Sunday, 31 May 2009

May round-up

One of 4 young Magpies fledged from a tall spruce in the garden

Its been a good long spring for wildlife around in and around our garden in Shadoxhurst. Whilst our local Cuckoos and Nightingales are still in full call and song, it won't be long before June brings a summer silence to the garden. Surprisingly, Great spotted woodpeckers can still be heard ocassionally drumming. That's a lot of head -banging, as I remember that the first bird heard drumming was boxing day 08. I know of at least 2 pairs with young birds ready to fledge the nest.

As far as I can see Spring has been a breeding success for our garden birds. Magpies, Blue Tits, Blackbirds, Long tailed tits all have young visiting the garden. Song Thrush young are sadly conspicuous by their absence and their arch enemy the Magpie, has three young birds being feed the garden. Starlings have done well with a large flock feeding in the paddock behind the garden.

Our Blue tits left the box with family in tow about a week ago now. So for this year their seems to be a traditional synchronicity between the green tortex Moth caterpillar peak numbers and the hatching and feeding of the young Blue tits.

My neighbours House Martins started to nest build and repair for just one day and then came to a stop. I'm convinced they will try again in June as there are at 12 feeding over Shadoxhurst field daily. No summer migrant seems to be able to breed later than House Martins.

Our 2 garden camps have shown us just how rich and intense our spring dawn chorus can be. Cuckoo's in particular have been very vocal, although one note of caution is that I have yet to hear a female cuckoo with it's characteristic and loud 'water draining out of the sink call!'

Dragonflies also seem to be having a good year. The first Broad-bodied chaser left the pond mid-month and there are many Azure Damsel flies and Large Red Damselfys breeding to. At night there are many Southern Hawkers nymphs prospecting for reed stalks to depart the water from in the coming weeks. Moths have been low in number on the few occasions we have tried the light trap out.

Good news for Butterflies is that we have had 2 small Tortoiseshells, (thats 2 more than last year) in the garden back in March, and and the wave of Painted Ladies has become a national talking point, such is the enormnity of the migration involved this year. Moths below are Marbled White spot and Elepant Hawk, both present in the garden last week.

Elephant Hawk moth

Marbled White spot

Mammal wise, foxes are visible in the evening trotting across the paddock and Pipistrelle Bats are present in twos and threes hunting up and down the garden lawn. I haven't seen any Hedgehogs yet and that is something I need to check out as nationally, their numbers have dropped disturbingly low.

Overall, its be a fine month with plenty of good weather - the highlight over all will be the day we saw our first garden Red Kite fly over. Here's looking forward to an equally exciting summer happy with the knowledge that spring despite our global warming worries seemed quite normal this year!

Back garden at 7.30 tonight

Meadow Buttercups in the Paddock behind the garden

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Cycling around Rye Harbour NR

Yesterday, George and I spent the day at one of our favourite South East reserves. We took our bikes so we could cover the surrounding countryside ride around Camber Castle and then later spend the afternoon at the beach hides. We rode to the accompanying sound of Med Gulls, Turtle Dove, Skylark, Cettis Warblers and piping Oystercatchers. We saw all our favourite summer favourite birds, from Sandwich Tern to Hobby. Oh and we musn't forget the rare Downy Emerld dragonfly briefly glimpsed by one of the shaded ponds.We cycled under a vibrant cyan sky, temperatures kept down though by a brisk onshore breeze. We had a brilliant day, can't wait to go again before the Terns leave in the summer.

Thursday, 28 May 2009


I'm at a loss to explain this. My village is bordered by 30 acres of grassland owned by the Kent Scout Association. As an assistant to the Shadoxhurst cub scout pack we regularly rambled in these fields. On an earlier visit this spring, we were able to show our Cubs scouts, Skylarks and Green Woodpeckers and listen to the song of Nightingales and Cuckoo in the surrounding scrub. The grassland was spectacular for wildflowers and summer butterflies - but not anymore. Because as far as I can see, the whole 30 acres have been sprayed with weedkiller or rather grass killer. This has been carried out as far as I can see in the last week, showing a total disregard for wildlife and ground nesting birds in particular.

I intend to find out if a wildlife crime has been carried out here, and to have an explanation as to why this spraying has been carried. What is depressing about this situation is the fact that the Scout association have allowed this to happen on their land showing total disregard for their local scout group destroying (for this year at least) a valuable asset to our children.

Rather ironically, we had considered camping here this year but that is now out of the question, I will update this post as soon as I have an explanation.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Collared Doves displaying

Swifts mating on the wing at Dungeness

There were many swifts feeding over the ARC pits on Saturday morning, I presumed these were birds that were simply moving through heading North. However, as we know, Swifts do everything on the wing eating, sleeping and eh well...judge for yourselves! So, I think we can safely say some of these Swifts were local breeding birds too. These pics were taken quickly with limited time. Looking at the results, I'd like another go to try and add a little more quality to the images.

Peregrine and prey at Dungeness

Just managed one snap of this superb adult Peregrine flying low over the ARC pit at Dungeness yesterday morning. Its not a great quality pic, but I think that's a part/plucked Moorhen its carrying? Five minutes later, walking back to the ARC car park I saw my first Hobby meander through the swifts hunting there.

Manx shearwaters Dungeness

Strong south westerly winds today brought in a number of Manx Shearwaters past the point heading East and south out of the channel. Mostly in small groups. I saw birds flying through continuously in a two hour seawatch. Also today 4 Artic Skuas 1 Black tern small flocks of Common Tern heading east.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Red Kite - first garden and Shadoxhurst record

Easily the Bird of the year so far was this fine Red Kite being hurried along at roof top level across the garden (from south to north) by every Jackdaw and Crow in the village.
Seen at 10.00 am, we rushed to the front of the house, with camera in hand, where we managed a photograph. Forgive the poor result, but I estimate the bird was probably a mile away and soaring high, too. Its hard to believe, just seconds before it was close enough to cast a shadow across the garden.

I don't remember seeing any wings tags and the wings did look tatty too. Who knows where this bird originated from. Could this be the first of many Kites possibly colonising Kent - we will have to wait and see!

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Blue Tit - new balls please!

There are 3 pairs of Blue Tits nesting around the garden, this bird took time off from chick feeding for some nest building and repair. With a near gale force wind prevailing for most of the day, hindering foraging for food and driving down temperatures, the extra fibres from the tennis ball may just have given the fledglings some life -giving warmth.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Garden Dawn Chorus

After a week of strong westerly winds, Saturday night began to sink into a calm clear stary night. George's idea completely, he'd already put a 3-man tent up in the afternoon and wanted to camp out for the first night this year. We built a fire to warm us up and and then settled down listening to a few distant Nightingales a barking fox, a hooting Tawny Owl and seeing the first Brimestone Moths of the year sitting by the Moth trap. We slept-out until 5.30am, then after Porridge for Breakfast, we drove straight down to Dungeness to look for Skuas - (we missed a flock of 11 Pomarine Skuas by just 30 minutes).
Back to the garden dawn chorus, the Nightingales singing really picked-up pre-sunrise probably at around 3am. At this time of night they had the woods almost to themselves, with no distant cars or barking dogs to compete with, they sounded much closer and more numerous than anytime I've heard them before. At 4.30 a Cuckoo began calling and never really stopped until 6.oo. Other early birds included a calling Pheasant a Dunnock a plethora of Robins and Blackbirds. A Song Thrush added more mixture to the sound, slowly drowning out the distant Nightingales. As the sunrised, all the commoner Garden birds were calling - Greenfinches, Collared Doves and Blue Tits.

We both felt cold when we woke-up but it was a great experience, we know that while Cuckoo's and Nightingales seem almost absent by day, they are never far away atdawn. Hopefully we will camp again soon - weather permitting!

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Large Red Damselfly

Large Red Damsel flies have been on the wing for a couple of weeks now. Numbers are continuing to build-up and adults are already ovipositing on the pond surface plants. I'd say there are probably 4 pairs presently by the pond.

Solomons Seal Sawfly

The first time I discovered this sawfly was last summer when we found hundreds of uniform grey caterpillars munching up the leaves of the Solomon Seal plants in the garden. Whilst the caterpillars devour the leaves, the plants always grow back again. Solomon Seal Sawfly are quite docile, weak fliers and the Swallows and House Martins making forays over the garden surely take there toll. However, they're a harmless, child-friendly enigmatic species and despite their foliage consumption habits, we always welcome them back.