Monday, 31 December 2007

Glorious end to the year

It's been a quiet end to December with dull skies and little wind, so it was particularly pleasing to end with two new birds for the year, including one 'lifer'. Both are attractive little things, so that makes it even better.

A Slavonian Grebe fetched up on the pools next to road along which I commute (although at the moment I am not at work, of course), and has been kind enough to wait a couple of days until I can get there. The pools are between a road and footpath and the Pegwell mud flats, and so views can be excellent.
It's a delicate bird, just larger than the Little Grebe that was also on the pool, and like its cousin spends a lot of its time underwater. Whether on or under the surface, it certainly moves quickly, quartering the pool in search of food.
Almost a year ago to the day a similar Slav arrived at Seaton Lake. Partly in recognition of this, we travelled inland to Seaton, and long before reaching the bank were delighted to see the bright white plumage of a male Smew. We were even more impressed when we saw that a female was by his side. These were my first ever Smew, and beautiful birds they are too.
Another couple of Smew were at the other end of the lake, which also held Teal, Widgeon, Shoveller, Mallard, Coot, Little and Great-Crested Grebes and a male Goldeneye.
There were a few gulls, of course, and one in particular held our gaze, as it had a Ring-bill. Photos were taken, and it is most likely to be a second-winter Common Gull with a 'dark subterminal band' rather than the rare Ring-billed Gull.

A skein of Cormorants

..and finally, a festive Robin. Here's to a happy 2008!

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Rattus Norvegicus

While collecting compost from a garden in a nearby village we came across a large dying Brown Rat. Apparently poison had been put down and it had presumably taken some. It was the closest I've come to a rat since biology lessons at school. Yuk.

But where are our heroes when we need them?

Good grief.

Friday, 28 December 2007

Rude in Thanet

It's taken a while, but I finally got a Shag in Ramsgate .....
...and having got one, I got another. Thanks to Dylan for the tip-off, I finally scored. Cormorants are common around the Kent coast (I saw 10 feeding together off Kingsdown this week) but Shags are infrequent, keeping mostly to the northern and western coasts. A few do appear in Ramsgate harbour each year, though, but I generally miss them.

At various points around the Thanet coast there are signs like this one, politely asking people to keep away from the high tide roosts. There are four at the entrances to Botany Bay, to give some rest to the waders in winter. I counted 19 Redshanks (below), over 130 Sanderlings, 10 Ringed Plovers, 2 Grey Plovers, 16 Purple Sandpipers and innumerable (and mobile) Turnstones......
...until a dumb dog scattered them all.
Or maybe it's not the dog that's dumb. I have to admit that I was rude to them (from a distance) so perhaps they'll keep away next time.

The festive season has brought all the dogs and owners to the coast, so the safest place seems to be the old putting green at Cliftonville, where there were over 100 gulls (including at least 6 Common Gulls), a dozen Linnets, about 300 Starlings, 6 Mistle Thrushes and yet more Turnstones.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Signs of the Times

It seems that covering my patch will be more difficult in 2008 as the MOD (presumably influenced by their insurers) are erecting a fence to keep us safely to the footpath. But let's do a quick risk assessment: To the left of the path, 100' cliffs which have a habit of dropping boulders without warning.
To the right, a broad flat stretch of shingle, tarmac and sand, which has an obvious wall and an even more obvious stretch of sea beyond it. Not to mention lots of signs just in case we missed it.

So if we're to be kept away from the sea, we are penned in by a tall fence preventing us from escaping a sudden cliff fall. So if I get hit by a falling piece of cliff, I intend to sue.
It has to be said, however, that the fence will make life more peaceful for wildlife on the other side, as dog-walkers, anglers and those pesky birders will be kept away. Until the fence comes down, of course.

Happy New Year

Kingsdown Church

Continuing the spritual theme at this time of the year....Kingsdown church was built in 1850 when the village had grown to a size that was able to support its own building - previously there would have been a walk of a couple of miles inland to Ringwould or along the coast to Walmer.

The cost of building the church (and the rectory and village school nearby) was borne by William Curling, commemorated in the plaque above. Curling was a shipowner, and lived at Kingsdown House across the road from the church.
Ferns growing in the shade behind the church.

The main building material is Kentish ragstone, possibly from the quarries south of Maidstone, bringing a new habitat to the area, to be exploited by lichens which also benefit from the pollution-free sea air.
A project for the future could be to compare the lichens on the two churches of Ringwould and Kingsdown, with their very different ages and materials.

The lichen on this stone (one of the many Binghams) is known to me as 'rust', but presumaby has a more scientific name. Goodness knows where the bracken came from - perhaps imported with soil on the roots of a decorative plant?

Monday, 24 December 2007

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas - may all your nuts be big ones!

Sunday, 23 December 2007


Kingsdown's neighbouring village of Ringwould is the older relation; the main village to Kingsdown's fishing hamlet, with the original church and attractive houses. Kingsdown formed part of Ringwould's parish and is still linked, although Ripple, Sutton and Studdal have recently been added to the duties of the one vicar.
The two oldest yews in the churchyard - one at either end of the church - have been dated from 1300 and 1000 years ago respectively, indicating that they formed part of an Anglo-Saxon place of worship before the current building was founded.

Along the road towards Dover there is an eerie strip of land enclosed by chalk banks, into one side of which have been hollowed six caves. It is thought that these were store holes for houses that once stood in front of the bank.

The vegetation in the area provides some interesting clues to its history, as the chalk bank (on the left in the picture) is fronted by elder bushes and the middle part is covered in nettles, the former showing that the land is nitrogen-rich (from pig-sties perhaps?) and the latter confirming the earlier presence of buildings and other disturbance.
On the right, a less-vegetated strip shows where a road ran - possibly the course of the original main road which has now moved a few yards to the east.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Canadian Winter

Just to remind us what winter is really like.......

...this blog fom New Brunswick, Canada has some marvellous pictures:

Search for Siskins

A day off for Christmas shopping was partly disrupted by an urge to go alookin' for Siskins. Jumpin' cold, but with no wind it was glorious, and the frost stayed all day in shaded places.

This Jackdaw looked like his wings were frosted too, but it's just a set of white feathers which give a spectacular flash when it flies.
First stop was Seaton pits, where gulls, ducks and geese huddled together on the few patches of open water surrounded by ice. Some flew up when a couple of Marsh Harriers flew over low, but soon returned to the pool. If there was a Smew in there somewhere I didn't see it.
Then to Stodmarsh, where each of the many alders was carefully scanned for Siskins.....
...and they were finally found along the main path - a flock of about 40 (counted when a passing Sparrowhawk flushed them from the trees).
I had a good chat with John Cantello while Siskins, Treecreepers, LT Tits, a Goldcrest and a Great Spotted Pecker fed nearby. He said that he had heard a few Redpolls among them.
Last 2 photos copywright S Ray

While watching the Siskins a Water Rail squealed nearby, but didn't show itself.