Monday, 26 March 2012

A Foggy Stour Valley stroll

25 March 2012

Garden Moths

I ran the moth trap overnight on Friday catching 311 moths of 12 species, the best of which were a stunning Yellow Horned, a beautifully marked Pine Beauty and a crisp Early Thorn. Every one of the seven Clouded Drabs was a different colour making identification interesting and I found an Early Grey on the garage wall later in the day.

Clouded Drabs
Clouded Drab
Early Thorn
Pine Beauty
Yellow Horned

26 March 2012

Stodmarsh and Grove Ferry

Green Sandpiper
With fog forecast for the morning and the clocks going forward I decided on a later start aiming to arrive as the sun broke through. I arrived on time, but the sun had different ideas and the beautiful warmth of Saturday had been replaced by only 5 degrees of cold, greyness and a chilling north-eaterly breeze. Back on with the full winter coat and gloves! 

I set off from the Stodmarsh car park heading along the Lampen Wall, up the Stour to Grove and back via the Feast, Harrisons Drove and Marsh Hides. The first signs of Spring were very evident with surprising numbers of Chiffchaff's singing (and squeaking?) from almost every tree. 

I've noticed the little wheezing noises at the end of a bout of Chiff-chaffing, but today this was quite evident with several of the birds. Perhaps it just takes them a while to get back into their stride? A Common Treecreeper and a Great-spotted Woodpecker showed in the Alder wood, and a chat with Brendan across the stream confirmed what was around. As I walked up the Lampen Wall Marsh Harrier's were sky dancing and calling over the reedbed and Cetti's Warblers shouted their presence from trackside, occasionally showing briefly before skulking off into the gloom. 

The early signs of Spring were evident: the Willows were beginning to bud and the first blossoms were out.

First blossom
Along the river, just more Chiffchaff's. At the Water Meadows just a single Water Pipit, a Black-tailed Godwit and a Ruff. The habitat still looks great, though the water level has already dropped since my last visit a few weeks ago. At Grove I scanned from the Mound, but nothing of note. At Feast Hide I watched as a flirty female Tufted Duck chased her, slightly coy, chosen drake, bobbing her head and showing off. 

Marsh Harrier
Tufted Duck
The pools at Harrisons Drove have been flooded up and look superb - the best I've seen them since they were originally scraped out - should be good for the Spring. As I walked away six unseen Water Pipit flew up calling. At Marsh Hide I eventually located the drake Garganey but he wasn't performing. Three Green Sandpipers, a super summer plumaged Black-tailed Godwit, an Oystercatcher and another Ruff. Three Little Egret were wandering around and a stooping Peregrine briefly caused havoc among the Teal.

Harrisons Drove
It was nice to catch up with Chris and Anne Hindle, who I haven't seen for a few months, both looking very well and clearly enjoying their birding walk. As I headed back towards the car I finally located the flock of ten Pink-footed Geese out on the wet marsh behind the Hide. A nice walk, shame about the sunshine!

Marsh Harrier

Sunday, 18 March 2012

A not so miserable day

17 March 2012

A 'pair' of Rough-legged Buzzards on the Elmley NNR

The weather forecast for today was pretty miserable - drizzle throughout the morning becoming heavier during the afternoon. I know we need some rain, but surely five days during the week when I'm in the office would be reasonable, rather than spoiling the weekend? I decided not to hurry but by late morning was feeling a little caged in. Checking the updated forecast showed a glimmer of hope on the north kent coast, so I set off through the drizzly, grey conditions over Detling Hill towards Sheppey. The closer I got the heavier the rain, but I carried on out to Harty Ferry. The tide was falling and knowing there had been a Red-necked Grebe in the area for a few days I scanned the Swale hoping it might be floating by. A distant male Red-breasted Merganser on the south side, that must have looked great from the Oare sea wall, and a few lonely Great-crested Grebes to the east. A large Grey Seal was resting on the island and the waders were beginning to gather on the recently exposed mud - Avocets, Dunlin, Grey Plover and a single Bar-tailed Godwit.  I moved down the ferry road to look out west. There was a distant group of actively feeding grebes and among the mainly Great-crests was a smaller more compact bird - the Red-necked. It was truly distant and any hopes of waiting for it to float back along the Swale were dashed when the clay shoot began - so much for a little peace and quiet.

Next stop was the raptor viewpoint at Capel Fleet. Marsh Harriers were typically evident with the odd bout of calling - probably 25 birds on view, but the light was poor. About 75 White-fronted Geese were feeding in the field with some Greylags and a Sparrowhawk paused briefly on a fence post. On the fleet lots of common Ducks and small gulls were roosting, a couple of Dunlin flew around and some more White-fronts fed distantly in the field. Nine Ruff flushed by a tractor flew around for a while before settling again out of view. The whole area seems to be being more actively farmed these days, with much less cover and rough field margins, which is a great shame. Tractors were ploughing fields right across the area, perhaps explaining the noticeable decrease in raptors.

Little Egret, Elmley track
With little happening I decided to head home - at least there was some Rugby to watch.  I decided to try Elmley track, hoping to get the odd picture of a Lapwing close to the car. A Little Egret showed well in a ditch - amazing that I saw my very first about 100m away back in 1984. This one was displaying breeding plumage, including the pink lores, and proving the incredible change in fortunes of this species in a very short space of time.

Lapwing, Elmley NNR track
I drove slowly to the farm, checked the fields to the north, finding Stock Doves in the Barn Owl box and no sign of any Little Owls. Wigeon whistled from the pools below the farm, but there was little else of note. I drove back along the track stopping occasionally to scan for anything interesting. 

Male Marsh Harrier - colourful birds close up
A superb male Marsh Harrier flew very close over the car, and stopping on the corner I found a lovely little female Merlin sat in the rain out on the field. I watched her for some time before noticing a large shape sat in the single bush behind. A quick check with the scope - a Common Buzzard. A few Marsh Harriers were feeding, despite the drizzle, and while watching one approaching the Buzzard I picked up a distinctive shape sat on the ground - a juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard, his head just visible over the bank. 

The juvenile male Rough-legged Buzzard sits on a bank looking for prey

As I scoped it I was surprised to see a second Rough-leg fly through my field of view. I quickly changed position parking near the 'White Gate' (it isn't white anymore). From here over the next couple of hours I had some of the best views of Rough-legged Buzzard ever (not the closest but the most prolonged and active). The two birds were both juvenile - one a male and the other a female. They are presumably already starting to pair up in their first winter, as they showed a lot of bonding behaviour. They spent considerable time together, occasionally even working in partnership to chase down a Rabbit, and willingly sharing 'prey' items (I saw them sharing something, but they never actually ate anything).  Occasionally a Buzzard or Marsh Harrier would get too close and would be actively pursued and chased away, sometimes both birds joining in the fight - awesome. 

They were almost continuously on view, though sometimes quite distantly and were seen hunting Rabbits, smaller prey and persistently hovering over the fields. Watching their interactions with each other and with the other local raptors was brilliant and certainly brightened up an otherwise very grey and wet day (not ideal for photos, particularly distantly).

The male shows more typical juvenile plumage
The local Shelducks gang up
And succeed in chasing the Rough leg away

The female chases a Common Buzzard

But the Common Buzzard decides its not going without a fight
They climb up and the Rough-leg presses home its attack
Displaying her rough legs as she attacks from below
A dramatic encounter ensues
Quite a size difference, and compare those legs
The Common decides discretion is the better part of valour 
Distinctive white base to the tail
The female shows very dark plumage and unusually rufous underwing coverts

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Sussex is only a county away

10 March 2012
Iceland Gull, Newhaven, East Sussex
During the week up to four Caspian Gulls had been seen on Burrowes Pit at Dungeness. I had been planning a visit at the weekend, but by Friday they had moved on and little had been seen. Friday evening Gary phoned and asked if I fancied a day out in Sussex. With a number of good wintering rarities and little on offer in Kent and the chance to give my new car a spin in unfamiliar open countryside I decided to agree. I picked him up early morning and we headed down towards Pagham Harbour. On the way I decided to stop at The Burgh to see if the wintering Rough-legged Buzzard was still around. A short diversion and we were soon at the site which offers panoramic views across the Arundel levels and surrounding downland. Gary was really sharp this morning, picking up two Raven along the hillside, then a series of Buzzards around and over the fields. There were Skylark singing overhead and Grey Partridge along the field edges. Gary then picked up a Red Kite which circled around the distant fields before landing to eat some carrion left in the field the previous day. Just as we were thinking the Rough-leg had headed north Gary picked it up above the same field and we watched it interacting with Common Buzzard and the Red Kite over the next 30 minutes. Excellent start. 

Next we drove the short distance to Pagham and walked along the North Wall to the, now famed third bench. Here we found a small band of birders staring into the reeds. We were told by those leaving that the Paddyfield Warbler had been showing well and assumed we would have a short wait before it began flycatching again. It was not to be. An hour passed and nothing. Another hour without a sniff. Then as the sun came out somebody saw a small pale bird flit over the reeds. I could hear a scratchy, warbler like sub-song coming from the reeds - surely the Paddyfield was singing! Gary could hear it, but it was very faint. I looked hard, and a sudden movement at the base of the closest reeds caught my attention - there it was, but just as soon as I called it out it was gone. A Red Kite drifted overhead and many Mediterranean Gulls were seen on the mud.

Red Kite, Pagham, West Sussex
After 30 minutes or so I decided to walk along the bank. As I reached the next bench a movement over the reeds at the back of the pool again caught my attention. I waited. Nothing. As I moved forward another movement. Suddenly I caught a glimpse as the warbler moved quickly along the edge of the reeds. I called over the crowd and it eventually gave views to everyone before disappearing. Next it was back by the third bench briefly, and finally gave itself up along the near edge of the reeds with some much better views. Over four hours of patient waiting had paid off. Amazing how this asian rarity had managed to survive the freezing temperatures of February in this tiny ditch in Sussex.

I decided we'd next start our drive home but stopping en route for the wintering Yellow-browed Warbler in Worthing. A quick Google search suggested the spot was in the High Street and after one failed attempt we found a few birders looking into a tiny patch of bushes next to the busy thoroughfare and attracting too much attention. Eventually finding somewhere to park the bird performed well giving good views, but being very active. I couldn't bear the constant questions of 'what are you looking at' and 'is it nesting' and decided the best course of action was to leave. 

Yellow-browed Warbler, Worthing, West Sussex
Motivated by Plodding Birders superb photos from the day before I decided we would make one last stop at Newhaven for the Iceland Gull. Arriving at the beach we were initially disappointed as it was not present among the many hundreds of gulls, but soon it flew in and showed well, attracted by the handout of a few crisps. It then landed on its favoured perch and allowed close views - super bird and finally some photos!

Newhaven West Beach, East Sussex

11 March 2012
I ran the moth trap overnight, hoping for a few moths in the morning. I was more than a little surprised when I discovered an amazing total of 572 moths of 13 species among the egg boxes. The most impressive were the dozen Oak Beauty, a very smart species, and a single Small Brindled Beauty, but for shear numbers the 474 Small Quaker were impressive.

Small Brindled Beauty
Clouded Drab
Common Quaker 
Dotted Border
Early Grey
Hebrew Character
March Moth 
Oak Beauty
Powdered Quaker
Small Quaker
Twin-spotted Quaker