Thursday, 25 March 2010

Thursday 25th March

Poor pic in the rain of one of eight Pipits

A miserable start after very heavy rain overnight.  Still it had stopped by the time I set off for work.  Three Chiffchaffs today; 1 calling near the Water Tower (top of North Street, Barming) and 2 others along the eastern edge of Oaken Wood.  No sign of the Little Owl, probably hunched up somewhere in the barn, drying out.  Detouring past Paris Farm Paddocks, East Malling I searched for yesterday's Wheatear but no sign, he must have escaped before the rain set in.  Likewise the Willow Warbler.  However I was pleased to see 8x Meadow Pipit which have been noticeable by their abscence around my patch this winter.  A Skylark also made it's prescence known.  That was it for the day - the rain just got heavier and worse at lunchtime and on my way home.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Wednesday 24th March

Two Chiffchaffs were singing on the eastern edge of Oaken Wood, Barming - at least another migrant had dropped in and I managed a slightly better photo of one of the birds.  Zipping down Gallagher's Gallop I half expected to find a Wheatear on one of the fence posts, but it wasn't to be, and I had to be content with the drumming of a couple of distant GS Woodpeckers and the Little Owl which took flight in response to my squeaky brakes as I passed Kiln Barn Farm. 

Willow Warbler - unexpectedly early

Instead of carrying on down Kiln Barn Road, and into work, I decided to take a slight detour across the footpath that runs east from Kiln Barn Road (almost opposite Potts) to The Rocks Road and Paris Farm in East Malling.  The greatest part of this footpath is bordered by paddocks on the north side and always looked to have potential, but I'd rather negelected it as it added about 20 mins on my journey into work.  A big pile of stable manure steamed and I was suprised to see a small bird making fly-catching sallies out the adjacent hedgerow - a Willow Warbler!  Of course I thought it was another Chiffchaff until it sang, but I was pleased to see that a few had turned up at Dungeness and Warren had one on his Pittswood patch today as well (, certainly a lot earlier than I would have expected - after all my Chiffies were only in 2 days ago.

How much fencing does a migrant need?! 
Looking north across Paris Farm Paddocks (Aylesford Newsprint spewing out steam in the distance). 

Further along I scanned in vain amongst the eastern-most paddocks - so many fence posts, so little migrants!  It must have 10 times as much fencing as Warren's Migrant Alley, but he gets 3 Wheaters at a time, I get none!  Then.....oh joy.....a Wheatear hopped into view, an immaculate male.  He remained distant, and although I enjoyed good views with the bins, photographing him proved a bit tricky.  I managed some record shots (below) just to show what a smart little chap he was.   At last I think I've found my own 'Migrant Alley'!

Carrying on to work (slightly late) I notched up a Yellowhammer and a couple of Song Thrushes in the final paddock, and a healthy number of House Sparrows in a hedgerow just west of Paris Farm Barn. On site Skylarks sang, Pied Wagtails wagged and a couple of Collared Doves copulated...and showed signs of prospecting nest sites.  Another Song Thrush struck a pose on top of the main lab buildings. Twenty plus Fieldfares 'chac-chacked' over from the orchards, not long now before they're gone.

I managed a quick sortie out to the Paris Farm paddocks at lunchtime and was pleased to see the Wheater still around although a few paddocks further on.  A couple of Greenfinches flew overhead, displaying.

Leaving work at dusk, I was pleased the Little Owl looking a bit more alert - sorry for more photos but he just sat there waiting to be snapped!  On one of Gallagher's Gallop fenceposts a male Sparrowhawk sat silently.  He was hunched up and his underparts, puffed out and startingly white had me thinking I'd found a Barn Owl for a couple of seconds!  A couple of the 70+ Carrion Crows that loitered nearby started to harass him and he was off, low across one of the fields and into the trees surronding Gallagher's Quarry.  A good day all told.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Tuesday 23rd March

A thick fog enveloped Barming as I left for work this morning - may be good for bringing down some migrants?  The song of a Chiffchaff carried through the stillness of the mist at the edge of Oaken Wood.  The Little Owl was in his favourite spot and a Murder of Crows loitered, portensously.

The sun shone briefly mid-morning, and checking my strawberry plots I discovered Badger trails and pawprints all over the place. 

A couple of Skylarks sang continously.  Only 10-minutes at lunchtime to get out, so I decided to check a newly ploughed field opposite the East Malling Conference Centre - 10x Pied Wagtails (inc 2 females that briefly looked like alba) hopped over the recently turned clods, another case of spot the bird in the photo below!  Another Skylark shuffled through the furrows.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Monday 22nd March

Lots of skywatching today - hoping for that first hirundine to zip by.

A sunny, but brisk day, and with expectations high of a migrant.  I wasn't to be disappointed, a Chiffchaff- the first of my year, on the eastern edge of Oaken Wood and trying to claim territory over every available branch.  The Little Owl peered over the parapeet at Kiln Barn Farm again.  I took a slight detour, taking the footpath from Kiln barn Road across to paris Farm, East Malling, scanning all the fences and posts around the extensive paddocks hoping for a Wheatear.  Everything about it smacked Wheatear but I didn't have any luck - getting impatient like my friend Warren!
Chiffchaff (in the shade...or is it the middle of the night?!)

Back out at lunchtime and checking the same area as this morning in case I'd missed anything, but again no luck.  However in the field to the SW of Kiln Barn Farm I was pleased to see the full collection of corvids; 100+ Crows, 5 Rooks, 8 Jackdaws, 2 Magpies and a Jay

A couple of Rooks, such a rare sight on patch that I took the pic in soft focus, brought a tear to my eye!

Three Mistle Thrushes took flight and I managed 20+ Fieldfare and a Redwing.  The Jackdaws and Rooks are real rarities at this end of my patch - almost as good as getting a Wheatear!  Maybe tomorrow?!  Maybe the photos will be better as well.

Woody (also staring towards the skies for hirundines) and Fieldy (should be thinking about going East rather than West)

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Sunday 21st March

Down to New Hythe GPs again, this time with the kids.  Sand Martins were vagain my target after being informed by Eddie Denson that 8+ had been at Alders first thing.  With the kids in tow, I did the Brookland, Streamside, Tesco, Alders Lake circuit.  I was suprised to see the Whooper Swan on Steamside - the kids threw it some bread and it immediately made came towards us and out of the water to eat out the kids' hands!  Wild bird...mmmm.  A Mute Swan hassled it, and eventually it moved on.  I only had my mobile phone camera and thought I 'd got some shots of it out the water, but didn't, only the one above came out.

It developed into a lovely, sunny afternoon - warm and with lots of flies around to attract those migrants out.  Unfortunately I didn't manage to pick up a Sand Martin.   I somehow managed to pick out Terry Laws amongst the thronging crowd - he'd had a Sand Martin and 'Egret' and suggested I speak to Mr Bill Pattern at WWT about whether the Whooper was the one we had last year - that one went right over my head! 
Red-legged Patridge, Allington (courtesy of Richard Walker)
Back in Barming I received an email from Dave Walker to inform me the Harris Hawks that had been frequenting his road had disappeared on Wednesday, and another from his son, Richard, with some nice pics of a Red-legged Partridge that's frequenting a residential area in Allington!

Saturday 20th March

Working today, but managed to grab 20 minutes down at New Hythe GPs after receiving the news from Steve Nunn that a small number of Sand Martins had been seen in the morning.  Unfortunately I didn't see any - a dead Wood Pigeon, Phil Sharp and a small patch of Violets were my consolation.

Friday 19th March

Another early start and off to Boughton again to see the showy Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.  I was with James Bushnell for whom this had become a bit of  a bogie bird - he needn't have worried as the bird showed very well as soon as we stepped out of the car, albeit in rather poor light (hence the dull image!).

The rest of the day was spent at a meeting in London, but added Bald Eagle to my 'train' list as one swept above the train just past Eynsford (Eagle Heights bird presumably!).

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Thursday 18th March

Still no migrants despite it feeling positively barmy!  Five Jays were seen on the bike ride in from Barming to East Malling.  A couple of Stock Doves were on the pasture opposite Gallagher's underpass, joined by 26 Black-headed Gulls, five Common Gull and six Herring Gulls.  The Little Owl skulked on the roof of the outbuilding of Kiln Barn Farm cattle shed - can you pick it out in the photo below (click to enlarge if it helps)?

  Here's a clue.....

Wednesday 17th March

Over to Ditton Quarry, the first visit for a few weeks.  I was hoping to my first Chiffchaff of the year, and Ditton with it's extensive shrubby areas has been reliable in the past.  No sign or sound.  A couple of Bullfinches lisped in the elders, a Kestrel hovered in the SW corner and Goldfinches and Greenfinches sang and displayed from almost every tree!  I noticed a number of 'pellets' around the site - presumably Kestrel or Sparrowhawk, but i'd be interested to hear from anyone who knows about these things.  No Spring migrants and no winter reminants - that rare time of the year when it's a case of 'residents only'...well that's what I thought until I happened upon 150+ Fieldfare and 30+ Redwing feeding on the pasture just south east of Kiln Barn Farm!

Tuesday 16th March

Back down to Bradbourne to meet JC who wanted to look at the camera I use for the blog photos.  I let him loose - all photos on today's blog by JC.
The first shot anda sign of what JC was getting himself into!

The usual crowd of gulls (Black-headed and Common) and geese (Greylag and Canada) sat out on the Sports Ground, a couple of Goldcrests flitted around one of the yews and a female Sparrowhawk drifted high above us. 
A couple of Crows picked through a disintergrated straw bale.  Three Little Grebes bobbed around on the Lake, along with the Coots and Moorhens.  The briefest glimpse of a Redwing disappearing into a Yew was the only reminant of winter, while a clump of frog spawn signalled the first sign of Spring.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Monday 15th March

An early morning visit to nearby Boughton Park scored a great Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, drumming and showing very well.  I was back home by 07:15, breakfast and then off to work.  I half expected a Chiffchaff to be calling as I cycled from Barming to East Malling, but nothing new today, although the Little Owl sunned itself out in the open by Kiln Barn Farm.

Back out into the sunshine at 12:40, and across the plots on the research station on my bike.  A large flock of gulls were circling high above the weather station, with two birds giving out a very vocal 'yaah' - a pair of adult Med Gulls in summer plumage.  They were easily picked out as the sun shone through their wings - clear white, lacking black tips.  I hoped they would land on the newly-ploughed ground but they drift high and west.  Onto the lake where aflock of 45+ Black-headed Gulls interspersed with 5 Common Gull.  A couple of Jackdaws flew out one of the Plane trees, and a record 18 (eighteen) Pied Wagtails picked through the turf on the sports field, amongst the massed gulls and geese.  Oh, and the first Daffodil of Spring had opened!

Monday, 8 March 2010

Monday 8th March

Two Jackdaws over the potting shed on the East Malling Research site (scarce here) was a good omen of things to come.  I got out at lunchtime and off to the field that I'd seen the tractor and plough heading for first thing this morning.  I was rewarded with a massive flock of gulls, 150+ restlessly lifting and dropping along the furrows - predominantly Black-headed Gulls, with a few Common Gull scattered in for good measure.  I frantically searched for a Med, but just could keep up with them.  Glancing north I saw a white mass on the sports ground - more gulls.  I made my way, across the plots, to the sports ground, disturbing a large number of Redwings that were picking through the windbreak clippings.  Both flocks of gulls suddenly lifted before I'd got to the Sports Field and circuled en masse (and like something from a Hitchcock film) and drifted high and west, I heard a Med call, but they were now flying off towards West Malling. 

Med Gull on patch....with my trademark twig in the foreground

Well my luck was in, and they turned and slowly drifted back and down onto the lake - and there, amongst the masses, and in all their glory, were two summer-plummaged Mediterranean Gulls - lovely.  I managed some better shots than on Friday, although they didn't tolerate me getting too close.  Then without warning they were off again - off west - I wouldn't be suprised if they dropped down on Clare Park Lake or even Manor Park, West Malling.

Most of the East Malling site is PRIVATE LAND, although the gull flock on the ploughed field can be viewed from the public footpath that runs from East Malling Church to Ditton Church.   

For comparison to Black-headed Gull (Med Gull on the left, BH Gull just moulting into sum plum on right)

Sunday 7th March

Villa 2-0 down against Reading in the cup, the kids screaming....time to get out!  I stayed local and took a circular route from East Barming, west and up through Oaken Woods, back down into Teston village and along the River Medway from Teston to Barming Bridge and home.  The sun was brilliant, and once out of the chill of the bracing wind, felt like a warm Spring day.  I checked the pasture next to Hall Place Farm and saw a noted a flock of 50+ Fieldfare hopping around, joined by 5 Redwings.  Within minutes they were all up in the air, chacking maddly as a male Sparrowhawk swept through their midst.  Unsuccessful in it's pursuit it dropped onto a fence post, gleaming in the afternoon sun.  Three Mistle Thrushes were close-by and a Green Woodpecker added to the performance.  

A Yellowhammer called near the cattle barns, and further on a covey of 14 (fourteen) Bullfinches worked through a stand of Elderberry - probably the largest number of Bullfinches I've seen in a single flock.  Skirting the southern edge of Oaken Wood, by the old quarry, I was hoping to get a glimpse of the resident Buzzard, but was content with the Kestrel that flew ahead of me and masses of Redwings losing themselves in the coppice.  Five Black-headed Gulls patrolled the newly ploughed field that led down to the A26.  As I entered the wood I was pleased to see new areas of coppice opened up, worthy of checking again in a couple of months for Nightjar.  The mature Sweet Chesnut coppice in the wood clanked eerily in the wind, with only a Robin, Wren and Great Tit added to the tally.  Eventually reaching the track that is Livesey Street, I made my way back down to the village of Teston.  A rare Oaken Wood sighting was a pair of Mallards on a 'pool' in an area that was so dark and dank that even the frost hadn't receded.  An old orchard to the east of Livesey Street looked promising, but only supported a pair of Long-tailed Tits.  Through the village of Teston, past Teston  House which a Chaffinch, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird and 2x Mistle Thrushes bouncing around it's lawn.  Onto the medieval bridge over the River Medway.  More Black-headed Gulls sat out on a dead Oak tree, and as it was late afternoon I hoped that may be I get a glimpse of the Barn Owl - it never happened, and I was disappointed to see a Squirrel darting in and out of one the boxes that had been occupied a couple of years ago.  Another Bullfinch was seen, and a Yellowhammer called, with more Redwings, but the best sighting of the day was a Kingfisher, patiently fishing the dark torrent.

......and what a game I'd missed - "never leave a game early"-I did and missed four fantastic goals from the Villa!!!
"John Carew, Carew - he's bigger than me and you, he's gonna score one or two (or three!!), John Carew, Carew"

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Saturday 6th March

Only sighting today was the two leucistic (albino) Starlings, in flight over the Beverley Road/Abingdon Road junction this afternoon.  I'd love to get a pic of the both of them!

Friday, 5 March 2010

Friday 5th March

Nice crisp morning and pleased to add Coal Tit to my 'walk in' year list - fliiting around the trees bordering the North Pole allotments, Barming.  3x Great spotted Woodpeckers, chasing each around the treetops by the Water Tower, making a hell of a racket!  At lunchtime I added another 2 Coal Tits to the day list, this time by the footpath crossing the railway just east of East Malling railway station.  Also a few pairs (not parties) of Long-tailed Tits.  Fieldfares are still hanging around, with 25 seen on the orchard floor with a single Redwing

I headed off to Bradbourne, passing the South Park plot on the Research Station which was being ploughed.  A few Black-headed and Common Gulls followed the plough, but a larger flock sat out in the adjacent field, 80-90 Black-headed Gull and....a Mediterranean Gull....yeh hey, at last, about bloody time!
6th gull from the left - OK he's looking away - but nice, darkest black hood, all the way down the neck (compare to Black-headed gull above it, with brown-dull black hood) and nice red legs.  No black on wing tips, and if you could see his face, nice big red bill and white eye surrond.

A smart adult, almost in full summer plummage, and only the third record for site.  Unfortunately it was a fair few metres away across the open field and I couldn't get close enough to get a good ever!  Visit Tony Morris' St Margaret's Blog to see how it should be done (! 

This time 11th from the left, almost in the centre.  Nice dark hood again, and if blow pic up can even see a red bill!

I moved closer an old plane growled over sending them all up in the air, ironically I got a better pic of that the gull (come on Twisden, what is it?  Harvard?  Grumman?).  This flock of gulls is viewable from the public footpath that runs north, along the research station road, from East Malling Church to Ditton Church.

I zipped down to the lake to see if the Med had dropped in there, but was met with just 25+ Black-headed Gulls, and another new bird for site for the year - a Mistle Thrush

Also I've heard from Dave Walker in Barming who was kind enought to send me a photo of one of three Harris Hawks that are frequenting the west Barming area.  He's seeing them on an almost daily basis - so if you see a large raptor floating over the A26, it could well be one of these!  Thanks Dave.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Wednesday 3rd March

Another sortie around East Malling site for an hour this afternoon - the sun shone on and off.  A circuit of the lake at Bradbourne turned up the following: 2 Little Grebe, 2 Gadwall, 22 Coot, 15 Moorhen, 150+ Wood Pigeon, 43 Greylag Geese, 96 Canada Geese, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, 55 Black-headed Gull, 16 Mallard, 1 Greenfinch, 9 Goldfinch, 1 Jay, 4 Song Thrush, 1 Blackbird, 1 Grey Heron, 3 Magpie, 12 Chaffinch, 2 Blue Tit, 1 Grey Wagtail, 7 Pied Wagtail, 1 Little Egret

Egret on the right, plastic bag on the left

...a bit closer in case you couldn't see it in the previous photo...skulking or what?!

The highlight was the Little Egret again - this time I managed get a plastic bag, albeit blue, in the same shot just to prove to the Bald Birder I can tell the difference.  As I approached the reed bed it flew and disappeared across the main lawn.  I carried on and added Grey Wagtail to the list, only my second record on this site.  Driving back to work I noticed the Egret standing like a statue on the main lawn,

I watched it for 5 minutes before it started to stride to stride round like a Peacock! 

Eventually it made it's way to the ditch where I'd seen the Green Sandpiper a couple of weeks ago, and dropped down to feed. 

The car proved an excellent hide, so I managed some marginally better pics! 

You can just about make out the yellow feet through the water in this pic

A group of Pied Wagtails were washing in the same stream, including the headless individual:

A Fox was also seen on the south side of the lake, it seemed to be attempting to get the Mallards, and a group of Moorhens were seen climbing in a nearby willow, presumably to avoid the preadtor?!

Unfortunately the Bradbourne House and Lake is a PRIVATE SITE with no access to the public.