Sunday, 13 November 2011

Autumn stroll

13 November 2011
Deer Hunters

My three gorgeous nieces, Rachel, Hannah and Lucy, spent the weekend staying with us. With such beautiful late autumn weather we decided a brisk walk around Knole Park was in order. The girls were keen to hunt down the many deer that live in the park and were not disappointed.

Though I'm not sure what sort of deer these were they sure had long antlers!

We also came across a range of interesting fungi. No idea what they are, but wonderful colours and shapes, and a great opportunity to try out the macro lens.

Fly Agaric - always a crowd pleaser
The autumn colours were persisting well into November and the light passing through the leaves created wonderful vistas and images. 

The unseasonably mild temperatures had also allowed a few Common Darter to survive; we even watched a pair ovipositing in one of the ponds.

Common Darter

Dewy spider's web

A super walk in beautiful weather, everyone returned ready for a tasty stew, before Mum and Dad took the girls home to complete Hannah's double home work. Thanks for all the entertainment, and looking forward to seeing you again soon.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Eastern promise

12 November 2011
What a stunner! Eastern Black Redstart, Foreness, Kent, 12 November 2011
I received news yesterday of a possible Eastern Black Redstart of the race phoenicuroides at  Foreness Point. Assuming it would be one of the occasional Black Redstarts with extensive red bleeding onto the lower belly, I gave it only casual interest, until about 22:30 when I had a quick look at Birdguides and saw Barry Hunt's (the finder) photos. Needless to say I was at Foreness Point at 08:30 with a surprisingly small crowd of locals, Steve Gantlett and Alan Lewis. The bird performed brilliantly often returning to a small corner of the beach at Palm Bay where the washed up seaweed was alive with insects. It also occasionally fed on the clifftop, sometimes with a european Black Redstart for company.

Much time was spent early on trying to see the exact pattern of primary feather tips, as this would remove the small possibility of a hybrid Redstart x Black Redstart. With many images captured and studied we were soon confident this was the real deal, though further analysis will be required. A recent unprecedented arrival of up to six similar birds in Sweden should add weight to the claim and Barry Hunt should be rightly proud of his much deserved find (it was his wife's birthday today and clearly must have felt like his own yesterday!). The only real surprise was the lack of a crowd - this is a potential 'First for Britain', is a possible full species awaiting recognition (see here) and if nothing else is an absolute stunner of a bird.

You could easily pass this off as a Common Redstart...


Check out those primary tips...
While watching the star of the show we also saw a Woodcock (which came in off the sea, collided with the metal railings at the clifftop, ripped itself open and had to be put out of its misery - very sad), a Short-eared Owl, a female Black Redstart, a Swallow, 2 Northern Wheatear, 3 Little Grebe on the sea and a nice Sanderling roost. There were plenty of Rock and Meadow Pipits feeding over the seaweed.

But the real surprise came when someone picked up a couple of Twite feeding quietly along the weedy edge of the beach. These are increasingly scarce visitors to Kent and other than a difficult to see flock at Pegwell have proved a real challenge for me over the years. It was nice to re-acquaint myself and to grab a few images before a dog walker scared them away.

I had a walk around Northdown Park (2 Chiffchaff, 5 Goldcrest, 3 Redwing, and a flock of fast moving Long-tailed Tit), Port Regis (1 pale Chiffchaff, 2 Goldcrest, 3 Redwing) and King George VI Park (7 Goldcrest, 1 Chiffchaff) but decided to return to Foreness for another look at the Eastern Black Redstart which I watched until dusk. Out of interest I was watching it alone from the clifftop to the west of the jet ski cafe late afternoon and played a recording of Black Redstart singing. The only mild response was a glance at the squeeky part of the song, otherwise completely ignored and no reaction. Great bird, well found, thanks Barry!!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Last seawatch of the year

6 November 2011
With the winds predicted to go northerly Saturday night and to gain in strength through the morning I was set for a seawatch Sunday morning. However the dilemma was whether to go to Shellness at the far end of Sheppey or down to my old haunt at Birchington. I went to bed having decided on Shellness, but as I drove up the A249 I remembered an early November seawatch off Foreness in the early 80's with huge numbers of Common and Velvet Scoters and turned off along the A2. I arrived at Birchington and found a protected area to watch from on the clifftop. The direct Northerly was probably blowing at 25mph and the sea was quite rough with hazy drizzle coming in throughout the morning. Birds were moving mainly west though as the morning went on the pattern changed with most birds heading (back) east. Over the five hours to 12:30 I recorded a good passage with the highlights being a Grey Phalarope east, a stunning Great-northern Diver close in to the west, two smart and close juvenile Pomarine Skuas, two Velvet Scoter, and a stunning flock of 20 Red-breasted Merganser going east at midday. The supporting cast included 35 Great Skua, 6 Arctic Skua, 164 Gannet mainly east, 58 Little Gull mainly west, 174 Kittiwake mainly east, 78 Common Scoter, 4 Eider west, 128 Guillemot mainly east, 16 Razorbill east and 32 large auk sp. also east, 1 Goldeneye, 1 Mediterranean Gull, 12 Gadwall, 29 Wigeon, 39 Teal, 10 Mallard, 6 Pochard, 196 Brent Geese and 32 Shelduck. The auks started to move as the drizzle eased and continued through the late morning.The largest flock was of 19 (13 Guillemot and 6 Razorbill). I was surprised not to get the odd Little Auk, though one or two might have slipped by unnoticed as I wrote in my notebook or under my line of sight - one of the risks of watching alone. It was an enjoyable seawatch and almost certainly my last of the year (at least in the UK). Not the best autumn for seawatching with northerly winds few and far between, and the first for many years without either a Long-tailed Skua or Sabine's Gull.