Monday, 27 February 2017

Polar gulls

Dungeness - mild, wet and windy - The intention this morning was to check out the Patch, but en-route news came through concerning a Glaucous Gull found by DW that had just landed on the beach by the rubber house. And what a brute of a bird it was, an enormous 1st winter specimen as big as a Great Black-back. Whilst watching and photographing the Glaucous Gull from the car the regular Caspian Gull flew in and they preened together side by side for a while.

                                1st winter Glaucous Gull, Dungeness

                                1st winter Caspian and Glaucous Gulls, Dungeness

  A wander down to the beach by the fishing boats yielded another white-winger in the shape of a 1st winter Iceland Gull, presumably one of the duo that has been hanging out at the Patch. Offshore a few Gannets and auks came and went along with our first Fulmar of the year.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

What did the Victorians ever do for us?

Saturday - cold and blustery - Kearsney Abbey - We were on grandparent duty today so decided to spend the morning at what was a new location for us. After picking up the little fella in Folkestone we drove to Dover along the scenic Alkham Valley, a classic dry downland valley with sheep-grazed lynchets, Buzzards overhead and the roadside banks on the sunny side smothered in Primroses and Snowdrops.

                                Kearsney Abbey

  Kearsney Abbey, on the outskirts of Dover, is something of a misnomer as there is no abbey, set as it is on the site of an old merchant bankers manor house from the 1820`s. There are, however, plenty of splendid old trees set in a traditional Victorian style parkland with lakes and the River Dour flowing through. The park was dog-friendly, so Barney tagged along, and it had the usual accompaniments of kids play area, follies and a tea room that, incidentally, sold a damn fine mug of hot chocolate; the car park was also free, a rare event these days.

                                Moorhens were abundant

                                Yew tree roots

                                Cedar of Lebanon

  Birdwise it was your typical town parkland fare with loads of common wildfowl (including a dodgy Pintail) and gulls on the lakes which were duly checked, being mostly Black-headed with a few Herring and Common Gulls thrown in. Probably the best birds were a Grey Wagtail at the far end of the park, where water babbled up from an aquifer amongst a tangle of tree roots, and a singing Goldcrest in conifers by the main lake. Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Mistle Thrush were also in song and I counted 64 Moorhens feeding on the lawns, with more on the water totalling at least 110 birds; I can`t recall the last time I saw so many Moorhens in one place...
  So, what did the Victorians ever do for us -  forget the Empire, Brunel, Darwin, Dickens and all that, how about town parks? I have the greatest admiration for town planners of yesteryear as all over the country they laid out these fantastic open spaces for Joe public to enjoy - and this little 10 acre gem is no different, as it is stuffed full to the gunnels with some marvellous trees.
  Some of the older specimens, such as a spectacular and ancient Cedar of Lebanon, and one or two of the Yews and Oaks have been here for hundreds of years, but the Victorians retained them and added a variety of native and exotic species to complement and contrast; the avenue of Limes on the hillside and an Indian Bean tree in the cark park being typical examples. There is also a rare Lucombe Oak somewhere in the park which I failed to locate.
  It always saddens me a little to think that these former landscapers and tree-planters never saw the full fruits of their labours, but we can, so a silent thank you to the visionaries of yesteryear whoever you were for a job well done.

Sunday - Lade - cold and blustery - It was back to the treeless, shingle wastes of the local patch this morning where the Shoveler flock topped out at 124 and a Great White Egret lurked in the main reedbed. I couldn't find the wintering Slavonian Grebe, but it too was probably also tucked away in the reeds.


Friday, 24 February 2017

Post Doris

Dungeness - 0700hrs - cold, sunny, nw 3 - An early morning sortie down to the Patch revealed the two 1st winter Iceland Gulls still present, one over the boil, the other settled on the beach. Also amongst the throng of gulls at least two Mediterranean Gulls, while a Peregrine put in a brief appearance scattering the loafing gulls on the power station. A quick look at the sea revealed very few seabirds, as confirmed by the two stalwarts in the hide.

                               Sunrise, Dungeness

 As for Storm Doris, once again the Met Office over-egged the pudding, and while blustery yesterday it was nowhere near as strong as Storm Barbara in November that caused widespread damage down here.
Lade - After doing a few chores, a circuit of the local patch in pleasant sunshine produced the usual wildfowl, plus singles of Smew, Slavonian Grebe and Great White Egret. It was also good to see a few Reed Buntings about the willow swamp, plus a pair of Stonechats on the Desert and a Chiffchaff by the caravan park.
  Around the bird reserve this afternoon the Ring-necked Duck, Slavonian Grebe and Long-eared Owls were all on station, plus Pink-footed and White-fronted Geese, Smew and Great White Egret scattered here and there.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

A blustery day

Dungeness - mild, cloudy, drizzle, sw 5/6 - Met Lew from north Kent for a days birding around the peninsula today, in far from ideal weather conditions with a blustery wind whipping in off the Channel and roughing up the sea. We kicked off with a seawatch from the hide where the usual ranks of Guillemots and a few Razorbills were either on the sea, or fizzing to and fro, plus Gannets, Kittiwakes, Great Crested Grebes and Red-throated Divers. At the Patch a single 1st winter Iceland Gull hunkered on the beach amongst the regular gulls.
  On the RSPB reserve a Slavonian Grebe was sheltering from the wind on the far side of New Diggings and we eventually saw the Ring-necked Duck which was also keeping away from open water and hugging the reeds at the far end of Cook`s Pool. It was difficult going in the developing gale but we eventually teased out Tree Sparrows and Curlews at Boulderwall, Raven, Dunlin and  Goldeneye on Burrowes, Golden Plovers, six Ruffs, Marsh Harrier, Great White Egret and a ringtail Hen Harrier at Dengemarsh, plus a Pink-footed Goose amongst a mixed flock of feral geese on the arable land. 
  We eventually racked up 70 odd species, but it was just one of those days when the weather conditions ran out the winner.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Bewick`s Swans on the move

Lade - mild, cloudy, w 3 - With news that most of the Walland Marsh Bewick`s Swans were seen to fly off out to sea yesterday afternoon I was surprised to see five flying towards me this morning. They came from ARC direction so I presume were birds that had roosted over night and decided to leave at first light. Bewick`s Swans are fabulous birds and it would be a shame if we lost our wintering flock, which seem to diminish in numbers each winter. I watched the five go out until they disappeared from view over the Channel and silently wished them safe passage on what is a perilous journey to their northern breeding grounds.

                                Slavonian Grebe, Lade

  The Slavonian Grebe made a reappearance on south lake, although it could`ve been skulking in  reedbeds across the site all along. Goldeneyes were much in evidence at 10 and Shoveler numbers had risen to 60. A Great White Egret lurked in the main reed bed and a Marsh Harrier drifted behind the wall `mirror`. Passerine wise a pair of Stonechats were new and several Mipits flew over calling.
  The usual bits and pieces were on station around the bird reserve including the drake Ring-necked Duck at Boulderwall and two Slavonian Grebes on New Diggings.
Dungeness - Joined DW and PB at the fishing boats this afternoon where the 2nd winter Iceland Gull drifted by towards the Patch, rudely ignoring our attempts to lure it in with bread. On the sea plenty of auks, Great Crested Grebes and Red-throated Divers, plus passing Gannets.
PS: The 2nd winter Iceland Gull did join the two 1st winter birds at the Patch (PB).
The wind picked up through the day as Storm Doris approached out of the Atlantic.
  We enjoyed a great set by legendary folk rockers, Fairport Convention, at Canterbury this evening. This being their 50 anniversary year there was a good mix of stuff from the back catalogue and the new album. Chris Leslie was on top form, what a legend; singer song writer, multi instrumentalist, and he even made his own fiddle!

Sunday, 19 February 2017

First Sandwich Tern

Saturday - Dungeness - warm, dry, sunny, sw 2 - A superb spring-like morning with the highlight being our first Sandwich Tern of the year passing up-Channel off the fishing boats. On and over the sea hundreds of Great Crested Grebes, Guillemots, Gannets and Cormorants, plus a few Brents, Red-throated Divers and Common Scoters on the move. At the Patch two 1st winter Iceland Gulls and a Caspian Gull. The land was pretty much deserted apart from a Peregrine perched on a pylon by A station, while a search of the complex for Black Redstart drew a blank.
  On the bird reserve the usual Ring-necked Duck on Cook`s Pool, Slavonian Grebe on New Diggings and a Smew on ARC. I had to call in the visitor centre around midday where the car park was jam-packed with weekend birders, needless to say that`s as far as I got.
  This afternoon the intention was to check for birds going to roost behind the pits until a bank of fog rolled in off the sea, and that was that for the day.
Sunday - Lade - warm, dry, cloudy, w 3 - Another fine day for a circuit of the local patch where the only birds of note were a Great White Egret on south lake and a showy Cetti`s Warbler in the causeway scrub. A balloon fest on the beach made for a colourful spectacle whilst checking the shorebirds on a flood tide.
Walland Marsh - Accompanied CP for the monthly harrier roost count this afternoon to our usual spot on Walland where 15 Marsh Harriers came to roost, including eight adult males, plus a ringtail Hen Harrier.  Also noted in the area were four Common Buzzards, two Merlins, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk on the raptor front. On the arable fields, 91 Bewick`s Swans and 500 Golden Plovers, plus 12 Corn Buntings, Stonechat, Cetti`s Warblers, Bearded Tit, Reed Bunting and several Water Rails calling from the reedbed. Yet again there was no sign of any Barn Owl activity.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Walk in the woods

Lade - mild and misty, light airs - A stroll across the shingle to the lake was quickly thwarted by a sea fret rolling in off the bay, but I just had time to note a Great White Egret in a reedbed and a Marsh Harrier disappearing into the murk.
Park Wood, Appledore - By mid-morning the weather had improved considerably with warm sunshine bringing forth several bees and a small tortoiseshell butterfly in the garden, so we headed for the Wealden uplands as originally planned and a walk in the woods. Several other local birders also had the same idea and after swopping woodpecker news we spent a pleasant couple of hours criss-crossing this semi-natural deciduous wood in search of the elusive Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. I last found one here two years ago, but had no luck this morning, despite the calm weather and time of year being suitable.
  However, there was no shortage of Great Spotted Woodpeckers rattling away and we must`ve heard at least ten birds `drumming` merrily in the still air. Green Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Coal and Long-tailed Tits, Goldcrest, Jay, Mistle and Song Thrushes and Bullfinch were all either seen or heard amongst a host of common woodland birds. Walking along the south-facing flank of the wood, beside the vineyard, a red admiral butterfly basked on a hornbeam stump and several patches of primroses were nearly in bloom on the boundary bank. The vines are positioned in a sun-trap between two `arms` of the wood on sloping ground, the perfect aspect for drainage and receiving maximum sunlight.
  Looking out across the scattered woodland of the ancient Orlestone Forest and beyond to the landscape of the Romney Marsh, four Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk soared above the distant canopy. We could hear no human-made sound, just bird song and a light zephyr causing the hazel catkins to drop their pollen dust, and for a moment everything seemed so right with the world...

                                Trees and vines, ancient and modern