Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Funny old year

Typical Christmas - an excuse for nostalgia and repeats.....

The year started with a few drives around the county, a memorable one ending at Walland Marsh in biting cold, watching hen harriers and marsh harriers returning to their roosts in the reedbeds.
Some birds were stalked....
some sightings were lucky breaks.....
....while some just stood in front of the camera and showed their best side.
Later in the year, my birding enthusiasm waned, and I missed a marvellous variety of rare birds, including a blue-cheeked bee-eater which turned up on the cliff-top.

Plants move slowly, so can be easier to find.... even though some may say that God only created them to stop us getting our shoes muddy.
A good number of new plants were tracked down with the help of a growing library of books. A new edition of the Kent Atlas is eagerly awaited.
A few early spider orchids appeared on the range, but despite much searching on the downs I found no late ones.
Finding a new site for small blues in the village was exciting, and a good year for wall browns was proven by diligent surveying. They may have benefited from the good summer weather enjoyed in this corner, but not shared by the rest of Britain.
Huge numbers of painted ladies were seen through the year, until the last one flew south over the cliffs in November, to be snapped up by a late swallow.
Less formal surveys indicated, however, that local kittiwake numbers continue to fall.

A holiday in Italy provided a rich variety of new butterflies, birds and plants. Where to next year, I wonder?

A few trips around the UK also broadened the mind, especially when accompanied by people skilled in attracting wildlife.

Foraging experiments continued, with the range providing a good source of veg.

One of the fondest memories of the year will be the flowering of thousands of devil's-bit scabious, covering the downs at Lydden.

But soon, winter returned, for once with a vengeance.
It's been a funny old year, really.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Christmas Past, Christmas presents

So did you have a good Christmas? What did Santa bring for you? Is it recyclable?

My first present was a fluttering firecrest at the bottom of the garden - seen clearly until a sparrowhawk cruised low across the lawn. This corner of Britain is good for firecrests but this was the first for the garden.
A male blackcap has been with us since the snowfall, and has occasionally been joined by a female and (once) another male.
He sits in a shrub by the feeders surveying the scene, chasing off any blue tits that may appear, then lands on the suet feeder and may spend minutes on it.
A sunny morning beckoned, so I walked around the Langdon cliffs area, including following the old railway track cut into the cliffs that linked Martin Mill station with Dover harbour. A hint to locals....the path does not go all the way down, so it's necessary to retrace one's steps.
It's a little used path (not surprisingly as it doesn't go anywhere) and with the protection of the cliff it's an interesting little ecosystem, with spring growth on plants that is further forward than elsewhere.
On of my presents was Britain's Rare Flowers by Peter Marren, recommended by Steve of the North Downs and Beyond blog. It's a good fireside read, and it inspires plans for later in the year. One plant that has been mentioned a few times already (in conjunction with Nottingham catchfly and early spider orchid) is wild cabbage, which is frequent between Folkestone and Sandwich, but which is considered rare on a national level.

Mr Marren makes the good point that 'a love of botany and a love of maps go well together.... where you can trace the occurrence of a plant along the river valleys or observe its confinement to certain geological formations.'
By coincidence I was also given two OS maps of East Kent, one from 1816 and the other from 1898. The most obvious difference between the two is the black lines that show the spread of the railways:-
but although the Dover and Deal Joint Railway (1881) is shown on the 1898 map, the track down to the port is not, although it was built in 1897.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Ring out Solstice Bells

Join together ‘neath the mistletoe,by the holy oak whereon it grows.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.
Best wishes to all those who have visited, and especially those kind enough to leave a comment.
May your Christmas (however you celebrate it) be as good as you could hope, and your New Year bring you the benefits that you deserve.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Colour in black-and-white

Quite impossible to get into work today (and anyway I have some holidays to take) so I had a tramp around the countryside instead. The sky was leaden and the snow was melting quickly; it was a challenge to find some colour. There are few berries left after what had seemed a good autumnal harvest. Cotoneaster (naturalised on the chalk around here) seemed to have been shunned. This seems surprising, as its seeds are widely spread by birds.
Spindle is, however, poisonous, so it's no wonder that these remain - but where in the world of evolution do the bright berries fit in? Why are they colourful, if not to attract attention?

Not many birds were seen, but those that were made up a good range of species; there were more blackbirds and song thrushes than usual, while the pick of the bunch included a sparrowhawk, two mistle thrushes, three bullfinches, a goldcrest with a party of long-tails, and this friendly but fast-moving firecrest.

Stroll into Deal

With ice and snow preventing car use this weekend, the final Christmas shopping had to be done locally - in the village shops and in Deal, which is a not inconsiderable 4 miles away, along the coast. It was a lovely walk, with a holiday atmosphere as kids and adults applied themselves to the traditional pastimes of snow-man building, sledging, laughing and smiling.
This is why I love the snow.

There was a large number of amateur photographers clicking away at the photogenic sights, making the most of the beauty imparted by the covering of snow.
Walmer Castle

Carline thistle

The most photographed boats on the shore

Turnstones on the pier

Back at home, the feeders attracted coal tits, a male and a female blackcap (the first seen since the spring) and our acrobatic dunnock..... well as the usual crew.
It's great when you are known to have a hobby - people buy you nice hobby-related presents.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Snow brings snipe

The snow that dumped on mid and west Kent yesterday finally landed on us overnight, just in time for the weekend, yay! Time to get out those sledges that have been mouldering in the garage for years unused.
An early visitor to the garden was a snipe, dibbling about in the clear soil under the pergola. This must be one of the warmer areas of the south east at the moment, with unfrozen soil.
It then proceeded to have a nap - not a particularly sensible strategy in a suburban garden, but the poor thing is probably exhausted.
There was a lovely atmosphere in the village, as the lack of cars and the dampening effect of the snow gave an eerie silence.
Thanks to the milkman, who struggled to deliver the milk. At this point he was clearing the snow from the road in front, to give himself some grip.
On the beach, the relatively rare sight of snow down to the water.
In this black-and-white world, it was sad to see gulls with oil on their feathers.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Snow, no show

Costa Kingsdown avoided the snowfalls as usual. Maybe we'll see some tonight.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Chill north-east wind brings oil

My complaint yesterday about not seeing any auks was answered in the worst way today, with the reappearance of oiled guillemots along the coast. This one floated under Deal pier, just keeping its head above water.

It duly beached on the shingle, so I rang the local rescue centre and within minutes Mark was on the scene with a long-handled net. Another - dead - guillemot floated offshore, giving impetus to our efforts to save this one.
Mark deftly netted the bird with considerably more grace than I achieved last year, when captures were made in a flurry of wings, beak and legs.
It was taken for first aid to Dover, and if it is not too far gone will then be passed on to the RSPCA's Mallydams Wood near Hastings for recuperation and release. Mark tells me that it's been a poor breeding year, so they are under attack from all sides - the north-east wind presumably bringing oil and birds closer to the coast than usual.
The local number to ring for the resucue of oiled birds is 07801-248850 .