Sunday, 30 September 2007

Stubble

This weekend, while idling watching a warbler on the clifftop, I noticed that the field of stubble had developed a rich variety of low plant life - weeds, in other words. It was clear that there was plenty of grain and other seeds for passing migrant birds, as flocks of them flew up as I walked across the field.
Along with the mayweed and late poppies, the most stiking was the wild carrot, which had appeared in a compact form accentuating the main umbel around which side shoots had branched.
Looking closer, field pansies had appeared...
...with seed pods ready to send the new generation into the earth, ready to appear after the next harvest.
Dove's foot Cranesbill

No doubt Redshank drove farmers to distraction before the arrival of chemical herbicides, but thankfully the National Trust-managed Bockhill Farm allows this delicate plant to grow in the stubble.
Small sow-thistle - an arable weed introduced - like many others - from southern Europe, probably in seed and grain.

Oh, and the warbler? A Paddyfield Warbler that sportingly stayed in the same place after it was found, giving excellent close views (although I should point out that there are far better photos posted elsewhere).
I cleverly managed to find this bird by following the trail of panting twitchers, after I had given up looking for the shrike on Friday afternoon.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Wheatears and other foods

Wheatears have been flying south, stopping off at the coast, since the late summer, calling to mind a chapter in W.H.Hudson's Nature in Downland, in which he describes the taking of the birds by shepherds on the South Downs.
The most successful of them made up to £50 a year in this trade, 'more than their farmers paid them for the whole year's shepherding'. He describes the wheatears as being 'very fat when they arrive on the downs, and the season during which the shepherds look for them, from mid-July to mid-September, must have been a blessed time for gourmands in the past'.

'Coops' about 14 inches long were made to catch the birds, giving a high point to perch on and a hole to shelter in. When startled, the birds would scuttle from the perch into the hiding place, and so be caught. Apparently even a cloud passing in front of the sun is enough to worry them, so a breezy day of passing clouds was best for the catch.

At the time that Hudson was writing, in 1899, it was clear that the numbers of birds had substantially reduced, for which he blames less on the shepherds' trade than 'the continual spread of cultivation and the consequent diminution of the barren, and stony lands that the bird inhabits'.
'The wheatear is a pretty, interesting bird, a sweet singer, and dear to all who love the wildness and solitude of hills and of desert, stony places. It is not fair that it should be killed merely to enable London stockbrokers, sporting men, and other gorgeous persons who visit the coast, accompanied by ladies with yellow hair, to feed every day on 'ortolans' at the big Brighton hotels.' Amen to that sentiment.
Other food-related things that caught my (hungry?) eye today included....

Wild Parsnip

Wild Carrot

and a covey of seven Grey Partridges, unusually in arable fields near Ripple, which is a more usual habitat for the Red-Legged variety, as the Greys normally prefer a more meadowy land.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Seen while seawatching....

Some hours have been spent gazing aimlessly out to sea recently, but occasionally something interesting comes along.

The Waverley, the last sea-going paddle steamer in the world, built in 1947 to replace the original that was lost at Dunkirk in 1940.

A Griffon 8100TD hovercraft, made in Southampton for the Swedish Amphibious Battalion.
Fitted with ballistic protection and NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) protection, the 8100TD is powered by two Iveco water (radiator) cooled diesel engines and is capable of speeds in excess of 40 knots (46 mph or 74 kms/hr). A modern day Viking, then, intent on pillaging St Margaret's Bay?

An immature Gannet, fishing close to the end of Deal Pier.

A shoal of mackerel swam close to the pier, providing bountiful catches for the fishermen, and attracting a dozen Sandwich Terns. The mackerel were rather too large for the terns, which I assume were catching smaller fish being pursued by them.


video

Little Gull - at the patch at Dungeness

Terns at the patch

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Spiders

Here are some photos to frighten the children. One of my parental roles has been to remove 'creepy crawlies' from the house, as the kids have arachnaphobia - I can't understand why. Autumn is especially bad for this, as the little devils (spiders, not children) find their way in along various routes.

Most of the visitors are apparently young males, looking for new territories . As there are around 640 species of spider in the UK (100 of which being found in an average garden and a dozen in the average house) there is little chance of avoiding them, and I find that clearing our the shed, garage or rubbish heap is always good fun!

Garden spider
It is little known fact that the garden spider can give a bite, resulting in nausea and swelling - treat with respect in future.


A washing line spider (fat chance of the kids putting out the washing now!)


On another matter.....the beach at low tide attracts passing waders, and the calls of Oystercatchers and Curlews can be heard from my garden if the wind is coming in off the sea.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Kittiwake on Deal Pier

A booklet of sketches and paintings of Birds from the Pier at Deal, by John Hollyer (foreward by Phil Oliver) landed on my doormat today, which was a coincidence as I had spent an hour there in the afternoon.

John's marvellous pictures capture the essence of each bird, from terns and shearwaters with unfeasibly long wings, to dumpy auks and delicate petrels. I've made a note in the diary for 27th October, when John and Norman McCanch have an art exhibition in Worth.

There were plenty of birds moving (mostly north) today, Sandwich and Common terns and a variety of gulls, but the most endearing was this kittiwake that circled the cafe and then landed on the flag pole.

There were a handful of other kits flying up-channel, mostly youngsters with patterned backs. I watched their early nesting activity on Langdon cliffs in the spring, but (partly due the weather) did not return to see the chicks.

Hopefully they had a successful season. The numbers of breeding kittiwakes at Langdon have fallen to only 7% of those twenty years ago according to a JNCC survey, so they may not nest here for much longer.

Towards the end of visit, a Herring Gull arrived and asserted his authority (or at least, used his weight) to take control of the pole.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

The Old Straight Track

The track from St Margaret's at Cliffe to Victoria Road, Kingsdown is part of an ancient road from Deal to Dover, and parts of it can be seen in the picture above, continuing on the far side of the valley, skirting two areas of scrubland and following a line of bushes towards the village.

The old track can be traced along the path behind the houses in Victoria Road, across the top of Upper Street and down The Glen. The age and use of the track is shown by its depth below the earth banks, carved by generations of feet, hooves and wheels.

This downland was known as Freedown, and villagers had rights to graze livestock and gather hay, but the fields now seem like prairies, as the land was ploughed in the Second War to provide much-needed grain.

At the far end of the ninth hole of the golf course, near the St Margaret's end of the track, there is a piece of old downland that shows what the Freedown might have looked like. Much is now tor-grass and scrub as it has not been grazed, but parts contain a full range of chalk flowers of delicate beauty.

Autumn Gentian

Autumn Ladies Tresses

Harebell

Salad Burnet





Thursday, 13 September 2007

Pett Pools at Dusk

On my increasingly frequent trips to Eastbourne I'm able to call in at a number of great birding spots, like Romney Marsh, Rye Harbour and Pett pools (regretably Dungeness is too far off route). This week the trips have been at the wrong time of day, as all the hides seem to face west, so the sun's not only in my eyes when driving, but also when spotting.

Identification and photography are more challenging, and tend to be impressionistic. I enjoy watching a flock of waders wheeling across the setting sun, for example, even if I can't recognise what they are. These Black-tailed Godwits gave a good show, 30 of them flying in to the road-side pool, showing off their black and white tails and white wing bars.



Little Egret

Avocet

and don't forget the dabbling ducks - Mallard, Teal and Widgeon on Carter's Flood. There were also four Greenshanks, Spotted and ordinary Redshanks and a Little Gull.

There are some far better photos (not into the sun!) on the Rye Rx site.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Dragonflies at Fowlmead

Plenty of dragonflies hawking, skimming, gliding, chasing and darting around Foulmead today.




The variety of flora that was present in the early summer (nice and wet) has faded, leaving the dry seeding stems as the shale quickly desiccates. Down on the low-lying fields, however, things are still green, and the cheery Fleabane brightens up the scenery.


Teasel

Burning bales, indicating a damp crop that is not worth keeping?