Monday, 27 May 2013

Red Kites used to be rare

26 May 2013


During a break from working in the garden today a mocking Carrion Crow made me look up just as a Red Kite (only the second one so far recorded here) circled overhead. With a Usain Bolt style dash into the house to grab the binoculars and camera I just made it back in time to grab a couple of record shots.

A Red Kite drifts over the garden heading north

27 May 2013

Platt and Reculver

With the temperature finally rising I ran the moth trap overnight. A fairly small catch in the rather clear skies, but four Scalloped Hazel, a Coxcomb Prominent and a very smart Herald made it worthwhile. Otherwise two Red Twin-spot Carpet and a Green Carpet, two Nut-tree Tussock, a Peppered Moth, three Brimstone and a Hebrew Character.

Coxcomb Prominent


Scalloped Hazel (Pale phase) 
Scalloped Hazel (Dark phase) 
Scalloped Hazel (pale and dark phases together)

After breakfast we decided to enjoy the amazing Bank Holiday weather with a long walk and plumped for Reculver. We started at Shuart Farm and wandered down to the railway, turned left along the raised bank, up the Green Wall, around the Oyster Farm and back along the seawall to Chambers Wall, then back in to the raised bank and on to Shuart Farm. In all it took us just under four hours, before we headed to Chislet to enjoy some lunch in the garden of the Gate Inn.

At the end of Shuart Lane I scanned the fields to the east and immediately picked up a group of circling raptors. Initially there was a Red Kite and a couple of Common Buzzard, but they were soon joined by a second Red Kite and two Marsh Harrier. The two Kites turned into the wind and separately drifted SW over Nethercourt Farm and away.

Along the path Mandy practiced her Butterfly identification with Large, Green-veined and Small Whites, Orange Tip, Holly Blue, Speckled Wood and Peacock. I tried to get some images, but all the insects were very active.

Green-veined White
Small White
Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Whitethroat, Yellow Wagtail and Reed Bunting accompanied our stroll. Over the fields many Swift, a few Swallow and a single House Martin moved west. A Marsh Harrier quartered the fields, but there was no sign of the recent Monty's behind the Oyster Farm. However as I scanned the fields a flock of gulls took flight on the hill. Scanning back I found another Red Kite moving quickly west - four in two days can't be bad. I was also surprised to find a Short-eared Owl quietly roosting on one of the wooden structures beside a dam out in the Oyster Farm. A Common Sandpiper flicked and flitted across one of the pools as we walked beside the beach. The return walk was enlivened by the sight of a Cuckoo feeding in a rose bush, while a second sang out on the marsh. As we reached Shuart Farm a few Swifts and Swallows were still moving west into the freshening South-west breeze.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

When the cold north wind blows

25 May 2013


The weather for the Bank Holiday weekend looks quite nice, but not great for birding. Today's wind looked to have some potential with ENE winds overnight and rain, which in the event turned out to be very heavy. Gary had wanted to go to Lakenheath today (for a change), but for some reason allowed me to talk him out of it and instead to go to Dungeness (for a change, not). We started at Lydd where the cows that had yesterday hosted a Cattle Egret were all looking very miserable, wet and were typically sitting down. No sign of the Egret. Next we went to ARC where yesterday a Red-rumped Swallow had graced the skies. On arrival with the sun shining and cold ENE wind there were hardly any hirundines and just a few Swifts. We walked around the Willow Trail finding nothing, though the reedbed was humming with the song of Sedge and Reed Warblers. A few Swift began to gather over the bushes and from the Hanson Hide numbers of House Martin and Swallow began to build. We checked them all but nothing of interest so we walked to the screen hide. Looking into the sun was not helpful so we continued to the Water Tower. A couple of Hobby were sat in a distant bare tree. A few Cetti's Warbler were explosively singing from deep in cover, a Sparrowhawk sunned itself, and a Buzzard circled over the airport.

With the reserve gate open we drove to the car park and checked Burrowes from Dennis's Hide. Three Little Gull and a few Common Tern were hawking insects over the surface of the pool, but otherwise it was quiet. We walked around the trail where the highlights included a smart male Bearded Tit in the reeds, four Cuckoo's (scarce so far this year) and at least seven more Hobby including one that was sat on the bench on the mound overlooking Hookers Pit. 

A Hobby uses the bench for a fine perch
I am devastated to have to report the apparent demise of 'plodding birder'. I have followed the fantastic daily updates from Dungeness ever since its proprietor, Martin Casemore, moved into God's County and chose Dungeness as his birding home. Plodding Birder is no more..... Today I met the new improved and apparently fitter 'Shopping Bike Birder' for the first time. Since moving to Dungeness at the beginning of May Martin has taken the environmentally positive step of using a bicycle, on fine weather days, to travel around the peninsula. Plodding is no longer an option, though it appears only three gears are available! Oh and like it says on the bike frame - I really suggest you wear that helmet.....

Hobby hunting insects
A more natural perch

Cracking little falcons - red thighs making this an adult
Very agile in flight - it spots and eats its insect prey on the wing
Someone reported the (a) Red-rumped Swallow over the ARC car park, but within half an hour Paul Trodd reported one moving north over Old Cheyne Court, presumably the same bird. No point looking for that then.

Common Tern
We checked Galloways where a smart pair of Stonechat were feeding their two fledged chicks.
The male Stonechat watches over his chicks
One of the juvenile Stonechat


First-winter Bonaparte's Gull - Oare
With nothing much doing at Dungeness we decided to drive up to Oare, near Faversham where the first-winter Bonaparte's Gull that appeared in April at Elmley had recently been re-found. On arrival it was sat with a few Black-headed Gulls on the islands viewable from the roadside.

A little better than the Elmley shot!
After a few minutes it flew out to the Swale where the tide was rather rapidly falling, and started to feed on the mud. Arriving fairly quickly we were able to get a few shots before it followed the tidal fringe further and further out.

A couple of Little Egret and a nice flock of some 100 Black-tailed Godwit provided distractions, but otherwise t was fairly quiet. Two Common Buzzard and two Hobby over the nearby woodlands and another Buzzard on the way home along the A2 were the last highlights of the day. 

Grey Heron

Monday, 20 May 2013

I'm still pinching myself....

19 May 2013

Platt and Denge Wood

I'm still pinching myself. Yesterday is quite hard to take in. I really have seen a Dusky Thrush, in Britain, no in Kent, and in the middle of May, when all the birding logic assumed the best time to find one would be late winter, and 54 years after the last. Birding really can be very surprising - I guess that's part of what keeps us interested.

Anyway today brought me back to reality, but somehow it just didn't matter. I ran my moth trap overnight, the first time at home this year (I caught a total of 2 moths over three evenings at Dungeness at the start of the month - David did tell me I was wasting my time). A small but varied catch that included a stunning Poplar Hawk Moth, and several Prominents - a Pale, an Iron and a Pebble,a beautiful Alder Kitten, a Lunar Marbled Brown, a Pale Tussock and an Oak Hook-tip.

Pale Prominent
Iron Prominent
Pale Tussock
Poplar Hawk Moth
I then spent the next couple of hours finishing the drive edging before lunch in the sunshine outside in the garden. After lunch we decided to head out for a walk and as Mandy has started to get into Butterflies I suggested a visit to Denge Wood, near Canterbury. This was a little bold as I've only been once and that was two years back. Anyway I found the place to park and followed the paths I remembered until we reached the Bonsai Bank. 

Along the way we found large numbers of Early Purple Orchid, watched a few Brimstones, Orange Tips and Peacocks and listened to a couple of Nightingales, Blackcaps, a Garden Warbler, a Willow Warbler and a Chiffchaff.

Taking care to keep to the paths we walked around then across Bonsai Bank carefully looking for the delightful Duke of Burgundy Fritillary butterflies that frequent the area and feed on the Primulas. Initially we found a couple of Dingy Skipper, but after a while and with some help we found about half a dozen Duke's and enjoyed their company and close views. They really are tiny little butterflies, but with careful approach can allow you very close. I'm still getting used to my macro lens, which these images prove, but hopefully learning as I go.

Dingy Skipper
Duke of Burgundy Fritillary
Trying to get a picture of the stunning underwing
What a tiny little stunner
Difficult to creep up from in front 
Superb little insects
Also on the bank was an array of Lady Orchids and a few Twayblade. We wandered back pausing to listen to the Nightingale. A very different day to yesterday but an enjoyable variety of fauna and flora. Now I just need to go and pinch myself again....

A normal burgundy headed flower - Lady Orchid
Also found this paler variant

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Have you heard about the.......

18 May 2013

Margate and Reculver

Friday had been a good day along the east and south east coast with a few interesting drift migrants including a stunning male Red-spotted Bluethroat at Dungeness (see Plodding Birder). I had figured there might be more to be found and texted Gary to see if he fancied joining me for a day out. He was at a 'wine tasting', but after a few texts he bailed out and called to see what I was thinking. I said Dungeness for the Bluethroat (not realising it had met its end thanks to a hungry Sparrowhawk) would be a good start, or there was a Red-backed Shrike and Montagu's Harrier at Reculver, or if we wanted to try to find something good we could try the various parks and golf courses around Thanet. Little did I know it had already been found. We agreed to meet at 07:00 and decide then. 

I was awake about 06:30, showered, dressed and wandered downstairs for a glass of fruit juice. As I poured the juice I thought I heard a car on the drive, but it was still ten minutes before 07:00 and Gary is never early. As I picked up some gear from the study Gary reversed his car past the window - blimey. I went to the door and opened it so he knew I was nearly ready, and picked up my gear. As I stuck my head around the front door he got out the car. Now anyone who has read my blog will know Gary is the absolute master of under statement - I had thought he had peaked though when he casually half whispered "It's on the post" after a five hour wait at -22C with the Blakiston's Fish Owl (the World's biggest Owl) in Hokkaido. However this morning he really outdid even himself.

I said "Morning", and as he wandered around to the back of the car he casually said "D'you know about this Dusky Thrush", paused and then finished his sentence with the earth shattering statement "in Margate Cemetery". Now for those who might not be aware the last twitchable Dusky Thrush in Great Britain was in 1959 - yes 54 years ago, ten years before I was even born. Dusky Thrush is a near mythical bird in Britain, almost no living birder had seen one here. A recent record involving a rather dubious (origin not occurrence) adult male in Manchester was only seen by the non-birder who 'accidentally' photographed it outside his bedroom window. This, in the birding fraternity, was MASSIVE!!!!!

As Gary's sentence registered I literally grabbed everything around me and leapt into the car. "What, when, how, etc.", I checked my phone, still not believing what he'd said, and sure enough message after message after the first at 23:07 last night, and again from about 06:00 this morning - it was still there... Why weren't we? What if it got flushed? What if it was not seen again?

We set off down the M20 and I checked out Steve Tomlinson's (the finder) blog. Steve has watched Margate Cemetery tirelessly for years, finding a whole range of scarce and occasionally rare birds. Unfortunately it is a difficult site and some of the birds are not seen again, bringing some doubt in others minds about some of his records. He has had a hard time over the years, but plugs away and with the aid of his trusty camera has managed to prove a number of recent records beyond criticism. Anyway there on the blog were photos of a 1st winter (second calendar year) female Dusky Thrush. Steve had first seen it briefly on Wednesday, but given the brief views assumed it was a Redwing. His brief sighting in Thursday did nothing to challenge this view, so it wasn't until Friday when it finally gave itself up and allowed some reasonable photos that he realised the full gravity of his sighting. Fortunately before claiming it and risking abuse he asked for second, third and fourth opinion and all came back positive. Even more fortunately he agreed to release news to everyone and allow a major twitch on Saturday morning. For this Steve, we will all remain eternally grateful. Thank you! A fantastic find, a brilliant bird and I'm sure something Steve (and the rest of us) will never forget.

We arrived about 08:00 and immediately heard news it was still there. I rushed into the cemetery where Nigel Jarman gave me the lowdown. Just then the crowd moved - they'd got it and I was running. As I got to the crowd the guy next to me was watching it - I asked to look through his scope (thank you), and there it was - Dusky Thrush!! Gary arrived and I pushed him towards the guys scope - got it. Relief.

I was soon enjoying views through my own scope and watched it on and off for about four hours. Its behaviour seemed odd, as it spent most of its time in a Sycamore just sitting still, sometimes even sleeping and allowing people fairly close without seeming too concerned. I joked that the only bird I'd seen behaving like this was an Owl. Occasionally it would catch flies in the canopy (not like an Owl) and every now and then flew into the tallest trees, before returning to its favourite canopy. However the large crowd, of over 1,400 people during the day, may have kept it from feeding on the ground. In hindsight I suspect it was preparing itself for the next stage of a long migration - I have seen waders (particularly) do this before departing overnight, and it was no surprise when it had gone by Sunday morning.

One of my first views as it sat atop a pine tree for ten minutes
We thought it was going to fly off, but it returned to the Sycamore tree for a rest
Occasionally it gave good open views
But most of the time sat and fed right in the thick of the tree cover
It was in perfect condition with no abnormal wear in feathers or bare parts
The thrush would disappear for periods, within the cover of the tree. This allowed for some playful crowd photography, which given the situation in a cemetery produced some amusing results.

Cheer up - you've just seen a Dusky Thrush! (Gary Howard)
That's more like it - now there's some happy faces! (Tony Greenland, Martin Casemore aka Plodding Birder, David Walker (Dungeness Bird Observatory Warden) and Sean Clancy)
After some much needed lunch (we left in such a hurry I'd eaten nothing all morning) we drove down to Chamber's Wall. Marc Heath had provided some info on the possible whereabouts of yesterday's Red-backed Shirke (Thanks), so we walked out along the concrete road, up the hedge and onto the railway embankment. A smart but quite flighty Spotted Flycatcher showed in the hedge where Whitethroats, Lesser Whitethroats, and Reed Warblers sang. A hundred or more Common Swift hawked over the fields and three Marsh Harrier hunted. We first checked the bushes out to the sea at Coldharbour, then walked with Brendan Ryan out to the Green Wall where we watched the smart female Montagu's Harrier quartering the banks. We then walked back along the embankment all the way to the Shuart crossing. A few Corn Bunting, more Swifts and a smart Yellow Wagtail were the best of our sightings.

Yellow Wagtail
We walked back to the concrete road discussing the day's events. Half way along I stopped and had one last scan down the hedgerow to our south. Just then Gary struck again "I've got a Red-backed Shrike" he mumbled. I half ignored him, then realised he really had got one. There in the close weeds was the stunning male Red-backed Shrike found yesterday. We watched it for five minutes then texted out the news. However in the few short seconds we were distracted it literally vanished. Chris, Anne and Matt Hindle happened past and together we all searched unsuccessfully to relocate it. We left them looking down the hedge. Very frustrating. As we left Chambers Wall a flock of Swallows and House Martins flew through and fed over the fields on their way north.

Adult male Red-backed Shrike
What a smashing way to end an unbelievable day