Friday, 31 December 2010

Friday 31st December 2010

Back in Barming after the Christmas tour.  I was confined to the house most of the day, but still managed to see huge flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares that were spooked by a Sparrowhawk that made at least four passes down South Street.  A couple of blog followers had emailed me while I was away with reports of Waxwings locally and late in the afternoon I followed up the lead from Donna. 

The Barming Dozen - reduced to silhouettes in the glum of the last day of 2010.

I was really glad she'd contacted me because when I arrived at the location she'd told me about I saw 12x Waxwings perched together in a tree.  Sorry if all this Waxwing talk is getting boring, but these were the first Waxwings I'd seen on the Barming section of the patch and even more satisfying that they were only a few minutes walk away from home. The birds were constantly dropping down into a private garden and conscious that the area is PRIVATE I knocked on the door of the garden owner to ask their permission to take some photos from outside their house.  The owner was very interested in the birds an invited me to go into their back garden to take some snaps.  The birds were feeding voraciously on a Rowan tree not 10ft away but the light was absolutely awful and most of the 'perfect' shots suffered from camera shake (not helped by my excitement).

The birds were even drinking out of the guttering at the front of the house as I bade farewell to Colin, the owner.  I've posted a few record shots and wanted to thank Colin, the owner, for allowing me to see these birds so close up and Donna for alerting me in the first place, a great way to finish the year!

I so wanted this one to turn out OK!  Oh well, New Year's Resolution - persuade someone to buy me a better camera (always blame the tools!).

A Happy New Year to one and all!

Monday-Tuesday 27th/28th December 2010

Off patch big time with a couple of days in Swindon and then Birmingham.  The trip to Swindon was most productive for birds with 10x Red Kites seen along the M4 between Reading and Swindon, by far the highest count I've had on this stretch, outnumbering Buzzards for the first time (saw three) doubt a consequence of the harsh weather.

Taking a breather on Monday afternoon I drove literately round the corner from sister-in-laws in Grange Park, Swindon and stumbled upon a large Blessing of Waxwings on Rowton Heath Way.  Fourteen were perched on a lamp post over the road I was driving along and when I pulled over I saw more on rooves, aerials and in nearby trees - 42+ in total.  It was late afternoon and the light was abysmal, confounded by fog starting to creep in, but I snapped away to at least get a record shot of this spectacle.

The trilling was fantastic, and when they took flight they swooped like Starlings low across the sky.  Fantastic!

I returned to the same site the following afternoon - this time the light was even worse but I managed to count at least 49.

They were mainly sitting out in a single tree in a nearby close, and when I approached I noticed some were feeding on the ground with Redwings (which were also numerous in the area).  

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Sunday 26th December 2010

With some many Waxwings being reported locally I'd thought I'd check out a couple of locations on my travels with my two lads.

I stopped off briefly to check the orchards at East Malling Research - lots of Redwings but little else.

Onto New Hythe where I only managed to get to the East Scrub from Brook House as the kids wanted to throw stones on the ice and break iced-up puddles!  12x Siskins flew overhead and I noticed the familiar figure of Mike Easterbrook  emerging from the scub.  We chatted briefly as the dinner at his daughter's was going cold!  He had also had some Siskins earlier but also a Bittern in flight near Millstream.  He asked if I'd seen the Waxwings that Phil Sharp had seen yesterday, I was just about to reply no when seven Waxwings lifted from the East Scrub and landed in an Alder tree on the periphery of New Hythe Industrial Estate.  Two other birders, Den and Doreen appeared and as we moved towards the flock, Terry Laws emerged from the other side of the Scrub...quite a crowd!  The Waxwings flew off south into the industrial estate, briefly drinking from the guttering on one of the warehouse rooves.  I made my way back to Brook House and saw three Waxwings feeding in the Hawthorns along the track.

As I drove home I amazingly spotted another Waxwing a top of a Field Maple in the garden of one of the Preston Hall bungalows at the north end of Hermitage Lane, Aylesford.  Quite how I spotted it when you look at the photo above I don't know (may be the huge arrow had something to do with it?!), but conveniently there was a lay-by opposite so I could stop to get a couple of record shots in the dying light.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Saturday 25th December 2010

A walk down the River Medway between East Farleigh and Barming Bridges turned up a good count of ducks for this stretch of the river; 26x Tufted Ducks, 4x Pochard (3 male/1 female) and 1x Gadwall (a first for me on this stretch of water).  Thirty-one Cormorants and a Kingfisher were also seen.  However one bird stood out from the flock as it quite an extensive area of white around the base of the bill.  It lacked the greyish vermiculations I'd expect on a Scaup, but did not have a 'tuft', had a less-angled head and lacked black on it's bill.  The 'pale' area on the flanks seemed more extensive then on the neighbouring Tufted Ducks.  It probably is a Tufted but I wondered if there was any possibility it was Tufted X Scaup hybrid?

Further along the river 35x Canada Geese and the hybrid Greylag X Canada Goose were seen and a single Snipe was flushed from one of the streams.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Friday 24th December 2010

Now I've struggled to get decent pictures of decent birds this year, as Warren kindly reminds me on a regular basis.  So I thought it was about time to resurrect my reputation (!) by capturing one last superb image before the year was out.  Waxwings in the Winter sunshine would be ideal and I've waited and waited to get a picture of some in Pittswood, nr Hadlow but I think I'm flogging a dead horse there ;-)  So I had to turn to another local patch watcher/blogger, Alan Woodcock, who had seen Waxwings on his patch yesterday.   I left Barming at just after 9am this morning and arrived 15 minutes later in another world .....Snodland full of exotic Scandinavian birds.  I quickly located the flock of 30+ birds and set to work to capture that 'decisive moment' shot.  I was really pleased with my first effort (see above).  It portrays the atmosphere of the 'twitch' with a few other subtle seasonal references - deserted suburban street (Christmas Eve....everyone's off shopping), smattering of snow (representing winter), the sky reflected off the car window (looking to the heavens for the Star), a wheelie bin awaiting it's last collection of the year (emptiness one can sometimes feel over Christmas - mentally, not physically of course), the three telephone wires traversing the skyline mirrowed by the three bollards and three clipped hedges below (references to the Holy Trinity, Three Kings, etc).....all classic stuff.  But of course it needs avian interest to warrant inclusion on this there, deftly pointed out by one of my signature arrows is the flock of Waxwings.  This will be the picture for 'December' in next year's 'Distant Nature' calendar (also featuring distant Glossy Ibis, Raven and Teal, and may be with kind permission of W. Baker some distant Snipe).

Having got the perfect shot I decided to get a more run of the mill photo:

A BIG thank you to Alan for alerting me to these birds - see some of his excellent photos HERE

After the excitement of bagging the Waxwings I stopped off at Bradbourne House, East Malling (Private Site) to see if I couldn't find a White-fronted Goose.  There's been a mini invasion of this species across Kent in the last few days and I thought one was long overdue in East Malling.  Thirty minutes and 400+ Geese (310+ Greylag and 112 Canada) later I realised that once again East Malling had missed out. 

Still there were some nice Shoveler on the lake (12 in total), 3x Pochard, 9x Tufted Duck and 15x Lapwings.  I managed to get a shot of one of the Lapwings, a bit too close for my liking though ;-)


Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Wednesday 22nd December 2010

View from Barming Bridge towards East Farleigh

A very quick sortie down the River Medway, Barming this morning as I knew I wouldn't be able to get out at lunchtime - that would be spent in The Rising Sun for the East Malling Research Running Club Prize Giving (don't ask......I came third after leading the Grand Prix until November!).

Tufties - a rare River tick

There was no frost and much of the snow and ice of the last week had started to thaw but it was a dull, foggy morning.  First birds up were 2x Tufted Ducks (a rarity for the river), then 3x Cormorants overhead followed by a flotilla of Canada Geese that also contained one Greylag and a Greylag x Canada hybrid.

Canada and Greylag x Canada hybrid Geese

One Snipe was flushed from 'Snipe Marsh' but I picked up the trail of what I presumed was a Woodcock.  It meandered all over the snow, down into ditches and back up again with disturbed snow where presumably it had been feeding based on the 'probe' holes in the snow.  I followed the tracks to a small copse and up flushed a Woodcock - too quick for a photo - that flew low over the railway in dropped into the field SE of St Margaret's Church.  I felt like a right Davy Crocket (I'm sure that's prison slang for something?!)!

Signs of Woodcock - plenty of holes where it's been probing!

On the way through Bradbourne to the pub at lunchtime a lone Lapwing lifted up from in front of the house and the massed ranks of Grey Geese on the opposite bank of the lake had me wondering if a White-front wasn't with them?

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Tuesday 21st December 2010

Not much to report from my walk in to work - all very quiet.  However at work the winter thrushes were in full voice, I could hear continuous 'chak-chaking' even from the office.  Occasionally the flocks would land in the tress opposite my window - Chaffinches, Fieldfares and Waxwing yet though.

At lunch I checked out the orchard nearest the lab buildings - it was absolutely loaded with birds; predominantly Redwings, Fieldfares, Starlings and Wood Pigeons, but a sizeable flock of Greylag Geese (90+) were also feeding around the base of the apple trees.  A lone Stock Dove sat on the wires, but was soon joined by the rest of the orchard when a female Sparrowhawk drifted low, quickly followed by a male Kestrel.

On the way to Bradbourne I encountered a/the Sparrowhawk (probably same bird) on another two occasions and flushed a Snipe as crossed the stream by Park Farm (right by JC's garden....has he got it on the garden list?!).  Bradbourne Lake once again turned up the goods - I half expected some extra ducks as nearby New Hythe is all but iced over and the wildfowl had to go somewhere.  A Rush of Pochard, 18 in total - by far the most I've ever seen on site - took flight as I approached.  On the water were 17x Tufted Duck and 9x Shoveler (another high count for me).  At the south end of the lake I picked out a patch of yellow which turned out to be 2x Teal, a new site tick for me!  They remained elusive, knowing I wanted to photograph them, so you'll have to do with arrows again!  Four Little Grebe, three Gadwall and a mixed flock of Common and Black-headed Gulls bobbed about on other parts of the lake.  Seven Lapwing sat out on the lawn.

I decided to check out the only other bit of water I knew locally to see what else was about.  This was the small lake at Clare Park just on the western edge of East Malling and part of the West Malling & Mill Street BTO Atlas tetrad which only had Mallard ticked off to represent wildfowl!  Bingo - I added Gadwall (x4), Shoveler (x2) and a couple of Common Gull to boot for the winter tetrad.  I just need one of those ice-bound Bitterns from New Hythe or even a few adventurous White-fronted Geese from Sheppey to make my day!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Monday 20th December 2010

No work today as I'd taken the day off to take the kids to a panto in Chatham.  I managed an hour and half down the River Medway mid-morning before we set off and clocked up a good tally of birds, the highlight being a Woodcock on 'Snipe Marsh' just W of Barming Bridge.  It flushed and rather clumsily made it's way across the railway line, one leg hanging down, before conveniently dropping down in the field SE of St Margaret's Church (the Barming Heath BTO tetrad).  A Lapwing and 10x Snipe were on the same 'marsh', the streams are just about flowing, although ice has started to from on some of the smaller tributaries and even on the River.

After checking the old orchard on the West Farleigh bank which held a number of Pheasants, Blackbirds (x12) and Redwings oI made my way back along the river towards East Farleigh.  A couple of Mute Swans, 6x Canada Geese, 2x Mallard, 6x Moorhen and a Cormorant were on the river near Barming Bridge.  Another Snipe was flushed from one of the streams that led down from the railway embankment and good numbers of Fieldfare and Redwing were put up by a female Sparrowhawk that skimmed above the railway line.  A Kestrel posed nearby.  On the river I was pleased to see a collection of ducks which included 14x Tufted Ducks and a Pochard; both firsts for me along this stretch of the river.  Six Cormorants sat out in a bare tree on the East Farleigh side with a Grey Heron alongside them, hunched up against the cold.  A dart of colour was provided by a Kingfisher that must be grateful that the river, although showing signs of, hasn't yet frozen.

The fun didn't end there - waiting for the Park and Ride Bus Horsted near Rochester a lone Lapwing flapped down into the car park!

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Friday 17th December 2010

A very icy morning turned up a good species list on the walk in, including a female Sparrowhawk over the Allotments at the top of North Street, Barming, 2x Cormorants over and 5x Bullfinches near Gallagher's Gallop....but no sign of any Redpolls.  An unexpected snowstorm at lunchtime curtailed much of my plans but I managed to quickly check out the orchard nearest the lab buildings and Bradbourne Lake.  The orchard was absolutely heaving with winter thrushes, Starlings, Chaffinches, Wood Pigeons and even Greylag Geese and Black-headed Gulls.

Bradbourne Lake hosted all the usual Coots and Moorhens but also 7x Tufted Ducks, including a juvenile bird which showed some white on it's stern and had me wondering if I'd found something more significant!  Back my the Wader Stream I saw the Green Sandpiper bobbing it's way through the water.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Butterflies of Britain and Ireland

Well I've just looked out the window and it's snowing again, and the last thing I thought I'd be thinking about would be butterflies.  But I am, prompted by what looks to be an excellent programme on BBC2 tomorrow evening (Natural World, 20:00) and also because I've recently received a copy of 'Butterflies of Britain and Ireland.  A Field and Site Guide' written by Ditton resident Mike Easterbrook.  Mike also happens to be the Kent County Recorder for Butterflies, a semi-retired entomologist at East Malling Research, the author of a number of wildlife/walking books and scientific papers and fellow Midlander.  Just looking through it the last few days has lifted my spirits no end - the anticipation of summer to come when the harshness of winter surrounds me I guess.  Most of these little critters will still be eggs, or otherwise curled up as a chrysalid or caterpillar or even as a adult tucked up in a dry garden shed, waiting, just waiting, for those first heart-lifting rays of warm Spring sunshine.  Then starts the amazing transformation to some of the most beautiful and dainty, but also most vulnerable creatures we have on these Isles.  And of course I can't wait for that day.  The short flight periods of most of the species make them all the more alluring, a bastion of seasonality in a world that fights to overcome the natural rhythms of nature.

So the book, well I can't fault it, except perhaps the use of a Grayling as the cover photo if I was being picky but this is quickly forgiven when you discover the plethora of wonderful, vibrant photos that lie within.  The layout is easy on the eye, simple in style but concise and basically tells you want you want to know about the species; description, habitat, flight period, history, conservation, distribution life cycle, behaviour, how to find it and places to see it.  A collection of sites by county are described at the back of the book and a comparative flight period chart is also very useful.

Some sample page images can be found on the NHBS website.

If you just need me a pick-me-up, a guide to make your plans for the summer or a Christmas present I can highly recommend it.  Amazon seems to be the cheapest place to get it online.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Sunday 12th December 2010

I woke to news of more Waxwing sightings in Maidstone, with one flock of 22 in nearby Allington.   I decided to check out those locations where I thought they might turn up nearby.  Maidstone Hospital car park, St Andrews Park, various roads in Allington, Ditton Court Quarry and finally East Malling Research (it had to be bad going to work on a weekend!).  Needless to say I didn't find any Waxwings.  Returning home I found out from a local blog follower that there had been 23 birds mid-morning in Barming!  There's a strong possibility they were the same flock seen in Allington earlier in the morning, but with so many birds about who knows?! The birds had only remained a short time before moving on, but thanks Donna for the info, a new record for the Barming Heath tetrad so very much appreciated.  If anyone in the locality does happen to see any others then please feel free to contact me by phone (07972899377) or by email ( - I will treat all reports in confidence in case anyone's worried about being descended on by hordes of twitchers!

The trips to the other sites won't wasted - Ditton Court Quarry turned up a couple of Lesser Redpoll and the number of winter thrushes on the East Malling Research site had increased massively with literately hundreds (maybe thousands) of Fieldfare and Redwing, supplemented by a huge murmaration of Starlings an company of Chaffinches.  Amongst the Chaffinches was a single Brambling, the first on this site for winter.  I'm sure there were more out there, and probably a Waxwing or two, but I just couldn't keep track of everything - really quite a spectacle (the photos don't do it justice!).

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Saturday 11th December 2010

With kids off to see Santa I managed an hour and half walk around part of a neighbouring tetrad (Oaken Wood, TQ75C).  Most of the tetrad consists of Sweet Chestnut coppice but the extreme SE corner consists of farmland and I knew I could find some of those 'missing' winter species there.  Passing a house on fire - yes really (the Fire Brigade were in attendance so I let them get on with their job) - I took the footpath from the A26 Tonbridge Road, Barming up to Hall Place Farm.  I immediately added Feral Pigeon to the tetrad list, no. 41. - 12x birds were sitting out around the barns.

A couple of Pied Wagtails and 8x Chaffinches were also flitting about. Walking through the yard and out into the stubble fields I picked out 23x Pheasants on the ground and disturbed 60+ Wood Pigeon and 5x Stock Dove, another tetrad tick (no. 42).  These were quickly followed by a parcel of 12x Linnets (tetrad tick no. 43).  I hoped for a Skylark or Meadow Pipit but they didn't show.  Exploring the woodland edge I picked out a couple of Bullfinches, 8x Carrion Crow and more Woodpigeons.  Then I heard a distant 'cronk' turning to the direction of the sound saw a Raven flying north over Hall Place.  It 'cronked' on and off and I attempted a photo - similar situation to the Glossy Ibis - but you can clearly see what it is ;-) You all must think I have a collection of 'black smudge' photos that I draw on when ever I feel like an extraordinary patch tick - watch out for a Black Stork in the New Year!  You know things are getting bad when I have to resort to the arrows!

Well could it get any better?  Well yes, for me anyway, as I took the path back through the wood to Hall Place Farm I picked out a Treecreeper flitting along the rotting chestnut posts and then onto a Field Maple - another extraordinary record for me as I've not had one on patch or the immediate locality for over 4 years! This was of course needed for the Atlas tetrad but I'm not sure if it's number 44 or 45 as I'm not sure the Raven flyover counts for the tetrad? A couple of Goldcrests were in some the nearby ivy.  I finally reached the Parish Playing Fields in Barming just before dusk and was met by 110+ Fieldfares, 30+ Redwings and 25+ Chaffinches.  The birds took flight as I approached and I noticed one bird flying slightly differently to the others, silhouetted as it flew away from me and I wondered if this was my first patch Waxwing of the year?!  I'll be out in those orchards tomorrow!

Looking back to St Margaret's Church Barming from Oaken Wood, the church and oasts of West Farleigh on the other side of the River Medway can just be made out in the distance.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Friday 10th December 2010

With a thaw setting in I decided to pay a long overdue visit to Ditton Court Quarry.  The quarry was dripping in berries, the SW corner have a real red hue to it.

The snow was stained with discarded berries, and they will make an excellent feast for any passing Waxwings (if the record number of birds, 170+,  ever leave B&Q in Folkestone). 

A few birds were eagerly pecking at this bumper crop; Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, a single Redwing and 5x Bullfinches.  I checked all the Alders and Silver Birches for a Siskin or Redpoll and was successful in locating 3x Lesser Redpolls feeding with 10+ Goldfinches in one Alder.  They were joined by a volery of Long-Tailed Tits and a single Goldcrest.  A smart male Kestrel made a couple of sorties across the snow-covered scrub area and was mobbed by a Jay of all things at one point.  As it made it's second low pass a Meadow Pipit flew up to the top of a nearby tree and continually called - my first for this site and totally unexpected location to find one!

Walking back through one of the orchards on the East Malling Research land I was surprised at how the Fieldfare numbers had increased in the last 24 hours - 100+ in this single orchard.  

They were joined by masses of Wood Pigeons and Starlings.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Thursday 9th December 2010

Attending my lad's navity play at school I was amused to see a backdrop of 'robins'......American Robins!  Barming has been well and truly Americanised, what with The Redstart pub sporting an American Redstart on it's sign.

Back at work I managed another trip down to Bradbourne.  The snow was still thick on the ground, but a large flock of Canada and Greylag Geese took advantage of a  few small, exposed areas of grass under the larger trees to feed.  Otherwise much of the usual fare with the addition of  8x Gadwall, 1x Tufted Duck, 9x Lapwing, Grey Heron, Grey Wagtail and a single Snipe.  

Sighting of the day though went to a Green Sandpiper in the same stream I had the Woodcock on Monday, but as you can probably tell by the poor (and only) photo it didn't hanging around!

On the track back to the labs, 7x hen Pheasants ran ahead of me - their numbers, like the wildfowl seem seem to be increasing.