Thursday, January 31, 2008

30th Jan Isle of Sheppey

Steve took Kevin and myself for a Gentleman’s Day Trip. We went to the Isle of Sheppey. Never an attractive place, in these conditions it resembles a slice of Soviet-era Siberia transplanted to Kent, complete with run-down holiday camps and its own prison.

We tumbled out of the car at Leysdown and straight into Arctic conditions. There were hundreds of Oystercatchers lining the distant sea-shore, and as we worked our way down to Shell Ness added Barwit, Dunlin, Knot, Curlew, Grey Plover, Turnstone, Sanderling, Redshank, Brent Goose and 5 species of Gull. As I gently nudged the scope round with the frozen stumps that used to be my hands we found a huge flock of Lapwing and Golden Plover, some Meadow Pipits and Stonechat, with a backdrop of Marsh Harriers and Common Buzzards patrolling the area.

The corner bushes held Reed Bunting, House Sparrow and Chaffinch. A local told us there were a couple of Twite on the marsh, a Hooded Crow by the reserve, and not much else. As we trudged down the Sea Wall to the Swale NNR I saw in the distance a Crow with grey on the wings and body but this would be clearly easier to pick up later. We got to the first hide and ticked off Grey Heron, Little Grebe, Mute Swan, Wigeon, Shoveler, Teal, and Shelduck, a couple of hundred or so Greylag Geese, and eventually Steve located a few tens of White-Fronted Geese amongst them, a Little Egret flew past, but no sign of the Hooded Crow.

Next stop was the Capel Fleet raptor watch point. This is an excellent addition to the area from the last time I was here roughly 10 years ago, the main benefit being a couple of regulars who skilfully and patiently pointed out the various raptors across this vast panorama. Firstly there was a Rough-Legged Buzzard tangling with a Common Buzzard. New for all of us, the white upper tail and longer wings of the Rough-Leg were evident. It conveniently hovered, then sat in a bush where its pale head and white upper tail were clear. Otherwise there were two ringtail Hen Harriers, a Merlin shot across, and a Peregrine circled high above the hill on the south. All the while Marsh Harriers cruised the area agains the backdrop of the prison wall.

Then Harty Ferry Inn for an unexpectedly excellent lunch. The sun was coming out now, the island was warming up, and I could feel my fingers again. Great-Spotted Woodpecker was a surprise in the pub grounds, then another Ringtail Hen Harrier on the foreshore. We walked from Harty Church down to the Swale NNR again to have a last go at the Hooded Crow. A ringtail Hen Harrier sat in a tree - first time I've seen that - and another one giving excellent close views. Red-Legged and Grey Partridges were everywhere and Pheasants too – and so were shooters, distant figures with flags, dogs and guns being a consistent feature of the day. A distant passerine flock on the edge of a field contained Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Reed Buntings, a Blue Tit and a couple of Bramblings which were my first for a while. On the reserve were 50+ Stock Doves – by far the most numerous dove we saw on the island - 100+ of Rooks, Jackdaws and Crows but still no Hooded. 13 Avocet flew up the Swale and a Seal briefly breached the surface.

We just had time to return to the raptor view point as the light faded. 6 Marsh Harriers sat in a field. At least 4 more were flying around. A Merlin then shot past and sat on a post giving smashing views. A Barn Owl quartered a neighbouring field, and almost unnoticed a Cetti’s Warbler sang from the reedbed and a pair of Gadwall paddled out of the reeds.

Eight species of raptor! And Marsh Harriers in flocks! What a fantastic place. We totalled around 65 species. It will be much less than another 10 years until I’m back, and next time I’ll bring some gloves.

Photos courtesy of Kevin, the two birds being taken through his scope.

Monday, January 28, 2008

SLRS again

Went for a post-lunch walk with Mrs D down the Stort to SLRS, then back up through the fields to Bonk's Hill then home.

Highlight was 2 male Shovelers on the open water, a first for me and the site. One was slightly scruffy on the flanks - a 1st year? The second was pristine, but spent the whole time with head erect looking at us, obviously spooked, and it was no surprise when they eventually flew off.

The other notable was a flock of 34 Stock Doves flying around - the same flock that has been seen roosting just north of Sawbo presumably.

The Little Gull was seen here yesterday, and what is almost certainly the same one at Amwell in the roost tonight, so there's still a chance its around.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Hatfield Forest

A short consititional round the lake this afternoon with all the monsters. Despite the incessant moaning we managed to clock up a male Mandarin on the lake, a pair of GCG's nest building, a Kingfisher, a few Bullfinches which luckily were shriek-resistant so D#1 got some decent views of a smashing male, 2 Coal Tits and various other stuff. And for the third time in three visits some Fallow Deer on the southern perimeter road.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


Within two minutes of getting Steve's text I was parked up on Lower Sheering Road and scoping the field just the east side of the Railway line. Fortunately the bird was still there. By the time Mike arrived it had moved down with the other gulls to the currently very full flash at SLRS and we spent the next hour or so getting excellent views on the water and then as it flew around.

It was easy to pick out by its small size, more rounded wings and distinctive black W across the wings. Of all the birds I thought I might get here a 1st winter Little Gull hadn't even registered as a possibility.

Weymouth 25th Jan

My business in Weymouth was finished by Lunchtime, so I had a few hours of birding.

I kicked off at Castle Cove Yacht club with a Slavonian Grebe, two Black-Necked Grebes, a Great-Northern Diver, 26 Red-Breasted Mergansers, a couple of Razorbills,and some Med Gulls (more of those later). Then Ferrybridge (at low tide). 30+ Dark-bellied Brent Goose, 5 Little Egrets, Shag, more Med Gulls, then finally the National Sailing Academy, Great-Northern Diver (same one?), more Med Gulls. I didn't stay long as it was getting seriously cold.

Earlier I had been pleased with spotting a 1st winter Mediterranean Gull at the sailing club. Then I noticed 7 more in a flock of BH gulls on some exposed rocks, then another 4, then at Ferrybridge another 7 on the shore line, and then I noticed that the mixed flock of gulls on the distant exposed mud contained many more Med Gulls – 10 in one scope view – and stopped counting. There has been over 100 seen here recently, and I think I saw most of those today.

I went on to Portland. There was a gale blowing, and hundreds of auks ( I saw nothing but Razorbills) were zipping past at a rate, with many more sat on the sea. There were a couple of Kittiwakes and a Gannet, and onshore a Rock Pipit.

Recently some Short-Eared Owls have been seen opposite the obs. I spent a couple of hours trudging the area, but with nothing to show by 4pm apart from a Sparrowhawk, c20 Linnets and c10 Chaffinches, headed for home via Newton’s Cove. No Black redstart, just 12 Great-Crested Grebes.

The day finished as it had started, with several hundred Starlings over Weymouth town as the sky turned a deep pink.

Inspired by the example of Boulmer Birder I’ve opened a second blog which is more static. Some details of the sites I went to today are on here.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The weather – an apology

It cannot have escaped your notice that there has been almost continuous rain from roughly last Thursday. Many cause have been proposed – global warming, La Nina, etc. However I can reveal exclusively here the true reason. I’m taking a month’s break from work, partly to do more birding. The inevitable result – continuous rain.

If you want a prediction for when it will stop – how about three and a half week’s time.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

More local

An unexpected second and third bite of the cherry today. Firstly SLRS this morning with Steve and Bramble. The gloom meant no issues with looking into the sun, not that there was much to look for. New for the year were Cormorant, Mistle Thrush, Pheasant, and Stock Dove. Otherwise the usual stuff.

Then this pm with D#2 and D#4 to Hatfield Forest. More standard woodland stuff, then as we were leaving a Common Buzzard sat in a field, and a couple of fields down 24 Fallow Deer. Some were sat down on the edge of the field, something I've not seen before.

Unless we get some cold weather, I guess the thin lists of this weekend are typical of what we can expect locally until spring.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Thorley Wash 12th Jan

Time and sunshine likely to be in short supply this weekend, so I nipped up to Thorley Wash to try and get some photos of the Lesser ‘Pecker that’s been around recently. The river was as high as I’ve seen after the downpours of recent day, with all the overflow channels full too.

Needless to say there was no sign of the Lesser, or anything else of note. I gave it some time, and slowly but surely it became clear that there really was nothing around. The two pairs of Little Grebes on the river were less than the double figures of previous years. With both pairs, one bird was buffish in colour, and the other one was greyer. Adult and 1st winter? also, I got a Nuthatch in Walbury, the first Kestrel of the year, and then 49 Redwing and 1 Fieldfare in paddocks the west side of the railway line.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Early Birds at Hatfield Forest

I got to Hatfield Forest early, with the frost still on the ground. The Forest was full of birds but the quick walk fomr the main car park round the lake and back brought nothing exceptional.

Bullfinches were everywhere, with a party of 10 in brambles by the entrance, Redwings, Greenfinches and Chaffinches well spread throughout the copious leaf-letter underneath trees, a couple of Jays, 3+ Nuthatches, Green Woodpecker, GSW, Long-tailed Tit, and on the lake 56 Gadwall and smaller numbers of Teal, Pochard, Tufted duck, Mallard, Canada Goose and 2 GC-Grebes.

Finally on the way home 28 Golden Plover at Spellbrook were probably from the volatile Allen’s Green Flock.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

For/Against Bird Shooting

South of Sawbo in the fields round SLRS and was confronted with both sides of the Shooting argument today.

Firstly, birding hedgerows and rough fields with a wide variety of birds including Stonechat, Snipe, Reed Bunting, Yellowhammer, and various finches and thrushes. Then, two shooters coming through with their dogs, giving the scrape field a thorough going over, and letting loose at what I assume was a Snipe and then a Rabbit. One shooter had a bird in one pocket, and the other had a pheasant in his bag. The tail was still twitching manically behind his back.

Personally, it strikes me that without the shooting this area would be an avian desert, like much of my tetrads where I spent a long time walking seeing absolutely nothing, and as a meat eater I think its better to eat wild animals than battery-reared animals. But I was still willing the birds to get out alive.

The list. New birds for SLRS area in bold, which as its the first trip of the year is everything: Teal 5, Moorhen 2, Lapwing 20, Snipe 3, BH Gull 32, Common Gull 2 (1ad 1 imm), WoodPigeon 10 + , Collared Dove 2, Meadow Pipit 1, Dunnock 6, Robin 5, Stonechat 1 pair, Blackbird 5, Fieldfare 1, Song Thrush 1, Redwing c10, Goldcrest 1, Great Tit 8, Blue Tit 8, Jay 1, Magpie 16 incl 13 in 1 tree, Carrion Crow c10, Starling 12, Chaffinch 10, House Sparrow 2, Greenfinch 2, Goldfinch 19, Bullfinch 2, Reed Bunting 3, Yellowhammer 3.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

2008 and Counting

I haven’t kept a list for years. I’d started watching for the list, and not for the joy of watching birds, so I stopped and started looking at the birds again.

I thought this year I might keep one. Or a couple. Year list, local Sawbridgeworth area, Weymouth area, and one specifically for birds just south of Sawbridgeworth in the SLRS area., so that’s four.

And I found the discipline of counting birds on the BTO survey useful; just that extra check to make sure everything’s been recorded often turns up something unexpected. So I’ll be doing more totals this year.

Start off with a Harlow Town Park in the gloom. Goldfinch 25, Siskin c10 roosting, GSW 1, Long-Tailed Tit 2, Chaffinch 1, Magpie 4, Blackbird “a few”, and many gulls over SW towards the Lee Valley Reservoirs included 1 Common Gull, 2 LBB, 1 Herring Gull.

Commonly Spotted Orchids

We are fortunate in the UK in that the commonest orchids are also amongst the most beautiful. I spent a morning photographing some on the lo...