Saturday, 29 December 2007

Saturday 29th December

After yesterday's day release-I was confined to looking after the kids again this morning. Staring through the windows at breakfast I managed to pick out the crucifix-shape of a Cormorant flying south. The resident Sparrowhawk seemed busier than ever, the swarm cloud of Fieldfares/Redwings/Chaffinches heralding it's arrival.
I manged a brief trot out late afternoon, taking a brief walk from South Street, Barming across to Rectory Lane. Some of the Alders have been left (intentionally?) with their top branches overhanging the footpath and they looked ripe for Siskin or Redpoll, but neither species were seen. It was interesting, and encoraging, to see that a new apple orchard was being planted with (Braeburns on M9) - at least one site in Maidstone the developers haven't managed to get of hold of! A Green Woodpecker was frantically pecking around the disturbed earth, getting it's fill before the sun finally dipped beyond the valley.
As I neared home I stopped to get some photos of the old barn that sits alongside South Street opposite Church House. It's a wonderful old building, with curvaceous, weatherboarded sides, not painted white, but oozing eau de tar. It is topped with a weathered corrugated-iron roof with another wall composed of the same stuff. All very photogenic, but it it had gave me a reason to stop, and I'm glad I did as a Kestrel and Sparrowhawk locked talons almost immediately above where I was standing. The screech gave them away, but for a good minute or so they pursued and tumbled, pursued and tumbled until the Sparrowhawk made good it's escape. Needless to say the sky was full of every bird that happened to be on the ground!

Friday 28th December

Off patch gain today, after an unexpected ticket out to visit Dungeness to catch up with some Smew. Travelling along the A2070 I caught a glimpse of white in one of the fields west of Snave and so made a detour towards Brenzett Green to check it out. Sure enough a scan across the fields behind Court-at-Wich farmhouse (TR005297) confirmed what I suspected, a flock of Berwick Swans, 50 in total - contaminated with 36 Mutes.

Finally arriving at Dunge I struggled, but eventually located the Red-necked Grebe on the north-east side of the northern Long Pit. It showed briefly 3 times, before diving and disappearing amonst the reeds. A quick seawatch (15 mins!) in extremely windy conditions threw up double figure Kittiwakes and Razorbill with a couple of Gannets fighting against the wind. Retiring to the relative comfort of the RSPB reserve I was pleased to see 14 Smew (inc. 3 drakes), 3 Goosander and 1 Red-crested Pochard amongst the assembled wildfowl.

The car was severly buffeted by the wind as I drove along Walland Marsh at dusk, and not suprisingly in the conditions no owls or harriers were seen, although a Peregrine glanced past just west of Old Cheyne Court.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Wednesday 26th December - Boxing Day

The breakout and burn off from yesterday's excesses saw me and the family heading up to Shellness, Sheppey via the Boxing Day sales. Inadvertently I managed to get us there at high tide, so what had been planned as a brisk walk turned into a bit of an ardous wade! Unforunately the first thing that greeted us on the blockhouse beach was a dead Little Egret. The kids didn't seem to mind and built sandcastles around it as only the young and innocent can! I managed a few cursery glances across the beach and the Swale. The wader roost, west of the blockhouse, consisted mainly of Grey Plover, Knot, Ringed Plover, Sanderling & Turnstone. Occasional erruptions of Redshank and Meadow Pipit were seen over the salt marsh. A couple of Marsh Harriers flapped across the Swale, and I was disappointed to hear I'd missed a male Hen Harrier reported over the seawall earlier in the afternoon.

Our plan to drive to the Ferry Boat Inn was thwarted on reading the new 'opening times' sign just off the main Leysdown road which informed us that the pub had closed 5 minuteds before! Instead I managed to persuade my wife that it was too early to go home and wrangled a drive down the Elmley entrance track around 15:30 with the promise of a drink in the Hook & Hatchet on the way back home. We were rewarded with 2 sightings of Short-eared Owls, one sitting periodically on a post just short of the new bungalow by the car park, apparently trying to out wit a stoat which slipped from ditch to ditch. I managed a couple of poor record shots of one of the owls on the ground - bear in mind I had 2 kids and a wife in the car, the light was failing fast and the camera was hand-held against one of my binocular eyepieces!

Hopefully more 'local' reports to follow this week.

Monday 24th December - Christmas Eve

All the preparations for Christmas made me fidgety, especially as I'd be confined to the house all day tomorrow. Again I was on dad duty so I took my two lads on a yomp across to the other side - West Farleigh. I managed to get a good hour's walk in, promising the kids a go on the swings on W Farleigh green. We crossed Barming Bridge, up Kettle Lane to the green at West Farleigh (for the playground and pub!) and back home via Charlton Lane. Not much out of the ordinary to be seen, although like Warren in Hadlow I'd noticed the Redwing numbers seem to have built up recently. A row of Alders a field back on the east side of Charlton Lane looked like they may harbour some avian life and sure enough a quick scan revealed a busy flock of 15+ Siskins working through the top branches.

Apologises for another picture of 'winter thrushes', just can't resist it when they're sitting pretty in really good numbers in the trees at the back of my garden. A few months and I'll be missing them!

Sunday 23rd December

I was left with the task of looking after 3 kids, all under-5, this afternoon. Fancying a bit of birding, rather than another 2hours of Thomas the Tank Engine, I ushered them into the car and set out to search for the 'fog-monster' on the mystical Isle of Sheppey. The fog was much in evidence on Elmley but no 'monster' was found-but it gave me a good chance to get in 2 good sightings of Short-eared Owls, Barn Owl (just off the entrance turn-off) and 3x Grey Patridge across the track! The fog descended quickly as dusk approached, and the gravestones leaning against the old derelict schoolhouse all added to the atmosphere - the kids enjoyed themselves, well until the nightmares at 2am the next morning!

Friday, 21 December 2007

Friday 21st December

A foggy morning in the Barming, so dense that even the church wasn't viewable from the main Tonbridge Road. However, it lifted quickly after arriving in East Malling, revealing a fantastic winter wonderland-real Christmas Card weather. The rows of windfall apples were smothered with winter thrushes as I arrived, unfortunately most took flight as I approached to take a photo, although a few brave Blackbirds and Redwings cautiously pecked on.

I finished early and walked back home along the footpath from Kiln Barn Lane, Ditton to North Street, Barming. A Little Owl sat plumped up on a fence post by Kiln Barn Farm,
frowning on a small Exultation of Skylarks (8 in total) that fidgeted back and forth. I caught a glimpse of a Lapwing flying NE, quite high, and then heard one call from the ground just to the south of the farm. Sure enough a Deceit of Lapwings, for they were suprisingly inconspicous, was located, dotted across the cattle field directly north of Gallagher's Quarry. Forty-five in total, but conscious of Warren's success in locating a Golden Plover on his Hadlow patch I carefully scanned the field. No, just Lapwings there, not that I'm not happy with that on my patch! A couple of Stock Dove flew up as the bullocks lolled to their feet. I continued up Gallagher's Gallop and was soon greeted by the soft call of a Bullfinch, a female at first then a smart male, glowing in all it's colourful glory against the hoar-frosted chesnut coppice. Another pair were located further along the path towards the water tower. A quick scan of the alders lining the pea field for Siskin or Redpoll was unsuccessful so I continued on home, a good 30 minutes late!
Now I'm off work for the Christmas period I've stocked up on bird seed and topped up all my feeders - my glances into the back garden over the last few days have revealed a lot of bird activity - Redwings, Fieldfares, Great, Blue & Long-tailed Tits, Green and Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Jay, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Woodpigeon, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, House Sparrow-all gregariously seeking out food. Despite this I often find my gaze drifting away from the feeders to the Field Maple at the back of next-door-but-one's house-the favoured tree of the Hawfinches of 2 years ago! With more time on my hands to gaze out the kitchen window over the next week or so I'm keeping my finger's crossed!

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Wednesday 19th December

Another cold day with a hard frost in the morning. I took a 30 minute stroll out over the plots on the research station at lunchtime. Both Redwing and Blackbird numbers seem to have risen significantly since I did my BTO atlas count last week. I counted 30x Redwing in one small section of windbreak near the main buildings and 15x Blackbirds picking through a 10m row of windfall apples. Fieldfares flocked out the windbreaks as I passed, and across the site I could see at least 3 flocks of Fieldfares in the air at any given time. Again there were large numbers (50+) flocking onto the overhead wires, along with a large flock of Starlings (100+). I only managed to cover a small number of plots and although there were small flocks of Chaffinches I again had no luck locating a Brambling.

Interestingly I did spot a distinctive looking Carrion Crow across one of the fields, although distantly (hence poor quality pic). The majority of it's primaries were white, but it was the only bird like this in the flock of about 20. I've heard that crows often get whitening on primary feathers as they become worn, but I wondered why only this individual seemed to be affected?

I counted 94x Greylag Geese and 2x Greylag-Canada Goose hybrids feeding in the fields close to the East malling-Ditton footpath. I had seen about half this number come in to land on Streamside Lake at New Hythe yesterday while waiting for a Bittern to appear. It made me wonder if these the East Malling birds coming into roost for the night, as I'd heard the Canada/Barnacle Geese flock has been seen flying over St. Martins Square, Larkfield which lies directly between the 2 sites.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Tuesday 18th December

Nothing much at East Malling , so I popped down Leybourne Lakes. No sign of Black-necked Grebe on the Railway pit, but good numbers of Shoveler, Coot, Moorhen and neat looking Gadwall. A pair of Teal looked quite isolated on Abbeymeads, I don't think I've ever seen it numbers so thin on the water at this time of the year. No sign of the Bittern on Streamside to dusk, although Cetti's Warbler and Water Rail were both heard.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Monday 17th December

2x Grey Herons were seen in statuesque poses in the field between the A26 and St Margarets church, Barming as I drove in this morning - it seems to be a regular haunt for them on frosty mornings. The sun disappeared by mid-morning as a strong, easterly-breeze picked up. Numbers of Redwing, Fieldfare and Chaffinches seemed to have increased since last week and so I went off in search of Brambling. The cold got the better of me after only 20 minutes, so I called it quits....but I'm convinced there's a Brambling out there to be found! Interestingly not may of the Fieldfares seemed to be feeding on the windfall apples as they usually do - most remaining perched, and exposed to the strong breeze, on the telegraph wires, taking the place of the summer Swallows.

Sunday 16th December

My birding this weekend was limited to a walk along the River Medway between Barming and Teston Bridges. The ground was still frozen in places, with a thin layer of ice formed acroos the lock at Teston. 3x Grey Wagtails were seen en route, feeding around the numerous streams that feed down to the river, a Kestrel scanned the river bank from the old orchard and a female Sparrowhawk loomed high aboce the fields towards St. Margarets church. Small parties of Greenfinch and Goldfinch were encountered, and although Bullfinches were heard, none ventured out from the dense shrubbery lining the railway line. I was hoping for Siskin or Lesser Redpoll on the numerous alders en route or possibly a Snipe in the stream culvets but none of these were seen. Finally a single Kingfisher was seen flying from the river towards the grounds of Barnjet Priory.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Wednesday 12th December

A clear crisp morning welcomed me as I made my way out to do a TTV for the BTO Bird Atlas. I totted up 37 species in total, including the 3 Barnacle Geese (that were viewable from the public footpath between East Malling and Ditton), but with some notable exceptions including Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Kingfisher and Little Egret, all of which I've come to expect on my wanderings around East Malling!

Tuesday 11th December

I managed to escape Christmas shopping in Canterbury and made my way to Grove Ferry to see what was around. Thirty-two White-fronted Geese eventually obliged and flew into the pool in front of the ramp, adding numbers to the Lapwings, Golden Plover, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit and Snipe which were all present. A single ringtail Hen Harrier and 6x Marsh Harriers were seen to come into roost before I departed at 15:30.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Tuesday 4th December

Not much showing at East Malling at lunchtime so I popped down to the Motorway and Alders Lakes at Leybourne (part of Steve Nunn's patch). Nothing out of the ordinary on the Motorway Lake but a lovely female Goldeneye diving close in on the east side of Alders.