Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Out with the old

It's New Year's Eve, and time for some repeats....the best of 2008 as we prepare for tonight's parties.

January - the first sight of a Little Owl 'on the stump' - later, a mate would appear, and two youngsters, although one adult is killed on the road.

February, and we're jumping around the beach trying to catch oiled Guillemots and Razorbills. After treatment at Mallydams Wood RSPCA unit, a good many are successfully returned to the sea.
March - a bountiful harvest of Alexanders is harvested from the roadside, and found to be tasty. At the time of writing, the new year's growth is emerging despite the cold weather.

April - warmth, flowers and butterflies appear, including a Small Blue by South Road.

May - an Early Spider Orchid is found on Kingsdown beach. I'm so proud!

June - my first-ever sighting of Cornflowers. Later in the year, more are discovered in the new 'nature reserve' at the end of Victoria Road - how will that develop in 2009?

July - Sundews at Hothfield Common.

August - a scattered colony of Wasp Spiders is found on the undercliff. At the same time, there is a large second emerence of Common Blue butterflies there.

September - up to 43 Mediterranean Gulls roost on Kingsdown beach. They probably come from Europe, flying along the Rhine valley and then across the sea. They departed gradually until there were none.
October - a noticeable influx of migrant Goldcrests, Firecrests and Robins.

November - a mostly horrible month, with a close encounter with a Shag on one of the few bright days. While away on holiday, I miss one of the best couple of weeks of rarities at home.

December - a male Black Redstart stays on the rifle range - and Waxwings invade B&Q (but we've had enough photos of them).

So the wheel of the seasons comes full circle, and our hopes and fears, loves and losses, hates and fancies.... burn and fade. We've made new friends and regretted the passing of old ones.....

and next year we'll do it all again.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Dawn till Dusk

If you're going to pick a day and place for birding from dawn till dusk, you shouldn't pick late December at Dungeness. It was cold, it was bleak, but it was actually a great day in good company.
But first, a cuddly Robin, pleasingly lit and close to the path......
The rest of the day was spent assiduously birding (i.e. yomping over large distances, scanning distant flotillas of ducks, skeins of geese or flocks of swans for notable species).
On a brief respite, I was munching through some fish'n'chips in the car, parked overlooking Scotney Gravels pits. SteveR - manning the scope in the cold wind - called me out to check out a large mixed flock of Coots and Widgeon on the far bank. As I did so, the flock flew up as a male Hen Harrier swooped low over them - we watched as it glided slowly along the bank and eventually out of sight - a great experience of a lovely bird.

The sun was setting in the west (well, it was nearly 3.30) as we parked at the Woolpack Inn and walked to a convenient mound, which might with imagination be called a raptor viewpoint.
Sure enough, a Common Buzzard plonked down a few hundred yards in front of us, followed by a procession of Harriers flying in from the surrounding marshes.
A fine ringtail Hen Harrier flew close alongside the mound, while two more buzzards and at least six Marsh Harriers glided in.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Waxwings and Wagtails

The festive treat this year in East Kent has been the arrival of seven, then another twenty, Waxwings at B&Q. Shoppers have been treated to the unusual sight of apparently normal men and women scurrying around with telescopes and cameras, gazing into the treetops. Some drivers were so concerned that they stopped to ask what we were doing - others just beeped their horns (hohoho).
Elsewhere, some remarkable photos of these stunning birds have been posted - I was just pleased to see the birds in daylight after the dark days before Christmas.
The berries are going fast - where will they go next, I wonder......Sainsburys?
While waiting for the Waxwings to fly down for their next predation, we watched other birds taking their share, including a nice Redwing.
A necessary trip to Loose (look it up) followed, with a walk along the lovely stream.

A Grey Wagtail flitted along; a female, I think, judging by the lack of black throat.To shake off the shady image of being a birder, I spent the afternoon watching Dover Athletic beat Maidstone United 3-0. Much more normal people there, of course.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

God rest ye Merry Gentlemen etc

A Merry Christmas to all!

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Twitch and be Damned

Today I was going to twitch, I knew when I woke before dawn. Enough of this patch-beating, I want some ticks! And there were some birds within reach that would be good targets, starting with a small flock of Waxwings that arrived yesterday by B&Q in Folkestone.

There were still in the same tree when I got there, and flew down to some road-side Rowans. I was pleased to meet Brian of the 'Isn't Nature Brilliant' local website, who tries to take good photos....we all try, he succeeds.
If they stay around, I may be able to see them in reasonable light.

Next, to Hythe to see the much-twitched Night Heron, which was conveniently placed by the dam as usual. It stayed for a while, then was spooked by a dog-walker shouting into her mobile.
Next, down to Lade gravel pits to tick a female Long-Tailed Duck, and fail to find a Scaup. At the Hanson pit were one male and seven redhead Smews, and a Goosander. One particular gull stood alone, and having no shame I'm putting it down as a Yellow-legged - well, it is December. And it did have yellow legs and a bright beak.

Back towards home via Walland marsh, where there was a flock of swans by the Tree Sparrow barn - fortunately a birder with telescope was there to pick out twenty Bewicks and two Whoopers among the Mutes.

Finally, back to B&Q, where the Waxwings were now outnumbered two-to-one by twitchers. Many interesting people were met during the morning, from as far as Southampton and Northampton - maybe twitching's not that bad after all.

PS Waxwings and Long-Tailed Duck were both 'lifers'!

Ring Out, Ring Solstice Bells!

Now is the solstice of the year,
Winter is the glad song that you hear.
Seven maids move in seven time.
Have the lads up ready in a line.
Ring out these bells.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.
Ring solstice bells.

Join together beneath the mistletoe.
By the holy oak whereon it grows.
Seven druids dance in seven time.
Sing the song the bells call, loudly chiming.
Ring out these bells.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.
Ring solstice bells.

Praise be to the distant sister sun,
Joyful as the silver planets run.
Seven maids move in seven time.
Sing the song the bells call, loudly chiming.
Ring out those bells.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.
Ring solstice bells.
Ring on, ring out.
Ring on, ring out.
These four churches have been brought together into one parish - Kingsdown, Ringwould, Ripple and Sutton.

Apart from the Victorian Kingsdown, they seem to have grown organically from the ground, as the buiders used local materials - flints, marl and possibly their roofs may have originally been thatched.
From simple beginnings, each has benefited from different additions - Ringwould's tower and cupola, Ripple's spire and Sutton's hemispherical chancel.
They may well have been built on sites of pagan worship, and of course many of the Christian rituals have been adapted from the earlier local customs.

The burning of the Yule log, the decorating of trees, the hanging of boughs, holly and mistletoe are all practices associated with the pagan Yuletide celebrations.

In these dark days of winter, it is easy to understand why many diverse civilisations have developed cheery traditions to brighten the spirits.

In the churchyards, as in the countryside, there is little natural colour at this time of the year, but a clump of Feverfew was flowering above the fallen leaves in Kingsdown, and a hawkweed decorated a wall in Ringwould.

Sunday, 14 December 2008


In the gloom of a winter's afternoon, I checked out a thatcher's work in a nearby village. The roof had been replaced completely about 15 years ago, and it is time for a few repairs including the replacement of the ridge. This roof is of straw, of a variety that is especially grown for thatching, as it needs longer stalks than the commercial corn straw. Bundles are pegged in with staves.
It can't have been pleasant working on the roof, with frost and winds to contend with.
The week's strong winds provided some activity on the sea, with divers and grebes showing on and above the waves.

Numbers of garden birds have increased, and it's worth checking for continental races of Blackbirds (with dull bills, above) and Coal Tits (with slate-grey backs, below) among the British birds.