Thursday, 30 December 2010

That Was the Year That Was

Back in January, I listed 20 things to do before.... well, soon anyway.

Four of the twenty were achieved:

  • Watch the waders at high tide at Snettisham

  • Visit Ranscombe Farm in north Kent for Corncockles and Cornflowers, Cudweed and Ground Pine (failed to find the Ground Pine tho')

  • Find a Late Spider Orchid on the downs, and

  • Visit a place I know where Fly Orchids flower, but for once at the right time.

So that's a good start to the list, and hopefully a few trips around Britain this year should tick off a few more (where are those blasted shearwaters?).

What else did I see this year?

Some glorious birds .....

.... lovely butterflies and some beautiful flowers........

I also met some great people, but I've not got photos of them.

What will 2011 bring? Perhaps I should add some more lines to my to-do list, to bring it back up to twenty again, because it would be damaging to reach the end of the list and have nothing to look forward to.

How about trying to see Great Bustards, Large Blues and Cirl Buntings in the West Country for a start? That would be good.

May the new year be good for my readers, and for those writers whose blogs I enjoy. I hope you realise how much pleasure you give.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Escape to the Country

Cabin Fever had taken hold, and I was bored watching the resident male Blackcap scaring off all comers from the feeders, getting fatter by the day (both the Blackcap and myself). A flythrough by half-a-dozen Waxwings was a pleasant but brief excitement.

So a chance to escape was taken gladly today, with the first stop at the rifle range. Plenty of gulls were roosting on the rocks, with Great Black-Backs, Herrings and Commons dotted amongst 200 Black-Headed Gulls. It was too cold to look closely.

Along the path, two Green Woodpeckers bounced along in front of me, looking nervously around like........ um, two Australian opening batmen, perhaps?

A slow, meandering drive through the Ash Levels gave good sightings of large numbers of Fieldfares and Redwings, to Stodmarsh, where most of the water was still frozen.

Duck numbers were high, with more arriving all the time in large flocks, the Teal twisting in formation and flashing light and dark like waders.
A Bittern flapped lugubriously over the reeds in front of me, looking large with its feathers fluffed out - I could have tried for a photo, but the sight was so impressive the thought didn't cross my mind.

Friday, 24 December 2010

In the Bleak Midwinter

In this bleakest of bleak midwinters (snow on snow) I hope you will settle down beside the Yule log, and eat, drink and be merry.

May your God rest you, merry Gentlemen (and Ladies).

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Jay and Rockie

More birds are coming to the feeders now, which is irritating the aggressive Blackcap that likes to have them all to himself. He was hard-pressed to fend off a flock of Long-tailed, Blue and Great Tits, and a Coal Tit hid behind one of the feeders and filled its boots while the Blackcap was occupied with the others.
The Blackcap and two Blackbirds seemed to agree a truce (which is a moral victory for the Blackcap) but this Jay had no opposition when it arrived to feast on the peanuts.

A walk along the rifle range produced little more than Fulmars ....
.... but the Rock Pipit flock had increased to five, with the arrival of two littoralis-type individuals (that's a know-it-all way of saying that they had eye-stripes).

Using Latin words in italics conveys authority, and (while I read somewhere that Carl Sagan urges us to be be cautious with arguments based solely on authority) if you've got little knowledge but a bit of authority - why not use it?

Anyway, the Rock Pipit of whichever sub-species is a bit of a dull brown job, so here's another picture of the Jay.....
While on the subject of sub-species, does the greyish mantle indicate that this might be a continental G.g.glandarius or am I seeing too much?

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Waxing lyrical about Hoar Frost

[Stop press...... the waxwing flock is up to 500 by the 11th December, and I saw about 16 flying over Upper Street in Kingsdown]

At last Waxwings have returned to B&Q at Folkestone, to the same trees in which they perched in December two years ago. This morning there were a dozen and by lunchtime the numbers had doubled - new travels fast. They don't seem as voracious as the last flock, spending most of the time in the tall trees, only dropping down to harvest the bright red berries occasionally.
The twitching crowd was only three strong, presumably because there are other irruptive flocks nearby - at Hythe, Sandwich, Broadstairs.... common as muck, but quite beautiful. That would be the birds, not the twitchers.
A fellow blogger of a quite different class tells the story of how Waxwings have a 'super-efficient liver' to cope with the effects of fermented berries. This may explain why the birds are happy hanging around dodgy areas of towns, near supermarkets.
Up in the hills Jack Frost had spread a hoar frost on the trees, clinging to every surface, turning this silver birch into a, well, silver birch. Narnia came to mind.
A little research indicates that this was advection frost or wind frost, clinging only to the windward side of each stem as the cold wind laid particles of ice on anything in its way.
As the day warmed up (comparatively) the ice started to melt, falling out of the trees in showers.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Mallard v. Teal

The snow has gone from the coastal region, so I headed inland to find more, and a drop in temperature - fool! At Stodmarsh, the berries of Guelder Rose shone red in the half-light, another name - Water Elder - seeming more appropriate in the flooded land.

A flock of about 60 Siskins twittered from alder to alder, and among them another call rang clear - it sounded like "pushmi-pullu". Can anyone help with an identification?

The lake was half frozen, and hundreds of Mallard and Teal lined the edge of the ice like supporters on two touchlines.

At Seaton, there were large numbers of Gadwall (50+) and more Teal (probably 200+). In smaller numbers were Widgeon, Shoveller, Pochard and Tufted Duck - is it my imagination or are there fewer Tufties around this year?

Pride of place went to a splendid male Goosander with two attendant Redheads.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

What we did on our holiday

At last, after much threatening, it snowed with a vengeance. Who it was avenging, was not clear.
For record, the snow was about 5" deep - more fell but was blown into west Kent.

It's not worth pretending to 'work from home' because the heart's not in it, so it was a day's holiday - and if you're on holiday you should enjoy it - right?

Birds were scarce in the garden, with a couple of blackbirds, a blue tit, a few pigeons and a robin. Then a blackcap arrived, looking evil and chasing off whatever came near, just like the aggressive individual that stayed for much of last winter.
Come and get some if you're hard enough.

A black-headed gull settled down on the makeshift bird table.

A walk of the circuit also found few birds, just a score of blackbirds and thrushes raiding the hawthorn bushes, a similar number of skylarks gleaning from a bare field that were spooked by a sparrowhawk, and a snipe that flew down the lane in front of us.
Why grow up?

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Blizzards and snowdrifts - southern style

A shower, for an hour, and everything stops. An inch of snow at most and the road is like sheet ice, threatening civilisation as we know it. The Scots and the Geordies have been accumulating piles of the stuff over the last week, and are of course brazen with how hard(y) they are.

It was very pretty (beautiful snow is God's way of apologising for the dull grey weather of Autumn) and with no wind, clung to every surface.
Saturday by contrast was cold and dry, with a hoar frost lasting until mid-morning, picking out the details of each leaf - in this case of Wild Cabbage.
The weekend got off to a good start as I opened the curtains to see not snow, but two Firecrests in the shrub just outside. The photo below is an entry in the "Worst Pic" competition, and is included merely to show my barber just how bright these birds are in comparison to Goldcrests.
Yes, my barber. Hands up all of you who have barbers who are keen birdwatchers? Makes a nice change of conversation from the usual. He keeps a pile of Birds magazines on the table, and it was lovely to see two young children looking through them and talking about the pictures.

Elsewhere, a couple of sociable chats were had at Sandwich Bay - these chats get everywhere.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Swampy and Stump - y

In the cold midday air I took a walk, choosing a sheltered wood to keep the wind off. In this I was only partly successful. It was these woods (Lyminge Forest in fact) that Swampy and friends occupied in 1997, when developers planned to turn it into a holiday park.
There is an interesting account of the camps here.
A stump in an area of Sweet Chestnuts showed evidence of a more recent occupation - presumably a squirrel that likes to have a panoramic view when eating.

Last night, Stumpy the Turnstone got his five minutes of fame when he/she was featured on Autumnwatch. I've seen the bird over the last five winters on Deal pier, and now a BBC cameraman has photographed him/her and some of the other Turnstones that scrounge for titbits from the anglers.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Suddenly Seymour

My approach to birding is

  • "the faster and further, the more I'll see".
  • "I like to travel light" and
  • "don't fence me in".

This principle has long been used to put off buying a telescope, which would be cumbersome and heavy, and would get in the way of my fast and loose approach.

The downside of this is that, when a scope would be useful, I have to interrupt the peace of a nearby scope-equipped birder, to cadge a squint. Standing on the ramp at Grove Ferry trying to see a very distant Phalarope was an example. Fortunately a bright, sunny person next to me was kind enough to offer.

So the bullet had to be bitten, and today was the first opportunity to use my new purchase. I slung the thing over my shoulder and suddenly I was a new man - like carrying a rifle (or a 500mm lens) I suddenly looked the part. This macho image will no doubt be shattered the first time the scope falls over at a twitch.......

First to the rifle range, where a movement of divers was immediately evident - GNDs and BTDs by the look of it. (I can use acronyms now I'm a real birder - probably wrongly though).

Then up to Oare, where the close-ups brought out the colours of Teal, Lapwings and Golden Plover, even on such a grey day. A whole new world is opened up. Even the mythical "peregrine on a pylon" became visible - doubly so, in fact.

If anyone sees me and needs to borrow a scope, please ask, because I owe a debt to society.

PS if you don't get the title, you've missed a great movie.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Smoke on the Water

There was a strange phenomenon at Dover harbour this morning - small mists of water vapour blown lightly by zephyrs of cold air across the warmer water. So that's how clouds are made.

The air was still and cold inland, leaving a beautiful hoar frost.

After a tough morning's work fighting spreadsheets, the sunshine tempted me to Folkestone, where the clarity of light was stunning. Why isn't the summer this bright and colourful, with aquamarine sea and skies when we can lie and enjoy them?

Not a ripple from Calais to Dungeness, but in the middle of the bay, miles out, was a raft of Scoter - I counted 61, with at least one Velvet Scoter among them (13th from the right, or maybe it's an Eider?). You have to work hard for year-ticks around here.  

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Twitter Feed

An early walk yesterday along the cliff top produced a late Swallow and an early Fulmar (last year's first returner was on 14th November). Plenty of birds in the Hope Point bushes, including Redwing and Fieldfare, Bullfinch and Goldcrest..........

Went to see Jeremy Hardy at the excellent new Folkestone venue, the Quarterhouse. Very clever bloke, full of humanity...... might have toned down his politics for the Folkestone Radio 4 audience.
"We won't get peace in Ireland until they renounce violins".
One of the few "celebs" that I could consider following on Twitter......

Grotty weather so made some bird food mix. Think I'll call it Twitter Feed.......

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Sea watch - see much?

I took today off as a holiday - not a sickie, what do you think I am, a twitcher? As usual, I got the weather conditions wrong and instead of masses of birds flying past after the rough weather, I just got the weather. Actually, it wasn't too bad, as shelter was generally found, like the lower deck of Deal pier.

There was a trickle of birds through the morning - enough to keep us interested, as SteveR seems to have developed an unhealthy interest in identifying flying (Philadelphia?) ducks. He has also started writing lists in a notebook - he'll be sketching next.
SteveR's notebook says:
Auks sp 2
Eider 6
RB merganser 6 [above]
Scoter 34
Teal 2 (though I think the ones in the picture are also teal so will be 7) [Good call - Ed]
Widgeon 4
Goldeneye 5
Gt crested grebe 2
Little gull 4
Shelduck 3

Brent geese 237 [above, chased by a Shelduck]
Divers 3 (red throat I expect - the chance of any being black throat when only seeing 3 birds is minimal)
Turnstones 12
Kittiwake 2 on pier.
Common and herring gulls didn't count.
A few unidentified waders but again no counts.
A Kittiwake took up the usual Kittiwake position on the flagpole at the end of the pier, and the Turnstones were loafing around the anglers. A Stumpy bird was there, as was another whose only leg is being destroyed by fishing line.
Despite the challenging conditions and relatively sparse birds, the morning was enjoyable in good company - highlights were the six Eider, three males and then three females, in a row; and the four Little Gulls - always a favourite.
Lowlights included two Gannets close into shore, apparently joined at the hip - presumably by more fishing line.

The afternoon consisted of a divertisement at Oare marshes, again in good company, which produced a stunning flock of 17 Eider and two Pomerine Skuas which perversely flew inland. There were also some Little Gulls, but I missed them because of a mobile phone call from work. Murray just managed to keep a straight face when he told me.

As the gloom of late afternoon descended for the last time, more Brents flew over.
I hope that the OAPs enjoy tomorrow's birding.