Sunday, 29 June 2008

Kittiwakes at Dover

Another sunny, breezy day - not the best weather to see and photograph white birds in precarious positions on white cliffs, but if you don't do things when you think of them, it'll be too late. to stand worrying close to the edge, peering down to a few of the closer nests, and sure enough the young Kittiwakes have hatched.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Flaxen beauty

The cliched phrase 'flaxen-haired beauty' is puzzling..... does the poor girl have thin green strands like the plant's stems, or a blue-rinse like its flowers?
There seems to be a larger than usual number of fields planted with flax or linseed this year, with at least three around Kingsdown. It's a lovely sight when the flowers are in bloom in the morning, although they close up by the afternoon.

Another flower that only opens for the morning is Goatsbeard, hence its local name of Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon. It's a relative of Salsify, which also has this habit. Our walk today wasn't too late in the day, but there were no open flowers to be seen, although we saw a couple of dozen of the spectacular seed-heads.

Toadflax - The scientific name Linaria means "resembling Linum [flax]" which the foliage of some species superficially resembles. The flowers certainly don't.

There were few Grove Snails to be seen in the dusty heat of the day, and this one was tightly sealed against drying out. Apparently these snails are used to illustrate the principles of evolution, because Thrushes eat the snails that are least well-camouflaged in their environment.
Grassland snails are lighter (like this one) while those in woodlands are darker.

A family of five young Swallows were lined up along the rope at Restharrow, waiting to be served insects by the parents.

Marsh Helleborine

Friday, 27 June 2008

Annual Invasion of the Whites

I'm no good at keeping diaries, perhaps because of the crashing boredom of an average day. But with a blog, it's easy to check back and see what was happening this time last year. At the end of June 2007 (after a wet cool month) we were surprised by an invasion of hundreds of Marbled White butterflies, and here they are again, a welcome crowd fluttering over the long grass.

No need to go very far to enjoy the beauty of nature at the moment then, with skippers also emerging in good numbers, and the summer flowers bursting into bloom.
There are about 40 Pyramidal Orchids flowering near the entrance to the rifle range, and a similar number of Fragrant Orchids (and one Pyramidal) on the verge by the golf course.

Pale Flax

Male Kestrel searching for food for his brood

One special trip was made this week, however, to Park Gate Down, which is carpeted with orchids, including five spikes of these, which I hesitatingly call Late Spider Orchids, although they look very like Bee Orchids. I await correction!
White Fragrant Orchid

And a brief visit to Wye Downs produced a couple of Black Viened Moths, which are now apparently restricted to four fields on chalk in Kent. And none elsewhere in the UK.
Their colouring reminded me of the Marbled Whites, but is more similar to Black-Veined Butterflies, which are now extinct in the UK.

Goldfinch on Sorrel

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

The Concrete Road

There is a concrete road leading to the old radar station in the Wood, built by Canadian soldiers. The view looking back towards Deal and the sea is wide, giving a heart-lifting feeling whenever we walk there.
It is exposed to the north-east wind, but for some reason it gives a good feeling - maybe it's on a ley-line?
The closely-cropped fields either side hold a good variety of flowers - eyebright, speedwell, pimpernel, clovers, hawkbit, mignonette, seal-heal, yellow rattle, red bartsia, an occasional pyramidal orchid and many others - I even found a solitary hounds-tongue.
This tiny blue flower has eluded my identification so far - any ideas? And while we're at it, whatever is this bug, which looks like a hoverfly with grasshopper's legs - it moved like a grasshopper too. [Late's a Wasp Beetle - thanks Greenie!]

On the Goats Field, the small patch of unspoilt downland had a similarly wide variety in its small area, even including a handful of broomrapes.
On 21st June last year, there were two little Little Owls on the usual stump, and now (a couple of days later) what do we see.....?
Yay! Two more!

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Near Sandwich and Near Canterbury

A quick trip to Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory, or rather Restharrow Nature Reseve (as there were no birds apart from a cute family of diving Tufted Ducklings of note) provided some interesting plants:
Lizard Orchid

Marsh Helleborine

and Marsh Orchids

as well as a few Slow Worms under a sheet of corrugated iron.

Then later, as I was east of Canterbury, it seemed impolite not to visit East Blean Wood to see the Heath Fritillaries. Sure enough, they were fluttering around their usual clearing as if they were the commonest butterfly in the land.
When one flew into the car and sat on the upholstery it occured to me that it represented about 1% of the national population.
Heath Fritillary caterpillars eat Common Cow Wheat, which is actually not common at all, and so their habitat is restricted to a few woods in England. More details about this colony can be found here.
I have to say that I did not consider it impolite not to drive a few more miles to Grove to see a small wader that looks like a stretched Dunlin, so I have to rely upon Steve R's customary diligence for this shot of a White-Rumped Sandpiper (with Shelduck for size comparison).
In compensation, a family of swans waddled past a line of cars waiting at a level crossing, presumably looking for the river. The cygnets had great difficulty in climbing the curb.
Note to keen birders....yes, sometimes I would travel some distance to see a rarity such as a W-RS, but today my heart wasn't in it (just as well, because it had gone by this time).

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Home on the Range

After much trekking around the county (involving kids, boxes and many stairs), it was good to get back to the home patch - the rifle range.

I couldn't decide whether this noisy Kestrel was a youngster or a nagging female. It flew fine but looks bedraggled, and by the way the male was keeping close to it I'd assume it's a newcomer.

Futher along, a Ringed Plover flew up calling, leaving its mate sitting on a scrape in the sand. I kept away, but as there would have been plenty of walkers and dogs passing by it was no surprise that on my next visit the birds had gone.

The sand shows where the nest-scrape had been. As Ringed Plovers nest three or four times a year, they may be more sucessful elsewhere.

Sea Pea, a rare and declining plant only found on coastal shingle - The unusually extensive native range is explained by the ability of the seeds to remain viable while floating in the sea for up to 5 years, enabling the seeds to drift nearly worldwide. Germination occurs when the hard outer seed coat is abraded by waves on sand and gravel.

We could not resist another night-time trip to see/hear Nightjars and Woodcocks, this time to Clowes Wood north of Canterbury.

The wait for dusk was enlivened by a number of purring Turtle Doves, and other birds were singing their dusk chorus, including Blackbird, Song Thrush, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Pheasant and Tawny Owl.

It was just light enough to enjoy a clump of orchids by the ditch at the side of the track. Various rude comments relating to David Bellamy were made.

As night fell and the birdsong faded, a Woodcock appeared, slowly flying a circuit around its territory.
Two Nightjars were seen flying together by the eagle-eyed Norman, and one took up stations in various trees to chur.