Sunday, 31 October 2010

Sunday 31st October

I've been paying special attention to Starling flocks of late, partly as a result of scanning for Rose-coloured individuals (well sandy-coloured individuals) on my recent holiday to Cornwall, but also because they might materialise into Waxwings, especially after this weeks countrywide influx.  So a quick sortie out from Barming to East Farleigh Bridge and back had me scanning and checking every Starlings.  To be honest there wasn't all that about to check out - no winter thrushes in the South Street orchards and only a few Goldcrests calling from the Court Lodge Yews (South Street) and Rectory Lane Holm Oaks. However my diligence eventually paid off, not in the form of a Rosie or even a Waxwing but with three leucistic (albino) starlings.  Albinism in birds is a rare occurrence, wikipedia citing the probability at 1 in 1800, but I had three albinos sitting on the wires above the orchard just east of Farleigh Lane/Rectory Lane junction amongst a flock of just 38 normal birds - what's the chances of that!  Perhaps I ought to start doing the lottery again ;-)  I managed a few poor shots (compact held against the eyepiece of my 8x 42 bins) but I think it shows what needs to be shown!

The trouble is with the breeding statistics you can never be 100%  certain what the resultant progeny will turn out like - check out my second offspring below:

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Two weeks off. Cornwall and Kent

A lovely week spent with the wife and kids in St Ives (again!), Cornwall from 16th October was a great break.  My first time down there at this time of the year and I had high expectations of something special (bird-wise) dropping in, but with it was all coming from the east with the locals getting very excited by Yellow-browed, Pallas and Radde's Warblers dropping into the St Just valleys.  I managed one morning out taking the coast road from St Ives to Sennen, in what must be one of the scenic drives in the country.

I was after the Buff-beasted Sandpiper just outside of Sennen, and getting there at first light I scanned the field it had last been seen in...nothing, but looking up I saw a 'cloud' of Golden Plovers wheeling around, 140+ and just below them, and desparately trying to keep up was the Sandpiper.  It was a fantastic sunrise, which I enjoyed for the whole of the 50 minutes it took the flock to eventually land!  The tower in the photograph above is that of St Buryan church and if you click to enlarge the photo, you'll see the plovers above the cloud - see if you can spot the Sandpiper! Moving onto to Nanquidno I was surprised to see a 'twitch' on.  A Pallas Warbler had been seen late the previous day and it seemed most of Cornwall's birding fraternity were out to see it.  Needless to say it wasn't found, although a Yellow-browed Warbler put in a brief appearance and I managed to catch sight of two of the six plus Firecrests that were flitting around this normally tranquil valley.

Back in St Ives I managed a couple of good sightings from the beach; Grey Seal and a pod of Bottle-nosed Dolphins (kids thought I'd photographed a shark - see above!).  The former appeared while I was swimming amongst the boats in the harbour; I noticed a crowd had gathered and someone shouted and pointed "Seal!".  Cheeky buggers I though (well at least they didn't say "Whale") - until I came face to face with one of two Grey Seals.  Turnstones were constantly working the beach and I had 3 Med Gulls round Porthgwidden Beach, with one winter adult sitting on the offshore rocks with a group of Shags.

However the best was saved until the last day when looking out of the cottage window I could see Gannets passing the harbour wall.  The wind had swung round to a strong NWesterly overnight and grabbing my bins and scope I ran up to The Island.  I was surprised to see only one other birder there (Brian Mellow?of Black-browed Albatross fame) and he was equally surprised that there were only two of us there.  Gannets and Kittiwakes were streaming through, and there were birds moving east as far as the eye could see.  I did a quick count - 130 Gannets past in a minute, and that was just picking out the birds passing close into the Island!  Brian told me I was too late for a Long-tailed Skua, but over the next 45 minutes we had 14 Bonxies, 2 Arctic Skuas, 3 Sooty Shearwaters, 3 Balearic Shearwaters, 1 Manx Shearwater, 1 Med Gull, 12 Pintail and hundreds of Gannet, Kittiwake and auks.  A female Black Redstart was also flitting around the rocks by Porthgwidden Beach.  We missed the Little Shearwater, Sabine's Gulls and Leach's Petrel that were picked up at Pendeen, but there was so much moving out on the sea we just couldn't keep up !  Quite a spectacle and I was only sorry I had to get on the road to go home.  A few folk had told me a goodie would turn up while I was down there - little did I know that only a couple of miles away in Zennor a American Bittern was lurking around a small pool only to be positively identified 6 days later!

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Tuesday 12th October 2010

After yesterday's excitement today was always going to be a bit quiet.  I walked across to Ditton Court Quarry at lunchtime and was pleased to see my first Redwings of the autumn, two initially that became eight - they keep themselves tucked away at this time of the year, but give it a couple of months and the orchard floor will be full of them!  A new Quarry tick in the form of two flyover Jackdaws was an added bonus, and a long time coming.  A GS Woodpecker and mixed flock of Blue and Long-tailed Tits added interest, as did increased number of Chaffinches, but no 'white-rumps' amongst them. A fresh crop of Field Blewit (?) mushrooms had emerged - fantastic coloured gills.

On the way home another fantastic sunset - it's been a good week for them. On the final leg down South Street, Barming there was a tight swarm of 20+ House Martins working their way south.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Monday 11th October

Well I'll cut straight to the chase - today was one of those days that make patch birding all worthwhile - seven GLOSSY IBIS high over the East Malling Research Centre at 13:40 heading NE.  An unbelievable, and totally unexpected sight, especially as I'd only gone out to see if I couldn't get my first Redwing or Brambling of the autumn!  I've pasted the report I've sent to KOS to give the full description along with two of the appalling images I took (literately black dots!):

Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus), East Malling, 11th October 2010

I was cycling back to work west along the Kiln Barn Road entrance track to the East Malling Research Station at approx.13:40 after spending 30 minutes of my lunch hour birding the local area.  A Green Woodpecker flew off a post ahead of me and a flock of Starlings and Wood Pigeons also took flight from the orchard adjacent (North) of the track and suspecting a Sparrowhawk might have put them up I scanned the area around and above the main research station buildings.  I failed to see find the Sparrowhawk but picked out a group of seven distant, ‘dark’ birds flying in loose formation at height approx 0.5km (0.3 miles) to the west.  They were high, but I’m unable to judge the height in m/ft, if looking  directly above me that was 12 o’clock then these birds were at 11 o’clock (sorry that’s the best I can do).  Initially I though they might be Cormorants, a fairly regular bird over the site, but usually as singles rather than groups.  The birds were flying in a NE direction (diagonally across my line of vision) in a rather loose and undulating formation.  After about a minute I got good side-on-views of the birds through my binoculars and could clearly see a narrow, long, elongated neck and head, trailing legs/feet and a distinctive, narrow and down curved bill on each bird clearly discounting my early ID of Cormorant and recognizable as Glossy Ibis.  The heads on the birds appeared ‘bulbous’ in comparison to the narrowness of the neck. The general impression was of a rakish, out-stretched bird.  The wings were broad and long, but with no apparent ‘fingers’, which only accentuated the spindle ness of the neck and legs.  I expected to see a ‘brownish’ colouration as the birds came closer and in full sun but they appeared all black, almost silhouetted, with no discernible colouration even with the sun now shining directly on them.  There were no other birds at the same height or distance to make a size comparison.  The flight was purposeful in its direction with no glides, but ‘flappy’ and ‘buoyant’ in the headwind, with individuals occasionally ‘leap-frogging’ others and catching and being buffeted by the wind – quite undulating in nature.  I had a digital camera (Canon PowerShot S5) with me and attempted to get three photographs of the birds but the autofocus failed to lock onto them as they were so distant.  I then decided to alert the only other birder I knew locally who might be at home, John Clements, as the birds were flying towards and then over his house!  I managed to get through to his wife who told me he was on the Scillies – great.  There was no one else in the locality so I watched the birds as they continued NE.  They lost some height as they flew over the Aylesford area so that they were lost momentarily by the backdrop of the North Downs, but quickly gained height again.  I last saw them at what I estimate was 5km (3miles) or so away in the Blue Bell Hill/Tyland Barn area where they were gaining height but continuing in a NE direction.  I returned to my office and immediately sent out emails to Kent-birders and Kentbirders email groups (that were picked up by RBA and BirdGuides) and texted other birders who I though might have a look in, in the hope that other birders on the flight path might be able to pick them up.

Now for the amazing photos:

Worth waiting for eh! You'll have to take my word for it that they weren't crows (I got 2 of those as well, below)!

So the rest of the day; a slight mist hung in the air as I set off on my bike but had started to clear by the time I'd reached Gallagher's Gallop.  Nine Stock Doves fed out on the pasture along with 4x Herring Gulls and a LBB Gull.  As I past the gulls took the air and seemed agitated and vocal at what I first though was me, but I soon picked up on a Common Buzzard flapping around the northern perimeter of Oaken Wood.  The Sweets Lane paddocks held a couple of Pied Wagtails but not much else.  The old Routemaster on Easterfields looked kinda sinister in the mist and the sun burning through:

As I entered the Research Station I noticed a 'fat dove' that didn't fly when the Wood Pigeons took flight.  Looking closer I saw it was an albino Wood Pigeon, on it's own and seemingly unfazed by my approach.  

Checking my strawberry plots late morning I was pleased to see 6x Meadow Pipits balancing on the tunnel metalwork.

Then came lunch -only 30 minutes to see if I couldn't get myself Redwing...little did I know!  Before seeing the Glossy Ibises, which I managed to get just before getting back to the office, I saw a couple of Kestrels but not much else. 

Phew -  a big blast of sunshine to end what had been quite an eventful day!

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Sunday 10th September 2010

A warm October day, so much better than yesterday's disappointing gloom.  Unfortunately, while things were dropping in all over I Kent, I was restricted to the back garden on parental duties!  All the usual suspects, mainly Collared Dove, Starling and House Sparrow on the aerials, but livened up by a Hummingbird Hawkmoth feeding on Verbena bonarensis.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Friday 8th October

A heavy fog hung in the valley this morning, shrouding the bird song....all very quiet this morning.  The sombre call from Crows, perched high in the dead trees and gallop fences, and the eery cry from hidden Jays broke the silence.  An avenue display of dewed webs led me through the mire.

My heart raced momentarily as I reached Gallgher's Gallop - the silhouette of a small passerine stood out like a sore thumb, but it was resident, one of the Pied Wagtails that has made my heart race before!

No sooner was I confined to the office than the fog was burnt off and a beautiful Autumn day emerged.   Wanting to make the most of this precious weather I visited Ditton Court Quarry which I've neglected this year.  Deep down I hoped, against all hope, that I might just stubble across a Ring Ouzel; Warren had one on his not too distant patch yesterday and another had been reported in Wouldham, a few, direct miles north as the Ouzel flies.
The shrub-covered Ragstone Wall' (right of the path) in Ditton Court Quarry

The area in the SE corner always smacked of Ouzel to me, and it's where I'd picked up Black Redstart almost a year ago.  But the area is small, and heavily disturbed today, and I knew there wouldn't be anything 'special' there today.  A sortie of the area produced a couple of butterflies; Peacock and Red Admiral, but very little bird wise apart from a Great Spotted Woodpecker over, not the most regular Quarry birds.

Taking in the 'Ragstone Wall' I spotted a distant Lizard scrambling across the rock face, picking away at the many flies and ladybirds that were on the wing.  Wryneck and Firecrest were other 'exotic' species I'd dreamed of finding on this warm, sheltered patch of the Quarry - think I needed a reality check today!  A single spike of White Mullein(?) bordered the path,

and a few Waxcaps (looked more yellowy-brown than the nearby Dark fading waxcaps) poked through the sward - can you help Greenie?

On the way back to the labs I noticed the research's Head of Science, Dr Chris Atkinson deep in conversation with Chris Beardshaw of BBC Gardeners' World fame outside the Romanesque entrance to the derelict Ditton Labs.

It had really warmed up by the time I got back to the office and opening the window I was amazed at the literately hundreds of Harlequin Ladybirds that were congregating around the windowsills and on the south-facing brick work (the Director of EMR, esteemed entomologist and Barming resident, Dr Mike Solomon later told me he had 100+ on the outside doors of his office!).  I 'scrapped' some off the window, and put them in a sample pot...lots of different forms!


Wednesday 6th October

A busy day at work again, but the earlier rain had cleared to give a beautiful evening.  As I left work Swallows were dipping and streaming across the grassed area at the back of main lab buildings.  More were seen as I past Gallagher's Gallop with a few House and Sand Martins mixed amongst them.  A large flock of Goldfinches came into roost in one of the mature Sweet Chesnuts next to the underpass.  Heavy cloud hung high in the sky as I reached home in Barming, making for a spectacular sunset.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Friday 1st October 2010

The calm before the storm this morning as I walked into work from Barming to the East Malling Research Station.  A couple of Swallows on their way south dipped over the houses in appropriately named South Street, a largish charm (25+) of Goldfinches followed soon after.  Not much else to report in the blustery weather apart from a Sparrowhawk opposite The Redstart Pub (which has a female Black Redstart illustrating their menu and an American Redstart on their sign!).  In the hedgerow alongside Gallaghers Gallop there were still some Chiffchaffs, four today, dipping and sitting out on the newly trimmed hedge alongside a pair of Dunnocks and a couple of Linnets.