Sunday, 27 December 2009

Garden bird list - Winners and Losers

Juvenile Lesser Spotted woodpecker in the garden. Declining nationally and getting harder to see in the garden. Still breeding near the village though. This pic from '07.

Swallows appear to be plentiful managing two broods around the paddock buildings in Shadoxhurst.

Hobby over the garden; from May to September can frequently be seen harrowing Swallows and House Martins over the village.

Spotted Flycatcher; once a common summer garden visitor - now very scarce. This picture was taken in the garden in '06. Birds have been absent for the last two years.

It's the end of the year, and after nearly fifteen years living in Shadoxhurst, I decided to have a count of all the bird species we have seen and heard from our Kent garden. The count, as of today, is 91, with the number of birds seen physically in the garden i.e. on the lawn, by the pond or in trees, being 60. The number of bird species seen from the garden during 2009 stands at 77.

Top 5 birds seen from the garden:
Kingfisher: nominated by Lewis and seen by all, fishing in the pond for a winter's morning just over 2 years ago.

White-backed Vulture (escapee): nominated by George, but sadly cannot be accepted as wild! This bird spent some weeks in East Kent during spring '07 and was seen by several birdwatchers across the county.

White Stork: Seen once and soaring high over the garden by Sian.

Red-legged Partridges: nominated by Sian, these 3 birds have become well known to many of the villagers for over a year.

Honey Buzzard: Not seen since summer 'o7, we are privileged to have had stunning views of these birds which occasionally hold territory in East Kent woods.

Best Bird of 2009
Red Kite: just one fly-over record, but what a sight!

Enigmatic birds of '09
Whimbrel: On late-summer nights, traveling south high overhead, Whimbrel migrate from Scottish breeding grounds, and call unseen in the wee small hours of the night. I hear them when I'm checking the Shadoxhurst garden moth trap. Their far-carrying contact call has a primeval ambiance to it - and on still and silent nights it's certainly a hair-raising experience.

Cuckoo: still heard and seen in our village parish - it has nevertheless declined dramatically in the UK and I have no evidence that Cuckoo bred in the parish in '09.

Winners and Losers
Okay, starting with winners, the undoubted birds that come to mind are thriving Birds of Prey. Birds unimaginable in my youth in the 60's and 70's are now on long and sustained population growths and regularly seen from our garden. This is no more exemplified than the wandering Red Kite we saw over our garden during May of this year. Red Kites held a small population of 20 pairs in Wales when I was a kid and, thanks to re-introduction schemes, are now beginning to find their way into east Kent. Common Buzzard now hold territories over Shadoxhurst along with Hobby, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Tawny and Little Owl. Barn Owls are not breeding in our parish but they aren't too far away either.

Another runaway success story is that of the Hobby. Perhaps my favourite bird, it cuts a striking scythe in the sky of contrasting black, white and red. Returning back to my childhood, the only chance to see a Hobby was to travel to the New Forest in Hampshire, the only reliable haunt of what was then a very rare bird of prey.

Hobbies are long distance migrants but it is believed that their breeding success of the last 25 years has been driven by environment changes closer to our home. Cleaner waterways and conversion of post-war gravel pits to lakes have provided perfect breeding grounds for one of the Hobby's most important food sources - dragonflies!

Resident birds doing well in our garden include Nuthatch, Yellowhammer, Wren, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Collared Dove and Wood Pigeon.

Summer visitors that appear to be doing well and regularly returning to Shadoxhurst are Swallow, House Martin, Cuckoo (just!).

Goldfinches are also an easy bird to see in Shadoxhurst. Breeding in our garden in '09, there success is no doubt aided by the trend to feed garden birds all year round.

The Losers - notable absentees
Many of our once common summer migrants are struggling nationally. The Spotted Flycatcher, once a common summer garden visitor, has now been absent from our garden for the last two years. Other passage migrant birds such as Willow warbler and Sedge warbler are scarcer now than they were ten years ago. Still seen annually in the garden, the Bullfinch, a once common resident, seems to be becoming scarcer too, as is the Lesser Spotted woodpecker.

The rate of decline for many of our once common birds is a cause for concern. For Cuckoos and Spotted flycatchers wintering south of the Sahara, their problems may be beyond us. Will the next year be the last time we hear a cuckoo calling? I hope not, but with 39% decline in the last ten years, listening for the call of returning males next April will be another anxious time.

Let's hope for a good New Year with plenty of positive stories to share!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Glossy Ibis going to roost at Dungeness RSPB

The new Lighthouse at Dungeness point

Carrion crow on the wire just before Ibis flight

No light- but a reasonable record of a female Marsh harrier from some distance

Two Glossy Ibis's have been loyal to the wetlands at the main entrance to Dungeness RSPB for so long now, that even lazy birdwatchers like myself have finally got around to seeing them.

Standing in the middle of hailstorm, the sun already set and temperatures just over freezing, I watched the birds quickly move to a favoured roosting spot. These rare visitors to the UK were originally part of a mini-autumn invasion of about a dozen birds, and should really be in a traditional West African wetland for the winter. However, such is the mildness of our Autumn, (just one frost so far) that these birds are happily finding fish and amphibians in the Dungeness wetland and seemingly comfortably suriving the winter.
Dramatic and fast changing weather meant there was a possibility of photographing the birds against a golden sunset. Sadly and bizarely, I was caught in the hail shower - so we will have to wait another night for that kind of shot.

Dramatic Dungeness Sunset, but no Ibis yet!

And here they finally are, on their way to roost

Preparing to roost within seconds of leaving their grazing field -the two Glossy Ibis's

An all to brief but exciting view - I'm happy to have a few snaps to end the year with.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Dungeness early December

Adult male Marsh harrier

First winter Marsh harrier (above and below)

Two hours at Dungeness, on a fine Sunday afternoon was just enough time to see some great winter birds including; Bittern, 2 Bewick Swan, 2 Glossy Ibis, Marsh Harrier, male Hen harrier Water Rail and Black Redstart. The very heavy rainfall over the last few weeks has left Dungeness and across to Romney Marsh a maze of flooded fields, swollen streams and ditches. The extreme wet and mild winters followed by extremely dry summers seem to be developing into a pattern down here in Kent.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Reflections on winter so far

Pressure of keeping work has kept me well away from my blog for sometime (and it's set to continue). If their's been a memorable highlight to our autumn winter so far, it would have to be the heavy rain we have been getting, especially last Monday, which saw us with a water pump, moving water away from the front of the house and drive. Last time we found ourselves in that situation must have been 6 or 7 years ago. Having spent the summer very low in water, the two ponds at the back of the garden are the main benefactors from all this, occasionally, they are now so full they appear as one big pond.

Oak and Sallow leaves stayed late on our trees right up to the middle of November. It took several gales and heavy rain to leave the trees bare by the beginning of December.

When it hasn't been raining, we are occasionally rewarded with clear blue skies, and Tuesday saw us receive the first wafer-thin frost of the year. This brought a big increase to the number of birds in the garden, especially House Sparrows (40+) and the return of Yellowhammers (5+). A Heron has taken an interest in the pond, Sparrowhawks are regular with the occasional Kestrel seen to. Last year's Red legged Partridges (now down to three) are still faithfully visiting the garden and two Song Thrushes are now in full song. Fieldfares, Wood pidgeons and Redwings are plentiful in flight overhead, but only a few make a fleeting stay to feed on the Sloe berry bumber crop still remaining at the back of the garden. So far our winter weather, has been mild and extremely wet. Just my guess work, but the past summer/autumn lack of rain has been corrected now, with little risk of a drought in 2010.

Fieldfares, always highly vocal, regularly stop off for a rest high in our neighbours Black poplar tree. Hopefully later in the winter I'll get some closer views.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Mewing Buzzards over Shadoxhurst

Just a few years ago, Common Buzzards were a real rarity here in East Kent. But such is their success nationwide, they are now considered one of our commonest Birds of Prey in the UK. And so we are certainly seeing more Common Buzzards over Shadoxhurst these days. In fact, so many friends in the village reported seeing them this summer, that there is a good chance they may have secretly bred from within the parish. Could this playful adult pair be our local birds - or are they merely passing through Kent and moving on beyond? My hunch is they are our local birds.

Autumn garden birds

Female Great Tit blending into the shadows

After a days rain last weekend, its back to lazy colourful sunny autumn days again. I like the way how the garden birds successfully camouflage into the dappled light of the autumn foliage.

House Sparrows - roosts with starlings in a large and noisy flock 2o feet from the house

Blackbirds in their dozens feed on the bumper sloe berry harvest at the back of the garden

Can't resist another Dunnock shot. Shy and drab with your eye and yet beautiful on camera.

I'd like to get a few more pics of this male Great Tit. Its thought that male Great tits aren't as 'yellow' as birds say 30 years ago: - it's all linked to diet. But this one has a bright yellow breast and stunning black outline too.

Still plenty of hornets around- again, camouflaged nicely in the golden colours of autumn Rosebay Willow herb.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Pale Tussock caterpillar

Found whilst walking in nearby woods, by eldest son George,we brought it home to photograph and later release. A fairly common Moth around here in the summer, I've found caterpillars in the garden in Autumns past. It's hairy, beautiful and preposterous at all times. Tussock moth caterpillar hairs can leave a rash, so if you find a hairy caterpillar be careful with your hands. It's a brisk mover so photographs are quite tricky too. Wanting to escape at all times, my conscience soon said let the little critter get on its way, even though I think I had some better pics to take. At some stage I must update this post with an adult Moth; they, too, are delicate and hairy looking things.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Dunnock in flight

A feeble songster and a preference for the shade of the hedge, means that whilst always around, the Humble Hedge Sparrow - mostly manages to avoid attention - unless its snapped in flight!

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Windows shaking, floors vibrating - its a Chinook

RAF Chinook low flight passes are quite common over Shadoxhurst. There's always plenty of warning before they fly over the garden, as their blades generate an enormous amount of noise and wall-shaking vibration from many miles away - it's a dramatic experience! The pilots, I feel, are unquestionably brave; these flights are often at night, and I can understand why they need to fly so low - as the view shown, whilst close, is over in a very brief second. This pic was taken at a modest 300 mm and the Chinook crossed straight over the garden. Sat underneath the Chinook flight path, we are sadly reminded (if ever it was needed), that the majority of these RAF machines are operating thousands of miles away in Afghanistan fighting in a real war. And a war probably without an end it sight.

First winter Blackbird and Robin

Walking down the garden, all 150 feet of it, I flushed 16 Blackbirds in total. They are to be found foraging around the pond edges and leaf litter and hedges. Most are rather shabby looking first winter birds - this distinctive bird was gorging on the Blackthorn Sloe berries in the company of many other Blackbirds. My guess is that we have had an influx of immigrant birds from Europe - there are many 'new' Robins around too. As autumn advances, it shouldn't be too long before we receive the first Fieldfares and Redwings

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Autumn Song Thrush and Blue Tit

There are three individual, Song Thrushes (one adult 2 juveniles) to be seen around the garden at the moment. They're shy and their presence is often given away just by their 'seep' call as they fly around the garden and pastures beyond. Doubtless they are struggling to find slugs and snails - such is the dryness and hardness of the ground, but for now, this moulting first winter bird seems quite happy feeding in the Sloe berries in the Blackthorn.

Blue Tits seem to be be omnipresent in the autumn garden, happy foraging in the undergrowth and Lillies by the pond, as they are in the Spruce and Dog Rose further down the garden.

Garden nuptial Hornets

The back of the garden is a very pleasant place to be at the moment. There's plenty of dappled sunshine finding its way through the Sallow and Blackthorn which run along the garden boundaries. The ponds are clear and still, with just a few flowers of Watermint and much overhanging dead Agrimony, Loosestrife and Willowherb. This is presently favoured by Hornets (vespa crabro) linneaus that are present in some numbers as you walk down the garden. Some appear to be resting and sun basking, whilst many others are constantly quarrying branches and leaves for what I thought was for prey (such as butterflies and flies). I now realise that these were the nupital flights of the males and the virgin queen Hornets.

Today I watched two Hornets appear to clash together and then fall to the ground. They were later to be joined by a third. It was easy to see that the bottom wasp was a larger female (queen) and was mating with one or both of the two males lodged on her back. I took a few pictures with macro (sadly, quite poor) for about 10 minutes before they separated and departed back into the canopy. If successful, the fertilised female will, at some stage, hibernate over the winter and the hapless males will die as autumn advances. Hornets are a common site in our garden, doubtless moving from neighbouring colonies in Orlestone forest. I'd hoped the pictures would be better, but you can clearly see size and structural differences between the Queen and worker faces.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Indian Summer continues

It's nearly October, and our sunny, cloudless blue-sky days continue. The garden seems full of birds - up to 20 goldfinches, 3-4 Nuthatches, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs at the bottom of the garden in the Blackthorn. Robins are in song defining territories, and there are just a few Blackbirds and Song thrushes around waiting to be joined by winter migrants. At the ponds, Ruddy darter, Common Darter, Southern Hawker and Migrant Hawker are resident and ovi-positing. Overhead too, a mixed flock of Swallows and House Martins seem in no rush to move on. I can remember just one evening's rain over the whole of the summer and the ground is still rock hard. It'll be a drought next spring if this should continue.

Migrant Hawker on Dog Rose

Chiffchaff in Blackthorn

Goldcrests on a spider hunt in the Spruce

Coal Tit feeding on Norwegian Spruce pine seed

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Marsh harrier 2nd Shadoxhurst record

This morning from the bedroom window a Marsh Harrier lazily soared over our garden heading North (to the Oare Marshes and beyond). No time for a picture on this one (unlike the Red Kite we saw in the spring). We saw it silhouetted against a bright blue sky so it was difficult to age or sex - so just simply a Marsh harrier. The last one I saw over the village may have been more than 5 years ago, so I still count this is a bird to remember.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

September and summer is still here.

House sparrows are taking an interest in the Rose Hips

Chiffchaffs moving south like to linger and stock-up in the pond edge foliage

Commas can't resist energy boosting Blackberries

Close-up of Rose hip - not what most gardeners wish to see!

Wood pigeon leaving nest site for more stick nest building material.

The second week of September, and our long hot summer still continues. Our Boys have just gone back to school, so I've had no time for blog stuff for some time. Looking back over the summer, down here in the South East, its been a generally very good sunny and dry summer. At the moment, its blue skies daily and temps in the high seventies. Only the sun setting at 7.3o pm gives away that Autumn is nearly here.

There are still plenty of Swallows and House Martins around and the local Hobbies are never far away to. Migrant Hawker dragonflies are ever present in the garden as are Hornets, both making the most of the late summer sun. As to, are Butterflies such as Red Admiral, Comma and Painted Lady, all are common visitors to the bramble fruit. At night there are 2 Pipistrelle bats patrolling the garden.
We have another pair of Wood pidgeons nest building close to the house. Will they get as far as a clutch of eggs, lets wait and see.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Wood Pigeons - 10 days on

Strong winds, and frequent showers have failed to move our young Wood pigeons from the ramshackle nest in the apple tree. The two chicks are nearly fledged now, they're too big to both fit on the nest so one bird has moved to a branch to the side. Wood pigeons are very common garden birds these days - despite making seemingly poor exposed nests to both the weather and predators so we're pleased these birds are doing so well!

At some stage I think I need a better description /illustration of the garden layout, but for now, here's a pigeons view from the Apple tree of the largest of two ponds. You can see its surrounded by Hemp Agrimony, Purple Loosestrife, Meadowsweet and Willow herbs and they've attracted good numbers of our commoner butterflies and hover flies recently. Of interest today, we had a large Brown Hawker Dragonfly visiting the garden. This is the first one we've seen for a few years.