Saturday, 31 August 2013

Was I just trying too hard?

31 August 2013

Birchington and Grove Ferry

The weather charts all week predicted variable NNW winds on Saturday. The charts on Friday evening suggested the wind would strengthen from first light for a few hours before receding into the afternoon. This coincided with high tide along the north Kent coast. Although the winds coming off a low pressure bringing westerlies to northern Britain, rather than the preferred direct blow from the north, the reports of Long-tailed Skuas off Norfolk and Suffolk on Friday hinted at a few good birds in the southern sea. I was up at the crack of dawn and drove out. With the winds only expected to be about force 4, maybe 5 further east I drove on past Reculver and tried the clifftop at Birchington. I knew any Skuas would be generally more distant, but the dream of a Cory's Shearwater lured me east. 

Well in the event I needn't have worried about where to watch. Quite frankly I wouldn't have seen much less if I'd stayed in bed. Despite the slow start I kept convincing myself it would get better in the next half hour. After 2.5 hours with scant reward for my effort, and similar news from Foreness, Reculver and Shellness I called it a day. The sum total was:

Great Skua 5W
Arctic Skua 3E (with one hanging around a feeding flock of Terns offshore)
Sandwich Tern 53E (there were about 50 offshore and many very distant birds went uncounted)
Gannet 5W, 6E (probably the same birds seeing Sheppey and turning around)
Common Sandpiper 1E (flushed off the sea wall by a kite boarder)
Oystercatcher 2E

I'm surprised by the lack of birds and the rather distant views. I had expected a small passage of Skuas, though I thought Shellness and probably Reculver would see more. But that is birding and sea watching. Maybe in hindsight the wind was not quite right, but I'd rather be there and have a no show than not be there and miss a good passage. Maybe next time....

I drove to Grove Ferry and walked out to the viewing ramp. As I arrived there were about 15 other birders, but as I walked up the ramp they all packed up and walked away - the Spotted Crake had just shown itself. With Mike Enty and John Brighten I scanned the distant reed edge to no avail. A Ruff and about 30 Lapwing joined the mass of moulting ducks. I walked to the Feast Hide where Marc Heath informed me he had found another Spotted Crake from Harrison's Drove. After a quick scan I walked around to find half of Sussex occupying the hide and nowhere to sit. The Spotted Crake had not been seen, though one optimistic individual had seen a spotted blackish bird vanish into the grass and claimed it - only a Starling came out the other side and the two bird theory began. A Kingfisher dashed across the pool and away over the reeds to an unseen pool, and a Little Egret fed quietly in a shallow. 

I decided to walk back to the Feast Hide which was pleasantly empty. As I setup a Sparrowhawk flashed across the pool spooking the Lapwing and nearly landing on the roof, until it caught my eye looking back. Just then a female Kingfisher flicked around the reeds and landed on the perch just in front of me. I carefully lifted my camera and it stayed put. As I fired off the first few frames the hide door opened - thankfully the three guys were very quiet and careful and soon we were all enjoying the close-up opportunity.

A couple of Bearded Tit called from deep within the reedbed. Scanning the reedy edge two Water Rail gave surprisingly good views. A Black-tailed Godwit appeared and 40 Lapwing dropped in briefly.

After a brief look around Hersden where there was no sign of the Hoopoe or the Wryneck I drove out to Denge Wood to check the Larch avenue for any Crossbills. Walking down the track two trailbike riders came racing toward me. I waited until they were quite close and stepped confidently into their path. Riding motorbikes is not only banned in the forest its actually illegal - the Police can and do confiscate and destroy the bikes if they catch the culprits. They skidded to a halt, turned their bikes and raced away - idiots! Luckily for them I had no phone signal as the Police have signs all around the woods asking for information. Peace was restored.

The pathside vegetation was absolutely alive with Migrant Hawkers, which appeared to have had a massive emergence. There must have been over a hundred along a 500m stretch. In addition a few Southern Hawkers and Common Darter were also seen. 

Migrant Hawker - female
Up close with a Migrant Hawker
Migrant Hawker - female
Migrant Hawker - male
Southern Hawker
I reached the far end of the avenue without any sign of Crossbills. After photographing the dragons I retraced my steps listening carefully for the tell tale sound of larch cones falling to the floor. As I reached the other end I heard something fall into the vegetation and sure enough feeding high up in the Larch tree was an immature female Common Crossbill. Carefully searching the tree I found 4 birds in total, all immature. I watched them feeding for a while, and left happy with my extended mornings birding.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Back to reality

18, 25 and 26 August 2013


Sunday 18 August 

was spent shifting several tons of shingle around the greenhouse and vegetable patch. Once complete I wanted some air before my brother came over with my two gorgeous nieces for dinner. I decided to take a walk along the cliffs from Bockhill to Kingsdown. There were few birds around, just an occasional Fulmar along the cliffs and a few Swallow heading south, but despite the stiff breeze loads of butterflies. Common and Chalkhill Blues, a Small Blue, lots of Wall Brown, Meadow Brown, Marbled White and Large White. I managed to find a few small sheltered areas and grabbed some images. My recollection of the recent spate of messages about the Long-tailed Blue's suggested they were up the hill just after Hope Point. However on arrival I found that they had moved, or others had been found about 1.5 miles further on. I arrived and somebody pointed out a very worn male on its very last legs. It looked so battered I didn't even point the camera. He mentioned a better one was further along so I walked to the area of Everlasting Peas and searched, and searched and searched. Nothing. I returned to look at the battered one, but it had gone, perhaps even perished. Still the sun was shining and I enjoyed the brisk walk back. I arrived home about an hour late, but it was great to catch up with everyone.

Chalkhill Blue
Chalkhill Blue
Marbled White
A rather worn Marbled White

Sunday 25 August 2013

The forecast for the Bank Holiday weekend had looked interesting all week, with an easterly airflow and heavy rain predicted for Saturday. However birding in heavy rain is never much fun and with the downpours expected to continue well into Saturday night I figured most birds would still be around come Sunday and the sunshine would make birding more pleasurable. So Saturday was spent on a cultural visit to London looking around the Tate Britain Lowry exhibition and at a collection of Ronnie Wood art in a small gallery in Mayfair, either side of a fantastic lunch at Gordon Ramsay's Maze restaurant. As expected there was loads of news coming in all along the east coast, but I remained confident that it would be even better come Sunday.

Not having a local patch has its advantages - I don't feel tied to go back to the same place, and can roam as the weather dictates. However sometimes this flexibility can cause its own issues. The weather looked so good, and with scarce birds literally everywhere, I just could not make up my mind where to go. At 05:30 on Sunday I was up and decided to start at Grove Ferry - a late report of a Spotted Crake in front of Feast Hide being the bait. As I left home it was still raining heavily and over the downs it was almost torrential. In Canterbury another heavy shower, but it has stopped as I got out the car and walked to the hide. From the viewing ramp it was rather misty and I could just make out 10 Green Sandpiper, 1 Wood Sandpiper, 1 Spotted Redshank, 2 Redshank and a Ringed Plover through the murk. Martyn Wilson and Mark Chidwick were in the hide, but had not seen the Crake. A Water Rail was feeding ominously along the muddy edge in the reeds, a couple more Green Sandpipers and 2 juvenile Spotted Redshank. A flock of Lapwing dropped in and several Reed Warbler fed at the base of the reeds. After 45 minutes with no sign I called it a day and retreated to the Viewing Mound where another Spotted Crake had been seen yesterday. Scanning into the harsh light revealed the same birds as earlier but no Crake, and the water levels had risen somewhat due to the heavy overnight rain. I decided to head to the coast, but was not sure where to go.

At the roundabout with a decision on Margate, Ramsgate or Reculver I decided on Shuart Farm, parked the car and walked out along the path. A Common Buzzard flushed from the farmyard, a small group of 4 Willow Warbler, 2 Blackcap and 2 Whitethroat were feeding with a few Blue Tit. All were absolutely bedraggled. Several Sedge Warbler calling from the scrub were unusual and a soaked Drinker moth found alive on the path. Little else was seen along the path until over the railway. Here a few Whitethroat and a very brief Pied Flycatcher along the fence with 2 Robin. The Plum Pudding hedge held just an unseen Willow Warbler and a Reed Warbler. A scan of the sea produced nothing. With news piling in from further up the East Coast I started to question my decision. Should I be further East or was Chamber's Wall worth a look. Surely there should have been more birds here? News was now in from Grove Ferry. Not only had the Spotted Crake appeared from the mound but a Wryneck had been found along the track just past the Feast Hide!

I walked back to the car and decided to drive to Thanet. A Boot Fair at Foreness made me drive to Northdown Park. I walked to the NE corner. One Willow Warbler was the only migrant, dogs everywhere. I retreated to the car and drove to North Foreland. The fields behind Joss Bay held 7 Whinchat and 10 Wheatear, but there were loads of people playing golf and there were no migrants in the bushes further up the road. I checked the sea and found a few Arctic Skua and Gannet moving distantly. A short seawatch was in order. Over the next hour I recorded:

Great Skua 1
Arctic Skua 10
Skua sp 2 (Arctic/Pomarine)
Sandwich Tern 31
Common Tern 8
Arctic Tern 1
Little Tern 1
Gannet 81
Duck sp 9 (prob Wigeon)
Wigeon 6N
Dunlin 4
Ringed Plover 1
Common Scoter 8N

It was difficult to find any shelter and I assumed birds might be closer off Foreness, so decided to move (again). I arrived, parked and walked out to the water treatment works. Sheltering behind the wall I scanned - nothing! How could this be? The wind was just north of East, I was only a few miles around the corner from North Foreland. I scanned again - in the distance I just made out the unmistakable form of a Great Skua, then 2 more, and a couple of Gannet, but they were very, very distant. 

I drove back to North Foreland (again), checking another little migrant trap en route, where I found nothing - not a single bird. Seawatching produced only a Great Skua, 2 Sandwich Tern, 2 Common Tern and 10 Common Scoter - aaargh! There was now news coming in from way down the Thames at Rainham of 4 Sabines Gulls, and loads of Black Tern. From Canvey there was a Sooty Shearwater, what was going on?

With the frustration mounting I decided to head west. The wind was picking up and going more NE (apparently) so I stopped at Birchington. I scanned for another hour. 20 Common Scoter, a couple of Sandwich Tern and a few Gannet. This was hard work. By now with news of so many scarce warblers, flycatchers and buntings up the east coast I could take no more. I called it a day, went home thoroughly fed up and switched off the damned Twitter feed on my phone that had driven me to despair all day. Lesson learned - make your damned mind up and work one area.

Bank Holiday Monday 26 August 2013

After the horror of yesterday I had a lie in. Just as I was eating breakfast Andy Lawson phoned to say Phil Chantler and Brendan Ryan had found a superb Western Bonelli's Warbler at Hope Point. Mandy and I had talked about a nice walk and with sunshine predicted I easily talked her into a walk along the cliffs from Bockhill. We were soon on site, but the warbler had vanished almost immediately after the initial sighting. We spent ages checking the area, talking to lots of friends and seeing just 3 Willow Warbler, 2 Chiffchaff, 10 Whitethroat, 3 Lesser Whitethroat and 2 Spotted Flycatcher. A few Swallows moved north as did a Sand Martin and a couple of Yellow Wagtail.

Spotted Flycatcher
We walked back to the Monument and went for some lunch in the village before returning in the late afternoon. We searched Bockhill Farm and the Freedown before walking back around Hope Point checking the gardens. The 2 Spotted Flycatcher were still showing well, 2 Willow Warbler, 2 Green Woodpecker and a couple of Whitethroat. No sign of the Bonelli's, but loads of Wall Brown and Chalkhill Blue kept us entertained. 

Wall Brown

As I had one last look along the edge of the gardens a movement ahead caught my eye - a Pied Flycatcher flicked out into view. As I grabbed my camera a second movement just below it - a Weasel with a large vole, which it dropped when it saw me. I took a couple of steps backwards, thinking it would want to return to its meal. Sure enough a minute later it crept back out of the grass, but my camera shutter spooked it and it fled. Another minute and it was back - this time it grabbed the vole and ran back into the grass. I assumed show over, but just as I started to move it ran back onto the path - saw me and dropped the vole. This time it came out and was a little braver, picking up the vole and crossing the path dragging its large prey, allowing a few images to be grabbed. Not quite a Bonelli's Warbler but a nice encounter (not for the Vole).

Weasel and vole

Saturday, 17 August 2013

A new bird for Reculver

17 August 2013

Oare Marshes and Reculver

Wood Sandpiper, Dunlin and Pectoral Sandpiper - Coldharbour Lagoon, Reculver
A fairly early high tide encouraged an early start at Oare Marshes, where the East Flood was typically covered with birds. Over 1,000 Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit made up the numbers, supported by 150 Redshank, 3 Greenshank, 40 Dunlin, 2 Curlew Sandpiper, 6 Ruff, 30 Avocet, 3 Common Snipe, 45 Golden Plover, 12 Ringed Plover and 3 Little-ringed Plover. At least 200 Black-headed Gulls, 1 Herring Gull and 1 adult Common Gull were loafing around the flood and five Little Egret were feeding or roosting on the islands. Three Water Rail were quite visible in the sedges. A small flock of Sand Martin headed south and a couple of Swallow drank from the flood before heading off. A male Marsh Harrier was hunting over the west flood from where three more Little Egret and a Greenshank were flushed.

Four Whimbrel flew over but refused to land and 2 Turnstone flew along the Swale. Around the reserve Bearded Tit were very vocal, and eventually two youngsters gave nice  views out in the open and put the camera to use. 

Immature male Bearded Tit
Clouded Yellow's were noticeable around the reserve perimeter with perhaps five seen and one settled briefly along the sea wall.

The Temminck's Stint was still present, lurking (unseen by me) on the shrinking pool to the west of the road. As the tide rose and little more came in I decided to head off, though was undecided on where to go. I quite fancied a walk to clear my head and drove to Chambers Wall, near Reculver. I walked out along the concrete road and then across the railway down to Coldharbour Lagoon. A couple of quite approachable Wood Sandpiper had been seen here over the last few days and I hoped might still be around. As I walked onto the sea wall I could see a small mixed group of waders on the exposed mud directly opposite. I lifted my bins, hoping to see a Wood Sandpiper and the first bird I saw, sleeping, instantly shouted 'Pectoral Sandpiper'. However I had left my scope in the car and the bird was front on and asleep (see below).

This is exactly the view I first had - Pectoral Sandpiper!
Still its yellow legs and breast band looked good, so I walked over to another birder sat on the wall. I asked if he'd seen the Pectoral Sandpiper and he looked at me quizzically - saying 'Wood Sandpiper' in a fairly stern manner. I said yes but to the right on the sand bar is a Pectoral Sandpiper and put him on it - turned out it was a new bird for him! I then called Chris Hindle and Marc Heath in case they were around and interested. As it turned out they both immediately said 'I'm on my way'. I then realised I had better get a photo so set about capturing it from the seawall. Fortunately it awoke and I got a slightly better image.

Pectoral Sandpiper wakes up briefly
I wanted to get a better shot, but was nervous of flushing the birds. I carefully crept a little closer and got a slightly better image.

However a closer Redshank spooked and everything took off. The Dunlin and the Pec flew west over the seawall and disappeared. I rushed along the wall hoping they had landed on the beach. A Common Sandpiper flushed from a Groyne where 2 Turnstone were roosting, but no sign. Then a jogger flushed the flock further up the beach and they flew strongly west along the beach - 'B******s!'. At this point knowing Chris and Marc were racing to see the bird I was really annoyed. I quickly called Chris thinking he might be coming in from the Reculver end and he might pick them up as they flew by, but he wasn't. He calmly said 'Don't worry they might come back'. I turned around to walk back towards the pool and heard Dunlin call, but couldn't see it. Back at the pool 2 Dunlin had reappeared, but no Pec. I turned around to see Marc running up onto the seawall with Derek Smith and another birder in tow. As I turned back to the pool the 2 Dunlin took flight as three other small waders flew low over them - another 2 Dunlin and the Pec - it was back!

I quickly called Chris who had realised what was happening and quickened his pace, Anne following right behind. Thankfully over the next 20 minutes all the locals arrived and managed to see it - the first ever Reculver record and much appreciated by all. It generally fed with the Dunlins on a small patch of exposed mud, though occasionally they would spook and fly around, sometimes hiding out under the over hangs of the saltmarsh vegetation before returning to their favoured puddle.

Pectoral Sandpiper flies in

A juvenile Redshank, a Greenshank, a Turnstone and three Common Sandpiper were also on the pool and a flock of 30 Common Tern flew east along the beach, a couple flying over the lagoon.

After watching the Pec for an hour and chatting to various locals I walked down to the far end of the lagoon where the two Wood Sandpiper had relocated. I carefully approached in the long grass and eventually got some stunning views as they fed unconcerned in the pool.

Juvenile Wood Sandpiper
Watching a fly getting within range
The two birds fed quite close together

Unfortunately my antics, lying in the grass, attracted a number of passers by who stopped to look, causing the waders to fly further down the pool. I walked back to the other end where the Pec had vanished. Barry Matlock had arrived just too late, but as we chatted the three Dunlin returned with their American/Siberian friend and resumed feeding. 

I decided to stop briefly for a quick look for Willow Emerald at Marshside. Within minutes about five had been located and as usual great views had - these surely are the most photogenic damsels I know.

Willow Emerald

Sunday, 11 August 2013

A Stour Valley walk

11 August 2013

Grove Ferry and Stodmarsh

Overnight 171 moths of 47 species were captured. The best included a Small Waved Umber, a Lime speck Pug, 2 Dingy Footman, a Scalloped Hook-tip, an Oak Hook-tip, and 3 Pebble Hook-tip, the first two Canary-shouldered Thorn and August Thorn of the autumn, and three Black Arches that included a huge female.

This afternoon Mandy decided on a walk around the Grove and Stodmarsh reserves with a brief stop at the Red Lion in Stodmarsh village for a pint half way round. We stopped at the viewing ramp, Feast Hide, Harrisons Drove and Marsh Hide on the way out. A total of 14 Green Sandpiper, 1 Dunlin, 3 Snipe, 2 Water Rail and 2 Little Egret were seen plus a huddle of eclipse ducks from the ramp. Two juvenile Marsh Harrier were playing in front of Marsh Hide. Otherwise the walk was frustrated by the overgrown pools, lack of any visibility and general lack of birds - hopefully some major management work is planned over the winter? Not a single Bearded Tit heard or seen all day surely hints at some issue with the habitat?

After a welcome pint we returned via Reedbed Hide then along the Lampen Wall around the river and back to Feast Hide and the viewing ramp. The main lake at Stodmarsh held good numbers of duck though most were sheltering from the wind along the far side, and a small flock of Sand Martin feeding up before their return to Africa. The river was pretty quiet, and the 'Water Meadows' were bone dry - which seems odd when there is a sluice onto the river? Surely this area should be kept wet for breeding and passage birds?

A roving tit flock was made up of mainly Long-tailed Tits, but a couple of phylloscs followed them out of the bush. A Green Woodpecker fed along the path. As we entered Feast Hide I encouraged Mandy by suggesting we'd see a Kingfisher (apparently I say this every time). After checking the pool and seeing the same 4 Green Sands, 1 Dunlin, 2 Water Rail, etc we were about to leave when Mandy said 'We never see Kingfishers here' to which I instantly answered 'Kingfisher!' as one landed with a fish on the tern raft in front. Mandy was able to watch it hovering for some time and making a failed dive, before it darted off across the pool towards the river. This seemed to change our fortunes as we walked back past the ramp and I decided to have one last look. I was looking with bins and Mandy said 'Aren't you going to put your scope up?'. Having seen nothing new I nearly didn't but as she seemed keen I casually got the scope out and set it up. The first bird I saw as I looked through was a Temminck's Stint! It was right at the back of the pool alongside two juvenile Little-ringed Plover (Oh how I love my Kowa scope). I pointed them out to two other birders and let Mandy have a look. Amazing - I hadn't seen one for ages and then find two in two days - hopefully the next one will be a Least Sandpiper or a Long-toed Stint....

The other birders enquired if I'd seen the Garganey, reported earlier. I didn't know there had been one and scanned through the mass of mainly sleeping ducks; Teal, Teal, Teal, Mallard, Teal, Garganey - there it is! Another amazing ten minutes after seeing next to nothing all day. The Temminck's flew to the far corner of the pool and disappeared behind a Willow Tree. Standing on a bench with my tripod at full height I could just see it hiding in the sedges with its Plover friends. We headed for home happy with another nice day out, trying to find a mobile signal to tweet out the news.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

A fantastic ten minutes

10 August 2013

Elmley and Oare

I wanted to get back to Elmley to look for that Snipe, and today was my first chance due to a rather busy week at work. With the high tide mid afternoon I was in no hurry particularly after sharing the evening with my great friend Pete Simpson and three excellent bottles of red wine. A couple of stops along the entrance track revealed several soaring Marsh Harrier and a smart Hobby sat on a fence post. 

As I cycled down the track from the car park I was paying attention to the cows and soon located the Cattle Egret, still golden naped, sitting on a gate. I checked the reedy ditch for warblers finding about seven Sedge and four Reed Warbler. I went straight to Wellmarsh Hide where I was stunned to see how much the water levels had dropped. There were just a few large pools and not many waders. As the tide rose about 35 Ringed Plover, 5 Dunlin and a Black-tailed Godwit arrived. A large flock of over 100 Oystercatcher flew along the Swale. Three Green Sandpiper, 1 Common Sandpiper, 2 Ruff, a handful of Redshank and eight Common Snipe were all I could muster. Three wing-tagged juvenile Marsh Harrier were sat on a bank by the entrance, and at least a dozen more adults were hunting and soaring around.

I managed to fight my way down the surprisingly wet and very overgrown path to Counter Wall Hide where the pool looks quite good. A few Avocet, 4 Green Sandpiper, 1 Snipe, 2 Redshank and 10 Teal were quietly feeding here. All the duck were sat in their brown eclipse plumage along the bank of the fleet. The main flood was bone dry so I didn't bother with South Fleet Hide, though a large blue water pump has appeared at the side of the flood so hopefully water will soon be re-introduced. I returned to the car and drove to Oare Marshes KWT. 

What a contrast! The flood here looks fantastic and surely justifies the wardens reluctance to drain water sooner in the season.  It was covered in wading birds, gulls and ducks. 

Some of the birds roosting and feeding on the flood at Oare

I stopped on the roadside beside a couple of visiting birdwatchers. As I scanned I overheard them saying they thought they had seen a Stint, and although they'd never seen one before thought it might be a Temminck's. They mentioned it had flown towards them so I looked away from the scope and down at the sedges lining the pool in front. There was a small wader creeping onto the dry mud beside two juvenile Little-ringed Plover - a moulting adult Temminck's Stint. I called over to them and they were delighted to have it confirmed and to get a better view. It soon flew over to the side of the flood under the hide, so I moved down the road to alert other birders. As we watched the stint flew back towards us and landed on the small island close to the road.

Adult Temminck's Stint lands on the close island
Tony Morris had arrived with his two nephews and Jack was very keen to see the Bonaparte's Gull that has been frequenting the flood for many months. I scanned all the gulls but couldn't find it, so moved down the road to check the distant grassy island where I've seen it roosting previously - there it was sat on the edge. As I walked back to alert Jack and Tony the gulls all nervously took to the air. Tony picked up a distant large raptor approaching - a Red Kite! We watched as it flew west over the houses and away. 

As I scanned back all the gulls had spread out on the water and I quickly re-found the Bonaparte's, but this time managed to get Tony and more importantly Jack onto it. I could now relax and check through the thousands of waders. Fifty super summer plumaged Golden Plover, 1,500 Black-tailed Godwit, 2 Knot, 1 Curlew Sandpiper, 15 Dunlin, 2 Turnstone, 1 Snipe, 20 Redshank, 6 Whimbrel, 1 Greenshank and 1 Oystercatcher. A couple of young Water Rail were feeding in the open along the edge of the water.

The Temminck's Stint reappeared along the channel over the bridge and I managed a few more photos before it flew back to the edge below the hide.


Washing in the pool
An interesting angle as it takes off after a wash
Note the white outer tail feathers