Monday, 27 August 2012

Impromptu Dunge mothing

26 and 27 August 2012


Marcus Lawson sent me an email on Saturday saying he was going to stay at Dungeness Bird Observatory on Sunday evening, asking if I wanted to join him. His main objective was to try some mothing using his battery powered trap, hoping for an unusual immigrant. I had been watching the weather intently and following a day of strong North Sea seabird passage under a north/northwesterly airstream down to Norfolk, and predicted overnight southerly winds I thought there was little to lose - at least there might be a half decent sea watch. I picked Marcus up in Paddock Wood at 14:00 on Sunday and we headed down to the Bird Observatory. A stunning Beautiful Marbled was potted in the fridge allowing close study of this very smarty coloured and rare immigrant moth.

Beautiful Marbled

Wes Attridge was also staying and we spent some time catching up with him before heading over to The Midrips for a reported Montagu's Harrier. Scanning the pools within the military ranges we soon found an immature Peregrine that had captured a hapless Starling, and a ringtail harrier sat on a raised mound. It was someway off but when it eventually took flight we could see it was a juvenile Hen Harrier - the plumage and wing shape confirming the id. We checked the distant waders on the pools finding a few Avocet and a couple of Knot amongst the Dunlin, but little else. We returned to the Obs via some large Cods at The Pilot and chatted to Wes, Dave and David before we headed out with the moth trap into the Long Pits bushes.

The battery lasted an hour and a half, long enough for Andy Lawson, James Hunter and Barry Wright to join us. We potted an array of largely unidentified moths until the battery ran flat and we headed back to the Obs for the night. 

The alarm woke us all at 05:30 and after a quick cup of tea we collected my Robinson moth trap from the moat and checked the catch. At the Long Pits we had caught three Dark Sword Grass, two White Point and the Dungeness speciality Cyneada dentalis. In the two traps run at the Obs we caught 65 moths of 25 species including 3 Silver Y, 8 Yellow Belle, a Toadflax Pug, a Dark Sword Grass and a Pale Grass Eggar plus unusually for Dungeness a Dark Spinach.

Female Dark Sword Grass
Male Dark Sword Grass
With the wind freshening from the south and predicted to turn briefly south east we headed down to the point for a sea watch. The first two birds were Balearic Shearwaters and were quickly followed by a very small, pale headed Skua that appeared along the beach sitting just off some fishermen - a stunning pale phase juvenile Long-tailed Skua. With Barry I ran along the shingle hoping to get closer for some photos, but half way there the bird took flight heading straight towards us along the tideline. I glanced down to check the camera settings - didn't want to mess up this opportunity - then looked back along the beach....nothing? Where's it gone I shouted and Barry gesticulated inland. I looked up to see it flying towards Lydd. It turned and followed the beach road out over the Brittania pub then towards the Power Station and behind the seawatch hide before apparently returning towards the sea by the Patch. Damn. I managed a few distant images, now heavily cropped below.

We returned to our sheltered position to resume our seawatch. Over the next six hours we were joined by many of the locals who all contributed to a wonderful seawatch. I'm sure we all found and called something good, all got most calls right and an occasional one was challenged, but all in good humour and with a spirit of learning.

We recorded:

  • 14 Balearic Shearwater
  • 1 Manx Shearwater
  • 1 Sooty Shearwater
  • 17 Fulmar
  • 121 Arctic Skua
  • 1 Pomarine Skua
  • 6 Great Skua
  • 10 Long-tailed Skua
  • 60 Common Scoter
  • 9 Teal
  • 277 Black Tern
  • 1 Little Tern
  • 4 Arctic Tern
  • 600+ Common Tern
  • 35 Sandich Tern
  • 7 Little Gull
  • 1 adult Sabine's Gull
  • 8 Kittiwake
  • 400+ Gannet

The opportunity to compare Long-tailed Skuas sometimes right alongside Arctic Skuas was fantastic, with some quite close and others at some range. The adult Sabine's Gull was quite distant but present for some time. By 12:30 things were quietening down and we headed back to the Obs for a much needed cup of tea.

On the way home we stopped off at the ARC where we found 2 Little Stint (1 ad, 1 juv), 4 Common Sandpiper, 1 Wood Sandpiper, 1 Little-ringed Plover, 20 Dunlin, 1 Ruff, 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 20 Golden Plover, and 8 Garganey. A nice end to a lovely day at Dunge.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

An early start

25 August 2012

Oare Marshes

A dawn high tide had me leaving the house at 05:45 and driving over to the wonderful Oare Marshes KWT reserve near Faversham, again. The number and variety of birds on the east flood had increased since last weekend. Thousands of birds greeted me and a scan of the flood produced an adult Little Stint, two adult and one juvenile Curlew Sandpiper, at least 30 Dunlin (mainly juvenile), several Knot, a Turnstone, 15 Grey Plover, 25 Ringed Plover, 2 Greenshank, 400 Redshank, 1,000 Black-tailed Godwit, 20 Bar-tailed Godwit, 3 Common Sandpiper, five Ruff and 20 Common Snipe. Murray Wright joined me and we walked up the road to check out a couple of hidden pools. With careful scanning from several vantage points we found a juvenile Spotted Redshank, a Wood Sandpiper, 2 Green Sandpiper, a juvenile Little Stint and some other common waders. From the Slipway several Sandwich and Common Terns were roosting on the marker poles. Returning to the viewing area a juvenile Little-ringed Plover had appeared, a flock of Grey Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit flew inland and the Golden Plover flock (of about 250 birds) arrived to roost on the flood. A flock of at least 40 Little Egret rose from a hidden pool on the west side, many flying away to the west. Around the flood I found a couple of Sedge Warbler, two Reed Warbler, a Wheatear and about a dozen Yellow Wagtail. A lovely start to the day and back home for breakfast!

More of the same

19 August 2012

Oare Marshes

A similar set of birds to yesterday's visit. A single juvenile Little Stint and an adult Curlew Sandpiper had joined the throng. In the wader roost a Knot, about 20 Dunlin, 15 Ringed Plover, a Turnstone and 2 Greenshank. The Common Sandpiper, 2 Green Sandpiper and 2 Wood Sandpiper were still present and showing well and a few COmmon Snipe could be found hiding out around the flood. Six Garganey were also seen.

The recent warm weather and southerly breezes encouraged me to run the moth trap overnight, but despite leaving it in the shade the moths were rather active and many escaped as I opened the lid. 

Five Iron Prominent were the first this year after the rather wet spring, a smart Treble Bar, a Pebble Hooktip and an Oak Hooktip provided interest. A Lime-speck Pug was new for the garden and a very worn Black Arches reminded me how short these insects lives are. Yellow Underwings were well represented with Large, Lesser and Lesser Broad-bordered and four species of Footman completed the 36 species left in the trap.

Wader watching

18 August 2012

Oare Marshes

Driving to Oare I stopped to check out a brood of Hobbies that looked to be fledging imminently. The female was close by the nest that contained three well grown and inquisitive youngsters. I kept a safe distance and well concealed in the woods to avoid any disturbance. A Sparrowhawk caused the male Hobby to appear calling very loudly as it chased the impostor away and a couple of Kestrel occasionally circled over. A now expected sight in Kent four Common Buzzard were drifting around with at least two young birds getting some much needed flying practice. With their longer tails and slimmer wings, coupled to their less accomplished flight they can appear at times like Honey Buzzards particularly at distance. As I was leaving a close buzzard appeared over the nearby hill. Glancing up I was surprised to see a Honey Buzzard, which casually drifted over on its southbound journey. Always a super bird to see and my third encounter this year.
Honey Buzzard 
Heavily cropped and into the sunlight
The barred tail and some body barring just visible
Well pleased I pottered down to Oare Marshes for a wader fix. The tide was well up and a superb cast of roosting waders greeted me. The water levels are just perfect, perhaps for the first time in many years - well done KWT. The waders certainly appreciated the safety and high tide feeding on offer.

The Black-tailed Godwits from the eastern end of the flood
Two spangled Wood Sandpipers fed close to the road, about 1,000 Black-tailed Godwit roosted and fed around the flood, 400 Golden Plover were sleeping by the road, 50 Avocets, a Common Sandpiper, two Green Sandpiper, 10 Ruff, 200 Redshank and a few Dunlin. A total of eight Garganey were seen, but try as I might I could not find the Temminck's Stint, which I later found out was likely feeding close to but obscured from the road. 

Wood Sandpiper

I walked around the flood picking up two juvenile Water Rail from the hide, a couple of Sedge Warbler and heard some Turtle Doves. A lovely visit in very hot sunshine.

Monday, 13 August 2012

A very low high tide

11 August 2012


With the ‘high’ tide at 07:30 I had an early start. I switched off the moth trap and put it out of the heat in the garage, then drove over to Cliffe to see whether any waders had come onto the pools. The tide was about the lowest in the current sequence, meaning a narrow strip of mud would provide shelter for many waders along the Thames foreshore. There were a few waders on the Ski Pool, though the water level ahd mysteriously risen and reduced the feeding areas? A Curlew Sandpiper accompanied the 25 Dunlin, 6 Ringed Plover and 4 Little Stint on the exposed mud. Roosting waders were limited to a handful of Avocet, Redshank, 2 Curlew, 15 Bar-tailed Godwit and Black-tailed Godwit.  Two nervy flocks of Teal suggested recent arrival, 2 Greenshank crept along the bank and a couple of Common Sandpipers whistled around the banks. The Flamingo roost was similarly restricted to a handful of Grey Plover and a couple of Whimbrel. On the Thames about 2,000 Avocet were sitting out high tide on the Essex side, with 30 Grey Plover and 25 Black-tailed Godwit. I walked slowly along the tracks trying in vain to find any odd dragons or damsels in the ditches – just Common Darter and Blue-tailed Damselfly. The Black Barn Pools held a Wood Sandpiper and 4 Green Sandpiper, among the 25 Black-tailed Godwit. Numbers of Teal were building up with a large moulting flock on lake 3, and a very lost looking juvenile Pintail. Two smart juvenile Spotted Redshank were feeding with the commoner cousins and four Greenshank were showing well in the near vegetation where about 15 Snipe skulked. On the Radar Pool the highlight was a flock of 15 Greenshank, including a colour-ringed bird that looked quite odd with its apparently bright orange legs (until it walked out of the water).

Back at home I checked out a nice selection of common moths finding Hook-tips of three species, my only Elephant Hawk Moth of the year, and two stunning Black Arches.

Scalloped Hook-tip 
Black Arches
As I sat down to eat my lunch in the garden a female Migrant Hawker flew in and landed briefly in the Osmanthus. Just managed a shot before it was off.

Migrant Hawker

Going home

9 August 2012

Elmley RSPB

Juvenile Garganey, Elmley RSPB

It had been a tough week in the office and with the chance of a reasonable finish time and some nice evening weather  I decided to head over to Elmley for a few hours to dusk. At this time of year, given good traffic conditions it is just about worthwhile. Traffic was OK and I made it to Elmley by about 18:30. About 25 Yellow Wagtail along the entrance track were good to see. I arrived at the farm and set off down the track - I love this place. I birded here excessively as a teenager cutting my teeth on waders, ducks and raptors and returning here only occasionally now feels like coming home. Sharfleet was very wet and had attracted six Green Sandpiper and four Snipe and the obligatory Little Egret was fishing in the pool (amazing to think I saw my first ever in Britain at Elmley back in 1985). Given the date and the easterly wind I spent some time trying for Aquatic Warbler along the track, but to no avail. A good number of Sedge and Reed Warbler were encountered including good numbers of juveniles, indicating they survived the awful weather in later Spring and early Summer. I headed straight to Southfleet hide. 

A juvenile Shelduck

Limited open water and mainly distant, the views here produced four Spotted Redshank, a couple of Ringed Plover, a dozen Snipe, four Green Sandpiper and a Greenshank. A single adult Garganey in eclipse plumage was feeding with a few Teal at the back of the flood.  The hide was unbearably hot and with little to see and time running out I raced back around to Wellmarsh Hide. The mosquitoes were emerging from the grass and were quite irritating on the walk back. In the hide I was delighted to find five juvenile Garganey, two of which were feeding very close to the hide. Presumably they have managed to breed successfully inside the electric predator fence. SOme birds clearly enjoyed the very wet summer.

Juvenile Garganey swims close by the hide
A nice selection of waders included two Ruff, three Spotted Redshank, six Turnstone (of which four were juvenile), 150 Black-tailed Godwit (many of which were juvenile), 2 Greenshank, 2 Green Sandpiper, 2 Common Sandpiper, and a few Avocet. The light was fading fast and I headed back toward the car park watching the pink sun setting over the farm as I returned. A very pleasant evening indeed, though I would have liked more time.

Dusk over Kingshill Farm
The sun sets over Elmley

Monday, 6 August 2012

It's August already....

4 August 2012

Grove Ferry and Cliffe

Bearded Tit, Stodmarsh

Early August so no need for a dawn start. Gary picked me up just after 07:00 and we set off to begin the day at Grove Ferry, near Canterbury. We were the first car in the car park, but found Andy Appleton and Chris Gibbard already in position on the viewing ramp. No sign of the Purple Heron, but Martin Wilson had seen it early on fly out towards the 'Boat House'. We stood on the mound chatting (largely putting the world to rights and moaning about anything and everything) and generally birding. A couple of smart Garganey were feeding on the pool with Teal, Mallard and Shoveler. A single Ruff, Greenshank and a brief Green Sandpiper were the only waders. A large flock of Swift, with a few Swallows, a Sand Martin and a couple of House Martin drifted over feeding.

Gary picked up a Kingfisher hovering over the distant reedbed. It stayed motionless, hummingbird-like, for long enough that he was able to hand over his scope and let me have a look, before if dived down into an unseen pool behind the reeds. I returned to my scope and scanned hoping it might re-appear - just as the juvenile Purple Heron flew low into my field of view and flapped lazily over the reeds, disappearing into a hidden ditch. With a large black cloud looming towards us we decided on a swift walk down to the David Feast hide. The water level was high and the pool even smaller than a few weeks ago as the reeds continually creep towards the middle. Hopefully English Nature will continue the excellent work of the winter and re-open the various pools at this end of the reserve - surely having open water, sedge, and muddy margins is better all round for birds and other wildlife than an increasingly dry reedbed?

Bearded Tit

As the rain didn't materialise we walked on to Harrison's Drove hide. The pool was surprisingly overgrown and completely covered in moulting Mallard. A Drinker (a fairly common reedbed specialist moth) was sitting on the window sill inside the hide. A new species of moth for us both which we carefully photographed and released back into its more natural home. Black-tailed Skimmers buzzed off the path and Bearded Tits pinged from the reedbed. As we watched some enjoying the sunshine a juvenile Sedge Warbler and three Reed Warbler appeared from the reeds briefly. A quick stop at the mound for an update from Martin and Mark Heath and we headed back to the car. 

The Drinker

Next stop was Marshside to try for the Willow Emeralds. We parked up and walked carefully along the road, where we quickly found about ten of these stunning, iridescent damselflies. They are real showers and allow amazingly close approach so we spent a little time photographing them in the ever changing light conditions.

Willow Emerald Damselfly
Willow Emerald Damselfly
Willow Emerald Damselfly
Willow Emerald Damselfly
Willow Emerald Damselfly

With time ticking on we decided to head over to Cliffe for the high-tide wader roost. Arriving ahead of the peak tide we spent half an hour trying in vain to locate any emerald damselflies - it was just too windy along the track, though a hunting Hobby seemed to be faring better catching dragonflies over the ditch beside the Thames.

Blue-tailed Damselfly
The Black Barn Pools held a few waders - Greenshank, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, a Ruff, and five Snipe hiding in the vegetation. We headed round to the Ski Pool to check the main wader roost. As we arrived the waders were all looking nervous and many were flying around the pool, but thankfully settled again. I quickly picked out the Pectoral Sandpiper, largely obscured at the back of the flock. About 20 Dunlin and two Curlew Sandpiper, a flock of about 20 Grey Plover, 12 Bar-tailed Godwit, 600 Black-tailed Godwit and 750 Avocet. With further careful scanning a handful of Greenshank, 2 Curlew and a single adult Little Stint were uncovered before a rather clumsy juvenile Peregrine swept in and flushed everything. There were birds going in all directions with the falcon taking several unsuccessful lunges at a juvenile Redshank that took evasive action by plunging into the water. As the Peregrine drifted away the waders decided they had been too exposed and found a well vegetated island on which to hide. The Little Stint, Pectoral Sandpiper and two Dunlin had cunningly sat out the attack, hidden in the grass, but began to feel a little exposed when the falcon returned. They took flight, heading high up towards the radar station, before returning to join the other waders in the grass. 

A Kingfisher showed well along the bank of Flamingo Pool, and 2 Common Sandpipers were picked out on the bank. Five Whimbrel were the last wader sighting, before we decided to head for home.

Common Darter