Sunday, 19 February 2012

I declare the Botany Season open!

The sight of the first coltsfoot flowers of the year is always heartening, especially as this year it came after a week's covering of snow. Mind you, it was darned cold looking for them so that's a reminder that there's plenty of winter left yet.
Looking back at my records, the first blooms in earlier years were found on 24 Feb 2011, 27 Feb 2010 and 17 Jan(!) 2009.

I wondered what hardy insect would be out and about, pollenating these early flowers, but when the photos were enlarged a fly could be seen doing just that, at 2 degrees with a cold north wind.
Other flowers have been open for a while, including gorse of course, awaiting warmer days when bugs and bees emerge from their crevices like groundhogs, blinking in the short-day light.

The blooms of common gorse are in full swing, but while lurking around the industrial areas of Dover's Western docks (OK I was lost) a surprise was found....... dwarf gorse - cool.

So far as I know this is botanically unrecorded in east kent, and it's only known in a handful of places in west Kent, so I were a bit chuffed.

Local birders will know why I was at the Western Docks....... there's a gull there.

I hadn't previously seen an Iceland Gull, let alone a Kumlien's variety, so I guess that's two lifers in one bird. Fortunately a bucketload of scraps was provided to bring it and the other gulls in, and good views were had as it floated on the stiff westerly breeze.

The breeze stiffened firther on Sunday, this time into the cold northerly quarter, so why I decided to visit Foreness I can't imagine. A stupid decision, especially as there were precious few birds to be seen. "Nobody here but us curlews" as they might say.

A little egret was in a warmer place, the River Dour by Morrisons, attracting admiring glances from passing shoppers.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Bossenden Wood

Bossenden Wood is at the western end of the Canterbury circle woods known as the Blean. In May 1835 a series of events culminated in the Battle of Bossenden Wood when an insurrection against the Poor Law ended with eight dead, and subsequent concern about the use of the army in civil matters led to the formation of a police force.
This weekend the Wood was peaceful, under a blue sky with no wind, and cold covering of snow - perfect conditions to watch the birdlife of a British wood in winter.
The number of 'pecker holes showed how rich the wood is in birds, and the almost constant flitting and calling around us confirmed that there is a greater density of birds here than in most woods. It's a thickly wooded place with little evidence of active management but the place is alive.
An hour's walk gave good views of almost all the birds expected in a wood - the usual tits, treecreepers, nuthatches,
plenty of goldcrests and a firecrest, song thrushes, blackbirds and a redwing, green and great 'peckers and - yes - at least one lesser spotted woodpecker, which kindly stopped its relentless search for food to have a rest and a preen in the treetops.
"Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is one of the most strongly declining bird species in Europe, having decreased at an annual rate of 7% during 1980–2005" (PECBMS 2007, 2009) and the rate of decline has been positively correlated with the incidence of grey squirrel dreys, although the direct cause and effect has yet to be established.
The healthy bird population in this wood has not gone unnoticed by the local photographers, who have baited a convenient log with nuts, and I have to admit to borrowing it for my own purpose, adding a stash of my own and then waiting with frozen feet until something showed up.
First up was a male chaffinch, unimpressed with the unsuitable fare on offer. A blue tit and great tit pairing visited frequently (why are they together?) while a more conventional pair of blue tits gambolled around nearby.
The main target, however, was nuthatch, one of which appeared on a 15-minute circuit, dashing onto the log and then dashing off again, leaving photographic confusion in its wake. Eventually though, it lived up to its name (an old word meaning pecker-of nuts-from-a-crevice-in-a-piece-of-wood - "nuthacker") and stayed around long enough for some portraits.
Other fascinating facts about nuthtches can be found here.

Early signs of spring have mostly been snuffed out by the snow, but hazel catkins remain
with a few female flowers showing crimson in the black and white world.

A dusk walk around Stodmarsh was planned to see mumurations of starlings - one single solitary one was seen (not murmering at all) but plenty of chacka-ing fieldfares flew in from nearby orchards, an obligatory woodcock was flushed and flew around us in a circle, while half a dozen marsh harriers circled over their chosen roost in the reeds, sometimes landing in the small trees.
The sound of footprints in the reeds indicated an unseen heron or maybe bittern, waking a group of bearded tits that pinged in irritation. Squeals of water rails showed they were around, and one scurried along the path like Secret Squirrel, keeping its head down and it won't be seen.
The sun set over the frozen lake, marked with fox-prints showing the constant threat to ducks whose safety is compromised in such conditions. Jupiter shone and Mars glowed, at the end of a perfect day.
And just to finish it...... a gig with Fairport Convention in the good company of friends - lovely.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Displacement activity

The snow dumped on us last night, and this corner seemed to get as much as anywhere for a change. Powdery snow drifted around leaving some places almost bare while others (including the roads) were deep. The patterns picked out the contours of the beach well as the wind whipped across it in the morning.
Buzzards and ravens have been seen regularly from the A2 around Lydden, and this week there's been an influx of more birds into Kent, with vast flocks of wood pigeons and smaller numbers of redwings and blackbirds, displaced by the cold weather on the continent - unfortunately it has caught up with them here now.

In Walmer Castle paddock a snipe was probing through the snow in a thinly covered area, seeking food.
The countryside has taken on its customary soft look in the snow, with flakes settling on every surface.
And on the promenade the photographers preyed on the photogenic phishing boats - Julie's my favourite, especially as she shelters me from the wind when seawatching.
In such cold times, there's nothing better than a warm pub to displace yourself to, and I can recommend the Just Reproach, the new micropub in Deal which brings a jovial conviviality and good beer to the town, which is already blessed with gems like The Ship and The Berry, where an impressive selection of ales can be found (as well as a group of birders, but don't let that put you off).

A link from the RSPB's Facebook page:
a Bulgarian birding site shows photos of a displaced bittern on a window ledge - that would have been a good Gardenwatch record.