Sunday, 29 March 2009

Bearded Reedlings

A nearly bird-free weekend, as the earlier spring-like weather has sent our over-wintering species north, but the later cold winds have kept the new arrivals from taking their place. This is a simplistic interpretation, but it'll do.
So...much time looking into empty trees and across empty reedbeds. But were we down-hearted? Well, frankly, yes we were a bit, which is unjust as we saw plenty of Little Egrets and Avocets, which should be enough to gladden anyone's heart.
One swallow was also seen, however, and a party of bearded reedlings was active in the reeds at Oare - appropriately since I was given Rory McGrath's similarly named book today. The real name of the reedlings and the book will be withheld to respect the sensibilities of any American readers.
Wood Ants were active at Blean, in this case moving a branch into their nest for food.
We repaired to Canterbury for lunch, at the splendid fourteenth century pub 'The Parrot', which takes its name from a verse in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
I was particularly pleased to see mention of a Throstle-Cock too, and Wood-Dove was a Sussex name for Turtle Dove.
Finally, a bird photo. Probably another Reed Bunting, this time with a highwayman's mask.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Denge Wood

One of the loveliest nature reserves in East Kent is in Denge Wood, part of the badlands between Ashford, Canterbury and Folkestone. A drawback to this wood, which contains a wealth of flora and fauna, is its maze of paths which always get me lost. We tried a different way in on the weekend, from the lovely hamlet of Garlinge Green, through a farm and down an old hollow lane.
Windflowers (wood anemones) and lesser celandines were stunning as they greeted the unaccustomed sunlight, let in by the recent coppicing of Sweet Chestnut trees.
Further down, the track proceeds through beech woods, then gives onto the open space of the Warren where a great spotted woodpecker and chiffchaffs could be heard.
Across the Warren there is a profusion of primroses, only just emerging, and these are the foodplant of Duke of Burgundy Fritillaries that will be emerging in a month or so.
The Warren and Bonsai Bank a little further down the valley are superb for orchids later in the year, and already the first leaves are starting to show.
Wild Strawberry plants were peeking through, with promise of sweet things to come. Correction by one who knows - it's Barren, not Wild, Strawberry. So an empty promise.
Over the Chartham downs, two buzzards cavorted, and - on the Monday morning trip to work - a single one was standing in a field close to the road at Ringwould.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Peregrines return

The morning was benign; few birds around with just a couple of siskins flying over the cliffs. Little breeze and a flat-calm sea didn't promise any improvement, unless a raptor or two might flap slowly by as the day warmed up.

But out of the clear blue sky, two shapes shot across the cliff path, the sound of air rushing as they buzzed past the pigeon roost, then steeply climbing up into the sun, calling.
Two Peregrine Falcons, then joined by a third, rolling and tumbling in the air, showing their talons. One - a female? - took up position of a cliff face, watching and mewing as the other two displayed and passed by.
Then she flew off with them into the distance, later to take up another crag where she stood for twenty minutes or so, again mewling when another approached, occasionally dodging a curious bee.
We haven't seen much of the Peregrines this winter, with only one sighting previously in 2009, but they have returned with a vengeance.

There was little to see on the walk back - a few skylarks sang, but there were no yellowhammers or corn buntings to be seen or heard; the early chiffchaffs have moved on and black-headed gulls have left for the breeding grounds. A lone female kestrel sat atop a tree, keeping out of the way of her new neighbours.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Violets galore!

It seems to be a great spring for violets, which are carpeting large areas of my and surrounding lawns. There's pink ones, white ones and purple ones, in unusual profusion.
The colours glow in the early morning light, welcoming another sunny day.
There seems to be a brief dawn chorus at about 5.30, after which the birds get on with the serious businesses of the day -
- for Collared Doves that means sitting around on the telephone wires, while Dunnocks chase each other around.

On another subject, I've always been drawn to steps leading down to the sea.
There's something about the green weed that grows ever thicker as the steps descend, the invariably rusty ironwork, and the random patterns that the gently swirling water makes around the bottom.
Is it me, or are others similarly affected?

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Bunting, Brimstone, Bee-Fly and Bittern

A yomp around the 'Down failed to find SteveR's mystery bunting, but turned up the very light bird again (see here for the last pic, which I reckoned was a Yellowhammer). Now, however, it can be seen that it's got a thin bill so goodness knows what it is. Any comments on these birds would be greatly appreciated (and yes, we know they are most likely to be deviant Reed Bunting and Meadow Pipit respectively).
It was a glorious early spring day, and although it brought no martins or swallows to these parts, many chaffinches flew over or sang from bushes.
The warm weather brought a Bee-Fly to the garden, as well as a couple of Commas which chased away an itinerant Brimstone on the frequent occasions that it flew through. I was pleased that the Bee-Fly visited each of the flowering plants that I'd just planted, especially chosen for their bee-friendly blooms.
In the evening I visited Stodmarsh, to see the expected flight of Bitterns from the reedbeds. Apparently this time of the year they fly up at dusk, and head off east, possibly on their way back to Europe after overwintering.
Only one was seen this time, flying east calling 'Wack.....wack'. Impressive photo, isn't it?

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Immigrants of various statuses

A movement of migrants has been seen this week, with a handful of Chiffchaffs along the coast, the arrival of a female Black Redstart (and the apparent later disappearance of her and the over-wintering male). An influx of Great and Blue Tits seems to have occurred too, while numbers of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits have increased. No Wheatears here yet, or indeed any Sand Martins.
On the way up to London, I called in at the village of Southfleet to see the long-staying Falcated Duck. This species (of only about 80,000) lives in eastern Asia and has widgeon-like habits.
This individual probably hasn't flown in from China, but is more likely from a collection. It happily approaches for bread, but although it has no shame it's still a beautiful bird.
Falcated means sickle-shaped, so the duck is named after its curved tertials. But you knew that already.
Back at home, I noticed that the sails and fantail of Ripple Mill were rotating in the high winds -the first time I'd seen this. Congratulations to the owner who has renovated it over the last few years - getting the sails turning are I suppose the sign of a successful labour-of-love.
On a smock mill, the fantail apparently turns the sails into the wind by means of a ratchet. If the fantail is turning, the wind is coming in from the side (and therefore the sails are not pointing straight into it). So the ratchet wheels turn one way if the wind is coming from one side, or the other way if it's coming from the other side. Ingenious.
Some of the Town Hall Clock flowers have opened in the wood, showing their five faces.

As the Kingsdown Sherpa was taking the top photo, by the way, I contented myself with photographing lichen. How sad is that.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Town Hall Clocks and other lifers

Most of the woodland in and around Kingsdown is of poor quality, botanically and indeed zoologically, but I was surprised today when I looked more closely at the small area of about an acre or two, at the far end of the track from Victoria Road, adjacent to Oxney Woods.
Amongst the elder and thorn scrub are dotted some English Oaks, only small but uncommon on the thin chalk hereabouts. A Goldcrest flitted among the boughs, and underneath, in the dappled light before the leaves shut it out, was a carpet of Moschatels.
The flowers were still only buds, but as I've been looking for these early-blooming plants, I was pleased. The common names include Town Hall Clock and Five-Faced Bishop, as each stem has a flower on each of its four sides, and one on the top facing up. The nicknames seem rather grand for a flower only a couple of millimetres across.
The name Moschatel refers to its musky perfume, detectable in the late afternoons - I'll check them later in the week to see the open flowers.
In a sheltered spot near Poo Corner, out of the cool wind, a Small Tortoiseshell sunned itself - they've had a dismal couple of years so hopefully this early sighting might herald a recovery. In the woods, Dog's Mercury, windflowers, Lesser Celandines and Bluebells are starting to show, and Honeysuckle (woodbine) leaves give a fresh green shine.

Yesterday morning was spent in a very different environment, around Dungeness. SteveR managed to show me no less than three lifers by midday, with the greatest of ease.
No 1 : Snow Goose at Scotney pit - maybe a feral bird, but may not (and since I travelled to Canada to see them in vain, I'm not quibbling). Top pic from SteveR, with thanks and usual fee.
No 2: Iceland Gull at the Patch - nice views of it on the sea (but no pics, as it flew out to sea after 10 minutes).
No 3: Great Grey Shrike at Pannell Valley, duly found on its usual bush. As we watched, it flew into a hedgerow and emerged with a bird in its talons - not much smaller than itself. It flew back to the bush with a woodpecker-like action, then dropped down presumably to its 'larder' and returned to its perch. Stunning sight.
A better photo is here; if there are any experts on shrikes reading this, perhaps they could comment on the apparent pinkish tinge on the breast?