Thursday, 29 January 2009

Waxwing gallery

I've only just got round to downloading some photos I took of the Waxwings in the churchyard orchard, East Malling. As there's so many I've dedicated this posting to displaying some of them. This was on the last day I saw them, when there were 22 birds together, flycatching in one of the brief sunny spells of that week.

They most often used the tall trees as perches but occasionally dropped down onto the windbreaks and telegraph wires, looking for all the world like a Mediterranean species rather than Scandinavian.

Unfortunately this was the day that the Sparrowhawk finally got her prey, taking one of the birds out. A smattering of feathers were retrieved from the orchard Thanks to John , The Bearded One of Bald Birder fame).

Thursday 29th January

A lovely, blue-sky day with a slight nip from an easterly breeze. My walk into work from Barming via Oaken Woods to East Malling turned up the usual kukpowder of Bullfinches, five in all and 200+ Fieldfare alternating their high-fruit diet with pickings from the pasture south-east of Kiln Barn Farm. A search of the churchyard orchard at lunchtime turned up more Bramblings and a mega-murmaration of Starlings. With reduced bird activity I glanced around the churchyard, concluding that on the whole, the people of East Malling had lived to ripe old ages, including Mary Baker who died in 1753 aged 103 (one of a number of centenarians buried here) - all that fruit I guess!

As a horticultirist some of the names were familar; Jesse Amos and Sir Ronald Hatton. Then under the east window I found the grave of Robert Garner, looking towards the orchards he'd dedicated much of his life developing and understanding. As author of the internatinally acclaimed 'Grafter's Handbook' he was recognised as the THE authority on grafting fruit trees. However birders will be more familiar with his name in relation to Garner Drive, the road named after him, and the location of the recent Waxwing influx.
Moving on from morbitity, and onto Bradbourne House I encountered a Jay hopping around near the Hatton Fruit Gardens (developed by the aforementioned Sir Ronald), the Mute Swan could be seen gliding around the lake and a large mixed flock of Greylag and Canada Geese. A GS Woodpecker drummed out it's territory in one of the oaks overlooking Garner Drive. I'll try and be a bit more upbeat tomorrow!

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Wednesday 28th January

Drizzle dampened the day, as did the no show of the Waxwing flock. I knew the day would come when they left, I guess they've probably moved north (sorry Warren) with reports of increased numbers at Lower Halstow and a new report from the more predictable site of the Lakeside Shopping Centre, Thurrock. Still there was still a lot of bird activity around the churchyard in East Malling. An inquisitive Robin was joined by other red (well OK orange)-breasted visitors in the shape of 20+ Bramblings (predominantly males).

The usual Fieldfares held court, supported by smaller numbers of Redwing. There were also increased numbers of Blackbirds around the orchards, clucky continental-types no doubt, certainly not as confiding as the male Blackbird that pulls worms within a few feet of passers-by near the East Malling Conference Centre.
The plots to the west of the East Malling-Ditton public footpath have turned into a quagmire, only last year they held mature Cherry trees and rows of apple cordons, but now they were just good for a flock of 80+ Greylag Geese, camouflaged against the mud, with a single Canada Goose breaking up the uniformity of the gaggle. The graceful Mute Swan drifted elegantly along the stream near Bradbourne House and Moorhen and Canada Geese picked away at the rain-soaked lawn. The oaks south of Garner Drive that only a few days ago trilled with the call of 20+ Waxwings held only Starlings and Woodpigeons. The shrubbery bordering the Garner Drive perimeter fence was interspersed with flocks of Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Goldfinches and 25+ Siskin.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Monday 26th January

No sign of the Waxwings in Garner Drive or the church orchard this morning, although a couple of Brambling were seen briefly. Later I received a call from a friend to say that he'd just seen 6+ Waxwings feeding in the hedgerow bordering Hermitage Lane, Barming, just north of Barming Railway Station. I popped out but could not relocate them.

I checked the church orchard again at lunchtime but apart from a couple of Goldcrests all was quiet. Moving onto Bradbourne House and the area south of Garner Drive, East Malling I was lucky to find 4x Lesser Redpoll (a new site tick for me) feeding in the alders the Siskins had frequented a week ago. They moved quickly through and were soon lost to sight. A couple of Jays glided down from the oaks, but a rather unexpected sight was a Mute Swan on the stream flowing from Bradbourne House (area with no access).

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Sunday 25th January

With my wife working a 12-hour shift today, looking after the kids and heavy rain and windy conditions I was resigned to staying at home and limiting my birding to glances out the window. At 11:00 with kids playing I thought I'd try and do an hour for the RSPB garden watch. Forty minutes in and I'd was starting to wish I'd done it yesterday when the weather was finer. To say I was struggling was an understatement - 1x Collared Dove, 2x Blackbird, 2x Dunnock, 25x Starling (only after I'd thrown toast ends out attract them!) and a Blue Tit. My garden is never this barren, how unrepresentative this was going to be! However I think it was Rob Hume who said the best birds have a habit of turning up at last, usually as you walk back to the car after a full day's birding. Well today I'd have to agree - at 11:55, and just about to call it a day, a single Hawfinch bounded into view. It fed on the seed keys on the Field Maple at the back of my garden (backing onto Barming Parish Playing Fields) - a few Chaffinches and Greenfinches were around but this bird was doing it's own thing. It was quite restless and dropped from branch to branch around the tree for 10 minutes or so. I managed another terrible record shot of this elusive bird before it was lost in flight amongst a huge flock of Starlings and winter thrushes that were flushed from the parish field. Talk about elusive - it's been over 3 weeks since I saw it last! Anyway I'm thinking of the residents of 60/61 Garner Drive, East Malling who will no doubt have Waxwing on their list by now!

The rain seemed to ease slightly this afternoon, so I checked out the river at the bottom of the road again - the flood had suprisingly subsided, probably due to yesterday's dry weather, but I'm sure it'll be in flood again tomorrow. Check the pic above against yesterday's! Still too muddy to walk along so took the kids with me an did a drive-by of the East Malling orchard to see if I couldn't see nay Waxwings - no luck but 21x Brambling including some fantastic males. Checking Garner Drive after I managed a flock of Starlings and Barry Wright going semi-rural (eclipsing the Hawfinch for best sighting of the day?!), but no Waxwings - wonder where they've gone?

LATE NEWS: Just seen that 13x Waxwings reported early afternoon in orchard beyond East Malling church before flying east - no doubt to another orchard on the Research site.

Saturday 24th January

And now for something completely different. A lovely crisp morning - quite a respite from the rain and dull weather over the last few days. I'd promised to take my two lads to see the 'Golden Arrow' train that was due through the Paddock Wood line around 10am. Call me cheapsake but a mainline steam train bombing through your local railway station makes for excellent free enteratinment if you've got kids - a list of trains, routes and times can be found at - next one through Kent is 14th March. 'Trainspotting' in the morning but pay to any attempts to get back out to see the Waxwings although I heard they were still showing on and off in East Malling today.

Back home I to the river to see what was around down there but was confronted by a flood at Barming Bridge - the river had well and truly broken the banks - no chance of the riverside walk today, although a pair of Mallards seemed to be enjoying it, I just hope the Kingfishers are bearing up as well. So back home and a look over my back garden fence across the Parish Playing Fields in Barming revealed high numbers of Fieldfare feeding - 150+ with a smattering of Redwing, Goldfinches and Starlings to boot. It was comical to watch the thrushes as they deployed their 'run, hesitate, run, hestitate' behaviour, almost synchronised at times like some crazy avian game of 'musical statues'! A flock of 25+ Greenfinches were picking through the leaf litter alongside the Field Maples, I checked carefully just on the off-chance a Hawfinch might be amongst them but no luck. I had hoped to get out at last light for a quick sortie for Waxwings and Bittern at New Hythe but didn't get the chance - if I had it seems I might have met the rest of the local blogging fraternity (Ross(Bald Birder), Steve (New Hythe Blog), Ken (Halling Blog) and Phil Sharp and Terry Laws to boot!) as well as possibly bagging 20+ Waxwings and 3+ Bittern!!!!

Fieldfares loitering around the centre circle

Friday, 23 January 2009

Friday 23rd January

Just to give Warren a break so he'll start reading my blog again I've included a non-Waxwing photo today - some Snowdrops in the churchyard at East Malling. It didn't feel like Spring, extremley wet and windy conditions but the Waxwings still showed well on and off. Twenty-three were seen between 12:35-13:10 in the tall trees at the east end of the churchyard. They fed on Mistletoe berries and apples in the genebank, affording good views even in the very poor light conditions. They were eventually spooked by a Sparrowhawk, and took flight north presumably towards Garner Drive, East Malling.

Feeding on apples in very windy conditions

Eventually feeding on the ground

All 23 Waxwings - in terrible light (sun just breaking through on the Downs in the distance)

Their favourite apples!

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Thursday 22nd January

18+ Waxwings in the oak tree south of Garner Drive, East Malling at 08:50 this morning with a few dropping down to feed on berries next to the footpath. This is a residential area so please respect residents privacy. At 08:55 they suddenly took flight, for no apparentreason, and flew south. I found them a couple of minutes later in theorchard at the back of East Malling church but they almost immediatelytook flight north again (presumably back to Garner Drive!). So they're still around but very flighty between these two locations! Managed a snap from the car window of 13 of the birds in one of the trees in the orchard as I drove into work.

Another look for Waxwings at 12:30 turned up 5 in the large trees at the eastern perimeter of the churchyard. They appeared to have discovered the large bunches of mistletoe and fed contently for 40 minutes or so.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Wednesday 21st January

Only a brief look on site today, no sign of Waxwings in the orchard at the back of East Malling church at 08:30, although at least 1x Brambling and 1x Yellowhammer were seen. However a quick cycle across site revealed 19+ Waxwings sitting and feeding in an area just south of Garner Drive, East Malling. A Grey Heron and Little Egret were both present in the stream that flows from Bradbourne House. 63x Lapwings were present in Rookery Field, viewable to the west of the public footpath that leads along the site road from East Malling church to Ditton Church.

I lost my bins case and returning to the orchardat 10:20 I was met by a group of birders, some of whom had seen some of the Waxwings, some who had not! However within a few minutes at least 5x Waxwings put in an appearance, landing in the trees at the east of the churchyard. 3x Brambling were also reported, and I had 2x Brambling on the roadside with a flock of Chaffinches as I drove back to the main research station labs. Thanks to those birders who retrieved my bins case - much appreciated! Also lots of Green Woodpeckers around, I had 8 today without really looking for them! Sorry but another shot of a Waxwing, this time looking through the shrubbery towards Garner Drive (from a area with no public access unfortunately). Got to make the most of them while they're here!

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Tuesday 20th January

Cycled into work, making a detour to the churchyard, East Malling to see if any Waxwings were still around. The light was terrible and it started to rain but in 5 minutes I located at least 15 Waxwings feeding on the apples.

No sign of the Waxwings while I was at the orchard at lunchtime (12:40-13:20), although all 26 had been seen earlier. A couple of Brambling were present. I was later contacted by both Tony Roulinson and then Ross to say the flock was feeding on the Viburnum berries in Garner Drive, East Malling early afternoon (13:30-14:30).

Monday, 19 January 2009

Monday 19th January

I was off work today having to look after my youngest while my wife went on a training course....well only off work until Ross rang to say he'd found 26x Waxwings in the orchard at the back of East Malling Church! I'd kind of written off seeing anymore Waxwings at the Research Station as they were a no show at the end of last week. As I bundled Harry into the car Ross rang again to say they'd flown north but that he'd relocated the flock feeding on some berries adjacent to path running alongside Garner Drive, East Malling. I went straight there and after 15 minutes managed to find one Waxwing distantly in an Oak tree near Bradbourne House. 20+ Siskin were feeding in the alders alongside the fence.
Bullfinch, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Goldcrest, Great, Long-tailed and Blue Tits, Jay, Magpie and Starlings all put in appearances. I took a quick look at the churchyard on the way to pick up my eldest and disturbed 13x Waxwings which flew north landing in some apple cordons on the research station site. After picking up James from school I went back to East Malling and saw 20+ Waxwings in the orchard at the back of the church. When a tanker lorry went past they flew up into one of the trees on the churchyard perimeter, giving excellent views. All credit to Ross for rediscovering the flock.

20 of the Waxwings in one tree at 16:00

Camera shake starting to set in as it sinks in I've got 26x Waxwings on my local patch!

More of the same-hopefully better shots if they're around tomorrow

One last shot - we'll be checking for coloured rings tomorrow.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Friday 16th January

I spent my lunchtime searching out the Waxwings in the East Malling orchard but no sign of them. At least 4x Brambling still and a the female Sparrowhawk made her customary pass through the fruit trees.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Thursday 15th January

A drive into work via Bradbourne House, East Malling turned up a statuesque Grey Heron in the stream and 60+ Greylag Geese in one of the plots west of the footpath to Ditton. No Waxwings we seen in a brief scan of the gene bank orchard. I had to travel up to Stamford so no further reports from the local area. Only bird on the motorway drive was a Buzzard near Stanstead.

Wednesday 14th January

A dense bank of fog blanketed my walk in to work this morning. Usually I find mornings like this can be suprisingly productive, whether because the birds stay low to the ground or that they stand out more against the soupy, grey backdrop. However that wasn't the case today - with only a kukpowder of Bullfinches (2 males and 3 females) flickering in and out of view on the footpath near the Pea Field (TQ724556) and the territorial drumming of a pair of GS Woodpeckers echoing across the still woods, rat-tat-tatting like some distant battle.

Venturing to the orchard behind the church at lunchtime I hoped to get another look at the Waxwings. Three birders were there along with a couple of old lags from research station past. Gordon and Ray now spend their time wandering around the Kent countryside, inevitably taking in a pub, ordering a meal and then photographing it. This is recorded with all diligence, accompanied by a selection of interesting photographs of things they happen upon on their wanderings, on the similar sounding blog to mine: and added as a link under 'Twisden's Rambles', well worth checking out. Anyway after hassling the assembled birders they shuffled off leaving us to search for the Waxwings.

None showed in the 40 minutes or so that I was there with mist lifting and then sinking, although a smattering of Bramblings were still present, including a couple of fine males, along with a volery of Long-tailed Tits and a single female Sparrowhawk that dashed past just as we talked about her. A report later on BirdGuides indicated that a single Waxwing was seen late afternoon. It is interesting to note on my record shot below the more defined fork on the tail of the Brambling (left) compared to female Chaffinch (right).

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Tuesday 13th January

Only 30 minutes or so to check for Waxwings on the East Malling Research site this lunchtime. I bumped into Phil Sharp and 2-3 others. Phil seems to have been turning interesting things at New Hythe of late so it was good to meet him. He picked out a female Sparrowhawk just as we arrived, but no Waxwings. A scan of the apple cordons north of the entrance track by the church showed up numerous winter thrushes. Just as we had given up the ghost and I made my way back to work, stopping briefly to watch the Sparrowhawk glide and flap over again, I spotted a solitary bird atop of one of the trees next to the public footpath...a Waxwing that quickly took flight and landed in another tree closer to orchard at the back of the church. We all got good views before it flew off strongly north. A single Brambling was also in the same tree. Interestingly 6x Waxwings had been reported late afternoon yesterday and 5x were reported around 10:30am this morning.

Later I had 30+ Lapwings in the field opposite Barnjet Priory, north of the A26 Tonbridge Road between Teston and East Barming.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Monday 12th January

Slid into work at East Malling on the bike again today - this time on the mud through Barming Woods. A quick glance across to Gallagher's cattle fields just north of Kiln Barn Farm revealed 29x Black-headed Gulls and 41x Lapwings. Drizzle had set in by lunchtime so I took just a brief look for the Waxwings behind East Malling Church. Ross was already there and pointed a single Waxwing in a top the highest tree in the churchyard. It was too dull to get a photo and it quickly took flight, flying strongly north. However as it passed over the apple cordons north of the entrance track a group of 12 or so birds joined it - they all looked the same-more Waxwings???!!!! It maybe that there is a larger flock on site, and I'm looking in the wrong location - too wet today but I'll check the cordons tomorrow. Also some Brambling in the orchard behind the church.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Sunday 11th January

Another frosty morning, but not has harsh as yesterday. I started off patch at New Hythe, greeted by a fantastic sunrise over the frozen lakes, but not by the fabled lurking Jack Snipe of Lunsford Lane. Undeterred I checked Alders Lake and got good views of the female Goosander that was crammed into one of the few remaning patches of free water. Joined by James Bushnell I headed off to try and locate the West Scrub Firecrest, following the 'snipe' ditch for it's full-length. This was productive, both a Little Egret and showy Water Rail put in appearances. A single Siskin was the only sighting from the bridge by the Divers' car park. A pair of Bullfinches lisped through the hawthorns, but the Firecrest failed to show, so we walked back alongside the Tesco Lake, checking out for Redpolls. A male Stonechat showed very well and after much deliberation we failed to turn a female Tufted Duck with much white above the bill into a Scaup or Scaup-hybrid! By the time we returned to Lunsford Lane a few others were searching out the Jack Snipe which apparently been flushed while we had been discussing Aythya anatomy! A Kingfisher flew along the ditch, most probably relieved that the thaw underway. Steve Nunn picked out a couple of Lesser Redpoll just as we made our way back to the car.

Back in Barming I capitalised on the increasingly mild weather and took the kids for a walk along the River Medway between Barming and Teston Bridges. A Kingfisher was quickly located by Barming Bridge and watched for a while, reassurred by it's successful fishing forays - a lucky bird to be living to one of the few non-iced over waterways in the locality. Great Tits and Goldfinches were all in song. A Yellowhammer stood guard over a Hawthorn along the tow path and numerous Robins and Song Thrushes prodded away as the iced-ground gave way to mud. Four Lapwings were disturbed just west of Barnjet Priory, but after a couple of flappy circuits they settled back down in the sheep field alongside the Tonbridge Road. Upto 20x Black-headed Gulls loafed in the Oak tree alongside Teston Bridge, occasionally taking buoyant sorties up and down the river. Both a Cormorant and a Grey Heron were noted making high passes but failed to land. On the return leg 7x Meadow Pipits went up, followed by a grass-skimming female Sparrowhawk. They all landed on the ballast alongside the railway track, only to be flushed again by the fast-gliding shadow of a Kestrel!
As soon as I got home Ross (The Bald Birder) phoned to tell me he'd picked out 4x Waxwings in the gene bank orchard on the Research Station behind (east of) East Malling church. As quick as I could I put coats and wellies back on the kids and we made the trip to work! As we walked through the churchyard a huge flock of winter thrushes went up in the air - hedge trimming on the Italian Alder windbreaks was underway - great! I picked out a male Brambling, and then as luck would have it, a Waxwing. It was feeding on unpicked apples, quite close to the public footpath, and by some amazing feat, considering I was trying to control two under-6s, set-up the scope and not block the unbelievably busy footpath, I managed some record shots. The bird flew out of the orchard and south after just a couple of minutes. Another bider arrived but the Waxwing (s) couldn't be relocated. Ross et al then came into view on the return leg of their walk. I thanked him for his phone call and he asked if I'd managed to photograph any of the birds - I smugly gave him a slideshow! I didn't realise it but Warren of Pittswood blog fame ( had prompted Ross into an unofficial competition with a comment he'd made on Ross' blog yesterday ( - who could get the first picture of the patch Waxwings?! Ross had put the groundwork in and now was I about awarded the Laurels? He obviously liked the photos as he commented that I'd just photographed images out of a book, but fortunately I'd taken care to add my characteristic photographic style to each image - bird slightly out of focus and obscured by branches - the evidence was indisputable! I'm sure he'll repay my gratitude by supressing the news of the Dusky Thrush he'll discover amongst the 10,000s of Fieldfares on site! All a bit of healthy competition.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Saturday 10th January

A very hard frost last night, but leaving a beautiful wintery scene when the morning fog eventually cleared. I looking after my kids again today so confined to Barming, though I was itching to get out for the Waxwing in East Malling (wanting to go to work at the's got to be bad!). A garden watch was suprisingly unproductive considering the feeders were full to the brim. A couple of Jays made repeat visits to the saucers of water I'd put out, a charm of 16 Goldfinches flitted around in the field maples that only a couple of weeks ago had held the Hawfinch (no sign since the 30th Dec). A walk across the field adjacent to St Margaret's, East Barming turned up a single Lapwing flying north and GS Woodpecker flying between the trees in the Parish playing fields.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Friday 9th January

Bird of the day - Waxwing - and guess what, I didn't see it let alone photograph it! Ross was the lucky observer, and it wouldn't have been so gauling if I hadn't spent the half-an-hour beforehand with him discussing the possibilities of finding a Waxwing on the East Malling Research Station site! Oh well, at least he was good enough to let me know, and even pick me up to take a look, alas to no avail, but well done Ross. The bird was in a tree adjacent to the orchard directly behind East Malling Church (which is viewable from a couple of public footpaths). I'm sure more details will appear on his blog later ( Instead I was content to watch Bramblings which seem to be increasing by the day on the Research Station site. Six were seen in the same location that Ross saw them yesterday (unfortunately in a private area), but another 12 were seen by me in the same location as the Waxwing. The light was quite harsh and the birds, predominantly females, were often too distant or flighty to photograph satisfactorily. When they did come close they favoured the most dense trees, causing no end of branches and twigs getting in the way (see photo above)....more excuses I know! While watching the Bramblings both Green and GS Woodpeckers put in appearance, as did a couple of Sparrowhawks (which seemed to be quite active today), Jay, Yellowhammers, Great and Blue Tits, Chaffinches, Skylark, Pied Wagtail (on the roof of the main lab building) and of course the hundreds of Fieldfares and Redwings that are enjoying the fallen fruit feast in the surronding orchards. A small desert of Lapwings was seen in one of the plots later in the afternoon. Waxwing watching hopefully next week?!

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Thursday 8th January

After dropping off my youngest at nursery in East Malling I acted on a tip off from Ross and drove through the East Malling Research Station via Bradbourne House in search of a Barnacle Goose and Lapwings. The Barnacle Goose was easily found, lying on the lawn in front of Bradbourne amongst a mixed flock of 200+ Greylag and Canada Geese. A Grey Heron stood statue-like in the stream alongside the entrance track and eventually I saw the desert of Lapwings- 32 in total sitting in the inappropriately named Rookery Field. They can be easily seen on the east side of the public footpath that traverses the Research Station between East Malling and Ditton churches.

I took part in the monthly EMR running club race at lunchtime, which yielded a couple of Goldcrest en route, but precluded me from checking out the Bramblings. In my abscence Ross, The Bald Birder (, managed to find eight, and photograph them, within a stones throw of my office! I'll be loitering outside his office tomorrow (although I'll never beat the Hoopoe he got from his office window in 2005)!

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Wednesday 7th January

I slid into work on my bike today - still snow in Barming Woods and killer ice everywhere else. Only 10 minutes at lunchtime to check out the Brambling situation at the Kiln Barn Lane entrance to East Malling Research. Yep still there, but 3 this time, including a fine male. There are hundreds of Redwings feeding on the fallen apples in the first 10 rows of the orchard on the right of the entrance track as you enter the research station site by Kiln Barn Lane, probably the most I've ever seen. Intermingled amongst them are Fieldfares, Green Woodpeckers, Starlings, Wood Pigeons, Chaffinches, Goldfinches and now a smattering of Brambling. The entrance track is a public footpath so anyone wanting to check them out can quite easily view them from here. When disturbed the Brambling are settling in the trees in front of the old Ditton Laboratory and good views can be had. Sorry but poor photos again!