Sunday, 31 October 2010


It very polite around here....... when you meet a stranger on a footpath, you say "Good Morning" and maybe mention the weather. This is expected courtesy to us, but sometimes surprises townees (pleasantly, I hope) who reply abruptly but with a smile.
The path along the clifftop attracts a range of activities when the weather's good:- joggers, cyclists, power-walkers (hah!), strollers and dodgy geezers with binoculars.

Yesterday's weather was lovely, and although this meant no birds it was a pleasant time, especially as I had the good company of Graham who provided much information about the area.

We had to run into the Bockhillers eventually and so we did, along with a flurry of Swallows and House Martins in the shelter of the dip slope - apart from a Bullfinch, some Yellowhammers, Robins and plenty of Blackbirds these were about the only birds we saw, although Goldcrests and a Firecrest were heard in the scrub of Undercliffe Road.
Conversation turned to a mystery plant on the rifle range, and coincidentally we then met the Buckinghams who I welcomed to the village and asked about this plant. Sue inspected it carefully and will report back.
The afternoon included a stroll along the prom, and to the end of the pier which was crowded with anglers and strollers. Nobody said "Hello" here, of course.

Sunday morning was notable for a sociable chat in the Restharrow Scrape hide, where John Hollyer confirmed that the dark-beaked male Blackbirds seen at the moment are most likely migrants from the continent, with their females with a hint of eyestripe and more blotched brown than the UK birds.
Oops - the bird in the photos is not, of course, a continental female Blackbird, but an unusually showy Water Pipit. Also at the scrape were a Water Rail and about 24 Snipe.

In Deal High Street a small bird flew past me straight into a shop window, then circled a bit and scrabbled onto a car bumper.

Oh, that smarts! The poor thing had presumably flown across the sea and instead of finding a nice conifer plantation he's confronted by tarmac, glass and metal. When I checked an hour later, it had gone.... hopefully fully recovered.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Redwings and Swallows - a contradiction

I recall seeing, in the early 1980s, a field of Fieldfares and Redwings above which flew some Swallows. This sight was so striking that I've often remembered it but have never seen it repeated, until yesterday.

At Hope Point there were three Redwings feeding on the berry-laden scrub, while a handful of Swallows and House Martins flew north into the breeze. The run of northerlies has presumably caught some of the late-emerging birds before they could migrate south, and also blown in the early migrants from the tundra. We await the photos of Swallows overflying some of the many Waxwings this week.

A good number of other species flitting around the clifftop, including one rufous bird that flitted from bush-top to bush-top and then plunged in, not to be seen again. It looked like a Dartford Warbler but couldn't have been, because it showed too well. Oh yes it could, and Gerald even got a good photo of it (here).

My own photos of birds were a struggle....
..... so I took refuge in one of the holes in the Shrike-field beside the golf course where the last downland flowers still bloomed, and where I had been told some strange plants had been seen.
Now to me, these look like the Stocks that you plant in the garden, and indeed the base of each one (carefully spaced) seems to have been disturbed so I think that someone has been adding to our natural flora here. Graham, since you told me about them, you are the prime suspect. We'll see what flowers emerge next spring.
Also in the small pits were Harebells.........
........ Carline Thistles(which seem to have had a good year).......
..... and Blue Fleabane which I've not previously seen in these parts.

There were Goldcrests in many of the pines and firs, and at least two Firecrests were in the clifftop gardens and two more at the bottom of Kingsdown Hill.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Raven for Black Saturday

Some of the bloggers across the pond contribute to groups such as "Yellow Monday" or "Ruby Tuesday" which provide themes to collate some beautiful photographs. I don't recall seeing a Black theme, so here's one, a Raven perched on the cliff in the gloom of this morning.
I heard the telltale "Claark" from above and there it was. Eagle-eyesight, me - I can spot a large black bird against a white background at a distance of, oh, 30 yards.
Having attracted my attention, it proceeded to preen itself. Don't you just hate that? How are you going to get a good shot when the bird looks like a trussed chicken?

This bird has that ruff of feathers around its neck, which makes me think it's an adult bird (like the mane of a lion or the mantle of a bison) - perhaps one of the ones that bred along the cliffs these last two years.

The day's weather wasn't as bad as forecast, with bright sunshine interrupted by the occasional shower, and a rainbow that was fired from the gilded bow of an impressive weathervane.
It was black over France too - or is that just the smoke from burning cars?

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Geese flying north for the winter

A crystal clear morning with a gentle north-easterly breeze gave good views of the French coast (and its industry). It soon became apparent that Brent Geese were on the move, with large formations flying in from France and continuing south-west, and smaller numbers flying low north along the coast towards Pegwell Bay. They come in from the Russian north via Wadden See (off the Denmark and Dutch coasts) and will be a familiar sight around the Kent coast until spring.

Still the flocks of Goldfinches and Siskins fly north, with straggling swallows and house martins hawking the last insects.
A few Skylarks chortled overhead and a party of three Yellowhammers were in the bushes but there was no sign of yesterday's Great Grey Shrike, even though I checked the usual places.

Toadflax remains in flower, small shining yellow stars in the green/brown landscape.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Plot on the Landscape

Allotments have become popular again, and, according to the Deal with It site, the average waiting list across the country has 59 names on it. I count myself lucky, therefore, to be offered a plot at Ringwould after a wait of only 18 months.

There are about 36 plots on the site, presumably chosen because it actually has soil on it, compared with Kingsdown which has about 4" before you hit solid chalk.

Some plots are beautifully tended with fruit trees, patio sets and sheds, not to mention dark brown tilth. The one that has been allocated to me, however, has overhanging Sycamores, weeds, grey soil and a myxi rabbit. It also adjoins a school football pitch, so hopes of a bumper harvest should be tempered by a dose of reality.

My last allotment (yes, I've done this before folks, and didn't learn my lesson) ..... my last allotment was on clay in Surrey, with high yields but with evil couch-grass and bindweed that were the devil to remove - here on chalk the weeds are mainly annuals so a decent-sized bed was cleared from the primeval forest in an afternoon.
But the saying is "One year's weeds, seven years' seeds" so the struggle will be relentless. At least now I know the names of most of them.
So it's back to the principles of the Soil Association and Gertrude Franck's Companion Planting and lots of good hard labour.

A new camera has arrived from Auntie eBay, but unfortunately it doesn't perform well in darkness or it might have taken a better shot of a Siskin that greeted me from the garden path when I left the house this morning.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Funky fungi

The early promise of late summer's flush of fungi seems to have waned a little, but there are still good things to find as a walk around Park Gate (part of Lyminge Forest) showed.
I've been watching this Beefsteak Fungus growing over the past few months (it beats watching paint dry) and it's now about 18" across. If it were edible, of course, it would not have grown to that size. [Late news - it's actually inonotus hispidus - thanks Fred]

By contrast...
....these are Little Wheel Toadstools, about ½" across.

The Common Earthball was given to us to show just how ugly something can be. As in "You've got a face like a Common Earthball". Well, it makes a change from "squished tomato".

When ripe it explodes, showing its glutinous tar-like interior, which I can report still smells of fungus, unsurprisingly.
Ah, that's better. A tasty Parasol Mushroom, found on the golf course. I know it was tasty, as I had it for lunch.

You'll be pleased to know that I've managed to source a replacement camera from eBay for rather less than the cost of repairing the old one (so much for recycling) so hopefully the usual blurred shots of distant birds will soon reappear.

For the record, the easterly wind brought a good number of birds to the rifle range (as well as all-day cloud) including a black redstart, a reed bunting, a stonechat, a constant stream of herring gulls flying south, plenty of goldcrests and a raven. No comparison to the list provided by the redoubtable Phil Milton on Planet Thanet today, though.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Waiting for eBay

Camera's broken...... waiting for eBay to provide another one....... can only use a small compact......

Idling away at my desk when a tiny (3mm) shield bug walks across it........
..... persuade it to stay still under my cheapo microscope camera........
......can't find what kind of shield bug it is, but learn much about Laosian recipes based on the bugs' foul smell from Wikipedia..........
........ then discover that I've missed the end of the eBay auction and I've lost out on another one.

This is the 500th blog entry (no wonder I'm tired!)

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Trip to the Gower - Whiteford Burrows

The sands are big in Wales. Not like the south-east of England, where beaches are small and easy to master. A walk to the end of Whiteford Burrows must be planned in advance, but when you're walking you can lose yourself in thought as the horizon remains unchanging, only the waves and clouds moving.
Occasionally something in the water catches your attention, like the large Dustbin Lid Jellyfish. Finally, the end of the spit is in sight, and you see that the old Victorian lighthouse is covered in cormorants.
A small herd of Sea-cows munch the sharp grasses on the seaward side of the point, and Sea-horses graze the softer grasses and herbs on marshes on the other sheltered side.
This rich mixture gives a distinctive flavour to the meat of the Gower sheep, and Sea Wormwood especially fills the air with a herbal tang. I picked a sprig and put it behind my ear - a pungent perfume that kept the flies away.
Sea Wormwood
A saxifrage - dotting the marshland interspersed with glasswort.

The boundary of Llanrhidian Marsh is edged with Marsh Mallow. Last week Sue Buckingham gave a fascinating talk at Kingsdown Gardening Society about Wild Flowers and their Names, and told us the this plant was planted outside privvies in times of deprivation, as the soft leaves were 'useful'. She also reminded us of its Latin name. Lavatera humour!

Blue Fleabane

Bloody Cranesbill

I followed an interesting moth flying over the dunes, and watched it fly into a spider's web - it was wrapped up and dead in a minute, and then the Four-Spot Orb Spider got busy repairing the web in readiness for the next victim.
The number of Oystercatchers roosting at high tide around the Gower coast was remarkable, accompanied by smaller numbers of other waders. The effect of uncontrolled dogs is the same everywhere.