Monday, 8 December 2014

Watching Starlings at Dungeness RSPB

Dungeness RSPB December 8th including 5 Little Egrets.
Yesterday evening, at Denge Marsh, looking across the RSPB reserve, I could see a modest flock of Starlings wheeling across the sky performing a murmuration before roosting in the reed bed. So tonight, with a nice sunset predicted, I thought I'd walk along the approach track at dusk to see if the Starlings would repeat the show.
As the sun began to set, a Starling show looked promising with compact flocks of several hundred birds arriving and circling the reed bed. Looking over towards the Lade pits many more Starlings were in the sky, some thrillingly flying over me at nothing more than head height, to join the reserve roost. But just as things were looking good, the birds settled to roost quickly and the great show I'd seen the night before wasn't to be.
I looked back once again to the birds over the Lade area only to feel the whoosh of a thousand-odd Starlings leaving the RSPB reserve returning to roost there.
In the semi-darkness there were plenty of other bird activity with two fly-by Ravens, Great White and Little Egrets and a Barn Owl hunting along the approach track. Water Rail, Golden Plovers and Cetti Warblers called away in the background as I returned back to my car.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Grey Phalarope at Dungeness

It seems many decades ago since I last saw a Grey Phalarope and so I'm very happy to find this one along the shoreline at Dungeness. At sea and at first sight, it appeared as just another dull diminutive wader, until it dropped down on top of the swell, spun around searching for surface plankton to eat. And that's the clue to a Phalarope, no other wading bird will naturally behave like this.

My one hour's sea watch came in a little window of sunshine amongst many storms that never seem to be far off the coast at the moment. See pic below.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Brent Geese migrating over Kent

Brent Geese over Packing Wood on route to Rye harbour

A rare sight in mid-Kent, migrating Brent Geese
Yesterday's light winds and clear sky seemed to trigger continental Brent Geese to make the move to our Southern estuaries and coast. At Dungeness, 4000 birds were seen, and then whilst walking at Packing woods we saw a further 500 birds cutting across Kent probably on a line from Margate to Rye.  Between 6 and 8.30pm I heard a further 3 skeins flying over Shadoxhurst, including one memorable moment when I was able to shine a spotight on the birds as they passed south overhead. It was also really exciting to hear other Kent birders on Twitter recording more Brents Geese passing over - suggesting a total number of birds running in thousands for the day.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Fly-by Little Egrets Dungeness

 A one hour sea watch from the fishing boats at Dungeness this afternoon was enlivened by a party of eight Little Egrets flying west down channel. At a similar time a distant dark and long tailed bird came into view, I was hoping it would be a Pomarine Skua, but as it came closer in from the horizon it turned out to be a migrating Marsh Harrier! Also present, there was a large number (hundreds) of Gannets feeding offshore and inshore Great crested Grebes numbers are building up for the winter. Calling in on the ARC pit this evening flying over the top of the many waterfowl, a single Brent Goose arrived and looked likely to roost for the night.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Alex Pastures a once moribund SSSI moving forward

With the kind permission of Mr Carl Floyd, owner of Alex Pastures, a collaboration between Butterfly Conservation, Kent Wildlife Trust and Moat Farm has begun, aimed at restoring the meadows to the species-rich unimproved grassland of the past.

The first stage has been to cut back invasive scrub (mostly blackthorn and bramble) to encourage the rarer meadow plants to re-establish themselves in the first of the two fields at Alex Pastures.  The first picture, below, shows the site entrance before work commenced.

Summer 2014, invasive scrub had over-run much of the original grassland

After scrub removal, just the deeply-rutted track has been left
The first cut and removal of scrub had an immediate effect opening up the meadow to a significant size.
Whilst wishing to return Alex Pastures to the high quality, rare, unimproved grassland of the past, the invasive scrub has allowed new colonisers to breed successfully on the site. These include Red Data listed Turtle Dove, fast declining Bullfinch (feeding flock of 7 there last night) and one of the highest concentrations of Nightingale in Orlestone Forest. Alex Pastures, at less than 15 acres, is a small site and balancing flora and fauna now present with the desire to return the meadows to the splendour of the past is going to be a skillful task.

The original grassland has been left surrounded by nothing much more than dry earth following the scrub removal. Next spring, if my memory serves me well, the fields will be peppered with hundreds of Primroses.

Panoramic of Alex Pastures top field showing scrub removal. The site margin left and to centre has a well developed scrub habitat - a stronghold of Bullfinch, Garden Warbler and Nightingale.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Clifden nonpariel in Shadoxhurst

The Clifden nonpariel is possibly the most beautiful moth I've seen in the UK. By luck and by Sian's initative (she put the Moth trap on) we managed to catch one on Saturday night in our garden moth trap. When we checked the trap at midnight, there was little indication of the surprise to come, as there was very little other Moths activity that night.  Once the Moth was found, there was little surprise to my local 'mothing' friends who believe, that despite its extreme rareness, Clifden nonpariel may be breeding in Orlestone Forest.

Seeing a Clifden nonpariel for the first time is as memorable as any other great first wildlife encounter, be it a stunning Peregrine falcon or a Stag Red Deer laden in antlers; they all share a magnificent presence. When you see this moth, you'll be impressed, firstly, by is its great size- nearly as big as the palm of your hand. Its wings are marbled beautifully, camouflaging cryptically against tree bark. Its patterning contrasts strikingly underneath with its silky white satin body and black and white boldly marked wing undersides. Its most memorable feature is still to come as its unique appearance is not fully revealed until the moth stretches its wings to reveal a striped black and azure blue underwing that beguiles every time you see it.

Local moth experts believing it has started to recolonise Victorian breeding site at Orlestone Forest. It could be that this moth may have been a immigrant, as its appearance coincides with easterly winds and many rare birds arriving on the east coast.

It's so rare that I can't guarantee I'll ever see a second one, even with the aid of a moth trap.  Luckily my memory of the first one caught in the garden will never be forgotten. Our Moth was released back to Orlestone Forest at Moat farm.

Clifden nonpariel (Blue Underwing), Shadoxhurst September 25th 2014

Pictures taken with Moth settled on glass

Friday, 19 September 2014

Peregrine high over the garden

Trying to do a little more birdwatching around the garden today, and almost at once this fine Peregrine appeared high overhead. Impossibly high in the sky, it occasionally stooped in pursuit of a pigeon passing below. Peregrine sightings probably average 2 or 3 birds a year now.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Autumn Burnished Brass Moth

In an effort to move on from my last post (ashamedly back in July), this splendid Burnished Brass Moth present in the garden tonight is a worthy new contributor. With the moth trap switched on for the first time in months and still running now, the familiar deep buzz of nomadic post-summer Hornets prevails around the light box. I will soon decide whether just to switch the light out, or risk a closer Moth inspection inevitably risking an unintentional encounter with the said bunch of angry wasps that I've unwittingly attracted to the Moth light.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Monarch butterfly in Ruckinge.

Did the Ruckinge Monarch Butterfly arrive from a local butterfly breeder, or was it delivered from the south on high pressure from the Canary Islands or beyond?

Whatever, Bernard and Andil's beautiful Ruckinge garden with its fantastic drifts of colourful flowers is a fitting place for it to have found itself in. Majestically touring from one flower bed to another and in the present balmy heat, it seems at home. Occasionally using its great size, it hurried away Peacocks and Meadow Browns to take over its favoured food plants. It has found a sanctuary that should support it over the long summer ahead.

Thank you to Bernard and Andil for sharing this incredible butterfly with everyone.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Red Kites over the garden and into the sun

Recently barely a week goes by without us seeing Red Kites from the garden. Sometimes they're impossibly high, like one I saw yesterday and then sometimes as today, they're low, noisily cart-wheeling above the house. They're all quite brilliant and make up for many a barren walk of seeing nothing much in the forest.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

First local Nightjar for many years

Having spent five fruitless nights listening for Nightjars and not having heard any local birds for many years, I'd just about abandoned any chance of finding one for this year.

So tonight, I decided I'd concentrate on looking for another declining bird, the Woodcock. I went down to the woods, camera in-hand, and positioned myself with a clear view over some scrub with the sun behind me. As I waited, I noted that there was still the odd Nightingale and two Willow warblers singing, but the big singers are still the local Song Thrushes with at least four birds singing loudly.

After 45 minutes, the mosquitos were beginning to get annoying. There were many moths on the move and the local Tawney Owls were beginning to call - yet still no Woodcock. This year I believe there are just one or two are roding and so fairly easy to miss. Oh well, I thought, I'll call it a day.

I packed my camera back into its case and headed back to the car. As I got into my stride, I looked up at the silhouetted pine trees with an impressive moon above, and then, as easy to see as you like, a wonderful Nightjar skimming across the canopy like a giant butterfly. I just had time to recognise its unmistakable slim and angular profile before it was gone out of sight. Frustratingly, there was no time for a picture. The bird reminded me more of Common Nighthawks: those that I had seen in Canada fed earlier than our birds and are not particularly shy, either. And so that was it. No returning flight and no churring calls, but most definitely my first Nightjar for many years.

A single Woodcock was to follow and with a Turtle Dove purring in the garden at 6.00 am and juvenile Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers at Alex's Pastures on Sunday morning, its been a very good couple of days.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Mid - May migrant arrivals garden and forest

Good news, 2 Turtle Doves and one Cuckoo are now present in the Stone Wood area. The last 2 days have seen a nice arrival of Spotted flycatchers in Orlestone forest. Also 2 Hobbys surveying high over the garden. There's many more Swallows around now with birds often sitting on our TV aerial. House Martins too are ever present plus the occasional Swift.  Favoured habitats in Orlestone are 'alive' with the sound of Nightingales, Garden Warbler, Blackcap and Chiffchaff, even Willow Warblers seem to be here in better numbers this year.

In the garden a Broad Bodied Chaser left the pond on Thursday, Grass Snakes are present daily too, and the nesting House Sparrows survived a Great Spotted Woodpecker raid on the nest boxes. Spotted flycatcher here briefly yesterday and one Cuckoo is calling regularly too.

Spotted flycatchers, Packing Wood - no time to waste!

Choosing a nest site, Spotted Flycatchers at Packing Wood
Yesterday's arrival of warmer and settled weather brought the first of our scarce Spotted flycatchers migrants to Shadoxhurst. I saw 2 birds at Alex Pastures and one make a fleeting visit to the garden.

Today, plodding around Packing Wood, I discovered this pair already paired-up and about to start nest building. Spotted Flycatchers often choose precarious nest sites, and this site is no exception, nothing more than an angled piece of tree bark leaning on a thin branch.

Also in Packing wood, where the timber has been cleared underneath the electricity lines, there is now a mile long swathe of fading blue bells, attracting many insects. Most obvious are the Brimestone butterflies, up to 12  chasing around yesterday. Also present, were Hairy Hawker and Broad Bodied Chaser Dragonfly.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Grizzled Skipper and Early Purple Orchid at Alex Pastures SSSI

Grizzled Skipper on Blue Bell

Early Purple Orchid

Same individual as top picture
Second individual with a clipped wing.
Visiting the privately-owned Alex Pastures today, I'm reminded how precious the site is and, at the same time, how vulnerable too. The encroachment from Blackthorn is quite a shock to the eyes (from where it was last, just a month ago). Nevertheless, the flora and fauna continues to be bountiful and diverse compared to the countryside that surrounds it. At the entrance, a small display of Early Purple Orchid is a sign of good things to come. On the grassland, the predominate plants at the moment are Bugle, Violets and Primrose. In the sunshine Grizzled skipper (4), Brimstone and Orange-tip criss-cross the paths continually. Lizards seemed particularly abundant and were under the eye of Kestrel and Buzzard above. Nightingale, Blackcap and Garden warbler have all returned in good numbers and were singing well in the mid-day sun. A large Dung Beetle collecting Rabbit droppings was new to me - I could have stayed there all day.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Two Red Kites over Shadoxhurst.

Distant view showing one of  the Red Kites probably over Hamstreet road / Hornash Lane junction

Long over due, the first 2 Red Kites of the year and spotted whilst cutting the garden lawn this afternoon. Originally given a fantastic view, they moved quickly North East and I had no time for a decent photo - but even at a distance the jizz is there.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Packing wood Nightingales

Packing wood is an area quite new to me so tonight it was nice to find two Nightingales singing there and adding extra knowledge on territories in the Orlestone forest area.  They were accompanied by Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests and Blackcaps. In the sky there, two Buzzards.

Over the house this evening 6 more Buzzards soared elegantly together on a thermal. This is the highest number we've seen over our area.

Buzzard on pylons, near Packing Wood

One of 6 Buzzards over the Garden this evening

No summer birds.. ..yet?

I'm standing at the back of the garden over looking mixed woodland and farmland backing onto Orlestone forest - it looks a fine English landscape. There are just 2 Swallows collecting nest material in the nearest horse paddock - they seem to have been around for several weeks now. The local Buzzards have finished displaying (update pair in the air 12.45pm) and are now keeping out of sight. Listening and looking carefully there are simply no summer migrants in sight or song. Not a Whitethroat a Cuckoo or any passing warbler. There's no sign of Hobby, flycatcher, House Martin, or passing Sedge warbler. As I watch, to my side a Hawthorn is just coming into flower and it's sweet spring scent is already very noticable - unlike our once common summer birds.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Mallards - a surprise garden brood

They can wreck our plant ponds and cause havoc for the Newts, but hats off to this Mallard who has secretly hatched her brood of ten right under our noses.  My first sight of them was the ducklings tucked behind the hen parading down the lawn. They're now safely in the larger garden pond, undisturbed and where her nest was we will never know.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Song Thrushes - and quick garden round-up.

Song Thrushes and Mistle Thrushes seem common in woodland and garden this spring, perhaps they benefited from the near frost-free winter? Our garden Song Thrush sings from the top of our Norway Spruce most mornings and evenings belting out its manic song and it's in competition with two other neighbouring Song Thrushes.

Tonight, the sky is clear and there's a super bright full moon. Temperatures have dropped fast. I have a home-baked theory that Nightingales don't like to sing when its cold, and so despite arriving back in Orlestone forest in good numbers over the weekend there's not a song to be heard tonight. Our Redpolls look to have finally moved on, but in the woods there are still plently of little flocks of both Redpoll and Siskin around. Looking south west this afternoon through binoculars we were able to watch Venus against a vibrant blue sky. The real targets of our sights were Buzzards, and at the moment it's easy to find 2 pairs of Buzzards displaying in the air, south east and south west of the village.

The largest garden pond is crystal clear and shinning the torch through the water easily shows Palmate and Smooth newts in good numbers, and also our solitary female Great Crested newt.

During what was a beautiful sunny day, the first Large Red Damsel flies took their maiden flights from emergent rushes on the pond edge. Two Orange tipped Butterflies trooped up on down the garden occasionally stopping to feed on the Ladie's Smock.

Friday, 11 April 2014

First spring Orlestone Nightingale

A single Nightingale was singing from Birchett wood tonight and two Willow warblers present as well.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Early Spring Garden records

Lesser Redpoll - April 9th
Heading towards mid-April and we think the same 3 Lesser Redpolls are still visiting the garden feeders as they have been for the last month - (one bird has a silver leg ring). Occasionally, Siskins are present too and in Birchett Wood this evening, male Siskins were singing away.

Today, I saw the first garden Holly Blue Butterfly of the spring and with the sunny weather being been fairly reliable at the moment, we've had plenty of Butterfly activity including Brimstones, Speckled wood, Holly Blue and ocsasional Orange Tip.

Peacock Butterfly sunbathing on Blackthorn

Female Orange tip on Cuckoo flower, April 2nd

For the records, the last Raven was heard March 21st - the third record of the year. The last Little Egret was flushed by a dog walker from the field behind the garden on March 22nd. Surprisingly we haven't seen the Egrets for at least a month and presumed they had long gone to a breeding colony.

On a sunny day it's possible to see at least two pairs of Common Buzzard above their territories at different corners of the Shadoxhurst parish. Kestrels, too, are fairly easy to see at the moment, and as on one March day we saw four birds soaring together, it's not unreasonable to expect that we have two territories in the village. Little and Tawney Owl are ever present at night. Mallard and Pheasant sit around the garden waiting to be fed on seed spilled for our regular little flock of Yellowhammers.

House Sparrows are nesting in at least three boxes at the front of the house and there are regularly about 12 birds feeding with the Yellowhammers and Chaffinches, assorted fringe farmland birds including this Stock Dove below. All are kept alert by Sparrowhawks that frequent the garden.

Stock Dove

Marsh Marigolds and Blackthorn presently in blossom at the back of the garden.
We're rather proud of our new Cleft Chestnut fence which spans the back of the garden

Thursday, 3 April 2014

First Swallow of the year

Just viewed over the horse paddock at the back of the garden and there he is, beaten back by a paltry House Martin our first returned Swallow of the year. The weather is warm and sunny, so there is plenty of insect life for the early migrants to feed on. At the same, our local Buzzards are displaying overhead and also plenty of Bee flies hovering around in the sun.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Early House Martin

A first spring House Martin hawked insects over the garden this evening. Its beaten our Swallows back from Africa - quite a surprise!

Monday, 31 March 2014

Present but elusive Crossbills

Across Orlestone forest migrant Blackcaps have boldly arrived in numbers to join Chiffchaffs to build on a dawn chorus sound as yet chiefly the sound of our resident birds.

In Soapers Wood, still the most reliable wood for Crossbills, I saw very briefly 3 parties of Crossbills totaling 25-35 birds. One party left the and flew to neighbouring Faggs Wood an area I rarely get time to cover. The forest Crossbills remain mostly elusive, only portraying their presence when calling in flight and frustratingly vanishing into the canopy when they land.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Orlestone Crossbills for all to see

A beautiful sunny morning walk around Birchett Wood, with the sounds of early spring including Siskin, Bullfinch, Redpoll and Chiffchaff, was made all the more enjoyable by three differing parties of Crossbills. The Crossbills were all fly-over birds and travelling in different directions across the forest. With lingering rarer Parrot and Two-barred Crossbills still in the country, it would be nice for local birders to clinch either of these birds for the forest. Frustratingly my searches are on hold for now as I had to hobble out the forest after an hour with sciatica.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Common Crossbills in Orlestone forest

Above and below, male Common Crossbill, Birchett wood.

In the late summer of 2013, the UK had a cyclic arrival of nomadic Crossbills from Europe in search of their exclusive Pine seed food source. At last, I thought, something new to add some interest to our often birdless Pine plantations in Orlestone forest. However, despite the abundance of Pines throughout, a lot of luck was needed in the first half of winter to find any Crossbills. A 2 hour walk might just provide an occasional flyover of birds passing by - just about better than nothing! However, since the new year, I'm finding and hearing Crossbills on nearly every visit I make to Packing Wood, Soapers Wood and Birchett Wood, and importantly I've seen some evidence of nest building too.

So its reasonable to assume Crossbills are present in small numbers across the forest. The largest flock I've seen so far (on Monday) was a respectable 32 birds, and on this sighting the birds gave very good views, frequently flying down to a stream to drink and on several occasions the males sang from high in the pine canopy

All the woods continue to have little flocks of Siskins and Redpolls present, and in Birchett today there were also 6 Bullfinches present. The woods seem to have a very healthy population of Great Spotted woodpeckers and Nuthatches. The Nuthatches can be heard and seem as easily in the conifer palantations as in the Decidious woods and are noisily proclaiming from their territories at present.

Common Crossbill at Soapers wood, Orlestone forest.

Female Common Crossbill, Soapers wood, Orlestone forest.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

A Dutch Cormorant

We've just had a 4-day break in Holland. Time was split between Amsterdam, Museums, Traffic jams, and a swimming pool in a wintery 'Centre-parcs` camp. Not a true bird watching hour was spent.. ..but just once, there was a bold Cormorant on one of the parc's small duck ponds just as the sun came out - and here it is. It's more than I deserved!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Dungeness winter Kitiwakes

A first-winter Kittiwake roosting on the beach at Dungeness.
Kittiwakes patrolling the Dungeness shoreline.

Walking along the beach at Dungeness I'm more often than not greeted with Kittiwakes to-ing and fro-ing along the shoreline looking for fishermen's handouts. In winter, the Dungeness Kittiwakes have learnt to survive alongside the larger gulls by feeding on fishermen's ofal and the discards of sea anglers who line the beach daily. This February, there seems to be plenty of Kittiwakes present, sometimes in their hundreds. Most Kittiwakes winter far out to sea, with new evidence that some birds failing to breed on UK coasts fly to Canadian waters before returning to British waters the following spring. It's also suggested that successful breeding birds stay closer to UK shores in the winter, like these birds at Dungeness.

At Dungeness there are Kittiwakes of all ages - from first-winter to adult birds. In size, they're similar to a Black Headed Gull, but more stout. They're much smaller than a Herring Gull and, because of this, they can hold their own when scavenging, out-manouvering Herring and Black Backed Gulls for discards. Patrolling the surfline, the Kittiwakes' agility enables them to slowly glide and watch the surf, quickly dipping into the water for a variety of prey. Kittiwakes have a large beak gape enabling them to swallow surprisingly big fish quickly, lessoning the chance of a Herring Gull steal.

Adult Kittiwake showing-off its bright red gape.
Gutsy juvenile Kittwakes rarely loose out to the fury of the Herring Gull
This Kittiwake has caught a Sea Mouse, a hairy marine worm often seen washed up on the tide line after storms.
Here, a fisherman's discarded Whiting becomes the Kittiwake's meal.
.. and here before a larger Gull gets a sniff, the Kittiwate is swallowing a bulky Ling.

Through from late summer to winter adolescent Kittiwakes have striking 'W' shaped markings across their wings and back. As the birds twist and turn in flight they look striking.
A first winter Kittiwake with 'designer' W plumage and black tail tips.

A first spring Kittiwake developing a yellow bill.
Kittiwakes don't seem particularly perturbed by people. They will sit and roost on the beach, reluctant to fly up when people walk by. A mixed flock of Kittiwakes with Black Headed Gulls will always see the Black Headed Gulls fly up first before a Kittiwake feels the need to make a move. In winter, adult Kittiwakes have a lemon/yellow bill and a designer silver collar on their necks - making them appear a pretty and attractive gull.

Adult winter Kitiwake, it will loose its grey head markings for its breeding summer plumage soon.

First winter Kittiwakes.

Kittiwake fishing in the surf at Dungeness.

Kittiwakes take four years to mature - many at the beach are this age, with the bill almost yellow.
Adult and first winter Kittiwakes just weeks away from moving north to UK and European breeding grounds.