Sunday, 20 November 2011

A late flourish saves the day.

20th November 2011
Cold, foggy, calm start, becoming sunny and warm.

News of a Blackpoll Warbler in Tonbridge Wells on Saturday late afternoon had me re-organising my plans for Sunday. I'm not a huge twitcher, but an American warbler in Kent was too good to miss, so I joined a small crowd on the housing estate this morning. Sadly, the bird didn't show while I was there, I stayed until late morning. As far as I'm aware, it wasn't seen all day.

After lunch, and having knocked off a few jobs at home, I took a late walk up at Reculver to look for owls. Once winter arrives, when the weather is cold and still, I really enjoy late afternoon walks, sometimes at Stodmarsh to see the harriers coming in to roost, and other days out looking for owls as they start to hunt at dusk.

I parked at Shuart at 3:45pm, still light enough to see across the fields a fair distance, and walked up the path towards the railway line. I stood at a good vantage point where I could see in all directions and waited. Soon I had 2 Marsh Harriers fly west, presumably off to roost somewhere on the marsh. A small number of Redwings were flying around calling, and a Waterail was squealing from the reeds near the railway.

Just after 4 o'clock I had a wonderful moment when I saw a Barn Owl flying low up the path towards me. I fully expected it to veer off any second, but instead it flew right over my head very low, and as it passed I looked right in its eyes it was so close, no bins needed. A Cett's was calling, 2 Corn Buntings flew over and a Buzzard sat on one of the large bushes out in the fields.

About 4:15pm, with the light rapidly fading, I watched a ring-tail Hen Harrier hunting, then I wandered slowly back towards the car. Near some hedges I waited a while, and then I saw the first of 2 Long-eared Owls hunting on the edge of the field, and a second bird flying along the path beside me. What a fantastic last hour of the day.

Hen Harrier

Saturday, 19 November 2011

A late Darter

Saturday 19th November
Cold, misty, calm, becoming warm and sunny.

My old friend Patrick Giles was in Kent for the weekend so I picked him up for a trip out birding this morning. We reached Chambers Wall about 8am, and the mist was still over the marsh. Walking up to the railway line there were plenty thrushes along the hedge, but otherwise it was quiet. After a short walk along the embankment we joined Marc Heath and Phil Parker on the sea wall near Coldharbour, where they were trying to i.d a distant grebe on the sea.

After a bit of a chat we walked east of Coldharbour for about 400 yards, and Patrick spotted a Short-eared Owl, which we watched for a while. Little else was around so we headed off to Oare for a couple of hours.

At Oare we found another Short-eared Owl, several Marsh Harriers, about 60 Avocets on a sand bank, around 300 Black-tailed Godwits flew in to the east flood over our heads, and a Greenshank flew west, calling.

Short-eared Owl at Oare

After dropping Patrick off home, I grabbed some lunch, and on such a lovely day I didn't want to give up and go home, so I paid another visit to the Reculver area, this time parking up at Shuart. Whilst finishing off a coffee in the sun before leaving the car, I saw what I thought was a Common Darter briefly, but as luck often has it, just as it landed another car pulled up beside me and it was gone.

I walked slowly up the path north, and stood for a while at a couple of gaps in the hedge. Fisrtly looking west I saw a Common Buzzard sitting in a tree, eventually flushed by a Marsh Harrier. Next I spent a while scanning the fields to the east, and out the corner of my eye spotted the shape of a harrier flying low. I managed to get some nice but distant views of a ring-tail Hen Harrier, although the photos I took weren't very good. A Kestrel flew quite close, which did allow a quite nice picture.

Kestrel at Shuart

There was also a female Blackcap in the ivy, and a male (presumably Common)Darter briefly flying overhead.

Back at the car I stood for a while in the sun and there it was again, a female Common Darter. This time I saw it land on the front tyre of a car not far away in the parking bay. I guess the black tyre would be warm in the sun, which attracted the darter. I crept towards it to take a few photos, but typically just at that moment, with me only a few feet away, crouched down by their car, the 2 ladies that owned the car walked back. I showed them the dragonfly and explained what I was doing and they seemed fascinated and thanked me for pointing it out.

Common Darter, Shuart

This is the latest date I have seen a Common Darter, or any dragonfly for that matter, at Reculver.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Warm and sunny November morning

Sunday 13th November
Bright and sunny, warm, dry, light south east breeze.

It was a cracking morning as I headed over to Shuart, I was hoping to avoid the crowds I expected to be out on such a nice day. I was alone where I parked up, and set off towards the sea. I could hear crests and Long-tailed Tits calling in the hedges, and loads of Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Redwings.

Along the path leading up to to the railway crossing I saw a large bird fly out and along the far side of the hedge. I had my suspicions, and sure enough a bit further along a Long-eared Owl flew out and this time right in front of me fly up the path, then dived right and through the hedge again.

Other than Reed Buntings and Meadow Pipits, little else was seen until I got near the stables, where there were stacks of Pied Wagtails. Someone let their dogs run wild and flushed a flock of 62 Lapwings off the ploughed field, and once I reached the seawall I could see in all directions people out walking their dogs. Although most were on the sea wall, there's always one or two that walk along the beach, flushing all the birds. I wandered a few hundred yards west, and enjoyed 8 Snow Buntings flying around, althouogh they were struggling to find somewhere quiet to land. Eventually they settled up at Plumpudding, and I couldn't be bothered fighting the traffic to see them on the deck.

I was back at the car around 10am, and hoping the breeze would pick up and move easterly, I set of to the towers for a seawatch. Mickey Baldock was already having a look out at sea and said there a few birds moving. Encouraged, I gathered up the scope and set off to stand up by the towers for a couple of hours. It was really quite enjoyable, with a nice variety of birds:

25 Gannets, 1 Bonxie, 18 Kittiwakes, 3 Little Gulls, 1 Little Egret, 8 Red-throated Divers, 2 large auks and 2 Eider all flying east. On the sea were 5 Great Crested Grebes, 1 drake Goldeneye, a mixed flock of about 80 or so duck, comprised of Teal, Wigeon, Mallard and Gadwall, and on the rocks was a Black Redstart.

Elusive Black Redstart

Saturday 12th November
Cool, misty, calm and dry.

This morning started with a bit of a hangover, so I didn't leave the house until nearly 8am, and I parked up at the end of Bishopstone lane. I decided it might be nice to have a peaceful walk below the cliffs, looking for rare wheatears etc. I was somewhat disappointed whereupon opening the car door I was treated to some very loud disco music pumping out of some woman's 'ghetto blaster' and 2 rather substantial people were jogging round the grassy area. I guess it's some kind of fitness class, perhaps not that popular with only 2 members, but do they really require pop music on a cliff top at 8am on a Saturday morning?

I moved quickly down to the beach and out of earshot of the music, and as it was low tide I walked east to the towers at Reculver. There were a few Curlew and Sanderling along the shore, and small numbers of Brent in the shallow water, and some Starlings and Redwings flew west, but otherwise it was quiet.

Around the rocks just west of the towers there were loads of small birds flitting around, so I was hopeful of finding something interesting, and my patience was rewarded with views of a beautiful male Black Redstart. I managed a few distant photos but it was quite tricky to get anywhere near. I was joined by Marc Heath and we chatted a while and waited for it to show better, which eventually it did. However, the rocks, the background, the light and the bird are all dull, so the pictures weren't great.

Black Redstart Reculver

We also had the 7 Snow Buntings fly in off the sea, presumably they had been flushed off the beach further east.

Other than several Robins and Meadow Pipits there wasn't much to add, so I wandered back to Bishopstone along the cliff top. There were many Skylarks, continually flushed by the dogs running around, and a single Redpoll flew south.

After a drink back at the car I took a short trip to Brook. Here I saw adult male and female Marsh Harriers, a Sparrowhawk and heard a Green Sandpiper calling in the distance. A couple of Mistle Thrushes flew overhead as I walked back up to my car. All in all a pleasant morning.

Monday, 7 November 2011

A seawatching weekend

Saturday 5th November
Drizzly, dull, light N/W breeze.

Like most birders I suspect, I keep an eye on the weather forecast for the days ahead, and the prediction all last week was for strong north or north east winds this weekend. Needless to say, I was quite excited.

However, my daughter was making a very welcome trip home from university for the weekend, and I was looking forward to seeing her again, as long as it didn't get in the way of my birding of course. My wife had other plans, suggesting a Sunday lunch together, and I was to make the trip taking Chesk back to her accomodation. Then to cap it all, I discovered I was working Saturday morning.

I must admit I was a touch irritable towards the end of the week, but resigned to squeezing in some short trips where i could. On Saturday I dashed home after work, chucked some soup in the microwave, dropped Chesk in town, home again and stuffed my lunch, grabbed the scope and bins and reached Reculver just before 3 o'clock. I met 2 of the Saganauts (Martin and Terry) just leaving, and the news was that it was quiet. Undeterred I walked up to find some shelter at the towers and gave it an hour and a half, until it was near enough dark. I managed 1 Bonxie west, 2 Gannets east and a juv Shag, which I watched for about 10 minutes as it fished close inshore, before climbing out onto the rocks just east of the towers for a few minutes, then flew off east. Whilst obviously smaller than the Cormorants, the Shag was quite brown all over, shown well when it stretched its wings. A small white chin patch was the only white on the bird, and it's flesh-coloured feet were easy to see while sitting on the rocks. I went home reasonably content, and still excited about the following day's seawatch to come.

Sunday 6th November
Strong north winds, cool, misty.

Disaster struck this morning when my alarm didn't go off, or maybe it did and I turned it off. Typical, all autumn I've been up early and out at dawn, but this morning, when it really mattered, I overslept. With a real panic when I did wake, I noticed it was light outside, never a good sign. I lept up, grabbed my clothes and went downstairs to look at the clock. 7:35am. By 8 o'clock I was out the door after a quick breakfast, and just about to set off when I received the dreaded text from Chris Hindle. Something had been seen already at Reculver and I still hadn't left home. With trepidation I had a quick look, and of all things, 2 Great White Egrets had flown past the towers. Unusual birds for a seawatch, and worse for me, I have never seen GWE in the area. Not a good start to the day.

By the time I reached Reculver I was on the end of a line of birders keeping out the wind, with restricted viewing. It was a fun 5 hours birding, I saw 30 or so Bonxies, a Pom, a couple of Arctic Skuas, many large auks, 8o+ Little Gulls, loads of Kittiwakes and Gannets, Mergansers, Scotor and Wigeon.

Monday 7th November
Strong north east winds, dry, mild, dull and misy at sea.

I had a few hours out before work today, so headed up to the towers in the hope of another seawatch. I got there a bit earlier than yesterday, before 8am, and stayed until mid day. It was great fun, just a few birders sheltering from the strong winds. There were plenty birds on the move, mostly flying east. Highlight was undoubtedly a Great Northern Diver close in to the towers for a while, allowing brilliant scope views. Later it was seen flying out to sea.

Birds seen were:
4 Poms, 1 GND, 6 RT Divers, with many more too distant, 20 Kitiwakes, 6 Mergansers, 23 Wigeon, 2 G C Grebes, 3 Eider, 1 Razorbill, many Guillemots and unidentified large auks, and around 980 Lapwing flying out to sea.