Thursday, 8 February 2018

Sprawk !!!

 I suppose that its inevitable that the  'Pear tree feeding station' in my garden will attract its fair share of predators, its a bit like a restaurant with a good variety of birds on the menu, something I do feel guilty about, but thats nature, and on those occasions when an Sparrowhawk does make a 'sortie', most of the birds make it to cover.

The ring of feathers found on the lawn on occasion, bear testimony to those that didn't make it.

The Sparrowhawks appear to show no fear and are quite at home in the suburban environment, I have witnessed several attacks around the Pear Tree whilst gardening, although they rarely linger, I have managed to photograph a few over the years.

This is the latest Sparrowhawk to be photographed which I noticed  perched in the Magnolia tree at the bottom of the garden, didn't stay for long and was obviously looking for a meal.

I am pretty confident in identifying the adult birds, this is a juvenile, but juvenile male or female I am not so sure, leaning towards a juvenile male, nice looking bird though.

Here's a photographic record of some of the Sparrowhawks that I have managed  to capture.

This probable second year female or adult shown below was the first that I managed to photograph back in January 2013, staying some time in the bough of the pear tree as it devoured its meal.

 23rd December 2014 this fine looking male Sparrowhawk shown below, appeared from nowhere and landed on the fence in front of the feeders obviously scattering the  terror stricken birds on the feeders.

4th February 2015, possibly the same male again landed on the fence before flying off down the gardens.

Once again on 24th November 2015, a male Sparrowhawk, possibly the same individual was seen in the shadows of the laurels at the bottom of the garden.

Spectacular birds to watch.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Winter's walk at Dungeness

I always try and get at least one visit to Dungeness in the winter to see some of their specialties, with spring fast approaching I thought I might have left it too late, but with the recent cold spell, I needn't have worried, plenty of winter birds still in attendance.

This was also an opportunity to try out my new 'Scopac', the hopeful answer to my equipment carrying dilemma.

Dungeness is one of those reserves where a scope and tripod are essential if you wish to see some of the distant birds that frequent the various lakes/pools, I find it hard not to take the camera and zoom lens and the must have binoculars and of course  the lunch box and flask.

The Scopac fits neatly on your 'tripod and scope' allowing you to carry it comfortably on your back, with Camera and lens poised on my hip, binoculars around your neck, I was ready for all eventualities and not feeling to weird in the company of like-minded people.

My first port of call was the Hanson hide, on the ARC pool, not too crowded and plenty of wildfowl on view,  the more common wildfowl were quickly ticked off, Pocard, Tufted Duck, Teal, Shelduck, Gadwall, Wigeon, Shoveller, Coot and a Great Crested Grebe.

  My first Goldeneye of the season was soon picked out, a lovely Drake in the company of two females too distant for a photograph but fine views  through the scope.

On the far side of the lake opposite the hide, a Grey Heron stood patiently on the edge of the reeds, a Great White Heron was seen perched in one of the trees and  some nice views of a Bittern that fed along the edge of the reed-bed before melting  back into cover.

I can never resist the urge to  take a photo of these distant rarities, for me anyway.

 They never work always a  blurred tiny spec which no one but you would know it was there in the photograph, but always serves a little reminder that at least you saw it. hence the need for scope and tripod. There will be a few of these distant blurred photographs on this page, for that reason only.

Distant Bittern in front of the ARC hide

Bewick Swans have been reported of late here roosting on this pool, usally coming in at dusk and leaving early morning, so I wasn't expecting to see  any of these winter swans, fortunately for me and for some unknown reason two Bewick Swans returned to the pool and gave some reasonable views.

Bewick Swan
Plenty of Cormorants scattered around the islands,  and eventually the Black-Throated Diver made an appearance, but spending more time underwater than on the surface. the only photograph I could get was a rear view that shows nothing of interest, but there it was.

Black throated Diver.
The Common Kingfisher gave a couple of fly-byes,  but decided not to use the perches by the hide.
A small flock of Black Tailed Godwits flew in for a wash and brush up and the ever present Lapwings gave some fine displays when flushed by the local Marsh Harriers.

So with three good birds in the bag, Bittern, Bewicks Swan and the Black Throated Diver I moved on the main reserve, stopping for a quick view of the feeders by the entrance cottages in the hope of a Tree Sparrow  among the many Chaffinch and Great Tits feeding there. Just the one.

Tree Sparrow
My main quarry now was a hoped for view of a Smew, and if I was lucky the Drake or 'White Nun'
always a spectacular bird to see in the winter.

Most of the lakes seem occupied by the many Cormorants tat seem to have invaded the reserve, I did notice that a birder had tried to count the huge numbers reaching just under two thousand with more arriving all the time.

I did manage to pick out a few gulls, Great Black Backed Gull, Herring Gull, Common Gull, a definite Yellow-legged Herring Gull and a very tentative first winter Caspian Gull.
A few more Goldeneye, Pintail were also seen.

On to Christmas Dell hide where I quickly found the Smew, a fine looking drake and two Redhead females , but frustratingly on the far side of the pool, I did witness some interesting courtship behaviour, the female redhead kept circling the drake with its head and neck flat to the surface of the water, its tail and rump vertical . eventually the drake took the hint and holding the redhead underwater by the scruff of her neck fulfilled his role.

You can just make out the  White Nun drake and the redhead with its rump raised  in this very distant view.
Smew drake and Redhead in courtship
distant redhead Smew at rear
As a bonus  there was a Slavonian Grebe swimming very close to the Smew  along with  a single Little Grebe.

Another Bittern approached the hide in flight before dropping down into the reedbed. giving a slightly better if not shorter view.

Bittern at Christmas dell hide

The walk along  to Denge Marsh hide did not produce many offerings, another Marsh Harrier, a few Meadow Pipits and another distant Great White Heron.

Great White Heron.

As I walked back along the trail to the car park a Goldcrest flitted about in the willows next to the lake, true to form always on the move, but managed to get a snatched photo.

Just time for a quick sea watch before the sun went down was not very successful, although a couple of Gannets flying distantly by were picked out , a raft of Great Crested Grebes, is that the correct term ? and some unidentifiable Auks bobbing about in the waves.
No Black Redstarts for me on the power station walls just a couple of Pied Wagtails.

Pied Wagtail
All in all a successful winters walk, seeing a few good and scarce birds along the way, the 'scopac' performed well and I'm looking forward to using it in the future.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Chatham Diver !

Its getting to be a regular occurrence with Great Northern Divers appearing at Chatham Maritime, always on number Two Basin which is obviously to their liking, usally appearing early December and staying until late January.

A quick check of the Kent records for this site shows the following appearances :-

 9th December 2010 to 23rd January 2011.
 6th December 2015 to 30th January 2016.
 7th  January 2018  and  still on site  16th January 2018.

These have all been Juveniles. the photograph below is of the latest Juvenile seen  by me on the 16th January.

Annoyingly the Divers always seem to be in the middle of the Basin, and these are quite large expanses of water, today their was an eye-watering wind blowing across the basin which made viewing very difficult,  always too distant for my camera, but surprisingly, some reasonable images, even with a shaking hand.

Juvenile  Great Northern Diver at Chatham Maritime  Basin 2
 The photograph below shows the 'scaly' effect of the first winter plumage on the back,
 apparently indicating a juvenile.

The steep forehead, whitish eye ring and half collar diagnostic features of the Great Northern Diver shows well on the photograph below.

These Divers have dark red eyes, although not clearly shown here which helps them see underwater, they have a habit of dipping their head under the surface, searching for fish which they chase down, being very powerful swimmers, they can eat these fish underwater although some of the larger fish caught are brought to the surface, I have seen many photographs of these divers eating Crabs which they must also be rather partial to.

These Divers will be returning to their Icelandic breeding grounds soon, around April time, so its nice to catch up with them when they do visit these inland waters.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

' Owls That '

 Thirteen days into the new year and my first opportunity to get out for some wildlife watching, a quick drive down to Thannet, my destination Reculver Towers and another opportunity to look for Snow Buntings, these Buntings blend in with the shingle tide line very well, and unless they fly up in front of you, pretty difficult to locate, as was the case for me once again. And so after the long cold walk down to Coldharbour Lagoon and back, no sign of the Snow Buntings.
 I did manage to see good numbers of Brent Geese flying low along the coast line.

Brent Geese

Other birds noted along the tide line included, a small flock of nine Ringed Plovers and a single
Sandling,  a couple of Turnstone, Oystercatchers and Redshank.
 On the sea , Great Black Backed Gull, Herring Gull, Common Gull and Black Headed Gull and a few Cormorant.
In the bushes on the other side of the sea wall,  Linnet, Reed Buntings and House Sparrows with a single Stonechat.


It was now early afternoon, I thought I'd try my luck on the Isle of Sheppey as I was passing that way,
always a chance of  a Hen Harrier or a Short Earred Owl around  the Capel Fleet area, the Raptor View point was rammed with birdwatchers, birding scopes pointing in all directions, not for me, I find myself becoming more and more anti-social the older I get, so I moved on down the road that cuts through Capel fleet, lots of Red legged Partridges scurrying around the roadside verges, it would be nice to come across some Grey Partridge, but these are becoming harder to locate.

Red Legged Partridge

The Bramble scrub is always a good place to check for Corn Buntings along this road, but they always seem a bit to distant for my camera, fortunately I came across one on the road side power line taking in the late afternoon sunshine.

Corn Bunting
One last opportunity still remained, the entrance track to Elmley NNR is always worth checking for late afternoon Raptors, although I was also  hoping for  a sighting of some Hares.
Good numbers of Lapwing all along the track,  two Ruff feeding on a roadside pool were a surprise, a few Curlew were disturbed, a few Raptors were seen, a couple of distant Marsh Harriers, two Buzzard.

Common Buzzard.
The entrance track to Elmley is a good mile or so leading to Kingshill Farm and the car park, just enough time to turn around and make my way out before the gates are locked, as I scanned the fields adjacent to the track, a white bird caught my eye quartering the field just behind me, a Barn Owl, hunting in the late afternoon daylight, the Barn Owl quartered the fields all around my car, allowing me in my excitement to grab some images.

Good fortune was now smiling upon me, or so it seemed, the Barn Owl swooped down into the long grass not more than twenty feet away from me, It glanced at me a few times with those large black eyes, but remained there for a few minutes, occasionally stabbing down with its beak.

Unseen by me the Owl had successfully captured a vole and was obviously dispatching it, and it was not until it decided to take off that I could see the prey.

 Interesting to note how the feathers over the beak are raised after the prey capture, see first image when feathers laying flat over base of beak.

What an ending to the day, its moments like this that make it all worth while.

Friday, 8 December 2017

' Alway's a Pleasure '

 My intention today was a  flying visit to Rainham RSBP to search again for the Firecrest, but a twenty six minute delay to get through the Dartford Tunnel found me heading in the opposite direction, can't do traffic jams any more ! Stodmarsh and Grove Ferry was now my destination, Have'nt been down there for a long time now, so it was nice to reaquaint myself with this lovely nature reserve.

It was bitterly cold, and at every hide the opening shutters seem to face into the eyewatering wind.
Just a short visit to each hide as I needed to keep moving in case I froze to death, my first stop was the Reedbed Hide, huge numbers of very skittish Teal, noisey Greylags Heron, Cormorant, Black Headed Gulls, Mallard and a single Great Crested Grebe which occassionally entered the pool in front of the hide for a fishing session. no sign of a Kingfisher here.

Teal at the Reedbed Hide

Winter plummaged Great Crested Grebe
Around the main lake and the Riverside trees along the River Stour, good numbers of Fieldfare were seen, these seem to take flight the instant they catch sight of you, a small Tit flock held Long-Tailed Tit, Great Tit, Blue Tit and a single Goldcrest,

I had warmed up by the time I reached the Feast Hide at Grove Ferry, the pool in front
of the hide looked good , but just a few pairs of Gadwall, Mallard, Coot, a distant Marsh Harrier floated by, no sign of a Kingfisher on the obligatory ' Kingfisher perch '.

A short walk back towards 'Harrison Drove' hide  in the hope of a Water Pipit or two did not materialise, a distant Great White Egret appeared from the reeds at the top of the pool, before leaving and flying over the River Stour.

Great White Egret

Finally as I began to think of moving on, a beautiful male Kingfisher appeared from nowhere and landed briefly on the strategically placed perch, just managed to get a quick photograph when it flew up from the perch and begun to hover above the water, I thought I was going to be lucky and see a dive for a fish, but no fish, the Kingfisher moved further down the reedbed and hovered again for a few seconds before moving off again, must of done this at least four times before deciding to move off, presumably for a better fishing opportunity. Always a pleasure to see one of these.

Third time lucky, I was feeling really pleased with myself as I walked back across the freezing marshes towards the Marsh Hide, not much to be seen here, a few Konik ponies out on the marsh looked very atmospheric of times gone by.

Konik pony

A few Stonechat flew up from the Reed beds as I passed by, now feeling very cold.

All in all, a very enjoyable day despite the cold weather, and what a pleasure  to see the Kingfisher once again.