Monday, 19 January 2015

Fantastic Smew

When I woke up this morning I had no idea where to go. Other than the long staying shrike at Chilham and the plastic night heron at Hythe the only place with birds in Kent seems to be Dungeness. I did consider the woods but the forecast for the Canterbury area was pretty poor - heavy cloud - not the best conditions for woodland photography. Then I checked the Dungeness area - not exactly sunshine but the forecast was for lighter cloud and a few bright intervals. Decision made. Dungeness it was.
On arrival I decided to give the ARC a miss and go straight to the RSPB. A quick look from the Firth hide allowed me to get a good look at some coots but nothing else but I could see the main duck flock had moved into the middle of the lake - things were not looking good. However as I approached the Makepeace hide I could see a great white egret very close to the Scott hide so I went straight there.
On entering the hide, no sign of the egret but a red head smew was swimming straight towards me. Fortunately it dived which allowed me to open a window then up it popped - several clicks later I had some pretty decent shots which left me thinking it was already a worthwhile visit.

A quick scan around revealed several other red heads and a very distant male. I settled down hopeful.
Not long after the drake swam across the front of the hide at about 35-40 yards - I clicked away happily then on reaching the bank it turned and swam towards me. Unbelievable.

Just to the left of the Scott hide there is a small reedy inlet and it went in there to fish; quickly catching a perch. The only downside was the reeds prevented an un-interupted view of the proceedings.

Perch wrestling

It repeated this pattern another 3 or 4 times in the next 2 hrs or so; sometimes swallowing the fish whilst in the reeds and sometimes carrying it out to open water and consuming it there. The only downside to this superb display was that it always exited the reeds underwater surfacing ~20 yards away rather than swimming out on the surface.

A red head visited the pool on a couple of occasions but I couldn't get on the bird when it was in the reeds.

but on one occasion it did carry the fish out to open water:

Here's a few more shots of smew just milling around in front of the hide - normally post eating.

There wasn't much else to point the camera at though a cormorant came very close as did a great white egret which was then chased away by a grey heron.

I could only see it's head!

All in all a fantastic morning.

Friday, 16 January 2015

A few day out when it didn't rain.

I think my birding for the last week or so has been near identical to what most of the local birding fraternity has been doing. Going down to the Dungeness area and seeing egrets, herons and ducks or staying local and seeing very little.
Locally it has been very quiet - no it has been dire. A few looks around the local patch has revealed the odd firecrest or goldcrest but none have been close enough for the camera; the bullfinch are still around but as elusive as ever.
I've had a couple of trips down to the Dover docks but it is dire - a few kittiwake and the odd med gull. I've yet to see a grebe, diver or auk in the harbour so far this year.

A little further afield the goosander are on Restharrow Scrape most days though often hidden/asleep and when on show right over the back of the pool. Teal are around in profusion, with some sitting right in front of the hide (though they too are most often asleep). Gadwall and shoveller numbers are good but too distant for the camera as are a few tufted duckes. Today however there were some pintail which are somewhat of a rarity on the scrape.

My 2 (at least I think it's 2) trips to Dungeness area have been pretty productive with 5 species of heron/egret being seen around the reserve.

Bittern on the ARC
GWE on the entrance track

Just appeared and chased away a GWE (Scott hide)

Little egret from Dennis Hide

GWE from Scott hide
GWE from Scott Hide

Cattle egret at Wraxell's

Kingfishers have also been very conspicuous - I've seen them from the screen, the Hanson Hide and the Scott hide.

The main duck interest has been around the goldeneye and smew but neither come close to the hides - at least when I'm around.

Obviously the highlight of the year in the Greater Kent area has been the yellowlegs which performed magnificently in great light so here's a few more pictures to go with those on my Flickr site.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Rye Harbour and Dungeness - 1st trip of the year

I didn't know whether to write a report on my escapades of the 5th but due to some of the comments appearing on my Flickr site I feel obliged to respond.
Since all the family were at home the only birding I did over the Christmas period was the occasional trip down to the "public loo" patch in Kingsdown and the odd visit to Restharrow.
With everyone gone (back to work or back to their respective homes - or both) Monday gave me a chance to get out.
My plan was to go to Castle water, Rye. Why? No particular reason but there was little on show locally and getting to the hide is a pleasant (if muddy) walk......and I needed the exercise.
As I was driving past Brenzett, the phone went - the lesser yellow legs was showing by the road at Pett Levels - so plan modified....first stop would be Pett.
My enthusiasm dropped as I arrived. There was only one person there and he was walking along the verge on the pool side of the road putting all the waders to flight. I pulled up and scanned the pools - all that remained were half a dozen lapwing and a lone redshank. Everything else had disappeared over the back. I didn't hang around so turned back to Rye. The first dip of the year well and truly nailed!
The walk to Castle water was pretty uneventful but from the hide a reasonable head of the common ducks were on display but mainly distant though a few gadwall came close.

After a while a red head smew showed over on the far bank and eventually came a bit closer but only close enough for some record shots.

A marsh harrier was working the far bank for most of the time I was there but there was no sign of any bittern (the main reason for going) and the water rail that was squealing nearby remained out of sight.
From there I drove to Dungeness and on the way decided to check up on the cattle egret - since I was there it was stupid not to.
I have been telling people that I couldn't be bothered with the cattle egret since I saw them all the time I was in The Gambia where they would even take chips from the hand around the swimming pool (though one crapped on Angie's sun bed whilst she was feeding it chips!).
Anyway as I arrived they were only a few yards from the fence line so I swung the car into position and had a few minutes firing off shots between the wire!
After  a few minutes they moved further into the field so I departed for the ARC.

At the ARC all the common species of duck were on view as were 5 goldeneye but these stayed too distant to photograph. A couple of marsh harriers were very active along the far bank and 2 chiffs spent a few minutes in the reeds in front of the hide (as did a wren but that was too close to focus on).

I had the pleasure of 2 kingfishers flying past together then a few minutes later one came back. A little later I had another sighting of a kingfisher that seemed to come from across the lake.
A bittern flew into the reed bed you can see when looking towards the screen hide and landed high up on the reeds and stayed there 10 minutes or so.

Eventually I gave up on the goldeneye coming closer and decided to have a look from the screen. On the way a kestrel was showing well atop the pole by the car park and at the screen a(nother) kingfisher was on show and fishing!

I have no idea how many kingfishers there are on the ARc but I had 5 sightings in about 90 minutes. There are certainly 2 but could be twice that number.
I was just about to go and thinking that I must be one of the few people to visit dunge and not see a great white egret when one flew in - distant but a sighting none the less.

So there you have it. My first day out. Nothing spectacular but enjoyable in the gloomy weather and nice to see bittern, cattle egret and great white egret in a single session but perhaps what was more remarkable was that I didn't see a little egret or grey heron! (but then again I didn't really look very hard).