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.