Friday, 27 April 2012

A Decent Day at Sandwich

Today ended up a good day.  Actually it started very well too.
Today we went out onto Worth Marsh and within 5 minutes of leaving the Obs we’d had a female ring ouzel and a lesser whitethroat (both year ticks).
The footpath up to the train gates was not actually alive with birds but it did provide common whitethroat, yellow hammer, reed bunting and bullfinch. It was after that that it quietened down significantly with Worth Marsh itself only providing sedge and Cetti’s warbler.
On the return leg we saw the ring ouzel again (in the field this time rather than deep in a bush) but it immediately departed for the hedgerow so no pictures.
The drive home provided the only photo opportunity in the form of a grey partridge. There was actually 2 of them but they were too far apart to get both in shot.

Grey Partridge
Given the sunny afternoon I decided to go back and look for the short eared owl that been hanging around a week or two. I’d actually been down earlier in the week arriving about 6.30 pm and saw nothing even though it had been photographed earlier in the day (16.42 actually). Well today I got there at 17.00 parking at Mary Bax and it was already hunting the rough field to the left of the Ancient highway (driving north).

Short-eared Owl
It hunted this field for at least 30 minutes but never came close. At times it slid across the road and hunted in front of the sailing club and even had an excursion down to the scrape but it always returned. During one of the periods it was hunting in the distance a grey bird went past low. Everyone’s initial thought was sparrow hawk but it landed 40 yards away – it was a cuckoo; another year tick. It didn’t stay long and flew off into a bush on the bank of the owl field and we went back to concentrating on the owl
At one point the owl landed on the track that goes from the road to the turf field and sat there for 15 minutes looking around and at anything that flew overhead – it paid particular attention to the herring gulls.

Short-eared Owl
There were 2 of us there (both with cameras) so we decided to try and get closer taking shots as we went. We were about 25-30 yards away when the owls took to the air (I assume it was us it responded to) but instead of flying away it immediately started hunting and flew past us at 20 yards or so and started hunting on the golf course.

Short-eared Owl
After a few more minutes hunting it disappeared – it was now 18.00 and hadn’t reappeared by 18.30 when I departed. So if anyone is thinking of going down I suggest you get there between 16.00 and 17.00.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Flyde Piecatcher

Today in the strong SW wind we set off out of dtuy rather than hope or expectation and for much of the morning we saw what we expected - nothing.
From the Obs we walked to the Elms (a couple of chiffs and a blackcap) and up to the sea and that’s what we saw.....the sea. After that it was off to the scrape where a couple of lapwings and a mallard appear to be sitting but still no sign of any migrant waders.
Coffee beckoned but on the way back to the obs we decided to have a look in Middle field. Thius did appear to be one of the best possibilities of finding something because the field is enclosed and consequently calm compared to the rest of the estate.  Thes was a whitethroat singing as we entered followed by a chiff or two then Ian called “Pied Fly”. Now with it being so useless everywhere else I strolled up and asked was he p***ing about and to my surprise he said no and pointed out the bird – it was perched about 10 yards away.
A quick scramble for the cameras resulted in me losing sight of the bird though Ian was clicking away – it had dropped down low and Ian  was between it and me.
After a few seconds it moved to the right and although now in view was heavily obscured:

It continued to move around quite close but nearly always obscured for a couple of minutes then it disappeared.
Since there had been so little around to point the camera at when the others moved off  I decided to stay in the hope it would come back. It did. Over the next half hour or so it came close on several occasions but whenever it was in the open it would only stay there for a second or two. As a consequence I couldn’t manage a clear shot.

A couple of times it landed less than 5 yards from me and in the open but it always shot off before I could get the camera onto it.
Finally I saw it drop into the undergrowth just a few yards away and waited hoping it would fly up to one of the twigs above it which were in the open. I set the camera to point at the twig and for once things worked out to plan.  As it landed it was side on I just pressed the shutter and rattled off 6 continuous shots then it was off again. Since the 7D fires at 8 shots per second it was only in shot for less than a second.

Still I had some shots so I called it a day and left him to it. It doesn't need much to send me home happy.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Pesky Pigeons

Sunday 22nd

Anyone who is reading this blog to find out what is going ornithologically in the Kingsdown area should switch off now. Today’s little missive is only about pigeons and fulmars.
Feral pigeons are a pest, they try to nest any and everywhere and a when they do foul the place horribly. Well we humans are not the only ones suffering at their wings.
A pair of fulmars at Kingsdown thought they had found a nice hole to call home - quite low down on the cliffs and right beside the recent rock fall. Mrs Fulmar was quite happy to sit there  looking out over the channel then along came a pair of pigeons and ruined everything. I first saw them trying to oust her from her dream home on Saturday and they were still at it on Sunday morning.
My attention was drawn to the evolving situation by the near continuous calling from the cliff face by Mrs Fulmar – she was sitting there with the two pigeons just above her:
"Where's that bloody husband when you need him"
Eventually Mr Fulmar returned to his damsel in distress and tried to scare the pigeons off. His first attempt was to land on the cliff face between the pigeons and Mrs fulmar and just call but pigeons are not put off that easily – they did move away from the mouth of the hole but only by a few feet.

P*** Off!!!!!

Mrs Fulmar was very impressed with these early efforts though because she came out to the edge of the hole to watch her hero in action......
"He's so wonderful and brave"
He then decided to drive home his attack and waddled slowly along the ledge towards them, calling as he went. The outcome of this was somewhere between a partial success and total failure.  The successful bit was when one of the pigeons took to the air, the failure was it landed back by the hole and in the space he had just vacated. Cunning buggers these pigeons.

Attack, attack, attack.
He continued towards the remaining pigeon who retreated further along the ledge but Mr Fulmar didn’t drive home his attack and turned back to concentrate on the one nearer the hole. He enjoyed a little more success with this one as it took to the air but it only went as far as it’s mate...... so back to square 1.
Eventually Mr Fulmar tired of all this harassment (after all it was Sunday) and flew off leaving Mrs Fulmar to it. I too wandered off to check whether any wheatears or black redstarts were in residence (they weren’t) and when I returned the situation was back to how it was when I first found them – Mrs Fulmar being driven to distraction by 2 pigeons trying to evict her.

"Give me strength"
There you have it. Exciting stuff what?
Spring Watch had better watch out – Cliff Watch at Kingsdown is waiting in the wings.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Black Redstart and Wheater

I strolled around the local patch today hoping it had improved since my last visit.
I started on the rifle range but this was completely dead – I don’t think I saw any passerines at all, just the resident jackdaws, fulmars and a few gulls, so I quickly moved onto the cliff top.
The scrub near Kingsdown golf clubhouse held a couple of chiffs and a black cap so no improvement on my last visit but my spirits were lifted by a female black redstart that was working its way along the road via the gardens/garden fences.



Black redstart

Moving on a couple of swallows went past then I found a common whitethroat – my first here this year. I tried but he wouldn’t pose for the camera.
For the rest of the walk to Hope Point I saw very little other than the local linnets and a few more swallows (I had 12 in total)
I was standing around at Hope point trying to decide whether there were 4 or 5 jays in the bushes when a trio of yellow hammers alighted some 25 yards away. They didn’t stay long but that’s the largest “flock” I have seen up there this year.

Yellow hammer

Also a Hope point were a few mippits and a male bull finch but the latter was miles away so no pictures.
The walk back to the car was a repeat of the outward journey, including re-finding the black redstart but 2 sand martins went past.
I had to be home by 10.00 so I thought that was that for the day.
Whilst at home I got a text saying a possible Iceland gull had been seen from the Rifle Range so once my homely duties had been fulfilled I returned.
Well, as you’ve probably guessed there was no sign of the gull but at the end of the range I found a couple of rock pipits (the tide was now in and they are always easier to find when they’ve been pushed off the beach) and 2 male wheatears.
The rock pipits shot off before I could get near but the wheatears performed very well for the camera.


At one point one of the wheatears disappeared down a hole and I moved a  closer and waited for him to emerge. It took several minutes but eventually he emerged and seemed unperturbed by my presence. He stood guard at the mouth of the hole for 10-15 minutes even flying out towards me to catch insects before returning to his guard duties.


Guard duty

Sadly there is absolutely no chance of him nesting there due to disturbance – from birders, dog walkers, fisherman.
So nothing out of the ordinary but a pleasant morning and some pleasing pictures.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Upupa epops - Hoopoe to you and me.

My day started at the Elms which yielded a few chiffs but little else then as the weather deteriorated and the rain started I retired to the scrape and saw next to nothing. A few shelduck and oyster catchers and a lone male white wagtail. Since it was still only 8.30 I decided it was too early to return to the Obs and drink coffee so I went home to do some chores.
At 10.30 or so I went back to the Obs to drop off some proof reading I had been doing. We were sitting around drinking coffee and complaining about the weather when the phone rang – a resident of the estate had found a hoopoe in their garden.
3 of us immediately gathered our stuff and went round to the house where the owner invited us in. A 4th arrived a few minutes later.
It seems the hoopoe was first seen only a few yards from the house but by the time the owners had identified what it was (they were not birders) and phoned the Obs it had wandered away from the house and was foraging under a leylandii hedge.

I took a number of photos as the bird worked its way down the hedge (and away from us).  The light had not started off very good (1/160th at ISO 1000) but as the rain intensity increased the light got worse and by the end I was down to 1/80th at ISO 1600. Needless to say these latter pictures were rubbish.
At one point the bird stopped feeding and had a few minutes shut eye before disappearing completely from view under the hedge.

This is where we thanked our hosts and departed.
In the afternoon the rain stopped and the sun came out so we had a wander around the Elms.  The chiffs I saw in the morning were still there chiffing away merrily but we also found a couple of fire crests and blackcaps.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Flocking Linnets

Today I started in the Elms at Sandwich where chiff numbers had increased a little and a willow warbler was heard.

As it brightened up I went off to Langdon hoping for some peregrine shots.  I saw the peregrines they didn't come close enough for the camera however the reason for this post was to show you the linnets that were on the cliff top fields.
The first flock I saw was around 250 strong and I put them up and they disappeared before I could get the camera out. As I continued towards the cliffs another flock (about half the size of the first) dropped in for a few moments then they flew off as I approached. I managed some photographs of this second flock which also allowed me to do a count – over 120 were captured on the image. As I continued a third flock of around 30 birds went past.
A small,part of the second flock

Part of the second flock
I’ve not been watching birds that long but these were by far the largest accumulation of linnets I have seen and thought someone out there in electron land may be interested.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Ring Necked duck to the Rescue

The last week or so has been slow to say the least in the Sandwich and Kingsdown areas with few birds and no pictures. Today I decided to go to Dungeness to try and change my luck.
I did start at Kingsdown (because I had to take my wife and daughter to the station at 9.00) and on the Rifle range I had the black redstart ( I'm pretty sure it was the same one as previously by the colouration) and a wheatear – the first of the year there for me.

The kestrels were also on the cliffs.

Kestrel (male)
I did spend half an hour on the cliff top but there was little moving – about a dozen linnets and a lone swallow.
On arriving at Dunge I started at the ARC but on the way to the hide there was a stampede of scopes and cameras in the opposite direction. One guy had the decency to stop and tell me a ring necked duck had been found and could be seen from the viewing ramp. Since I was at the hide by now I did stop and have a quick look but only a few common ducks and gulls to be seen – no sign of the spoonbill.
On arriving at the ramp there were about 20 people in residence and none of them were looking down their scopes – never a good sign. The ring neck had just disappeared down one of the channels in the reed bed. After  half an hour some of the throng started moving towards Denge marsh (me included) hoping it would show in the more open water but I’d only gone 200 yards when the earky leavers started coming back – it had been seen and was now moving back to where it started.  When I got back to the ramp the bird was already there but was tucked up close to the reeds sleeping and that’s the way it stayed for the next hour or so. It did occasionally look up, have a quick preen, then settle back down – this was when I grabbed a few shots.

Ring-necked duck
Whilst hanging around the ramp a few bearded tits were seen but only flying away and a pair of gt crested grebes shaped up looking as if they were going to display but changed their minds and went back to fishing.

Great Crested Grebes
Eventually I gave up and wandered off but there was little else to see. A few sedge warblers were singing as were the Cetti’s but I couldn’t find the great white egret.
On the way out I stopped at the farm house and spent some time with the tree sparrows. The feeder is now empty but they continue to frequent the scrub in the feeder area.

Tree Sparrow