Tuesday, 30 December 2014

A Winter's Walk

28 December 2014

The Stour Valley

With post Christmas fatigue setting in we desperately wanted a long country walk, ideally with a suitably located refuelling stop. We parked at Westbere and walked down to the Stour, then along the swollen river to Fordwich. With none of the summer's dragonfly distractions Mac was quite surprised just how quickly we arrived, it usually taking over an hour just to get to the river!  The Water Meadows were very flooded and looked perfect for attracting birds, yet there was nothing feeding there. From Fordwich we walked up through Trenley Park woods, across the fields to the Stodmarsh road then dropped downhill into the Red Lion for a fantastic roast dinner. 

Other than a couple of heard only Chiffchaff, several tit flocks, a Treecreeper, good numbers of well concealed, calling Cetti's Warblers and Water Rails it was a relatively quiet stroll. With the sailing boats out on the Westbere Lake all the Great-crested Grebes, Tufted Ducks and Pochard were crammed into a quiet corner, but there was nothing unusual amongst them. 

After lunch we checked the Reedbed Hide, where a couple of Bearded Tit were heard, then walked out past the Marsh Hide, seeing just two Marsh Harrier, and on to Grove Ferry. A few more unseen Bearded Tit and countless Cetti's Warblers along the trail, four Water Rail calling from the reeds and a flock of Fieldfare and Blackbird flushed from various Hawthorns. As we left Marsh Hide a flock of five female Goosander flew low overhead towards Grove. The Feast Hide produced a small flock of very wary Teal, a few Gadwall and Mallard and the viewing mound provided a small Lapwing flock in the stunning sunset. As we jumped onto the bus at Upstreet a Sparrowhawk flew low overhead. 
Sunset over Grove Ferry

Saturday, 27 December 2014

A Boxing Day Bonus

26 December 2014

Pete Level and Dungeness

After a fantastic Christmas I needed to drive to Greatstone to drop Mark Hollingworth back at home, so when news broke late on Christmas Day of a Lesser Yellowlegs at Pett Level, I suggested a slight detour in the morning. We left mid morning after the bird had been seen briefly but flushed and with negative news coming through as we drove down I could easily have just gone straight to Greatstone. However I ignored such negativity and we pulled up beside the pools at Pett Level just before 11:00. I scanned through the small gull roost then climbed onto the seawall to scan the sea and surrounding marshes. A female Marsh Harrier sat on a bramble behind the pools, a very distant group of Common Scoter, about 100 Great-crested Grebe and a few Red-throated Divers were floating on a flat calm sea, two Knot flew onto the foreshore and three Redshank flew onto the back of the pool. 

I climbed into the car just as my phone announced the arrival of some bird news - the Lesser Yellowlegs was showing again at Pett Level. Noticing three birders on the seawall about 100m back along the road I drove towards them found somewhere to park and quickly walked up onto the sea wall and was shown this super American wader feeding in some puddles. Apparently it had re-appeared just as the Redshank flew in having been absent for three hours. Nice work!

Lesser Yellowlegs

After enjoying good views we drove along the coast road only stopping briefly to see the first-winter male Scaup at Scotney before dropping Mark at home. After leaving I checked the small gull roost at the fishing boats then parked at Springfield Bridge and walked the circuit around the RSPB reserve for some much needed exercise.

With not a breath of wind the lakes and ponds were flat calm and covered in wildfowl. Loads of Shoveler, Teal, Wigeon plus a few Pintail, Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Pochard were checked through. I found two Goldeneye and two female Smew along the back edge and three Great White Egret and two Little Egret around the edges. Two Chiffchaff in the Willows below the hides, a Raven flew over and then I checked the gulls. The main interest came from a large first-winter Herring type Gull that showed a long, black-tipped, pink based bill, similar to a similarly aged Glaucous or American Herring Gull. It was a striking beast but lacked any equally interesting plumage as far as I could tell. 

I then walked the remainder of the circuit hearing a few Bearded Tits on Hookers Pit, two Marsh Harrier and a close Kestrel sat in the Willows. As I drove back through Lydd the two Cattle Egrets were feeding in the usual field opposite the aggregate yard.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

More Cattle Egret action

20 December 2014


I needed to drop off a couple of Christmas gifts at Dungeness so did a little birding. The gull roosts were quite small so I wandered down to the patch where a reasonable gathering was sat on the beach some way past the Patch. They were really skittish and I couldn't get close. A third winter Herring Gull over the Patch showed a complete black tail and looked initially interesting, but showed no other anomalies. A single Mediterranean Gull offshore was the only oddity. A strong westerly was whipping up the surf and other than Gannets offshore I saw little activity. 

I next looked at Burrowes from Hide 1 but the rising water levels had flooded all the islands and there were very few gulls. A Great White Egret was feeding by the willows in front of Firth Hide. I decided to take a look at Scotney stopping en route to check the Cattle Egrets, which were feeding distantly along the back of the field. At Scotney the first winter drake Scaup was floating around at the back of the pit with the other Aythya ducks. While watching it Gary arrived and we moved to the far western end of the pit where Gary located the two Black-necked Grebes feeding distantly and we got better views of the Scaup.

Back in Lydd the Cattle Egrets had moved closer to the road and afforded good views. We ended the day at the Bird Observatory for mince pies and mulled wine with David, Gill, Martin Cashmere and Stephen Message.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Perfect positioning

14 December 2014

Isle of Sheppey

Mac wanted some fresh air so we decided to take a walk from Harty to Shellness. A flock of Lapwing in the field to the left of Capel Hill and a few Fieldfare along the road were the highlights as we drove to Harty. Unfortunately this once prime winter birding area has lost much of its wilder habitat and with it many of the star birds of prey, owls, geese, swans and wintering flocks of plovers. Several Kestrel along the roadside hinted at a productive breeding season. Parking near the Church we walked down to the sea wall and slowly out to the hide. The floods at the Swale NNR were surprisingly quiet with just a single badly winged European White-fronted Goose among the feral Greylag flock. A rather sullied and dirty looking Little Egret looked far from healthy and allowed very close approach, we nearly tripped over it hiding in the grass on the sea wall. It flew fairly strongly and there was no obvious sign of damage, but its wings and tail were stained and unkempt. 

We heard lots of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits, and a few Reed bunting. Outside the hide a Stonechat and a vocal Bearded Tit in the reeds. On the floods there were a few groups of Common Snipe among the Lapwing but not much else of note. A couple of distant Marsh Harrier, a Common Buzzard and several Kestrel were the only raptors.

We walked back into a stiffening and quite cold breeze as a large flock of Bar-tailed Godwit flew up the Swale. Back at the car we drove towards home, but before leaving the island I suggested a detour up the Elmley track to look for Brown Hares. There were lots of Lapwing beside the track and a couple of Marsh Harrier and Common Buzzard were hunting over the marshes. 

As we reached the wooden gate a Kestrel was sat on the post. I carefully parked so I could get some photos and even managed to manoeuvre closer. It seemed intent on something under the cattle grid below and at one point hovered a few inches above the metal pipes, unable to reach its prey. Frustrated it sat on the track and stared into the pit, eventually giving up and flying back to the posts.

Having enjoyed some stunning views and caused a minor traffic jam we drove further along the track. A Brown Hare was feeding down a grass path, but facing away and not very close, so I drove further. A second hopped off the track and into thick vegetation so I continued towards the farm and turned around, returning to the general area slowly and prepared in case it reappeared. I saw the Hare working along the back edge of the vegetation parallel to the track and moved ahead of it. Suddenly it turned towards us and hopped into full view - a couple of quick shots and it jumped onto the track and hot-footed it down the road and out of view. I was quite pleased with the results!

Brown Hare - Elmley

Sunday, 14 December 2014

A day of threes

13 December 2014


After a fairly sluggish start I drove down to Dungeness with my main intent to look for gulls. I drove across Walland Marsh and stopped to check the wild Swan flock between Hawthorn Corner and Lydd. They were quite distant but 23 Bewick's and a single Whooper were seen well through the scope. A couple of birders were just leaving and I asked if they had found the Tundra Bean Goose that had been in the field yesterday. They replied negatively but then said they had found three down the road near the Woolpack Inn. I drove back through the lanes seeing lots of Redwing and Fieldfare in the hedges. At the Woolpack I walked up onto the bank surrounding the reservoir and scoped the Mute Swan flock soon finding the two adult and one juvenile Tundra Bean Geese feeding in the cabbage crop. Across the marsh I found a couple of Marsh Harrier and a Common Buzzard.

I drove back towards Lydd seeing more thrushes and about 30 Tree Sparrows. I decided to visit the Cattle Egrets that have been showing much better recently opposite the car breakers on Dengemarsh Lane. I soon located them feeding under and around some old farm equipment, positioned my car and got some close brief views before they walked out of view behind the bank.

Along the beach I found just two small gull roosts so headed to 'The Patch' where up to 7,000 had been seen in the week. From the seawatch hide I could see a small feeding flock of birds over the boil and a roost of a few hundred gulls on the beach. However between me and the flock was a man, his son and two dogs! I walked quickly passing him on the seaward side hoping he'd realise the birds were of interest and give them a wide berth. He sort of got the point and went the landward side of the hide, but then encouraged his dogs to run down to the tideline flushing all the gulls before I even got a look. As they settled further along his dogs raced along the beach and off they went, many not returning. In total they spooked everything four times - leaving very few for me to check. I could find no Caspian Gulls in the now diminished flock so scanned out to sea where about 15 Red-throated Diver, 25 Great-crested Grebe, 1 Guillemot, 30 feeding Gannet and 20 Kittiwakes. Further scanning of the gulls on the sea found an apparent 3rd winter hybrid Caspian x Herring Gull, showing a dark eye, longish pale bill, but rather bulky build, broad head and Herring type wing tip.

Slightly frustrated at the utter ignorance of the dog walker (I don't mind him walking his dog but some consideration of what others are doing would be appreciated) I wandered back to my car. As I neared the gate a small greyish bird dropped onto the ground - a Black Redstart.

Black Redstart

I checked the few gulls in the fishing boat roost and then went to the RSPB reserve, hoping there might be some gull action on Burrowes. There was a large flock of about 100 Gadwall at the southern end of the ARC pit as I drove down the causeway. At Hide 1 three Great White Egrets were showing on either side of the pit, 3 female Smew and a Firecrest behind the hide. There were good numbers of large gulls but nothing unusual. From Makepeace Hide three Chiffchaff and 2 more Firecrest and a Kingfisher flew past. 

Sunny Chiffchaff outside Makepeace Hide
 A Firecrest feeding in the dry Willowherb 
Showing off its fiery crest
What a stunner
Surely one of the UK's most stunning birds?
The gulls provided interest with their comings and goings and included an apparent hybrid adult Caspian x Herring Gull. As I walked back to the visitor Centre a Great White Egret flew in to the close bushes outside Firth Hide. 

I finished the day back at Dengemarsh Lane and enjoyed stunning views of the two Cattle Egret feeding right beside the road.

Cattle Egret having a stretch

The two Cattle Egrets along Dengemarsh Lane