Saturday, 30 April 2011

Surveying TQ 93, RM canal, Warehorne to Kenardington

An afternoon visit to a sun-drenched and breezy Romney Marsh, is perhaps not the best time to go, but all the same it was still very quiet on the birding front. No Kingfishers along the canal, just one Reed warbler in the reeds and the odd Sedge warbler in the scrub. No singing Cetti's warblers or Hobbies or Egrets. And no Turtle Doves - more visits required to get a better picture. Of interest was a pair of Kestrels, 2 common Sandpipers, many Rooks feeding chicks in the surrounding farmland, 1 Grey Heron.


Much better, was the farmland/wetland south of the canal known as 'the Dowels' on the extreme south east edge of TQ93. This is an area I watched 10 years ago, and remember seeing passage migrant Whimbrel feeding amongst Romney marsh sheep. Rather splendidly there were 6 Whimbrel feeding there today. The Whimbrel which flew over our garden today most probably had departed these fields earlier. Other significant birds seen here include a pair of Lapwings holding territory, 1 Oystercatcher, 3 pairs Yellow wagtails, 1 LB gull, 3 pairs of BH Gulls, and 1 pair of Mediterranean Gulls. Access and viewing is poor for this site - who knows whats calling-in here without being noticed?

Garden fly over Whimbrel, Nightingales and common migrants

An early morning cycle ride out of Shadoxhurst, down Duck Lane and through to Stone Wood showed what a good year it appears to be for our common migrants. Undisturbed by traffic and traffic noise, the sound of Whitethroat and one Lesser Whitethroat were calling from garden edges and a Willow Warbler is holding territory in the mini-wasteland that was the car garage at the bottom of the village. There to, Goats Beard is growing in the cracks of the broken garage forecourt. Many Swallows and House Martins were loitering on wires - Mediterranean style, and all just wonderful to see!
I mentioned earlier in April, that Nightingales had returned in good numbers to the woods to the south of Shadoxhurst, but now their numbers have been supplemented further by more birds and the sound is just fantastic. This morning their were 3 birds singing in Hedgerow along Duck lane before even entering the woods. And as I left Stone wood taking the track back to Woodchurch road, 2 further birds were singing in Hawthorn in the company of Skylarks and Yellowhammers! In fact Nightingales seem to be in every woodland I visit at the moment. Whitethroat, Garden warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow warbler are all plentiful too.

A pair of Bullfinches and Long tailed Tits were in the Duck Lane hedge. One Cuckoo is calling and sounds quite wheezy at times, - a metaphor of the bird's decline perhaps? No sign of Turtle Dove. Similar nothing to report on our local raptors. Skylarks are plentiful in the arable land behind Stone wood and back along the fields to Shadoxhurst.

But the bird of the morning was seen after I finished my ride. Stood looking back through the garden, contemplating cutting back the height of our Sallow trees over hanging my neighhbours garden, a splendid Whimbrel at nothing more than 200 feet flew straight over the garden. Camera in hand but slow to respond, I caught this quick snap as the Whimbrel headed North East and into the sun.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Mystery fly is - Phasia hemiptera

Thank you to all that helped to identify the fly featured in my last post. Matt Smith at 'The Wild about Britain' forum, confirmed it as an unusually early record of a male Phasia hemiptera - a parasitic Tachnid Fly that uses Shield bugs as hosts for larvae. Once again, it shows what can be found in our gardens, and also that there is always something new there too.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Mystery fly on Spruce pine

Our large Norwegian Spruce has attracted my eye recently, as its developing a bumper crop of pine cones, and some are developing that beautiful crimson red I posted pictures of last year. This morning, before the sun had gained any real height and heat, sat on the end of low hanging cone was this rather docile fly sunning itself.

In size, it was about the same as a large house fly, but instantly I knew I was looking at something new to me. Its wings Bat-like, were exceptionally striking in shape and the fly had a memorable contrasting orange and black abdomen. I'm looking forward to finding out more. All help gratefully received!

Monday, 25 April 2011

Seawatching for Skuas

Sea watching at the Dungeness point tonight from 5.30 to 7.30pm included 4 Great Skuas (in 2 pairs in half-hour succession). 1 Arctic Skua harrowing terns just within first buoy. Two distant commic tern flocks moving east against the horizon of 32 and 15.
22 C. Scoter, small numbers of Gannets feeding inshore. 3 Guillimots drifting on the sea, 1 Wheatear by the lighthouse. Unlucky not to have found a much hoped for Pomarine skua.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

First Cuckoo of spring 17.30 pm

Phew, at last a Cuckoo heard from the garden but probably some miles away calling from around the Stone wood area. Here's hoping for much more Cuckoo activity to come from this fast declining bird.

5.00 am garden Dawn Chorus

A still and warm morning made it easy to pick-up distant bird song. This morning Nightingale, Blackcap and Chiffchaff could be heard alongside Robin, Wren and Blackbird. Our garden Song thrushes seem to be having a rest from song for now. Spoiling everything melodic, was a rowdy chorus from our village carrion crows. Tawney and Little Owl were calling to. The bird I was hoping for most, Cuckooo is still absent.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Song Thrushes are successfuly breeding

We've had two faithful Song thrushes spending a great deal of time in the garden this spring, and we saw an attempt nest building as early as February. The birds seemed to have been inseparable, so I was surprised to see both of them are now collecting earthworms from the lawn and then swiftly returning to a hidden nest in the Blackthorn hedge at the bottom of the garden. This is great news, that they have managed to get to the fledgling stage in a garden patrolled by the notorious nest raider, the Magpie.

Similarly, our garden Blackbirds are at the same breeding stage, again collecting worms for feeding chicks. I feared the worst for both birds this year as Magpies are also nesting in a tall Spruce just 40 feet above the Blackbirds nest. Fingers-crossed that the birds continue to successfully rear their broods.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Little Terns at Dungeness

One of two Little terns at the 'patch this morning'

Just arriving at the Dungeness point this morning for a sea watch, I met two fishermen who said they'd just seen a Hoopoe on the concrete path by the power station wall. So, their began my one hours search - sadly all hopelessly in vain! On the positive side, I saw a Peregrine dive bomb and clip a Raven on the ground! Brave or stupid, the Peregrine moved on and the Raven merely rearranged its feathers.

Ravens seen past the power station and looking back to Denge marsh gulley

Plenty of Common Terns feeding at the patch at Dungeness

On the sea, just a few Brent Geese and one Whimbrel on the move. Things looked quiet so I just watched the Little Terns and a flock of 100+ common Terns feeding at the patch. Once many decades ago, a breeding bird at Dungeness, now Little Terns are just a passage migrant or possibly visitors from the dwindling Rye harbour colony. At the 'patch', the 2 Little Terns charged up and down the low water mark occasionally diving for sprats - it was great to watch.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Lesser spotted woodpecker and Bullfinch - spring records at last!

Common Buzzard flying over the garden heading towards Stone Wood this morning

An early morning Cycle ride from Shadoxhurst, with frequent stops at Duck Lane and through to Stone wood, at last brought a record of Lesser Spotted woodpecker calling from private land at the bottom of the lane. A pair of Bullfinches where present on the woodland fringe here too.

Great Spotted woodpeckers were very much in evidence with frequent drumming and squabbles between rival territorial birds, and there were at least 3 pairs seen on this route. Suprisingly, the only Nuthatches I've heard are the ones often in gardens along Hornash Lane. The farm buildings at the top of Duck lane had 2 Swallows and 2 Linnets sitting on wires. Blackcaps are much in evidence everywhere. There were singing Nightingales thinly spread across the woodland with the highest density within Stone Wood, where dense young woodland makes an inpenetratable barrier to access and even view. Willow warblers are present here to. No sign of Whitethroats yet, but there is a great chunk of spring still to come

On a charge, GS woodpecker about to see-off an intruder to it's territory.

Speaking to a land and pheasant shoot owner in the woods this morning, made me worry about the safety of our growing Buzzard population, with one bird seen overhead as I spoke. The owners had equal vitriol for some 4x4 off-roaders over-running their land (point agreed), and then Buzzards, whom they blamed for everything else. Hmmn, - good job I didn't mention foxes....

Friday, 8 April 2011

Pirouetting Sparrowhawks clasp and fall in display

The fine blue sky weather continues, and so does my encounters with our local Sparrowhawks. It would be no exageration to imagine that our female Sparrowhawk seems to be prospecting and on the wing for most mornings this week. Despite flying high she's still easy to spot against such an uninterrupted and tranquil sky.
So, earlier in the week I'd noticed how Sparrowhawks have a distinctive display flight involving fanning out the white undertail covets (just the female?) and then performing a number of stoops and climbs and occasional slow stiff wing claps. Today, I discovered that once the female has encouraged a male to join her (at some height to), the two birds can then perform a talon clasped display in the manner of perhaps larger birds of prey such as Buzzards and Eagles. If someone had told me that Sparrowhawks were capable of such exhilarating display, I probably would have had some doubts without seeing any images... lets have a look at the quick burst of images I captured.

Good but distant views of our female Sparrowhawk white undertail covets on display showing well today. Image below is a compilation of our resident 'pair' pirouetting just moments after.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Nightingale, Willow Warbler - firsts of the year

Light SW wind, 16 degrees, and quite brilliant blue skies, is helping bring in a rush of spring records. In the sallow catkins and Blackthorn flower a Willow warbler, sometimes singing has spent the day in the company of 2 Blackcaps fueling-up ready for another push north. Overhead, a solitary Buzzard put in a show, before leaving the sky to the ever present female Sparrowhawk. There have been four Swallows today feeding in the paddock area and over the garden without doubt village birds here to stay the summer.
Plenty of Butterfly activity to; Orange Tipped Butterfly, 4 Peacock and 2 Holly Blues as well as many Bees (Tawny mining Bee) and other insects notably LAcewings seem to be abundant.

I just stood in the garden (11,20 pm) and a distant Nightingale is in full song. Its singing probably from scrub behind Hornash lane. Without checking, I think this may by my earliest Nightingale, April just keeps getting better and better! What next!

First 2 Swallows return, migrant Chiffchaff in the garden

Beautiful warm weather has aided the return of our first 2 Swallows. Both birds, for most of the day, made repeated raids on flies abundant around the Spruce tree in the back garden. Similarly, a silent and single Chiffchaff spent the morning in the garden Sallows preening insects off the catkins.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Sparrowhawk spring display flight

Our female Sparrowhawk is rarely not on the wing at the moment, just occasioanlly in company with her mate.

Picture above shows compilation image of 0ur female Sparrowhawk over Shadoxhurst taken over 10 seconds approx

Scanning the clear sky for migrants yesterday morning, I picked up a a pair of Sparrowhawks flying high and flying close together in a courtship display. Unusually, it seemed the larger female bird was trying the hardest to attract attention, with a mixture of stoops and climbs and slow flight wing flaps - and always with the white bluff of the undertail covets showing. The male bird tried to mirror some of the moves of its mate, and both birds seemed to keep close to the northern boundary of the village before looping back round south towards Nickley Wood. Spring Sparrowhawk display is a wonder to watch and worthwhile to look out for during April.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

The over-looked Treecreeper

Recent evenings have seen a pair of diminutive Treecreepers visiting the Sallows and the old Apple tree at the bottom of the garden. They've livened-up the birding at a time when most visitors (especially Redwings, Finches and Wood pigeons) have now migrated northwards and there's little sign of spring migrants to replace them. We've had just one solitary Chiffchaff so far.

The image shows how the birds use their stiff tail feathers to aid tree-climbing in the same way as Woodpeckers do, although I still find it easier to imagine that the bird is simply sliding down the branch and not climbing up it!

Other interest at the moment is provided by local Little Owls who are noisily arguing over territories, and making occasional flights directly over the house at dusk. Under torch light, the garden ponds have good numbers of Palmate and Smooth Newt, but sadly no sign of Great Crested Newts or Frogs.