Tuesday, 26 January 2010

20 things to do before......

As I've long passed the allotted Two-score Years and Ten, the mind concentrates on things that must be done in the time before the mist rolls in.

I don't want to be just one of the crowd......
....so I need a clear view of what to accomplish:
So, in no particular order, here's a list of things that I'd like to do, near and far.........

  1. Watch the waders at high tide at Snettisham
  2. Find eagles (Golden and/or Sea) in Scotland
  3. See a hummingbird - anywhere
  4. Sit on the rock of Gibraltar, to see the raptor migration
  5. Walk the cliffs around the Lizard in Cornwall - I've been there a few times before, but never with my eyes open for plants
  6. Visit Ranscombe Farm in north Kent for Corncockles and Cornflowers, Cudweed and Ground Pine
  7. Clamber over the limestone pavements of the Pennines
  8. Find a Late Spider Orchid on the downs, and
  9. Visit a place I know where Fly Orchids flower, but for once at the right time
  10. Locate a Long-eared Owl at roost
  11. Take a slow boat up and down Norwegian fjords
  12. Encounter a large wild animal, and survive
  13. Compare Duke of Burgundy butterflies in Hampshire with the Kentish ones
  14. Watch Flamingos and Stilts on the Camargue
  15. See Swallowtail butterflies on the Norfolk Broads
  16. Walk the Breckland on a hot day
  17. Hear Manx Shearwaters around their burrows at night
  18. Land on the Goodwin Sands, play cricket and watch the seals
  19. Clear the scrub from The Lynch to return it to chalk downland.
And finally, 20. Find a Military Orchid in Kingsdown. Or, if not, seek them in a little nature reserve in Suffolk.

The Galapagos should be on there, of course, but places like that need fewer tourists, and the carbon footprint would be frightening.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

On the Levels

The Levels of the River Stour between Ash and Minster are a strange nether-world, unintensively farmed - a land of curlews, corn buntings, tree sparrows, stock doves and bullfinches, with a ring-tail hen-harrier eerily hunting overhead. Fieldfares by the hundred flew up from the nearby apple orchards, though most of the fruit seemed rotten.
In the dykes were mute swans and teal, but also some wigeon, which surprised me as I'm more used to seeing them on lakes.
On a tree adjacent to a dyke was some new fungus - after a bit of research I concluded that it was velvet shank, one of only a few that appear after the frost. I was quite pleased with myself with the identification, until I read Abbey Meadow's blog today, in which he got their first (he is a fungophile, so it's only to be expected).
I also found some Jew's ear in Kingsdown, after a while of not seeing it. And A. Meadows got that today too. Only small bits were found, though, so not enough for a taste.
On the sea, not a lot in the calm conditions, but the heads of two or maybe more common seals kept appearing, looking around and disappearing, so presumably they were fishing. Also, a strange large pristine-white bird on the surface caused a little perplexity until it struggled into the air - an adult gannet, soon joined by seven others - rarely seen close in and on the sea.

It had been reported by the local sea-anglers that the fish had gone offshore in the cold weather, so now it seems they're back.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Back to normal

The snow has now gone, and the sun has returned to give a bright blue sky Sunday - so we're all back to the glum normality of life, following the smiling friendliness after the snowfall. OK, some of us may bear the scars of trips and slips on the ice, and some businesses may be the poorer for missing a week's trade, but at least it gave us all something to talk about.
Back to normality then - let's see what's still the same:
Each year for the past three years there has been a kittiwake perched on the flagpole at the end of Deal pier, and sure enough one was there today. Is it the same one? Stumpy the turnstone returns each winter, so maybe the kittiwake does the same?
Kestrels nest each year on Kingsdown's cliffs. I haven't seen one there for a few months (if I were more assiduous with my record-keeping, I could say precisely how many months) but today a male had arrived, mewling from the usual ledge, then flying down to the ground to chew a morsel.

In the garden, the male blackcap maintains his vigil, keeping other birds off his suet supply. If small birds need to consume 30% of their body weight each day to stay alive, I think he's over-eating....he's quite a porker now.

The run of northerly winds has brought a lot of rubbish onto the beach, from lobster pots to far-eastern toothpaste tubes. However much we clean from the beach, there's plenty more to replace it.
Conclusion : despite unusual events, things soon return to normal.
Except that sometimes something special and out-of-the ordinary does happen...... in the hide at Pegwell Bay yesterday, sheltering from the rain that preceded today's sun, I met Phil Milton for the first time; his reports were among those on the Planet Thanet website that reawakened my interest in birds and the natural world over four years ago, and it's been this long before I could thank him.
In his usual enthusiastic way, he managed to entertain and educate in misty wet conditions that would usually drive one home to the dry and warm. Not only that, he managed to explain the differences between Caspian and herring gulls, finding examples out on the mud.
For me, however, the most impressive sight was the Sandwich tern overwintering among winter gulls and waders - presumably the same bird has been present for the last 19-20 years.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

A bit thaw

A walk around Kingsdown wood produced a firecrest and a goldcrest in a party of long-tailed tits. They have survived this long, and - as the thaw seems to have started -they will hopefully hang on.
There has been a noticeable arrival of redwings around the village, which is unusual as they are rarely seen here; even more unusual was a report of a fieldfare feeding on berries in a garden.
In my own garden, the male blackcap continues to rule the roost, although I've now spread the feeders around the garden so more birds can benefit from the food. Another unusual visitor was a green woodpecker, seeking out a rare patch of green grass.

The amount of snow was surprising for this corner of Kent, which rarely gets more than a dusting. The greatest threat to communications was, as usual, the wind which blew the snow from the fields into the roads, prompting BBC reports that residents in the Deal and Sandwich area were virtually cut off from the rest of the county.
It's tough down south.
Fortunately the community spirit was strong, and we've had a social time - but before the ice melted from the roads, I took a spectacular tumble..... so I'm a bit thaw - boom boom!

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Feed the bird

A male blackcap has taken residence in the shrub next to the feeders, outside the kitchen window. He can be seen there at first light, and chases off any bird that approaches the food. This morning he shooed off blue tits, great tits, a robin and a wren in just a few minutes, and none were to be seen later in the day.
It's a compliment that he likes my mixture of suet, peanut butter, nuts and a bit of Christmas cake, but it would be good to see a few other birds benefiting from it. In his favour, we are graced most years by blackcaps' song from the trees between us and the scout camp.
The entrance to Kingsdown campsite (formerly the scout camp, where some fine May fairs were held in the past) looked a bit chilly for outdoor pursuits, but maybe we'll spend a night or two there this summer. It's got great views, and there should be some good downland flora.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Sightings of Twite

Pegwell Bay's tidal surge was impressive, as the sea rapidly covered the expanse of mud, making the bait-diggers and wading birds hurry along ahead of it. It was only four hours from full low tide to full high tide, and flocks of knot, golden plovers and lapwings flew in circles above the water, before heading inland to roost on the fields.

Feeding on the vegetation around the pools in front of the hide were many reed buntings, and also (they had to be pointed out to us by Dylan, doh) a flock of four twite, an unassuming bird that breeds in the hills and mountains, and winters on the coast. You may not be able to ID them from the photo above, so I've stolen another from Steve Ray, below.

One of the reasons for visiting Pegwell was to try to twitch Phil Milton, who has just published the 2009 edition of the PIgwell Bay Berd Riport, and I wanted to get a signed copy. He must have been busy signing them at Waterstones, so we were unlucky; but he has kindly allowed me access to his records.

: (declining migrant/winter visitor) A bird that was present in large flocks in times long past, declining to the point that during the winter of 2008/09 none were seen at all for the first time in recorded history. Older documented records include: 500+ in December 1963, 300 in December 1983, 209 February 1984, 90 in January 1985, 150 on January 3rd 1988, 65 in October 1989 and 95 on November 6th 1991.

Annual peak wintering numbers since 1993:

1993 = 12 1994 = 15 1995 = 50 1996 = 42 1997 = 9 1998 = 30 1999 = 26 2000 = 20 2001 = 8 2002 = 71 2003 = 72 2004 = 60 2005 = 46 2006 = 15 2007 = 9 2008 = 6 2009 = 0 2010 = 23 (so far)

Clearly there has been a distinct collapse in numbers wintering here since the 1960s, 70s and 80s, in line with the national trend, but the sequence of peaks followed by declines is intriguing. A number of the birds were ringed, which may point to the survey being carried out in the Peak District, where there is a project aimed at improving breeding habitats in the upland areas.

Friday, 1 January 2010

The first of the first

Early morning, 1st of January, little sleep, worse for wear, house is an after-party wreck.... time to go looking for birds.
Too cold on the seafront with a cold NE, so we travelled inland, through one of the predicted 'heavy snow showers'. This soon passed, leaving the land crisp and pretty.
Seaton lakes held no smew, but five goosanders and a good number of widgeon, gadwall, shoveller, tufties and pochard.
Geese in surrounding fields made a great noise when something put them up, and when a gun was fired nearby all of the ducks flew into the air, wheeling and whistling with indignation.
This photo from Steve Ray nicely captures a goosander's struggle to become airborne.
Nearby orchards hold plenty of apples, and consequently plenty of thrushes. Fieldfares were the most numerous, with some hundreds seen, while song thrushes and redwings tended to keep to the hedges, in smaller numbers.
This photo was taken with Steve's camera (he was driving) and shows that these hi-spec cameras can turn even a jerk like me into a pro.

58 species were seen, to give the year-list a gentle start, including firecrest and goldcrest together in the usual place in Kingsdown, buzzard at Northbourne, chiffchaff at Seaton and a peregrine over north Deal marshes.