Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Christmas week

The discerning of you will have noticed that there hasn’t been an update since before Christmas. Well the reality is I’ve not been out much. The kids have been home for Christmas and since they are only around for a few days disappearing for a days birding would not have gone down too well.  We’ve also done a tour of the home counties delivering Christmas presents that we failed to get delivered due to the snow. This was made really unpleasant due to the number of people visiting Lakeside and Blue water for the post Christmas sales - the M25 was at a standstill.
I have  managed to grab the odd hour out here and there so I though I’d bring this diary up to date.
It was dull and wet on the 23rd but I read about the scaup at Dover and since I needed to go to Dover anyway I dropped by Wellington Dock  looking for the beastie from the comfort of the car.
I started at DeBradley Warf car park but no sign then went on to the west end of the dock…..still no sign.  I repeated the search and was about to leave when it put in an appearance by the bridge.. I only managed a few shot because the instant it saw me it paddled off as fast as it could and disappeared between the boats. I could just about see it but it spent a lot of time under the floating pontoons and amongst the moored boats.

I did try again on the 24th but whilst I was there it was even more distant and the pictures worse than the one above. I also had a wander out onto the Prince of Wales pier on the 24th but there was little to see – a single med gull on the hover pad and Stumpy the turnstone (or an impersonator) on the pier itself – it does respond to feeding so if you throw something down for it to eat it will come within a few feet of you.
Today (29th) I was going to go out for the morning  but I awoke to fog and drizzle – bring back the snow if this is the alternative!
I did eventually go out but more for the exercise than in expectation of seeing much.  I drove to Sandown Castle (North Deal) and wandered along the beach to the Chequers. Visibility was only ~ 50 yrds so I was working on the assumption that anything interesting would alow a close approachI would be able to see/approach  - I was thinking shore lark, snow and lapland bunting.
Within a few yards of the “castle” (not a castle now little more than a mound) I found a 1st winter med gull and a party of 5 turnstones and inland there were a few thrushes – 3 mistle thrushes being the highlight.
Further on some large puddles have formed between the footpath and the golf course so I went looking for jack snipe. Not to be but I did find a female stonechat (more scarce than shore larks this year) and 3 meadow pipits.
A bit further on I saw 3 birds flying north. They were out to sea and in the fog and I didn’t spot them till they were well past – I know this sounds crazy but they really did look like bitterns.
Once I reached the Chequers I went inland to the Cinque Ports GC reservoir but nothing there this morning and there were no geese on Worth Marsh but as I was counting the lapwing(60) I saw a sparrow hawk being chased by a crow. At the Chequers barn there were 6 corn buntings plus the resident house sparrows and chaffinch.
I decided to retrace my steps and went back onto the beach where I immediately found 4 snow buntings – the highlight of the walk. The light was rubbish and they flew off south into the mist almost as soon as I’d found them.
By now the fog was clearing a little and out on the sea there was a largish flock of ducks (~100). fortunately they took to the air calling – wigeon. With the fog thinning I could also see 13 gt crested grebes.
The only other thing seen on the way back were the turnstones – now up to 6.
On the drive home I checked Walmer paddock (I always do now with cattle egret and bean goose turning up in the last year or two) and saw an egret. One emergency stop later and I was looking at a little egret but it got the pulse going for a moment. I did take some pictures but the mist had decended again and the pics were rubbish.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

A superb day at Pegwell

Yesterday’s trip to Pegwell to see the barnacle geese, whilst short, did show that there were a lot of birds around – unlike most other places – so today I decided to spend the morning there.
High tide was not until  ~11.30 so what with the mist I was in no hurry to arrive and stopped off at Restharrow on the way. The scrape was totally frozen and devoid of avian life though from the state of the ice it is clear that geese are roosting there overnight.
The adjacent turf field did hold a reasonable population of birds with 24 golden plover, 58 lapwing, 4 dunlin and a ruff – which disappeared when a kestrel landed on the fence. As I walked back to the car I could just make out ~200 geese flying inland but they were too distant and it too misty to id.
When I arrived at Pegwell it was still very misty with the waters edge all but  invisible but it was the flocks of linnets that caught my eye. As I got out of the car there were 50 in a bush by the footpath these kept going out onto the salt marsh to feed for a few minutes then back to the same bush.
I then walked down towards the hide where another flock of ~200 were flitting around inland of the hide.
Phil was at the hide and we had a short chat before he walked off with Pete Forest and I walked down to the country park.
The country park had a decent head of redwing and blackbirds but there was a sparrow hawk buzzing around so everything seemed to be constantly on the move. As normal the redwings didn’t want their photo taken and walkers stopping to ask what you were doing didn’t help matters.
At the southern end of the park I found several groups of waxwings totally ~100 birds but as with the redwings they didn’t linger very long in one place and I failed to get close.
Barnacle Geese
As I made my way back towards the hide I was told by some other birders that I had just missed the male hen harrier but approaching the hide I met up with  Steve Ashton, Mike Gould and Phil  and a flock of barnacle geese had arrived – I made it ~120 strong. The barnacles disappeared NW when spooked by a bat coming down the river.
During the course of the next hour Phil tried to teach us the finer points of gull id. The yellow legged gull was easy enough but the Caspian decided to put its head under its wing just as we got onto it. Phil also pointed out the dark- and pale-bellied brent geese over on the hover pad.
Barnacle Geese
Some time later we picked up a flock of geese approaching from the south. This flock split into 2 with one group being made up of ~70 white fronts (plus a few brents) and the other group (~30 strong being) barnacles – I assume a different group from those who departed NW. 
White Fronted Geese
Wigeon mainly
There were a huge number of widgeon out there along with pintail, mallard, gadwall and teal and they were constantly taking to the air – quite often it seemed due to curlew flying by.
Whilst standing around watching the salt marsh we found a water pipit and 2 sparrow hawks shot along the sea wall hunting linnets – a little later we saw one of the hawks catch a linnet. We also got distant views of the male hen harrier but I picked it up too late and failed to get a shot.
We waited in hope for it to return but it didn’t however a chiffchaff turned up and provided the best shots of the day.
I didn’t spend much time looking at waders but lapwing, golden plover, grey plover, dunlin, knot and black-tailed godwit were all noted.
All in all a very good days birding. Shame about the picture quality!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Round up

I've not been out much this last week or so hence no reports.
Last week the main problem was hangovers - first from the Kingsdown Retired Gentleman's Christmas lunch then from a ball we attended on Friday evening.
After that there was the snow with passage in and out of Kingsdown being somewhat restricted.
On Friday I did have a walk over Worth marsh but little of note other than 2 (more) waxwings - but I don't care, I still think they are fantastic and have to take some pictures.

Today I had a couple of hours out between physio and dentist (just how lucky can one be?). I walked the track between the obs and the level crossing and as normal the hedges were full of thrushes. Redwings and blackbirds were most prevalent but there were good number of fieldfares plus several song thrush and a lone mistle thrush.
A sparrow hawk buzzed the hedge line 3 times (or 3 sparrow hawks buzzed it once) but I never saw it catch anything.
Most interestings sightings were of corn buntings. They were everywhere. Ian, from the Obs, reported seeing 60. I couldn't match that but must have seen 40. Reed bunting numbers were very low; I only saw 2.
Only other birds of note was a lone tree sparrow and 2 yellow hammers.

On the way home along the Ancient Highway I found 300+ lapwings south of the Chequers and whilst counting I spotted 5 grey partridge in the snow. I waited for ~ 10 minutes for them to come closer but they were taking too long and I had to go.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Oiled Diver and Waxwings

Dawn saw me at the Cinque Ports GC resevoir looking for the red throated diver. It was still there so I got into monkey mode and clambered up the tree for a few more pictures. I had hoped it would swim a bit closer but throughout it remained at the far end for the whole time I was there.
The shot I've attached shows the oil on the breast. I'm pretty sure it has some more on one side but I can't get a picture that shows this.

After the diver I went to Dover but no sign of any waxwings in Coombe Valley Road so Folkestone it would have to be.
There were none in sight as I arrived but other birders told me they had been around so I waited.
After ~ 20 minutes a small flock of ~30 arrived, had a feed then flew off after a few minutes. I took a dozen or so pictures but the light wasn't great.
Another wait of ~ 30 minutes then they started returning. Birds came in in groups of about 50 until there were 250-300 present. The light was a lot better now and as they dropped to feed I managed some decent images as they fed.
I stayed around for about another hour but the next time they returned the numbers had reduced and they stayed at the top of the roost tree.
I gave up at this point and went off to do my chores. I'm hoping I can resist the call of waxwings after today

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Shore Larks and Divers

Today I went to the point.
The only birds of note during the first part of the walk was a flock of 11 blue tits tumbling along in and out of the buckthorn. About level with  Princes new club house I found the two shore larks – the main reason for walking the beach. As per normal they just wouldn’t let me get close enough for a decent shot but it was good to see them again.
As I was trying to get a picture of the shorelarks 2 Lapland buntings flew past but they just kept going north until lost from sight.
I finally lost track of the shore larks up by the 100 Acre Field so I took this opportunity to have a good look in the wetter areas of the field for a jack snipe.
Despite my best efforts I couldn’t find one though I did see 23 snipe and get wet feet.
Of note in a negative sense was the total lack of any raptors around the point.
I made my way back to the beach where I found Gerald Segelbacher walking north - he too was looking for the shore larks. Gerald had seen 2 Dartford warblers just north of Princes club house.
We did walk up to the point but only saw the normal waders and ducks.
During the return leg we managed to relocate the shore larks and get a few more images. I also flushed a woodcock from the dunes and we saw one of the Dartfords by Princes but only as it flitted from one bush to another.
Also on the return leg I saw 4 corn buntings – numbers of these seem well down on previous years as are stonechats numbers  - again I saw none the whole morning. A sad consequence of last years bad winter.
As I got back to the car I received a text saying there was a black throated diver  on the Cinque Ports Golf Club reservoir (by the Chequers).
The good news was it didn’t take long to get there and I quickly got a few images  – the bad news was it was a red throated diver!!!!
Back at the cars we were scanning Worth Marsh for the previously reported white fronted geese (which weren't there) when a flock of waxwings dropped into a distant hawthorn bush. At first there only appeared to be 20 or so but by 10 minutes later the flock was 50+ strong.
A nice end to a decent mornings birding.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Grove then the Garden

I actually managed to get to Stodmarsh before it got light today joining Martyn on the Lampern Wall to watch the harrier roost depart.
20 or so marsh harriers were seen during the next hour along with 2 ring tails and one very distant male hen harrier. Sue Morton managed to join us  just as the action finished (her timing is “better” than mine!)  and we soon departed to the Reed Bed hide.
During the next 90 minutes or so in the hide we saw 2 bitterns, one flying from left of the hide right across the front and eventually disappearing over the Lampern Wall and a second dropping into the reed bed in front of us.
Other highlights during our stay were a peregrine which seemed more intent on frightening the ducks rather than catch them, swooping down then rearing back up into the air, and a ring tail hen harrier that flew across the front of the hide along the edge of the reed bed nearest the main lake.
After last weeks fiasco today I was prepared with the camera primed and ready – the only problem was it was still pretty dark and I had to use ISO 200 and still only had 1/300th sec!!!!!

Also from the hide I had supern views of 2 Cetti's one displaying enthusiastically. I think the warmer weather must have confused them into thinking it's spring.

I departed for home at ~10.00 but on the way I checked for the St Georges waxwings and the Chequers white fronted geese but nothing doing however at the Chequers barn there were 7 corn buntings and 4 linnets feeding quite close to the road in amongst some new straw by the muck pile.

The afternoon was spent initially watching the Leicester pack being given a lesson in the fine art of  crumaging by the Perpignan eight but then I noticed a grey wagtail around my koi pond and there it stayed for the next 2 hrs.

Whilst I have feeders with the normal peanuts and sunflower seeds etc nothing ever visits them and the seed I put out on a tray gets eaten by wood pigeons, collared doves and magpies. I have, however, had a few thrushes and a wren in the garden so during the snow I got in a stock of dried meal worms and I put a few out everyday. No sign of the wren or thrushes but the grey wag helped himself to several of the meal worms but seemed to be more interested in catching small insects around the pond. Still he was a welcome bit of colour and provided the best pictures of the day.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Another Day on Worth Marsh

Most of what I am going to say is a repeat of the SBBO report for the day as Ian and I strolled around and across Worth Marsh.
The day actually started at St Georges where we saw the Sandwich flock of waxwings - 22 today. I took a few shots but the angle to the sun was all wrong and they were rubbish.
The stroll across Worth marsh was very productive and although cold it was not as cold as the other option - a walk to the point.
Along the track to the train gates there were plenty of thrushes (blackbird, redwings and fieldfares) though most were on the southern side of the hedge and could only be heard departing. The only birds I got a decent view of were the reed buntings where at one point 17 could be seen in a single bush.
Onto the marsh proper and almost immediately we started seeing raptors in the form of marsh harriers and sparrow hawks (2).
We actually settled on 4 marsh harriers in total but over the course of the walk saw them on at least 10 occassions. There were definitely 2 different males, one being particularly light, 1 female and one very dark juvenile.
Near to roaring gutter we again saw the king fisher flying across the frozen pasture. Also out on the pasture were several hundred duck (wigeon mainly) and 20 dunlin.
Once across the train lines (and on the Chequers side of the tracks) we saw more dunlin (~10) and continued to see the marsh harriers. Then we had a falcon fest.
It started with a peregrine sitting on the bank of one of the dykes. Then Ian spotted a merlin flying north (distant) whch was quickly lost from view only to be replace by 2 more peregrines having a skermish - from the size difference they must have been a male and female, all the time the dyke peregrine staying put.
The final significant sighting was as we approached the Ancient Highway. As we walked through the tussock grass we put up ~20 common snipe and 1 jack snipe - the latter taking to the air when I nearly trod on it (though I have to admit I hadn't seen it until it took to the air).
Walking back along the Ancient highway the new turf field had a decent head of mippits and skylarks (no lapland bunting) and a flock of 15 linnet. This one was on the lapland bunting track
Yellow hammer
The final bird of note was on the Obs track where a yellow hammer was hiding in amongst the chaffinches.
So a good day for the birds but not so good with the camera. Because of the great light I had the thing ready for raptor shots for the entire walk but none came close enough even for a record shot.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

An Unexpected Find

I had to go back to Dover today so had another go on the Prince of Wales Pier. No sign of the snow bunting today though I could have predicted that because I had the camera out and ready.
Grebe numbers were up on my previous visit with 20 in the main harbour and 5 where the cruise liners berth with a few of those in the main harbour fishing very close to the pier.
Also fishing right up to the pier was a cormorant but no sign of a diver or shag.

As I approached the end of the pier a kittiwake cruised past - I didn’t realise the adults developed both a black and dark grey smudge on the neck in winter. (it doesn’t help that most of the field guides only show the adult in summer plumage choosing to concentrate on the juvenile).
The pier held more turnstones today (6+) but I think this may be due to more fisherman being on the pier.

 I was just about to call it a day when I noticed a seal right beside the pier, just where a couple of the fisherman were. At first I though it was an amazing stroke of luck and approached very cautiously but I was told by the fisherman that it had been around for several hours. The guys were feeding it any small fish (small  pollack I think) they caught. Talking to them one estimated it had been fed about 5 lbs of fish.
Other than in a zoo this was the closest I had been to a seal.
I watched/photographed the seal for 15-20 minutes and it was still there when I departed.
Getting some decent images was a bit of a challenge because of the light. I had to go to ISO 640-800 to get any shutter speed and even then I was only at 1/200th or so.
Looking at the pictures I obtained you can see that as the seal surfaces the water takes quite a long time drain off its fur unlike with ducks where they look dry immediately.
A very enjoyable hour!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Gt White Egret on Worth Marsh....again.

Today I had a walk over Worth Marsh with Ian Hodgson and Roger Thompson and a pretty productive walk it was to.
Throughout the walk we were seeing loads of blackbirds (~70), redwings (~150) and fieldfares (~300) and on the footpath to the train gates we saw tree sparrows (9), yellow hammer(3) and possibly 30 reed buntings. At the train gates there were 2 possibly 3 bullfinch calling though I only saw a female.
As we went out onto the marsh we heard the first of 4 Cetti’s, 2 of which were seen at the start of the double dykes at Roaring Gutter.

Also as were approached Roaring Gutter a kingfisher flew past then almost immediately we had superb flight views of the great white egret which landed in a distant ditch and disappeared from view.

Ian has permission to cross the marsh (from the RSPB and local farmers) so from Roaring Gutter we headed across the fields/marsh towards the Chequers.The marsh held a good head of duck – wigeon, teal and mallard mainly but also shoveller and gadwall – all of which took to the air as soon as they saw us.

Near the rail tracks we had 2 chiffchaff, one of which posed patiently whilst I got the camera out and adjusted the exposure – why can’t they all be that cooperative!
On the Chequers side of the tracks we saw a merlin and peregrine and put up ~30 snipe – though not a jack amongst them.
No sign of the Lapland bunting today nor any short eared owls.

After coffee at the Obs I checked out St Georges for the waxwings but they seem to have moved on – they weren’t there first thing either. Perhaps they got scared off yesterday by the attention they got.

On the way home I stopped at Kingsdown rifle range but still no sign of the black redstart and the stonechats seemed to have disappeared. I just hope they survived.
The fulmer numbers are building though – could be 20 there now - and the rock pipits we there in good numbers though the poor light by this time hindered my photographic efforts.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Unexpected immigrants

The day started at Sandwich where the waxwings (13 today) were still down near St George's Golf Club. Thrush numbers on the estate were pretty high with a lot of redwing, fieldfare and black birds around but we also saw both mistle(2) and song thrush.
After that a shopping trip to Dover ended with me taking a look at the western docks from the Prince of Wales pier.
Out in the main harbour was a raft of 15 great crested grebes plus another 2 or 3 fishing and a cormorant. No sign of any divers or shags though - the hoped for target.
As I walked further along the pier I heard a bird call and looking up saw 3 small pale birds flying towards the shore but lost them before they landed. The call was familiar but I couldn't remember what it was, however I was sure it was one of the winter buntings/larks.
My concern was short lived because a few minutes later there was a snow bunting perched on the pier wall - I've now checked and can confirm the calling birds were snow buntings.
Needless to say the bunting flew off before I could get the camera out.
I walked on to the end of the pier but nothing else of note  - only the common gulls (not even a med) and a lone turnstone..
On the return leg (it was now trying to snow) I found another 2 snow buntings, this time on the pier road, but again they flew before I could get close.
As I made my way back I was wondering what snow buntings were doing on the pier but then I found out  - at then landward end of the pier you can look out onto the old hovver pad - there were the 3 buntings feeding amongst the weeds growing there.
I could try to claim there were 6 but I suspect the 3 I saw flying were the same as those I saw a little later on the pier/hovver pad.

Harriers, Owls and Waxwings

Well in trying to sort out the formatting of this blog I have managed to delete it so here we go again.
I arrived at Stodmarsh somewhat later than anticipated due to the cricket so missed the main harrier exodus (for a full report see Martyn Wilson's blog; Martyn and Mark had been there for about half an hour when I arrived). There were still some harriers around though with 7 in the air east of the Lampern wall at one time. Whilst on the wall a bittern was seen (distantly) landing next to the reed bed and proceeded to slowly walk alongside the reeds for ~10 minutes. The highlight of my session on the wall was a superbly marked barn owl that drifted along the wall and disappeared in the direction of the river. The light would have been ok for a picture but needless to say none of us was ready
After the harrier activity had stopped we retired to the reed bed hide for breakfast. Whilst there we saw a further 2 bitterns flying, again very distant, with both landing in the reeds in the general direction of the lake hide. Also whilst sitting in the hide a superb male sparrow hawk cruised across the reed tops and landed on one of the posts set in the lake in front of the hide. Now you woud have thought that the episode with the barn owl would have taught us a lesson and the cameras would have been ready for action. No way. There was a mad scamble to get the cameras out but after 10 seconds the bird was gone and so was the photo-opportunity.
We had a quick look in Alder wood but only found ~30 sisking so it was off to Fordwich/Westbere.
Overall Fordwich was a disappointment with little of note seen other than more siskins and 3 goldcrests.

Cutting our losses Martyn and my self decided to return to Sandwich and drop in at the Obs for a coffee and to see what had been found locally but we only got as far as the car park.
As we arrived we were told of a flock of waxwings on the Green Wall (at the St George's end), adjacent to the white iron bride, so it was back in the car for the short drive.
We immediately found them (14) sitting in the hawthorns on the opposite bank and this is where the birds stayed for the next hour allowing everyone who came along to have great views.
The real interest of the session was every 10-15 minutes the birds dropped down to the river bank to drink. They would land on some fallen reeds and often be chest deep in the water. It was the depth of water they stood in and the frequency of the drinking that were a surprise. I'm left wondering whether the periodic disappearance of waxwings from other feeding sites is them going off to have a drink.
The light was poor but some reasonable general shots were obtained perched in the branches and well as some interesting ones of them wading.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Kingsdown in the snow

Today it finally stopped snowing.
I know that compared to more northern counties we've not had much but 6 inches or so but it is still enough to shut down most of the village. So with the cars stuck on the drive I had a wander around.

Down on the beach the sea was calm with a mist coming off the surface showing the water temperature to be significantly warmer than the air temperature - the beach huts providing a little bit of colour for a picture. (I took a picture of the mist but it didn't show very well)

And the fisherman's cottages looked like a scene from a post card.

Along to the rifle range and no sign of the resident stonechats (I hope they haven't perished; not many survived last winter) though I could hear a robin and some rock pipits. I didn't linger though as a rather nasty northerly breeze got up prompting a retreat inland and the shelter of some trees.
I walked up the Oldstairs road and at the bottom of Kingsdown Hill I found a gold crest (though I think there were more present from the calls). As I continued along to Otty Bottom by far the most common bird were blackbirds, they were everywhere, with a good head of robins thrown in.
As I got beyond the riding school I had a nice surprise as I flushed 3 snipe from the hedgerow. They flew along the track and disappeared back into the hedge only for me to flush them again and again. I had hoped for some woodcock but this is the first time I have seen snipe along this track so not a bad substitute.

The track actually leads all the way to St Margarets but I only went as far as the open fields and here I lingered for a few minutes to let the birds get used to my presence and allow a few pictures to be taken. As it was blackbird, redwing and robin all posed nicely. Also around were chaffinch, goldfinch, blue and great tit but none of these came within camera range

I wasn't expecting anything different on the walk back to the village down  but near the riding school I flushed 2 woodcock and then a 3rd on Kingsdown Hill.  I don't know where these had been on the way out.

That was about it on the avian front and for the rest of the walk I had to make do with the scenary. Back in the village the main road through the village(Upper Street) was now clear of snow as were the other "main" roads but getting to them will still pose a problem tomorrow - we've got to get to the shops or starve.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Bunting brightens up the day

Today was not very inviting with snow, rain and a north easterly wind.........however I had to go to Sandwich to get some pet food.
On the way back I first stopped at the Obs for a cuppa then at Restharrow scrape where some waders had been reported.  Well when I got there they were gone. The ice was begining to melt but the only birds  on offer were 30 teal, 2 wigeon and 2 swans.
As I drove south along the Ancient highway I stopped at Dixon's corner and looked along the track across the golf course and spotted a snipe sheltering from the snow in the tracks!

Next stop was the track where Martyn Wilson had the lapland bunting yesterday (and where the laplands were a couple of years ago). No sign of it when I arrived but I stopped anyway, put out some seed and waited. After about 10 minutes the lapland bunting landed ~ 30 yrds away and made it's way to the seed. It was very close but the light was absolutely dreadful and only poor quality images were obtained.

After a few minutes it upped and went and I didn't see it again.

The final stop was by the Chequers barn. I could only see 9 corn buntings today (compared to 16 last week) though the others could have been sheltering behind the muck heap. Also at the barn were 8 grey partridge and a number of chaffinch.
Not a bad haul for a drive along the Ancient Highway in the sleet and snow.