Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Tuesday 30th November 2010

It's inevitable I should mention the snow, it'd been threatening from the east for the last few days and finally it fell.  It was still coming down when I set off on the walk (not cycling today) from South Street, Barming to work (East Malling) at 07:30.  There was very little in the way of birds for the first half of the walk, surprising considering the weather, although a couple of Pied Wagtails were playing chicken on Heath Road.

At the northern perimeter of Oaken Wood I quickly picked out Redpoll flock, again about 40 birds, but as ever difficult to get onto apart from in flight.  At least one bird had found the feeders I set up on Saturday, a Robin looking very seasonal in the white stuff, but hopefully others will follow.

Carrion Crows were still on the pasture in the middle of Gallagher's Gallop, along with Stock Doves who's numbers had swelled to a record 45 birds.  A couple more Pied Wagtails were feeding at the feet of cattle.

I checked the orchards on the research for Waxwings, alas none, but reasonable numbers of Fieldfare and Starlings with a few Redwings flying around.

Fieldfare fodder - although it was mainly Starlings sitting out on the lines in the background. 

At lunchtime I checked the orchards again, concentrating on Village Fields/Genebank at the back of the church in East Malling.  Again lots of Fieldfares, Goldfinches and 5+ Redwing in the churchyard along with 2x Mistle Thrushes and a GS Woodpecker. Walking south along the footpath to railway crossing I picked out a flock of Long-tailed Tits that had three Goldcrests in tow, but lacking the much needed Firecrest or Chiffchaff that I need for the winter tetrad.  The snow really started to come down now!

Taking in a long route up Rocks and Luckhurst Farm and back via Oaken Wood I failed to add anything new to the day list although I got good views of 15 or so Lesser Redpolls and also the Stock Doves in flight.  A couple of Cormorants also flew north over.

Back at the research more Fieldfares, but I reckon the winter thrush numbers are still fairly modest by East Malling standards, maybe 300+ Fieldfare and 100+ Redwing.

Stock Doves en masse

Monday, 29 November 2010

Monday 29th November 2010

Another chilly start, but surprisingly little in the way of birds.  First stop was the silver birches near Gallagher's underpass but the Redpolls had gone.  I'd set up a feeding station on Saturday morning, but not a grain or nut had been taken!  A couple of Lapwings flapped over west, escaping the harsh weather on the coast I imagine.  I moved onto the Research at East Malling to check the orchards on the off chance a Waxwing or two might have dropped in, but again all very quiet; 35+ Fieldfares and 20+ Redwing feeding in and around the yews in East Malling churchyard.

Back out at lunchtime to do a circuit of the northern half of the Oaken Wood Atlas tetrad.  Near Kiln Barn Farm  there were 20+ Rooks, 15+ Jackdaws, 40+ Crows, 32 Stock Dove (high count on patch), 220+ Wood Pigeon were in the fields.  Twenty-five Lapwings flew west and I hoped I might be able to pick them up later in one of the recently sown fields off Sweets Lane.  Again there were no Redpolls in the silver birches, but a gang of Long-tailed Tits moved through the hedgerow with some Blue Tits and a very vocal Coal Tit (needed for the tetrad).  Three Jays flew up ahead of my as I cycled towards Luckhurst Farm.  Reaching the Manor Riding Stables, off Sweets Lane, I was disappointed that no Lapwings had touched down, but picked out 3x Common Gulls on the grazed land.  Heading back to work I was pleased to see the Common Buzzard briefly soar up from Oaken Wood, and a Sparrowhawk drift high east just above him.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Saturday 27th November 2010

A hard frost this morning with freezing fog saw me heading off to the northern perimeter of Oaken Wood to try and get a better look at the Redpolls I'd seen yesterday.  21x Jackdaws and 15x Rooks sat out on the gallop pasture near Kiln Barn Farm with some of both species sitting in the trees that form part of tetrad TQ75C - two new species for the winter list.  The Redpoll flock were in the same spot as yesterday but equally as difficult to watch as they constantly flitted through the top of the silver birch trees.  They were joined by a pair of Bullfinches and some Goldfinches and Chaffinches.   All the individual Redpolls I could pick out seemed to be Lesser, although the individual show below kept me guessing (bird on the left)...it was one of 3 birds that kept separate from the remainder of the flock even when they took flight.  There were areas that looked buffish, probably too much for Common, not a classic 'bleached wash' about it although the supercillium and cheek looked whiter than the adjacent birds...it seems to get harder each winter...stringing a Lesser into a Common!

Compare the bird on the right (Lesser) to the bird shown on the left in the four proceeding photos; more buffs tones around the cheek/head and less 'clean' underparts and flanks.  Another  'Lesser' is shown in the photo below.

I took in the orchards at East Malling Research and as expected saw vast numbers of Fieldfares with a few Redwings and Chaffinches feeding on the fallen apples.  The best orchard at the moment for watching these birds is the one just to the west of the main lab buildings where the approach road bends around the back of the buildings.  This can be approached from East Malling village by following the footpath through the church, past the genebank (where the Waxwings were seen last year, but which is currently disturbed by new road construction and grubbing) and on towards the main lab buildings approx 0.5 miles away.  The orchard can be viewed from the footpath where the windbreak ceases (just beyond the signposted 'Pear concept orchard').  Please remain on the footpath as the orchards themselves are private property.

Late this afternoon I heard that a 'few' Waxwings had been seen in nearby West Farleigh - I hope they hop the river and come my way!

Friday, 26 November 2010

Friday 26th November 2010

Track at northern perimeter of Oaken Wood, looking west.  The Redpoll flock are frequenting the silver birches on the right of the photo.

Cold, very cold this morning.  I detoured off my usual route into work to check out the northern perimeter of Oaken Wood in the hope of adding either Coal  or Marsh Tit to tetrad TQ75C (Oaken Wood).  I failed to find either species but not noticed a small charm of Goldfinches feeding in the band of silver birches just to the west of Gallagher's Gallop (cTQ718559), number 34 for the tetrad.  Then, from no where 40+ Redpolls took to the air, calling distinctly as they looped back on themselves and into the trees nearest the gallop.  I could see them flitting around and feeding but they were too distant and I'd run out of time to try and identify them all.....a job that would have to wait until my lunch break.

Cycling down past Kiln Barn Farm I noticed the dead Badger that I'd discovered on Wednesday had gone - too close to cattle to be left I guess.

Back out looking for Redpolls at lunchtime and the flock was quickly refound in it's original location.  They were quite well dispersed amongst the birches and I only managed to pick out 10 individuals, all Lessers as far I as could make out, before the flock took to the air and I counted 42 birds, by far and away the largest flock I've had on patch.  A couple of Bullfinches lisped nearby and a Kestrel was mobbed first by Crows but then by Rooks as it flew over.   On the nearby gallop pasture were a mix of Wood Pigeon, Stock Dove (x11), Crows, Rooks and Jackdaws, but unfortunately all just over the tetrad line -  three of those species are needed for TQ75C on  BTO winter atlas.  I took the track around the northern perimeter of Oaken Wood and then past Luckhurst Farm and back down Sweets Lane to the Research Station.  I added Redwing (x3), Fieldfare (x9) and Jay the day list but didn't find the hoped for Skylark or Linnet that I thought I'd find at or near the Sweets Lane Stables.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Thursday 25th November 2010

Brooklands Lake, New Hythe

Off patch to visit Brookland Lake, New Hythe GPs and hopefully connect with the Slavonian Grebe that's been around since last weekend.  I eventually located it, in the middle of the lake amongst the Tufties and Pochards...too distant to get any decent photos, but these can be seen on Alan Woodcock'sPhil Sharp'sGreenie's or Ken Browne's blogs.

A Cetti's Warbler called from the NW corner of the lake and a few Redwings were seen picking through the hawthorns on the riverside of the lake.  Then past the mill that laces the air around the lake with a putrid smell and stands in stark contrast to the tranquillity of the neighbouring lake.


Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Wednesday 24th November 2010

The tetrad gap filling continued today - I hoped to get some of those missing species for the East Malling tetrad (TQ75D).  Bradbourne House was in my sights, but I stopped off en route to see if I couldn't locate the Blackcap that Greenie had seen earlier in the week.  No sign of it, but not surprising considering the disturbance caused by road laying operations been carried out nearby.

Bradbourne I quickly connected with Goldcrests and a couple of tit flocks, which to my relief contained a Coal Tit....but then I realised this was just over the tetrad line and it was actually in TQ75E, a gap filled for that tetrad, but still one in my own!  I persevered and after following another flock of Long-tailed Tits, this time in TQ75D I found one tucked up by the bridge over the stream...phew!

The best views I had of Coal Tit...but still, it's a gap filler for TQ75D!

On the way back home I had the misfortune to find a freshly-dead Badger across my path.  There was no indication what had caused it's demise, but it was still warm so I moved of the track and into the hedge, a sad end to the day.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Friday 19th October 2010

Nothing in the mist this morning about from a flock of calling Herring and Black-headed Gulls near Kiln Barn Farm.  With the fog lifting mid-morning I made a concerted effort at lunchtime to get Coal Tit on the East Malling Atlas Tetrad.  I reckoned my best bet would be the yews/conifers in and around the churchyard in East Malling, but after 30 minutes, with various near misses with Blue and Great Tits I realised it wasn't going to happen today!  Still I managed a nice brace of Thrushes, with 2x Mistle Thrushes, 5x Song Thrushes (amazing number!), 2x Redwing and 30+ Fieldfare and even better for the patch - a Grey Wagtail on the roof of Court Lodge in Church Walk - not the the most obvious place to look for one, perhaps I should have gone looking down the stream for the Coal Tit!

A Sparrowhawk flew into the churchyard and perched high up and partly obscured, but his bright eyes gave him away!  He managed to put everything into the air so finally putting a nail in the coffin for my Coal Tit....but I've got until the end of February so no rush.
There is a Sparrowhawk in there...honest!

Moving into the next Tetrad to the west, Mill Street and West Malling, I hoped to  pick of a Greenfinch or Goldfinch or two - again another species missing off the Atlas and within 10 minutes got 3x Greenfinches, 12x Goldfinches, 1x GS Woodpecker and 2x Jay - all gaps on the winter distribution map.  I'll get the East Malling area dark green before the winter's out!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Tuesday 16th November 2010

Tetrad TR51I (Aylesford and British Legion Village)

A hard frost in Barming this morning, but I missed out on my usual ride into work as I had to drop my car off for repairs on the Quarrywood Estate, Aylesford.  I unloaded my bike from the car and rode the short distance along the footpaths from Aylesford to East Malling.  As soon as I left the industrial estate in Aylesford I heard, then saw, 3x Jackdaws on the newly ploughed opposite Calves Leys Cottage.  This was quickly followed by a Bullfinch that darted in front of me and ducked into the adjacent hedgerow.  This got me thinking whether either of these species had featured in the winter records form the BTO Atlas?  This is the final winter for Atlas work and Tim Hodge recently posted an excellent summary of the 'species richness' for each tetrad in Kent on the KOS website.  So when I got a break at work I quickly checked if either of these species were needed for TQ51I (Aylesford & British Legion Village)....and they were!  With this in mind I got back on my bike at lunchtime and went off patch, well 5 minutes east to see what I could find.  By the end of the hour I'd filled in six gaps; Stock Dove (x2), Grey Heron (x1 sitting in a stubble field), Pheasant, Little Grebe (2x on a small pool next to BHS!), Linnet and Skylark (37+ and 6 respectively in the same stubble field as the Heron).  Others seen but already on the list were Jay (x5), Goldcrest (x2), Woodpigeon (+160), Carrion Crow (+45), Common Gull (x3), Black-headed Gull (x23) and low numbers of Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tit.  A very satisfying hour and a chance to discover some new places and habitats close-by.  I know I can probably add a few more species; LBB Gull has got to be a cert on the warehouse roofs, a small grove of Holm Oaks and Scots Pine should turn up a Coal Tit (possibly overwintering Chiffies or even a Firecrest?) and Yellowhammer or Meadow Pipit have got to be in or around the stubble field.  This nut platt was a nice find, though not sure what potential it has bird wise?

To top it all off, a work colleague told me he had a Woodcock feeding on the grassy area adjacent the research car park at 18:30 last night as he left work - he described it perfectly-and one I still need for then patch!

Finally, with the sun shining I wasn't too surprised to see a butterfly flitting around outside the office window - a Red Admiral that had tucked itself somewhere warm to avoid last night's heavy frost. 

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Friday 5th November

A nice autumnal glow around the orchards at East Malling Research again today with the late-season sun picking out the cherry leaves, Miscanthus and apples beautifully.

More Fieldfares were evident on site, with a flock of Black-headed Gulls, Woodpigeons (including the leucistic bird) and Carrion Crows picking over the newly-seeded fields around Rookery Field.

Cycling through one of the experimental apple orchards I was amazed at the number of snails that were nestled in the grass on the headlands - not sure which species they are but this time of the year obviously suits them, there were literately hundreds of them.  Scanning the ground I located tens of what I presume are Bee Orchid rosettes?

A Red Admiral added some unexpected colour - no doubt attracted to the rotting windfalls.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Monday 1st November

Back to work after my extended break, including a week in Cornwall.  The morning started off well with a Coal Tit and GS Woodpecker in the garden.  The only points on interest on my bike ride into work were a clamour of 14x Rooks, surprisingly scarce on this part of the patch, feeding on the pasture east of Gallagher's underpass with a Carrion Crows and Black-headed Gulls.  Passing Kiln Barn Farm Barn I heard two Little Owls calling from the trees to the east, the first time I've heard them since spring.

The final leg up the entrance track to work (East Malling Research) turned up my first patch Fieldfares of the winter - six silhouetted on the wires above the orchard...I wonder when they arrived?  Also a large flock of Chaffinches, no white-rumps amongst them, and a Green Woodpecker stuck to the pole (can you see him?).

My lunchtime stroll took in some of the fantastic autumn colours in the surrounding orchards - the cherries were blazing, the leaves taking on the same hue as a Robin's red breast.

Nice to see one of the winter cherries (Prunus x subhirtella 'Autumnnalis') with fresh blossom and deep orange leaves.

Cycling home in the dark I was pleased to hear a Tawny Owl in Oaken Wood - my second owl of the day - probably the only advantage of the clocks going back!