Sunday, 25 September 2011

A more promising morning.

Sunday 25th September 2011 7.45 - 10.30am
Light southerly breeze, cool, dry and overcast.

I arrived this morning at Chambers Wall car park to the sound of a singing Cetti's and a few Chiffchaffs calling. It was quite cool, and just a gentle breeze, and as I set off towards the railway line there were Chiffchaffs feeding actively in the small vegetation next to the path. It's amazing to see these newly arrived migrants so close up, and in such large numbers again today.

I caught sight of a flash of an orange tail, a Redstart disappearing into a bush. I waited a while but couldnt see it again. I walked west up the embankment with Marc Heath, noting more Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap, plus a lot of Blue Tits.

Marc carried on towards Reculver, and I returned east along the embankment, and a few minutes later he rang to say he was watching a Short-eared Owl. I managed a couple of distant photos of this cracking bird.

Short-eared Owl

I heard a few flocks of Siskins fly west as i continued back to Chambers Wall, counting 21 in total, and 2 Ring-necked Parakeets flew west. A flock of Long-tailed Tits made their way south down the hedge, carrying with them were loads of Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap. Long-tailed Tit flocks are always worth a look through, just in case something good is with them.


There were 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers near the car park, and I relocated the Redstart, though getting close enough for a photo was much harder.


I heard a 'chiff chiff chiff' and looked up to see a smallish dark wader with a white rump flying north, presumably a Wood Sandpiper, although it is a rather late date.

Driving away I had a Sparrowhawk low over a hedge and a female Marsh Harrier over the felds hunting. A really enjoyable morning's birding.

A long walk on a beautiful morning

Saturday 24th September 7am - 10.30am
Warm, sunny, calm and dry.

I arrived in misty conditions at Shuart this morning, and in the company of Julian and Alex Perry, I walked up to the railway embankment and headed west. It was very much another day of Chiffchaffs, though the cool start to the walk meant I we probably didn't see as many birds as were in the area. An example of this was a small tree up the lane which had 5 Blackcaps, but none were calling and we could have overlooked them quite easily.

A single Willow Warbler was calling, and there were around 25 Blue Tits working their way through the bushes. I saw a Peregrine sitting in the middle of a field near Wade farm, and a little later the same bird chasing the Woodpigeons.

Walking down to Chambers Wall there was a Kingfisher calling from the river, and more Chiffchaffs, the total for my walk about 60 birds.

I walked back to Shuart along Potten Street Road, and 8 Ring-necked Parakeets flew over towards Shuart, calling loudly.

Friday, 23 September 2011

A surprise owl

Friday 23rd September 2011
Light winds, cool start soon warming up, sunny and dry.

I arrived at Chambers Wall at 7am, just as the light was good enough to see a few birds. Once again I could hear the calls of Chiffchaffs and a singing Cetti's when i got out the car. I was quite hopeful because the day had a good feel to it.

I walked up the sunny side of the hedge towards the railway, and as I neared the end of the hedge I noticed many Chiffchaffs, at least 15 birds, excitedly flitting around a few bushes, calling continuously. At first I thought they were just enjoying the warmth of the sun and perhaps plenty of insect activity, but then it dawned on me, rather slowly i admit, they were mobbing something.

As I approached quite close a Little Owl flew out the hedge and landed in a Hawthorn a bit further away, chased by the small birds it had attracted.

Little Owl

It flew west along the railway embankment, and distantly I could watch it's progress by the following flock of mostly Chiffchaffs.

I walked west along the embankment, along the Green Wall to the seafront, then to Coldharbour and back to the car. On route I managed around 60 Chiffchaffs, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, 3 Whitethroats, 3 Blackcaps, 1 Sedge, 3 Kestrels, 3 Little Egrets flew east, and along the Wantsum 3 Great Spotted Woodpeckers, presumably migrants.

Quite a nice start to the day.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Flycatcher in the garden

Sunday 18th September 2011
Light west (F2) winds, sunny, cold, dry.

I was loading the car up this morning around 7.30am and as usual there were Chiffs calling from the trees, and Blue Tits, Great Tits and a party of Long-tailed Tits. Then an interesting bird caught my eye, so I grabbed the bins out the car and watched as a Spotted Flycatcher was flitting around. Torn between heading to the coast, and staying to watch the flycatcher, I decided as the sun was out it was a great chance for a photo.

Spotted Flycatcher

I headed over to Shuart, where again there were many Chiffchaffs. I counted around 35, as well as a few Blackcaps, 3 Ring-necked Parakeets and 2 Kestrels. I then walked over to Netherhale, counting over 40 Chiffchaffs, 4 Blackcaps, 3 Buzzards drifting south, 1 Marsh Harrier and a Sparrowhawk.

There were plenty Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters on the wing, as well as Large and Small Whites, Comma, Peacock and Red Admirals, and a Painted Lady, one of the few i've seen this year.

Painted Lady

Back at home there are still Chiffchaffs in and out the garden, as well as a few Goldcrests calling.

Friday, 16 September 2011

A seawatch on my last day :-)

Friday 16th September 2011
Light S/E winds (F2-3), mild, overcast, dry.

I arrived at Chambers Wall car park at 7am this morning to the sound of Chiffchaffs calling all around. I tried to make a stab at counting them, but to be honest it was a real guess, they were flitting in and out the bushes. I walked slowly up to the crossing, then took the embankment east to the riding stables, checked all the hedges befor eturning back west along the seafront. The whole walk up to the seafront was accompanied by the calls of Chiffs, but little else. The walk west was quiet, though there was a single Wheatear on the beach, and an Arctic Skua flew slowly east close in.

At Coldharbour I turned south, then walked the embankment west, before returning to the car for a bite to eat. I had several sightings of Sparrowhawks during the walk, and a Hobby came flying low over the bushes while I was at the car.

Approximate totals for the walk were: 95 Chiffs, 11 Blackcaps, 5 Whitethroats, 2 Reed Warblers, 1 Cetti's, 1 Yellow Wagtail, 1 Arctic Skua, 2 Gannets, 25 Scotor, 1 Wheatear, 4 Lapwing west, 8 Brent, 5 Sparrowhawks, 4 Kestrels, 1 Hobby and 4 Grey Herons.

Early morning Grey Heron

Around 11:30am I drove over to Reculver towers, where Matt Hindle was already on a seawatch. I was walking up to join him when he rang to say there was a Long-tailed Skua flying east. I ran up to the watchpoint and saw the bird, but it was distant and flying further away. All I can say is that it was a small, pale skua. I joined Matt for a really pleasant few hours, sitting on the cliff in the sun with a moderate south east wind. A little later Chris and Anne and Mickey Baldock joined us, and we stayed until about 3pm.

Plenty of interest, as a trickle of Bonxies (50+) and Arctic Skuas (20) flew past, mostly east, as well as 6 Black Terns, 30 Sandwich Terns, 5 Little Gulls, a Razorbill, 70 Gannets, a Red-throated Diver and probably the highlight a juv Montagu's Harrier in off the sea.

Although the information about birds seen further up the coast in Essex and Suffolk had us wishing for a slight northerly breeze, it was a lovely day and a great way to end my 2 weeks off work.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The joy of Chiffchaffs

Wednesday 14th September
F3 westerly winds, mild, dry and sunny

I arrived at the car park at Chambers Wall this morning at around 8am, with little hope or expectation of much. The first bird I heard as soon as the car door opened was a Cetti's Warbler singing, and as I set of towards the east side of the hedge I could hear several Chiffchaffs calling. There was a Corn Bunting in the car park, and a Yellow Wagtail flew over, calling.

The Chiffchaff is an undervalued bird, in my opinion. Not as pretty as a Willow Warbler, and more common than most other warblers this time of year, it can be walked past too easily. On a day when there isn't a lot to see there is comfort from watching several Chiffs flitting in and out along a hedge. Apart from being enjoyable to watch, they are constantly calling so you know there are more around, and their presence promises something even better may be just round the corner.


Today I counted 34 Chiffchaffs as I walked up to the railway crossing, and walked west to the Green Wall and back, and i'm sure many more were in the area. Other warblers were 2 Whitethroats and a Reed Warbler. Walking north I heard the familiar sound of Siskins calling, and overhead flew a flock of 8 birds heading west. A sign of autumn.

2 Grey Wagtails flew west along the embankment as I walked into the strong wind. One sat on the sluice at the Wantsum just long enough to tempt me into trying for a photo, which didn't come out good. The only other birds of note were 54 Meadow Pipits flying west.

Driving away from Chambers Wall I noticed over fields west of the track all the gulls were up, and there were 1 or 2 raptors amongst them. I spent about half an hour watching the skies, seeing 2 Common Buzzards together, at least 4 Marsh Harriers, a Peregrine and 3 Kestrels.

Distant Buzzards

All in all a pleasant morning.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Goodbye Chesk

Monday 12th September
Very windy, F6-7 south westerly. Warm, sunny and dry.

Surprise surprise, the wind was howling from the south west again today. This is turning into the most disappointing September for birding I can remember.

Anyway, yesterday was an emotional day for me. My wife (Steph) and I took our daughter Francesca (Chesk) to Anglia Ruskin Uni in Cambridge. Driving away was so hard, but they grow up and move on. I'm looking forward to the Christmas holidays already :-)

The last supper

When I got up today I really could have done with a long day out birding, but instead, because the weather was miserable, I mooched around the house all morning. Eventually I dragged myself up to Reculver towers after lunch in the hope that somoething would be displaced into our bit of the North Sea. I had just got out the car when Chris arrived, so we stood in some shelter at the towers and managed 4 Little Terns, a few Common and Sandwich Terns, and unusually, a pair of Gadwall flew west.

If the wind was in exactly the opposite direction we would have spent the whole day there, counting skuas and more, and yet the winds have ensured next to nothing is to be seen.

Perhaps the end of the week will be better?

Friday, 9 September 2011

A bit of competition to liven things up.

Friday 9th September
Light drizzle first thing, then brightening up. F 3-4 south westerly winds. Mild

The weather was much better today, any day in autumn starting with drizzle is promising. A chat with Tim Hodge yesterday led to us having a small competition to see as many birds as possible by 11am, when we would meet up at Chambers Wall to see how many birds more than me that Tim had seen. We've been here before...

A text from Tim told me he had seen 18 sp before I had reached the Reculver area. Undeterred, I set off from the car park, enjoying a day without strong winds. I soon heard a selection of warblers, including Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Blackcap and 2 Lesser Whitethroats, and at the crossing there were 2 Turtle Doves. I carried on up to Cold Harbour then walked east along the seafront. I planned to walk to loads of different parts of the marsh in an attempt to beat Tim's total, but I soon gave up on that and enjoyed the day. There were good numbers of Wheatear along the beach, and at Plumpudding a nice variety of waders, including a Whimbrel, 3 Bar-wits, 1 Knot and around 30 each of Dunlin and Sanderling. Plenty of Yellow Wagtails about as well.

I walked back west and eventually met Tim at the Oyster Farm. On my approach I heard a wader call and looked up to see it fly off high south west. Tim confirmed when I caught up with him that it was a Dotterel. We spent a bit of time counting the Wheatears, reaching a total of 31 birds, though there must have been many more in the area as a whole. There were 2 Stonechats and a Whinchat in the scrub around the Oyster Farm.

We walked back along the Green Wall and the embankment to the car park, adding a few more warblers to then list. My total was 62 species seen in the morning, and Tim managed 78. Between us we reached a reasonable 84 species of bird seen in the morning.

Altogether a really enjoyable walk, with a lot of birds around. Great fun.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Another dull day

Thursday 8th September 2011
F 3-4 south westerly winds, mild, dry, overcast.

No change in the weather, and no change in the birding. If anything, it's getting worse! I had an hour's seawatch from the towers around mid day, I only saw a Peregrine fly west, a few Sandwich and Common Terns, and pretty much nothing else.

I had a short visit to Chambers Wall, up to the crossing, managing to hear 2 calling Chiffchaffs, I saw 2 Turtle Doves tucked away in a tree keeping out the nasty wind, and a Kingfisher was playing hard to photograph. I waited quite a while for it to come close enough for a decent picture, but in the end I got bored and gave up. There were a few Sand Martins, House Martins and Swallows around the car park, and that was just about it really.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

In search of a rare plant...

Wednesday 7th September 2011
Strong (F6) westerly winds, bright and warm

Poor weather for birding again today, I was still tempted out this morning, reaching Chambers Wall around half eight. I started out along the east of the hedge running north, keeping out the fierce wind, hoping some migrants might be sheltering. It was really quite pleasant, but very quiet, apart from a few Chaffinches and singing Robins, and several calling Chiffs (I counted 8 in total).

I had a call from Tim Hodge around 9am, suggesting we walk up to the oyster farm to look for a rare plant he had been tipped off was growing there. Pleased of the company I sauntered slowly up to the embankment while Tim made his way to catch me up. We both had a Grey Wagtail fly west, and enjoyed a young Hobby hunting along the dyke by the sea wall.

There were at least 4 Wheatears feeding along the footpath and on the beach, which was nice.

Following rather ambiguous directions we started searching for the plant. I had no idea what I was looking for, Tim just said it was a rather thin plant with a small yellow flower, which may or may not be out at the moment. There were yellow flowered plants everywhere, which made it even harder to find the mystery plant. After some prompting, Tim agreed to use his mobile to find a picture on the internet, so we at least knew what to look for.

It didn't take long to realise we had very little chance of finding our quarry, so Tim agreed to find out a bit more before we would return another day. Still, it was a lovely walk, and great to get out for some fresh air and have a chat about better days and past holidays.

Walking back we had lovely views of a confiding Stonechat and a Whinchat.


Tuesday, 6 September 2011

A real struggle

Tuesday 6th September
Very strong S/W winds (F9), heavy showers, mild.

All summer i've been looking forward to the beginning of September and my 2 weeks holiday. As usual I have taken leave at the start of the autumn, hoping for a really good sea-watch in a northerly gale, or a few days of light north east winds and some drift migrants. Not this year, it would appear. Rubbish weather struck Kent yesterday on my first day's leave, and got worse today.

I went to Chambers Wall yesterday (Monday 5th) for a couple of hours in strong westerly winds, managing to see a Wheatear, a few House Martins moving west, over 20 Chiffchaffs, a Reed Warbler and 2 Willow Warblers, but not much else. I then went over to Shuart for another couple of hours and saw 2 Turtle Doves, 1 Grey Wagtail and around 100 Swallows around the farm and fields.

Along the hedges in shelter I managed 8 species of butterfly and 4 of dragonfly, which kept me amused for a while.

Common Darter

Today, I really couldn't face walking around in such strong winds, struggling to see anything. Eventually this afternoon I gave in and went up to the towers at Reculver about 3:30pm, just as the tide was coming in. You never know, with a bit of luck something might fly past. I took a walk down to the beach behind a breakwater for a while, and then sat up on the cliff behind the towers out the wind as much as possible.

It was actually quite nice to be out, even though, as expected, there was little to see. Highlight was a summer plumage Red-throated Diver feeding just off-shore. I watched it for a while as I sat on the beach, and a few terns were flying west, then I went back to the car, got some warmer clothes and my camera and headed up to the towers.

Red-throated Diver
(It's a poor record shot, but it was taken in dull light, rain, gale force winds etc )

By 5:30pm, in addition to the diver, I had seen 64 Common Terns, 8 Sandwich Terns, 1 Black Tern and a second winter Med Gull all fly west. There were also 6 Swifts flying round the towers then heading south.

Unfortuanately, the weather looks pretty crap for the rest of this week, and possibly into next week as well.