Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Honey Buzzard over Bromley Green environs

Honey Buzzards are like buses, you wait for years for one and then surprise, four turn up at once. On the same day as I watched two Honey Buzzards over the garden in Shadoxhurst another two Honeys were being watched just 3 miles away over mixed countryside north of Bromley Green.

Fortunately for diligent patcher and finder Bob P. they remained in the area for a few days before only this female bird with some tail moult remained. We believe the second Bromley Green bird wasn't a bird I'd seen earlier as Bob had noticed a heavy wing moult not present in the Shadoxhurst birds. These pics were taken on the last day it was seen, September 3rd. By now the bird may well have traveled through France across the Pyrenes and crossed the Mediterranean to Libya, ready to move south of the Sahara to winter in sub-tropical Africa.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Honey Buzzards passing high over Shadoxhurst

For the last few summers my family and I would be camping in France at this time of the year and the forests we camped in would be the haunt of Honey Buzzards. In mid-August Honey Buzzards parties are easy to find simply by listening for the noisy, juvenile bird cries. So, we have an ear for the plaintive and far-crying call of Honey Buzzards and from watching summer Honey Buzzards in France I know it's usually the young birds that are making the calls as they follow their parents across forest and open countryside.

So purely by chance whilst in the garden this morning, I heard the distant calls of Honey Buzzards - and with the blue skies and high temperatures it did feel like summer-time France too. I looked above and into the skies around me and couldn't see anything. I grabbed my camera and went to the back of the garden looking south over Orlestone Forest, in the distance there were 7 Common Buzzards in the sky - impossible to distinguish any as Honey Buzzards. I watched them for perhaps 5 minutes before, luckily, they all soared back towards me.

Through my camera I could pick-up the longer-tailed characteristics of Honey Buzzard and captured a few pics to record my first Honey Buzzards over Shadoxhurst for a good 10 years. My only regret is that I didn't capture an image of a juvenile bird despite hearing, what I presumed, was one calling.

The pics for reference were taken with a Sony A6300 (24mp) @ 560 mmm on a Tamron 150-600 mm.

Adult Male (above) and Female Honey Buzzards, Shadoxhurst August 24th

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Long Horned Bee and Alex Farm Pasture update

A Long Horned Bee at Alex Farm Pastures - June 12th 2016.
Long Horned Bee exclusively visiting Bramble - June 12th 2016.
Long Horned Bee and Thick Legged Pollen Beetle.

 Not sure on ID of this Bee feeding on Ragid Robin
Its been a busy first half of the year at Alex Farm Pastures (SSSI) with a great deal of work and management carried out by KWT staff and volunteers to clear encroaching woodland scrub from the meadow and erect extra fencing in preparation of the arrival of cattle in the near future. In addition, the KWT volunteers cleared invading Shady Willow scrub from the pond, allowing the water and light levels to increase with immediate and startlingly good results.

The SSSI status of Alex Farm Pastures supports a varied list of threatened and scarce wildlife. During the present early summer days of June there has been no better time to view some of its unique species before summer arrives.

Male Cuckoo - one of 3 males in the Alex Farm / Stone Wood area.
Based on the amount of calling and occasional views, it has been a good year so far for Cuckoos - not just at Alex’s but also in the Orlestone Forest area as a whole. At Alex Farm Pasture, and the surrounding woodland meadows, Cuckoos have been present in numbers I couldn’t have imagined for a bird in rapid decline in the UK. On one occasion, there were four birds together (including a distinctive brown hepatic female) in one woodland opposite the Alex Pastures gate. It was still present eight days later in company with a steel grey male the Pastures. This raises the real chance that they may have had a successful breeding year.

One species the Cuckoos probably parasitise is Nightingale.  They are present in good numbers this year, not just at Alex's but also in the surrounding blackthorn hedges leading back to Shadoxhurst. There are many unpaired birds still singing, and paradoxically at the same time, some Nightingales have fledged their first and only brood. The numbers of breeding Nightingales at Alex’s is hard to ascertain especially in the second heavily thicketed field of the site which is their favoured breeding area. An indication of how many birds present was given when I watched a Jay trying to raid their nests. The calls of many birds eventually gave a full-on chase to a Jay, no doubt plundering their eggs and chicks. As the Jay vanished into the woodland behind I was quite surprised at the number of Nightingales (5) in pursuit, temporarily abandoning their nests in support of their neighbours.
Turtle Dove. June 5th still in the area up to June 12th
Along with Cuckoo another late arrival to Alex Farm Pastures this spring has been a single Turtle Dove. Although present for the last 7 days, the surrounding countryside is a former Turtle Dove breeding site, offering a good variety of open woodland and meadow for nesting and breeding.

Downy Emerald Dragonfly at the pond Alex Farm Pastures June 11th 2016.
One of many Broad Bodied Chasers on site June 11th
Four Spotted Darter, up to 20 present with several egg laying (with BB chasers) at the pond. June 11th
Back to news of the site’s large shallow pond. In early spring, KWT volunteers cleared Sallow and opened-up the tree-lined edge to let in more light. In recent years the pond was heavily shaded and filled with leaf litter. Moorhens bred in the Sallows, although there was very little to see with just a temporary stagnant patch of water. But after the early spring clearing work the open water has produced a good number of dragonflies, in particular Broad Bodied Chaser and Four Spotted Darter - a mixed party of about 20 of each species there on a hot and sunny Saturday afternoon. Even better, they were accompanied by several Downy Emerald Dragonflies a new record for me at this site. Downy Emerald is a locally scarce dragonfly so, once again, Alex Farm Pastures is supporting an uncommon species with specific habitat requirements, in this case tree-lined woodland ponds.

Recently fledged Grey Wagtail, at the pond, Alex Farm Pastures. June 11th

Yellow Shell Moth, June 11th

On the same day as watching the Downy Emerald, I had also photographed insects among the orchids and thistles within the Alex Farm Pastures meadow. I had already noticed the Wool Carder Bee, one of the few I’m able to identify, when I started to notice another restless Bee with long antennae collecting pollen from Bramble blossom. It was so distinctive and unforgettable I knew it was something I had not seen before. I quickly 'googled’ the description and was immediately delivered the I.D. of Long Horn Bee, a rare and fast declining southern UK species. As far as I’m aware its not been recorded here before or at the very least not recently. Time and, I’ll admit it, lack of knowledge stops me commenting on the flora of the site, The summer wildflower swathe is yet to come into full flower, but there are plenty of Common Spotted Orchids and Marsh Thistles in flower not to mention odd clumps of Ragged Robin and various vetches to see. Among the cover of the ground plants there are many common Lizards to see, the numbers here seeming higher than at other local sites.  So, whilst the weather has been unpredictable (no doubt contributing to poor Butterfly and Moth numbers on the site this spring) it hasn’t spoiled what has been a varied display of some of Alex Farm Pastures' unique and special wildlife.

Alex Pasture is a 11 acre site, South of Shadoxhurst, Kent

LINKS (but content dated)

Friday, 6 May 2016

The Great Spring Pomarine Skua fly-by at Dungeness

Plenty of plumage variation in this flock of Pomarine Skuas flying past the Dungeness buoy
 In a few days time the Pomarine Skuas I saw passing Dungeness point last night (Thursday May 5th) will be feasting themselves on eggs, ducklings, fish and lemmings on Russia's tundra wilderness.  If I was there to watch, I’d see them acting like Magpies in this country - always on the lookout for a robbery and being something of a menace to every living thing around them. I probably wouldn't like them much.

But on migration they present a very different image. They look powerful and attractive; imperious to all other birds on the sea.  For sea watchers like me their annual spring migration past Dungeness is a short-lived event spanning only a few days. Good weather and lots of luck is needed - a good view is never guaranteed.

When I see them like I did last night with the sun sharp and bright, low across a deep blue sea they're a fantastic sight. The Pomarine's plumage is a striking mix of contrasting brown and white and their long, pointed wings and long tails twist at the end with spoons they look simply stunning.

As I watched them last night, flying in a tight flock, they had the look of a prestigious military fly-pass; heads straight ahead, a purposeful majestic flight, never straying off line, never to return and quickly to move on and out of view.  Once they’re gone I know, as do all the other sea watchers at Dungeness, that we’ve all seen something rare and special.

In this flock a couple of immature Gannets are present. I saw a total of 34 Pomarine Skua on May 5th
Accompanying the Skua passage were little flocks of summer plumaged Little Gulls total of 16.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Long Tailed Tits garden nest building

After 4 weeks of stopping and starting, our Long Tailed Tits looked to to have completed their complex nest in our garden. Its our first ever LT Tit nest and being so close to our studio window (just 20 feet away) it's causing lots of distraction and interest for me.

There have been at least 3 birds building the nest in a scrappy patch of honeysuckle and bramble close to the house, on the garden boundary. By luck, I noticed  the birds collecting feathers and moss from day one and we watched as they cleverly weaved and built a moss and feather platform. At the beginning of the nest build, there was a lot of activity for about a week. It ended abruptly. The birds simply stopped, disappearing and leaving us rather deflated for probably 10 days. Interestingly despite the cold weather and presumed lack of insects, they didn't even return to feed on the garden feeders, something they had being doing since the new year.

To my delight they returned back to the garden, and in the last week they've built a typical cupped - shaped nest before developing further and adding a dome on top. Whilst they've been building the nest, bramble and honeysuckle have grown and obscured the whole nest so it would appear to be a secretive and safe site, out of view of predators, so must stand a good chance of success. Long tailed Tit nests have a high proportion of failure and are often raided and abandoned. A search of Google images for Long Tailed Tits nests show many that are poorly hidden in full view of  Jays and Magpies, so whilst our garden nest is going to be hard to view and follow progress on, it should be safe and successful. I say this knowing they've already come under the scrutiny of a Kestrel whilst nest building and our plucky birds have also joined in mobbing a Jay away from a nest site that was helping itself to a wood pigeon's nest.

Our Long Tailed Tits have happily been collecting Goose Down courtesy of a tear in my Jack Wolfskin coat

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

The elusive Water Rail in Orlestone forest

I first heard the pig like squeals of Water Rails at the end of January whilst surveying for Teal and Woodcock in the flooded woodland patch on the Long Rope trail. 
 Calling from a patch of woodland that I thought I knew so well, such was the loudness of the squeal that for a second I wondered if I was listening to a real Wild Boar.  These Water Rails represent a first record for me in Orlestone Forest and are still very much a surprise bird to find here. 
 Over the space of a week I finally viewed fleeting glimpses of two birds, but I was never able to get a photograph such is the speed of the birds disappearing behind fallen trees and banks of bullrushes and wet scrub. Wanting to share the birds with friends, I set-up a wildlife camera trap, trained on a plastic cage (ex B&Q solar light) filled with fat balls. I left the trap running for a week and I am amazed at the results the camera has delivered. The pictures are sufficiently clear enough to show that this bird is an adult displaying a bright red eye and clean grey face. Its difficult to sex as males should be marginally larger than females.  
 I'm in no doubt this bird is a migrant from Eastern Europe and may well have been present since October, likely to leave and head East any day now. As I write I've set-up the camera just to see if I can record it once more before the birds depart.
 The camera trap used is a Bushnell Nature View HD. For birds and small mammal images I can recommend it as it has two close-up lenses. See link -

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Florida raptors, Coopers Hawk, Red shouldered Hawk and Osprey

Treking around Orlestone Forest, detouring around fly-tipping, slipping and sliding in the mud and more mud. Looking up at the sky a Buzzard here, a fleeting Sparrowhawk there and nothing close enough to merit powering on my camera. How different it was just a week ago on a family Florida / Everglades holiday. There, good trails and boardwalks, birds of prey everywhere - many very approachable too. We saw 11 winter birds of prey in Florida, many from the car (including a Bald Eagle), a memorable all-white Short-tailed Hawk (sadly no pic) and Ospreys just about everywhere. So here's a selection of some easy stuff taken in just enough time not to annoy my family who stood waiting and swatting mosquitos.

Our first new bird was a superb Coopers Hawk that Sian found hidden deep in a darky shady Mangrove Hammock. She spent some time trying to point the bird out to me through a maze of foliage and twisted trees - it was very dificult to see. In the end its position was identified by a number of small birds in its vicinty delivering a chorus of alarm calls.  From the wooden boardwalk, so typical of Everglade nature trails, this Coopers Hawk seemed distant; enveloped in shadow. So I'm amazed how detailed the pictures are from this distance. This male Coopers Hawk had prey, which I think may have been a Grey squirrel. In size the hawk looked like a lean and purposeful Goshawk or even perhaps an over sized Sparrowhawk with a long powerful rounded tail.

Coopers Hawk, John Peenekamp National park, Florida Keys

The Red Shouldered Hawks were photographed at Flamingo, a superb state park in the Everglades (no Flamingos there though!) The birds were very vocal and very easy to find. As I photographed the hen bird the male decided to attempt some opportunistic mating. Minutes later I photographed Ospreys mating too. Perhaps they were prompted by the warm March temperatures and the heat and wet season to come. Just before we arrived in Miaimi the Everglades had received intense storm with high winds, and over our holiday I saw many Ospreys rebuilding nests, bashfully flying down into busy car parks collecting branches, and sometimes litter, to rebuild their nests.

From the moment we arrived at Miami Airport and headed to Miami Beach it was impossible not to see Black Vultures and Turkey Vultures soaring and wheeling over the city skyline or sometimes just sitting on roadside gantries and buildings. On one trail in the Everglades Park, Black Vultures infamously sit on top of visitors' cars to demolish windscreen wipers and rubber car trim. For protection we followed other visitor's solutions, wrapping tarpaulin sheets (provided by the park) over the front of the cars for protection. We saw so few birds that day (indeed a feature of the Everglades this present, dry season) that the vandalous Vultures will be one of the abiding memories.
Red Shouldered Hawks, Flamingo Everglades National Park

Osprey, Flamingo, Everglades National park

Black Vulture at Flamingo, Everglades National park

Turkey Vulture at Flamingo

Turkey Vulture at Flamingo