Juvenile Lesser Spotted woodpecker in the garden. Declining nationally and getting harder to see in the garden. Still breeding near the village though. This pic from '07.
Swallows appear to be plentiful managing two broods around the paddock buildings in Shadoxhurst.
Hobby over the garden; from May to September can frequently be seen harrowing Swallows and House Martins over the village.
Spotted Flycatcher; once a common summer garden visitor - now very scarce. This picture was taken in the garden in '06. Birds have been absent for the last two years.
It's the end of the year, and after nearly fifteen years living in Shadoxhurst, I decided to have a count of all the bird species we have seen and heard from our Kent garden. The count, as of today, is 91, with the number of birds seen physically in the garden i.e. on the lawn, by the pond or in trees, being 60. The number of bird species seen from the garden during 2009 stands at 77.
Top 5 birds seen from the garden:
Kingfisher: nominated by Lewis and seen by all, fishing in the pond for a winter's morning just over 2 years ago.
White-backed Vulture (escapee): nominated by George, but sadly cannot be accepted as wild! This bird spent some weeks in East Kent during spring '07 and was seen by several birdwatchers across the county.
White Stork: Seen once and soaring high over the garden by Sian.
Red-legged Partridges: nominated by Sian, these 3 birds have become well known to many of the villagers for over a year.
Honey Buzzard: Not seen since summer 'o7, we are privileged to have had stunning views of these birds which occasionally hold territory in East Kent woods.
Best Bird of 2009
Red Kite: just one fly-over record, but what a sight!
Enigmatic birds of '09
Whimbrel: On late-summer nights, traveling south high overhead, Whimbrel migrate from Scottish breeding grounds, and call unseen in the wee small hours of the night. I hear them when I'm checking the Shadoxhurst garden moth trap. Their far-carrying contact call has a primeval ambiance to it - and on still and silent nights it's certainly a hair-raising experience.
Cuckoo: still heard and seen in our village parish - it has nevertheless declined dramatically in the UK and I have no evidence that Cuckoo bred in the parish in '09.
Winners and Losers
Okay, starting with winners, the undoubted birds that come to mind are thriving Birds of Prey. Birds unimaginable in my youth in the 60's and 70's are now on long and sustained population growths and regularly seen from our garden. This is no more exemplified than the wandering Red Kite we saw over our garden during May of this year. Red Kites held a small population of 20 pairs in Wales when I was a kid and, thanks to re-introduction schemes, are now beginning to find their way into east Kent. Common Buzzard now hold territories over Shadoxhurst along with Hobby, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Tawny and Little Owl. Barn Owls are not breeding in our parish but they aren't too far away either.
Another runaway success story is that of the Hobby. Perhaps my favourite bird, it cuts a striking scythe in the sky of contrasting black, white and red. Returning back to my childhood, the only chance to see a Hobby was to travel to the New Forest in Hampshire, the only reliable haunt of what was then a very rare bird of prey.
Hobbies are long distance migrants but it is believed that their breeding success of the last 25 years has been driven by environment changes closer to our home. Cleaner waterways and conversion of post-war gravel pits to lakes have provided perfect breeding grounds for one of the Hobby's most important food sources - dragonflies!
Resident birds doing well in our garden include Nuthatch, Yellowhammer, Wren, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Collared Dove and Wood Pigeon.
Summer visitors that appear to be doing well and regularly returning to Shadoxhurst are Swallow, House Martin, Cuckoo (just!).
Goldfinches are also an easy bird to see in Shadoxhurst. Breeding in our garden in '09, there success is no doubt aided by the trend to feed garden birds all year round.
The Losers - notable absentees
Many of our once common summer migrants are struggling nationally. The Spotted Flycatcher, once a common summer garden visitor, has now been absent from our garden for the last two years. Other passage migrant birds such as Willow warbler and Sedge warbler are scarcer now than they were ten years ago. Still seen annually in the garden, the Bullfinch, a once common resident, seems to be becoming scarcer too, as is the Lesser Spotted woodpecker.
The rate of decline for many of our once common birds is a cause for concern. For Cuckoos and Spotted flycatchers wintering south of the Sahara, their problems may be beyond us. Will the next year be the last time we hear a cuckoo calling? I hope not, but with 39% decline in the last ten years, listening for the call of returning males next April will be another anxious time.
Let's hope for a good New Year with plenty of positive stories to share!