Thursday, 31 January 2008

Opposite ends of the birding spectrum

A few observations from the birding world that is East Kent, on a day when the recent pleasant sunny spell comes an end......... there were large numbers of Gannets feeding off Kingsdown this morning - up to ten in the binoculars at a time, plunging into the sea in the relatively sheltered lea of the cliffs.

It was nearly dark, and wet and windy, but clearly there was a considerable movement of birds south into the wind - auks, divers, gulls and ducks - almost all unidentifable in the gloom.

But previously, when it was still sunny, I was pleased to see a Little Owl on the stump where at least two Little Owlets had fledged last year - shall we hear the patter of tiny talons again this year, I wonder?

And yesterday, a Jay sat on a gravestone in Ramsgate cemetary, watching me trying to track down one of the Firecrests there. Jays seem flighty birds, rarely staying to have their picture taken, whereas I've found Firecrests to be relatively confiding. In this case, however, the opposite applied.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

It's a Beautiful Day

Inspired by Simon's Mote Park blog, in which he reported that he'd seen a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, we went inland today to Larkeyvalley and then to Park Wood, Challock. It was a lovely day, sheltered and bright in the woods, but little stirred in Larkeyvalley except a few Redwings keeping to the treetops - not even a Great Spotted.
We moved on to Park Wood, a smallish wood managed by the Woodland Trust, and with more space and facing south there seemed to be a more lively atmosphere. There were clearly tit flocks around, and after some scanning into the thickets we were rewarded with some good views of Marsh Tits, as well as the Great, Blue and Long-Tailed versions and a couple of Goldcrests.

We walked up through the wood, testing our knowledge of distant bird calls, and spotting a Bullfinch and - astonishingly - a Common Buzzard flying low through a clearing. A Nuthatch called, its piping echoing around the trees but it stayed resolutely on the wrong side of the trunk until it flew.
Returning to the gate by the road, we heard more tits calling including a loud Marsh Tit, which we found high in the canopy. As we watched it we saw another bird, slightly larger, pass behind it and land nearby branch - its barred back showed it was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. It flew before we could move for a better angle, but returned a few minutes later, its rounded wings clearly showing its family trait. No photos of course, but a memorable sight of this little bird that had eluded us for so long.

And finally, as I was pottering around the garden in the afternoon, I was delighted that the Long-Tailed Tits had found my fat ball. What more could one ask?

Beautiful sunrise, beautiful sunset, lovely (bird-filled) day.

Rifle Range - closed.....Nature Reserve - open

Looking on the bright side, the fencing that now protects us from falling into the sea along the rifle range should provide a new safe habitat for birds and other wildlife , since walkers, dogs and birders (above) can no longer get onto it. It is possible to look through the mesh, but its not pleasant.
That's a serious (MOD) gate, and the mesh is not for climbing. It remains to be seen if it will be electrified. It seems that all we will be able to do next week when it is finished is walk the quarter-mile along the undercliff, and then turn back - we can't even get onto the baech and risk being cut off by the tide - just no fun.

The resident tame Stonechats have taken to the fence already, as it gives them another way to show off.
The final seawatch from the end of the range was pleasingly active, with the stream of Auks (OK, Guillemots) still flying south, with plenty of them on the sea. Only two divers were seen, one of which (a Red-Throat) obligingly splashed down just offshore to do some fishing. Gannets were wheeling offshore, and the number of Black-Headed Gulls on the sea seemed larger than usual.
We checked out an alternative viewpoint for the future and tried to work out how to do the BTO counts from now on.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Gulls and waders

There was a larger than usual number of gulls at Foreness today, including a large contingent of Common Gulls on the sea and on the pitch and putt greens. The lawns held groups of Herring Gulls and Black-Heads.

This juvenile Black-Headed Gull showed unusually bright orange-yellow bill and legs. The one in the middle shows a middling colour legs, with the full adult red on the right.

There were again two adult Mediterranean Gulls, one now confirmed as being the green-ringed regular visitor to these lawns.

The high tide wader roosts this week held maxima of 5 Purple Sandpipers, 42 Grey Plovers, 24 Curlew, 5 Ringed Plovers, 198 Oystercatchers and a welcome return to 147 Sanderlings. The Turnstones were difficult to count as usual (they keep moving) but some 80-odd have found a new roost site with the Purps on the pumping station wall.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Why watch birds?

Because they look beautiful, and sometimes sound wonderful - the Song Thrush in full song, and the Stonechat in full garb.

Makes up for the time spent looking at (or for) birds out at sea or on the mudflats.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Lapland Buntings

Attractive little birds, in a quiet unassuming way, Lapland Buntings are trusting of humans, which means we can generally get quite close to them without them flying off. Three or four have turned up on a muddy track on Sandwich Bay, and have stayed for a few days.
The last (and indeed first) Lapland Bunting that I saw was on the beach at Minsmere, literally surrounded by a circle of about 20 people, looking at it and taking photos, while it carried on eating.
For stunning photos, look elsewhere (i.e. here)

Monday, 21 January 2008

East Kent Covey

From the gloom of the early morning, on the country way to work, some brown blobs appeared.
Ignoring the usual nicities of the Highway Code, I screeched to a halt and counted 35 Red-Legged Partridges. Now this strikes me as unusual, and indeed foolish as even I could have hit some of them with a shotgun from that distance. Watch out, lads, the shooting season's still open (until 1st February).
The one on the far right looks nice and plump - tasty. But why so many together? Apparently they prefer well-drained soil and places with low rainfall, so perhaps with the recent deluges and flooding the Eastry gang have joined with the Northbourne boys and the Ripple massiv to form an East Kent Covey on high ground. Alternatively they may have been released for shooting, and so far managed to avoid the guns.

Did you know* that the Red-Legs (or 'Frenchmen') often make two nests and lay two clutches, with the male bringing up one and the female the other?

A fuzzy photo of one of the two Med. Gulls at Foreness today, and (below) a Common and a Black-Head waiting for scraps.

*nor did I - I must get out more. Thanks to Francesca Greenoak's All the Birds of the Air for that.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Seawatching off Kingsdown

This morning's south-westerly wind was not too promising, but there were plenty of birds flying into it down the channel. Guillemots were the most numerous, but there were also Red-Throated Divers, Gannets, Kittiwakes and Great black-Backed Gulls.
There were a few Guillimots sitting on the sea, fishing, as well as one diver (above, ID'd as a Red-Throated by its flat-chested look and upturned bill) and a couple of Great Crested Grebes.

It was good to see both Stonechats on the rocks of the rifle range, closely associating with a Meadow Pipit, and the Black Redstart was also seen. Fulmars continued to establish their nesting sites, loudly.

The early Coltsfoot shoots have grown into bright yellow flowers, but still with no leaves.

Loose Stream

In the middle of Kent, just south of Maidstone, there is a little bit of magic.

The village of Loose has grew up along a stream, using the water to power mills of various kinds, and growing watercress.

Pronounced 'lose' as in lost, not 'loose' as in not tight, it is said to be named because the stream constantly loses itself under the ground. This may or may not be true, but I give little credence to another derivation - that the plant Loosestrife is named after an argument between a local landowner and some children who were picking the flowers in his garden.

I visited the village on a dull rainy day, hoping to find a Water Rail - I've seen them here before, but today there was only a Grey Wagtail on the cress, and a few Mallards sitting on the water.

The Wool House is a fascinating old place, once used as a processing centre for fleeces which were teased with teasles and washed in the streams that run in front of it and through its garden. The spring that appears across the road has a sign saying 'Not drinking water' - it never did me any harm as I frequently refreshed myself with its water when I was young.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

The calm after the storm

The day dawned slowly, calm and bright after the previous day's gales. I checked out the beach for any recent arrivals, and found just one Stonechat (the male) and a Rock Pipit showing themselves at that early hour.
Over the sea was a movement of auks (a word which means "I don't know if they were Guillemots or Razorbills") totalling about 300 per hour, singly and in parties of up to a dozen or so; a handful of Red-Throated Divers and two Diver sp. (a phrase which means "I couldn't tell whether they were Black-Throated or Great Northern, but they probably weren't Red-Throated").
The picture above is not mine (nor even of me) but by a local photographer, Conundrum 37, this morning.

Later, I had a stroll around Ramsgate harbour looking for anything that might have sought shelter from the wind. There was nothing apart from the usual gulls and the two Shags, one actively (and successfully) fishing around the yachts.

Yesterday a report was issued, saying that 17% of the British coast is threatened by erosion. We've known this for centuries (well, possibly not the actual percentage, but in principle - just ask the inhabitants of the Suffolk coast), but of course 'global warming' is making the problem worse, and faster.

The report also says
climate change is already causing warmer, saltier and more acidic seas with a greater incidence of severe winds and bigger waves.

Warmer conditions can disrupt the marine food chain from top to bottom with the movement or disappearance of plankton impacting on predators such as fish which in turn affects the sea birds.

It is already known that warmer winters are linked to reduced breeding success and survival in some sea bird populations.

Yesterday's winds reached 63mph at Deal pier, with waves up to 2½m high - Fairlight in Sussex was the windiest apparently, up to 87 mph.

Monday, 14 January 2008

A mixed bunch

A couple of days driving around the south-east of England gave an occasional opportunity for some birding, with mixed results (you could say the sublime to the ridiculous).

A quick look at the sea the blustery Seven Sisters produced only gulls over the waves......
...but just inland the Hume's Leaf Warbler again gave good views, and seems to ignore our intrusion.
Meanwhile the Great Tits have started calling, which will drive me to distraction over the next couple of months. It seems that they start with a wide range of calls at the beginning of the season, but end up sounding the same, all consolidating on to the 'teacher, teacher' style.A brief look at a municipal lake to check if the Kingfisher is around - it isn't but four Black Swans are. Not a justifiable tick, unfortunately.

And the ridiculous? Grown men scanning an expanse of distant mud for brief views of little birds which may be Water Pipits at the Marsh Hide between Stodmarsh and Grove Ferry. At least a trusting Snipe kept us company, but Bitterns, Water Rails and Hen Harriers kept away.