Sunday, 31 January 2010

Sunday 31st January

A lovely crisp, frosty morning. I went for an early morning run from Barming Bridge to Teston and back. Only a couple of Canada Geese on the way out, but I managed to flush a Common Sandpiper from one of the streams by the railway line on the way back. I've seen this species on the river edge but never on one of the streams.

After lunch I took the lads out for a walk - we decided to explore the footpath to Upper Fant, Maidstone. The orchards in East Barming were pretty much devoide of winter Thrushes, but when we eventually reached Fant I realised why! At Fant Farm, just off Upper Fant Road a large orchard still held some fruit below their boughs - the place was alive with Redwings and Fieldfares. I estimate there must have been +1000 Fieldfares, with perhaps +300 Redwings. Walking back along Rectory Lane we stumbled upon a dead Common Shrew which wasn't there when we had passed earlier. It was a tiny little thing, immaculate, and the kids were fascinated. As we looked it over a lady walked by and we started to chat. It turned out that Linda, who lives in Barming, was a reader of my blog (so someone does!) - my youngest started to have a crying fit so we did talk as long as I would have liked to, but Linda nice to have met you and keep leaving those comments, promise I'll read them! Linda drop my an email at if you get a chance, interested to know more about the finches you were talking about!

Friday 29th January

Another training run at lunchtime, 4.6 miles from the research, out past Kiln Barn Farm, past the water tower in Barming and then through Oaken Woods, down Rocks Farm and back into East Malling and the research. Almost immediately after starting out I noticed a flock of c250 Fieldfares go up, and then I noticed a bird continually flying into the wire fencing alongside the main entrance track ahead of me. A couple of Crows were harassing it and initially I thought it was a Wood Pigeon with a broken wing. Eventually I caught up with it, a male Sparrowhawk with a Fieldfare in it's talons. It was trying to fly over the fence but the weight of the bird must have kept pulling it down. Eventually it lifted over the fence and landed on the steps of Ditton Lab to pluck and consume the unfortunate migrant. I continued on my run but cursed the bird for posing so well on the day I didn't have the camera with me! Past Kiln Barn Farm I was pleased to see the Little Owl sitting out by the cattle barn. 300+ Fieldfares covered one of the meadows. Through Oaken Woods I noticed a new area of coppice that will be worth checking out for Nightjar and Tree Pipit in the summer. A pair of Bullfinches briefly flew ahead of me. When I eventually got back to the research I grabbed the camera and went to see if the Sparrowhawk was still about. Unfortunately not, but the remains of his prey were evident, gruesome I know but feathers, beak and innards, that was all that was left!

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Wednesday 27th January

Bold Hard frost this morning, the puddles en route to work had developed rings! Seven Lesser Redpolls had returned to the Silver Birch in South Street, Barming - now into their 2nd month. Otherwise things were pretty quite, with just a Jay and Green Woodpecker by the Pea Field stadning out against the frosty scene.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Tuesday 26th January

A quick 20-minute scan of the Motorway and Alders Lakes at New Hythe at lunchtime today. No sign of Saturday's Smew or Redpolls, but a pair of Goldeneye on Little Alders Lake. The male displayed on a couple of occasions, I attempted some photos (no more comments Warren!) but with the usual results - maybe I ought to stick to mammals!

Monday 25th January

Spent lunchtime on a short training run around East Malling/Barming Woods. 12x Stock Dove seen on Gallagher's Gallop field, and then a couple of Voleries of Bullfinch (2, 3) and a small Gallup of Lesser Redpolls in an area I've not recorded these species before. So my fitness levels and the BTO Atlas both benefit from that little trip out!

Monday, 25 January 2010

Saturday 23rd January

Off patch today, and although I was hoping for a trip up to Sheppey the fog and poor light first thing put me off. I decided to head down to New Hythe GPs which I hadn't visited yet this year. The redhead Smew was still on Motorway Lake, and a small flock of Lesser Redpoll were feeding in Alders alongside footpath just off Lunsford Lane.

Spurred on by Barry Wright's ( obsession with the quarries and new sites, the rest of my day was spent checking out some sites on the other side of the River Medway - sand pit Quarry just N of Aylesford Village, Eccles Reservoir, Millhall Sewage works and the scrub/wasteland, creeks and damp woodland in between all these sites. I stopped off at Aylesford Church first, the OS map showed a nearby footpath gave views across the quarry. However I decided to explore the churchyard first to see what was about. None birdy I know but I was fascinated by a war, seen plenty of them before but this one had two regimental insignia on it. Further on I met two Foxes loafing around; one was very timid and the other extremely inquisitive. Views over the quarry weren't brilliant, but I could see a footpath on the northern perimeter, which, when I eventually got there gave excellent views:

Sand pit Quarry, Aylesford - held 115 Common Gull, 5 Herring Gull, 12 Cormorant, 72 Lapwing, 3 GC Grebe, 1 Little Grebe. One of the gulls had upright stance, small beady eye, seemed to have a 'kinder', slender-headed look than than HGs around it,, longish bill - thought Caspian but no experience of this species and I wasn't convinced the bill looked that much longer or slender than the HGs nearby. Looked for 'white tongue' on P10 but not satisfactory views. I posted some pictures earlier, but no removed them after the consensus came down as Herring Gull - I live to learn!

I moved onto the other sites I wanted to explore. They were surprisingly bird less but looked to have great potential:

Eccles Resorvoir - 60+ BH Gull, 35 Tufties, 2 Pochard, 5 GC Grebe, but small area of Phragmites reeds in SE corner and muddy margins all the way around. Views are a little bit difficult as the area is fenced off by the fishing club, but it's fairly open at the S end (walking from Burham Waterworks). There's masses of wet woodland and scrub all around this area - equivalent to West Scrub at New Hythe, larger but principally Buddleia (potential if we get an influx of continental butterflies this summer)

Millhall Sewage Works, Aylesford - I can remember looking across to here last summer and seeing a cloud of Sand Martins. Well I finally got here, parking in The Friars, Aylesford and walking along the footpath. Good roost of Pied Wagtails (50+) with Grey Wagtail and Meadow Pipit in the flock. A Green Sandpiper also put in an appearance (for all of 5 secs!). Masses of Gulls, predominantly BH Gulls with a few Herring Gulls. The bushes around the area were full of Tits and Finches, noticeably more than in the other areas I'd visited today so obviously drawn to the area.

I carried on along the path towards Burham waterworks and there's a huge area opposite Aylesford Newsprint that's been left derelict (SCA Island Site) - this to me looks like it could be alive with things later in the year. Mostly Buddleia again, but also a couple of Larch saplings, and even a few 'scrapes' with Phragmites, bordering a larger area of reed bed, similar to the sunken marsh. The terrain seems to consist of broken up rubble and at a similar, but smaller, site near Burham I had 5 LRPs nestling down this year! I think it's private area but by the state of it's dereliction I don't think anyone seems to be too worried! Further still I came across an inlet from the River Medway that held 72 Teal (all lacking a vertical white bar unfortunately!), but again lots of scrub.

Despite spending over 3 hours covering damp woodland/scrub I failed to find a Woodcock! Only a week ago Alan Woodcock ( found 6 just across the river - all in the name I think!

I finally made my way back to New Hythe, took up my position opposite the reed bed in the SE corner of Streamside Pit, and waited. At 16:40, I heard a wing beat, and a Bittern glided directly over my head (from the direction of the Tesco Lake), raised it's wings to slow itself down and legs dangling dropped gently into the front of the reed bed. It disappeared momentarily, before climbing up the reeds in full view. It puffed itself up, turned it's back to me and settled in for the night! Perfect end to a stimulating day.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Wednesday 20th January

Three Bullfinches in there somewhere!

A quiet day with nothing ordinary seen on the walk from Barming to East Malling. The flock of Stock Doves and Common Gulls had increased in number, 10 and 12 respectively. A glance into the cattle barn at Kiln Barn Farm saw the Little Owl exit! Ditton Quarry was equally desrted during a 30 minute sortie at lunchtime, a group of 5 Bullfinches entertained me for a short while, the repetitive 'teacher-teacher' call of the Great Tits started to grate!

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Tuesday 19th January

Thick mist hung over Barming this morning, no sign of the Redpolls in the South Street Silver Birch, they've not been seen since the cold snap subsided. Four Bullfinches lit up the hedgrow by the Water Tower just off North Street, but my attention was drawn to a raptor flying high, north over Gallagher's Gallop. Initially I put it down to a high flying Sparrowhawk which I often see in the area, but this certainly looked bigger and seemed to have a longer, narrower wing. The wingbeats were continous, no flap-flap-glides. To my eyes it looked like a Harrier which would be a patch tick, but it contnued north, and away from me....another one that got away!
Only a very quick visit to Ditton Quarry today, but managed to locate a handsome male Lesser Redpoll. Masses of Chaffinches drinking and feeding near the Kiln Barn Road entrance to the research station, but despite my best efforts I couldn't turn one of them into a Brambling. A couple of Green Woodpeckers and 150+ Fieldfares on the orchard next the entrance track. A few Redwings were also seen but their numbers have dropped dramatically since the thaw.

Monday 18th January

Quick sortie for Woodcock in Barming Woods at lunchtime. Only enough time to check out northern perimeter, but all very quiet in misty conditions. Three GS Woodpeckers drummed out their territories, all very close and at one point I had two birds in view at the same time. I n fact it was so quiet I could hear the birds' wingbeats as they flitted from tree to tree. On the paddock near Kilon Barn Farm over 200 Fieldfares were hopping around, interspersed with a few Redwings. A Pied Wagtail and Meadow Pipit picked around the perimeter of a muddy patch on the adjacent field.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Sunday 17th January

Off patch today, with the thaw almost complete we braved Knole Park, Sevenoaks with the kids. Nothing much out of the ordinary - masses of Jackdaws, Meadow Pipit and 8 Ring-necked Parakeets - except the fantastic evidence left by a Fallow Deer, presumably drinking from an iced up pool! Just after we left the park a superb male Sparrowhawk sped through the surrounding woodland. Some fantastic lichens on the decaying Oaks as well.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Friday 15th January

The big thaw has set in and much of the snow from Wednesday and before was thawing quickly. The Redpolls in South Street didn't show this morning - the thaw probably opening up other feeding opportunities. However a Pied Wagtail flew from the roof of The Bull pub, the first I'd seen in Barming since November! A dead Blue Tit was found by the water tower off North Street, it was still warm, not sure if it had finally succumbed to the cold? Some snow remained along the path by Gallagher's gallop and I was uprised to see Badger tracks - they're often evident on the research land but I never seen any signs of Badger on this part of the patch. Nice find, nothing else out of the ordinary on the way in. Later my boss told me he'd had 20+ Lapwing in a field near Bradbourne House and a couple of Yellowhammers (which ahve been noticeable by their abscence this winter).

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Wednesday 13th January

The Fieldfare feeding frenzy continued on the Research Station site. Numbers of Fieldfares and Redwings have built up to huge numbers, I counted 50+ Fieldfares in a single, short orchard row, times this by the numer of rows, 15 and you have 750+ birds, and that's just from one small orchard. There must be between 2,500-5,000+ birds on site at the moment. Note all the apples on the trees that appeared in earlier photos ( have now been eaten as there's so many birds around. Snow on snow again this morning. A small flock of Redpolls (7+) were still gracing the Silver Birch in South Street, Barming, feeding in the lower branches so affording good views. Quite a pleasure to meet these each day on the way to work. The roads were pretty atrocious, and after helping to push three cars up the hill I finally reached Heath Road where the sign seemed to sum it up! I took the track off North Street towards the research station and was suprised to see no other human footprints in the snow, although I quickly picked up the track of a fox that had lazily walked and sniffed along the path in the night. Rabbit footprints criss-crossed the track as wellas numerous birdtracks, including those of Blackbirds, Pheasants and Pigeons had been searching out morsels to eat. A female Kestrel sat out in an Oak surveying the snowy scene, a Green Woodpecker flew from the ground and a Grey Heron flapped high overhead. Twelve Blackbirds were seen on this short patch of bridleway and a Bullfinch called, unseen from the hedgerow.

Later, after attempting to count the winter thrushes in the orchard I took in the flock of 200+ Greylag Geese feeding in a cereal stubble field. A Greenfinch caught my eye, it appeared to have a very orange breast unlike the others in the flock - quite striking.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Tuesday 12th January

A walk around East Malling Research land again today. A slight thaw had set in, and the cereal stubble just started to poke through. The usual massed flock of Fieldfares and Redwings, 3x Green Woodpecker, 42x Blackbirds, 214x Greylag Geese, 2x Common Gulls, 16x Linnets....but no Woodcock, grrrrrrrr!

Monday, 11 January 2010

Monday 11th January

Winter Thrushes on the cane supports of the concept Pear Orchard
(bit washed out, but click to enlarge)

Back at work, masses of Fieldfares and Redwings at usual and another feeding frenzy brought on by the snow - it really is something to behold, the noise of hundreds of Fieldfares and redwings squabbling over fallen fruit is quite something. The ratio of Redwings to Fieldfare seemed to have changed with more Fieldfares than of late. Opposite the Great East Hostel I was pleased to see a small parcel (13) of Linnets with 5+ Skylarks pecking amongst the same herbs. In the orchard alongside I was suprised to see a gaggle of 90+ Greylag Geese, picking over the apples that the winter thrushes had been feeding on last week (see Monday 4th January blog). The Genebank (orchard at back of East Malling Church) held good numbers of Blackbirds, and the orchard nearest the main Laboratory building held a few Song Thrushes, Chaffinches and Green Woodpecker amongst the assembled flocks and crowds of Fieldfare and Redwing. A male Kestel was also about.

Sunday 10th January

The heavy snow forecast for last night never materialised, so I was off down the River Medway for an hours walk. I did the walk from Barming Bridge to Teston Bridge and back, quite heavy in the snow. Two Snipe were from the streams that run down to the river, a couple of Kingfishers darted ahead of me and themselves put a Grey Heron up from the river's edge. Near Teston Bridge I got onto a small flock of Siskin feeding in a Alder. On the walk back two Cormorants flew over, followed by a single Lapwing. Seven Redpoll were still feeding in the Silver Birch at the top of South Street, Barming and I was pleased to see 12x Greenfinch in the Field Maples at the back of my garden - where they'vr been the last few months I don't know! The afternoon was spent sledging and building a 'snow folly' - didn't get time to put the roof on it! Don't think the local football team will appreciate it when it's still on the centre circle in 5 weeks time!

Friday, 8 January 2010

Friday 8th January

I've been confined to the house since Tuesday, looking after my wife who's recovering from an op, and also my boys as their school has been closed since Thursday. Garden watching it was, but despite the garden feeders being full and a plentiful supply of fresh water being provided the garden seems pretty much deserted. Perhaps the birds are finding easier pickings elsewhere or maybe some of them have perished (where have 'my' Coal Tits gone)? After exceptionally heavy snow first thing (when one chap skied down South Street!) I was pleased at least to see 5x Greenfinch feeding in the Field Maples at the back on my garden, my peak count this winter has been 2, much reduced from the 25+ I've had in previous years. These are the trees that were frequented by the Hawfinches in recent years, and they were often associating with the Greenfinch flock - fingers crossed!

This afternoon was spent sledging off Church Lane, Barming. Where the sledging slope had been worn down to grass I was suprised to see a Meadow Pipit and Robin, dodging the sledges to pick at whatever had been churned up. Nine plus Lesser Redpoll were also still feeding in a Silver Birch in South Street, Barming.

Icicles outside my lad's bedroom window have grown massively in the last two days - sorry for another photo, just fascinated by them, and this in the first winter my eldest boy has seen them (he's now six!).

Monday, 4 January 2010

Monday 4th January

Back to work, a lovely walk in though the sparkling snow, just a light dusting today covering the main laboratory building. Eight Lesser Redpolls were seen in the Silver Birch at the top of South Street, Barming and another two were in a tree at the back of The Redstart, North Street, Barming. A Black-headed Gull sat on one of the Oast House cowls on Heath Road. Nothing else out of the ordinary. I walked out to East Malling Church at lunchtime. JC was out with his mist nets and I caught up with him by Great East where he told me he'd not caught too much. The first photos shows where he had his nets, the second shows the orchard where he hadn't (I can count at least 70 Redwing in this shot)!

a) Where NOT to set up nets

b) Where to set up nets!
After being regaled with some of John's medical history, I moved onto the Genebank at the back of the Church and caught sight of a Weasel shooting across the footpath. I followed him down into the orchard where he was quite inquisitive and let me take some pics on him - cute little thing...well unless you're a rabbit!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Sunday 3rd January

Looking after the kids again so a stay at home day. A pair of Coal Tits visited the garden feeders, I'll have to get a box up for them soon and keep my fingers crossed. Quite a common bird to other bloggers but I just can't get enough of this sprightly little gems. The olive-grey mantles and wash of orange on the flanks really stood out out in the sunlight. The snow soon arrived, and I took the kids out snowballing in the nearby orchards. Masses of Fieldfares and Redwings as usual and a couple of Cormorants over, battling against the snow. I also finally got a chnace to check out the Redpolls in the Silver Birch tree at the top of South Street, Barming. Before Christmas I'd found a 'Mealy' after looking up into the tree to see where the drift of seeds was eminating from. With scope in hand I set up and spent a good hour observing the flock of Redpolls taking care not to point the scope towards the windows of the neighbouring houses! There were 12 individuals, separating in 2 distinct groups of 4 and 8 birds


Spot the Redpolls (Lessers) - I've become adept to spotting them from the car as I drive past now!

The birds all appeared to be Lesser with the exception of 2 birds in the smaller group which seemed to show some characteristics of Common; paler overall appearance, distinct white wing bar with no buff colouration, pale cheeks, white eye stripe, pale rump and distict white tramlines on mantle, lack of buff colouration on flanks. However they didn't appear much larger or bulkier than than their companions and didn't have the frosted appearance of the birds I'd seen in Ditton Quarry in early 2009. I give up, real hard one to call! I'll keep an eye on them to see if they wear through to 'frosted' plummage. Some poor shots below:

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Saturday 2nd January

Back over the ground I covered for the Atlas TTV (just W of Wateringbury) with my family today. A lovely crisp day, with a hard frost. There were more birds on the move tha when I visted on the 31st Dec, and I was glad to see another Marsh Tit amongst a flock of other Tits (Long-tailed, Great, Blue and Coal).

We visted St Michael's Church, East Peckham which holds some fantastic memorials and gravestones if you're in to that sort of thing (if only I could read Latin)!
Lots of interesting Lichen on the stones and branches, but that's a whole new discipline to get into, probably save that one for retirement!
On the walk back I was pleased to see 2x Common Buzzard soaring high overhead.