Monday, 27 June 2011

Breeding Little Owls in Shadoxhurst Parish

Tonight, I wanted to find out if we had Little Owls nesting near by. All the indicators were good, as earlier in the year they have been very noticable, even now they never seem too far away. So, as it was the hottest, and most humid night of the year I decided on a late-night walk from the house directly through the hay fields and pasture behind the garden. I went late - 10.30, but still some light in the west) and I soon picked-up and followed the sound of Little Owls.

I hadn't walked for more than 5 minutes from the house, when, from a hedgerow not too far away, a cacophony of Little Owl mayhem filled the still and humid air. It was obvious that this was the sound of an adult, returning back to feed its brood of owlets. The owlets were making a begging call which sounded a bit like chalk being scraped along a blackboard, and this could be heard along a 50 metre length of hedgerow with some tall trees. I'm sure the original nest hole will be in an old craggy oak somewhere along this edge, but by now it was too dark to see anything. The sounds I'd heard were all the information I needed.

As I walked back to the house, the Shadoxhurst church bells were ringing for eleven 'o' clock. The summer triangle stars of Deneb, Vega and Altair, were positioned nicely overhead and with two glow-worms magically shining away in the horse pastures behind the garden, it had been a worthwhile walk.

Mediterranean Gull high over the village

Looking-up, soaring overhead, Mediterranean Gulls mixed-in with Ashford's Herring Gulls and Lesser Blackbacked Gulls can be seen just about daily. They've become a new addition as a fly-over to our garden bird list. In the space of 15 years or less this gull has gone from a rare visitor from Southern and Eastern Europe, to a local coastal breeder with non-breeding birds happy to loaf around fields and towns. Indeed my son has told me there was one in the school playground at Tenterden, scavenging around the litter bins. Mediterrnean Gulls are still admired by birders for their handsomely simple but striking plumage - all white wings, black cap and bright red bill (in summer) and even from a great height they're easy to spot.

Friday, 24 June 2011

House Martins - late June nest building

House Martin showing off its new wall, building on top of the remains of last year's nest.

Just as the village Swallows, Blackbirds, and many others birds are rearing second broods, my next door neighbour's house have a pair of House Martins attempting a little bit of summer nest- building under its eaves.

The nest site is an interesting one with history. It has been used occasionally before by House Martins and always surprises us with its late start in the breeding season. House Martins in Shadoxhurst have a small colony on one nearby road in the village (underneath the soffits of new-build houses), and this nest has always been on the periphery of the main site. In some years, Martins have started to nest-build, only to later abandon. House Martins are colonial birds even when nest building, typically collecting mud together (safety in numbers) for nest construction. It has certainly given my neighbours plenty to worry about as they would dearly love them to breed successfully again.

House Martins are quite capable of having two broods in one summer, and are seemingly in no particular rush to get back to Africa even as the long nights descend in October. I think what has been the catalyst for these birds to re-build a nest now, is the heavy rain we have received in the last few days. Perhaps the near drought we have had in Kent since early spring made it too difficult to collect the soft mud pellets for nest building. And, perhaps, by nesting later towards summer they might escape the attention of our village Sparrows who like to squat and take-on the 'house' as their own. Presently though, our Sparrows seem to have plenty of fledglings to keep themselves occupied with. So good luck to the House Martins - is this just going to be a practice run for a future nest in years ahead? Or perhaps a summer roosting site, or even better, a true summer breeding attempt?

Monday, 20 June 2011

Early summer in Orlestone forest

Mid-June and Chiffchaffs and Garden warblers are still putting some song into the woods. A leisurely bike ride revealed a juvenile Lesser spotted woodpecker 'pipping' on the edge of the woodland edge near Fags Wood. Two sightings of Hobby, also Bullfinch, Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Goldcrest and Coal Tits and many of our common woodland avian suspects.

In the evening there were at least 2 Woodcock 'roding' across the forest rides, but sadly despite many attempts this year, no Nightjars appear to be present.

There are many butterflies on the wing now - White Admiral, Comma and Meadow Browns to name just a few.

Lastly did any one see the Vulcan Bomber flying low over the village Saturday afternoon? It takes me back to my Lincolnshire roots!

Shadoxhurst House Sparrows

This is our garden 'king' Sparrow. He sits boldly above the garden communal nest - chirping his song throughout the day. Unusually he's no longer wary of me or the camera.

Early morning walks through the village show just about every house having its own family of House Sparrows calling from the roof tops - the Kings Head pub being particularly popular. In our own garden, House Sparrows nest in a communal box on a Larch tree. More popular is a big communal nest deep within the safety of a hedge of Dog Rose and Bramble, that I've left specifically for them. Its difficult to know just how many birds nest and roost here - but the noise at dawn is deafening.

Despite the infilling of front gardens with slabs and shingle, I've no doubt that the village Sparrow population is in good shape. Their success is probably a combination of good nesting places (under eaves), and good adjacent farmland for insects in spring and seeds in autumn.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Peregrine falcon - summer Shadoxhurst record

A lunchtime 'sky-watch' proved to be very interesting today. Firstly, 4 Buzzards soared together directly overhead into the sun. Its likely that these were probably our breeding pair joined by two immature birds keeping within a broad territory. One of the birds was the same tatty feathered bird shown on the previous posts.

No sooner had I found the Buzzards when they were joined by a falcon who quickly managed to disperse them. My first impression was that this had to be a Hobby, who are more likely to be breeding not too far away. I snapped a few pics, only to find a series of images of a fine and distant Peregrine falcon. Now an adult Peregrine in mid-June, perhaps defending a territory is a tantalising thought.. ..more sky-watching is going to be needed to try and produce a clearer picture of what may be happening. This Peregrine is our 3rd record for Shadoxhurst.

Peregrine falcon high into the sun (hence poor pic) - my 3rd record for the village. Taken at the same time, one of a pair of probable breeding Buzzards.

Hobby, Med Gull, L.Egret and Turtle Dove

June, the first month after the spring migration has halted, can still be a great month for birding - you just don't know what birds may turn-up. And some of our newer exciting Birds to the UK, are also some of our larger birds too, making them easier to spot. Simple stuff hey!

So, June 6th saw 2 adult Mediterranean Gulls soaring high overhead of Shadoxhurst. Pure white silhouettes, simple black cap and bright red beaks - very easy to spot. The next day another one was flying low over fields on Duck Lane. These are my first records for Mediterranean Gull in Shadoxhurst.

Minutes, after seeing the Gull, a Brilliant Hobby flashed by, taking a casual chase to our village Swallows. Surprisingly, I haven't seen many Hobbies locally this year.

A fly-over Little Egret heading south was the the next day tick. This bird was the first one seen since the winter months.

And on Saturday 6.00am a Turtle Dove could be heard 'purring' over a still and beautiful sunrise.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Buzzard and Carrion crow 'dog fight'

Photographed yesterday, this Carrion crow, in a tatty state itself, takes advantage of a Buzzard in a rather poor moult condition for a spot of 'knock about'. I don't think this Buzzard is one of our breeding birds, more likely a non-breeding 2/3 year old bird. Please correct me if I'm wrong! Pictures were taken directly above the house (and into the sun).

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Sedge warbler - the last summer visitor

Singing from a neighbour's garden this morning, the scratchy collection of noises that just about make a song and belonging to a Sedge warbler could be heard. Just as our local Nightingales have quickly dropped into silence having been here 8 weeks, this Sedge Warbler must surely be the last summer visitor of the year? Sadly, the bird which could be heard most of the morning never ventured to the perfect habitat I've created for it at the bottom of the garden, preferring instead to sing from deep within a garden hedge. This Sedge warbler is the first one we've heard from the garden for at least 6 years.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Lesser spotted woodpeckers have bred in the village

No exciting birding to report at the moment, partly because Lewis and I are playing football in the Shadoxhurst football field a little more than usual. However this also has its birding rewards; we've noticed the wanderings of our local Buzzards a bit more, and yesterday, the gardens bordering the field were the chosen spot of a family of Lesser spotted woodpeckers who constantly pipped their distinctive call for the duration we were there. Lesser spotted woodpeckers have this clever trick of annually being able to escape any territorial detection by me, only to turn-up as a wandering fledged family. Its always a relief to know that despite their scarceness they are still managing to breed. Also successfully bred, are our local Nuthatches whoose young are foraging through the gardens too.