Sunday, 25 January 2015

Quantity over quality

24 January 2015

Elmley and Capel Fleet

With little change in the ornithological scene I decided to try somewhere different. The sun was shining and despite a stiff NW breeze it was a joy to be outside. I decided on Sheppey and started the day at the Elmley NNR. I found a small group of Fieldfare adjacent to the entrance track but no Short-eared Owls, then drove very slowly along the track checking the vast flocks of birds that are enjoying the damp grasslands this winter. In addition to significant numbers of Lapwing I found several large flocks of Curlew, Golden Plover and Starling numbering many thousands of birds. Among one flock of Curlew I found at least a dozen Ruff. Several Marsh Harrier and Common Buzzard were seen hunting beside the track and over the fields.

Any visit to Elmley begins with close views of Lapwing along the entrance track
After parking at Kingshill Farm I walked out to the reserve. The habitat is looking absolutely fantastic with lots of wet fields and flooded ditches. Vast flocks of Lapwing and Wigeon were in fields, ditches and seen flushing from the Swale. As I walked along the track I was surprised to find a young male Bearded Tit feeding on a reed frond. It gave great views in the sunshine and allowed a close approach.

Female Bearded Tit

I continued on to Southfleet Hide where the sun was behind the hide and the views across the flood were perfect. There were huge numbers of Wigeon, with smaller numbers of Teal, Shoveler, Pintail, Gadwall and Mallard. Along the back of the flood a flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese was feeding and at least 7 Marsh Harrier, a Kestrel and 2 Common Buzzard were hunting. I checked through the flocks of at least 12,000 Wigeon hoping to find something less common, but only found 2 Black-tailed Godwit. I spent a while wondering how I might tell a European (limosa) from an Icelandic (Icelandica) Black-tailed Godwit in winter plumage, concluding there were no real features, and judging the bill length was impossible with a lone bird.

A Marsh Harrier spooks the Wigeon

Vast flocks of Wigeon spook from the flood

Eventually I dragged myself away and walked into the stiff NW breeze. The rising tide had pushed good numbers of waders close in and the new viewing screen allowed good views of about 1,000 Knot and 150 Dunlin. I first visited Elmley in 1981 and have to say the new management have made some nice improvements. There are now several nicely placed benches along the well maintained track, a screen for viewing Sharfleet Creek, a new wheelchair access pathway to Wellmarsh Hide and the reserve itself has been well maintained. A photographer wandering along the counter wall across the back of the flood was soon rounded up and sent back to the path, and told to walk below the skyline (A.T.G.A.N.I). The weather has surely helped in providing a lot of water across the fields, however the number of birds here is truly incredible, from the entrance track right across the reserve and the habitat looks fantastic for the breeding season ahead.

Knot feeding along the tideline
Scanning from the track as I left the reserve I found a distant Brown Hare and a Red Fox, and more large flocks of Wigeon, Curlew, Golden Plover and Lapwing.

I decided to drive over to Capel Fleet. Scanning into the sun from the hill I found 2 White-fronted Geese in the Greylag flock beside the fleet. Marsh Harriers were typically obvious hunting across all of the fields. From the viewpoint a Common Buzzard and a large flock of Mute Swan. I returned to Capel and scanned for a while finding a male Peregrine back towards Shellness, two more Common Buzzard, a Kestrel and a dozen Marsh Harrier. Out towards Elmley were huge flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover. From this new view point I rechecked the Greylags into the sun finding 2 or 3 Barnacle Geese feeding behind the flock.

A local stroll

18 January 2015

Sevenoaks Wildfowl Reserve

After a morning in the garden I decided I needed a walk and headed over to the Sevenoaks Wildfowl Reserve, just ten minutes down the road. The car park was pretty full with lots of families enjoying the fresh air.  I wandered around the north western side of the lake seeing two superb Goosander among the commoner Tufted Ducks and Pochard. I was surprised to find a small crowd of people by the gate into the large sheep field, the American White Ibis continues to attract visitors, though most seem to be interested locals who have read about it in the local papers. It was feeding actively in the field but quite distant so I resorted to my digi-scope setup to get an image.

American White Ibis
Seems quite at home
I watched it feeding for about half an hour. Two Ring-necked Parakeet flew noisily overhead and a smart dark Common Buzzard hunted for worms from the wind break. I walked back to the lake and sat in the hide enjoying views of at least 80 Common Snipe feeding in the wet grass and out on the many islands. A few Lapwing, Black-headed and Common Gulls, plus 2 Great Black-backs and 3 Herring Gulls on the islands. I wandered along the nature trail to the tower hide and then to the reedbed hide. It was relatively quiet but a pre-roost gathering of Reed Bunting was interesting.

Monday, 19 January 2015

A fabulous hour in the rain

17 January 2015

Chilham, Hythe and Dungeness

Following a very cold night it was an icy drive down to Chilham. The sun was shining when I arrived and as I drove up the lane to the Community Centre car park the Great-grey Shrike was already sitting sentinel in the sunshine on top of the hedge. I watched it from the road before it dropped into the hedge and caught a mouse. After another 15 minutes it reappeared and moved back into the sunshine to warm up.

Great Grey Shrike
When it dived back into cover I decided it was a good time to depart. Next stop was Nickoll's Quarry just to the south of Hythe. I parked along the lane near Bottolph's Bridge and walked across the fields and over the railway. Two showy Long-tailed Tit fed in the hedge beside the path and a couple of Song Thrush flushed from the icy ditch. 

Long-tailed Tit
I quickly found the green trailer from where I scanned the lakeside bushes. The juvenile Night Heron was quickly found, back on, low down in the nearest bush. As I watched it woke up and had a look around and a preen before resuming its original position.

Juvenile Night Heron
Next stop was Lade Pit near Greatstone. Just before I arrived the wind started to pick up making viewing across the lake quite difficult. I scanned through the duck and again failed to locate the Red-crested Pochard. A single Goldeneye, lots of Coot, Teal and a few Tufted Duck and Pochard. I then moved down to the fishing boats on Dungeness point where a reasonable gull roost had gathered. I parked and scanned through them. Nothing obvious but I decided to stick around and see what arrived. Scanning offshore a Great Skua flew past, with numbers of Kittiwake, Gannet, Red-throated Divers and auks flying by. As I started another scan of the gulls five Polish youths appeared and walked straight out across the shingle. As the gulls started to flush one of the group decided to run into the roost flushing every bird, then turned to his mates with a big grin as if to say how clever he'd been - I wasn't grinning!

The gulls were really spooked and did not return. I was just considering walking out to the shore when a few drops of rain hit the window. Within minutes it was hammering down, soaking the five flushers as they rushed back to their car - shame ;-)

With the rain pouring down I drove towards Scotney, seeing a Great White Egret on ARC two Little Egret next to the chicken sheds and one of the Cattle Egrets hunkered down under the cows opposite Wraxall's. On Scotney a Black-necked Grebe and the Scaup were quickly located. I headed back to the beach hoping the gulls had returned, but only a few birds were present and nothing unusual. However I could see the weather breaking and decided to get onto the RSPB reserve and hopefully get out to Makepeace Hide before the rain started again. A second Great White Egret was feeding on the pool beside the track. 

There were huge numbers of dabbling duck on Burrowe's Pit, mainly Teal, Shoveler and some smart Pintail. 

The huge flock of Teal, Shoveler, and Pintail takes flight
A third Great White Egret flew over to Scott Hide where five Smew, including a smart drake, were floating around. As the rain stopped I walked over to Scott Hide and quietly walked in so as not to disturb the Egret which was less then 3m from the windows. I managed to get in and carefully open the window, but it walked into the bushes and out of view. The rain started to hammer on the roof and the back of the hide and I was marooned. With nobody else walking around the reserve I enjoyed one of the best hours birding ever, and without moving from my seat. 

Great White Egret in the rain

The male and four female Smew decided to feed right beside the hide, swimming under some reeds and into a tiny pool that seemed literally full of small fish. Almost every time they dived they resurfaced with a small perch. A Little Grebe swam back and forth, two Firecrest flicked along the bank, two Water Rails started fighting, two Raven flew over, the Great White Egret flew out of the bushes and fed in full view, and just to cap it off a Kingfisher flew in and fed from the posts in front of the hide. This action went on for over an hour and at times it was really difficult to know where to point the camera. The light was very challenging but seems to have created some interesting images.

Little grebe
Dazzling even in overcast conditions

Even this Moorhen got in on the Perch action
I eventually dragged myself away and into Makepeace Hide. I scanned the bathing gulls as they washed off the salt and headed off to roost. A superb first winter Caspian Gull was the highlight, looking like the bird that has been around for a couple of weeks. A great end to a great day out - despite the rain!

Tufted Duck

Male Sew