Friday, 20 February 2015

Friday 20th. February 2015

Two days of almost Spring weather was enough to produce two consecutive away days . The first was a return to RSPB Dungeness , in a second attempt to photograph the drake Smew outside  Scott Hide . As before , an early start had me in the hide before 0900 , and this time , not a single 'white horse' in sight . Things were quiet outside on Burrowes Pit , but the odd redhead put in an appearance , but seemed much more cautious than on the previous visit . Whilst waiting , I was treated to constant song from a Cetti's Warbler somewhere down to the right , but never seen , a flyby from a Kingfisher and a half run , half scrambled flight of a Water Rail , squeeling whilst doing so , as it passed across in front of the hide . Eventually 3 female Smew started feeding , but over to the right of the hide and directly in the sun's reflection on the water . The odd time , one did pop up out
of the reflection , but it was just the odd one . It was about an hour after my arrival and further out from the hide , when the drake first showed , being , what I can only describe as being harassed by
one of the redheads , and it didn't take too much to work out what was on her mind . They and the other two redheads moved further out , where one of the redheads took up a position low in the water
with her back end raised . The drake for most of the time looked totally uninterested , but in the end , probably for some peace and quiet , did the deed and mated with her , dunking her under the water
with just bill and top of her head showing . When finished , and like a child with a rag doll , he tossed the redhead to one side , before mating with a second redhead . The four were last seen heading into the overhanging vegetation , once again directly in the sun's reflection , but I'm sure I saw a smile on the drake's face . I left the hide shortly afterwards and whilst heading towards Christmas Dell in the hope of a hare or two , which didn't materialise , found a female Marsh Harrier working the nearby
reedbeds . A look in at Dennis's Hide produced 2 Goldeneye and a Great White Egret , and the
feeders at the entrance , which were empty on arrival , now held several Reed Buntings and just a single Tree Sparrow nearby . A look from Hanson Hide on the ARC pit produced another couple of Goldeneye , and a Small Tortoiseshell on the way back to the car . No sign of the Cattle Egrets on Dengemarsh Road , so I headed out onto the marsh in search of wild Swans and after a bit of searching , found the flock , a mix of adult and juvenile Bewicks with apparently a single Whooper
amongst them , but I didn't see the latter , in a field between Lydd and Brookland , on the way back finding a few Fieldfares along the lanes and a noisy Rookery on the outskirts of Lydd . With little found at Scotney Pit too ,  I made the decision to try for the Lesser Yellowlegs that had been at the Winchelsea end of Rye Harbour Reserve for a while , but I hadn't seen any sightings for a couple of days . It didn't seem such a good idea as when I had only just started walking the path towards the reserve , a convoy of six massive yellow vehicles , the type that you see working in a quarry , that had just deposited shingle from the mouth of the Rother further along the beach towards Fairlight , and were returning for another load , headed by a Land Rover with flashing lights , forced me off the path and the path shook as they trundled by . I did find the green bin , a marker for one of the sightings but did not find any sign of the American visitor , nor did a couple of other birders that I came across . Regardless of the failure , I must say it was very pleasant in the sunshine , when the trucks were in the distance .
The second outing was onto the Isle of Sheppey , again hoping for hares , and once again disappointed . I headed for Capel Fleet and the raptor viewing mound . Along the way , Corn
Buntings were found noisily chatting in Bramble and a pair of Stonechat almost escorted the car
along to the raptor viewpoint . Several Marsh Harriers were seen , including this female / juvenile
working one of the ditches . Two Common Buzzard also passed high over , heading towards Muswell
Manor . The raptors continued with a female Kestrel , seen hunting and later , resting on overhead
cables . No sign or sound of Bearded Tit in the reedbed below the viewing mound just the odd Reed
Bunting and an inquisitive Wren on a fence post . Then down to Elmley Nature Reserve to start a much better than usual slow drive down the entrance track . Straight away , Lapwing and Skylark in song and displaying and in very good numbers . In one of the ditches , a probable juvenile ,

diminutive Little Egret showed very well and was more than willing to pose for a few shots . Further
along , a male Marsh Harrier suddenly went from cruise mode to attack mode , the object of the
attack being a juvenile Common Buzzard which appeared to be 'worming' on the MH's patch . The
juvenile put up with a couple of dives , before taking evasive action and heading into the distance .  Approaching the two bends before the car park , I spotted a fast moving bird along the ditch , which it dropped into before reappearing and settling on the side of the track . I only had time to get it in the binoculars before it was off again , adding again to the raptor count , a female Merlin . Around the second bend , for some reason , the only two small trees along the whole length of the track have been cut down . Can't see the reasoning for it myself , as they provided look-out and resting places for many species . Between there and the car park , I sat for some time as the area has produced some good mammal sightings in the past , especially for hares , but it wasn't to be this time . The car park was packed and the overflow area , behind the orchard was packed too , I've never seen so many vehicles on site . With 5 o'clock closing , there was insufficient time to get down to the hides and back , so settled for another slow drive back to the entrance . I had seen a few Curlew flying about ,
but on the way back spotted at least 40/50 to the left of the track , and with them were a few Black-tailed Godwit , and also found a few Dunlin in amongst the Lapwing . On the right , a pair of
Shellduck , the male with the prominent , bulbous red knob at the base of it's bill . Approaching the
exit , many birds were engaged in their afternoon ablutions , like this , one of many Redshank seen . Good to see so many birds on site , and congratulations to the management team .

Friday, 13 February 2015

Saturday 7th. February 2015

Just two cold outings to catch up on . The first was the bird survey at Down House , which produced 17 species , strangely the same number as on the garden count last weekend , but not a single Winter visitor to be seen . With sheep grazing two of the three paddocks , there was no sign of deer , but when I approached the formal gardens on my way back to the car , a distant lump in the corner of the
fungi lawn turned out to be a female Roe Deer . She had most probably spotted me well before I
spotted her , but she stayed put till I got to within 50 metres of her , before getting up , clearing the
stock fencing and hot-footing it across the meadow , heading for the cricket field and beyond . No sign of the buck , but he would have no interest anyway if she was pregnant . Interestingly , if mated after the rut last late July / August , any embryo would only just have started to grow , having been held in diapause since then . Birth would take place late May / June , ready for the cycle to be repeated again . On the way back home , the usual stop at Keston Ponds found all three ponds 75% +
frozen , with most waterfowl concentrated in the open water of the middle pond . From the road I could see several Mandarin congregated under overhanging vegetation , and there they stayed until I
threw in a couple of handfuls of grain , which enticed them out . I counted 19 , 15 in this shot , 10
drakes and 9 ducks , strangely the same number counted at Kelsey Park in Beckenham during a recent visit . I thought about going there and seeing whether they were the same birds , but getting home and a hot drink won the day . Whilst having that hot drink at home and in a temperature of
about 5C , this Buff-tailed Bumblebee , with well filled pollen sacks , was spotted visiting the Winter Honeysuckle in the front garden .
Yesterday I decided to get out early and hopefully see and photograph the drake Smew which has been favouring the area outside Scott Hide at RSPB Dungeness . Finding the gates still locked on arrival , I must admit that I questioned my decision when I stepped out of the car in the ARC car park , being hit by a bitter NE wind . Another birder arrived with similar hopes and soon after and we managed to have the gate opened . On the way down the track I stopped briefly to see about 20
Curlew feeding over to the right . If opening the car door at ARC was bad , it had nothing compared to opening it at the main car park . The wind blew me along to Scott Hide , where I found the other birder already settled in , watching hundreds of  'white horses' charging down the length of Burrowes Pit . Plenty of wildfowl , mostly Wigeon , Shoveler , Tufted and Teal , getting what shelter they could , tucked under Makepiece Hide , appearing and disappearing into and from the troughs of the waves and the Willow stands were jam-packed with Cormorants . We mutually decided only to open the windows if any photo opportunities arose . Well , over the next four hours , a few such opportunities did arise , but not for the hoped for drake Smew . We did see him a few times , but he stayed well out in the middle , sometimes with a couple of redheads and sometimes with a small group of Pintail . Possibly 8/10 redhead Smew were seen , impossible to get a true number , and a
couple of them did come towards the hide , they stay around for long , probably as they didn't seem to
be very successful finding fish , just one was seen making a catch . A bonus sighting was a Kingfisher , which fly by into the wind and finding it very difficult . Only other interest found was a
Chiffchaff found feeding on the way back to the Visitor Centre , which couldn't come quick enough . After thawing out and having to be back home by 4pm , I had just enough time to look in further along the coast at Hythe , in the hope of finding Purple Sandpiper . On arrival at one stone groyne , a bulldozer and lorry were working on the beach between it and the other one further along the beach ,
relocating the shingle . Not expecting to be successful , I searched the leeward side of the first groyne
and eventually found just two of these delightful little birds . I left them to carry on with their nap , and was glad again to get back into the car and get the heater on .