arriving were dog walkers , the tide was now full and the East flood roost was much busier than before , with
one of the islands completely full of Golden Plover and Dunlin . Whilst having my lunch , several Common Snipe 'zig-zagged' in disappeared into the vegetation at the back of the picture above . After lunch , I visited both the East and West hides , and got very little for my efforts , not even a Winter Thrush in the scrubby area , just as you enter the West side of the reserve . With no change in the weather , I decided to call it a day and headed back to the car . As I got to the small bridge , just before the viewing area , I heard a constant 'kik-kik' , seemingly coming from inside , or just infront of a large Bramble bush . Each time I went to one end to look into the ditch behind , the noise moved to the other end . At one point , I did see ripples on the water but no more . Probably as well that there wasn't anyone else about , as anyone watching would have phoned up to have me taken away . After some time , the 'kik-kik' showed itself as it swam the small ditch and disappeared into a small area of reedbed , and the 'kiking' stopped . It was another Water Rail . Satisfied with finding out what had been making the noise , I moved the 10 metres or so to the car and started stowing the camera and other gear . Just about to shut the boot , when I caught a movement to the right of the small bridge . Out came the camera again , and through the gloom , I was focusing on the Water Rail , swimming
across in front of the small bridge . Halfway across the open water , it saw me and the paddle rate
increased , as it headed for the reedbed on the other side and into which it dived and disappeared again . I kept watch , and after a few minutes , it broke cover again , and did a good impersonation of
Usain Bolt , as it made a dash for the main reedbed on the East flood , not to be seen again . I've glimpsed views of a Water Rail swimming before , but never managed to photograph it . I was glad to get into the car , albeit cold and wet , but it was worth it .

Monday, 16 December 2013

Monday 16th. December 2013

An awful wet and windy day kept me indoors today , but it did give me the chance to catch up with processing the photos from recent outings . As it was so miserable outside , it was nice to look back on some early morning shots on Saturday , just as the sun was creeping over the trees and onto the North Lake at Bough Beech . A sneak up behind the hedge on the causeway , fortunately with no one else about , found four redhead Goosanders , but being true wild birds , they very quickly spotted me , and they were paddling off to the island at the far side of the lake .

The main reservoir , although still as a millpond , held very few wildfowl apart from those still dozing amongst the now flooded trees around the edges . A quick look around the orchard and feeders found a few Fieldfares feeding on the fallen apples , but no sign of the Brambling or Marsh
Tit that I was hoping to find , but a male Shoveler was showing well on Roy Coles scrape . Heading back to the causeway , at least the Geese were waking up , with small numbers of Canadas and

Greylags passing overhead . A look over the North lake found the 4 redheads diving for their
breakfast , still well out by the island , and on the main reservoir , four more Goosander , two males
and two redheads this time , but they were even further away from the camera .
A short visit the previous week to Kelsey Park , Beckenham , found my first Blue-crowned Parakeet for best part of a couple of years , high in a London Plane tree . Easily identified by it's more Parrot-
like call , rather than the high pitched squawk of their relations the Rose-ringed . As can be seen , the sun was wrong , and as I tried to get around to the right , it took flight and disappeared into the local gardens . The visit also produced at least a dozen Mandarin Ducks , with the males , like this one ,
just more numerous than the less colourful females .
And finally , the male Blackcaps are still regular visitors to the Callicarpa bush , but we haven't seen
the female again . The berries are going quickly and some acrobatics are needed at times . Carol tells me I missed a cracking shot whilst working up on the Common on Thursday , in lovely sunshine , the male Blackcap and a Robin , side by side amongst the berries .

Monday, 9 December 2013

Monday 9th. December 2013

With a redhead Smew being reported yesterday , I arrived at the car park at Sevenoaks Reserve just after 0730 , and was the only person there . The sun hadn't got above the trees as made my way down the left side of East Lake , heading for the clay bar , where previous species members seemed to favour . Plenty of the expected wildfowl , especially Pochard , but the wrong red heads . Half way down the lake , the assembled mixed Goose flock , took off noisily , silhouetted against the rising
sun , heading for the sheep fields behind Long Lake . By the time I reached the gate overlooking the fields , the flock were busily grazing , amongst them the unusual white specimen that seems to turn up every Autumn . As I stood at the gate , a constantly calling Buzzard could be heard in the distance , which I eventually found in an Oak tree with several local Corvids for company . I hung around , hoping that the Buzzard might be moved on , but it stayed put , and eventually the Corvids got fed up and they moved on . During the time at the gate , a Rose-ringed Parakeet flew quickly and
noisily overhead , the first I've seen for a while on site . Returning back alongside Long Lake , lots of berries and rosehips , but nothing about to eat them , but did see a Kingfisher speeding down the lake , just above the water . At Willow Hide with water all around , just the usual , with a male
Pochard trying to make up for the Smew , until from behind the island a pair of Wigeon appeared as if they were joined together , the male never straying from his partner and she being followed every
move by hers . When three Geese relinquished the tree roots in front of the island , the pair made
straight for the spot and started preening , side by side of course . Another two male Wigeon were seen later on East Lake . Uneventful again back to the viewing mound at the entrance , but as I was about to move on to Tyler Hide , a group appeared from the car park and I guessed that they would be heading there , so I stayed put and following on , sure enough that was where they headed , so I headed for Sutton Hide , finding several Canada Geese and a white specimen , but cannot be sure if it
was the same bird that I saw earlier in the field . As can be seen , the sun was up now and it was mild , but I didn't expect to find three drake Gadwall displaying to a single female . The males taking
it in turns to throw out their chests and flick back their heads to impress her . Mind you , I shouldn't have been surprised , as last week on a very quiet visit to Kelsey Park in Beckenham , I came across a pair of Moorhen mating . The usual path had been cut through the reeds outside Slingsby Hide , but it didn't encourage a Water Rail to show whilst I was there . Just before leaving , a Litytle Egret flew in an landed on the back on the back of the reedbed , only slightly visible through the reeds , so I
returned to Sutton Hide and there it was , snoozing in the sunshine , where I left it . Returning towards Sutton Hide , I scanned the islands for the 70+ Common Snipe that had been recorded , finding not a single one . By the time I reached the hide , the group had gone and I had it to myself .
Scanning the islands I started finding the Snipe , and in between them all taking off with the Lapwing , fying a couple of circuits and landing back down , had counts of 45 and 51 , a distant shot
of the two species showing some of them . By the time I returned to the car , I still hadn't seen or heard a single Siskin or Redpoll , most unusual for the site in Winter . I decided to rectify the lack of Siskin sightings by heading for a feeder station in woodland near Bough Beech Reservoir , which was alive with Siskins last year . As I approached the feeders , birds could be heard , but not the constant
chattering of Siskins . Tits were taking full advantage of the food source , with Blue , Great , Marsh , Coal and Long-tailed all visiting on a regular basis , along with Goldfinch , Chaffinch and Nuthatch .
It wasn't until just before I left that a single male Siskin visited , and he didn't stay long . I had to pass Bough Beech Reservoir on the way home , so stopped for a look , hoping to see one of the Goosander that were reported on Saturday , whilst I was hedgelaying . No sign on the North Lake and looking down the main reservoir with a low Winter sun , made it difficult to find anything , added to that high water level , well back into the surrounding trees , I thought I was on a loser . So imagine my surprise
when I scanned down the righthand side of the reservoir with binoculars and found a minimum of 15 Goosander , 4M 11 redheads . They were a long way off but have posted a record shot . A cropped
shot shows fewer , including two of the handsome drakes . I think I was just lucky as they seemed to be having a wash and brush up , as soon after , they disappeared into the trees .
And finally , having found several autumnal plants still in flower , no doubt due to the lack of severe frosts this year , I was amazed to read of a Wood Anemone found in flower in Sussex , then on Saturday , some of the Blackthorn in the hedge that we were laying , had open flowers , crazy .

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Wednesday 27th. November 2013

When I drew back the curtains this morning to a dank, drab day , I was pleased that I had chanced the weather yesterday , with an away-day to Dungeness , hoping for a sight of the elusive Black Kite that had been in the area . I drove down in cloud , but always in the distance was a bright band , and 10 miles before arriving , I was in bright sunshine which held throughout the day , albeit a tad on the chilly side . No sign of any Swans in the fields , never mind the hoped for wild species , nor any Winter Thrushes seen in the roadside bushes . Arriving at the ARC car park , I chose the hide rather than the screen because of the low Winter sun , and found I had it to myself , enabling me to sit in 'Ken's throne' in the corner , but when the flaps were opened , a raw wind blew straight in . Nothing was seen close in on the water , which was exceptionally high , but further out Cormorants filled the island to the right and just Coot , Wigeon , Mallard , Shoveler and Tufted Duck in small numbers drifted aimlessly about or dozed in the sunshine . That changed somewhat , when a
female Marsh Harrier drifted over from the left , one of several seen during the visit . Nearby , two Cetti's Warbler called to each other and two Grey Heron flew over the hide and landed left of the viewing screen on the far side , closely followed by two Little Egret . Shortly after , a Great White Egret emerged from the reedbed and worked it's way to where one GH and one LE had landed on the bank . The GWE was followed by the other LE , and provided a size comparison shot of the three
species . I think the Magpie was just a 'wannabe' . Without a wader , Goldeneye or Pintail in sight , never mind anything rarer , I made my way back to the car park , watched very carefully by a male
Chaffinch . Heading for the beach , I stopped briefly at the far end of the ARC pit , to find a large
flock of Gadwall , somewhere in the region of 75-100 , just part of the spread out flock seen here , and a few more Wigeon further out . I spent some time scanning the fields between the holiday camp and the airfield for the Black Kite , without success , probably as I read in the evening that it was reported flying out to sea at some point during the day . A look around the lighthouses area proved almost birdless , apart from the Gulls loafing on the shingle . I retraced my tracks and headed for the RSPB reserve , and in keeping with the sightings , found not a single Tree Sparrow around Boulderwood Farm , and the car park far from full . A quick scan from reception , then off around the track . A look in at Firth Hide found one photographer , seemingly concentrating on a Little Egret on the edge of an island just off to the left , but after a while , more white could be seen moving about further back in thicker vegetation , but never seemingly showing in the open , but from size had to be
another GWE . As we watched and waited , a large flock of Coot , part of flock here , way out on the water , seemed to be having a 'running on water race' , the cause being another Marsh Harrier passing
over . The MH's appearance also caused the GWE to show , as it lifted off , it must be said somewhat ungainly with that long neck and legs , flew around the small island a couple of times , then landed
back on the righthand side , in the open , and there it stayed as , now joined by a third photographer , we fired off streams of shots , to which it seemed oblivious . Moving on  just the expected wildfowl were seen from the other hides round to Christmas Dell , with very little else from the track , so a
small flock of Greylag Geese flying over at least gave something to point the camera at . As I approached Dengemarsh Hide , a MH came in from the right and what was on the water outside the hide took off in all directions , so when I entered , the hide was empty , matching the water in front .
Heading around to Hookers Pits , a couple of Linnet and another two calling Cetti's Warbler , but just Moorhen , Coot and Tufted Duck on the pits . Just a bit further along , something caught my eye low over the reedbed , and without realizing what , but thinking 'it could be' , quickly aimed the camera and fired off five shots , before it disappeared back into the reeds , as quickly as it appeared . It all happened so quickly I didn't have time to change settings , so it wasn't until I got home and
downloaded the shots and lightened them , that my hopes that it was a Bittern were confirmed . This was the first of the five shots , and as can be seen , the bird wasn't flying , it jumped up above the reedbed , flapped it's wings a few times , and crash landed about 10 metres further on . Given the circumstances , I was pleased to get anything from the encounter . In the same area 'pinging' of Bearded Tits were heard , but no sighting . As I made the right turn onto the smaller path back to the Visitor Centre , I disturbed a Staring that had been feeding on the orange Sea Buckthorn berries on
the left of the main track . The small track proved almost birdless , just a pair of Rook , fossicking on one of the grazed fields . A slow cruise from the car park to the entrance only produced a single male Stonechat and yet another MH , and the feeders at the farmhouse again failed to produce a Tree Sparrow . With the sun still shining , I decided on another look on the ARC site before heading home , heading up to the viewing screen first , finding just rabbits out enjoying the warmth of the sun , but found the area where the GWE,GH and LEs had been seen from the hide earlier , could not be seen from the screen , so headed back over to the hide , finding just two birders inside , neither on 'Ken's throne' , so settled in . Not much had changed , the other birders had been told of two female Smew being seen , but between us we didn't manage a sighting . It was about 1400 , still sunny , and what surprised me was that during the next half hour , 5 or 6 MHs drifted over the pit , each time putting up anything in the area , but I watched each and every one of them drop down into reedbeds around the pit and appear to go to roost , as in the following half hour before I left at 1500 , they hadn't moved . This female seemed very particular , flying around and perching several times , till she
settled in the reedbed directly out from my position . I looked for wild Geese on my way back , but failed to find any again , perhaps next time . The sun didn't last long as I ran into cloud cover before Maidstone , so felt lucky to have chosen the right area for today's trip .
Since my last post I have visited several local sites , but have found very little of interest to post , but
did find an unusual fungi on Keston Common , Auriscalpium vulgare / Ear-pick Fungus , which only grows on buried , decaying Pine cones , and on a visit to RSPB Rainham Marshes , 100s of Wigeon
and a male Kestrel hovering in a very strong breeze , but no sign of the Bewick Swans or Red Mergansers reported the previous day . A visit to Sevenoaks Reserve , found what looks like a
cross Greylag / Canada or Barnacle , but , even rarer , met Phil / Sharp by Nature , good to see you again Phil . And finally , we've had the first visits this Winter from the male Blackcap , feeding on the Callicarpa berries , which are plentiful this year , so hope he makes more visits .
Just looked out the window having finished this , and it's still a dank , drab day , really glad I went out yesterday .