Saturday, 27 February 2010

Brief glimpse of sun

Spring will be late this year, compared to the last two at least; Coltsfoot has just started to flower (reluctantly) whereas it was in full bloom on 18th and 20th January in 2008 & 2009.
Another gauge for us is whether or not daffodils bloom by St David's Day - this year we'll be lucky if they are out by St George's Day.
In a brief respite from the foul weather of February, I took a trip to Thanet to check out the wader roosts. Not good, I'm afraid, probably due to the masses of dog-walkers trampling over the usual areas. Only four ringed plovers were seen, and astonishing total of three sanderlings.
Purple sandpipers totalled 25 on the pumping station, which isn't a bad figure, if somewhat short of the 50-60 a couple of years ago.
I was pleased to meet a new blogger, Barry Hunt, who is pounding the beat here, and I'll be looking out for his posts from this, one of my favourite spots.
There was a surprise on the lawns - a young kittiwake had joined the other gulls waiting to be fed scraps of bread.
This lesser black-backed gull didn't look too clever - it's a long-stayer according to Dylan, and is presumably not in the best of health. Do they normally have scarlet eye-liner?

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Morning at Camber - evening at Dungeness

Camber Castle near Rye is the focus of the long walk to Castle Water hide, but at least we have now found a slightly shorter route. And it was well worth the hike.
It's been a good year for seeing bitterns, as harsh weather on the continent seems to have driven them over here (as it has Woodcock, Fieldfares and Redwings, but not geese, swans or owls apparently). It was only a matter of time, therefore, before I finally got a decent view of one.
We saw at least two, obligingly flying from reedbed to reedbed, crashing ungainly into the reeds like chickens.
The light was lovely, but ice remains on the pits making food hard to find. A Water Rail walked out, then quickly thought better of the plan and returned into the reeds. It's clear that the rail's feet are better suited to gripping the foliage than sliding on ice.
Nice views of the Rye from the hide " the cone-shaped town standing lonely in the marshes, the wide, windswept levels rejected by the sea" as Brooke described it.

Back across the county line in Kent, the highlight at Dungeness was two Black-necked Grebes...
...and later in the late afternoon light a Smew swam across in front of the hide, to feed along the edge of the pit.
I've previously only been there in the morning - the dimming of the day is peaceful as the birds prepare for the cold night ahead.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Military Orchid at Bishopsbourne

Currently reading: The Military Orchid, by Jocelyn Brooke; he was born and grew up in Sandgate near Folkestone, and spent childhood summers and then later life in the small village of Bishopsbourne near Canterbury.

Truly a Kentish Lad, and a precocious one at that. He knew the Latin names of many plants at the age of eight ("no wonder I was unpopular"), and exasperated all he encountered with his obsession. The book (reflecting his life) describes his trips around East Kent in search of rare plants, especially orchids and most particularly the eponymous Orchis militaris. Not surprisingly his knowledge, enthusiasm, humility and style create a lovely book.

It is sprinkled with quotes from Houseman, Proust and Mrs Ann Pratt of Folkestone; a first trip into the hills behind the town is lovingly described: "we left the main road by the track skirting the foot of the hills: there was a sudden muffling of traffic noises [this was in 1916!] ; a country-silence murmurous with the hum of bees and the scraping of grasshoppers. We crossed a field, climbed a stile, and entered the Promised Land at last - the mysterious, hitherto-forbidden land of The Hills".
That day he not only achieved "the goal of our pilgimage" - Bee Orchids - but also a single spike of Late Spider Orchid.
I haven't yet finished the book, but suspect that he never does find a Military Orchid, which were (almost) unknown in Kent - in fact believed possibly extinct in Britain. But he does mention that "an unconfirmed report does, indeed, state that one was found near Deal in 1910". Could that have been in Kingsdown, I wonder, because Tony Pettet wrote that he found one 'in a Kingsdown lawn' in May 1988.

Which leads me to fill in the twentieth 'Thing to do before...." I'll check the local gardens for orchids, and encourage the owners of likely lawns to avoid weedkillers and fertilisers. And if no Military Orchid appears, I'll travel to Suffolk to see them. And pass on Mr Brooke's best wishes.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Vision of death, vision of new life

Walking in Larkey Valley Wood, I saw a fox crossing my path, stop and wait. Waited long enough for a few photos, then turned and loped off.
Only when I developed the pictures did I see a rabbit, motionless for the few seconds that stood between us, the same position in all of the shots.
A little like the strategies in Watership Down - playing off enemies against each other. The hombre would not chase it, because of the presence of man.
Lydden still holds deep snow, explaining why travel on Wednesday and Thursday was so difficult. The views were more like theDales than East Kent.
Sheep feed on whatever the farmers have left in barns as this surprising winter drags on. But what is this we see?

Thursday, 11 February 2010

OK, enough already

The matrix signs on the motorway last night read "END" and were as inaccurate as usual - the traffic promptly stopped and remained that way for two hours, as we failed to come to grips with another snowfall. Admittedly this one broke the record for the amount of snow to fall in Kent, at Hawkinge just near where this camera is placed.
The Folkestone and Dover areas were hit hardest, with ice and snow closing many roads, and accidents closing more (including one that was close to home). Ferries were running fine, but unfortunately no customers could reach them.
Kaddy promised more.

The female blackcap stayed around the feeder in the front garden....
...while the aggressive male guarded the ones in the back.
A robin occasionally snuck in while he was chasing off blue tits from the peanuts, even though he never eats them himself.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Norfolk notes

A few more images of the trip to Norfolk...... now I've thawed out.
Shrubby sea-blite, plentiful on the Snettisham shingle but rare elsewhere in Britain (there's a few bushes near Lydd apparently).
Two hares

Medieval cartoon carving in Ely cathedral


Barn owl : 2pm

Dersingham Bog - "The best time to visit the reserve is between July and August".... not January then.
Welney Wildfowl Trust reserve. Could they be waiting for something?

Oare Marshes - go in the afternoon when the sun's behind you.
But if you want to see waders, don't go when it's frozen.

Monday, 1 February 2010

First tick - Snettisham

Last week I listed some things that I want to do...... and here's the first one achieved (OK, it was set up). We spent the weekend in Snettisham and suffered snow and minus-3 temperatures to watch the waders fly at high tide early each morning.
Uncountable numbers of knot, dunlin, godwit, oystercatcher and smaller numbers of others wheel and turn over the reducing sandbars, making for an awe-inspiring sight.
On the other side of the beach is a long line of pits, holding widgeon, goldeneye and other ducks, along with a feral population of greylags. A vast flock of knot settled on the bank, and flew in a cloud back over the sea.
Pink-footed greylag

Over the last twenty years or so, a winter flock of pink-footed geese has grown to thousands in the Wash, and they fly over Snettisham to reach fields of beet each morning. After the early-morning birding, large breakfasts were served overlooking a bird-filled garden, with views of overflying geese and curlews.

So that's one ticked off the list - hummingbirds would be good next, as at least it should be warmer. May have to be London Zoo though.