Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Wednesday 25th February

I've rather neglected the blog the last few weeks - a combination of not getting the chance to get out very often (apart from a Dungeness dash to see the splendid King Eider - record shot at the end of this post) and there being little about-Fieldfare numbers have dropped dramatically in the last week.

This morning started with a Song Thrush and Skylark singing. I was keen to walk over to the newly-ploughed field at the back of mine; the field sandwiched between the A26 and St Margaret's Church, East Barming. Yesterday I'd seen a flock of 30+ gulls following the plough and was sure that a Med Gull might be in there, especially with recent reports from Mote Park and Halling. Unfortunately I was taking my eldest lad to a swimming lesson and by the time I got back it was dark. This morning was my chance. What did I turn up - a single Black-headed Gull...that was it! With a bit of time to kill I explored the trees in the churchyard in the hope I couldn't turn up a Firecrest.....they seem to be on everyone else's patches at the moment, but not mine it transpired.

At lunchtime I hunted out a Woodcock, another species missing off my patch list, despite being seen in East Malling in the last 2 months and about everwhere else according to the current thread on KOSnet. I trampled through the only bit of suitable woodland on the East Malling Research site with no avail. Resigned to the fact that it was just going to be one of those days I headed back to the office. Ross called before I got back - he'd found a Mediterranean Gull with a flock of Black-headed Gulls on the playing fields opposite Bradbourne House. Strange that I'd gone out looking specifically for one this morning! What a fantastic bird, summer-plummaged (the photo doesn't do it justice as ever) - they always remind me of a 'Disney' gull, very cartoon-like, but maybe that's just me?! Eventually it took flight west, probably towards Blacklands Pool on the edge of East Malling village. Ross confirmed this was the first grounded sighting of this species on the Research Station site (although John Clements had had a flighover a few years ago).
I wonder if it was the same bird Ken ( had seen on the Medway in Halling yesterday?
For the record:

Just about recognisable as a King Eider I think - shame it did eyes left as I pressed down the shutter release. All the other photos were of waves. To have one of these lovelies turn up on Bradbourne Lake!

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Thursday 12th February

A hard frost this morning, and I was greeted by a Redwing singing from a holly tree opposite the house. Despite the icy conditions there was a feel of Spring in the air, a Dunnock sang from a perch, almost within grasping distance, at the top of North Street and a Song Thrush and numerouse Great Tits joined in the chorus. Both Green and GS Woodpecker were seen by Gallagher's Gallop and 200+ Fieldfare hopped around one of the pastures south-east of Kiln Barn Farm. A female Bullfinch showed briefly by the barn and a Little Owl was flushed from the leylandii hedge. The orchard at the Kiln Barn Road entrance to East Malling Research station held very few birds in contrast to last week, with few apples remaining to be fed on.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Monday 9th February

Rain, rain, rain. The weather should have been perfect for ducks, but all the 'interesting' ones that that sat out the harsh weather on Bradbourne Lake, East Malling had gone, leaving just the resident Coots and Moorhens, a couple of Little Grebes and the Barnacle Goose, it's slight frame easily lost amongst the larger Canada Geese . Having checked the churchyard orchard and seen just 3x Fieldfares, 2x Chaffinches and a Blackbird (what a difference a week makes!) I wasn't expecting to see the Waxwings. However, sitting up the highest point of one of the oaks south of Garner Drive, East Malling I was pleased to see a couple of Waxwings hunched up against the rain. Terrible photo I know, but pretty much represents the day. A Goldcrest flitted around furtively in one of the nearby conifers and a Jay caught my eye as it looped down to the base of one of the oaks.I waited a while to see if the Waxwings wouldn't come down to feed, but no, they weren't going anywhere in this weather. Three Lapwings shuffled around Rookery Field (muddy field to the west of the East Malling-Ditton public footpath) as I made my way back to the lab.

A report of Woodcock in East Malling was received over the weekend, the second in as many months, this time in an the area around The Malling School.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Thursday 5th February

Out at lunchtime with Mike Easterbrook looking for Waxwings, but despite visiting all the usual haunts we didn't manage to find any. The churchyard had farm workers in all morning, thinning the apples, which may have kept them away. The earlier rain had dissolved most of the snow and there was a noticeable decline in the numbers of winter thrushes feeding around the base of the trees. The only birds of note in the churchyard orchard were a single Brambling, Green Woodpecker and Goldcrest.

Checking a few other locations potential Waxwing sites in the village yielded nothing, so we returned to work via Bradbourne House which still had a picturesque covering of snow. The Barnacle Goose was feeding on the lawn with the gaggle of Canada Geese. The Tawny Owl slept soundly in it's usual tree and a raft of new ducks were discovered on the lake; 2x Gadwall (drakes), 5x Tufted Duck (3 drakes) and a female Pochard - the latter two being new site ticks for me. A couple of Little Grebe drifted around the fringes and a Grey Heron perched high in one of the surronding willows. Just as we entered the car park near the main labs a couple of Lapwings rowed past heading east.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Wednesday 4th February

I stopped off at Garner Drive this morning before work hoping to get some pics of the Waxwings feeding on Virburnum berries. Nothing to be seen when I arrived, but a quick scan revealed a single Waxwing sitting in one of the oaks to the south. Nothing in the churchyard orchard.

A quick scan of the orchard north of Kiln Barn Road entrance didn't turn up any Waxwings but was again heaving with birds. The Bramblings seemed more confiding of late and at long last I managed some decent(?) photos. Sorry for Brambling overload but makes a change from the close-up Waxwings photos of yesterday!

Checking the churchyard orchard at lunchtime I was pleased to see a single Waxwing feeding on apples, although I was told up to 15 had been seen earlier. Tim from West London was there again (he's becoming a bit of a local!) but was frustrated as the farm staff had worked through the orchard thinning the trees - a job that needs doing, but when Waxwings are present!!!!! Anyway I hope you got some nice pics Tim - hope it wasn't a wasted day.

Two of the many birds present this morning

A typical scene of the orchard floor from the footpath by the Kiln Barn Road entrance

I'd forgotten all about the 'sweaty armpit' (uncultured I know!) that Bramblings have. The light-yellow colouration on the underwing can just be made out in the shot above.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Tuesday 3rd February

A fantastic crispness to the air this morning with the heavy snow glinting in the morning sun. The sign at the top of North Street, Barming seemed very appropriate given the conditions!

Again the walk along the footpath from North Street, Barming to Kiln Barn Road, Ditton was pretty birdless but the snow covered landscape made up for it.

As I entered the East Malling Research station via the Kiln Barn Road entrance I saw the usual flock of winter Thrushes and lots of Brambling.

At lunchtime I wandered out to the orchard nearest the main lab buildings (viewable from the east-west footpath across the research station). Numerous Fieldfares, Redwings, Blackbirds, Starlings, Chaffinches and Brambling were feeding on the rapidly diminishing apples (sorry couldn't resist another Redwing photo!).

Before I could get down to the churchyard orchard, Ross rang to say that nets set up by John for ringing had yielded 5x Waxwing - did I want to see the birds before they were released. Need he ask?! And as if by magic Mike Easterbrook suddenly appeared, wandering through the orchard, no doubt looking to add Jack Snipe to his February list, but uncannily being in the right place at the right time again! The Waxwings were fantastic close-up, John even pointed out the subtle differences in the black colouration on the bib and around the eye-mask, something I would never be able to discern in the field. The birds were treated with the utmost care while the ring was applied and afer records were taken the birds were released back into the orchard.

How Ross will tell you it's done - forget Heligoland traps, this is the Newham Coax. He dabs on his eau de Waxwing, adopts his most romantic facial expression(seriously that's as attractive as it gets), holds out his hands, gives the lightest of trills, and......

....... a bird lands in his hand! It's worked for every bird he's ever know!

But what is it? He has to resort to checking his field guide....aha, Waxwing.....I think! John Clements (aka The Bearded One) looks on - he's the one who put all the hard work in.

...and this one we called Warren (sorry mate I'm sure you'll get me back sometime this year!!!)

A full and more accurate report can be found on Bald Birder blog:
The birds, when released, sat out on a tree for a short while but were seen to feed later in the orchard.
A brilliant day, enjoying some of the best birds winter can offer - thanks Ross and John for bringing it all that a little bit closer!

Monday, 2 February 2009

Monday 2nd February

It did snow overnight and quite heavily, but luckily it had stopped by the time I set off on foot from Barming to work in East Malling. Suprisingly the walk in was pretty birdless, although I though I might have had 7 Waxwing flying west from the direction of Maidstone Hospital towards Ditton; starling-size, sharp-winged but looked a bit plumper and a slightly more undulating flight. The light was very poor and they were distant so I'll never know! I wondered if anyone checked the hospital grounds for birds? I'm sure they have Rowans in the car park. Just a thought as 6+ Waxwings were seen on Hermitage Lane last week, only about a quarter mile from the hospital.

Further on I got a new patch tick in the form of sheep (anyone any idea of the breed?) - never seen them before on my walk in! When I eventually arrived at work I came across a feeding frenzy in one of the orchards, the source of all the excitement was the fallen apples, by now partly submerged in snow. This is the orchard just north of the public footpath across the research station that begins at the Kiln Barn Road entrance. I don't think I've ever seen so may birds around the apple trees and sections of the orchard floor were carpeted with a whole mix of species. By this time my hands were pretty cold and with little time to scan using my bins I took took a shot with the camera (see below).

Predominantly Redwings, but a few Fieldfare, Brambling and Chaffinch. Further along the row I'd noticed Wood Pigeons, Starling, Goldfinch and Green Woodpecker.

The snow really started to come down about 09:30 and by the time I left the glasshouses at 12:30 it was coming down thick and heavy. I walked to the churchyard orchard wondering what might be feeding there. I'd had 30+ Waxwing last Friday in an area with no public access and wondered if any would be feeding in the churchyard orchard today.
Again there was quite a collection of birds below the trees, gorging themselves on the fallen fruit. I tried the same strategy I'd employed this morning and took a shot across the orchard floor (see below).
Not so clear as my earlier photos - but wasn't that a Waxwing feeding on a fallen green apple middle left? Zoom in - not that clear, but definitely a Waxwing.

A scan across the orchard picked out another one feeding in an apple tree.
Then a ringing trill alerted me to some more in the surronding trees! I totalled 12 without really looking too hard and later saw 32+ had been reported on BirdGuides. The numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare were phenomenal, Ross putting an estimate of +400 on the later species in this orchard alone. I know a few people will want to visit the site to see these birds but please be aware of the following:

PLEASE, PLEASE can I ask anyone visiting this site to KEEP to the footpaths only.

The road that lies north of the churchyard orchard is PRIVATE, under no circumstances drive or park along this road.
The birds if present are easily viewable from either of 2 footpaths or churchyard; the first path leads through the churchyard and the second leads off this, north along the research station road, towards Ditton. The sun is behind you when viewing from the churchyard footpath so affords the best views. It should really go without saying but if viewing from the churchyard then please treat the area with with upmost respect.
Also be aware that the footpaths are narrow and are used regularly so be considerate to other users and DO NOT BLOCK.

The orchards are also used as ringing sites so please be aware that mist nets may be present and that disturbance may occur when birds are retrieved from the nets. Please do not inferior with any nets, they are checked continously.
Sorry to lay down the law but there have been some complaints. Anyway here's some photos from today to be getting on with!

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Sunday 1st February

After yesterday's jaunt, and the threat of snow, I stayed at home in Barming today. Garden watching was in order and within a short time I'd almost doubled the count of species I got on last Sunday' RSPB Garden Bird Count! It was pleasing to see a pair of Song Thrushes back in the garden, although the Blackbirds were being more terriotorial then ever. I managed a couple of shots of birds on the fat ball feeder, which seems to be the most popular treat in the garden at the moment. Visted by Starling, Great Tit, Blue Tit, and a gang of Long-tailed Tits and then a Squirrel! Alas no Hawfinch today.

Saturday 31st January

I escaped down to Dunge with James first thing this morning while my wife had a few friends (and their kids) round. Crossing Walland Marsh a couple of Marsh Harriers were easily picked out and a Barn Owl was hunting close to the road in the morning sunshine. Tree Sparrows, Corn Buntings and Yellowhammer were all seen around the barn just west of Midley Cottages - but no Berwick Swans. Onto the 'patch', lots of auks flying west, a couple of Red-throated Diver and a lovely adult Little Gull but no Iceland or Glaucous amongst the huddled flocks on the beach. Going to the fishing boats the adult Glaucous Gull was pointed out to us, nestled into the shingle ridge south of the turning circle. A frustrating 20 minutes followed where we tried to pick out Razorbills amongst the mass of auks just offshore - 3 or so were picked out by others but the cold get the better of us and we left for the ARC pit.

A couple of redhead Smew were at the eastern end of the ARC pit mixed in with the Shoveler. From the hide a male Goldeneye, 3x Goosander (inc 1 drake) and a 3rd redhead Smew were seen. A couple of raptors in the form of Marsh Harrier and Sparrowhawk put in appearances. As we left the hide we were told the Iceland Gull had reappeared on the beach by the fishing boats, so we made the trip back to the beach - and guess what, it had flown! Retracing our steps (and again looking for Razorbills without success) we visited the RSPB Reserve. Highlights were a Slavonian and Black-necked Grebe and a small flotilla of Ruddy Duck that had obviously survived stage 1 of the cull! We were told that a couple of very confiding Firecrests had shown well mid-morning on the Willow Trail next to the ARC hide. So back we went, but no luck in 40 minutes of searching.

With Dunge done we set back to East Malling via Walland Marsh again, but picking out 40-50 Berwick Swans opposite the Woolpack Inn en route. A quick scan of the church orchard in East Malling failed to produce any Waxwings or Bramblings, but 3x Green Woodpeckers showed, as did a single Goldcrest. Taking in Bradbourne House and Lake the Barnacle Goose was rediscovered amongst the Canada Geese, three more Green Woodpeckers darted across the lawns, the Tawny Owl was found roosting in it's favourite tree, a Little Grebe bobbed around the island and a new site tick for me in the form of a drake Gadwall. Last port of call was New Hythe for Steve's Bitterns. A GS Woodpecker swept across us as we turned off the A228 towards the sewage farm. Quite a crowd greeted us at the 'Bittern watchpoint', including Eddie, looking rather cold! A Water Rail crept in front of the reeds and at 17:15, just after most people had left, a single Bittern pushed it's way to the front of the reeds...turned it's back to us and sat there partly obscured. Not a fantastic view but a lovely bird to end a rather windy, cold day's birding in Kent.