Sunday, 28 February 2010

Sunday 28th February

Last day of the month and utterly depressing!  Heavy rain and winds for the first part of the day, having to go into work on a Sunday, getting drenched on the pelican crossing across the A26 at the top of my road in Barming (when will Kent Highways sort this out!), going shopping with the wife and kids in such gloom that even the street lights were on at 2pm and then watching my beloved Villa lost to Man Utd at Wembley....

....whatever Warren ( had last week is creeping this way! At least at work I heard a Skylark singing and a Yellowhammer calling when I unlocked the gates, and the Mallards and Heron seemed as happy as Larry today, I even managed a new garden tick with two Mallards over! Tomorrow's another day! 

Friday 26th February

A windy but sunny day - a couple of good sightings (for me) on the way into work - five Lesser Black-backed Gull on the field in the field at the back of Kiln Barn Farm, Ditton, an uncommon visitor on the deck on my patch.  Better still - 43 (forty-three) Stock Doves, I've struggled to get double figures so this was species, so this was a real result.  Viewing them en masse I was struck by how glaucous they're plummage looked.
 Down to Bradbourne, East Malling (private site) at lunchtime.  The wind was rippling the leaf-strewn surface of the lake, and I was was rewarded with yet another duck tick - a pair of Gadwall - not a new one for site but my first for this year and only my second for site.  A couple of Mute Swans which had been noticeable by their abscence had returned.  Even better was to come as I struggled against the wind at the end of my lunch break, I stopped off at one of the plots and flushed eighteen (yes, one eight - 18) Skylarks, out of a Miscanthus test plot.  They took flight in 3 groups, all flappy, nice white sides to tail feather and a few bits of subsong as they lifted, circled and then dropped down in the adjacent wheat stubble.  Five Yellowhammers, inc 2 males, were also present as well seven hen Pheasants.  I've often had a small group of five Skylarks near my strawberry plots this winter, but 18 is a new record for me.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Wednesday 24th January

Nice start to the day, seeing a steam loco coast past the East Malling Research station - for you train buffs it was 70013 Oliver Cromwell on 'Sussex Belle' duty (even manage to get bloody branches in the way on my steam engine photos - consistent eh!).  Another site tick - and would have seen it from the office if I'd been in (directly below square roof in centre background, The Downs beyond).
Back in the office I was pleased to hear and then see a Song Thrush singing at full throttle - it stayed there most of the day and was still singing at 18:00 this evening!

I managed another quick visit to Bradbourne Lake at lunchtime, a Little Grebe was shooting the rapids, the poor light put pay to any decent photos again. 

Further along a Little Egret posed long enough for me to get another crappy  (this time through the car windscreen) - and confirmation at last that it wasn't just a plastic bag - 

before it took flight, giving me some more fantastic photographic opportunities (and you thought those Shoveler photos were bad!!!) 

Not much else about in the brief respite from the heavy showers, though the House Sparrows were making the most of the puddles.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Tuesday 23rd February

Wow wee - 3 (three) Song Thrushes in the garden this morning - small sand all that, but I was pleased when one returned in December, and the last time I think I can remember seeing more than 2 in my garden was probably 1984, so a big event for me!  There seem to be good numbers around at the moment, let's hope they stop and breed successfully (if the cats don't get them).  Got a snap of two of them above.

I tried something different at lunchtime today, and instead of turning left at the research station gate I went left.  A 40-minute jaunt took me off under the railway and then parallel with it and back to East Malling church.  Despite the looming rain there seemed to be plenty of things on the move.  Seven Blackbirds, 3 Song Thrushes and a Green Woodpecker all hopped around a field just SE of the railway bridge.  A GS Woodpecker did a undulating fly-over one of the gardens at Kiln Barn Cottages.  All the usual suspects were seen including good numbers of Blue Tits, however the best find was a murmaration of 500+ Starlings feed voraciously in the paddocks near Paris Farm.  Fieldfares and Redwings were mixed in with them, but it seems like quite a roost has built up here. 

Monday, 22 February 2010

Monday 22nd February

Round Bradbourne Lake, East Malling (Private site) again at lunchtime - in the pouring rain!  I was searching out the Green Sandpiper that had been reported again yesterday afternoon, but no luck today.  A Little Egret took off from the western edge of the lake as I walked across the cricket field, and a Grey Heron stood statesque on the opposite bank.  A couple of inquisitive Goldcrests checked me out, but didn't linger long enough to be photographed.  A small flock of Redwings 'seeped' in a nearby Holly tree.  Fieldfares are still in evidence on the research station site but feeding almost exclusively on the rain-sodden fields now. 

Friday, 19 February 2010

Friday 19th February

All the usual species on the walk into work, accompanied by drizzle for most of the way, except
when I passed through Oaken Wood and it magically turned to snow. Winter hasn't loosened it's grip just yet.

I headed back down to Bradbourne at lunchtime and got another site tick for the year in the form of Mike Easterbrook. With his beloved butterflies all tucked up for the winter it was a good time to get some birding in. As is always the case when Mike accompanies me, the target bird (Green Sandpiper) was not to be found.

However, scanning the lake we picked out the drake Shoveler, hiding in the shadow of an overhanging willow. I was determined to get some pics of this East Malling scarcity - but flighty wasn't the word for it, I only had to blink and it was off and down to the opposite end of the lake. I walked the length of the lake at least eight times to try and get a picture of it, but in the end resorted to trying to get some pictures of it in flight - and the ones above were the best of the lot - appalling I know! I've got so many pics of bits of the bird I would have been better off compiling a photofit! You wouldn't think Shovelers were difficult to photograph - just look at Steve Ashton's pic (

And that was my lunch hour over!

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Thursday 18th February

'Snipe marsh' by the River Medway, but only 1 bird today.

Another frosty trip down to the River Medway first thing. I was hoping to get a pic of one of the Snipe that have been frequenting the small marshy area just west of Barming Bridge. I took my time scanning the relatively the stream and vegetation, no sign of any Snipe, well until I walked off to go and predictably, 'SQUELCH', up flew a Snipe! So bloody well-camouflaged! Nearby a couple of Cormorants dived in and out of the misty river.
No sign of any Harris Hawks this morning as I cycled to work, but lots of Crows round by Kiln Barn including 2 in the cattle shed (the usual haunt of the Little Owl).

Just for Greenie - a scramble of Coots - notice the bird centre left - he tripped up, like only a silly Coot could!

The weather deteriorated during the morning, and by lunchtime it had become a steady downpour - things might be more lively down the lake at Bradbourne in this weather I thought. Armed with the camera (for return of the Shoveler) I made my way down to Bradbourne, picking out 4x Green Woodpeckers feeding on the grassed area just east the Hatton Garden. A Jay flew across my path a little further down the track. The lake was disappointing, the usual Moorhens, no Little Grebes, 12 Black-headed Gulls and 2 Herring Gulls. 32 Coots scrambled towards the lake and 112 Canada Geese kept 6 Greylags company on the west lawn. A flight of 6 Pied Wagtails busied themselves around the feet of the geese.

Keeping a low profile, tucked in tight to the left bank.

Surprise of the day was yet to come - a GREEN SANDPIPER - another site tick for me. I caught I glimpse of a white rump fly up a ditch in front of the house - and then as I walked on an elegant wader suddenly towered up, nice white belly, no upper wing markings and prominent white block on the rump (like the Bullfinches and Jays I'm seeing everyday). It flew high, zig-zagging and dropped down into the stream. Creeping towards it I managed a few crappy record shots of it's head (always the most diagnostic of features!!!) before it took flight again - high again and then lost to view, for all I know probably further down the stream, through the grille in the wall and into that garden on St Peters Road (please respect residents' privacy) ! It did throw me slightly as its upper parts were so light - more Common Sandpiper in colour, and not really dark at all. There wasn't any obvious mottling and I couldn't discern the bars on the tip of the tail - in flight it looked like a single block of brown. It certainly wasn't Common, there's nothing else it could have been but Green.

Not as dark as Greens I've seen before and no sign of mottling but Common it ain't!

Please note that unfortunately Bradbourne House and estate is a PRIVATE site with NO PUBLIC ACCESS.
There will be a public Open Day in April - details to follow.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Wednesday 17th February

A lovely warm day, and following a tip of from 'Dave' I went looking for a couple of reported Buzzards in Barming. I quickly found the location Dave had reported them from and was immediately met by the sight of a pristine looking Harris Hawk. Another was nearby and they flitted in and out of a tree, one bird seen was even seen to be carrying nesting material! I know of at least one Harris Hawk that's kept on the Tonbridge Road, perhaps the same bird(s) on day release?! I'll keep an eye to see what happens re: nesting/breeding. I encountered all the usual species on the ride into work - Bullfinches and Jays seen in a couple of locations en route, always good to see.

Tempted out by the continuing sun at lunchtime I visited Bradbourne House again (a private site). On the track down to the House I passed a flock of 96 Black-headed and 13 Common Gulls sitting out on a field of winter wheat - waiting for the tractor driver to return to ploughing the adjacent field no doubt. At the bridge over the stream a Little Grebe was seen again, but dived as I approached and disappeared through a grille the wall that straddles the stream. It would have popped back up where the steam passes through someones garden in St Peters Road - nice if you lived there to get that as a garden tick!

Yesterday was obviously a good day for ducks as yesterday's Shoveler and Tufties had moved on. A Grey Heron took off from the side of the lake as I arrived and a flash of blue signalled a Kingfisher, my first here for many months. 34 Greylag Geese grazed the cricket pitch, where more Black-headed Gulls loafed - some almost in full summer plumage now (but no Med Gulls amongst them). The Snowdrops and Winter Aconites were in full flower, the buzz of busy bees making it feel like Spring at last.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Tuesday 16th February

Only 20 minutes at lunchtime and in the pouring rain, and the car at my disposal I decided it was time I paid a long overdue visit to Bradbourne House & lake, East Malling. A Little Grebe was spinning around the stream by the bridge to Bradbourne Lane, joined by a couple of Black-headed Gullsup to their waists in the water and a pair of Mallards. The lawn in front of Bradbourne House was monopolised by a gaggle of 48 Canada Geese (no sign of Barnacle this year). Six Pied Wagtails noisily flew ahead of the car along the track to the Pavilion. Twenty-three Black-headed Gulls sat out on the cricket pitch, hunched against the drizzle, with a couple of Common Gull amongst them. Leaving the comfort of the car I braved the rain to check out the stream and lake. Thirty-five Coots ran in formation across the lawn and back to the lake, joined by 8 Moorhen. The lake held more Black-headed Gulls, 4 Tufted Ducks, 3 Little Grebes and a star site bird, male Shoveler, a new site tick for me. I'm waiting on word from the BaldBirder, holder of the definitive EMR site list to see if it constitutes a new Research Station site tick. Predictably I didn't have the camera with me!

Herring Gulls?

Gulls on the warehouse rooves in Quarrywood Industrial Estate, Aylesford. All Herring Gulls? Photos 1-4 all the same gull, photo 5 were obvious Herring Gull, photos 6-8 another individual.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Monday 15th February

A lovely crisp morning, with a hard frost. I tried to get down to the river to check out the Snipes and for anything else, but a van blocked my way - stuck on the ice! I cycled into work, catching sight of a large raptor drifting across the rooves of the houses in Bull Orchard, Barming - looked like a Buzzard but presumably the local Harris Hawk? I didn't seeing not much else but another dead Shrew, and cursing all the fantastic photographic opportunities I was missing (no camera!). Entering work I met the Chief Executive who told me he a small flock of Redpolls visiting his garden nyger feeder (in Barming) - so that's where my South Street buddies have gone!
Over to Ditton Quarry at lunchtime - no Redpolls (another colleague later told me she had Redpolls visiting her garden niger feeder in Ditton!), but 7x Bullfinches (typical views shown in the snaps). I checked all the ditches that have alway looked ggod for Snipe and Water Vole but nothing. In the SE corner I disturbed 2x Grey Herons, not a regular on this patch. I cut across the the East Malling Research site to meet up with a colleague on one of the strawberry plots. I disturbed 2x Foxes lazing in a glimpse of sunshine and was pleased to hear a Skylark in full song.

Friday 12th February

Four Snipe just west of Barming bridge this morning and a Kingfisher grooming on the north bank of the River Medway from the bridge first thing this morning. 30+ Fieldfares sat out on the railway embankment trees, a GS Woopecker drummed on the riiverside willows and a Song Thrush tapped away on it's anvil.

A brief visit to Ditton Quarry at lunchtime wasn't too productive, although some pellets were found, possibly Kestrel (anyone want to comment?). No sign of Bullfinches, but a small flock of Redpoll were seen in flight across the orchard just S of the quarry

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Wednesday 10th February

Dropping the car into the garage at Quarrywood Estate, Aylesford for diagnosis - don't buy a RENAULT - I noticed a number of gulls sitting out on the warehouse rooves, predominantly Herring Gull dwarfing a few Black-headed Gulls.
I walked across the footpaths at the eastern edge of the research station, somewhere I rarely venture and was suprised at how good some of the habitat looked. I passed Calves Ley Cottage, the old gamekeepers cottage for Preston Hall now shadowed by the warehouses on the industrial estate. The old kennels are slowly failing into disrepair. Suddenly a snowstorm blew up and I was glad to finally get to work!
At lunchtime the snow had all but melted and I got on my bike and went exploring - finding a good stand of Holm Oaks that cried out for crests, a scrubby area filled with Silver Birch that bordered a Sweet Chesnut woodland to the west of Hermitage Lane, and then more Holm Oaks - all good potential....I'll be back!

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Tuesday 9th February

A session in The Bull, Barming with the newly returned Bald Birder ( and JC (not Jesus Christ as has been suggested!) left me with a sore head - it was their reminiscences of twitching past and antipodean adventures, not the beer that left my head spinning! So I set out into the crisp air and biting winds at lunchtime to try and clear my head of Fairy Prions, Pied Shags, the '66 Brown Thrasher and the revelation that one of the pair suffers from the same medical condition that afflicted Hitler (or did I dream that?).

View from the back gate (note winter thrushes on the football pitch and feral pigeons over oast cowels in the distance)

There were 50+ Fieldfare hopping around the orchard alongside the Kiln Barn Road entrance to the research station. A male Green Woodpecker poked at the ground, occasionally casting a steely stare at me with it's light blue eyes (never noticed they were that colour before, or is it just a trick of the light?).

I had intended to visit Ditton Quarry, confident the Redpolls would be on show in this cold weather, but I got a phone call from my wife asking to be picked up from work. Dropping her back home to Barming I noticed a large flock of winter thrushes drop down onto the playing fields at the back of my house. Peering over the gate I saw a carpet of birds covering the length and breadth of the football pitch. My estimate was 150+ Fieldfare, 60+ Redwing, but always difficult to count as they leapfrog each other (as Warren of Pittswood has commented before).

I've added some more posts today from last week - see below.

Sunday 7th February

A quick jaunt down the River Medway first thing with the kids, we managed to flush 3x Snipe on a marshy area just west of Barming Bridge this morning, and the noted the remnants of a Blackbird and a coughed up pellet (Sparrowhawk?) nearby.

Later I escaped to do the late visit for BTO Atlas Tetrad TQ65R. I started in the hamlet of Pizien Well, just west of Wateringbury. A few of the gardens were well-stocked with feeders and was continually visited by Long-tailed Tits, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Goldcrest and a Coal Tit, but no sign of the Marsh Tit or Blackcap I'd seen on the earlier visit. The owner of the garden saw me scanning his bird table and came out and asked if I wanted to sit on the bench in his garden to watch the many places do you get residents making an offer like that! He then produced an impressive list of all the wildlife he'd had in the garden over the last 20 years. The list included Tree Sparrow, Hawfinch and most surprisingly Hoopoe that he told me had landed briefly on the lawn of the adjacent garden a few years back! I wasn't to be so lucky today, and as I left the hamlet the weather deteriorated - I tramped through the derelict orchards which were deserted, not a single Fieldfare or Redwing, amazing has I'd seen 200+ a couple of days ago near East Malling.

Up Park Road, skirting round the grounds of Mereworth Castle and towards the Triumphal Arch (contour 108), I was lucky to get a covey of Bullfinches (7 in total) and a single Redwing. No sign of the Common Buzzards I'd expect on this patch and only another single Goldcrest by the old East Peckham church. Things weren't looking too good, I seemed to be well down on the species count of 34 I managed on the earlier visit. However things were to take a turn for the better. I nonchalantly scanned a small pool that is cut in half by the southern axis of the tetrad where I added Mallard and Moorhen to the list, but was amazed to see a drake Mandarin Duck sail past - then another, and another and then a squabbling group of another four - eventually I saw 9x drakes and a single hen - what a result! I ended up with 30 species, but some shocking omissions such including Magpie!
I finished off the afternoon by driving home via Teston Country Park to scanning the area check for a Barn Owl that had been reported just west of the bridge. I saw the smart new owl box and roost pole but no sign of the bird itself. Something to check for again.

Friday 5th February

This bird had me going for all of a couple of seconds this morning. I'd been scanning across the pasture just south of the railway bridge on Kiln Barn Road, Ditton - noting 5 Blackbirds when this little beauty dropped down onto a fence post and then onto the grass. A Blackbird with a dash of white - Ring Ouzel? Surely not in Kent in February? Of course not, just a Blackbird but an interesting one nevertheless. The photo doesn't show it too well but there's a clear white, albeit narrow, band just under the bird's 'chin' but no white on the on the opposite wing of the bird . Of course within a second I knew what it was, wrong shape, size, bill, stance, no broad chest crescent, but it doesn't stop me living in hope, a Ring Ouzel on the patch is long overdue. Elsewhere, an army of Fieldfares hopped across the pasture by Kiln Barn Farm and a record 14x Stock Doves picked through the freshly manured field on the other side of the track.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Tuesday 2nd February

Off patch again! News of a Jack Snipe in Mote Park (courtesy of Simon's blog, had me enquiring all morning whether it would linger long enough for me to get out for late lunchtime visit. It did, and I got some fantastic views, firstly as it snoozed in a gap in the reeds and then later as it 'bounced' out onto the mud. The light was awful, and the pics I took, some in a torrential downpour, do little justice to the intricate plumage details. As Simon has mentioned on his blog the back 'braces' positively glowed gold when the light caught them. Thanks to both Simon and David B for their updates and directions. This was my second Snipe species of the day, ironically I went out looking for Jacks down by the River Medway at first light, but only turned up a single Snipe, 'squelching' like a 'wellington boot out of mud' as it took flight.

Jacko's backo - bloody branches! Obscured my Redpoll picture yesterday as well.