Sunday, 30 March 2008

Cowslips at Beachy Head

During a visit to Beachy Head at this time of the year, you can hope to see the first swallow, early wheatears and cowslips by the side of the road. Oh yes, and long views.

Sure enough the Cowslips are emerging, a lovely sign of Spring.
They can also be seen on the verge of the A20 between Folkestone and Dover, presumably sown by the Highways Agency when the road was built.

Although no swallows were seen, there were two male Wheatears, appropriately enough on a flint wall, as both the bird and the stone are closely linked with Sussex.

To quote the RX Rye report,

A return to form at Ternery pool this morning, 138 Mediterranean Gull, 155 Sandwich Tern and at least 1000 Black-headed Gull created lots of noise and activity.
I'd noticed that the Kingsdown flocks of Black-Headed Gulls had left for their breeding sites, and this is one of them. And yes, the noise is tremendous.
Part of their courtship routine appears to be paddling away from each other, spreading the wings slightly and seemingly ignoring the other. I've seen similar displays on the dance floor.

Quietly dibbling at the side of the gravel pit, away from the chaos, was a male Little Grebe in breeding plumage.
dibbling -(oe) a combination of dabbling and diving

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Moonraker cliffs

A walk under the cliffs showed a new fall of chalk, with a width of about 30 metres falling onto the beach and into the sea.

I scrambled over the soft boulders looking for fossils, and found a few, like this shell compressed by the surrounding rock.
These cliffs are made of the microscopic bodies of plankton, which died and sank to the bottom of the shallow warm seas between 100 - 60m years ago. So a piece of chalk from the cliff top may be 30m years older than a similar piece at the bottom.
These pebbles would have been surrounded by the plankton bodies, only to see the light again this month.
The layer of chalk was, of course, originally horizontal, but was folded by continental movements over the past 30m years, and exposed by weathering and the break-through of the English Channel between 450,000 and 180,000 years ago.

Flints in the chalk are formed from silica and something to do with sponges, but no matter how often I read how this worked I don't understand it.
Back to more simple things..........(you may see the connection in a minute)....

In Moonraker, nearby Kingsdown is home to Sir Hugo Drax's rocket research establishment, which is sandwiched on the edge of the towering cliffs between Dover and Deal.

Bond did a racing change and swung the big car left at the Charing Fork, preferring the clear road by Chilham and Canterbury.

There was a signpost that said Kingsdown, and the lights of a small inn.
He pulled up and switched off the engine. Above his head a sign which said 'World Without Want" in faded gold lettering groaned in the salt breeze that came over the cliffs half a mile away.......

It was a wonderful afternoon of blue and green and gold. When they left the concrete apron through the guard-gate near the empty firing-point, now connected by a thick cable with the launching site, they stopped for a moment on the edge of the great chalk cliff and stood gazing over the whole corner of England where Caesar had first landed two thousand years before.

To their left the carpet of green turf, bright with small wildflowers, sloped gradually down to the long pebble beaches of Walmer and Deal, which curved off towards Sandwich and the Bay. Beyond, the cliffs of Margate [sic], showing white through the distant haze that hid the North Foreland, guarded the grey scar of Manston aerodrome above which American Thunderjets wrote their white scribbles in the sky. Then came the Isle of Thanet and, out of sight, the mouth of the Thames.

It was low tide and the Goodwins were golden and tender in the sparkling blue of the Straits with only the smattering of masts and spars that stretched along their length to tell the true story. The white lettering on the South Goodwins Lightship was easy to read and even the name of her sister ship to the north showed white against the red of her hull.

They scrambled down a steep cliff-path to the beach and turned to the right beside the deserted small-arms range of the Royal Marine Garrison at Deal. They walked along in silence until they came to the two-mile stretch of shingle that runs at low tide beneath the towering white cliffs to St Margaret's Bay.......

Ever since they had lain down on the sand [!] up against the cliff, while his thoughts had been of Gala, his eyes had been carelessly watching two gulls playing around a wisp of straw that was the edge of their nest on a small ledge about ten feet below the distant top of the cliff. They would crane and bow in their love-play, with only their heads visible to Bond against the dazzling white of the chalk, and then the male would soar out and away and at once back to the ledge to take up his lovemaking again.

Bond was dreamily watching them as he listened to the girl, when suddenly both gulls dashed away from the ledge with a single shrill scream of fear. At the same moment there was a puff of black smoke and a soft boom from the top of the cliff and a great section of the white chalk directly above Bond and Gala seemed to sway outwards, zigzag cracks snaking down its face.

Down to the beginning of the rocks, now lapped by the incoming tide, sprawled the debris of the cliff face, an avalanche of chalk blocks and shapes. The white dust of its collapse covered nearly an acre.
Above it a jagged rent had appeared in the cliff and a wedge of blue sky had been bitten out of the distant top where before the line of the horizon had been almost straight. There were no longer any seabirds near them and Bond guessed that the smell of disaster would keep them away from the place for days.

The nearness of their bodies to the cliff was what had saved them, that and the slight protection of the overhang below which the sea had bitten into the base of the cliff. They had been buried by the deluge of smaller stuff.
He made some incredible escapes from tight situations, but that really is stretching belief - but hey, he does tell a tale well!

Monday, 24 March 2008

Peregrines and Ospreys

It's good to see Peregrine Falcons along the Kingsdown cliffs again - they've been infrequent over the last few years, keeping more to the higher cliffs between St Margaret's and Dover. These photos are not mine, although I've seen a Peregrine on my last few visits to the sea - they were taken by Steve Ray, who has not yet been persuaded to publish his shots.This bird has caught a Starling, and can be identified as a juvenile by the vertical barring on its body.
This compares with an adult (below) with horizontal barring.
Regretably I've not yet seen an Osprey flying over Kingsdown, but on Saturday we went down to Cardiff to watch the Swansea-Neath Ospreys (i.e. the Welsh team) play Saracens in the Millennium Stadium.
Despite the much-vaunted retractible roof, it was not closed to keep the freezing north wind and occasional snow out, so it was a long cold afternoon....
...especially as there were two games to watch. Not complaining though, as the game between Wasps and Leicester was a cracker, with plenty of stars on view.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Good Friday

Despite the cold north wind (the north wind doth blow, and we shall have snow......) the flowers in the hedgerows and fields are blooming one by one - the first new one that I saw today was the White Dead-Nettle, with its lovely pitcher-shaped flowers.

The work of the Coltsfoot flowers is nearly done, as most of them have turned to seed, to be blown by the winds. Below, there's a late bud alongside an early Dandelion.
And I was pleased to find the first of my favourite flower - the Forget-me-not, not in a garden but in a rough field. A cheery flower, lovely combination of colours and a great name.
Few birds around today, but I still clocked up Firecrest, Chiffchaff, Coal Tit, Peregrine, a pair of Kestrels, Black Redstart and - as I opened the back door - a cacophany of gulls, crows and jackdaws announced the passing of a large raptor with jesses hanging from its legs. It was like a buzzard with a broad white tail band - from the books I'd hazard a guess at a Rough-legged Buzzard. Like all the other birds today, it was gone before the camera was ready.

Happy Easter to all.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Brambling again

Back to the wood car park to watch the Chaffinches, tits and a couple of Bramblings feed on the grain and feeders there.
I should admit that before yesterday, I'd only ever seen one Brambling (last year, a female in Larkeyvalley wood). So they're still a bit special to me.

One of the thirty or so Chaffinches. Strangely, the hens outnumbered the cocks, in contrast to the flocks seen on the fields recently.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Thornden Wood

Near to my new place of work is the northern part of the Kentish woodlands known as the Blean, specifically Clowes and Thornden Woods. I've not ventured far from the car parks (partly because the paths are muddy after the recent rain) but I've noticed that some kind souls have provided bird food nearby, attracting mostly tits and chaffinches, but also siskins.

'But what is this?' I hear you say. A finch with an eyestripe and a yellow bill?
Soon the male of the species arrives, and I see that it's a Brambling - at last, because there seems to have been a plethora of these this winter, but I'd not seen any of them.

A tree stump covered in lichen and moss also caught my eye.
Looking closer, you can see the ecosystem that's grown up (presumably since the storm of 1987 as there were a number of similar blown-over stumps).

One of the other benefits of working here is the sight of Canterbury cathedral in the twilight - lovely.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Fairtrade llamas

A walk in the woods produced plenty of birdsong from the usual characters, augmented by the first Chiffchaffs. The understory is carpeted by Wood Anemones and Wild Garlic, the latter giving its pleasant scent to the woodland (and to my boots long after I took them off).

From the edge of the woods could be heard Skylarks singing over the downland, and a couple of Yellowhammers rattling at each other along the hedgerows.

Nearby was a field of Alpacas, looking as daft as usual. But you long to sink you hands into the thick coat, which looks so soft.

When I got home, the current Mrs K. showed me a game of Solitaire that she had bought from Traidcraft, the Fair Trade organisation, which had llamas instead of counters.
So as well as bananas, coffee, wine etc, we now buy Fair Trade llamas!

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

The calm after the storm

The storms have been and gone, and (sheltered from the worst of the westerly wind) we've been little affected. There was a high tide and a large swell at Deal, but the wind did not deter some fishermen, although this one was more concerned with feeding the Turnstones.
Monday's gales had more effect as they were stronger and came from the south, and a description and some good pictures are on the St Margaret's blog.

Some branches were blown down in the wood, in this case leaving the tree to appeal - Where's my head?
When things calmed down, the birds emerged, including this Robin who was annoyed by the feeder being put back up in the tree, as he'd had an easy time when it blew down.That's it, it's easy with a bit of practice.

A Chiffchaff appeared, the first warbler in the garden this year. The first last year was three days earlier.
The male Sparrowhawk was again seen flying up the twitten, and the Little Owl remained serenely at his post.
Meanwhile in the kitchen, I tried some Alexanders leaf shoots, prepared and served like asparagus.
The kitchen was perfumed by the smell of the boiling shoots, and the eating was good - the tender young ones were the most succulent, with an original flavour and good texture. I'll try them again, as there's plenty about.