19 May 2012
Grove Ferry and Stodmarsh
I joined Gary for a day out in Kent. After much debate last night and again this morning we decided on Grove Ferry over Dungeness and headed east shortly after 06:30. We were greeted in the empty car park by a singing Lesser Whitethroat and headed along the track toward the viewing mound. Turtle Doves were purring in the shrubby paddock and another Lesser Whitethroat was singing. Cettis, Reed and Sedge Warbler were all singing from in or around the reeds and the occasional Bearded Tit pinged as it flitted through the reeds. Out on the pool a Common Sandpiper and the resident drake Wigeon accompanied a small flock of Gadwall. With the sun shining and largely blue skies we hoped that something might fly through. While soaking up the scene Brendan Ryan joined us and we had a great chat about various things, including our respective Moroccan birding experiences. At about 08:45 Martin Wilson joined us, looked up and said rather casually 'Buzzard - no Honey Buzzard' as a large dark plumaged adult female bird drifted slowly NW, then W and finally south monitored by a resident Marsh Harrier.
|Adult female Honey Buzzard|
|Showing the distinctive cuckoo head and long rectangular tail|
Hobbies were starting to rise from their roosts and hawk insects over the reedbeds, Marsh Harriers were displaying high overhead, a Sparrowhawk circled up in the distance and a Kestrel was hovering over the paddock. I looked at the Kestrel and noticed two large raptors circling to the NW along the ridge. I called them to the others and we gradually managed to get them in the scopes. Gary and Martin picked up one - a Marsh Harrier, but I was convinced even at some distance that the other was more interesting. I found it in the scope and seeing down turned wings and a twisting (albeit apparently square tipped tail) suggest it might be a Black Kite. It then turned and showed a white underside - another Honey Buzzard, this time a much slighter pale male. We watched it circling west along the ridge towards Collards Lake. Within a few minutes a rather scruffy Common Buzzard drifted over at height. Not a bad start to the day! While we sat chatting Martin noticed a Bittern rise from the close reeds and fly out towards the back of the pool.
We decided to walk to Stodmarsh across the Marsh and back along the Lampen Wall and river. As we set out three stunning Hobbies were feeding around the mound giving great views. Walking west we soon encountered more Hobby with an amazing flock of 30 birds that fed together over the Marsh Hide. As we crossed the fields a Meadow Pipit flashed across the path ahead of us pursued by a Hobby. Three others joined the hunt and suddenly, massively outgunned, the pipit dived for cover; it didn't stand a chance. Three Hobbies squabbled over the hearty breakfast before the victor carried his prey away.
Along the ditch we found large numbers of Variable Damselfly and single Broad-bodied Chaser and Hairy Dragonfly. Many were mating, using various perches and floating vegetation.
|Variable Damselfly were numerous along the narrow ditch|
There was little on view from the Marsh Hide, despite the habitat looking amazing and we were quickly back outside enjoying close views of feeding Hobby. The flock wheeled around and occasionally fed close by allowing some great photo opportunities in challenging light conditions. They are stunning looking birds so many images were taken - here are some of the best.
Hobby largely (though not exclusively) feeds on flying insects, preferring a juicy dragonfly, but also enjoying the much smaller, but more numerous, St Mark's Fly. This is a very common, fairly long, shiny black fly with long dangling legs. They can be found in huge numbers during the Spring around fields, woodland edges and wetlands. Hobbies seem to find the flies easy to catch as they hang in the air, drifting along with their legs dangling. Once caught in its talons the Hobby will bring its legs forward while in flight to pass the food to its hooked beak - amazing to watch and great to capture in pictures.
|One lucky fly as another is plucked from the air|
|And is eaten in mid air|
|The dramatic last moments of this St Mark's fly's short life|
|Lunch - well a small appetiser|
|The moment another fly is plucked from the air|
|Pin point accuracy at 40 mph!|
|What a bird!|
A Grey Heron flew over the path as we walked away - big pre-historic looking beasts.
As we stood beside the hide a Bittern was occasionally 'booming' from deep inside the reedbed and another flew low over the reeds to one of the purpose built pools to feed. A mother Mallard nervously walked her brood across the path to the ditches on the other side.
As we reached the Alder wood a male Cuckoo sang atop a dead Willow. This once common migrant is now quite a scarce sight and always difficult to get close to.
A check of the Stodmarsh lake produced a single drake Garganey and the usual Tufted Duck and Pochards. The Water Meadows held six Ringed Plover, a solitary Dunlin, and another drake Garganey but not a single Yellow Wagtail was seen or heard around the loop. We walked along the river seeing more Hobby (I would estimate 50 birds in total around the reserve).
As it was such a nice day we decided to stop at a local pub for lunch. As we sat near Chislet Marsh a Marsh Harrier, a Common Buzzard and a few migrant Swallows passed overhead.
We took the scenic route home stopping near Faversham at a lovely area of open scrub where two Grasshopper Warblers were singing and two Cuckoo flew directly over our heads while both our cameras were in the car - doh! A group of hirundines here was mainly House Martin with smaller numbers of Swallow and a single Sand Martin. A Yellowhammer was singing and a Yellow Wagtail called. A distant and brief view of a bird of prey suggested another Honey Buzzard but with no scope to hand (also in the boot) was just too far away to be certain.
We finally stopped at Oare briefly to check on the water levels and any birds. Geoff Burton and Chris Bond provided entertaining conversation and updated us on sightings, while a breeding plumaged Little Egret fed close to the road and the resident Avocet protected their eggs and young. Not much else here and we were soon on our way home.
|Really smart birds in breeding plumage, with long plumes front and rear|
|An Avocet missile defends its brood|