Sunday, 27 January 2013

After the snow has gone

27 January 2013

Capel Fleet, Harty Ferry and Elmley track

Late morning after the rain had stopped and the sun come out I drove over to Capel Fleet. Always a wonderful winter birding area, the temptation was too great when a flock of seven Common Crane's were found earlier in the week. I drove past the flooded fleet and stopped in a layby, raised my bins and there in the distance were the Cranes. They were feeding waist deep in a maize field at the base of Harty Hill. The sun was difficult, but after the last few weeks who's complaining. After about twenty minutes they took flight, into the wind then drifted east until beating into the strong breeze and landing out of view, but nearer the road towards Harty. 

The Common Cranes take flight
Huge but graceful

I drove along and found a parking place. The Cranes were much closer and over the next hour I watched them resting, preening and again feeding. There were four adults and three first winters, so presumably two families. Wonderful birds. A Common Buzzard, a Sparrowhawk and a dozen Marsh Harrier added raptor interest, and a flock of 54 Corn Bunting perched on the wires. Out on the marsh vast numbers of Woodpigeon, Fieldfare, Starling, Corn Bunting, Skylark, Linnet, Lapwings, Golden Plovers, continually filled the skies as a harrier passed by.

I checked the Swale from the Harty Ferry Inn but it was pretty quiet (just 2 Little Egret), then parked by the church and walked down to the Swale. On the NNR I found a distant flock of geese, mainly Greylag, but including about a dozen White-fronted, five Barnacle and thirty Brent Geese. A closer flock of Brent rewarded closer scrutiny with a single Pale-bellied adult and the hybrid Brent x Red-breasted Goose that has been around for several winters. Marsh Harrier hunted over the marsh and several flocks of waders flushed, too distantly. A single Ruff flew over above a flock of Lapwing, and a large mixed flock of saltwater waders huddled along the muddy fringe as the tide dropped away and included twenty Avocet. Despite much scanning I could not find the Hooded Crow reported here for the last few days, but it was surely lurking somewhere.

As I headed home I drove up the Elmley track and was surprised to find a flock of 17 Ruff feeding with Dunlin and Starling before the first cattle grid. A Common Buzzard and 2 Marsh Harrier flew over. The marsh here is very wet and looks superb for the Spring - well worth keeping an eye on.

I can't resist a Lapwing - one of my favourites
Worms are quite stretchy
Ruff feeding with Starling
One of the Ruff was colour ringed - blue over white flag on right leg, yellow over white on left 
Common Buzzard

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Stuck at home in the snow

20 January 2013


After the heavy snowfall on Friday, Saturday dawned overcast and cold with a covering of some 2cm of the white stuff. I cleared the drive then we set off through the woods and across the fields to a favourite pub about 10km way. Very few birds around, with a couple of Bullfinch, a flock of 30 Siskin at Basted and a group of 30 Fieldfare in an orchard neat Plaxtol. After a loverly lunch we walked back on a different route finishing on the Wealden Way above Crouch. It got steadily colder particularly into the wind and bird sightings were few and far between, but did include a couple more Bullfinch.

Today the snow started falling at about 08:00 and has continued ever since. There is now a good 5cm on top of the residual from Friday and it doesn't look like abating any time soon. Still the snow did bring some good fortune. While standing at the kitchen sink, drying up some glasses, a stunning Woodcock flew through the garden and dropped into the woods behind the house - a super and much wanted garden tick. The number of birds on the garden feeders has increased significantly. At one point there were nine Long-tailed Tit on one nut feeder with maybe another 20 in the bushes with other tits, several Nuthatch, two Great-spots together, and four species of thrush - Blackbirds have gathered in force, a single Fieldfare and a Redwing were good garden birds. And just recently two Goldfinch arrived with two super Lesser Redpoll, including a very rose-blushed male, that are making use of the niger feeder. One of our Robins has also learned to use the nut feeder - not something I've seen before.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Cold north easterly

13 January 2013

Eastern Sheppey

With news of a Pallas's Warbler in Berkshire where a Yellow-browed, Sibe Chiffchaff and 2 Buff-bellied Pipit remained I was almost tempted. However I spend too much time each week on the M25 so chose instead to brave the east end of the Isle of Sheppey. In the last few weeks there have been several reports of a juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard and I was keen to try to see it.

I started at Capel Fleet and the raptor viewpoint. The whole area was typically heaving with birds. A large flock of Lapwing and Golden Plover held 20 Dunlin and 2 Ruff. Out in the fields were several more flocks of Lapwing and Starling while on the Leysdown side a cloud of Woodpigeon was feeding in the fields occasionally disturbed by a passing raptor. As always at this site it is the birds of prey that provide the big attraction. Two Peregrine, a female Merlin, a Kestrel along the road, at least 4 Common Buzzard, 2 ringtail Hen Harrier and about 15 Marsh Harrier.

Three of the Buzzards were quite pale plumaged, but one bird was particularly striking. From the back when perched or on flight it almost suggested Rough-leg, showing a pale base to the tail. Its underwing was very white with a distinct black trailing edge and a small black carpal patch. Its belly was marked with a square black patch. However the lack of a large white tail marked with a crisp black band confirmed it was a Common and several regulars confirmed this was the bird that had been occasionally reported erroneously as a Rough-legged, both here and at nearby Leysdown.

A Little Egret flew past the watch point and a Bearded Tit called from the small reed bed. A total of 64 Corn Bunting were feeding in a stubble field and occasionally perching on the roadside bushes.

Along the road to the Ferry Inn large numbers of Blackbirds flushed from the road and bushes. At the pub I scanned the Swale watching as the tide rose. A Little Egret braved the cold and a huge flock of Bar-tailed Godwit fed along the shore. On the Swale several Great-crested Grebe rode the tide. While scanning I picked up a smaller Grebe on the far side. Using the full power of the scope I could see it was a Slavonian Grebe.  It rapidly floated along the Swale and eventual came nearer. It was amusing watching the small crowd of birders sheltering behind the sea wall hide at Oare as they eventually picked it up. As the tide covered the mud a flock of 600 Knot flew past followed by several hundred more Barwits.

I drove back along the Capel road and out to Leysdown. Parking at the near end of the track to the hamlet I walked up the sea wall to Shellness. An adult Little Gull flew down the Swale but otherwise it was pretty quiet on the rising tide. Along the beach Sanderling and Turnstone fed close by and a smart Rock Pipit gave good views, but wouldn't et me get any photos. Scanning the marsh on the cold return walk produced a large flock of Chaffinch and Linnet, and a mixed roost of gulls in a stubble field hiding from the cold wind. A dark Common Buzzard sat on a post as two Marsh Harrier quartered the maize fields. The snow was now falling and the sky had turned grey so I headed to the car.

I decided to stop at Lower Halstow on my way home and parked by the barge at Lapwing Drive. I walked around the bushes hearing a Chiffchaff and seeing a Goldcrest in one of several Long-tailed Tit flocks. There was no sign of any Waxwing so I returned to the car. As I put away my gear a distinctive trilling caught my attention and glancing up a single Waxwing flew over landing in the scrub. As I carefully approached a dog walker appeared and accidentally disturbed it. Fortunately it didn't go far and I managed to grab some quick shots in the poor light before it flew up to the taller trees and was joined by another. They sat trilling for a while before flying strongly west over my head and away across the scrub. A nice end to a very cold day.

Bohemian Waxwing

Sunday, 6 January 2013


Dungeness and Walland Marsh

5 January 2013

Gary picked me up at 07:30 and we headed straight down to the Dungeness peninsula. From Brenzett we drove slowly across Walland Marsh checking hedgerows and fields along the lanes. We briefly paused by the Woolpack but the mist made us continue up to Old Cheyne - looking into the misty distance with a scope for the Crane was not high on the list. The wind turbines were stationery indicating the lack of any wind and it was still drizzling as we parked. In the hedge by the feeding station were 30 or more Tree Sparrow, at least 10 Yellowhammer and a good flock of Chaffinch. From the marsh we could clearly hear the evocative calls of Bewick's Swans and as we watched over 40 took flight in three groups and headed off to feed. Several Marsh Harrier were hunting over the reedbeds and a Buzzard rested on a post. As we drove long the lane two Spaarowhawk flew over the car. 

At Hawthorn Corner the Bewick's Swans had gathered on the old potato field. A total of 69 birds included a pleasing 21 juveniles, with as many Mute's in the adjoining brassica field. Another Buzzard hunting from a post and a Sparrowhawk over the road added interest. Several thousand Lapwing over the fields hinted at today's theme.

With no sign of the Whoopers we carried on towards Lydd. Four swans on the left of the road were Mute but as we checked two on the right (also Mute) two wild swans flew in and landed on the muddy expanse - the 2 Whoopers.

We next drove to Scotney. The whole place was literally buried in birds. The water was covered in ducks, grebes, geese and gulls. The fields were almost obscured by many thousands of Lapwing, golden plover, wigeon and geese. A most impressive sight. About 30 Dunlin and 2 Ruff were seen before all the waders took flight spooked by an unseen predator and a swirling cloud erupted overhead. The Sussex end was the same - unbelievable numbers of birds all sharing the same space, many close to the road on the grassy spits or sharing the field with the sheep.

We had been checking through the various birds for about 20 minutes when Bernie came down the road and asked if we had seen the Pink-foot/Bean Goose at the back of the pit among the Greylags. We hadn't, and he said it had walked into a ditch as soon as they had spotted it. I scanned back along the back and through the goose flock. I could see a the dark back of a goose. As I pointed it out it raised its head - surely a Tundra Bean Goose? It spent some time obscured before it eventually walked out to fully confirm the ID. After a quick text to Martin Casemore he was quickly on site. Later, after we had left, the bird came closer and he managed a photo. While waiting for the goose to walk into view I picked up the Slavonian Grebe in the far corner and was able to return the favour with Bernie by walking along the road to point it out.

Our next stop was the beach, picking up a couple of Great White Egrets from the ARC causeway on the way through. There was no sign of the wintering Glaucous Gull but plenty of action over the sea - loads of Guillemot and Razorbill gave great views, a dozen Red-throated Diver and about 30 Great-crested Grebes were most obvious. A huge feeding frenzy was taking place both around a couple of trawlers and around a large shoal of fish - Gannets, Kittiwake and masses of gulls were briefly joined by a Fulmar. Mike Henty and John Brighton were wished a Happy New Year and as they departed three Velvet Scoter flew past with a flock of 30 Commons - fortunately not before I managed to call them back. 

We checked Lade where it was pretty quiet then ARC where a flock (perhaps a family party) of 8 Smew included a very smart drake. Another Great White Egret flew out of the reeds before I finally saw my first Little Egret of the year. Amazing that I had seen three GWE's before a Little! A Chiffchaff was singing in the Willows, perhaps inspired by the Spring-like temperatures. Huge numbers of common diving and dabbling duck were loafing and feeding on the ARC pit - mainly Shoveler, Wigeon and Teal with good numbers of Pochard and a few very smart Goldeneye. We walked around the RSPB reserve seeing six Marsh Harrier, one each of Little and Great White Egret, huge numbers of Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler and another 5,000 Lapwing. Several more flocks of Lapwing seemed to arrive from the direction of the sea joining the vast clouds circling over the marsh. From Christmas Dell hide a female Red-crested Pochard and a female Smew, then back around to the car park. 

The incredibly high water levels on Burrowes means all the islands are underwater

We decided to call it a day, with a last drive back across the marsh. A female Merlin dashed over the road and a smart male Hen Harrier got chased around a field by two Carrion Crows. Five dark geese taking flight from Old Cheyne among a mass of 7,000 Lapwing were confidently called as White-fronted, as five had been seen yesterday, shortly confirmed by the birders on the bend. Nice end to a most enjoyable day. 

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Happy New Year

Walland Marsh

1 January 2013

What a start to the New Year. Beautiful blue skies and golden sunshine all day and not one single drop off rain; not one! I was late to rise and after breakfast half heartedly set off towards Dungeness. I briefly drove into Singleton and soon found the flock of 20 Waxwing. Unfortunately they were sat high in a tree in someone's rather small back garden. I decided that peering over the fence with binoculars wasn't appropriate and headed off south. The very shy Common Crane that is wintering on the marsh had finally been seen early this morning near to Old Cheyne Court but had flown off. I drove along the road and bumped into Nigel and Christine Driver. We spent a while catching up and then Graham Nichols arrived. More New Year wishes and catching up. After 20 minutes I drove down the road and parked near Hawthorn Corner. I walked out onto the marsh using the public footpath that heads west. A flock of swans included all thee species - 2 Whoopers, 30 Bewick's and 40 Mutes. As I continued another 15 Bewick's in two flocks flew in. Over Old Cheyne a cloud of Lapwings erupted from the marsh stretching right across to Scotney. Perhaps as many as 10,000 birds with just a small group of Golden Plover flying above them. Scanning from any vantage point I could see 7 Marsh Harrier a small flock of Corn Bunting and several Skylark, but no sign of the Crane. I walked on for about 2 hours regularly scanning. I was just giving up when a flying bird out the corner of my eye caught my attention - the Crane! I managed to scope it and watched it land behind a hedge but surely viewable from the road near Old Cheyne. I phoned Graham and Nigel then set off on the long muddy walk back to my car. It took nearly an hour but fortunately it was still feeding in the field when I joined the sizeable crowd. As we watched, chatting with David Walker and Gill Hollamby, a pleasing 3 Barn Owl began feeding around the field edges, doubtless relieved by the dry weather. A Common Buzzard and several Marsh Harrier joined the party.

Gary and Jenny Howard arrived with Alex and Ed who both enjoyed views of the Crane and Owls. With dusk approaching we decided to watch the harrier roost near The Woolpack Inn. I arrived first as Gary went to see the swans on the way. As I walked on to the bank a flock of 6 Waxwing flew low overhead. Another 6 had been seen at Fairfield and a small group in Lydd. Over the next 45 minutes we were treated to a spectacle as thousands of Starling flew over, 8,000 Lapwing flushed repeatedly as the harriers built up over the reedbeds and floods. A Common Buzzard sat on a post, a smart Green Woodpecker perched in the open, a small flock of Fieldfares sat atop a distant tree and a Barn Owl hunted. The harriers flocked with 14 together at one time and as they started to drop into roost the Crane flew into the big reedbed in the distance. A total of 22 Marsh Harrier roosted and as we left 2 Water Rail squealed from the reeds.