Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Tuesday 19th February

Another foggy and morning, with a very hard frost. The sun tried hard to break through as I made my way past the oasthouses on Heath Road, Barming. A small, mixed party of Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits chirped away in the hedgerow as I passed by the pea field and a Jay swooped across the path into Oaken Wood. As expected, a fine male Bullfinch greeted me from the Brambles at the north end of the pea field, resplendant against the iced branches and foggy background. Again it was singing, more croakly that I've heard before. I also think I've found the reminants of two Bullfinch nests nearby so I will keep a close eye over the next few months to see if they become occupied. To my suprise two Lesser Redpolls were busy feeding on weed seedheads near the green gate by the Oaks. I was suprised as I'd been trying to relocate them since Wednesday without success. They appeared to be a male and female, and were extremley confiding, allowing me to get with 15ft at one point. I attempted a few shots but the camera couldn't seem to cope with the high contrast of iced vegetation and fog (always blame your tools!), so the photo below will have to suffice!Unfortunately I couldn't find a third bird, the one I suspected may have been a Mealy Redpoll. I'll take another look tomorrow. As I mentioned before on this blog, foggy mornings seem to highten the senses, I think locating the Redpolls was due in part to hearing their call and not being distracted by the constant flickering of birds in the hedgerow and high branches of the adjoining oaks. It was all very atmospheric, a Skylark heard singing probably in clear blue skies above the low-lying fog, the snort and gallop of unseen horses on Gallagher's racetrack, and the constant dripping of ice melting from the high branches. Give me a foggy morning any day of the week!

Monday 18th February

What another fantastic day-hardly any wind and wall-to-wall sunshine. I managed to visit Ditton Quarry during my lunch hour, I'm ashamed to say this is my first visit of the year. A Kestrel was suprsingly well camoflagued against the terracota roof tiles of the old Ditton Laboratory Building on Kiln Barn Lane. A number of Fieldfares were disturbed from their feeding as I stepped through the undergrowth to the quarry site. A Wren made it's prescence know, scolding from low branch. I guess such a small bird needs such a loud voice to get noticed! There was evidence of Badger activity at the south end of the quarry, as there is on much of the Research Station site, but unfortunately I've not managed to see a live one yet. I only covered a small area of the site today, hoping that Siskin or Redpoll might be found on the alders that were brimming with catkins ready for the taking. Unfortunately none were found, although a handsome charm of Goldfinches plucked at the seedheads of a clump of Teasels, but that's what Goldinches do. No Bullfinches were heard or seen, and a quick sortie of the Lizard site turned up a blank, however a young Toad was found nestling under a piece of roofing felt, looking suitably unimpressed by it's sudden exposure to the Spring sunlight.

The light as I left work was fantastic - a uniform red glow filled the western horizon, so sorry but I couldn't resist another 'sunset' picture, East Malling church and mistletoe-drapped trees in silhouette.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Saturday 16th February/Sunday 17th February


I forfeited my lie in to make a 07:30 start on a lovely crisp, but very cold morning. Along with James from West Malling I made my way from North Street, Barming and alongside the allotments to Ditton Common where I'd seen the Lesser Redpolls earlier in the week. They weren't there, but a small party of Bullfinches (2 male and a female) showed well in the brambles next to the pea field. A couple of Jays were seen as we returned to the car near Oaken Wood, and a Goldcrest called and hivered in the Scots pine overhanging the path by the North Street allotments.

We moved onto Boughton Monchelsea in the hope of seeing the displaying Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. We arrived just after 8:30 passing a car that looked laiden with twitchers going in the other direction (Andy Lawson and friends?). Bob Bland was just leaving the confines of the deer park and pointed to where we might see the woodpeckers. They didn't show but Bob located a Little Owl and Coal Tit by song, then a Goldcrest in the marsh Alders. Three Yellowhammers sat in the hedgerow next to Peens Lane, but no Siskins. We decided to try and locate Bramblings that Don Taylor had reported, we lingering around one of the Oaks to try and get a sight of the Nuthatch that called incessantly. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen and heard drumming. We met Don by the upper barn but couldn't locate the female Brambling he's seen earlier in the orchard, however more Bullfinches were active in the area and gave some cracking views in the morning light. Back down to Peens Lane we failed again with the LS Woodpecker, but picked up a Nuthatch sitting shrike like in the top of one of the alders, all four thrushes (Fieldfare, Redwing, Mistle and Song) were hopping around the oaks in the deer park and a lone Treecreeper crept along the underside of a branch.

James dropped me off in the layby on the A26 Tonbridge Road, almost opposite St Margaret's Church, Barming. The field north of the road was being ploughed, with a number of gulls piling in on the freshly turned sods - no Med Gulls, but mostly Black-headed Gulls with three Herring Gulls keeping their distance. A flock of Geese could be seen flying over Oaken Wood, mostly probably Canada Geese.


We visted an elderly relative down by the sea at Hythe, and then took advantage of the sunny weather for a stroll along the seafront. The rocky outcrops opposite The Imperial Hotel and Lade Hotel were conspicous by their lack of bird life, but with kids and fisherman clambering over them I guess and right minded Purple Sandpiper would b sitting Sunday afternoon out somewhere a bit quieter. Glances out to see only revealed the commoner Gull species loafing around. However I broke free of the crowds at the fishing boat end of the promenade and walked along the beach towards the firing range. A number of gulls were sitting on the groynes, but non had the curtesy to be a Glaucous Gull. A few Turnstones picked away at the deritius on the tideline and a Cormorant sat stately on top a navigational post. I then spotted a pair of Guillemots on the tideline, one in winter and one in summer plummage. They seemed reluctant to take the sea as I approached, and I noticed not all seemed right with them, I managed a couple of shots of one but noticed flecks of oil on both birds. Eventually they both took flight, albeit unsteadily and plopped into the sea, drifting out and away from the beach.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Wednesday 13th February

I had no choice but to walk in today and after the bright mornings of the last few days I was disappointed to see the thick fog and contended myself that sightings would be just as poor. North Street, Barming was monoloplised by Collared Doves. A large privet hedge on the corner of North Pole Road held a noisy, and very large colony (43) of House Sparrows. I wonder how much the lose of much front garden privet hedging in the last 20 years has contributed to the decline of this species? The fog was extremley thick at the top of Gallagher's Gallop but unexpectedly made seeing a number of birds a lot easier. Numerous Robins (11) declared their territory as did a Yellowhammer, both standing out fantastically against the foggy backdrop. However the highlight of the day was a flock of Lesser Redpoll feeding on weed seedheads and occasionally flitting into an open hedgerow right next to where I stood. This is the first I have had in Kent this winter and the first on this particular patch.

I returned at lunchtime to check out the Redpolls. Three were still present, one was more elusive, looked slightly larger and paler mantle...a Mealy? Didn't get a good enough view and not confident enough to make a positive ID...I'll check again tomorrow.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Monday 11th February

Capitalising on the continued good weather I decided to do my BTO atlas count on the research station. There are still good numbers of winter thrushes on site, but they're predominatly feeding in open ground now and take flight at the first sight of movement, the silvery underwings of the Fieldfares glinting in the sun and interspersed with the ochre red of a few Redwings. Only 2 Barnacle Geese were present amongst the mixed Greylag and Canada Goose flock. A total of 36 species were noted in the hour, not bad for a lunchtime walk, but as always a few species were noticeable by their abscence - particularly House Sparrow, Kestrel and Pied Wagtail that I'm sure to see any other day of the year! In terms of numbers Wood Pigeon that dominanted the list, outstripping the Fieldfares by at least double.

Sunday 10th February

Yet another ady with the kids! The weather was fine and although a trip to the coast was attractive I decided a repeat of Friday's afternoon trip would be more relaxing, especially if I made the beer garden of 'The Trickled Trout' my target. Nothing out of the ordinary in terms of birds, but again a Kingfisher dosing in the sun in the lower branches of a tree adjacent to Teston Bridge. However I wondered if the Barn Owls I'd seen in the late Summer were still frequenting the nest boxes on the West Farleigh bank? I sat out until just after 5 pm when a screech from one of the nest boxes (viewable by looking towards the river from West Farleigh cricket ground/church) alerted me. Sure enough a fantastic Barn Owl, catching the last rays of the sun posed on the one of the knarled branches of the Oak. It quickly took flight, head hanging low in search of voles. It flew directly at me, hovered momentaril and then looped back and down towards the river, where suddenly as if it had suddenly become lead it dropped to the ground. 2 Crows arrived on the scene and harassed it until it was lost to view, passing over Teston Bridge itself. A few more Owl watches in the offing!

Saturday 9th February

Another day with the kids - this time the venue was Knole Park. I was frustrated to get just a glimpse of what I presumed was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker - Liz had the bins, but by the time I'd got on to where it had been it had gone. A Ring-necked Parakeet a bit of drama to very English scene. With much of the undergrowth decayed by winter I was able to spot varoius nests that would otherwise have been overlooked - the one in the photo (to follow) showing ancient oaks still have life after death!

Friday 8th February

A call from my wife telling me she was ill, could I look after the kids had me leaving work early. It was such a glorious day I had to take advantage and so I took my eldest out of her way and down to the River Medway. On the pretence of a picnic we spent a leisurely 4 hours wandering along the river bank between Barming and Teston bridges. The winter thrushes were out in force, but the only other noticeable birds were a Grey Wagtail suprisingly well camoflauged flitting around one of the streams and a very obliging Kingfisher that darted from one side of the river to the next on our way back home. We followed it for over 20 minutes, it catching, smacking the head and eating 3 fish on it's way.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Tuesday 6th February

A month without posting - work and trips around the country getting the better of me! Oh well back now, but not much to report from my first trip out for a number of weeks. Fieldfares and Redwings have moved into more open ground on the research station site, East Malling as the windfall fruit has been cleared prior to winter pruning. Number are each are seem fairly equal now, probably due the Redwings being less timid than in November/December. A small flock (20) of Linnets fidgeted around some open ground, before nervoulsy bounding up into the air as I approached. Regular updates on the Wallcreeper et al across the channel from Steve Nunn made me think I'd rather be somewhere else!

My trips of late have taken me up to Norfolk, where I reluctantly paid homage to the White-crowned Sparrow and found a Black Brant, flock of Twite and Great Grey Shrike to boot on the same day. Last week I braved the cold of the North, spending a day by the Solway Firth, where 1000+ Barnacle Geese rather put the flock of 3 at East Malling to shame. I was suprised how numerous Tree Sparrow and Willow Tit were in this area, but on the flip side the noticeable abscence of Little Egret were on such a large estural area - a geniune case of the north-south divide. I travelled back down on probably the worst day of the year, stopping briefly, in a snowstorm, at Warton Bank, Lancs in the forlorn hope of glimpsing the Glossy Ibis....it didn't show! The M40 Red Kites excelled themselves, 27 on the way up, 35 on the way down, surely a coomon bird to Kent in the next decade?