Thursday, 31 March 2011

Calais Riviera

Considering that we live within sight of France, and that there is good bird- (and other nature-) watching over there, we constantly regret that we don't visit more often. Gradually, however, we are getting to know more of the sites with the help of local blogs like North France Birder and Skua-Over, and are getting better at scheduling our days.

A visit to Le Clipon in search of Kentish plovers and anything that might fly past was mainly fruitless, as all the plovers that we saw had orange (not black) legs and there was precious little on the sea, but there were enough waders and Sandwich terns to keep us occupied, with eiders and mergansers as a welcome surprise. Also (having a broad interest in my surroundings) I was able to enjoy a variety of plants in the harsh moon-like landscape.

The lowlying landes between Calais and Dunkirk are protected from the sea by the dunes, and are dotted with lakes that attract a wide range of birdlife. Part of the the area has been designated a nature reserve but as this surrounded by hunters' guns the birds' arrival and departure must be tricky. One shooting club has a lake with signs asking for a cease-fire between mid-March and mid-May to allow gulls (including Meds) to breed. For future reference, the site is marked with an "x" on the south-west corner of this map:
The Platier d'Oye reserve held spoonbill, avocets, pintail and other duck, as well as overflying buzzard, marsh harrier and swallows, and three hides provided shelter from the worsening weather.
The desperate search for crested larks on the roundabouts and verges near the old hoverport has become a tradition, but we have clearly been trying too hard, as this time we found five of them on Calais seafront leading to photo-opportunities in the kiddies' playground. Have we no shame?

A blog with more detail and much better pics can be found here.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

A purple patch

We're blessed with another lovely day, made even better because I'd taken it off as a holiday. Somehow I found myself at Foreness, but was soon cursing the lack of waders again, as well as the probable cause (dog walkers). Even the gulls had found a better occupation.

I was gazing glumly at the last rocks to be covered by the rising tide, watching a few turnstones dibbling about, when a flock of 15 purple sandpipers flew in. Some promptly tucked their head under their wing, but the waves soon woke them up. They stayed as the last of the rocks were submerged, then flew off for somewhere drier.Counts of purple sandpipers have reached over 50 at times over the past few years, but reports have been few this year. Birds of Kent reports that their numbers increased from none in the early 1950s to a maximum of 106 in 1977, the last year of its records. Perhaps a Thanet birder has more recent trend records?

A flock of 50 Brent geese grazed close in to the shore, and a Wheatear was on the putting green, their favourite resting place.

Back in Kingsdown, I pounded the beat but saw little. Each time I walk past a stand of pine trees I check them for crossbills, and today I thought I might be in luck, but it was just a few two-barred chaffinches.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

A glorious day

A glorious day, Calooh Callay, with unbroken sunshine from dawn till dusk apart from brief incursions of a chilling sea fret.
Insects were buzzing, the new season's flowers were blooming and all was well with this small corner of the world.
Two peregrines chased along the cliff-edge and three Brents bobbed about at the foot of the cliffs looking suspiciously pale, but it was probably the light.
Some of the Bockhillers were out early, and reported "From 06:30-10:30 in a light NW there was a movement N of 6752 Chaffinches, 8 Bramblings, 35 Linnets, 68 Siskins......" etc. Or maybe it was 6753. Anyway, it was an impressive stream of the chirruping ones, and the movement continued through the day as I worked in the garden.
A few siskins landed in one of the trees for a quick feed, while one took up a singing post for rather longer. Looking for it, I saw the unmistakable orange of a brambling, my first for over a year and a first for the garden.

New bloomers included speedwell and fumitory - common field and common ramping, perhaps?
The day ended as it had begun, with a bright object rising from the sea in the east, with the lights of Calais twinkling below, and the chaffinches are probably still flying overhead.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

One man's conservation....

Barrow Mount is an isolated down between Kingsdown golf course and St Margaret's, and has a few crevices of rich flora although it is mostly covered by the dastardly tor grass that smothers all other life. It only covers a couple of acres or so, and cries out for reclamation so I was pleased to read this notice which holds out hope that improvement may be at hand, courtesy of the National Trust.
Perhaps the new yews were planted by the same person who put in some stocks which were quickly nibbled by rabbits.

No doubt they were acting with the best interests of the site at heart, but not in line with the views of the NT. The poisonous yews would not be welcomed if livestock are to be introduced, of course. There have been a number of discussions locally about conflicting conservation policies where the intentions of one party are questioned by another, and I hope that those involved can find the time to stand back and try to understand other people's point of view.

The pressing need to curb the spread of red valerian and other invaders along the beach, to prevent them from choking out the rare native species, will no doubt be criticised by casual passers-by who like the colour that these newcomers bring to an otherwise "dull" patch of shingle. We need to show them how lovely our less showy plants can be.

There seems to be a good show of sweet violets this year, or is it just that they have run amok on my lawn?
Red deadnettles are also showing well, and a white version was found on a walk..... when digging on the allotment later in the day I found a plant that had a sprig of red flowers and one of white. I fail to understand how that happens.

Bird life activity is incresing with the onset of spring, although no new individuals have been seen or heard yet. Visitors to the feeders have increased now that the fat male blackcap has gone - a female is now regular, and this pair of long-tailed tits are easily recognisable as one has a smart appearance and a broad white headstripe, while the other is a scruffy urchin, and they return for a quick bite every half hour.