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 .

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Tuesday 19th. November 2013

I felt lucky this morning as I walked out on the frost covered boardwalk at Thursley Common . The sky was blue and the sun was out , now all that was needed was for the Great Grey Shrike that had been showing well on site , to put in an appearance . By the time I reached the 'Pine island' , the only
birds that I had seen or heard were a couple of Meadow Pipits , and by the time I reached 'Shrike hill' , I had only added a single Carrion Crow to the list . There followed three and a half hours criss crossing the area and it's surrounds hoping for a flash of grey , but it was not to be . Other birders arrived , but they too were disappointed . A single Blackbird , a couple of Linnets and a pair of
Stonechats , even they turned their backs on me , was all that was found during my visit . My return to the car park via Moat Pond , found just a Grey Heron and a Little Egret , both still warming up in
the sunshine , and from the few cars in the car park , most of the birders had given up well before I did . So a 'Plan B' was needed to try and salvage something from the day . I headed back up the A3 , almost to the junction with the M25 , in search of a 'Northern visitor' that I had read had settled on a sailing club lake in the area . Fortunately I had passed the lake several times a couple of years ago whilst hedgelaying . I found an entrance onto the path around a vast expanse of water , and started looking for the 'Northern visitor' , the sun's reflection on the water making things very difficult . After a while , I was joined by four birders from the Wimbledon area who thought they had seen the bird briefly from the other side of the lake , with the sun behind them . Five pairs of eyes scoured the
water , and eventually we had a first sighting of the juvenile Great Northern Diver , but with the sun behind the bird and at distance , it was almost in silhouette , and soon after it started to feed , diving for up to 2 minutes at a time and surfacing sometimes 50 metres away from it's diving position , which made following it very difficult . At one point it appeared right over the other side of the lake where the four had first spotted it , but , by the time we got round to the spot , the bird was next seen back where we had just been . It also seemed to have the ability to disappear completely for 10-15
minutes at a time . This was the nearest I managed to get for a shot , and within seconds it was off again . The four birders left to try for the GGShrike at Thursley , I hope they had better luck than I did . With the temperature dropping I called it a day , having covered quite some distance backwards and forwards around the lake . I did see the bird surface way down the lake with a good sized fish , so it's no wonder it's staying . The last shot I took was the GND just about to slip under again , I wonder
where it came up ? So 'Plan B' came up with the goods , shame about 'Plan A' .

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Thursday 14th. November 2013

Despite having jobs to do around the house and garden , the sunshine and blue skies yesterday were enough to leave them for another day and head off for Elmley Reserve on the Isle of Sheppey . As I started down the track , ice on the ditches and scrapes was just starting to give up it's hold as the warmth of the sun could begin to be felt . A pair of Mute Swan and a juvenile were helping the
process in the first ditch and nearby a pair of Skylark were busily searching for their breakfast . A group of Lapwing , still huddled together , a distant Marsh Harrier , the first of several seen on the
day , a couple of distant Little Egret and a Grey Heron getting a better view of the area , were all that was seen until I approached the two bends before the car park . From a distance I could see a large bird on the fence post at the second bend , and hoping for a raptor , slowly moved closer . But the
raptor turned out to be a cock Pheasant , which held it's ground till I was quite close . The belt of sunflowers , now gone to seed and general weeds along the right hand side of the track towards the car park was holding a good mix of small birds , avidly feeding . They included Goldfinch ,
Chaffinch , Reed Bunting , Yellowhammer and Greenfinch , and probably a couple more unseen species too . Arriving at the car park with just Starlings , House Sparrows and Pied Wagtails about , a look out from the back of the toilet block found the scrape dominated by Teal , a single Lt.Egret and
a few BTGodwit , still to rouse from their slumber . In the nearby Oaks , one of the Barn Owls was
still in similar mode . Having seen that the tide was full as I crossed the bridge onto the island , I decided to return down the track and check out Leysdown and Shellness before the falling tide reduced any birds to mere specks at the waters edge . On the way back down the track , I did manage
a quick couple of shots of a female Marsh Harrier , when she settled briefly on a gate post , a single
Reed Bunting in one of the few trees by the track side , and , although a common bird , couldn't resist
snapping a Lapwing , especially as I was better positioned for the sun . Further down the track ,
another Marsh Harrier sighting , this time a male . The front at Leysdown towards the Shellness track only held the usual BHGulls , so I headed down the rough track , hoping for a SEOwl or even a RLBuzzard . Unfortunately my hopes were not fulfilled as just Corvids and Gulls were seen along it's length . Reaching the car park at the end , mine was the only car there , so I knew there wasn't a rarity
about . On the beach in front of the hamlet in warm conditions , just a few Turnstones feeding amongst the outgoing tide . As I made my way towards the end of the hamlet , good numbers of Oystercatchers were flying noisily right to left along the beach , no doubt heading to their feeding
grounds that were becoming available . Some came past in small groups , some in long drawn out
groups . By the time I got to the point and looked right towards the mouth of The Swale , I could see a large roost of the birds on the shingle beach in the distance , and the groups leaving the roost at regular intervals . Difficult to identify species on the water line there because of the distance , but mainly because the low sun was directly behind , but did pick out just two Brent Geese . No hoped for SEOwl over the saltings , just Curlew , Gulls and two more Lt.Egrets . As I returned on the
saltings side of the hamlet , a Pipit flew up and perched on a post . It was bulkier and darker than a Meadow , and my thoughts at the time were for Water , but the lack of the prominent eyebrow leaves me unsure . The return along the rough track was uneventful , but a look around the Grey Barn area
produced a very noisy House Sparrow colony , which is always nice to hear . From Leysdown I made my way to Capel Fleet and Harty Ferry . A couple of long distance Marsh Harrier sightings and lots of Starlings but not much else until a Green Sandpiper flew out of the recently cleared roadside ditch , just before the Raptor Viewpoint . About 12/15 Red-legged Partridge scurried away as I passed one field gate on the way down to the Ferryboat Inn , and slipway beyond produced a large number of Shellduck in the distance to the left , a few Redshank and a couple of Curlew , the
latter departing low over the water , whilst still at distance under an already milky looking sun , and a small flock of Dunlin , constantly on the move near the water's edge . As I returned to the Inn , a juvenile Common Buzzard , reminding me very much of the one that over-wintered locally last year ,
sat on a distant fence post , whilst rabbits ran around in the field in front . I remember the only food that the local one was interested in last Winter , was worms , perhaps this one was the same . Heading away from the Inn , a male Kestrel played 'catch-me-if-you-can' , flying from one telegraph post to the next , just as I poked the camera out of the window . Eventually , I did manage to get a couple of
shots , surprising him as I slowly rounded a bend . A few more Reed , but no Corn Buntings on the wires on the way back to the Fleet , but another couple of Marsh Harrier sightings and a female
Kestrel did show up in the fading sunlight and cooling temperature . Just after cresting Capel hill I spotted a bird on top of a telegraph pole , which through binoculars turned out to be a Little Owl . I approached slowly with camera ready , and as I stopped , it flew off . I parked up in a nearby field entrance for 10 minutes , but it didn't return to the post .
Two unusual sightings , both at Harty , a Migrant Hawker and a butterfly , probably a Peacock but not sure as it flew right out of the sun and disappeared into a hedge .

Friday, 8 November 2013

Friday 8th. November 2013

Mainly due to the weather and lack of interesting finds , a new post has been a long time coming . When I have been able to get out , very little was out there to find , so this post is restricted to a few shots from those outings .
The hoped for Winter visitor at Sevenoaks Reserve never materialised , but a couple of Kingfisher sightings from Willow Hide and 10/12 Egyptian Geese constantly flying between Snipe Bog Lake and the sheep fields beyond , made for the only shots taken on the visit .

The bird survey at Down House did nothing to lift the spirits , with just 16 species recorded . The highlight were 6 Mistle Thrush , feeding avidly on one of the Apple trees . I passed the same tree on my way out , but the Thrushes had been replaced by 7 Rose-ringed Parakeets , 5 of which were
caught in the viewfinder , two being half hidden under the middle/top bird . before I could get into a better position , two gardeners came round the corner , and they were off . The lawns behind the house always hold interest at this time of year , and this year the rare Wax Cap , Hygrocybe
calyptraeformis , seems to be doing very well indeed . Starting compact , it soon starts to split
radially from the middle as it get older . Also found in the same area , White Spindles / Clavaria
vermicularis . Not so good was that every Violet Helleborine that I found had been grazed , no doubt by the Roe Deer . Today , I made a visit to South Norwood Country Park , but things were still the same with very little to be seen . A Robin greeted me on one of the platforms around the lake , and at the same time the nearby litter bin came to life as several Brown Rats decamped from it's interior and
disappeared into the bankside vegetation . On one side of the island , a pair of Shoveler were having a
lie-in , whilst around the other side , a single adult Lesser Black-backed Gull , and possibly a
juvenile , and what looks like a Common Gull to me , but unsure caused by the black tip to it's bill  , were resting just above the water line . The rest of the gulls on site were all Black-headed . On the way home I stopped off briefly on the Common , finding a Jay opposite where I parked , which for
once allowed a couple of shots before it disappeared . Close-by were several Fly Agaric / Amanita muscaria , but most had been damaged by someone/something , so I had to be satisfied with a newly
emerged specimen , still with the remnants of it's veil showing on it's cap .
Hedgelaying tomorrow and heavy rain forecast for the morning , happy days !