Sunday, 30 March 2014

Overwintering exotica

29 March 2014

Sandhole, Snodland

A Hoopoe was found in Sandy Lane, Snodland back in January, occasionally and very infrequently visiting the lawns along the road. However it largely eluded birders. Last weekend Jeremy Hall managed to pin it down and a number of birders caught up with it in the gardens around the small hamlet at Sandhole. Despite the location being literally five minutes from my home I hadn't visited. 

With a quiet, sunny morning and the need for some fresh air I decided a five minute drive was about right and headed over late morning. The Hoopoe had been seen early on out on the Golf Course, but had disappeared. I spoke to a couple of birders leaving the site having not seen it and got the low down on when and where it had been seen. I walked out across the golf course and through some of the scrubby surrounds. I saw at least 8 Green Woodpecker, 2 Common Buzzard and a Kestrel plus the usual hordes of Magpie. I reached the sand pile and the mounds near the horse paddocks on the Birling side of the course, but there was no sign.

Glancing at my phone I discovered that it had been seen within the hour I'd been on site in 'the horse paddock'. A this point I was surrounded on one side by a string of horse paddocks and stable buildings, some even containing horses. But there were no birders anywhere in sight - ad definitely no Hoopoe?

I re-checked the paddocks and with no sign wandered back to my car at the Golf Centre. Just before I arrived I walked onto Sandhole Lane and scanned a field. As I stood there a birder on a bicycle came hurtling past and disappeared up a footpath running up the hill to the right of Sandhole Farm. He just looked like he knew something so I decided to follow. Half way up two birders came the other ay and pronounced 'It is still there'. A few paces further and I was watching the Hoopoe quietly feeding along the edge of a large lawn. It often wandered into the light woodland feeding in the fallen leaves, but would return to the lawn edge if undisturbed by the Rabbits, which seemed to like chasing it around. Apparently it had been here for nearly two hours - for the record, horse paddocks are easily identifiable - they have a stable and usually a horse in them! This is a large garden lawn. For future reference it is also easy to explain where it is - on the hill behind Sandhole Farm. Apparently it spends quite a lot of time in this field and some of the surrounding gardens, though these are largely very private and impossible to view. You can just see part of the garden behind (with the trampoline in it) from the footpath that runs to Sandy Lane, and can see the large mown lawn (with the poly-tunnel in it) on the footpath that runs into the golf course from Sandhole Lane to the right of the line of conifers.

Hoopoe and Rabbit 

Feeding in the leaf litter
Enjoying the sunshine
Heavily cropped

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Odd looking Gulls

22 March 2014


Gary and I decided on a day down on the Marsh and Dungeness peninsula. We drove slowly across Walland Marsh checking the hedgerows and fields. About 15 Tree Sparrow were around the feeders near Old Cheyne and a couple of Yellowhammers at Midley Cottage. The large grazing field beyond Hawthorn Corner held two male Wheatear, 12 Fieldfare and a Redwing.

Rather than head straight to the beach we drove out to Denge Marsh. The farmer was moving the sheep along the road so we stopped and scanned the floods, seeing a distant Great White Egret flying from the ARC towards Hookers. The expected Marsh Harriers were hunting over the fields and reedbeds, but otherwise it was quiet with nothing at all on the flooded fields. We continued down the Gulley birding from the car. A singing Chiffchaff at the near end and another four in the gully beyond the dam. At the far end we found five Wheatear including a female feeding actively around some rubble. A huge Raven flew past towards the Power Station using the gulley as protection from the wind. With the red flags flying we couldn't venture down the Galloways Road so continued around Bretts where all we found was Steve Broyd.

Next stop was Scotney. Two Avocet at either end, a first-winter Mediterranean Gull on the shoreline and a mixed flock of Dunlin and Ringed Plover on the short turf was the most we could muster. Finally we headed toward the Patch, stopping for a chat with David Walker and Gill Hollamby who we met on the road. Having seen hordes of gulls distantly from Dengemarsh we were slightly surprised to find the Patch largely devoid of birds - just a handful of Common, Black-headed and Herring Gulls. Four Sandwich Tern flew east and another came close through the Patch heading west.

We drove back along the coast road finding a sizeable gull roost. A quick check found two birders photographing something so we set off across the shingle for better views. The usual juvenile Glaucous Gull was roosting at the far side of the flock and allowed some quick photos. I scanned through the flock and found another odd-looking bird. I suggested to Gary I'd got a 'Viking Gull' - a Glaucous x Herring hybrid. I managed a quick record shot before a woman walked through the flock flushing everything. Is this is a very pale Herring or some Glaucous influence? Seems on the small size, so maybe a back cross with Herring, or just aberrant?

Odd-looking first winter gull - pale or hybrid

The juvenile Glaucous Gull flew over us and out to the beach. I suggested we walk over to see if it was feeding along the tideline and sure enough we found it with a number of other commoner gulls. We enjoyed good views and took many photos over the next hour.

Adult Herring Gull
An adult Herring Gull with a Sea Mouse
Second-winter Herring Gull

First-winter Great Black-backed Gull

Juvenile Glaucous Gull

What a brute!

I occasionally scanned further down the beach to check the other gulls feeding on the surf. Suddenly an apparent 'white-winged' gull appeared and I ran along the beach to get some images before it flew away. I arrived just in time and grabbed some useful flight shots. However it clearly wasn't a pure white-winger. From below the wings looked silvery with a buff bar along the median coverts. However it showed a darkish collar and its bill was all black. Could it be a Great Black-backed x Glaucous Gull?

From below it looked almost like a 'white-winged' gull
From above a really odd appearance - dark tail band, and white-tipped brown remiges?
Heavily cropped image. Heavy bill and plumage suggesting Great Black-back and Glaucous influences?
It soon flew away along the beach and was lost to view. We walked back to the car stopping to check the roost one last time. One of the first birds I saw was a tiny, petite Herring-type Gull. It was stood on the edge of the flock beside a number of Great Black-backs and Herring Gulls. It was truly tiny, presumably a runt? Suddenly the flock was airborne and I missed it in flight - this time a Sparrowhawk.

The miniature Herring Gull? Could it be a Herring x Common Gull hybrid? Seems long-winged with dark tertials and
some of the patterning looks like a Common Gull perhaps? But the scapulars , white head and black bill look Herring?

We checked the ARC and New Diggings finding 5 Little Egret, the resident Black-throated Diver and a superb drake Goldeneye. Our final stop of the day was the RSPB reserve. Due to the high water levels there was little on Burrowes but we did find a single redhead Smew from Makepeace Hide. As we walked back a fairly tame male Wheatear provided the last photo opportunities of the day.

Male Northern Wheater - Makepeace Hide
Stunning in the last of the sunshine

Sunday, 23 March 2014


16 March 2014

Bockhill to Langdon

With the sun shining and amazing mid March temperatures (my car recorded 21C in Dover) we decided to go for a walk along the cliffs at Dover. We parked at Bockhill and as I got out of the car a Marsh Harrier circled in off the sea, having just arrived from France. I walked to the Monument to scan across the valley and woodlands and saw a small group of familiar faces on the cliff. I walked over with Mandy to find out what they had seen passing through this morning. Phil Chantler informed me of an impressive inward passage of birds of prey, including an amazing flock of 10 Red Kite (a total of 16 during the morning), plus Marsh Harriers, Buzzards, Short-eared Owls and Sparrowhawks. 

I decided to spend half an hour with the local birders seeing what else might arrive. It was great to spend some time with the guys, chatting and catching up while scanning the skies in 360 degrees in the warm sunshine and light NW wind. Phil quickly found me a very distant Red Kite over Kingsdown. Two Short-eared Owl appeared over the golf course and circled around, one landing briefly in the grass below us. At least six Common Buzzard were moving north over the valley, a Sparrowhawk and a Peregrine (a second bird over the valley) arrived off the sea and three more Red Kite appeared over South Foreland. Not bad for half an hours birding. 

After Mandy had finished a cup of tea at the Bluebird Cafe we set off towards Langdon Bay. The coastal path was very busy with a constant stream of walkers, joggers and sight see-ers. We enjoyed a nice lunch at the National Trust visitor centre then returned on the inland path. Two Grey Partridge, 2 Corn Bunting and 10 Yellowhammer were feeding in the stubble field and Skylark were singing right along the coastal strip where English Nature have left a broad strip of grassland. As we walked around the top of Langdon Hole I found two super Firecrest feeding quietly in the hawthorns. After a little effort I managed a couple of images before we continued on our way. Just a couple of singing Chiffchaff in South Foreland valley on the way through, but a lovely early spring stroll and in shirt sleeves!


Thailand 2014: Heading home

21 February 2014

Petchaburi Rice Fields

Grey-headed Lapwing
I decided late last night that I wanted to treat Mandy to a special last night of the holiday, and booked into the wonderful Banyan Tree hotel in Bangkok. This would mean leaving Khaen Krachan early and driving into the centre of Bangkok, but both seemed worthwhile. So we got up early and checked out of the Boathouse. We were going to stop off at the Petchaburi Rice Fields on the way, an area rich in birdlife and apparently affording good views of some of the commoner species. 

Having not had breakfast our first objective was to find coffee and something to eat. Now you would think that would be pretty easy, but we drove through Petchaburi and beyond, then had to about turn and return until we found a suitable stop. They didn't have much to eat but the coffee was apparently great. We eventually found the right turn off and were immediately into birding country.

A Black-shouldered Kite beside the road was a good start. We followed Nick Upton's useful notes along the Irrigation Channel Road, down the Fish Pond Road and finally around the track to the raptor viewpoints. The views were great but the considerable traffic along the roads made birding challenging. A few tracks off the roads allowed access to fishponds and pools, and the dirt track to the raptor viewpoint provided quieter  access across the rice fields.

Asian Openbill
Cattle Egret
Chinese Pond Heron
Chinese Pond Heron
Pond Heron, possibly Javan?
Hundreds of Pond Herons
Great White Egret
The many wet fields, fish ponds, natural pools and rice paddies attract incredible numbers of herons, egrets and waders. Numbers are estimated but probably under: Little Egret (500), Cattle Egret (1500), Intermediate Egret (100), Great White Egret (100), Pond Heron (1,000), Yellow Bittern (6), Purple Heron (6), Asian Openbill (350). The field edges and hedgerows host a variety of other species. Unfortunately the weather was not ideal for raptors, being rather misty and cool. However as we pulled off the Fish Pond Road a small pale harrier was circling over the fields. Unfortunately a moped came along the track and I had to move the car. By the time I got the scope setup it had dropped out of view, just appearing briefly before vanishing behind some trees. The views were distant through bins but I am pretty sure it was a female Pied Harrier, though unfortunately the views were inconclusive.

Slaty-breasted Rail
Over the next few hours we found Black-capped and White-breasted Kingfisher, Blue-tailed and Green Bee Eater (20), Long-tailed (2), and Brown Shrike (35). 

Blue-tailed Bee Eater
Blue-tailed Bee Eater swallowing a large insect
Green Bee Eater
Brown Shrike
Brown Shrike
Long-tailed Shrike
Long-tailed Shrike
Black-capped Kingfisher
On the pools we found Purple Gallinule (20), Slaty-breasted Rail, Ruddy-breasted Crake, Common Snipe (15), Marsh Sandpiper (12), Wood Sandpiper (16), Common Sandpiper (2), Little-ringed Plover (5) Black-winged Stilt (100), Red-wattled Lapwing (10). The wader highlight however came as I was scanning a field after the harrier sighting. A flock of waders appeared flying toward me. I was pretty sure they were Grey-headed Lapwing and sure enough as they came closer they proved to be this local speciality. The flock flew right over and appeared to land. We drove back along the road and found 32 of these super Lapwings along the far edge of a sandy pool. We later found another two in the rice fields.

Grey-headed Lapwing
Grey-headed Lapwing
I was surprised to find Pheasant-tailed Jacana (30) and Bronze-winged Jacana (40) often feeding out in the open in the rice fields, and also in some of the reedy ditches.

Pheasant-tailed Jacana in marsh
Bronze-winged Jacana feeding in the rice fields
Pheasant-tailed Jacana in the rice paddies 
Pheasant-tailed Jacana in a ditch
Bronze-winged Jacana up close
Over the rice fields were hordes of Barn Swallow and Whiskered Terns feeding often behind the tractors that presumably disturbed considerable insect life. Checking the reedy ditches proved fruitful for Yellow Bittern sightings, with six seen in total.

Yellow Bittern - initial views were typically obscured
But soon I found one standing out in full view - stunning
And walking around in the ditches

I found a Bluethroat feeding beside one pool, and 3 Wryneck were a surprise along the dirt track. I spent some time trying to photograph some of the Eastern Stonechats, which are apparently of the stejnegeri race.
Eastern Stonechat
Eastern Stonechat
Female Eastern Stonechat 
Eastern Stonechat 
Eastern Stonechat
I eventually managed to find a few acrocephalus warblers. Most were Black-crowned Reed Warbler, but I did find a couple of Oriental Reed Warbler as well.

Black-crowned Reed Warbler
Black-crowned Reed Warbler 
Oriental Reed Warbler
We found a few groups of Asian Golden Weaver, a couple of Plain-backed Sparrow, 8 Scaly-breasted Munia, about 20 Pied Fantail and several Plain Prinia.

Asian Golden Weaver
Asian Golden Weaver
Pied Fantail 
Plain Prinia
 We left early afternoon and drove north to Bangkok. We got slightly lost as we turned off the expressway and got caught in a massive tailback in the wrong direction. Eventually we turned around into a massive tailback back towards the hotel. With some assistance from Google Maps we eventually found our way in. The room was well worth the hassle - 57th floor with stunning city views and 30 House Swifts bombing around outside! I treated Mandy to a wonderful meal in the famous Vertigo rooftop restaurant, which sits on 62nd floor with 360 degree views of the city below! 

Bangkok spread below our rooftop dining table
Awesome views 
A great end to a fantastic holiday!