Lade - The past couple of days has seen a subtle change in the weather from wet and windy to drier, but still windy conditions, as a high pressure system settles over the country delivering a north-easterly airflow. Yesterday it started off calm and a Short-eared Owl quartering the Desert towards the water tower was a delight to watch. We walked Mockmill Sewer where a few autumn Blackbirds and Song Thrushes lingered in the scrub and a Woodcock was flushed by Barney, one of only a handful I`ve seen this past couple of months.
Around the pit margins Water Rails and Cetti`s Warblers were chattering away and two Marsh Harriers chivvied a flock of Coots for weaklings over by the `mirrors`. By the ponds a flock of Long-tailed Tits harboured a Chiffchaff and a couple of Goldcrests while a second Woodcock rocketed skywards from the willow swamp. Amongst a couple of hundred wildfowl on the lakes lurked a single Goldeneye and a pair of Pintails, the latter a scarce bird hereabouts.
On the walk home the two Woodcocks got me thinking as to how scarce they`ve become over recent years. The latest Kent Bird Atlas shows a significant breeding range contraction across the county for no definitive reason. Many thousands are still routinely shot here in Britain during the winter months, particularly in the Western Isles and Cornwall, while millions more come to grief from Continental gunners. How anyone would want to shoot such a beautiful bird for so called `sport` is beyond me, but they do, and no doubt will continue to do so until, like the once common Eskimo Curlew, there are none left.
Today was a different tale altogether on the local patch as the strong wind meant most birds were either hunkered down or sheltering in the willow swamp. Out on the Desert a mound of shingle (that passes for a `hill` in these parts!) delivered a smart Peregrine which eventually flew majestically over south lake to make a half hearted feint at a Woodpigeon. Over the years I`ve seen a number of raptors utilising this lookout point, particularly Hobbies in the summer and Merlins in winter.
RSPB - There was no real change on the bird reserve with the drake Ring-necked Duck and Cattle Egret still at Boulderwall, a roosting Long-eared Owl behind the Dipping Pond, Goosander on Burrowes and four Bewick`s Swans viewable from Cockles Bridge. Elsewhere, the Snow Bunting flock was reported from St Mary`s Bay.