Saturday, 31 December 2011


To anyone who has recieved a spam email from me in the last day or so I am sorry. I have no idea where it came from, when it got in or whether my efforts have been successful in removing it. If you continue to get spam messages can you let me know please - I may have to close the email account.

Happy new year

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Well that was 2011

I have decided to do a summary of my birding year and where possible nominate a bird/photo of the month. Why? No particular reason but the weather has been rubbish and I can’t sit here doing nothing .
My approach to 2011 was a bit different to previous years in that I decided I would spend a lot more time on my local patches. There were several reasons for this; charging around the county whilst rewarding on occasions can also be a tad disappointing with the bird either gone or seen only distantly, the price of petrol was making charging around a little expensive, and I got more involved with the day to day workings of SBBO.
The year started with me ignoring all the above and going down to Rye/Pett with “ KIngsdowner” for our “New Year” session where we saw the black brant and a rough legged buzzard  but the red breasted goose had gone. In the afternoon we stopped off at Denge Wood for the hawfinch so a good start to the month though the pictures obtained were not up to much. The rest of the month was pretty quiet with a lot of the pre-Christmas birds disappearing with the snow. The shore larks (Sandwich), waxwings (everywhere) and scaup (Dover) all stuck around  and at KIngsdown and Dymchurch the northern long-tailed tits turned up.
Waxwing - Foulmead
February didn’t bring much new other than the red-necked grebe at Dungeness and finally a decent picture of the northern LTT (Dymchurch).
Northern LTT - Dymchurch

In March things were very quiet on the local patches but a couple of sessions at Boughton was rewarded with some great pictures of nuthatch.

Nuthatch - Boughton
Spring in general was pants though April saw some reward for my emphasis on local birding with 2 red-rumped swallows (Kingsdown, self found) and Montague’s harrier(Sandwich) – and pictures of both to boot.  Since neither are photographed very often I’ve actually selected 2 pictures for this month.

Red-rumped Swallow - KIngsdown

Montague's Harrier - Sandwich
May was again quiet locally though I finally got some decent raven images at Dover.

Raven - Dover
Also in May I went to Antigua with my wife, Angie, for our 25th wedding anniversary. Compared to a lot of birding destinations it’s pretty low fare but if a lazy holiday with a bit of bird photography is your thing there’s plenty to keep you interested. I’ve not yet found a justification for Antigua being in Greater Kent but I’m working on it.
In June I found a spoonbill at Backsand (a place I visited several times a week for most of the summer/autumn) but the highlight were the puffins and chough  at Skoma - not exactly local I know but the 2011 destination of Ashton’s Photographic Tours. Another month where 2 pictures have been selected.


Other than Backsand (common waders) July was pants though after some pictures/reports from some of my Flickr contacts I did go to Old Lodge and saw my first redstart of the year  and get some tree pipit pictures.

Tree Pipit
Backsand again supplied most of July’s highlights with wood sandpiper, Temminck’s stint and curlew sandpiper all being seen there. The Temminck’s would have been another self found bird but Phil Smith got there 15 minutes before me.

Temminck's Stint - Backsand
Most people’s September was dominated by the Stodmarsh bitterns. I only went there once and whilst the birds didn’t come that close I did see (and photograph) all 4 bitterns together, a sight I doubt I will ever repeat. More locally I found a little stint on the beach sheltering from gale force winds and an away day to Arundel with Ashton Bird Tours allowed some pictures of the long staying juvenile palid harrier to be obtained.  2 pictures have been selected for this month.

Bitterns - Stodmarsh

Pallid Harrier - Arundel
 October’s migration watch was dominated by crossbills – I saw over 1000 but never got near any with the camera; Steve Raynaert in contrast only saw half a dozen but they more or less landed on his camera lens. Bitter?????? You bet. I did have the pleasure of finding a grey phalarope at Dover but it was never close enough for a good picture but I did better with the arctic terns present at the same time. These were my first arctic tern pictures so I was pretty pleased with the result and these got the vote for photo of the month.

Arctic Tern - Dover

November undoubtedly was the best month of the year and a month where staying local finally paid dividends – well that and going around with someone who actually knows what he’s looking at/listening to – Ian, the SBBO warden. The 2 highlights I’m discussing are pallid swift and Richards pipits(both life ticks) though on both occasions I failed to get a picture because the camera was in my back pack. Another but not so local highlight was the Eastern black redstart. Other notable birds (and pictures) were provided by snow bunting and shore lark and images were obtained of rough legged buzzard (Hythe) and little auk (Deal Pier and spotted by Steve Rayneart – perhaps I might have to forgive him on the crossbill pictures).

Eastern Black Redstart - Thanet
December was dominated by visits to Dover harbour where a great northern diver and several guillemots were in residence most of the month.

Great Northern Diver - Dover
 My year list (excluding Antigua) at  235 was a little down on usual but there were some pretty glaring omissions - Slavonian grebe (which seem to have disappeared from Kent),  long eared owl,  osprey,  and it was a poor year for the scarce sandpipers and warblers though there were some things I didn’t bother twitching (the osprey - Reculver, and buff breasted sandpiper Rye) because I’d already seen them in Antigua.
My Sandwich list only managed to get up to 185.  I missed the woodchat shrike (I was in Antigua), managed no wild swans, and my duck, grebe and sea bird list at Sandwich is very poor (I didn’t even manage a bonxie!) in the main because there is no where comfortable to sea watch. On land there were also some glaring omissions – red kite, red legged partridge, tree pipit to name but 3!
Next year I’ll  probably do a bit more driving, especially of the bird is question is a poser,  though I suspect I’ll end up missing all sorts of local goodies.
Happy new year and lets hope for a productive one.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Divers at Dover (again)

With the report from Chidders of a red throated diver in the harbour and little going on elsewhere  another trip to Dover seemed the best bet. Things didn’t start too well though because I hadn’t even reached the Prince of Wales pier when I found Chidders and Adam returning from the pier – no sign of any divers.  Adam pushed off to Dungeness and Chidders joined me in another look around the harbour.
In the main harbour I could see 21 great crested grebes (which increased to 24 by the time I left) and a bit further out there was a guillemot. Eventually Mark spotted a/the red throated diver in the cruise terminal basin. It never came very close and we were always looking into the sun so only a few record shots were taken.
Red-throated Diver
With us standing by the railings of the pier a kittiwake swam in in the hope of some food. It didn’t get any from us but it did provide a subject for the camera.
 Due to us looking somewhat into the sun and the bright white of the bird some interesting pictures were obtained whilst trying to prevent the white bits being over exposed.
After we had tired of the kittiwake we went along to the lifeboat station finding the resident guillemot almost immediately but too far away for a picture. As the tide was out the gates to the marina behind the lifeboat station were shut and it was in there we found the great northern diver just cruising around a doing a bit if fishing. On one of its dives it came up with a small flatfish but it didn’t eat it immediately. It kept letting it go then pecking at it vigorously – I can only assume it was killing it. After several minutes it stopped playing with its food and down it went.
Great Northern Diver
There was a cormorant in the marina with the GND but it soon departed:

So only the normal fare but as often happens at Dover you do get the opportunity to take some photographs.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Sandwich and along the Beach

This morning I went to the obs. The Ancient highway was like an ice rink so the drive was quiet interesting. I had a walk from the Obs  along the beach up to the 100 acre field. It was very frosty when I set out birds were few and far between with sightings being restricted to a few skylarks that I flushed – nothing was flying about at all.
I had hoped for some snow buntings or shore larks but all I had by the time I got to the 100 acre field was a lone juvenile stonechat.

 Looking across towards Pegwell there was clearly something bugging the plovers because 100s of them were in the air but I couldn’t find the cause of their consternation.
By the time I was walking back it was getting warmer and the birds were a little livelier  but still mainly the common stuff (song thrush, redwing, black bird, dunnock) but the stonechats had come out to play and I found 5 – the juvenile again plus 2 pairs.

Highlight of the walk was a flock of 9 snow buntings that got flushed off the beach by a couple of dogs and flew back north – my time was up so I didn’t pursue them. Snow buntings have been absent for a few weeks now so hopefully these will stay around.
Snow Bunting (from last month)

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Great White Egret still at Oare

I have not posted anything for a week or so now so to the regular readers of this blog I apologise. The reality is that I’ve not really seen anything worth talking about.
I have had a couple of sessions at Sandwich but it has been very quiet there – the shore larks and snow buntings having disappeared. The main focus of my efforts this last week has been Dover Harbour. After each major blow I have gone down there hoping something new would have been forced in but the only birds of interest have been the great northern diver and a few guillemots; I’ve not been able to find Tony Morris’s yellow legged gull.
 The diver and several guillemots were still there yesterday.
Today the weather forecast suggested the north Kent coast would be brighter than the south coast so I went up to Oare to try my luck with the great white egret.
As I arrived at Oare just about the first bird I saw was the great white – it was departing from the channel alongside the road and walking towards the east flood. By the time I got level with it it was in the flood and briskly walking further out. I parked up to see what it would do. For a few minutes it did nothing then it walked across to the rushes that line the flood between the road and the east hide and settled down for a kip.
Great White in the gloom
I parked up and did a circuit. Plenty of lapwing, golden plover, rough, pintail etc but nothing out of the ordinary however it was good to see a decent number of reed buntings on the bank of the Faversham creek – they are like hens teeth at Sandwich at the moment and a flock of ~ 20 greenfinch behind the east hide.
On completing the circuit the egret was still in the rushes so I went out to the hide west of the road and saw.......absolutely nothing.  However on returning to the road the egret had moved  back out on the flood and walking to the spit that runs from the road out into the flood – the one where the lapwings roost.

He sat around there for some time then moved back into the water. I went and got my car so as to use that as a hide and returned to the bird which was still in the flood. It then walked across the field to the road side channel but every time someone or something came along the road it moved out of the channel and back towards the east flood. At one point it was right by one of the gates and was looking with some interest at the west flood. It even had a flap and rose off the ground but changed its mind, dropped back to the ground  and went back to the rushes.

I think I have read/heard that the bird may be sick however it was pretty lively today. In common with other great whites I’ve seen it was skittish and didn’t like anything moving nearby – people or cars. I do think it needs to find somewhere other than the roadside channel to feed though because there are too many people and vehicles going past for it to get any peace in there.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Dover Delivers Divers

3rd- 5th December. Dover Harbour

Our son was home over the weekend so I only had 2 short sessions at down at Dover Harbour – since it had been a bit blowy expectations of a diver or two were pretty high – I was disappointed.
On Saturday there were 17 gt crested grebes but no divers. I found 2 guillemots; one out by the cruise terminal and one by the lifeboat station. As the sun was shining yet more pictures were taken:

The only other birds of note were 2 kittiwakes and a peregrine that went over low as I was departing from the Prince of Wales Pier.
Sunday was even quieter with only 14 great crested grebes and one guillemot. There was a colour ringed herring gull (red ring) in the now empty inner harbour but I could get close enough to read the number.
After such a quiet session (I departed at 10.00) it was a shock to see the great northern diver posted by Chidders and Martyn. It seems they got there at around midday after doing a harrier count at Grove/Stodmarsh and had 2 great northern and 2 red throated divers, 6 guillemots and a host of gannets going past the harbour mouth. Chidders had sent me a text but I didn’t notice it.
I’ve only really seen one great northern (at Reculver a couple of years ago) so it was obvious where I was going on Monday – especially with it being sunny. I arrived at ~8.00am and found Phil Smith already in situ. On Sunday the bird was over by the Admiralty Pier but on Monday it was in the main harbour – Phil, had had it by the Prince of Wales pier but by the time I gt there it was swimming east just off the beach. We did start to follow it but it soon turned back towards the PoW Pier and with the 2 of us in its wake.
Steve Raynaert turned up at this point and we filled out boots – the bird coming within 20-30 yards of the pier in bright sunshine. On the photographic front it has proved very difficult to get the colours of the bird and the sea correct – the white balance really struggling with blue sky, a dark bird and reflected light (or it may be I don’t remember what the colours were correctly). When in direct light the bird appears too brown and in the shade the darker parts appear too blue – all a little frustrating but it will give me something to do when it next rains.
GND looking brown

GND looking blue (and brown)

Eventually the bird set sail across the harbour and took up station over by the ferry terminal. It was at this time that Tony Morris turned up – I think Tony likes his bed too much on these cold mornings - and a little later Steve Ashton arrived followed by Colin Fisher.
The bird did return to the pier for a short period then set off along the beach again and whilst we were watching it a red throated appeared just in front of us. It soon swam out of shot along the beach without me getting a decent image. Our joy turned to sorrow at this point because in quick succession both the great northern and the red throat took to the air.
GND going for a fly around

Red Throated Diver departing

The red throat continued out to sea but the great northern went into the cruise terminal basin but soon returned to the PoW pier – much to everyone’s relief.  The great northern itself still had some signs of its summer plumage – dark smudges on its face, white spots on its greater coverts(?) and the throat band still being visible (just). I was amazed at just how wide its head is relative to the throat:-
Smudges on it's face

Note the wide head

Also of note in some pictures was the heavy forehead though in others it was invisible.
Heavy Forehead shot
Eventually the great northern moved out of shot but that wasn’t the end of proceedings as a juvenile gannet flew into the harbour, did a circuit then went back from where it came and we found Stumpy on the pier.
Juvenile Gannet