Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Kingsdown Update

For the last 3 weeks my birding routine has been pretty samey – the first hour or so each morning I pop down to the beach at Kingsdown checking out the rifle range and the toilet block bushes. After that it’s back home to do the nursie bit for Angie who is recovering after an operation.I suppose I should be grateful because it was because of this routine that I was on the rifle range for the Pallas’s warbler 2 weeks ago. However it is getting a bit repetitious.
Whilst at home I have been keeping an eye on the garden and have been fortunate enough to see a black redstart (juv) and a grey wagtail this week. The latter visit the garden most years but the black redstart was a garden tick though it took me a minute or two to work out what it was. The bird was in an unusual setting atop a 15-18 ft high tree which totally threw me and the imagination ran wild for a few seconds…………I could only see the head and I was excitedly thinking juvenile red breasted flycatcher was a possibility until it flew towards me. The flight and subsequent sight of the tail shattering my flight of fancy.
Since the Pallas’s the sea front patch has been pretty quiet. A firecrest was on the rifle range for several days but wouldn’t show and the only other things of vague interest were the pair of stonechats and the male kestrel who is getting increasingly tolerant of people.

The brents seem to be permanent fixtures now (at high tide) and if you are careful you can get pretty close.
Yesterday there was a flock of long-tailed tits by the steps up to the golf course and I refound them (or another flock)  later by the toilet block.

Today, Steve Rayaert and I found a blackcap and a goldcrest along the base of the cliffs and whilst we were on the footpath a fieldfare appeared on the range itself. With the fence in the way we took no further notice and continued to the end of the footpath and moved onto the range to take some pictures of the brents.

Brent geese
We’d just decided we’d had enough of the brents when the fieldfare re-appeared. It must have just come in because it allowed us to get within 10 yards or so of it and it hopped closer as It was feeding.


Steve departed for Sandwich and I went to the public loos again and heard a firecrest calling. After a lot of waiting it transpired there were 2 of them and eventually one poked it’s head out of the foliage for 0.5 of a second.
Firecrest - typical view


So a nice variety of the more common stuff but no sign of a red flanked blue tail or dusky warbler………yet.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Pallas's Warbler at Kingsdown

The weather forecast suggested the day would start foggy and damp but first thing the sun was out, it was quite warm and there was no wind……….unfortunately there were no birds either or at least no birds around the Kingsdown toilet block (other than a few chiffs and tits).
All this was to change. 
The cloud rolled in, a light mist descended, the temperature dropped, I moved to the rifle range ………………………………and I found some nice birds.
No sooner had I gone through the metal gate on the rifle range when I flushed a ring ouzel which flew up onto the cliff face then moved into a small tree 100 yards into the range. 

Ring ouzel

As I moved down the range another ouzel was flushed and it joined the first one

I tried to get closer. 
The adult male had had enough and flew up onto the cliffs towards the southern most end of the range but the second remained in the tree. From a photographic perspective the bird was in completely the wrong place with a twig right across its face but I think the twig hid me from the bird and I managed to get quite close (by ring ouzel standards).

Whilst photographing the ouzel I had seen several small things flitting around the same tree and eventually I put the bins on to them…………..2 chiffs and what I thought was a yellow browed warbler.
All thoughts of the ouzel disappeared and I moved closer hoping for a shot or two of the “YB” - a bird I rarely see let alone photograph.

Pallas's warbler
The” YB” was constantly in motion and I followed it’s movement though the camera lens  firing off shots every time it was in the open. It was during one of these flits I saw a vivid flash of pale yellow. The yellow browed was a Pallas’s!!!!!!

Not much of a shot (!) but the pale rump of the Palllas's was obvious
Whilst what I was doing didn’t change my anxiety level had.
The light was very poor and despite ISO 640 I still only had around 1/100th sec so I needed the bird to be still for a moment or two and eventually I struck lucky.

Only shot I managed showing the crown stripe


After a couple of minutes the bird disappeared into the scrub and although I saw it a little later I didn’t manage any more pictures.
That’s not the end of the story though because in the same area were a pair of stonechats and whilst we were waiting for the Pallas’s to re-emerge a firecrest moved in then out again and disappeared down the track. 

The firecrest was the only bird to show when the sun was out.

All in all a very pleasant morning only a few hundred yards from the door.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Shore larks and Snow buntings

I had to be In Thanet today so this gave me the excuse I needed to have a look for the snow buntings and shore larks reported yesterday.
I arrived at Minnis Bay at around 8.00 and joined the legions of dog walkers strolling along the prom/sea wall west towards Reculver. Fortunately most only go as far as the gate across the path which was just as well as a few yards past the gate I found the 2 snow buntings feeding on the 2 or 3 feet of weed covered beach that hasn’t been eroded (more on that later). When I spotted the buntings I was all of 8 yards away so I set up the camera and moved closer for some pictures (this is no exaggeration). The light was rubbish so I upped the ISO to 640 so as to get 1/200th. I took loads of shots in part because I love snow buntings and in part to the excessively high failure rate I was achieving. I know they don’t look like it but snow bunts are rarely still and any movement resulted in a total blur.

After a few minutes of enjoyment one of the dog walkers decided to  let her dog walk along the 2 feet of beach top remaining and right under where I was sitting photographing the birds. Just how un-thoughtful can people be? She didn’t have a white stick so she must have seen me photographing the birds. Fortunately the birds flew out over the sea and returned just a few feet from where they started.
At this point I dropped down onto the beach to get some eye level shots. They weren’t quite so happy about me getting close when on the beach but seemed happy with 7-8 yards.

Eventually even I tired of taking their picture so wandered off towards Cold Harbour in search of shore larks and seeing lots of mippits and  chaffinch on the beach and up near Cold Harbour a large flock of linnet and goldfinch (400?) plus a few brambling.
On the wader front there was a flock of 60 or so ringed plovers, 20-25 turnstones and a group of 8 grey plovers.
At  Cold Harbour there were a pair of stonechats but the most notable thing was the level of erosion the shingle bank there is suffering from. The top of the bank is now only 3 feet wide at it’s eastern end and another storm or two could see it completely washed away. A lot of the beach along the whole stretch between Minnis Bay and Reculver  is disappearing so I Googled “Erosion at Minnis bay” and all I could find was this (it wasn't dated so I don't know how current this line of thought is)
To summarise it says that the current short term plan is to try and maintain the current beach and sea defences but over the long term this is unsustainable due to the lack of material to rebuild the beach . The beach  would therefore be surrendered under a “Managed realignment” creating salt marsh (with the loss of the Oyster Farm etc) with the maximum extent of the ingress being the seaward side of the railway. The beach is disappearing at quite a rate so this could happen pretty soon.
At Cold Harbour I turned round and retraced my steps but this time I found the shore larks about level with Plumb Pudding stables. They were on the wider part of the beach top but as they saw me approaching on the road they dropped down to the lower beach. I sneaked out onto the top part of the beach and managed a few shots before they’d had enough and flew off west.

Mike Gould had joined me by this time and he too managed a few shots.

I told Mike about the snow bunts so he walked with me back towards the gate –  the snow  buntings were still there. A few more shots then it started to rain so we both departed. This was just as well as I got a phone call from the wife asking that I come and collect her from the hospital. 

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Of Chiffs,an Osprey and a Spotted Crake

Since my last post on Thursday I have really failed to find anything of note. Rain stopped play on Friday but Saturday (and Sunday for that matter) saw me back at Langdon Hole full of hope for some more (and better) ring ouzel shots. Needless to say it wasn’t the case. I did find 6 ouzels on Saturday but they were more flighty than on Thursday (if that’s possible) and I didn’t get close enough for a single shot and on Sunday I didn’t see any.  On Sunday I had a look around the stubble fields between South Foreland and Landgon hoping to see or hear a Lapland bunting but that was another dip – quite a few corn and reed buntings and a few yellow hammers but no sign of a Lapland. There were also decent numbers of mippits and skylarks but they didn’t want their picture taken.
I also did a bit of bush bashing both at Kingsdown (public toilets) and between South Foreland and Langdon but all I found were chiffs – dozens of them. In the scrub above Fan Bay there were so many that I did wait and watch the them for 30-45 minutes in the hope that something of more interest might pop out but it didn’t. It did allow me to get a few chiff shots though.

Monday again started at Kingsdown public toilets where all I found were chiffs – I’ve not found a crest there so far this autumn which is most unusual, then after a visit to the docs I went over to Grove.
The hope was for find some bearded tits which I managed but they were very flighty. Whilst concentrating on one group if 8 an osprey flew over my head, over the Feast Hide (scattering the feathered occupants) and disappeared to the SE; I didn’t see it until it was past me and putting up the gulls and ducks in front of the hide.
By now it was midday and I’d taken hardly any pictures so I gave up on trying to find my own birds and went to Oare and spent the afternoon with the spotted crake.
As far as crake watching was concerned it showed very well and at times for prolonged periods but always obscured by reeds. A few times it wandered into areas where it was a little less reedy but whenever it did it was in the shade AND the sun was behind a cloud. As a consequence the shutter speed was very slow and I lost a lot of shots due to motion blur - it was constantly flicking weed out of the way as it searched for food.

Spotted  Crake
Most of the time it seemed to be walking without a problem with no sign of a limp but on a couple of occasions it did lift up one leg and seemed very reluctant to put it back down and hobbled as it adjusted its position. So I think it has a poorly foot but perhaps it’s on the mend.

With the cold weather due later in the week it needs to fly off ASAP or that might be curtains.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

A Hole Full of Ring Ouzels

I actually went to Langdon Hole yesterday seeing very little but it was only when I was leaving I found out that  4 ring ouzels had been seen there earlier in the day.  I’d seen and heard none so today I went back.

I arrived around 8.00 am and walking down the main track to the Hole from the Reach Road lay-by I heard then saw 3 of the beauties from about 100 yards. Needless to say they flew off before they came in range then I saw the reason........another early morning birder/photographer – those buggers get everywhere. Still my hopes were high as he told me there were at least 7 present.
For the next hour or so I was constantly seeing them flying from one bush to another (normally 50+ yards away) and circling overhead but I could not get close enough even for a record shot. On several occasions as I walked past a bush I could hear them clucking within but could not see them and because of the geography of the hole you often couldn’t get round the other side.
I met up with Phil Smith and had a chat with the ouzels constantly flying overhead so I managed a few poor flight shots.  
Ring Ouzel
When Phil wandered off to complete his circuit I decided it was time for new tactics.
I knew where one was holed up so I hid behind some bushes close by and I resolved to wait it out. After a few minutes something was moving towards me............a chiffchaff.  
Across the gully I spotted Steve Ashton and Mike Gould but I carried on where I was and actually managed a couple of record shots of other birds but the bird I was staking out remained unseen.
It had gone quiet where I was so I went to find Steve and Mike and found them talking with Phil – I wonder how Phil manages any birding; most of the time he spends talking.
As we stood around chatting it was clear that the birds had moved to this part of the hole and a clump of bushes about 50 yards away had several in it so we moved closer. Needless to say we failed to get any pictures but half a dozen ring ouzels flew out of the bush, over a ridge and eventually we followed. A say eventually because all this walking and (not) taking photographs had been too much for Steve and Mike so everything stopped for a tea break:

Over the ridge the ouzels were really very active and at last one landed in the open. A nice cock; shame it was above the skyline:

As we stood on the south side of a ridge we watched about 15 ouzels moving to the southern-most end of the Hole and once they reached there they flew back over our heads from whence they came.
At this point I gave up the chase and stood on a small ridge about 30-35 yards from one of the clumps of bushes they seemed to like. It was a good move because 4 or 5 ouzels came into this clump and on several occasions they sat in full view and I got some reasonable shots:
I thought I got pictures of one of the ouzels calling but on closer examination of the images I think it has regurgitated a berry and dropped it:
Bringing it up

You can just about see the berry in it's throat

Berry now in the tip of it's beak

Berry has been discarded and is just below the white cresent
We continued for another hour or so but in reality that was that.

Around 11.45 we gave up and made our way back to the cars. A good call as the first drops of rain appeared just as we arrived at the cars.
All in all we think we saw 20-30 ouzels which was really great as I normally struggle to see one. I just wish they had been a bit more cooperative