Saturday, 30 April 2011

Montagu's Harrier

Friday 29th.
On my way to the obs this morning I stopped off at Restharrow to check for small waders – it’s about time  a stint showed up – preferably aTemmincks. Well no stints but Steve Raynaert was there as were 2 redshank and the normal residents. After a few minutes a spotted redshank appeared. Whether it had previously been hiding or it had just dropped in we didn’t know. Unfortunately it didn’t stay long and only a few record shots were obtained. The local wader spots (Restharrow and Backsand scrapes) can be pretty good for autumn spotted redshanks but seeing on in summer plumage is unusual. Now I need to get close to one and get a decent image.
Spotted Redshank
At the Obs the decision was to walk the estate – the wind had dropped so any idea of a sea watch was abandoned.
A lot of common whitethroats were in the “Oasis” paddock but little else. As we arrived at the sea front Ian got a call from Phil Milton saying the Montagu’s Harrier was over the Point again and after a  5 second discussion we decided to walk up and see if we could find it.
The beach had a bit more than the last time I walked it – mainly skylarks but a few mippits and linnets and there was a trickle of swallows moving north. We also found a female wheatear and a lesser whitethroat in the little remaining buckthorn.
 Once at the 100 acre field we took up station by the gate and scanned north. Within a few minutes Ian had spotted the Monty’s dropping into the long grass on the northern edge of the 100 acre field and eventually I had latched onto it.
For the next 10 minutes or so it just flitted about but most of the time it was invisible. I tried toget some shots but due to the distance they were pretty poor though you could just about saee that it was a Monty’s.

Distant Montagu's Harrier
Ian phoned back to the obs with the news and we knew 4 more were on there way so we decided to not try and get too close. However we did move ~50yrds into the field and hid behind several very large clumps of tussock grass.
For the next 20 minutes or so the bird remained largely invisible hidden by the long grass so Ian set about looking at swallows passing through (one of the best movements for a few weeks) plus a couple of whimbrel and wheatears.
Eventually the bird took off again and after a few seconds of flying about started to come towards us. By this time I was looking at it through the view-finder clicking away and it got closer
.......and closer

......and closer.

It finally turned away at what I think was ~ 50 yrds (I was still looking down the view-finder and clicking away as fast as the camera and it’s buffer would allow so not sure about the distance) 

After turning it went away to what I assume was 70 or so yrds and continued hunting.

I’m sure it must have seen us but didn’t seem to mind our presence.
After this we made our way back to the gate to continue watching and wait for the others.
They finally arrived and the bird continued to perform. It liked the far end of the 100 acre field best but then would go over the beach and fly along the shore line, past where we were standing then turn inland, over Princes golf course and return to the 100 acre field. It this twice whilst we were there.
Whilst we were watching the Monty’s a ring-tailed hen harrier turned up. At times it was very close to the Monty’s so you could appreciate the differed jiz of the birds. The hen harrier having a far more rapid wing beat and being much heavier looking.  
It would have been nice to get a picture of the two together but I’m happy with the pictures I managed

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

A Good Day for Raptors at Grove

Went to Grove again today and like my last visit I walked to the ramp then along the river to Harrison’s drove and on to the Marsh Hide where I met up with Mark Chidwick, Alan Ashdown, Steve Ashton and Martyn Wilson.
All the normal stuff was present on the way to the river – whitethroat, Cetti’s, reed and sedge warblers but, as before, no sign of a grasshopper warbler. As I walked along the river 2 nightingales could be heard on the far bank then I found one on the near bank. As normal despite being only 10 yrds from the bird I couldn’t see it until it flew to the adjacent tree then off across the river.
The rest of the walk to the Marsh hide was more of the same but with a few reed buntings thrown in for good measure though one of the sedge warblers sat up nicely and tempted me to get the camera out.
Sedge warbler
At the Marsh Hide very little was going on and I think everyone was only in there because it’s somewhere to eat breakfast - though Al managed to eat his lunch as well and moaned about being hungry the rest of the day!
The one moment of excitement came when a barn owl was seen out of the side window. No pictures were possible but it showed the owl was still out hunting so off we all went to try and intercept its return to its nest site.
Our chosen place to photograph the owl was on the main path out of Alder wood where the reeds have been cleared and whilst waiting some waders were noticed out on the “scrape” (soon to be more reed bed).
First up was a wood sandpiper and a little ringed plover and a little later 2 green sandpipers turned up. Also out there were a few lapwing and several snipe so it was quite a productive wait. The waders were all too distant to photograph but after a while the barn own flew past then after another wait of ~20 minutes it went past again as it resumed its hunting.
Barb Owl
We did wait for it to return but we never saw it again. At this point we split up with Steve and Mark going back to the Marsh hide and Al, Martyn and myself walking the circuit.
Birdwise the walk was pretty unproductive though there were lots of blackcap around and a few chiffchaffs but try as we might we couldn’t find a garden warbler.
Just after we had passed the main lake we stopped to look at a dragonfly. It immediately disappeared but whilst looking for it we found several interesting bugs:
Brimstone Moth

Longhorn Moth

All were unknown to me and the id has been done with the aid of the internet so if I have got any wrong please let me know.
The cuckoo was seen during the rest of the walk but never close enough for a picture. As we approached Harrison’s drove the nightingales I had heard earlier were still singing despite being late morning and for the briefest of moments I did manage to get a glimpse of one of them.
From there we returned to the ramp (meeting up with Steve and Mark) to try and find some hobbies.
Eventually some were very distant ones turned up along with the occasional marsh harrier. It was during our  raptor watch that we found a honey buzzard which for a few moments looked as though it was going to some over the ramp but then it veered off north then a little later a particularly tatty common buzzard drifted past.
By  this time we had 7 hobbies in the air over Harrisons so we went along to try and get some pictures. All the time we were along Harrisons the birds were high in the air and/or distant but then we relocated to the main footpath through the reserve where they were hawking lower.
In all we must have spent 3 hours trying to get pictures of the hobbies – there were up to 12 in the air around us. When they are high they are quite easy to photograph however when they are lower and especially when they are hunting they scream past so getting a sharp image is a real challenge. As the session progressed we could see more and more dragonflies drifting past us and only a few feet up so every now and again a hobby would come in low and fast within 20 yrds of where we were standing. When they did this it was impossible to track the birds but it was superb to see.
Eventually we called it a day and went off to see how successful we had been with the camera. I’ll leave you to judge.


Friday, 22 April 2011

Turtle Dove and Cuckoo at Grove

 I arrived at Grove at 6.30 then spent the next 2 hours walking from the ramp to the river then down to Harrisons then back to the ramp then repeating the circuit. The hope had been to find a grasshopper warbler...........but I failed.
Reeds in the early morning mist
As I walked from the car to the ramp I heard a turtle dove and throughout the walk the reed, sedge and Cetti’s warblers were all in good voice as were the common whitethroats. Other warblers seen - chiffchaff, willow warbler (1 only) and blackcap.
Slightly more interesting were the 2 nightingales that were singing along the river (plus another West of the main lake at Stodmarsh) and from Harrison’s drove I saw then spotted a distant cuckoo.

Reed buntings seemed to be present in better numbers though I again failed to detect the presence of a bearded tit.
Eventually I connected with Martyn and Mark who had been down to the Marsh hide but they too had failed to find a gropper.
After that I drove round to Stodmarsh and watched for a hobby from the Lampern wall.......another “no show”  though a pair of marsh harriers put on a good performance.
Pair of Marsh Harriers

 A grey heron (1 of 4 seen today) flew along the Lampern wall and 9 common terns were on the main lake today but there was a conspicuous lack of hirundines – all I saw today were 2 swallows.
Grey Heron

Monday, 18 April 2011

Dungeness and Rye Harbour

Today I had a day out and about in “Greater Kent” as I took in Dungeness and Rye. It was about time I went down that way as I’ve not been down there since January. It was also time to get away from the local patches.

I arrived at Dungeness at 7.15 and went straight to the “Patch”.
There were already 3 people already in attendance and they told me I had already missed 40-odd little gulls going through (one of the hoped for species) but the movement had stopped (typical).
On the sea were ~ 10 great crested grebes and way out in the murk you could just make out 4 or 5 gannets feeding. The patch had a reasonable head of terns and gulls but no little gulls.
On the migratory front a few things were moving east but the highlight wer the scoter - during the 2 hrs I had there 59 went east 4 of which were of the velvet variety  (a year tick). Other ducks moving through were 4 teal, 8 shoveller and 6 other things that someone suggested were scaup. They did have white around the face but it was pretty murky out there.
On the sea itself were 3 eiders that I first picked up west of the Patch but they quickly drifted/swam east past us then disappeared.
After about 9.00  it seemed to go quiet and it was getting more misty so I packed up and went inland (though I later learned that I had missed 4 little gulls, 1 bonxie and a Pom).
As I walked back to the car I came across a male black redstart singing away for all he was worth on the power station wall but I only managed a record shot. 
Black Redstart
I tried to relocate him but failed and  I pestered several linnets  instead.  2 wheatears were also flitting about.
Once I had enough of chasing linnets I went up to the fishing boats to look for the glaucous gull – one of the main reasons for going down.
I have already seen and photographed the glauc but that was in the depths of winter and the light was shite. In fact most of the photographs I’ve seen were taken under pretty gloomy conditions so I thought it deserved it’s hour in the sun. Also I (and others) are always moaning that rarities never hang around; well this one had but I for one had ignored it.
Anyway I walked along the concrete road towards the beach/fishing boats and as I crested the final shingle ridge there was the glauc – right in front of me!
Glaucous Gull

I fired off some quick shots but it flew off and landed on the bow of a fishing boat.  On the shingle you can hardly sneak up on something so I dropped down on to the tide line and slowly started walking towards it – my reasoning being that as I was well below his eye-line I wouldn’t appear such a threat.
Well it seemed to work and I came within 20 yrds of  the glauc snapping away the whole time.

I had just started to back away when it decided to fly a short way along the beach so I managed some flight shots as well.
As I walked back along the beach it flew past me then turned and came back – I took some more pictures but these were looking into the sun and were of pretty poor quality. However from  them you can see just how tatty the bird still is.

Next stop was the RSPB. Here the sedge, reed and Cetti’s warblers were all in good voice and half a dozen common whitethroats were also seen but no sign of a lesser whitethroat. Only the sedge warblers would cooperate:
Sedge Warbler
Several marsh harriers were seen during the circuit but always at a distance. There was also a cuckoo calling distantly but I never saw it.
Since it was still only just past midday by the time I had finished the circuit I decided to have a quick look at Rye Harbour.
The reserve was pretty busy what with visitors (most were not birders) and the excavation work so I saw little of note on my way to the Crittal hide.
From the hide you could see a lot of Sandwich terns, a few commons terns plus hoards of black headed gulls. On the shore line to the right of the hide was the roost of oyster catchers one of which came to feed right in front of the hide:
I then went to the other hide on the ternary pool from which I could see the med gulls and a few more common terns and this time there was a redshank feeding in front of the hide – unfortunately I was facing the sun so the pictures suffered a little.
My final stop was in the new hide that overlooks the “Quarry”. From here there were more common terns and in the distance a number of waders – dunlin ( most being black under), knot and grey plover  (both still in winter plumage) and 2 bar-tailed godwits – one in summer and one in winter plumage. None came close thins time.
The only other bird of note seen at Rye were avocets - most shallow pools seemd to have one or two.

On the way back to the car I spotted the long staying merlin which put everything up without, as far as I could see,  trying to attack anything. It was a nice way to end an enjoyable day.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Sunday at Grove and my first cuckoo

I could stay out most of the day today so I went to Grove, arriving at 6.30.
First stop was the ramp where it was obvious that the water levels are very high and there is no mud  and consequently no waders. The ducks and grebes seemed to like it though with mallard, tufted duck, gadwall, shelduck, great crested  grebe, swan and grey lag all being seen. In the reeds and bushes there were loads of sedge, reed and Cetti’s warbler plus robin and wren.
I then went to the river hoping for a grasshopper warbler but it was not to be. I did however immediately hear nightingales (3 in total) and found several common whitethroats. I walked the river bank to the track leading to Harrisons seeing blackcap, chiffchaff and I hearing  my first cuckoo of the year. This bird called until about 8.00 when it went silent and wasn’t heard again.
I left the river back and walked along to Harrison’s hide but this largely a waste of time. On the pool itself (and there’s little or no dry ground to be seen there now) there were a few duck with teal adding to the day list and along the footpath and in the adjacent pasture there were skylark, mippit and a few reed bunting.
I went back to the river and I was lucky enough to get fleeting views of a kingfisher and green and great spotted woodpecker were heard.
The water meadows looked superb but try as I might I couldn’t find a garganey, the only inhabitants being the more common ducks and grey lags. A yellow wagtail flew past but I saw none on the ground. Also from the water meadows I saw my first marsh harrier of the day.
Further along,  and as I approached the main lake, the number of blackcaps jumped significantly and I added tree creeper and little grebe to the day list.
The main lake held the a few ducks, including shoveller plus a good number (10+?) great crested grebes but no terns as yet.
Alder wood didn’t add anything to the day list but blackcap and chiffchaff numbers were in good voice..
For the first part of the day I was more intent on birding than photography my thinking being that there will be ample  time to get some warbler shots later in the day. Well by the time I started looking for photographic subjects it had gone very quiet – with my only picture being of a butterfly!

At the Marsh Hide I found Steve Ashton and a little later Mike |Gould wandered in. The garganey of last week seemed to have moved on and all there was out on out on the marsh were teal, coots, and grey lags. I did add to the day’s wader list with snipe and redshank and a few marsh harriers were seen but none came very close.

Marsh Harrier
Birding-wise it was pretty dull all in all.
The only real photographic opportunity was presented by a lone reed warbler who sang close to the hide. Even he was difficult to photograph as he remained behind the reed stems most of the time. Fortunately now and again the breeze moved the reeds so that most of the bird was in view.

Reed Warbler

And that was about that really – on the upside there was kingsfisher, nightingale and cuckoo, on the downside no gropper or garganey. I ended up going home a lot earlier than I had envisaged – sad really on my first free weekend for a long time..

Saturday, 16 April 2011

All Quiet on the Eastern Front

I only had a couple of hours today so I stayed local and walked the cliffs from Kingsdown to Hope point. The weather was great – the sun was pushing through the hazy cloud and there was hardly a breath of wind so although the air temperature was pretty low at first it didn’t feel cold. Unfortunately the bird remained hidden (or were absent) so all in all it was a pretty uneventful walk.
The scrub by the golf club was quite noisy with blue and great tits, chiffchaffs, wrens, blackbirds and wood pigeons but everything was distant and/or invisible and the further south (towards St Margarets) I went the quieter it seemed to become. In fact the only thing occupying the scrub were a few whitethroats (new arrivals) and the local linnets.
As I approached Hope point things started to pick up with a few long-tailed tits prompting me to get the camera out. I spent about 15 minutes waiting for one to show but they refused to come out to play.
Long-tailed tit
Just after I had given up I spotted a peregrine coming towards me from the south. It was pretty high but you can see from the pictures it’s an immature bird  - perhaps the same one Tony Morris photographed a week or so ago.
The only other birds of note were 4 swallows and a lone yellow wagtail – all going north.
For those who don’t know the area very well here’s a picture of Hope point (the lowest point in this picture and the area with the most scrub) and in the distance you can see the Bockhill monument. The Bockhill guys normally watch from the cliff top just north of the cafe (just about visible in the picture).
Hope |Point and Bockhill
One of the nice things about this walk is that if the birding is not good (and it often is despite the fact that a decent number of rarities turn up) the views are always superb.
I had 2 whitethroats on the way to Hope point but at the point there were 4 or 5 more so I set about trying to get a decent image:

Commob Whitethroat
It took a long time but all’s well that ends well.

Also at the point were 20+ linnets, a few chaffinch and a couple of mippits, one of which landed close by.
Meadow Pipit
The walk back was as uneventful as the walk out. I did keep checking the cliff face in the hope of finding a peregrine perching but no such luck, the only thing showing on the cliffs were the fulmar and the resident jackdaws.

One final thing. I saw several of these bugs though I hav no idea what they are - the feet are pretty interesting.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Red-Rumped Day

Today, as with most days, I walked the circuit at Sandwich with Ian  first thing with mixed results. There was precious little around in the way of migrants – just a few chiffchaffs and blackcaps in the bushes, a few linnets going north, a couple of hirundines and 6 wheatears. However on the upside we found a nightingale in the “White House”(an area of scrub/trees normally reserved for the ringers and their nets) with a second in the Cellars. These were patch ticks for me but they didn’t really make up for the mediocrity of the rest of the session.
By 11.00 I was off home but when I arrived there was no sign of my wife. A quick phone call later and after being called a dozy old fart I was told it was Wednesday and not’s not so easy to keep track of these things when you are retired!!!!!
Anyway after an early lunch I went out again, walking the cliffs from Kingsdown to Hope Point hoping for something interesting in the bushes or, if nothing else, a passing peregrine to photograph.
Well it was as quiet as Sandwich. In the scrub by the golf course club house there were several blackcaps singing and one or two chiffchaffs chiffing  and further along there were a few linnets plus a pair of meadow pipits but that was about it.

I wondered whether to go inland for the return journey or to retrace my steps along the cliff top but I decided on the latter mainly due to the prospect of a peregrine to photograph. On the walk back a flock of about 40 hirundines flew past (house martins and swallows) but they immediately disappeared south then as I approached the golf course car park I spotted several others.
After a quick scan the panic set in – was there a red rumped swallow in amngst them? After a few minutes I'd convinced myself there was and when it came low towards me I had the camera and click click and I had this picture:-
Red-rumped Swallow
At first I thought they were going to disappear south just as the others had done but they milled around for a few minutes so I contacted Birdguides then Tony Morris (another retiree) with the news.
It was after this call that I started to wonder whether there were actually 2 red rumps present but eventually it was clear there was. From the picture above and the one below you can clearly see that there are 2 different birds because one of them  is at a different stage of moult from the other – see the primaries.
For the next 30 minutes the red rumps, along with a few swallows and house martins ranged from the golf club car park to about  500 yrds south over the crest of the hill but would often disappeared inland over the golf course itself and out of site. Then came the search to relocate them.
Eventually Tony and Jack turned up just as the birds returned from one of the forays inland. It was good that someone else had seen them though I had the photographs to prove I had seen them to any doubting Thomas’s.
For the next half hour the birds moved back and forth though again occasionally disappearing inland but everytime they returned a few more pictures were obtained.

More Red-rumped Swallows

There is sky in these pictures but it was white/offwhite; would have been nicer with a blue background but I'm not complaining.
The birds were still there at 3.00 but soon after they disappeared inland for the umpteenth time and we all left.
A nice way to end the day I.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Sandwich: Swallows and Martins today

A slow drive along the Ancient highway on the way to the Obs this morning was was pretty uneventful with just a few linnets being seen at the Chequers and the corn bunting singing from its bush by Restharrow, however as I approached Restharrow (~7.15am) I saw 3 cars parked up.
Needless to say I stopped to see what was the cause of all the interest. It was the female mandarin – after a few minutes of general swimming about and eying u p one of the resident mallards she slowly swam to the shore and disappeared into the grass on the west edge. Whilst distant I did fire off a few record shots – not brilliant I know but a very nice way to start the day.
Mandarin Duck
After that it was off to the obs to resume normal service.
On leaving the car park we were just about to cross the road when Ian spotted 2 peregrines over Worth marsh. These slowly made there way towards us but when ~ 200 yrds away they started showing interest in a wood pigeon. First the larger female gave chase but evasive action by the pigeon caused her to miss,  then the male took up the chase and hit the pigeon. There was a flurry of feathers (and I think pigeon poo) but somehow it managed to escape. I don’t know where the pigeon ended up but the peregrines retreated west over the marsh.
After that it was off to the Oasis/Haven where ~ 8 chiffchaff and 3 willow warblers were present along with the normal tits/wrens and chaffinches.
After that we crossed St Georges golf course to the beach seeing the resident skylarks, mippits and reed buntings.
Whilst crossing the golf course and during the walk to the Cellars we started seeing swallows moving north and these continued to trickle past till ~ 10.30-11.00 during which period we had seen ~ 60-70 birds. Also amongst the swallows were my first sand martins (2) and house martins(1) of the year. Not much else was moving though a few mippit, a couple of siskin and a lone goldfinch also moved north.
Whilst standing around in the Cellars watching the viz mig s black redstart (female type) showed up on the wall of Restharrow but it wouldn’t let me get close enough for picture.
From the Cellars we walked down to the edge of the Cinque Ports golf course seeing 6 wheatears (all males I think)  in the paddock, one of which posed very nicely.
Also in the paddock were the resident skylarks and mippits.
As we walked along the Ancient highway towards the Elms we had 2 kestrel and 2 sparrow hawks – the former hunting and the latter just circling high up.
One of the kestrels flew across the road and hung in the air only 20-30 feet above my head but I buggered up the pictures by “selecting” the wrong settings – somehow I had ended up on f 25!!!!
The Elms was pretty quiet with a chiffchaff and a very vocal blackcap but little else of note. Middle field was similarly quiet though a kestrel posed in a tree – this time I checked the settings before I started shooting.
So more warblers evident today and 3 year ticks in the form of the mandarin and the two martins.