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.