Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Giraffes and Lions

29 December 2013

Royal Military Canal, Hythe

A still and sunny day between more Atlantic depressions.  It dawned cold and very frosty but that meant clear blue skies and sunshine. Mandy fancied a bit of fresh air and a long walk, but somewhere different. After pondering many options I chanced upon the Kent Ramblers website and soon found a suitable circular walk from Hythe along the Royal Military Canal out to Dymchurch and back. It even went past two pubs!  Perfect. 

We parked at the Hythe miniature railway station and set off on the toe path. We encountered a couple of flocks of Long-tailed Tit, a group of feeding Blackbirds and a few Goldfinch and tried out the model listening ear across the Canal. 

We were soon at West Hythe where we continued on the north bank providing lovely views of the sunlit Downs and the Roman fort at Port Lympne. A calling Common Buzzard went unseen and 2 super Firecrest showed in the canalside vegetation - I think they regularly winter along here. Halfway along the zoo fence we encountered a family of Giraffe giving very close views as they de-barked some dead trees beside the path. A couple of Ostrich feeding among Wildebeast and Eland looked most incongruous in the Kent countryside. Zebra, Rhino and Elephant were added to the exotics list before a pride of Lions sitting in the sunshine watching a passing helicopter were found in the woods! In case you're wondering the footpath runs right along the bottom of the Port Lympne Wild Animal Park. 

We then walked out across the fields towards Dymchurch stopping for a well earned pint in the Shepherd and Crook pub at Burmarsh, which looked like it had remained unchanged for centuries. The agricultural desert that is Romney Marsh was virtually bird less as we stomped across damp and ploughed fields. 

A single Kestrel and just two Skylark were seen before I nearly stepped on a Brown Hare hiding in the grass. It raced away at incredible speed and must have been quite spooked as it did not stop until well out of sight. 

We returned through West Hythe then back along the Canal past the weir of Green Heron fame. Just a single Goldcrest seen among a Long-tailed Tit flock. An enjoyable walk in beautiful countryside and some most welcome winter sunshine. 

Friday, 27 December 2013

Christmas Cracker!

26 December 2013

Portland Harour, Dorset

I had just finished a rather late breakfast and was discussing where we might go for a walk before Mandy's mum and step dad arrived, when I decided to have a quick check of Birdguides for no particular reason. As I scrolled down through the last few messages I stopped, open mouthed - 'Brunnich's Guillemot in PORTLAND HARBOUR'!!!!! I scrolled down and back again - yep it definitely said 'Brunnich's Guillemot in Portland Harbour'. 

This high Arctic seabird has been seen only a few times in Britain and almost exclusively, bar a 3-minute single observer bird in North Yorkshire earlier in December, in the Shetlands and quite often either dead or very unwell. So to read that one was floating around on the south coast of England was to be frank, extraordinary. I quickly checked Twitter knowing the local birders were regular users and the last message was indeed a photo - not only was it unquestionably a Brunnich's it was fit and well and giving amazing views. 

I called Gary but got no answer then noticed that Andy Appleton had sent a message six minutes earlier saying he was leaving Tonbridge, if anyone wanted a lift down. I was on the phone before Andy reached his car and we arranged to meet up the other side of Sevenoaks. We were soon on the M25 heading West, but almost immediately were stationary in a traffic jam - where were all these people going on Boxing Day?

The traffic moved excruciatingly slowly right through the roadworks and then started to pick up. However the traffic report kicked in on Andy's radio and announced another slow queue from the A3 to the M3 and long delays. We decided to divert down the A3 and had a clear run through some nasty freezing fog over the Hog's Back and down to Winchester. As we reached the M3 another jam, so a quick detour around the back of Eastleigh had us on the M27. The roads stayed clear through to Poole but we then got a message saying there had been an accident on the A35 near Dorchester, so turned south to Wool and around the coast road into Weymouth. We eventually made it to Portland in about 3.5 hours, which given the traffic was pretty good going - others took nearly 5 hours to do the same journey.

We located Osprey Quay, found somewhere to park and raced through to the harbour where we found about 40 other birders. The Brunnich's was showing, though distantly, and swimming away towards the Royal Naval base. After only a few minutes it dived below the pier bordering the base and vanished out of sight. Well at least we had seen it, others arriving behind us were less fortunate. We picked up our second Alcid of the day - amazingly a winter plumaged Black Guillemot that seems to be wintering in the harbour. 

The Brunnich's Guillemot before it swam under the pier and into the Naval base
I decided to walk around the road to see if any vantage points could be found. We got close to the Pier, but others had been turned away from the port area. As we stood chatting to the other birders one said - 'It's back' and the Brunnich's fortunately swam back under the Pier and into the harbour. I shouted to Andy who had gone down the road and got a brief view before it dived. It didn't resurface and I realised it was heading back to the Coastguard station. I ran back to the next vantage point just in time to see it dive again, then on to the area below Portland Castle. Other birders seeing me running joined me but looked rather perplexed until it popped up right in front of us. Too slow on the camera before it dived again. I ran around the Castle and back to the footpath just in time for it to reappear and begin a stunning show right along the edge of the path. We enjoyed great views. It was feeding very actively, making huge dives and covering a great distance underwater. It would surface quite randomly sometimes 300 metres further along or out from where it started. With a little luck you could be waiting just where it popped up.

The Brunnich's Guillemot swims back in showing the distinctive inverted white 'V' up the centre of
the neck, dark breast band and face with small white throat, and the white lines along the bill. 
It would travel some distance underwater and appear unexpectedly, but sometimes close

It is believed that Brunnich's Guillemots winter some 4-500 miles west of Ireland out in the Atlantic and that this bird presumably got blown in with the recent Christmas Eve storms. We knew that Barry Wright and John Tilbrook were on there way but they had got caught in the traffic, so we kept on the bird as it moved back towards the Naval Base. A quick call gave them the hurry-up and they were soon with us on the quayside getting their first, somewhat distant views. Fortunately it returned later and gave further close views as the light faded.

Unbelievable views as it fed along the harbour wall
It was feeding very actively though was never seen to bring food to the surface - presumably they can swallow underwater?

We spent our last five minutes scanning around the harbour where we found a Great-northern Diver, an Eider, about 50 Red-breasted Merganser, the Black Guillemot, a Razorbill and eventually a Common Guillemot. It really is a super place.

As we drove back through Weymouth we heard that a Glossy Ibis had been showing well in a flooded playing field at Radipole. We drove slowly along the road, and found the playing field, but all the black lumps were Carrion Crows. As we reached the far end, through the hedge Andy spotted another dark shape. We stopped and sure enough the shape morphed into a super adult Glossy Ibis. Many thanks to Andy for driving and a big thank you to Debbie Saunders who found the bird and got the news out to everyone.

Taken in very dull late evening light

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

A lull between two storms

22 December 2013

Bedgebury Forest

Once the overnight rain finally stopped I spent a couple of hours tidying up the hedge trimmings from last weekend before heading out for a long walk around Bedgebury Forest in some gorgeous afternoon sunshine. 

The forest was very wet following the heavy rain of the last few days with streams running along and across many trails and some boggy going in places. A flock of noisily feeding Long-tailed Tits belied their presence with their constant coughing and sneezing high up in an Oak. Another group of Tits caused me to stop as a single call from deep in cover sounded remarkably Willow like but could not be tempted out and was left as an unlikely and unconfirmed encounter. 

Overhead the odd Redpoll crossed our path unseen, one calling particularly hoarsely. In the Pinetum a couple of Siskin and then a high and fast flying flock of 10 Crossbill sp. Nothing in the larches but another single Common Crossbill flew over and landed out of view. We stopped for a while on the hill where 9 Lesser Redpoll showed briefly and two more Common Crossbill flew overhead. 

Walking back we found a nice flock of about 20 Redpolls but as typically happens just as we started to study them a passing dog walker disturbed everything and they vanished into the woods. We were soon back at the car and on our way home. 

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Before the rain came

15 December 2013


After a fantastic evening in the company of some great friends (Mark Hollingworth, Janet Turley, Chris and Carol Philpott) and a wonderful curry at the super little restaurant, Tamarind, between Greatstone and New Romney we had a couple of hours at Dungeness this morning before the rain came.  

I started at the beach checking the roosting gull flocks between the Lifeboat Station and the Lighthouse. All the usual suspects in reasonable numbers and the first-winter Caspian Gull on my second attempt by the Fishing Boats. Managed a few distant images before a couple of rather ignorant fishermen walked out past the gulls and flushed everything, despite seeing me watching them.

We then headed toward the RSPB checking the Gadwall flock (c200) at the southern end of the ARC where 2 Little Egret were feeding as usual. The Aythya flock had no Ruddy, so presumably Defra exterminated it during the week? 

We walked the circuit on the reserve. A smart adult Yellow-legged Gull bathing in front of Firth Hide was the highlight, and numbers of Shoveler and Wigeon remained high. Marsh Harriers were much in evidence with five birds together behind Makepeace Hide and several others encountered on our walk. A short stop in Dengemarsh Hide found a male Peregrine sitting on a post out in the fields and a brief Great-white Egret that flew into the reeds. It later flew over to the pools beside the return trail where we had further brief views. We were soon back at the Visitor Centre and with the rain approaching from the north west we called it a day and headed home.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Back with a bang!

7 December 2013


It has been a while since I have been birding with Gary, so when he called last night and we were both in the mood to get in the field arrangements were quickly made for a day on the marsh. After a very busy week I didn't want too early a start so Gary arrived at 07:30 and we drove down to Walland. A slow drive across the Marsh from the Woolpack to Lydd via Old Cheyne Court produced just a couple of distant Common Buzzard sitting on fence posts, a small group of 10 Fieldfare and a few Chaffinch.  Next we parked up on Calandra Lane on the Kent side of Scotney Pit where we soon located the Long-tailed Duck close in and showing well. A couple of Dunlin fed with the 30 or so Lapwing on the spit and the flock of 130 Barnacle Geese fed on the grass with about 7 Emperor Geese.

Some of the feral Barnacle Goose flock that spends each winter on Scotney
We checked the Sussex end then drove down to look for Scoter off the beach, but none were visible. The Ranges behind Bretts were quiet and with the Red Flags flying we moved quickly on to Dengemarsh. Here a couple of Marsh Harrier were quartering the reedbed. As we watched a Sparrowhawk flew in low and surprised a flock of Starling. As they rose the hawk easily grabbed one from the edge of the flock and landed out of sight in the marsh. Immediately several Carrion Crows flew in landing on the unsightly predator fence above it. A Marsh Harrier was quickly on the scene and the Sparrowhawk soon decided it was outgunned - robbed! After two attempts the Harrier found the Starling, dropped down on to it and few away with its prize. 

Next we drove to the RSPB reserve via a quick check at Cockles Bridge. A couple of smart Stonechat showed well but there was no sign of the Glossy Ibis. We checked from Dennis's, Firth and Makepeace hide and spent some time just enjoying the views. There were plenty of large gulls, but nothing unusual. Three redhead Smew were feeding down the far end of the reserve from Dennis's Hide and a Great-white Egret was hunting along the edge of the pit with a Little Egret. A few Goldeneye were also evident. A fairly bright Chiffchaff was feeding around the hide and giving a rather odd call - somewhere between Colybita and Tristis but not quite right for either?

From Firth Hide, more Gulls. The highlight though was the noise of 150 filtering Shoveler in a feeding frenzy outside the hide. They created some lovely shapes as the flock moved around feeding on something tasty. Two more Chiffchaff performed along the Willow edge. 


From Makepeace Hide a second Great-white Egret was seen initially in the corner reedbed, but later it flew around and landed by Firth Hide. These previously rare herons have become an increasingly regular sight at Dungeness. A group of 3 Avocet circled over calling noisily, before disappearing toward Dengemarsh.

Great-white Egret

After catching up with Dave Walker and Gill Hollamby, hearing about their brilliant Gujarat trip, we drove down past the ARC pit stopping briefly to check the duck. A lone female Ruddy Duck was the first one this year for either of us. Doubtless it will be gunned down shortly and may prove to be the last one we ever see in Britain... A female Goosander was sleeping in the corner where a vast flock of some 250 Gadwall was feeding in the shallows.

We pulled up at the Fishing Boats to check the roosting gulls. I had just bemoaned the fact that Caspian Gulls had become so scarce, and how for a few years you could almost check any sizeable flock of gulls and find at least one, when I saw a smart, clean looking gull at the end of the roost - with a dark eye..... I jumped out of the car and quickly scoped it - a truly stunning adult near summer plumaged Caspian Gull!!!!! Sweet.

Adult, summer plumaged Caspian Gull - what a beauty!

We managed to get a little closer, and I grabbed some digiscope shots and video before edging nearer. Just as we got in reasonable range a car came through the gate and drove rapidly along the road. Everything took flight and although most returned there was no sign of the Caspian (it was later re-found on the reserve).

After checking all the roosts we decided to begin the journey home. We stopped at the southern end of the ARC where a Great-white Egret (possibly a third for the day) was feeding with two Little Egret. Couldn't resist a few snaps....


Buoyed by our success I suggested a quick check of the ditch at Cockles Bridge on the way out. We pulled up and there was the Glossy Ibis! It walked nervously up the bank and stood at the top. A couple of images at some distance, then it took off and flew over the road dropping into another ditch in the middle of a ploughed field.

The Glossy Ibis walks to the top of the bank
Then flies towards us, over the road and lands out of sight in a narrow ditch
We left Dungeness crossing Walland Marsh. A flock of 37 Bewick's Swan were feeding near Caldecott Lane, a huge flock of Lapwing and Golden Plover spiraled over Old Cheyne and a Common Buzzard bid us farewell as we joined the main road. We drove home reflecting on how a quiet morning turned into a pretty good day out. As we arrived home we met Mandy on the drive and Gary stopped for a chat. As he pulled away to turn the car around on our drive he caught his tyre on the end of our designer garden wall. There was a small bang but it didn't feel too bad. As he turned the car I got out to find the end of the wall destroyed and spread across part of the garden, and air gushing from Gary's brand new off road Land Rover tyre. The next half hour was spent changing the wheel in the dark - a very expensive end to the a good day out......

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Hard work

30 November 2013

Lyminge Forest

With little new news and a bright calm day I decided to spend a few hours today checking out likely Crossbill sites in the East of Kent. I drove down to Lyminge Forest and after parking up at West Wood walked the various tracks and trails listening out for crossbill calls. 

I hadn't gone far down the main track when I decided to check a narrow path that led into a semi clearing. Almost immediately I heard a crossbill calling. Fortunately it flew straight towards me and landed in a very tall pine directly above. I had to move slightly to get any view but from below all I really saw well were the under tail coverts of a first winter male crossbill. It's bill showed a fairly distinct cross and I concluded it was a Common. It quickly flew away and despite some effort could not be relocated. 

I continued down the main trail then around several plantations assuming it was a matter of time before I found some more. A couple of flyover Siskin and a Redpoll were all I found over the next hour and a half. As I returned to the road a couple more unseen Crossbill were calling but I could not get a view. 

I drove up to Elhampark Wood and spent another hour and a half trudging around more excellent habitat including a couple of impressive Larch stands. Over another 3 miles I saw just 2 Treecreeper and a flyover Redpoll. 

I returned to West Wood hoping to locate the birds heard earlier, but found nothing. Running short on enthusiasm I concluded in Park Wood and again despite so much apparently excellent habitat I could not find a single Crossbill. After about four hours in the woods I had looked at just 2 birds! Hopefully better luck next time. 

Saturday, 23 November 2013

A lot can change in ten years...

23 November 2013

Hemsted Forest

Ever since I saw the Parrot Crossbills in Hemsted Forest I have wanted to get a really good photo. Either events or dull weather have made it difficult, but this morning the sun was due to shine and with no news of the birds all week I thought it would be perfect as I would likely have the place to myself. I arrived about 08:00 and found just a single dog walkers car in the layby. I wandered out to the far end of the clearing and found a good spot to stand, not too far from the Oak tree, with a little cover and the sun behind me. Then I waited. And waited. And waited. It was freezing cold with a sharp northerly breeze, but the sun on my back kept me warm. And then the thick cloud arrived - it was cold.

I stood listening, waiting the distinctive 'chipping' of Crossbills. In the distance a distinctive call, but surely not. It sounded like the 'Cronk' of a Raven? There it was again, and a second - two Ravens were flying out of the woods and heading east. I got brief views as they came over the clearing. Superb! A few Fieldfare, the odd Redwing and several Bullfinch flew over. Later a couple of Siskin and both Green and Great-spotted Woodpecker were also heard. Several flocks of Woodpigeon flew north over the woods. 

Female Common Crossbill
At 09:30 the first flock of eight Common Crossbill came in high and landed in the top of the Oak Tree. I checked them all and grabbed a few images. They flew off not stopping for a drink. Another half hour passed and four Common Crossbill flew in. They landed and seemed to enjoy the sunshine. About ten minutes after they arrived a single Cossbill flew in to join them. Initially out of view I soon had it in the scope - a superb first winter male Parrot Crossbill (I'm assuming it was a first winter as it had noticeable wing bars on the greater coverts). It gave reasonable views but always the wrong side of the tree. The flock flew down to the track below and drank from the puddles below the tree then flew back up to preen. I managed to move position and grabbed a couple of images before they flew back into the woods, though my digi-scoping camera decided to play up at this moment.

The Parrot Crossbill
I re-positioned and waited. I caught a glimpse of a falcon which disappeared into the trees. Moving slightly I found it sat high up on a branch - an immature male Peregrine. Incredible to see Ravens and a Peregrine in a woodland clearing in the heart of Kent - just ten years ago this would have been incredible.

Peregrine - very cropped
As I stood enjoying the sunshine the occasional small group of Common Crossbill, Redpoll and Siskin flew over, usually unseen. Two Meadow Pipit flew across the clearing. At 10:45 a single Crossbill came in across the clearing calling very loudly. As it landed it immediately began the distinctive Blackbird-like 'chinking' and I realised it was a Parrot - the same bird. I quickly fired off some shots and started to video the beast. Thankfully the sun had come out. Incredibly he sat in the bare branches on his own, once briefly joined by a Common Redpoll and a Lesser Redpoll, for over twenty minutes, in full view. Amazing and well worth the long wait. 
The Parrot returns

A digi-scoped shot for comparison

A flock of about 20 Common Crossbill flew into the Pine trees behind the Oak and the Parrot flew over to join them as they dropped down to the puddles for a drink, then flew back into the woods to the west. A Common Buzzard circled overhead.


With news coming in that the Black Kite was at Dunge I headed down, though arrived too late after the bird had flown NE over the aiport. Scanning from various vantage points found only a dozen Marsh Harrier and 3 Common Buzzard. I had some lunch at Scotney where the herd of Barnacle Geese held several Emperor types, a large flock of Lapwing held about 30 Golden Plover and the Long-tailed Duck showed on the Kent side from Calandra Lane. There were several thousand Wigeon around the pits, sure signs of Winter. 

From the Hides at Burrowes a Great-white Egret and 2 Little Egret, a large mixed flock of Wigeon, Teal and Pintail, and a couple more Marsh Harrier. I had a quick check of the Patch from the seawatch hide where a small flock of Common Scoter were feeding offshore. Then I worked my way back across Walland Marsh seeing a few Kestrel and a Buzzard.

Wigeon and Teal
The obligatory Great-white Egret

Sunday, 17 November 2013

It never really got light

17 November 2013

Stodmarsh and Grove Ferry

Late morning we set off for a walk around Stodmarsh and Grove Ferry. It was a very dull day indeed, barely light even by midday. The very low cloud base seemed to keep external noise to a minimum so it was very peaceful and there were few other people around.

A quick look from the Reedbed Hide revealed only 40 Greylag Geese. The first two of very many Water Rail were heard calling to each other. Through the Alder Wood and it was pretty quiet, though a small flock of Blackbird and Song Thrush flushed from the path. We followed the Lampen Wall checking the Aythya ducks on the lake, just Tufted and Pochard, plus a good number of Shoveler and Teal. A single Little Egret and a couple of flyover Redpoll were the best along the river, though Cetti's Warbler seemed to sing every few hundred metres. A large flock of some 300 Fieldfare was seen circling over the marsh.

We checked Feast Hide, the Mound and Harrison's Drove: just 50 Lapwing and 50 Teal of any note. We wandered across the flooded fields towards the Marsh Hide. A helicopter flew low overhead and flushed a Little Egret from near the cows. I looked over and found it had a friend - a Cattle Egret, feeding typically in among the cattle. 

After watching it feeding with the Little Egret we made our way through the mud to the Marsh Hide. Very little to be seen though our only Marsh Harrier of the day was sitting out on the marsh. The walk back to the car park at Stodmarsh produced close views of the Fieldfare flock as they erupted from the bushes beside the trail, a few Bearded Tit and more Water Rail and Cetti's Warbler. A flock of Blue and Long-tailed Tit was feeding at the entrance to the wood, but otherwise uneventful.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Late autumn sunshine

10 November 2013

Kingsdown to South Foreland

With the sun shining on a cool and blustery Sunday we set off to the coast for a long walk. Having parked at Kingsdown we walked the rather quiet path along the cliff top, stopping at the Bluebird Cafe for a warming cup of tea, then down to St Margaret's and through South Foreland Valley to the lighthouse. 

Two flocks of Long-tailed Tit along the Leas contained only Blue and Great Tits, though a Chiffchaff was heard from somewhere within the Sycamore cover. 

The gusty north westerly meant few birds were seen along the cliff top and it wasn't until we reached the bottom of South Foreland that we came across any avian activity. 

Another tit flock was mainly Long-tailed. As we wandered along the road Brendan Ryan and Jack Chantler were leaving. They had seen a Firecrest and a few Chiffchaff. 

In the lower wood we were soon among a tit flock that contained two Goldcret and a super Firecrest. The Middle (Hollow Wood) produced another Tit flock and a Great-spotted Woodpecker. The Top Wood by the lighthouse held a large Tit flock. A rather pale Chiffchaff looked good for Siberian but sounded somewhere between colybita and tristis? While trying unsuccessfully to get a photo a Firecrest called behind us. I began 'pishing' and two stunning birds appeared at close range. A single Goldcrest was also seen along with a few Long-tailed Tit. After enjoying super views of these stunning sprites we walked back along the main track. A now familiar sound led us to our fourth Firecrest of the afternoon beside the Hollow Wood.  

The walk back was uneventful though a nice adult Mediterranean Gull greeted us as we reached the car. 

A stunning Firecrest gives great close views

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Shellness before the storm

9 November 2013


The weather forecast showed heavy rain arriving from the west mid morning and continuing throughout the afternoon. I awoke to early morning blue skies and bright sunshine. With a short window of opportunity I decided to walk out to Shellness near Leysdown. After parking the car I scanned the mudflats and fields from the seawall before continuing to the shell spit past the blockhouse. 

A large flock of Black-tailed Godwit was feeding on the mud and a group if 35 Avocet on the tide edge. A few Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Grey Plover and Turnstone were also seen. On the fields 25 Curlew, 40 Lapwing and 150 Brent Geese. 

A large flock of Linnet flushed from the weedy field where a fee Chaffinch and Greenfinch sat in the roadside bushes. 

The point was pretty quiet with the tide well out. Six Rock Pipit were flighty, 3 Linnet flew nervously around and a few Skylark were heard. I briefly heard Snow Bunting calling before 2 birds flew from the shingle into the sun an away over the salt marsh. 

As I walked bak past the Hamlet an adult male Peregrine flew low overhead and circled off towards the shore. Back at the car another immature male Peregrine was sat in the field and a couple of Marsh Harrier cruised around in the distance. 

With the cloud building I headed over to Capel Fleet. Scanning from the corner produced about 10 Marsh Harrier, 2 Kestrel and 3 Common Buzzard.  

A flock of Corn Bunting were sat on the wires as I drove to Harty Ferry. There was no clay pigeon shooting so I setup my scope soon finding a Kingfisher feeding in a small ditch below. A Little Egret was in the salt marsh dykes and a Common Buzzard landed in the hedge. After considerable effort I caught sight of another egret sligy obscured by the hedgerow. It appeared to have a yellow bill, but looked rather long necked? The rain now started to fall and quickly it became quite heavy. From the shelter of a Cherry Tree I kept scanning until the egret flew across the marsh. Yes, it did have a yellow bill, but it dropped quickly out of view. It seemed to have black legs and yellow feet, and a jizz like a Little Egret, but a yellow bill like a Cattle Egret? It soon flew again but disappeared into a ditch. The jizz just didn't look right for Cattle Egret but it definitely had a yellow bill. Ten minutes later it finally jumped into view - it crept through the grass like a Cattle Egret and kept low and squat. Its feet, perhaps now covered in mud, looked concolorous. It still looked long necked but it's legs were obscured. The yellow bill had a dark tip - was that mud? It vanished into a ditch and with the rain falling heavily I decided to retreat to the warmth of the car. Odd looking bird but not great views. A Cattle Egret has been reported on the Saltmarsh for several weeks - odd habitat, and an odd looking bird.

Monday, 11 November 2013

A walk in the woods

3 November 2013

Thornden Woods

I decided late on to go for a walk in Thornden Woods with a focus on trying to find some Crossbills. After parking at the car park I headed east along the main track, taking a short detour through the nature reserve. I continued until I reached the road at the far end then returned staying on the main track all the way back to the car park. 

It was pretty uneventful all the way out. A small flock of Long-tailed Tit contained a Chiffchaff and a Treecreeper. A Great-spotted Woodpecker and a Brambling were heard, but little else was seen. The paths were pretty busy with walkers and dogs. 

Just as I reached the house by the eastern car park I heard the unmistakable sound of Crossbills. They were close and overhead but above the low tree canopy that covered the track. Thinking they had crossed the path I scanned the garden and close trees.  Nothing. As I walked a few paces further the flock erupted from the tree above me and flew away down the road. I went searching but could not relocate them. I walked back to the car through the glade on the opposite side of the road. Just as I reached the car park I heard them again and they landed in a tall conifer. I quickly setup the scope but as I focused they flew. This time they properly vanished and despite a lot of effort with the light fading I had to call it a day. They sounded like Commons with about 20 birds in total but it would have been nice to check them through. 

Saturday, 2 November 2013

A window of opportunity

2 November 2013


After a stormy and wet week there was a short lull in the weather predicted this morning. I was half tempted to return to Hemsted in the hope of getting some decent images of the Parrot Crossbills, but in the end decided on Dungeness. I drove around Bretts checking the bushes along the edge of the pit and finding a few Blackbirds and Robins, then down to Galloways. There was nothing along the road other than a Sparrowhawk, so I checked the sea. Other than a huge number of gulls along the beach both sides of the lookout, feeding on a mass of washed up star fish and sea mice, there was little to see.

I returned along the road and saw a familiar pale shape on a post in the field - a Barn Owl. Presumably after a series of wet nights it was hungry enough to hunt in daylight. I managed some good views and a few half-decent images of it feeding. Despite the attention of a Carrion Crow it still managed to find a decent breakfast.

The Barn Owl hunting in daylight
The local Crows were not impressed - you can see why Owls hunt at night!
Somehow it maintained focus on finding prey
After a brief perch on the fence posts it heard a vole
Locked its ears and eyes on the target
Then dives into the long grass feet first. After a quick bite to the back of the voles head...
It takes off with breakfast before the Crows return
That should keep it going until tonight. It transferred the vole from its beak
to its feet as it flew to a quieter dining area.
Next stop was Dengemarsh Gulley. As I drove down the track a lump in a puddle turned out to be a Kestrel having a bath. It flew up onto a post and allowed a quick photo before it flew up to the pylon to preen. A young Stonechat fed along the side of the track.

A post bath bedraggled Common kestrel
The Gulley was quiet with just three Blackbird, two Robin and a female Blackcap. A couple of Goldfinch and three Linnet flew over. 

Female Blackcap
A scan from the end found a flock of about 100 Common Scoter, but with little height they were difficult to check in the surf. Two Great Skua flew past quite close and a few Gannet were feeding offshore. With nothing obvious among the Scoter I headed back inland before turning towards the sea. I stopped at the ARC pit and walked out to the Hanson Hide. A Great White Egret, a Little Egret and the immature Glossy Ibis were on the islands with the usual mix of ducks - Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall, Shoveler, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Pochard and a single Pintail. One each of Dunlin and Greenshank and 30 Golden Plover were mixed in with 50 Lapwing. A couple of vocal Water Rail remained unseen. Every so often a passing Marsh Harrier would spook the birds and occasionally the Ibis would have a fly around. A couple of Redpoll and Siskin flew over the Willow Trail.

Glossy Ibis

I walked around to the Pines hoping to find a Crossbill or two. As I approached a Bittern flew over the bank, saw me and flew away over the willow peninsula and dropped back into the reeds. A very close encounter. With nothing in the trees I checked the tit flocks finding just one Chiffchaff among the Long-tailed, Blue and Great Tits. Back at the car park Steve Broyd had just heard the Penduline Tit as it flew unseen over him. I had a good search around likely places but to no avail.

On the RSPB reserve I checked the gull roost but found nothing untoward in the flock. From Firth Hide a large number of gulls were washing. A 3rd winter Caspian Gull flew in, bathed and flew off before I managed to get a photo. It was very dark eyed and typically pale billed, with the usual necklace of spots on its neck. Would have been nice to have watched it for longer. A small, long-winged first winter Lesser-black backed Gull looked interesting, but vanished in the flock as they flushed. A Marsh Harrier was hunting at the back of Burrowes where two Black-necked Grebe were feeding together. A Great White Egret flew out from under the hide and vanished into the sun.

My last hour was spent checking the gull roost along the beach - lots of large gulls but nothing unusual, and  quick sea watch in the shelter of the hide (which has lost its felt roof in the recent storm). There was a passage of small gulls along the beach, mainly Black-headed, with a few Common and three Mediterranean (2 2W and 1 ad). About 500 moved past in half an hour. Also offshore I found 2 Sandwich Tern and about ten Kittiwake, and Gannet were moving west into the strengthening wind in reasonable numbers. As it became increasingly difficult to keep the scope still I decided to call it a day and drove home through some very heavy showers.