Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Monday 21st December

Looking towards the derelict Ditton Laboratory building on Kiln Barn Road from the public footpath.

The snow lingered, and was refreshed by a light powdering overnight. I still couldn't get my car off the drive so missed out on the Research Station Solstice run. An eccentric tradition relived each June and December by some mebers of the Research - the rules: one circuit of Bradbourne Lake as the sun rises on the solstice......but only one item of clothing allowed....trainers count as one item! Its pushed some people's imagination to the limit, it's certainly effective in waking you up before work! I could set up a 'separate' blog with photos of this event if there's enough interest.

I walked into East Malling from Barming, in places the snow covering was completely unblemished. Checking the Silver Birch at the top of South Street at I counted 8x Redpolls in two groups (6, 2). The group of six flew down into one of the gardens on the east side of the street, but looking into the rising sun, and conscious that I was pointing my bins towards bedroom windows (!) I had to presume they were Lessers. Five Bullfinches were seen along Gallagher's Gallop (just north of the Water Tower off North Street), along with a couple of Jays. The Silver Birch wood at the bottom of the hill looked quite startingly, almost like a black-and-white photo. A pair of GS Woodpeckers jumped around a tree on the corner of Kiln Barn Road/Winterfields (very appropraitely named today).The cloud started to break as I reached the research station site revealing briefly the adonis blue sky.

Winter thrushes on trees, canes and on the wing (click to enlarge). Snow on North Downs beyond.

The orchards near Kiln Barn Road that have been full of Fieldfare were deserted, the fallen apples totally covered in snow. I knew where the birds would be, in the orchards that hadn't been picked; the genebank at the back of the church in East Malling (where the Waxwings were seen) and the orchard viewable from the public footpath just west of the main laboratory complex. I ventured out at lunchtime to check out my theory and was amazed at the shear number of winter thrushes that were in the process of what could be called a feeding frenzy.

Redwings which have been relatively scarce on site up until now outnumbered the Fieldfares by about 2 to 1. Lots of Blackbirds and Chaffinches picked around on the ground, while the Fieldfares and Redwings stabbed away at the apples left on the trees and Starlings, Woodpigeons, a couple of Green Woodpeckers and a lone Song Thrush joined in. A Sparrowhawk swept threw and was suprisingly unsuccessful despite the density of the flocks. The genebank was the same, although there seemed to be a greater proportion of Fieldfare here. It was hard to keep track, let alone count the birds. I scanned through as much as possible to see if I could locate a Brambling or even a Waxwing (for Greenie!), if there were any in this swarm then I didn't pick them out. An amazing sight, all viewable from the east-west public footpath on the Research Station, but probably will only last while the snow does.

A special train was passing through East Malling this evening - Tornado, the newly rebuilt steam locomotive on it's first run down this line. My lad's madder on trains than I am on birds, and as it was the shortest day I wasn't confident we'd get a very good view as it sped through East Malling, so we caught up with it at Maidstone West. I was impressed!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Sunday 20th December

Another inch or so of snow fell overnight, refreshing the stained snow of the last couple of days. The number of bird species in the garden looked to have increased when I looked out the window at breakfast; Starlings (very irridescent today), Woodpigeons, Jay and Song Thrush (always good to have in the garden) were all present, picking and feeding on anything they could find. I managed some snaps through the kitchen window of the braver birds that fed on my homemade cheese-lard-sultana-breadcrumb treats (brave to eat anything of mine that was homemade or brave to come so close to the house!).

I don't know what was going on with the Woodpigeons; they were having a feeding frenzy in the ivy at the back of the garden, probably on seed I guess (unless a misplaced shot by one of the neighbours had deposited half a loaf of bread in there).

I still couldn't get my car off the drive in South Street, Barming, so I walked my lad up the road for a lift to a birthday party he had been invited to. I glanced at the Silver Birch at the top of the road and immediately picked out a Redpoll, though I couldn't make out if it was Lesser or Common. I quickly dropped James off and rushed back for the camera. By the time I had returned to the tree there were 3 birds; 2 were Lesser, the 3rd I could quite make out. I tried to get some record shots but failed miserably.....grrrrr. The birds suddenly took flight with some Redwings and so I decided to check out the nearby churchyard and orchard. The churchyard held more Redwings and the orchard was full of Fieldfares and Blackbirds (21 individuals in one row). One Fieldfare had the misfortune to end up as a Sparrowhawk's breakfast; I got a quick glimpse of the raptor on the orchard flew before it flew off with Fieldfare in it's talons. I looked through some of the plucked feathers that littered the ground, black and grey, a sombre combination reminiscent of a guardsman's great coat (see pic below), but smart when they're still attached to the bird!
I managed a glimpse of Barming Bridge through the apple trees, there seemed to be a large flock of Canada Geese milling around the bridge - where there's people there's food I guess! Going back to collect James I checked out the South St Silver Birch again - 6x Redpolls now. I managed some pics but no sure that Common (Mealy) was in there with them; most views were of the undersides which glowed persil-white in the snow-reflected sunshine.

I know I harked on about this yesterday but the icicles today were fantastic - drip, dripping everywhere.

James snapped one of the church porch (just after I'd told him not to) - it was about half the size of him.
The fresh layer of snow looked beautiful, I took more pictures knowing that it would all probably be washed away tomorrow. The evening light on the snow made it look almost like a foaming sea, I've got pictures like the one below from my holidays in Cornwall!

We finished the day with more sledging until it got too dark, the last rays of sun catching the River Medway below our sledging slope.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Saturday 19th December

Looking after the kids again while my wife worked - the car was still stranded so over the back sledging again! Look at how a 6-year old reacts when you give him a sledge and a present him with a field full of snow (probably the same reaction Murray Wright experienced when he scoped The Swale on 16th September this year!).

Little in the way of birds, with the exception of 5x Dunnocks in the garden and a couple of squabbling Blackbirds. A pair of Grey Squirrels are systematically stripping the Field Maples in the playing fields of all their seed keys, so even if the Hawfinches turn up this winter there isn't going to be much for them to feed on. Oh, and the first icicles I've seen in years!

Friday, 18 December 2009

Friday 18th December

I didn't even attempt to get into work this morning after struggling to get home from East Malling at 23:00 last night. Barming was plastered with 4.5 - 6 inches of snow and Barming School was closed (one of 1,500 around the country). I started the day looking for the 'Mealy' Redpoll at the top of South Street, Barming again this morning, no sign, but all attention was soon turned to the nearby A26 which had come to a standstill - rush hour as you rarely see it!

Two skiers and three snowboarders past me as I walked down the main road towards Maidstone. As one might have expected lots of birds were seeking out any food they could find; 3x Dunnocks pecked at the snow-laden flower beds and feeders in the garden and House Sparrows followed my every move through the kitchen window as I tucked into my morning toast.

The day was spent sledging, snow ball fighting and snow man building. I visited the church and then orchards in Barming; masses of Fieldfares, Redwings, Chaffinches, small flocks of Goldfinches, 4x Skylark over South Street, vibrant Green Woodpeckers, Sparrowhawk and best of all a flock of +40 Lapwings over east.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Wednesday 16th December

Another fine frosty start, I noticed Redwings moving about as soon as I stepped out of my door in South St, Barming. Most were dipping in and out of a Holly Tree near the top of the road, I tried to get a few photos, but I needed to move on as I was already running 10 minutes late. As usual I scanned the surronding shrubs and trees to increase the daily species count, I can usually manage 9 or 10 by the time I reach the A26.

In a Silver Birch I picked out 2x Chaffinches and a Redwing, and then 2x Goldfinch flew in, a bonus species on this stretch and then another, slightly smaller bird...a Redpoll! This is the first time I'd seen one in this area of the patch despite regularly scanning the Italian Alder windbreaks that are prevalent in the surronding orchards. It was feeding quite contently on it's own, so I managed to get good views, my immediate impression was Mealy (Common). It looked bulky (although it was about -4.C so may have been fluffed up!), clean with no evidence of any buff wash across the breast or flanks. It had pale/grey cheeks and bold, broad well-defined streaks along the flanks. The wing bar was prominient and very pale. Face-on it looked pretty mean, bulging eyes with bull-neck and broad black bib and very dark lores. It was quite high in the tree but I spent about 10 minutes trying to get some photos, a selection of the better ones (!) below. I'm happy to call Common, but welcome comments/discussion ( Seems to be the winter of Redpolls for me this year-I do tend to latch onto species!
Running very late now I effectively ran the rest of the way into work, not adding much more to my morning total; although 6x Black-headed Gulls sitting in the Redstart pub car park was another first, and a Little Egret fly-over Kiln Barn Road was a real bonus. I was 10 minutes late for work!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Tuesday 15th December

A hard frost last night and an excellent day to walk into work...but my wife woreked nights last night so I had to drop the kids of at school/nursery in the car. The orchards were looking an absolute picture, neatly frosted, the morning sun just glinting off the apples. Needless to say the orchard floor was alive with Chaffinches and Fieldfares.

I met up with Phil Sharp ( at lunchtime, hoping to connect with some Redpolls over Ditton Quarry. When I arrived Phil was already there, fresh but slightly chilled by an a walk around New Hythe. We set off for the wooded area in the SW corner and quickly connected with a couple of Lesser Redpolls. More were found, with Goldfinches in the Alders, and eventually a putative Mealy Redpoll in an Alder with the sun directly behind it! There were a number of Lessers in the same tree, the views were a little challenging, but the clean rose-pink breast, lack of 'buff waistcoat' and grey/pale cheeks gave me the confidence to call Common. Phil was happy, but I wanted better views! The Quarry was bathed in lovely crisp light, but were in the shade looking into the sun. I knew good views could be had if only we could get the 'right side' of the birds, but this was going to time, but I had to leave to get back to work. Good to catch up with Phil though....the Quarry can be a lonely patch!

Monday, 14 December 2009

Monday 14th December

Lots of Song Thrushes around at the moment, with my first in the garden since the Spring this morning, and another three (one singing) on my walk into work. Eight Common Gulls were among 23 Herring Gulls and 90+ Fieldfares on the pasture near Kiln Barn Farm and a couple of Pied Wagtails flitted around the barn.

Over Ditton Quarry at lunchtime I eventually connected with the Redpoll flock. They were very mobile on the Alders and interspersed with Goldfinches. I managed to see 5+ Lesser Redpoll, I'm sure the Mealy was in there were with somewhere buttime and light conspired against me and I had to get back to work before finding it! Another five Song Thrushes over the Quarry, with Jay, Bullfinch and Green Woodpecker all adding a dash of colour.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Friday 11th December

A misty and icy start to the morning, only managing to notch up 19 species on the way into work. I was pleased to see a small party of Bullfinches by Gallagher's Quarry, one bird kept hovering, something I've never seen Bullfinches before, showing off her white rump! Reminded me of the Hummingbird Hawkmoths we'd had in the summer.

Another posed, and any regular readers of this blog will know that I've never managed to get a decent photo of one, despite seeing them most days. Well this one is the best to date, although the mist thwarted me getting the perfect shot!
No sign of the Little Owl or Common Gulls this morning, although Gallagher's Gallop was being put to good use!
A number of people got back to me yesterday about yesterday's putative Mealy Redpoll, and all agreed that it looked good for this species, so thanks to all those who contacted me. I went searching for it today, managing just 20 minutes over Ditton Quarry. It was exceptionally quiet in terms of birds, but very busy in terms of dog walkers! I scoured the Alders in the SW corner of the quarry, located a charm of Goldfinches and then the Mealy Redpoll again. I got brief, distant views and managed a couple of poor record shots again. I didn't see any other Redpolls, the Mealy seemed to be hanging out with the Goldfinches!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Thursday 10th December

Before work I managed a quick walk along the footpath from South Street across to Rectory Lane, Barming and up Glebe Lane and back to South Street. I was immediately taken by the numbers of Fieldfares - in the orchards alongside Rectory Lane I reckon there 500+, with Redwing, Goldfinches and Chaffinches (150+) amongst them (but again no Brambling!). There was also a large murmuration of Starlings, c250 individuals which to my great suprise contained TWO albinos! I've never seen a single albino Starling, let alone two!

Later I made my regular lunchtime visit to Ditton Quarry, as well as all the usual suspects I was pleased to relocate a small flock of Redpolls (x6). One individual immediately caught my eye, it looked paler than the other birds, and seemed to be lacking any of the 'buffish' colouration that the other birds were-could it be a Mealy? Coincidentally it was in the same Alder I had a Mealy last year, but I struggled to get to grips with this bird, and try as I might to get a view of it's rump it just wouldn't play ball. I managed some snaps before the flock got spooked by a Jay (of all things!) and flew off high south. I've posted loads of pics - any ideas?