Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Wednesday 30th May

It drizzled most of the way into work, but I still managed 24 species. The only other thing of note was the rippled clouds that had formed above the downs.

The sun eventually made an appearance as I left work and the reported Squacco Heron at Thamesmead was making me twitch! After a bit of negotiating with Liz (I was supposed to be packing for going away tomorrow!) I set off for Thamesmead. I eventually found the scrape the Heron had been reported on and immediately saw the Squacco Heron strutting around on the scrape margin. It seemed quite happy and feeding voraciously. An absolutely fantastic bird, a lot smaller than I imagined. After about 15 minutes of watching the bird I decided to make a move back, and as I left the viewing platform I noticed a large bird gliding into the marsh area quite a distance off (in front of 2 pylons). I got my bins on it and was surprised to see it was a Purple Heron!

Tuesday 29th May

A sunny start to the day, but billowing rain clouds threatened for most of the day. A trip out to Kiln Barn Farm to see the Little Owl was successful, it flew out of the barn as we approached and alighted on a fence post before moving on to it's usual, distant tree where it 'frowned' disapprovingly. A large number of House Martins were sweeping across the sky and were joined by 2 Swifts. Suddenly a 'large Swift' darted through the middle of the flock and low across the field, the sun catching it's back to reveal a lovely slate-blue hue - a Hobby. It powered back into the sky and stooped, more reminiscient of a Peregrine. It herded the flock in the direction of the quarry and was eventually lost from sight. A first for my patch.

Friday, 25 May 2007

Friday 25th May

It was upsetting to find a Field Mouse drowned in a water-filled bowl in the garden this morning - obviously wanted a drink in the recent hot weather and couldn't get back out. Things didn't get any better on my walk into work - I found another colony of Harlequin Ladybirds on the Sweet Chesnut coppice near the Duet Tree. They seem to be everywhere at the moment. Blackcap, ChiffChaff, Garden Warbler, Linnet and Goldfinch were all heard this morning and a both a Green and GS Woodpecker were seen in flight opposite Potts Bathroom Centre on Kiln Barn Lane. The Little Owl had also returned to the barn, swinging gently on the suspended light and staring intensley at me!

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Thursday 24th May

Fantastically sunny and warm morning. The Garden Warbler showed extremley well again today - I'm worrying that it's not acting like a 'normal' Garden Warbler', it's showing to well! A long-awaited Willow Warbler was heard briefly singing from high up in the Sweet Chesnut at the side of Oaken Wood and a dragonfly was glimpsed high in the coppice but not relocated. The Cuckoo continued to call, again from the Hermitage Road area, but the Little Owl was a now show this morning.

A quick trip at lunctime to see the Bird's Nest Orchids not a million miles away from site. Eventually i found them, along with a few Lady Orchids.

A trip out to Mereworth Woods at 20:30 saw 3 Woodcock roding and again fantastic views of a pair of Nightjars from 21:00 onwards. A male performed fantastically, wing-clapping, 'engine-breaking down' noise, etc and was quite active flying above us, up and down the rides.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Wednesday 23rd May

Bee Orchid at EMR

It was exceptionally quiet this morning, and then I realised why - the main A26 Tonbridge Road was closed off by the ploice. I'm not sure what had happened but it rather marred a fantasticlly bright morning. A Cuckoo was heard again on the way into work - but distantly, possibly by Maidstone Hospital. The Little Owl showed well again - as if it hadn't moved from where I saw it yesterday. The first flower on the Bee Orchids on the Research Station had opened.

I heard a Cuckoo calling as I sat with my office windo open this afternoon - from the direction of Sweets Lane, East Malling.

Little Owl

I made the right decision to turn down a lift and walk home last night. Within minutes of leaving the office a pair if Bullfinches flew up from the newly mown area alongside the entrance road to the Research Station. I had sepnt the best part of January and February searching out these little blighters to add to my year site list but without success....although I seemed to be seeing them everywhere else! And here I was in late May and in the place I though I was most unlikely to see them! If I'd reported this 20 years ago the farm manager would be out with his traps - luckily strawberries aren't as appetising as Conference pears. The Cuckoo continued to call from the Sweets lane area, and the Little Owl was still swinging on the suspended light in Kiln Barn Farm barn.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Tuesday 22nd May

Plates of cloud slowly broke to allow the sun to shine through...quite a difference to yesterday's deluge. My walk in was filled was alive with birdsong. A male Blackcap showed well, as did a particulary tame Garden Warbler. A male Bullfinch was seen to flight in and out a low Sweet Chesnut hedge by Gallagher's Gallop, probably to a nest. And then a Cuckoo called - my first one in this area (by Gallagher's Farm), music to my ears but probably much to the detriment of some poor Dunnock. A Pied Wagtail called from the barn of Kiln Barn Farm and then to my total surprise a Little Owl on the fence post looking for all the world like a plastic model you might find in a garden centre. Naturally it took flight but disappeared into the barn. A few patient minutes waiting saw it fly up onto one of the suspended lights and try to stare me out with sporadic rocking up and down. I though I'd let it think it had won and moved on. One to watch for tomorrow!

Ditton Quarry was a picture - pre-Raphalite in places even. Usual bid species were present and butterlies were more numerous - 1x Small Copper, 3x Common Blue, 5x Brown Argus. Also the first dragonfly of the year - Hairy Dragonfly, zigzagging erratically through Damselflies - including Common Blue, Azure and Blue-tipped Damselflies.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Monday 21st May

A grey blanket lay across the sky, warm yes, but a complete contrast to yesterday's taste of summer. My walk in to work was met with an eerie silence - no Chiffchaffs, Yellowhammers or Linnets, they can't possibly run out of song already? A single Wren took advantage of the strange peace and spat out it's explosive song. Rain started to fall as I arrived at work...and didn't stop.

Sunday 20th May

Banded Demoiselle

Banded Demoiselle were the stars of the day - 8 in total along the riverbank between Barming Bridge and Teston. Birds were comparatively low in numbers, although the resident Goldfinches bounced ahead of us like puppets on strings. Whitethroat babbled away in the deep shrubbery, and the Cuckoo announced it's prescence occasionally on the West Farleigh bank. The Spotted Flycatcher haunts were still vacant - maybe I'm getting too impatient. The abscence of Kingfishers was particularly noticeable, but I had set out wanting to see that electric blue dart across the river, so they were bound to be elusive! A couple of Common Blues flitted around and a Red Admiral posed beautifully in the sun. The riverbank always looks at it's best in mid-May, the sheer lushness and exuberance of foliage, along with the fresh, fresh, greeness of everything, remains, for me, the defintion of a typical early summer's day.

A dusk visit to Oaken Wood, Barming to catch up with crepuscular creatures turned out to be rather disappointing. A single, unidentified bat relentlessly chasing unseen prey up and down one of the rides was as good as it got! No Nightjars, owls or glow worms....I am getting too impatient!

Friday 18th May

St Margaret's Church, Barming

Cracking morning sunshine, but not too much bird life to go with it. A lone GS Woodpecker was a first for 3 weeks. The flight pattern of woodpeckers always amazes me, it's as if each undulation in flight is going to see them belly out on the ground until a sudden burst of energy pulls them back up into the air, almost like someone pulling themselves up for air while swimming! A male Linnet proudly sang out his territory while sitting on one of the racecourse fenceposts, his 'bloodstained' chest very apparent in the strong light. The House Martins has returned to Kiln Barn Cottages, the 'orca' head of the female pocking out cosily from her mud nest under the gable end eaves. I was lucky to see House Martins, Swallows and Swifts performing their tiered, aerial acrobatics through the sky by the railway embankment, probably the first time I've seen all 3 species in the same field of view this year.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Thursday 17th May

Harlequin Ladybird larvae

Oak before Ash you're in for a splash? The idiom didn't ring true today. Large numbers of Swifts coursing over East Malling village were the only sightings of note this morning.

The nettles supporting the large population of Harlequin Ladybirds had been strimmed this morning, but checking the remaining nettles it appears that this has just displaced them - there were large numbers of Harlequin larvae outnumbering the 7-spts by about 2 to 1.

The rain continued this evening and almost made me postpone my trip to Mereworth to check out the Nightjars again. It had cleared slightly by 19:30 so I decided to go. We were rewarded with Woodcock roding on at least 6 occasions , a couple of times individuals flew directly overhead. A Willow Warbler was found in the same location as on Saturday, and a few Whitethroats bellowed away in the conifer plantation. The first Nightjar was heard churring just after 9. The Collins Guide to Bird Song describes the 'churr' as a constant 'reel' similar to a Mole cricket (if that helps!), but James described it perfectly, "the sound of a mudguard trapped against a rotating bicycle wheel!". The perfrect description! The churring was so intense that we were able to locate the bird quite easily, where upon we had excellent views (well as good as they get at dusk!) of a Nightjar using the top of a dead tree as a song perch. It flew out a few times, and onto another song perch before returning and eventually taking flight in the direction of the newly felled area. A pint of 'Whooper' in the Swan on the Green, West Peckham ended a perfect evening.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Wednesday 16th May

An overcast morning, but no rain at least. Nothing new on the walk in - 10 Linnets at the back of Kiln Barn Farm on the race-course were the highlight...and 3 Swallows over the pasture at the corner of Kiln Barn Lane.

'Lord Nelson' (if only I get used to the time delay on digital cameras!)

The sun finally emerged as I went for a lunchtime walk round Ditton Quarry. A far off whistle from the railway alerted me to a steam engine on it's way - a Southern steam loco 'Lord Nelson' sped past towards Maidstone pulling green liveried coaches, an added bonus to the day. The number of ladybird larvae on on the stinging nettles on Kiln Barn Lane seemed to have increased two-fold since last week and closer inspection revealed, unfortunately, that some were Harlequin larvae. A further scout around the nettles in the quarry also turned up a number of Harlequin ladybird adults.

Harlequin Ladybirds

A record 8 Common Lizards were seen today, including a pregnant female. 2x Common Blue and 1x Red Admiral were the only butterflies. A number of Azure Damselflies were floating around in tandem near the pool at the east end of the quarry.

Pregnant Common Lizard

An offer of a lift to Dungeness for the Audouin's Gull at 17:15 was unexpected - but we got there 25 minutes too late. A juvenile Little Gull on the patch and dark-phase Artic Skua flying east, close into the shore didn't make up for the disappointment. With heavy hearts, and heads filled with the image of the thousands of gulls we had scanned at Dungeness, Scotney GPs, Jury's Gap and Camber Sands , we made our way back home. On the way back we stopped to watch a Barn Owl quartering precauriously close to the Rye-Lydd road. See what tomorrow brings!

Monday, 14 May 2007

Sunday 13th May

A break in the torrential rain gave me time for a quick walk along Churk Lane, Barming. The layered clouds scuttled past in the SW wind, exposing pools of turquoise-blue sky. 2x Swifts swept past, pulling themselves up on quick flickers of their wings...them another 2 appeared, then another 3 and soon 25+.

Saturday 12th May

After a visit to Stoneacre, Otham this afternoon, I let James have a run around on the playground on Otham village green. Scanning across the playing field towards the pools - in the unlikely hope of seeing an Osprey (as had been reported twice in the Loose Valley last week) - I saw 2 Swallows copulating on the grass! I really should have just kept my eyes on James.

The wind seemed to die down early evening and the dying sun tempted me to make a visit to Mereworth Woods, not least to catch a roding Woodcock and may be hear an early Nightjar. The descending tones of a Willow Warbler were heard as I stood waiting for dusk to fall. Then a high-pitched pip and grunt (so unique!) alerted me to a roding Woodcock, circuiting it's territory. Woodcock were seen a further 8 occasions before dusk finally fell. Then the churring began...distantly at first, with the characteristic change in tone as the Nightjar moved it's head, and then closer before falling silent. It had obviously moved but I did manage to see it. A trio of bats flickered in and out of my path as I made my way back to the car, but not before hearing a second Nightjar adjacent to a newly cleared area a little way on.

Friday, 11 May 2007

Friday 11th May

The report of a large movement of Swifts over the French coast yesterday manifested itself in the appearance of 7+ Swifts over the High Street, East Malling as I drove into work this morning....the globe still works! A walk to the usual Spotted Flycatcher haunts is needed this weekend I think!

A Sparrowhawk floated over the glasshouse cold-store as I took delivery of some plants at 09:30, and a new influx of House Martins were making use of last year's nest under the eaves of the caretaker's house.

The Lesser Whitethroat was heard calling in Ditton Quarry again at lunchtime, along with all the other usual suspects. My second Sparrowhawk (female) of the day swooped down on to something on the scrub area, but noticed me and took off again almost immediately -I searched the ground but couldn't find what it was after. 7x Common Lizard in 2 locations were sluggish in the strong SW wind which also buffeted 3x Common Blue and 1x Peacock along. A Cuckoo called in the distance, an uncommon sound in the quarry, although I suspect it may have been calling from the Research Station land.

Collecting crates this afternoon I came across a Blackbird's nest that had been made, precariously, in the bottom of a crate. I could hear the alarm call of a Blackbird in the distance so retreated as soon as I had taken a photo.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Thursday 10th May

Sweet Chesnut

My first walk in for 10 days - how things have changed since my last walk...nature waits for no man! The bluebells had come and gone and everything was in leaf. The Sweet Chesnut coppice had greened up and blocked views of across some of the areas I watch, particularly the path beside Gallagher's Gallop. 5x ChiffChaff (one on a TV aerial!),3x Blackcap, 2xWhitethroat and 5x Yellowhammers sang. A Goldfinch and Linnet made up the duet in the 'Duet Tree'. 10 Linnets in total were seen, 1 female of a pair carried nesting material in her beak, and a male Bullfinch showed briefly before disappearing back into the undergrowth. 2x Swifts scythed their way north as I approached Kiln Barn Farm and a Swallow dipped over the hedgerow and low across the pasture. A second Swallow was seen on the wires at Kiln Barn Lane corner.

'Duet tree'

Another Swift flew South over the strawberry plots mid-morning, and 3x House Martin weretaking water from apuddle at the back of the site garages.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Wednesday 9th May

I've not had a chance to walk into work for over 10 days now, so a stroll out to Ditton Quarry at lunchtime was literaturely a breath of fresh air. The Queen Anne's Lace formed a fantastic white avenue along Kiln Barn Lane. Light, spitting rain turned into constant drizzle so no butterflies today, but the humid air was enough to keep the birds singing. 8x Whitethroat 'scratched' along, 1x male Blackcap flitted around, probably irrited by my infringement of his territory. A ChiffChaff and Garden Warbler were also heard in the dense scrub. However the 'rattle' of a Lesser Whitethroat made my day - heard in an area I rarely explore and my first record of this species at the quarry this year. Things improved even more as the bird showed briefly and managed to flush out a pair of Bullfinches, who 'phewed' alongside me as took the path back out of the quarry. Almost made up for the Glossy Ibis I missed at Pett Levels by 10 minutes on Saturday! By the pond a Fox cub was curled up in the long grass and failed to notice me as I crept past - obviously in deep, contented sleep.
A broken Song Thrush egg was evidence of yesterday's high winds.
Also noticeable was a large number of Ladybird larvae around on the stinging nettles, good year Ladybirds but not so good for the aphids hopefully.

Friday, 4 May 2007

Friday 4th May

A Cuckoo was heard calling in the River Medway valley, Barming at 05:30 this morning.
My usual visit to Ditton Quarry was met with a clamer albeit more overcast day than my previous visits this week. The Common Lizards were out basking again - 4 in total with 1 found at a new site. 8x Whitethroat were heard or seen, a Garden Warbler babbled along beautifully and showed well for a couple of minutes before taking flight in response to a male Blackcap jumping onto a nearby perch to eat some unidentified grub! 2x Chiffchaff continued calling throughout the visit.

Butterflies were more evident, but no new species; 3x Brown Argus, 1x Common Blue, 1x Small Copper (very faded), 1x Speckled Wood and 1x Red Admiral. 2x Large Red Damselflies were a new addition for the year but didn't hang round long enough to be photographed. Various beetles and an interesting, if not tiny, cricket were in evidence.

3x LBB gulls, 3x Skylarks and 2x House Martin were seen on the Research Station this afternoon.

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Thursday 3rd May

A quick trip to East Farleigh at 07:30 under overcast skies didn't show up any Med Gulls in a much reduced gull flock of 4x LBB Gulls and 20x BH Gulls.

No walk in nor trip to the quarry at lunchtime, so had to be satisfied with a lone Swallow on the wires at the junction of Kiln Barn Lane/Sweets Lane, Ditton on my way home.

Wednesday 2nd May

The House Martins returned to East Malling Research Station today. A pair tried a number of old nests before settling for one on the old Entomology building. It was the most intact, and with the lack of mud on site I think it was probably a wise choice.
It was pleasant walk to Ditton Quarry turned up a few Holly Blues and again lots of Chiffcaffs and Whitethroat singing but not much else - it was sunny but too windy for butterflies.

Late a trip to Samphire Hoe confirmed that there were approx 9000 Early Spider orchids flowering, although most were just on the turn. Nottingham Catchfly was also in flower. To cold and windy for butterflies, but 2x Whimbrel looking a bit forlon on one of the pools added interest.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Tuesday 1st May

Brown argus

A fantastically sunny day, but cold in the strong SW wind at times. A visit to Ditton Quarry at lunchtime yielded my first Swift of the year flying fast NE and also the first Garden Warbler I've heard at the quarry this year. I went with the intent of looking for butterflies and had 2x Red Admiral, 1x Speckled Wood, 1x Small Copper, 2x Common Blue, 1x Brown Argus (or female Common Blue). Also an interesting and colourful moth - identity yet to be checked (see photo).

Burnet Companion

Passing through East Farleigh after work I noticed a very large, mixed flock of gulls in a tilled field between Forge Lane and Lower Road (TQ738533). A quick scan revealed at least 5x Med Gulls in fantastic summer plummage, but suspecty the number had been higher if I'd been able to get a better view of a separate flock at the bottom end of the field.

A trip down to the lakes even later after work resulted in 7x Nightingales (1 showed very well on top off brambles at north end of Abbeymeads), 3x Cetti's Warbler, numerous Whitethroat, Blackcap and Sand Martin. No sign of Hobbies, Whimbrels or Little Gulls though! 4x Hairy Dragonflies were seen (inc 2 females).

A second Swift was seen scything across New Hythe Lane, Larkfied and under the eaves of a house on my way back from the lakes. The world still spins round!