Sunday, 26 February 2012

A bright end to February

This weekend was mostly bright and sunny, after a grey early start on Saturday.
Chilly first thing each day, becoming milder. Very calm.

Saturday started well with a walk in Church Woods. It's lovely to head out the garden straight into the woodland, and nice not to drive anywhere for a change. Plenty of birds singing, a Mistle Thrush from the neighbours garden, and many Nuthatches. Unfortunately they never seem to fly low enough for a decent photo, so apologies for the quality of this picture.

Many Treecreepers, Great Spots and Green Woodpeckers followed, and eventually I heard a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker drumming, quite a scarce bird in these woods. I saw a pair of birds high in the trees, and again I tried rather optimistically for a photo and only achieved a dull grey image.

Other bits seen or heard were a single Redpoll, several Goldcrests and a Coal Tit.

After lunch I drove over to Wye, where I parked up on the hill and walked until I had a panoramic view. I set up the scope and scanned around, finding at least 4 Common Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk.

Sunday morning started with a trip to Reculver. I met Marc Heath shortly after setting off, and he told me about a Little Owl in the caravan park, which was still showing well when I made my way down the path. Other than that, there were a few Bar-wits, Curlews and a Sparrowhawk flew along the shore, spooking everything in sight.

I spent an hour late morning at Shuart, scanning for raptors. I found very few birds, though 2 Sparrowhawks were nice. Two Corn Buntings spent most of the time I was at Shuart flitting about on the telegraph wire behind the car.

Late afternoon I took a trip over to Stodmarsh to watch the harriers come in to roost, and also to look for Bitterns at dusk. Each year in late Feb through to mid March, just after dark there is is the fantastic sight of Bitterns circling the main lake at Stodmarsh, before flying east or north east, calling frequently as they go. I decided the weather looked perfect for Bitterns, though I thought it may be a little early in the year.

I arrived just after 5pm, and walking up the path towards the Lampen Wall I saw an egret high above the main lake flying west. It looked rather large, and ss soon as I got the bins on it I could see it was a Great White Egret. Flight and wing flapping were very slow, with huge broad wings and a large neck bulge, and the legs were really long; i failed to see any bare-part colour because the light was grey and the bird was flying away from me, but the jizz was spot-on for GWE.

As darkness approached I counted c15 Marsh Harriers and a single Hen Harrier drop into the reed beds, and I waited for everything to quietin down. Then sure enough, at exactly 6pm I could distantly hear a Bittern call, and I saw it circling at the west end of the lake, gaining height before flying strongly east, calling every few seconds. Another flew over at 6.08pm, followed by three birds together at 6.15pm Another two Bitterns flew east, one at 6.20pm and another 2 minutes later. In total 7 Bitterns flew over.

What a weekend - great fun!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Waders in the sunshine

Sunday 19th February 2012
Cold N/W wind (F4), dry and bright sunshine.

In glorious sunshine I spent a couple of hours at Reculver towers this morning. I decided against walking in the cold wind, instead choosing a bit of a sea-watch. Wrapped up against the cold, I sheltered on the east side of the towers and set up the scope, with the camera ready to snap any passing gulls. I've decided it's about time I spent more time looking at gulls, and there's always a few hanging about at Reculver.

Soon I noticed a steady trickle of divers flying east. I counted 185 in the time I was looking, and all that were close enough to allow i.d were Red-throated Divers. A single Guillemot also flew east, and there were about 15-20 Great Crested Grebes knocking about. A mixed flock of Wigeon and Gadwall flew west, but otherwise there was little to see. I took a few gull photos, but they weren't great.

I then drove over to Minnis Bay, arriving as the tide was just starting to drop, exposing a few rocks and mud. The waders were very obliging, and I was surprised how many people (casual birders) wandered down to enjoy them, binoculars and cameras in hand, as well as a small number of Brent close inshore.

Apart from the odd dog-walker letting their dogs run along the beach scaring everything off, it was a relaxing time enjoyed by many.

Waders seen were: Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Sanderling, Dunlin.

Gulls seen were only the common stuff: Great Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed, Herring, Common and Black-headed.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Smew for the area list

Sunday 12th February
Cold, dull, light easterly breeze, snow turning to light rain.

I was quite excited about getting out for a long walk today, hoping for a crisp bright winter's day, so I was slightly disappointed when I realised how dull the day was. I spent a little while feeding the garden birds, during which time Marc Heath rang to say a Smew was on Brook. I headed straight there, and a few minutes later I was watching my first red-head Smew at Reculver. It's been a long time coming. Also on Brook were well over 100 Teal and Gadwall, among a huge number of duck. A few Snipe were feeding in the ditches near the reservoir, and I watched a Wren carefully dipping into the water to drink.

About 10 o'clock I drove to the car park at the towers, wrapped up warm and walked east almost reaching Coldharbour. I really believe there will be a white-winged gull seen there this winter, and I spent time looking at all the large gulls, but the vast majority were Herring Gulls, with a few Great and Lesser Black-backed.

On the beach near the towers were 4 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, which is rather unusual. They kept well away from the huge numbers of Dark-bellied birds.

Apart from the usual waders, I did see 5 Bar-tailed Godwits and 8 Curlew, plus 2 Eider just offshore.

This evening near Shuart there was a Barn Owl out hunting, a Chiffchaff near the farm, 12 Grey Partridges in a field east of Shuart, and walking back at dusk 2 Woodcock flew over.

All in all, a fun weekend.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

A cold afternoon in the sun

Saturday 11th Feb
Very cold - below freezing, calm, sunny and dry.

All week I've been reading about the cracking cold-weather birds being seen locally so I was dead-keen to get out this weekend. I finished work at 1 o'clock, and after a quick change into thermals and jumpers I picked Patrick up from his mum's in Faversham, and we headed to the towers at Reculver. Already there were Kerry and Alex, searching the sea for duck.

We saw a large flock of over 200 Wigeon offshore, plus 5 Shoveler, a couple of Gadwall and 2 Eider. Golden Plover could be heard calling, and one or two were flying over. As we walked past the towers we enjoyed close views of goldies and Lapwings on the grass areas. Shortly after, a Merlin flashed past heading west, then up over the towers and away.

We walked slowly east past the oyster farm, noting several Snipe, Redshank, a Pintail flew off one of the back pools, and there were 2 Shelduck on some open water. The enormous Brent flock was on the fields near Chambers Wall, and when the whole flock went up we picked out a Peregrine circling high over the geese. The flock went up several times while we were out, quite spectacular.

We chose to walk inland and follow the path round the back of the oyster farm on the return to the towers. A couple of waders flew overhead, a Dunlin and a Spotted Redshank, and a second Merlin flew east, terrorising the waders on the beach. Several Snipe later, we at last had a Woodcock fly past and land in the field a little way ahead. It obligingly stayed out in the open feeding, so we all enjoyed nice views of a bird seldom seen during the day.

Patrick spotted a male Marsh harrier over the fields, and there were 2 Kestrels in the area. While I was taking the Woodcock photos, the others had a second bird drop in a ditch nearby. At the sluice a Kingfisher flew out and away inland. A bit frustrating, because we could have had good views if we had taken a little more care not to disturb it.

Two and a half hours birding and we were back at the car park having had a really enjoyable walk, with several good birds.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Snow and Iceland

Saturday 4th February
Very cold, easterly breeze, dry.

I was really looking forward to the weekend, not having been out birding for a couple of weeks, and I was just getting ready to leave the house Saturday morning when the phone rang - the lad at work had taken ill. I managed to get some cover until 1pm, then I would have to go in for the rest of the day. Just to make matters worse, around this time I received a text from Chris Hindle letting me know there was a red-head Smew near Cold Harbour, a rare bird in the area. I decided to visit Reculver for an hour, even though it was a bit of a rush, and offshore I saw 85 Wigeon fly west, 14 Gadwall east, about 400 Brent flew east, including the Pale-bellied Brent. Other bits seen were 4 Snipe east, 1 Bar-tailed Godwit east, and all the usual waders. The cold weather made them less nervous than usual, so I managed a couple of photos.

Walking back to the car the Black Redstart was flitting about on the rocks west of the towers.

Sunday 5th February
Deep snow, cold, calm and overcast.

I was keen to get some birding in today, having had my time cut short Saturday. I didn't set off too early, instead waiting to let the roads clear a bit. I cleaned a patch of the garden and put plenty food and water out. Late morning I had a call from Tim to say he was looking at an adult Iceland Gull at St Mildred's Bay in Westgate. It's been a few years since i've seen an Iceland Gull, so an easy choice where to go today.

I spent a couple of hours searching but couldn't locate the gull, though I enjoyed seeing plenty of waders, including a Purple Sandpiper, Sanderling, Dunlin, Curlew and Golden and Grey Plovers. Offshore were a few rafts of Great Crested Grebes, 3 Shelduck flew west, and a couple of Rock Pipits were on the rocks.

I had just rung Tim to say the gull had gone, when I picked it out sitting on the most distant rocks at the edge of the tide. Either it had dropped in while I wasn't looking, or maybe I had walked past it. Anyway, it didn't stay long, a minute later it flew up and away out to sea.

This Common Gull also posed nicely....