Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Wednesday 30th. January 2013

Knowing that I was going to have to make a journey 'up to the smoke' sooner or later , I have been watching reports of Bearded Tits in Hyde Park on the London birds page . Then , on Sunday , Marianne / The Wild Side visited the site , and posted a report and pictures on her blog , so this morning I decided to bite the bullet and travel up to London with what seemed like everybody from my neck of the woods . Having sorted out my business first , I headed by tube to Kensington , then a short walk to Hyde Park and the Serpentine . Fortunately , it would appear that the reed bed directly below Princess Diana's memorial is about the only one on the banks of the Serpentine , so it was not difficult to find . An obvious problem from arrival was a very strong wind , at times almost laying the reeds horizontal , but at least there were good periods of sunshine . I walked up and down the short reed bed a few times , finding no sign of the birds , and to hear them 'pinging' over the wind would be almost impossible . Another birder arrived and set up a scope , the back of the reed bed being no more than 5 mtrs. from the path we were standing on , perhaps he didn't own binoculars , but I didn't even use mine as the distance was so little . I spotted the two females low in the reeds , but one
disappeared lower still , whilst the other one posed atop the swaying phragmites , showing the ring which was fitted last Autumn at Rye Marsh . The second bird then joined it and they both took off , but only to land at the far end of the reed bed , to start working their way back along it's length . Often , both birds would disappear , especially after a particularly strong gust , but after a few
minutes would reappear , some times feeding at water level , unfortunately behind the iron railings . With no sign of the wind abating , it became a matter of waiting for the few moments of less movement between the strong gusts , and hoping that the birds were posing nicely , but more often
than not , they were back on to the camera , but not always . A couple more birders arrived and passers by stopped to find out what all the fuss was about , but numbers didn't seem to bother the
birds , although we did get a few looks from one of them , but it wasn't us that ruffled it's feathers . They didn't like it when one of the parks gardening vehicles went by , and kept out of sight for some time . It was difficult in the conditions to get one of the birds in focus feeding whilst swaying in the
 wind on the reeds  , even harder to get both , but it was managed a couple of times . By the early afternoon , and with more people stopping and looking , the birds stayed to the back of the reed bed , and impossible to focus on through the reeds , so I headed off to the tube to make my way home , after a couple of satisfying hours of photography . I'm sure it will take a lot longer than that to process all the shots taken . En route home ,  a wait for my connection at London Bridge station
afforded a shot of The Shard from the end of the platform . Even with the lens down on 70mm , I could only get the upper floors in the viewfinder , and a sore neck .

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Sunday 27th.January 2013

The change in the weather yesterday to mild and sunny , meant that the postponed Byfleet hedge was finished , and as a bonus , nobody got stuck in the field . Strange to think that we have just four more days hedgelaying with the Surrey group , and that will be the season over with for another year . Mind you , a couple of emails received recently asking for some help 'tree laying' again , should once again prove interesting , to say the least .
The good weather albeit with strong winds , after heavy overnight rain , continued this morning , and with limited time , I headed off down the bottom lane , hoping to find the juvenile Common Buzzard back on it's patch in the horse fields , now that the snow had gone . Scanning the fence posts and it's favoured perches from the lane at the first opportunity , there was no sign . As I turned the corner , I thought I saw the bird on the ground , right at the back of the field , near to where the deer and fox was seen , but by the time I got alongside , there was nothing showing . Once again , I scanned the fence posts , and well camouflaged , just about as far away from the lane it could get , I was pleased to spot the bird . Being the weekend , many more people were in and around the fields , so it was probably keeping out of their way , but the important thing was that it had survived the severe conditions , and now with the ground no longer frozen , it was back in it's old routine of spotting
worms from it's perch and swooping down to catch them . A few times it landed and stayed still for a
short while , looking very majestic . Things were definitely back to normal when the Buzzard strayed
too far down the field , when the local Corvids swooped in to let it know who actually own the turf . Just before I left , the Buzzard did move on to one of his previous favoured posts , and posed nicely ,
as the clouds started to gather . Those clouds produced a couple of heavy showers , finishing up with thunder and hail . But the important thing was that the Buzzard was still around .

Friday, 25 January 2013

Friday 25th. January 2013

Looking through the sightings on the KOS site last night , two entries caught my attention . Seven Common Cranes were seen from the raptor viewpoint at Capel Fleet and Adam / East Malling , Ditton and Barming , had obviously released one of the Hawfinches from the box , to have a fly around the churchyard at Barming . I decided to marry the two together , and set off early this morning , arriving at the churchyard shortly after 8 o'clock . I wasn't too hopeful , as there was no bike resting against the churchyard gate , but got my gear and had a wander around the site . It was very cold and the light was poor , and for an hour and a half , no sign of a Hawfinch . I was getting ready to give up , when a single bird in the trees at the back of the churchyard caught my attention . I
hadn't seen it fly in , it seemed to just appear . I had just enough time to raise the camera and fire off a few shots , before it was gone again , heading down towards the river . I waited another 20 minutes or so , but it did not return . During the visit , I also had two Mute Swan , two Lapwing and a single Cormorant fly over , and Adam's feeders were busy , but only with Tits and Robins . A Goldcrest was 'ballet dancing' in the trees alongside the car park as I left . I arrived at Capel Fleet in slightly better conditions , but only slightly . Three birders were parked up on the top of the hill before the Fleet , who informed me that the Cranes were 'out there' and also that there were good numbers of White-fronted Geese 'out there' as well . Unfortunately , 'out there' is quite a big place at Sheppey , so I did my usual slow cruise past the raptor viewpoint and down to the Ferry Boat Inn , not finding a lot to be truthful . I turned around and headed back to the viewpoint , seeing Red-legged Partridge and lots of Woodpigeon on the way . I parked up at the viewpoint , to find a mixed flock of Reed Bunting ,
Meadow Pipit and Corn Bunting in the reeds along the roadside ditch , a female Reed Bunting pictured . Later , in the same ditch , two Green Sandpiper and a Little Egret were also seen . Walking
up to the viewpoint , a male Marsh Harrier flew effortlessly by , no doubt struggling to find food with most ditches still frozen over . With six or seven pairs of eyes searching , it wasn't long before the Cranes were spotted , at a good distance and alongside vegetation which made them almost invisible . A short time later , all seven took to the air , this time landing on the edge of a snow covered field ,
which made them more visible , but the light and distance was the problem . A few minutes later , and they were off again , but in flight it was easier to get some detail on the birds . This became the
norm , landed for 5/10 minutes then flying around , sometimes landing back in the original pace . I didn't mind though , as it was my first sighting of the species . The White-fronted Geese could also be seen from the mound , but they were even more distant than the Cranes . In the other direction , 3 Bewick Swans were in the field over towards Leysdown , but once again , distance was the problem ,
the Bewicks are the three on the right of the poor shot . The Crane sightings became more and more distant , and my extremities were getting colder and colder in a bitter wind , so I decided to get back to the car and moved down the lane towards the Fleet for a sandwich and cup of hot soup . On the
way , I passed 22 Corn Bunting sat on the wires , with a single individual atop a Bramble bush . Whilst having my lunch , the Cranes lifted off again , this time , after flying in circles for some time , headed way into the distance in the direction of RSPB Elmley . I was also treated to another Marsh

Harrier flyby , this time a female , and also by an almost equally sized Great Black-backed Gull . On the way back up the hill above the Fleet , several Winter Thrushes were fossicking under the

hedgerows , having stripped just about every berry from the bushed that were heavily ladened on my last visit . It was very evident the lack of Redwings this winter , with the Fieldfares the dominant species by far . I had intended to see if I could find the Cranes again on Elmley , but found the reserve closed , no reason given . I diverted back to the churchyard on my way home , but with it getting even colder and duller , if that was possible , just Greenfinch , Chaffinch and Goldfinch were seen , not their sought after relation .
Tomorrow , weather permitting , we hope to finish the Byfleet hedge , postponed from last Saturday by the weather , that is if everyone can get there !

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Wednesday 23rd. January 2013

Yesterday , I spent most of the morning at the Barn Owl site , in the hope that , given the recent weather , they might have been forced to hunt during the day , having read several reports of this happening . Needless to say , the only thing I got was very cold , apart from a flyover Grey Heron ,

looking even greyer against a very grey sky . Heading back towards the car , and some warmth , four
Long-tailed Tits were busy at a feeder , but a few seconds later , they were on their way . Still haven't
found a Brambling this Winter , but this Dunnock was doing a good clean up job under another feeder .
Today , I decided to have a look at Sevenoaks Reserve , in the hope that a winter visitor might have dropped in . From Marianne's recent post , I knew that many of the lakes were frozen over , and so it proved , with West , North , Snipe Bog and Long Lakes all looking like skating rinks , but surprisingly , the East lake was almost ice free , so I headed off towards Tyler Hide . A few of the expected species were seen , when all of a sudden , everything took off from the islands as a low flying Sparrowhawk flew across from the direction of Willow Hide . What was surprising was the number of Common Snipe that appeared from their tucked away positions on the islands , some 25/30 in my estimation , then as a flock , did a couple of circuits of the lake before the majority heading off over the far corner where the RRParakeets nest , and seemed to drop down into the fields behind .
The odd one or two returned to around the islands like this one , but I think I would prefer to have my feet out of water in these conditions . Leaving the hide , another birder told me he had seen 1 perhaps 2 redhead Goosanders at distance from the viewing ramp , down towards the clay spit . I headed off towards Tower Hide , constantly scanning the spit area , but without any luck . The only birds seen
from the hide were this pair of Gadwall , tucked up against a cold wind down the lake . The water behind Slingsby Hide was another skating rink , so I did the loop back to the main track , hearing , but not seeing , Siskins on the way . As I got back towards the viewing ramp , I spotted the two redhead Goosander just off the island . I stayed  under cover and they came closer , eventually
swimming around the island , where I managed to get the closest shots . Having swum around the
island , they emerged from the far side and then flew off heading down the lake , seeming to splash down amongst the islands beyond Tyler Hide . I followed them down the lake , and soon found them feeding in amongst the islands . They were a good distance off , but it was interesting watching them
dive , with an 'entourage' of Black-headed Gulls in attendance , no doubt hoping to pick up a free meal from what the Goosanders had stirred up . One bird did come a bit closer , but with the light
conditions as they were , they didn't do justice . Beyond the feeding Goosanders were several
Shoveler , most of them dozing , but this pair seemed more energetic . Lunch was calling , and it was starting to snow again , so I left the Goosanders to theirs as I headed back to the car park to get mine . I did stop very briefly at the feeders at Grebe Hide and in a matter of a couple of minutes , most of
the expected species showed up , including the super little Marsh Tit , and a very inquisitive Robin .
With the snow getting heavier and the light getting worse , if that was possible , I headed off home . Both yesterday and today , I looked for the juvenile Common Buzzard on my way home , but failed to find him on either occasion , so it's still fingers crossed .

Monday, 21 January 2013

Monday 21st. January 2013

Well the heavy snowfall arrived yesterday , and added to Friday's to give over 6'' in total over the area . The main roads and bus routes are clear , but our road and a few others on the estate is like a skating rink with nothing being done as usual . I have been wondering how the juvenile Buzzard has been getting on , now that he cannot find earthworms in the frozen , snow covered fields . I had a look for it on Friday and only spotted it because some of the local Corvids were giving it grief , chasing it amongst the tall trees at the back of the fields . I went with the hope of getting some shots of it in the snow on Saturday , but failed to find it . Yesterday afternoon , I had a walk during the snowfall , and once again failed to find it . This morning , as I walked along the bottom lane , almost reaching a skip in one field full to the top with horse droppings , heard Corvids and saw them chasing the Buzzard back towards the tall trees . I think it must have been searching for something to eat in the droppings , as there was no snow covering the top of the contents . I watched it
land some 100+ metres away , looking very sorry for itself . From it's perch , it could see other species feeding from feeders close to some stables , and after a short while , it was tempted to the area , even though
 it meant more grief from the Magpies and Blackbirds particularly . It obviously didn't know what to do , but
it did give an unusual photo opportunity , a Common Buzzard on a bird table . Shortly after taking the shot , the local Corvids spotted it again , and this time it was chased deeper into the surrounding woodland . I just hope it is managing to find some bits and pieces to eat and that the snow melts and ground defrosts so it can get back to what it knows . The rest of the walk was pretty quiet , with very little seen or heard , apart from a very persistent Gt. Spotted Woodpecker drumming it's heart out , and a flock of Goldfinches on feeders in
a front garden on my way back , and a Magpie using one of the Buzzard's fence posts .
This afternoon , the skies lightened , with the odd glimpse of the sun , which encouraged even more birds to the garden feeders , like ,
a colourful male Chaffinch , one of 20+ of the species coming in ,
to keep the balance , a female Greenfinch , one of 6 or 8 ,
a Fieldfare of unknown gender , the first in the garden this Winter , 
and finally , Carol wasn't totally sure who was eating the mealworms that were being put out . I think we know the answer now .

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Saturday 19th. January 2013

Well , with Blogger still not allowing me to upload photos via IE , I was very grateful to fellow wildlife enthusiast , blogger and computer wiz Martin , who offered his expertise to try and solve the problem . So yesterday morning , with a snow storm outside , we set about trying to get Firefox to work , thus enabling , hopefully , to upload the photos . Much clicking and some swearing later , I was in a way pleased that Martin was also unable to get Firefox to work , thus meaning it was not a wasted journey for him , and I didn't look a 'right plonker' , but even more pleased when he managed to get Chrome installed and working . By the time Martin was finished , I had seen windows that I never knew existed come up on screen , and never likely to find again either , but it did mean that I had an alternative to IE , and can now hopefully catch up on some photos .
Starting with the Winter Heliotrope / Petasites fragrans , a member of the Daisy family , and related to Butterbur / P.hybridus , mentioned in the last post , the first flowers of the year .
The furled leaves pushing through of Lords and Ladies / Arum maculatum , from the same post ,
and the seeds of Stinking Iris / Iris foetidissima , taken on one of two trips to get better shots of the Hawfinches at Barming , in which I failed .
The rest of the week was quiet , apart from trying to photograph the juvenile Common Buzzard which has been hanging around one of the horse fields off the bottom lane . The bird is very wary
and always keeps a distance , which did not make things easy in the poor light conditions . It spends much of it's time perched on the electric fence posts , searching for any movement on the ground ,
then swooping down to take what seemed to be earthworms most of the time , before flying back to it's perch , often quite happy to bully other species out of the way to get food . I looked in on it both to and from the re-arranged to Wednesday workday up on the Common , but at both ends of the day the light was at it's worst . That did mean that I was able to spend some time on Thursday , when the light was better . But the better light meant that it could see me better , and with just the laneside hedge for cover , it was difficult to get close , and when I did , it flew off into the high trees beyond
the field . But , with a bit of patience , I managed to get a few reasonable shots before the sun dropped and with it the light . Whilst the light was good , I tried for some flight shots , but , with the
short , low flights that the bird was making , the AF was struggling to work properly against the background . Just a shame the high trees were behind the bird , as , when it did fly off at more height ,
all I had was a back-end shot . On my visits there have been good numbers of Mistle Thrush present , they being almost as wary as the Buzzard . Plenty of Blackbirds , a few Redwings which were good to see , a pair of Kestrels made a short visit , and a good mix of Corvids , turning over the horse dropping for their food , and giving grief to the Buzzard when it strayed too close to them . Other
wildlife seen on my visits included two Roe Deer that joined a small flock of Pheasants at the
very edge of the field and the wood behind , on my last visit before the snow , and just to the right of
where they appeared , a very red Fox ambled into the sun on the woodland edge and made the most of it , eventually curling up for a snooze . With the Buzzard out of sight for quite some time , I headed off home before the temperature dropped too low , stopping at the rookery , where no doubt
residential rows will  break out , but , at the moment , everything seemed very civilised .
I've just checked and IE still isn't allowing picture uploads , but also noticed what I thought at first was 'divine  intervention' to solve my problem , a comment on my last posting from 'Brother Gerry' . But it proved not to be 'the hand of God' , but some helpful information from my brother Gerry , down in the Brighton area . Thanks very much for that Gerry , I'll keep that for the next time things go wrong , as I'm sure they will .