Sunday, 28 October 2012

There might be a few images like this today...

28 October 2012


Decided on a long walk today with Mandy - somewhere quiet where we might see a few birds, but not a full-on birding trip. I suggested a few places and Mandy decided Reculver would fit the bill (there's a pub at one end and a restaurant at the other so no risk of me starving her all day). We parked at Shuart Farm and walked down the lane to Plum Pudding Farm. Having checked the hedge and scrub we then walked along the sea wall to Reculver, grabbed some lunch in the King Ethelbert and then walked the green wall around the back of the Oyster farm beside the railway. The walk was about 14 km under a generally overcast sky though some rays of sunshine were much appreciated.

There were clearly birds around, though not in big numbers. Shuart held a few Goldcrest and a flock of Chaffinch that included a nasal Brambling. The lane had Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Robins, plus a very pale Common Kestrel, a Jay and a Green Woodpecker. Overhead Siskins, Redpolls and Skylarks were heard. Two Swallows were feeding over the farm and another two by the Stables, where there were lots of Reed Bunting, a few Meadow Pipit, a small flock of eight Redpoll and many Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Linnet and Goldfinch. As we walked along the sea wall four Stonechat gave good views, clearly accustomed to the passing cyclists and dog walkers. 


More Swallows overhead, and regular flocks of finches passed west, mainly Chaffinch, but including Redpoll and Siskin. Offshore was a flock of Brent Geese and on the beach were Sanderling, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Redshank, Turnstone, Oystercatcher and 2 Rock Pipit.

Once we passed Coldharbour a group of birders was apparent on the path ahead. We approached to find the Shorelark and two Snow Buntings that Chiddy had seen earlier were still on view - and what views! Over the next half hour we got sensational views of both feeding within feet of the small crowd of cameras. With very little patience or field craft these little beauties would walk right up to you and feed at your feet. Amazing and the sun even came out occasionally. Thankfully the 50D was a great substitute for the currently deceased 7D - no cropping necessary!



Very approachable
Snow Bunting
Superb little birds
The 2 Snow Bunting feed unconcerned
Snow Bunting
At Reculver a flock of 9 Swallows flew west grabbing the last few flying insects over the caravan park, 28 Lapwing flew west and four Blackbirds dropped in out of the sky. After some lunch we checked the Caravan Park which held 2 Goldcrest, 12 Blackbird, a Great-spotted Woodpecker and a Fieldfare. The Oyster Farm provided a Green Woodpecker and 2 Little Egret. Along the green wall we found more Blackbirds, Song Thrush and the occasional Redwing and Fieldfare. Amazingly Chaffinch were still moving and several flocks amounted to well over 120 birds. Redpoll and Siskin also flew by as did a single House Martin. A flock of finches and buntings in the weeds held a Brambling and many Reed Bunting, but it was frustratingly difficult to approach and get any views. The last section included a flooded field where 60 Lapwing, a Curlew and a Dunlin were feeding and a group of gulls was loafing. They took flight before a full check was complete, but nothing obvious. Finally on the last section of wall a superb Woodcock raced through the bushes past us and on down the track. A nice way to end a lovely walk.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Last seawatch of the year......

27 October 2012

Birchington (Minnis Bay)

With predictions of Gale force 8 NE to N winds there was no question of an early start this morning. The wind had actually turned during yesterday and reasonable numbers of typically late seabirds were recorded from the North Sea coasts of Kent. However it strengthened overnight and increased into the morning - often what the second day lacks in numbers it makes up for in quality.

I wasn't sure where to go - Reculver, Birchington, further east? I even considered Shellness for a while. In the end I decided on Birchington and set off in the dark for a dawn arrival. I was first on site, but then again it was still dark! Later a local named Dave, Nick Hando and Tim Hodge joined the fun and through twitter we had contact with Mike Gould at Swalecliffe, Marc Heath at Reculver, Martyn Wilson at Grenham Bay and Barry Hunt at Foreness. This made for some interesting real time comparison and allowed individual birds to be tracked along the coast. I stayed until midday when the light passage seemed to have moved much further offshore and the cold finally got the better of me. It was mainly clear, usually cloudy and occasionally sunny, with odd heavy downpours during the morning.

I started scanning as the light improved and almost immediately a small auk with a dark face came buzzing towards me at quite close range - a Puffin!  Not a bad start. Kittiwake were moving in reasonable numbers (c400), Gannets in small groups (c50), Great Skuas went mainly east (9E, 5W), a single distant dark phase Arctic Skua (E), a mid range juvenile Pomarine Skua (E), 10 Red-throated Diver, 4 Gadwall, 40 Common Scoter, 3 Eider (including 2 smart adult drakes) and 60 Little Gulls (W). A few groups of Sanderling, Turnstone, 3 Knot, 2 Grey Plover, 4 Oystercatcher and a Curlew flew off the beaches and past. Skylarks were flying north into the wind and spray, low over the sea. A flock of Fieldfare and Redwing flew along the cliffs calling loudly. Auks were moving east early on with about 6 Razorbill, 8 Guillemot and 25 large auk sp. Nick picked up a close Little Auk but it had gone out of view and I missed it. Fortunately an hour or so later I picked up another crossing the Bay towards us. Just as it was getting closer it vanished, presumably landing on the sea. About ten minutes later it or another came flying out of the Bay and passed our position giving good views. However the real highlight came after Dave, Nick and Tim had departed. I was sitting alone scanning hard, knowing that Martyn and the guys just along at Grenham would grip me off if I missed anything. As I reached the end of my scan I picked up a very close small white-rumped black bird gliding over the close waves. It was very close in, just off the beach and it it was instantly identified as a European Storm Petrel. The light was perfect and as it flicked and fluttered its white underwing covert bar was easily seen. Definitely the best views I have had in Kent - I watched it until lost to view then quickly tweeted the news for the other guys along the coast. About ten minutes later Martyn and crew picked it up and another 30 or so minutes later the Walpole boys got it passing them, still close in.

Within half an hour the rain was falling hard. I waited until it stopped and scanned some more. Gannets were moving again but everything was further out and the light a bit hazy. I was freezing and decided on a walk up Chambers Wall to get the blood circulating. It was a nice brisk stroll and with the wind howling I was not surprised to see very little. Fieldfares and Redwings flew occasionally from the bushes, a few Blackbirds and Robins along the track. At the sea wall a big flock of Starlings and Fieldfares flew across the track to feed in the ploughed fields and 30 Brents were also on the earth. From the sea wall four Little Gulls flew by and then rested offshore. I decided to call it a day and headed back to the car. I wonder if this will be the last sea watch of the year.....

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Migrants in the mist

22 October 2012

East Kent Coast

With easterly winds predicted I had booked today off work. Yesterday had been very wet and hard work, but a few hours after I gave up Matt and Chris Hindle got their just rewards when they found a superb Olive-backed Pipit in the rough grass beside the Chambers Wall footpath. Unfortunately it was late and despite their best efforts only a dozen others made it in time. Surely this was an indication that good birds were arriving...

It was forecast to be foggy first thing clearing to warm sunshine later. As I drove past Reculver it was VERY foggy indeed. In fact I couldn't even see the side of the road! I decided to carry on to North Foreland. It was equally foggy here and I parked up and walked up the road to Port Regis. Several flocks of Redwing flew over and others flushed from the roadside. Goldcrests were calling excitedly everywhere. Robins sat on almost every perch. There were plenty of birds but try as I might I just couldn't find anything unusual. A couple of Chiffchaff and an unseen Firecrest were the best. I bumped into Barry Hunt on the way back. He'd just heard a Richards Pipit overhead unseen in the fog. As I reached the car near Joss Bay the fog had thickened and I could no longer see the fields beside the road. The fog seemed to exaggerate the noise and it was difficult hearing clearly over the road noise and golf course machinery. I tried Northdown Park. 3 Firecrest, 5 Chiffchaff and 4 Blackcap were the reward for a long walk around the park. Song Thrush, Blackbirds (big European immigrants) and Robins were everywhere. It was still noisy as the park is surrounded by roads so I moved on to King George VI in Ramsgate. I soon bumped into Craig Sammels who had been here some time. He had seen 10 Firecrest, but not much else of note. I did a fairly quick circuit seeing 20 each of Redwing, Song Thrush and Blackbird, 30 Robin and a dozen Goldcrest. There were too many dogs so I decided to find somewhere quiet.

I drove to Chambers Wall and set off along the concrete road through the fog. Blackbirds, Song Thrush and Robins erupted from the hedgerows. By the time I reached the car park 40 Blackbirds were crammed into the last two bushes. In the field a flock of 35 Chaffinch included a couple of smart Brambling. Overhead a couple of Siskin called in the mist and Redwings began to burst from the hawthorns along the wall. More Robins, Blackbirds and Song Thrush boosted numbers. A Black Redstart flicked out of the car park making a change to the Robins and a Blackcap flew across the path, and a Sparrowhawk drifted ominously through the gloom along the channel. The Wantsum had burst its banks flooding the lower fishermans path.  Over the railway there were more Redwings and the first Fieldfares 'chuckled' overhead. The flock was clearly disorientated and circling in the poor visibility. At Coldharbour I quickly found the Shorelark on the shingle with a Starling and a Northern Wheatear. About 100m further along and a Lapland Bunting was feeding at ridiculously close range beside the path. I took the camera out pointed it at the bunting pressed the shutter and nothing happened. Batteries out, card out still nothing. Very frustrating, looks like the rain has finally taken its toll. (To see images look at Marc Heath's excellent blog). I enjoyed the views regardless. A flock of 40 Fieldfares and 10 Redwing flew in low off the beach looking for some landmark. They circled confused and headed inland. A latecomer landed on the beach, got its bearings and flew overhead inland. As I walked back along the shingle a Chiffchaff arrived and fed briefly in the weeds. The Shorelark showed again but suddenly flew over the seawall and vanished into the fog. I walked back to the car through the wet grass where yesterday's Olive-backed Pipit had foraged. A flock of 8 Redpoll rattled over and even more Redwings burst from the bushes. A dozen Blackbird flew in and vanished into the reedbed! Along the wall I noted the many places where a pipit might choose to hide. Everywhere was very wet and the thought of walking into fields quickly evaporated. More Bramblings over with a group of Chaffinch, and another mixed flock of Thrushes. As I walked back along the concrete road the fog lifted a little. Three Reed Buntings took their chance hand flew south. I opened the camera and tried a few tricks to restart it but to no avail. As I sat in the car my phone bleeped - Dusky Warbler at Reculver! 

Within minutes I pulled up in the car park and walked the short distance to the pumping station. The fog was very thick here as I walked down the steps. Nobody around as far as I could see but the directions suggested I go down the main channel to the south. I walked along quietly, flushing loads of Robins, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Chaffinch. A few Brambling squawked but I heard no chacking. I reached the end and decided to return. Almost instantly in the distance back where I had been I could hear the distinctive chack of a Dusky Warbler (confirming not only its presence but also yesterday's encounter). I carefully approached until I was opposite the calling and waited...and waited...and waited. Eventually a flick, a movement - a quick view of a head, then gone. Ten more minutes and suddenly it was in the weeds at by the fence. Good views. Two shapes appeared from the mist - Barry Wright and John Tilbrook. It showed again before Andy Appleton arrived. A few more brief views. Then Barry and John set off for the Lapland Bunting which they had missed earlier. Lee Evans appeared panting - the bird went missing and we carefully searched. I flushed an eared Owl from the grass - we assumed a Short-eared, but it looked dark and seemed to land in a bush along the ditch. I left Andy and Lee to look and walked back along the ditch. Overhead a swarm of Redwing, Song Thrush and Fieldfare were joined by 40 Chaffinch and a few Brambling. The Owl saw me first and flew again - I was sure it was a Long-eared but it vanished in the fog. 

I checked the Caravan Park, but the bushes were rapidly losing their leaves. Redwings, Fieldfare, Blackbird and Song Thrush plus more Robins, two Blackcap, a Chiffchaff and a small flock of Brambling. Along the edge more Redwing and the Owl flew again from an unseen perch - definitely a Long-eared. I left it in peace. A Sparrowhawk flew out mobbed by thrushes. There were now hundreds of thrushes and finches in the air appearing in and out of the fog and calling continuously. Back on the field Chaffinch and Brambling were feeding at close range, not bothering to flush. Walking back to the car Robins lined the fence. An amazing experience and a real contrast to the noise and bustle of Thanet. 

It was good to hear that Barry Hunt persisted at North Foreland and found a Shorelark, while Craig was out again in the afternoon and found a Serin - well done guys, well deserved. 

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Wet, wet, wet...

20 October 2012


While working in the garden today a Common Crossbill flew low over the garden calling loudly. Later a couple of unseen Skylark, the odd Redwing and three Siskin hinted at some passage overhead above the mist. Two Grey Heron sat in the trees beside the garden was unusual. 

I had studied the weather maps as usual and decided with the easterly wind due to pick up I would wait until Sunday to go birding. With Red-breasted Flycatcher and 3 Yellow-broweds at Sandwich, Pallas's and Yellow-browed at Dunge, and several other Yellow-broweds on the NE coast I was very optimistic. However late in the afternoon the Met Office changed their forecast suggesting persistent rain all day - not great, but perhaps the rain would drop some migrants?

21 October 2012

Seasalter and Thanet

With the heaviest rain predicted for the east of the county I decided to start at Seasalter. I set off despite the rain falling as the sky to the north suggested a break of sorts in the weather. The wind was NE and picking up so I shielded myself from the worst of it with my umbrella. As I strolled along the seawall I hoped to scan the flooded field for waders, but suddenly they all took flight and a young male Peregrine came powering towards me. It gave great views, but the light was awful and my camera safely packed away. Unfortunately all the Golden Plovers headed off toward Sheppey and didn't return. 

Brent Geese were feeding in small groups all along the beach to Castle Coote on the falling tide. Some were very close and I checked all of them. Eventually way past the white post I found the dapper Red-breasted Goose and it was quite close in. Unfortunately it was nearly dark and pouring with rain, and even at ISO 800 I only just got a half decent image from behind the concrete wall. Hopefully it will stay around and I'll get to see it in the sunshine.

With the rain getting worse I walked back to the car. Further along towards Whitstable I had a scan over the Swale, but the mist and rain obscured much of the view. A smart Bar-tailed Godwit was enjoying the lack of dog walkers close in.

I next headed down to Ramsgate stopping at George VI memorial park. Due to the rain there were less dogs than normal and I enjoyed a fairly undisturbed wander around the various areas of cover. In the rain passerines were always going to be difficult but with persistence I managed to find 2 Firecrest, 25 Goldcrest, 2 Chiffchaff and 4 Blackcap. I heard a single Redwing, flushed three Song Thrush and noted more Robins than normal (they either don't mind the rain or there were lots about). As I walked along the cliff path I went through the first copse. It was windy at the northern end, but as I got to the edge a Robin chased another bird out of cover and disappeared. I waited quietly hoping it might appear and noticed a movement in a close sycamore. I was too slow on the draw and just saw a moving branch through my bins. I lowered them and saw another movement - again too slow. Third time lucky - but a closer tree obscured all but its tail. Then it flicked up and I couldn't relocate it. A further wait ensued before it flicked back to the right but didn't stop. I waited five more minutes then from the bramble cover just 15ft away - a Dusky Warbler started to 'tack'. It was very distinctive and continued for about 1.5 minutes, but try as I might I just couldn't see it. I decided to be patient and waited, knowing it must show as it left the bush. Just then two large dogs appeared, came up to me and then ran straight at and around the bramble patch. The bird must have been flushed but I never saw it. I spent the next hour and a half checking the same patch of cover, the adjacent cover (where there were 10 Goldcrest, a Chiffchaff and 2 Blackcap) and the main bushes near the glass house (where there were 2 Firecrest, a Blackcap, a Chiffchaff and 6 Goldcrest). Nothing - not a sound, nor a movement. Very frustrating to say the least. Eventually I gave up, cold and wet and in need of a change of scenery. 

I checked Port Regis but it was raining heavily and I just heard a couple of Goldcrest and a Redwing. I popped into Northdown Park, where 15 Pied Wagtails on the grass included a slightly albino bird, and a small group of Goldcrest and Long-tailed Tit in the trees. By now I was very wet and with the rain still coming down heavily I called it a day. I think I chose the wrong day...

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Late Willow Warbler

14 October 2012

Bishopstone Glen

After a morning working in the garden Mandy went over to Bluewater so I decided to enjoy the rest of the sunshine. I headed down to Bishopstone where a Yellow-browed Warbler had been seen earlier. I stood in the sunny glade scanning everything that moved. About five Chiffchaff and 2 Goldcrest were all I could find, until a clean, whitish bellied warbler dropped onto a low branch. It looked odd, perhaps a little worse for wear - surely not a Chiffchaff. It felt like a Willow Warbler but surely not this late in the autumn. It disappeared. I waited until it showed again and grabbed a few distant images. It was a Willow Warbler - a scruffy and worn adult but quite contrasting to the Chiffchaffs. All three of my late sightings, including a wintering bird, have been at Reculver (two in Bishopstone).

I then checked Shuart Farm but the wind had got up and it wasn't great. The place has been fenced and tidied with horses in the old sheep field, and gates across tracks. Very disappointing so I headed to Stodmarsh hoping for a view of the Kingfisher, but nothing to report. Oh well it was nice to be out.

Ring Ouzels

13 October 2012

Langdon Cliffs and South Foreland Valley

Gary arrived just after 07:00 and we headed off without a clear destination in mind. Once on the M20 noticing the heavy cloud to the south east we decided to head down to Dover. It had just stopped raining when we arrived and knowing the main areas (Bockhill and St Margaret's) have regular coverage we decided to make the most of Gary's National Trust membership and stopped at Langdon Cliffs. The scrubby areas around the car park always look good and the hole below the Coastguards can be quite good for migrants. 

A tiny Goldcrest searches for insects in the hawthorn

We started around the car park where several Chiffchaff and Goldcrest could be heard calling. As we explored the various levels it was apparent that birds were on the move. Meadow Pipits, Pied Wagtails, Skylarks, Redpolls, Siskins, and lots of Goldfinch were heading over mainly north. The odd flock of Linnets and later hirundines with a single flock of over 90 House Martin and maybe 40 Swallow in total. About 20 Chiffchaff, 10 Goldcrest and 10 Blackcap were seen in the bushes where a few noisy Song Thrush were clearly migrants. A thin pipit call had us looking skyward - presumably a Tree Pipit but it did sound a bit more interesting - one that got away....

Wood Pigeon flying south
A few Jay were flying in, occasionally in flocks, and the Goldfinch just kept coming. After an hour or so we walk on to Langdon Hole. As I rounded the corner a distinctive 'chacking' had me calling Gary - Ring Ouzel. We carefully walked out into the open but accidentally flushed it from cover. It called angrily as it flew off over the Coastguard station. Suddenly more 'chacking' and four more took flight from the same cover. They circled around and headed inland. Heading down the hill a Redwing 'seeeped' as it flew from a hawthorn and more Ring Ouzels could be heard below. This time we had the benefit of cover and managed to see them before they saw us. 

Two of a group of ten Ring Ouzel
Enjoying the hawthorn berries
As we crept closer they were flushed by the first walker of the morning - ten birds flew down into the hole! Birds were everywhere - Linnet, Goldfinch, Redpoll, Meadow Pipit, Chaffinch, Blackcaps erupted from the few bushes below us. 

With careful fieldwork we closed the gap and eventually managed excellent views of these smart mountain blackbirds. 

What a cracker

Two Raven flew over cronking, a flock of Wood Pigeon flew south, and 14 more Jay's flew inland. 

A Raven flies over calling
Part of the flock of 14 Jay

Four Yellowhammer were feeding in the grass, a covey of Grey Partridge flushed off the field and a superb Short-eared Owl came in off the sea attracting far too much attention from the local corvids. 

A Short-eared Owl gets escorted away

Carefully checking all the bushes we found over 20 Blackcap, 4 Goldcrest, a Lesser Whitethroat, a smart frosty Whinchat, 2 Stonechat, a Grey Wagtail flew over and a Tree Pipit dropped in to the bushes but remained hidden.

A frosty juvenile Whinchat

We walked back through the top scrub seeing another very showy Ring Ouzel and more Blackcaps, Robins, Goldcrests, Chiffchaffs and overhead migrants. A really super few hours. 

We left Langdon and headed over to St Margaret's. A Mediterranean Gull flew past as we drank a welcome cup of tea by the beach before we worked the South Foreland Valley to the lighthouse and back. Very little to show for our efforts in the vast woodlands - just a few Goldcrest and Chiffchaff. Overhead Goldfinch, Redpoll and small groups of Swallows and House Martin, with occasional small groups of Jays.

At the top of the valley we talked to some locals and enjoyed close views of a smart Ring Ouzel and several Redpoll in the hand. Watching from the viewpoint we watched a steady passage of Jay up the valley totaling over 75 birds.

On our walk back we found several Firecrest feeding quietly in the sycamore cover, and encountered another five Ring Ouzel. A Sparrowhawk and a Kestrel added interest, and a small roving flock of tits held about six Blackcap and three Chiffchaff. With birds still moving overhead we decided to call it a day and headed home very pleased with our mornings birding.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Third time unlucky

7 October 2012

Bockhill, Kingsdown, St Margarets, Langdon and Samphire Hoe

A Jay flies south

After pouring over the weather maps I awoke still unsure where to go today. A very light north easterly airstream, cold and clear overnight meant nothing would be grounded, but maybe something heading south might decide the Channel was just too much and stop over on the coast. I set off about 07:00 and without thinking about it missed the A249 turning on the M20 so decided to head on to the Dover area. In the event I decided on Bockhill to start and walked down through the Paddock to the farm then out to Kingsdown and back to the Monument. Flocks of Goldfinch, Siskin and occasionally Redpoll were going north along the cliffs. In the car park a Firecrest showed briefly and a Peregrine flew past the coastguards. 


Heading into the paddock there were clearly a few Chiffchaffs around - four in the first tree and several more along the eastern edge. On the western side, with the sun on teh hedge there were easily 20 more feeding in the weeds and five Blackcaps in the hedge. A couple of Goldcrest were calling unseen and a Grey Wagtail flew over.

I checked the gun emplacement but found only another ten Chiffchaffs. Along Bockhill Farm lane five more flitted overhead and another half dozen were feeding in the Sycamores with four Goldcrest. 

I walked along the Freedown. A handful of Skylark and Meadow Pipit flew over. A smart Yellowhammer sat in the bushes at Hope Point where I bumped into Jack and Phil Chantler and Brendan Ryan. They said a Yellow-browed Warbler had been seen at Kingsdown Leas so after a chat I headed up to join a small crowd. After 45 minutes nothing (other than twice thinking I'd heard it only to find someone playing with their phone!). More Goldfinch, Siskin and Redpoll over and a couple of Jays flew south. A Sparrowhawk in the garden was ominous. I gave up and walked back to the car with Tony Morris. A very bright, clear and sunny day with outstanding views across the Channel. 

Back at the Monument I decided to try South Foreland. I set off optimistically down the valley but it was soon apparent there was little around. A few Chiffchaff in the ivy and a group of Goldcrest and tits in the undergrowth were all I could uncover. I walked back along the clifftop and again met Jack and Phil. They had seen a Short-eared Owl and a Treecreeper doing the loop in the opposite direction (I found neither on the return), though a couple of Stonechat were nice to see. Next I drove to Langdon where another Yellow-browed had been seen earlier. I checked all the top bushes right back to Langdon Hole where 2 Blackcap and 15 Chiffchaff gave me hope, but no sibe reward. 

I left here with news of another Yellow-browed seen at Samphire Hoe. I drove down through the tunnel and set up my scope looking up the cliff. Seven Chiffchaff, three Blackcap, a Firecrest and a Goldcrest, but no Yellow-browed. Oh well it had been a lovely day out (this is surely the most attractive part of the Kent coast) in glorious weather. Maybe next weekend....