Friday, 25 February 2011

Park Wood then Pegwell

Given it was a bright but no breezy day I decided another trip to Park Wood was in order.
 I arrived at ~8.00am and the woods were full of song – song thrushes in particular.
Immediately on going through the gate I heard what I thought was a marsh tit and after a minute or two I’d found it - a decent start to the day. A few more yards in and I heard then found a nuthatch – even better. I watched the nuthatch for a few minutes taking a few (poor) pictures when it was joined by a second before they both disappeared towards the road.
Whilst I was standing around there was a lot of high pitched twittering going on and during this period I saw coal tit, blue tit, great tit, long tailed tit and a tree creeper – with a second tree creeper seen later.
Tree Creeper
I returned to the main path and continued into the wood and pretty soon I was onto another nuthatch – this one was a little lower in the trees and I managed a few record shots:

The top half of the wood was pretty quiet with a few blue and great tits seen but little else. A great spotted woodpecker drummed a couple of times and a green woodpecker called but I never saw either.

As I dropped down from the top of the wood into the clearing I heard more marsh tits then found another nuthatch. I’m not sure how many nuthatch there are in this wood – I saw ~ 6 but I find it difficult to believe they were all different birds though I think there were more than 2.

During the walk around a sparrow hawk went overhead twice (or it could have been 2 birds) and as I departed 2 buzzards could be seen circling east of the wood.
This is the 3rd time I’ve been to Park Wood and no still sign of a lesser spotted woodpecker; otherwise it is a very productive little wood even if getting a decent photographs there is difficult.

After Park Wood I went to Pegwell hoping to meet Phil Milton and get (another) lesson in recognising Caspian and yellow legged gulls. As it happens Phil didn’t show up but eventually Malcolm McVail and a little later Chris Hindle (and Ann?) showed up and we scanned the gulls.
I seem to have spent quite a lot of time looking at gulls recently but I don’t seem to be getting any better at finding one. Eventually Chris turned up what he/we thought was a 3rd winter yellow legged gull – incomplete grey mantle the grey being clearly darker than the herring gulls nearby, washed out yellow legs  (not as yellow as the lesser black backed gulls), significantly larger than the lesser black backs nearby, an all white head, and a heavy beak with a black smudge near the tip.
The eye looked small and dark like a Caspian but that may be due to the distance/light.
There were a lot of waders on the shore line (knot, barwit, dunlin, grey plover) that I didn’t attempt to count. A bit closer were ~250 golden plover, ~370 lapwing, and  ~ 170 curlew.
Slightly more interesting were 2 avocet and a little egret.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Ravens on the Cliffs

I had to wait for a parcel to be delivered so my birding day didn’t start till nearly lunch time.  That was a bit frustrating as a water sun was shining and I was stuck in doors.  As it was so late I couldn’t go too  far so I went to look for the ravens on the cliffs.
As normal I parked at South Foreland Light house. On the cliff face by the light house 13 kittiwakes were on the nesting ledges with another  60-70 a little further north and sat on the sea.  I continued south to Fan Bay and sat on the northern edge scanning in all directions. Nothing.  A few gulls (herring, lesser and great black backed) cruised back and forth, about 20 cormorants were seen flying generally northish and a few fulmars exploring the cliff face but that was it. A couple of times I saw some corvids but I’m sure they were just carrion crows.
After an hour or so I gave up and walked around the depression towards Langdon Cliffs. Once on the other side I looked back north…….you’ve guessed it – the ravens were sitting where I had been sitting.
So back I went.
Again needless to say by the time I had got back to the north side they had disappeared again. I hadn’t seen them go but they were out of site for a short while due to the contours of the cliff tops. I didn’t have to wait long however as I saw one emerge from below where I was standing and fly north landing on a cliff face I could view.
I quickly hurried after it and fired off a few shots. I was then moving closer when the second one flew by and landed a little below the first.
They sat there for a few minutes then the lower one started scaling the cliff to get up to its partner. It was only then that I could hear them calling.
Scrambling up the cliff
I don’t find photographing birds against a chalk cliff face very easy (well nothing is easy it’s just that these are worse than normal) so I fired off quite a few shots at varying exposures and managed a few shots where some of the details of the birds can be seen.
The happy couple
After 10 minutes the birds took off and flew south disappearing around the cliff face towards Langdon Hole.
Whilst I was watching the ravens a peregrine had flown north down on the beach so I found a suitable vantage point to await it’s return but it didn’t.
Other birds seen whilst on the cliffs – jackdaws and a magpie. That’s all. There was nothing else around though I did hear a skylark.
I gave up at 3.00 but by 4.00 I was at Newdowns Farm hoping for a shot or two of the barn owl I’ve seen there a couple of occasions in the last week or so.
I hadn’t been there long and was scanning around when the bloody thing appeared along the top of the dyke only some 20 yrds away. A mad scramble and a few shots were managed as it moved away along the edge of the dyke.
Barn Owl
It hadn’t gone far when it turned about face and flew across the track and into the rough grass field between the track and Newdowns farm itself.
Turning back
From there it went back to the dyke/river past the poly tunnels.
Past the Poly tunnels
So great views but all the pictures I managed were very distant and most were of it flying away.

The way the day started – not being able to go out in the morning then no sign of the ravens for an hour  – I thought this blog would have been reflecting on how tough it is to bird everyday when there’s little if anything around. However given that the ravens turned up and I later saw the barn owl  I don’t think Martyn would swallow that line now.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Guillemot saves the day

I didn’t go out over the w/e due to the rain and it being Angie’s (my wife) birthday – though from the reports from around the county I didn’t miss much.
Today I reported for duty at the Obs and wandered around the estate with Ian. Slow would be an understatement. The great tits were in good voice and the chaffinch and greenfinch are also singing but little else was seen in Middle field and the Elms. The sea held 2 large rafts of great crested grebes (~ 150 in total) but there was nothing else moving on the sea and the highlight from Mary Bax was 3 pairs of grey partridge. Restharrow held the normal ducks and geese though the barnacle goose seems to have moved on. So it was back to the obs for the real reason for being there - coffee.

I had to take Angie to Dover station this afternoon so since I was in Dover I had a look around the yacht basin and the harbour. 
I started at the yacht basin but no sign of the scaup or the shag so I wandered out on the pier. That was looking equally devoid of anything interesting (no grebes or divers) when I spotted a guillemot up towards the end of the pier.
When I drew level with it was 30 or so yrds from the pier but after a while it started to come close …….then very close. By this time I was right on the very end of the pier and at times it was so close that I couldn’t see it over the parapet.

Whilst alongside the pier it dived a couple of times but the pictures I took were too blurred due to the slow shutter speed.
It did however manage to catch it behaving like a diver with its head/beak under water:

Eventually it moved away and I started back to the car.
Turnstones are still there ( do they disappear in the spring?) and there were several kittiwakes (adults and 1st winters) cruising back and forth.
Kittiwake (1st Winter)
As I went to retrieve the car I spotted the scaup in among the boats asleep (must be retired because  that’s what I do most afternoons) but then it woke up. It never came close but that may be because there seems to have been a spill of diesel – there was a film of oil on the water by De Bradelei warf and it stank.

Some of you may have heard that a red breasted goose was seen at Restharrow – well it’s true and I’ve seen the pictures. However no one at the obs got to see it. In fact they didn’t even hear about it until the next day. It seems the finders are pretty new to birding so didn’t actually know what it was they were looking at until they looked it up at home.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Park Wood and Folkestone Harbour

14th February
The weather forecast was good so I decided that another session at Park Wood was in order.  The day didn’t start well because on the way I got caught I a traffic jam due to an accident – though I suppose it was worse for those involved - but eventually I arrived even if the route was longer than planned.
As I got out of the car I could hear a lot of bird song with 2 song thrush really giving it some. Some 30 yrds into the wood  I had stopped to look at a mixed flock of tits (blue, great and long tailed) when a small bird was seen low down. My first thought was wren but it was a goldcrest so out with the camera and a few pictures in the bag.
Gold Crest
A little further in and another goldcrest was feeding and calling enthusiastically but he wouldn’t show himself very well. Blue and great tits seemed to be everywhere but no sight (or sound) of a marsh tit and that was the pattern for most of the circuit. Also absent were any woodpeckers though the occasional common buzzard could be heard in the distance
When I was ¾ of the way round and dropping back down into a clearing I finally found a pair of marsh tits but after a few seconds they disappeared and were not seen again.
Marsh Tit
Standing around in the clearing was rewarded however in the shape of a common buzzard. First one then a second flew east, the second one just above the tree tops.
Common Buzzard
I waited for ~15 minutes and although buzzards were seen on several occasions they were gradually gaining in height as the circled. As one point I had 4 circling together in very close proximity and even managed a shot of 3 of them together (this has not been composed in Photoshop! If I’d done that I would have used better images.) This little group seemed to show the full breadth of buzzard colouration (though sorry about the picture quality).
3 of the 4 buzzards

Pale Morph
I wandered around for another hour or so but I had little else to show for my efforts – I did hear a nuthatch calling but couldn’t get close enough to see it and managed a glimpse of a great spotted woodpecker but that was it.
This is the 3rd time I’ve dipped here on lesser spot –  as I said in a previous blog I haven’t seen a lesser spotted woodpecker here since they were chased away from the hole they were excavating by a pair of great spots.

After that and so as not to completely waste the sun I went to Folkestone and played with the med gulls for a while.
It’s quite interesting really. Throw out some bread and the first on the seen are a few herring gulls. The meds however soon catch on and take up pole position. At this point the herring gulls seem to back off a little leaving the med gulls to get most of the bread – I thought herring gulls were made of sterner stuff than that.

Mediterranean Gull
I took loads of pictures but most were a disappointment. The birds were normally photographed at ~ 20 feet and were complete frame fillers-but at that distance (even at f8) the depth of field is such that if the head is sharp the wings are not (That's my excuse anyway). Still I suppose my failure to get the images I wanted means I have an excuse to go there again.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Kittiwake on Toast

Trying to find somewhere interesting to go is getting increasingly difficult in this miserable weather. My first thought was Grove but I woke up too late and all the harriers would have departed by the time I got there. My second idea was the cliff tops (raven perhaps?) but when I got to South Foreland the wind was vicious so that thought was shelved. Thus I ended up at Deal pier.
Sea watching from Deal pier has one great advantage – it has a cafĂ© for when you get fed up with nothing going past and when I arrived it looked as if I’d soon be going there as all I could find were 3 gt crested grebes near the beach and a lone guillemot in the middle distance.
I then spotted a juvenile kittiwake hanging in the wind around the pier so I got the camera out and fired off a few shots.
Kittiwake - 1st winter
This was fortunate because a few minutes later a few things started flying past (though it must be said often quite distant).
First up was a/the guillemot:
Then a very distant razorbill followed by a red throated diver (the first of 5 seen going nowhere in particular):
Red-throated diver
A few shots of the kittiwake then a distant flock of 4 great crested grebes went past to go with the 3 I’d seen fishing close by.
Great Crested Grebes
There was a bit of a kittiwake movement south about 9.30 -10.00 where 17 went past – mainly 1st winters along with another 4 auks went south.
Kittiwake - 1st winter
I was just packing up when I noticed an adult kit approaching which then had a flutter over something – toast!
Kittiwake on toast

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Dengemarsh in the rain

The birding over the last few weeks has become repetitious to say the least with the only new bird in the region being the red-necked grebe, so despite seeing it on Tuesday I decided to go down again today.
On Tuesday the Dengemarsh hide was full of chattering (loudly) “birders” who had come out for a social stroll in the sun. Today I was determined to get there early and have an hour or so before anyone else turned up.
I arrived at the ARC about 7.30 and parked up. I was expecting a dull start but the constant rain was not expected.  I walked from there to the Dengemarsh hide. Once in the hide I immediately found the red-neck in the bay to the left/west of the hide but over the next few minutes it moved further away over to the reed beds and disappeared into one of the inlets.
I then searched for the black-necked which I soon found way over to the right (east). Also on the lake were several great crested grebes and a distant little grebe.
Great crested grebe
The next half hour was spent watching the black-neck as it fished and made it’s way closer to the hide (though never close).
Black-necked grebe
In fact I was so busy watching the black-neck that I didn’t notice the red-neck approaching from the left – the first I saw of it was in the camera view-finder close the black-neck!
Red and black necked grebes
The two spent the next 5-10 minutes floating and preening in close proximity but never close enough for a decent picture.
Eventually the red necked broke away and swam towards and the past the hide at 25-30 yrds (I don’t do meters).
For quite a lot of the time the red-necked swam with it's head held really low to the water - it looked like quite an agressive stance but there didn't seem to be anything around to upset it.
Red-necked grebe - head held low
The red-neck disappeared then into the bay to the left of the hide but soon came out swam across the front of the hide (distantly) then turned back towards the hide for a second time. This time it swam a long way to the left.
Red-necked grebe
So great views and reasonable pictures – though the sun never shines on these occasions.
By now  it was ~ 9.30 and another birder had entered the hide and told me he’d had fantastic views of smew (20of them – 18 red-heads and 2 drakes) with several including a drake being right in front of the Hanson Hide ( down to 20 meters - his units).
I was going to go to Hythe to look for the purple sandpipers but decided I have to look for the smew. During the walk back to the ARC there was a constant stream of cars going onto the reserve and several stopped to ask about the red-neck - I think my plan to get there early and leave as the crowds assembled were the correct tactics.
By the time I got to the ARC the smew had all moved down the far end of the lake though I could see them in the scope. Somewhat closer (though still distant) were the goldeye – 4 drakes and 4 ducks – with the drakes heavily into the head throwing display and a drake ruddy duck.
I gave up at that point and went home in time for the rugby. I thought England would win but I never expected them to perform as well as they did. In contrast the Scotland/Wales game was dreadful – so bad in fact that I switched off and did some chores!

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Normal Service Resumed

After a gorgeous Tuesday the weather has reverted to type and it’s wet and miserable.
On Wednesday I walked Worth marsh in overcast conditions but it was very quiet; the only notable bird being the great white egret which we saw from Roaring Gutter. I suspect going to the Fowlmead and looking from the viewing platform would be the easier option.

Today (10th) I started at the Obs drinking coffee, watching the feeders, and listening to the mature members discussing when  50-odd strong flocks of Lapland buntings used to turned up. It wasn’t a very productive session bird wise though a first winter yellow hammer turned up on the feeders.
Next stop was the Chequers to have a look on the reservoir and check for tree sparrows – nothing on the reservoir but I could see  some tree sparrows around. They were spending most of the time feeding low down in one of the gardens (one of those facing north) but eventually all/most of them went up into one of the small trees showing a minimum of 15 present.
Then it was off to Dover. I parked in De Bradelie Warf car park where I could see the scaup without leaving the car – as normal it was with the coots (no pride at all) and a couple of moorhens.
Next stop was the dock/yacht basin adjacent to the life boat station – more coots but also a shag. I first located it swimming but almost immediately it flew up onto the pontoon and there it stayed.
A walk out on Prince of Wales Pier was almost entirely a waste of time. No grebes, no divers , no rock pipits, not even any turnstones !!!!!! The walk was however enlivened by the presence of 3 1st winter and a single adult kittiwake.
1st winter kittiwake

I was going to go looking for the ravens but whilst on the pier it had started raining so I made my way back to the car checking on the shag (it was still present) and finding a rock pipit.
After that it was home.  

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

A Sunny Day at Dungeness

The weather forecast was for sun so it was down to Dungeness.
I had just got out of the car when Steve A turned up so I waited for him. On the edge of the car park a dunnock was perched in the sun so it was out with the cameras - it would have been rude not to have taken his picture.
The Hanson hide was pretty busy ( Steve Raynaert occupying the prime seat!) with the main attention being given to a distant bittern. All the expected ducks were present including goldeneye and smew (red heads) plus there was a  male ruddy duck  that has, thus far, avoided the cull but they all stayed firmly out of camera range as did the marsh harriers.
The main photographic interest was provided by a chiffchaff which flitted about the reed mace for half hour or so – it was only a chiff but it doesn’t need much to keep one occupied if the sun is out and you have a camera in your hands.
Around 9.30 we moved onto the main RSPB site. Nothing much on the Burrows pit and the slavonian grebe was no where to be seen but from the Dengemarsh hide we had black-necked, red-necked, great crested and little grebe – shame we couldn’t find a slavonian!
Black-necked Grebe

Gt Crested Grebe
Red-necked Grebe
We sat in the hide for quite some time hoping that the grebes (or anything else for that matter) would come close but no such luck. Our cause was not helped by the number of people who came in most of which just wanted to talk and not quietly either! - it was noisier than my local on a Friday night.
Steve R gave up first and departed to walk the circuit but he didn’t miss anything.
The red-necked grebe spent most of his time west (left) of the hide going into the bay so we went along to see it we could get closer and get a better angle. We did find the bird in the bay but as we waited behind some reeds hoping it would swim in front of us most of the hide decided they wanted to come down and join us.  Us hiding behind reeds is of little use when a rowdy mob is standing in full view a few feet away! We gave up at that point.
As we made our way back to the car park we found a small group of people staring at a bush near the Christmas Dell hide. They had found a firecrest. This little gem flitted around the scrub often only a few feet away giving brilliant if fleeting views but both Steve and I managed a few decent shots.
Fire crest
After a coffee and a chinwag we eventually decided to give the northern long-tailed tits a go and I’m glad we did.
At Dymchurch we split up to look for the LTTs and Steve found them in the church yard. When I arrived they had just flown to the trees surrounding a playing field behind the school but they were soon relocated. At one point we had 3 of them in the same tree and with no common ones making the photography marginally easier.
As normal they were at the top of the trees most of the time and obscured by twigs however  I managed to get a few decent shots and I assume Steve did too.
Northern Long-tailed Tit
So all in all it was quite a good day both with the camera and the birds seen. I wonder how long we will have to wait for the next sunny day  

Friday, 4 February 2011

Park Wood and Grove

Given the forecast of bright sunny weather I wanted to go to Dunge however the need to be home by early afternoon meant I had to stay a little more local so I decided to have another go after lesser spotted woodpecker.
I arrived at Park Wood at ~ 7.45am. Straight away I could hear nuthatch and marsh tit calling as well as the more common tits. Given the light wasn’t good enough for a picture I decided to ignore them and walked up into the wood.
Almost immediately I found a gold crest and soon after a common buzzard flew across the tree tops. I then searched the areas where I’d previously seen the lesser spots but no. Last year I’d found a lesser spot excavating a nest hole but after a few days work it was chased off by a great spotted and I’ve not seen them here since.
 I did find several great spotted woodpeckers including one drumming enthusiastically. Also seen during this search were tree creeper and a pair off bullfinch.
No sign of thrushes at the top of the wood today but as I dropped back into another clearing there were more marsh tits one of which was out in the sun just long enough to fire some shots off.
Marsh Tit
Around 9.30 the sun went in and the birds went quiet so I gave up at this time and drove over to Grove.
When I arrived at Grove the hide was full – the sun had really brought the photographic brigade out of the woodwork. We all sat patiently but there was little to see. The kingfisher posts were watched with keen interest by all except a kingfisher.
Kingfisher post
In the 90 minutes I was there 3 marsh harriers went past (all distant) and there were the normal ducks  – mallard, pochard (2), tufty(1) wigeon(1) gadwall and teal but nothing else – no hen harriers or bittern.
There were also some teal close to the hide but for most the entire session they were asleep though a female woke up and had a flap before settling down to sleep again.
I gave just after midday – quite disappointing all in all given we the weather forecast for the next few days.