Thursday, 30 December 2010

Shadoxhurst Little Egret, - a once rare visitor

A pair of Little Egrets has established themselves around the streams which serve the village this winter. They're easy to spot, as they often rest on the field verges, or are seen flying over the village. Many people (mostly our village dog walkers) must have seen them in recent weeks.

Despite the cold weather, frequent disturbance and the stream seemingly choked in weed, the birds have not abandoned the village. This is because the stream has never frozen-up and must hold sufficient numbers of Sticklebacks, (their favourite prey) to make the feeding territory worthwhile. I wonder if it also means that there are more Little Egrets around, and therefore scarcer feeding territories to to move to - (better to stay put than fight?).

Driving out of the village this morning, I spotted this bird 'walking' in the field behind the Scout hut. I pulled-up the car, and then, hidden behind the road-side hedge, I watched it quarrying insects out of patches of horse dung - (isn't that what Cattle Egrets are supposed to do?). The bird walked past me surprisingly close, enabling some close quarter pictures.

What's interesting about this Egret is that it appears to have acquired its summer plume feathers on its chest and back already for spring 2011. The bird will presumably depart in spring to one of the Kent Heronries to breed far away from Shadoxhurst.

I have wondered for some weeks now, how I'd get close enough to the birds to get a decent picture, but it came to be that luck would once again give me a helping hand! So despite a very damp and murky day, our village Little Egret has provided an elegant ornithological highlight to end the year.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Raven - first Shadoxhurst record

In the garden today, luck and perhaps harsh winter weather at home and on the continent have together, enabled me to have seen three scarce birds - (indeed one very rare). First, a Merlin. Whilst looking down the garden after Breakfast, a small falcon, seemingly no bigger than a Blackbird zipped across the garden. At a distance of just 30 feet from the patio-window, its sharp -pointed wings and sleek profile brought back memories of the Swallows that patrolled the same area during the summer.

2nd scarce bird was a Little Egret, stood on a ditch edge, way in the distance from the garden, but still boldly white and prominent. I first saw this bird accompanied by another Little Egret on Sunday. Little Egrets have become a scarce but regular visitors to the Shadoxhurst area in winter.

So to the third and rarest sighting of the day, A Raven. After lunch I put more seed out for the Yellowhammers and Chaffinch flock that frequent the back of the garden. Walking back to the house, I noticed a single large and black crow or raptor, high in the sky flying south to North. Visually, I was looking at something no more than a blob, as I didn't have my binoculars to aid me. Its flight was lolloping but still purposefully heading north, similar to many raptors seen migrating through. For a milli-second, I wondered if it was a Buzzard but I managed to take just enough shots to convince myself that this was most definitely a Raven! Ravens bred near Dover for the first time in a century during the Summer. There is also a small group of birds that can be seen along the coast from Dunegeness to Fairlight, so there are just two small populations not known to wander, so an inland record at Shadoxhurst is very special indeed. My hunch is that this Raven is a migrant, displaced from the severe weather on the near-continent. It will be interesting to see if other Kent records appear this winter and beyond as Ravens are nationally increasing in number.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Dungeness Autumn bird migration

Flying in front of the Dungeness Lighthouse, migrating Goldfinches have been common this autumn

Present for a couple of weeks this Arctic Squa with distinctive missing primary feathers moved away before the weekend ended.

Fresh in off the sea a male Sparrowhawk

...and followed by a Merlin who started to chase the Goldfinches and then swung back out to sea again

And the Little Auk is still present from the weekend on Monday - perhaps it will survive! (See earlier post for full story!)

Monday, 18 October 2010

'Lost' Little Auk at Dungeness point

High in the Arctic seas, Little Auks, a tiny cousin of the Puffin, live and breed, never venturing far to warmer climes. Breeding in communal colonies numbering tens of thousands they are dependent on 2 mm marine crustaceans called Copepods. Sadly, and it's a rare occurence, Little Auks can be displaced by strong northerly winds and for such a small bird they can become wrecked on our shores 800 miles from home. Even worse, these wrecked birds are set to starve if they don't have the latent energy reserves to return quickly.

This Little Auk was disorientated and paddling along the beach line and then eventually back out to sea. I had a small chance of capturing this bird, but it flapped back out to sea, just before I was going to make my move. David at the Dungeness Bird Observatory, has first-hand experience of trying to feed starving Little Auks in the past, and believes them to be impossibly hard to feed and return to sea successfully. One small hope for this bird, is that I did see it diving for food, but I'm unsure if the copepods it vitally needs would be present.

This is the first Little Auk I've seen for probably twenty years. It looked a strikingly cute bird, - hard to believe it was a resident of the high Arctic. It will have to take its chances and try to return back up North on its own. With inquisitive Gulls following its every move, its going to need a lot of luck just to find its way just out of Dungeness.

Somewhere our Little Auk is out there. Sunset over Rye bay, at least the weather was kind to it last night.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Long Tailed Skua and Arctic Skua at Dungeness

Cold tones, contrasting underwing patterning and longer distinctive tail profile - this is a Long Tailed Skua!

The tail profile shows well on this image, but was much harder to see through binoculars on the day.

Sea watching at Dungeness on Sunday was rewarding with watching and photographing the skeins of Brent Geese close to the shore line. Also, through the sea spray and buffeting wind, there were two Skuas chasing Terns for their catch. One, an all dark bird, had a significant wing moult but was still powerful enough to pursue Sandwich Terns fishing offshore. This bird was a dark phase Arctic Skua. A second Skua appeared and disappeared behind choppy waves, again harassing the Terns. This bird appeared pale - but a similar size to the darker bird. With binoculars I couldn't get a better view to get a true identity, such was the distance out to sea.
I took photographs, but forgot my glasses so couldn't make out the fuzzy images on the back of my camera. Heading back to the car, I met David from the Bird Observatory who'd been watching the same birds from further along the beach. "Did you see the pale bird?" he asked. "Yes" I said. "It's an Arctic Skua, too big and heavy for a Long Tailed Skua".
When I arrived home later, I put my glasses on and looked at the images on the back of my camera. Now I could see straight away a pale Juvenile Skua but with a much longer tail profile than an Arctic. I was looking at pictures of my first Long Tailed Skua, all be it a Juvenile bird. The camera never lies and saved the day for this 'rusty' bird watcher.

Dark phase Arctic Skua in pursuit of a Sandwich Tern's fish catch.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Migrating Geese at Dungeness

In the UK, the last week has seen the main winter arrivals of Brent Geese from Northern Russia. On my last post, we saw them for the first timetaking a short-cutting over Shadoxhurst instead of following the coast round. So the next day I went down to Dungeness point for a sea watch for Geese and Terns. When I arrived, their was a stiff onshore wind, a very high tide and much sea spray seemingly aiming for the 82 mm of glass in front of my camera. I noticed little skeins of Brent Geese flying tight to the beachline, flying perhaps 2 metres above the sea. But the time I'd raised my canera they were gone. A shame as I thought they'd have made a good picture.
They looked very purposeful, unperturbed by the strong wind. Strangely, all the birds were flying east around the point, perhaps looking for respite in Greatstone Bay.

I hoped I'd get a second chance at photographing a flock, just a matter of time I thought before some more geese would follow a similar path. Besides I'd also been destracted by some Skuas harrowing Terns, perhaps I could 'catch' them too?

After waiting for an hour or so, my luck was in - a second skein passing round the Dungeness point heading straight towards me. Struggling to keep the salt and spray off my lens, I managed to get some reasonably close pictures of these enigmatic little Geese. The results are okay, but if I could have kept the sea spray away they'd have been so much sharper.

Friday, 8 October 2010

700 migrating Brent Geese over Shadoxhurst

First image shows an unaided eye view as the Geese flying south high overhead.

Perhaps there's nothing more stirring in nature than the sight of migrating Geese heading south in Autumn. But I now know there is something better, and that's when it's the first time you see it happening over your own back garden - miles away from where these birds should be. (at least I thought they followed the coastline on migration).

I still I have to pinch myself as I write this, but today, at 1.15pm on clear skys and a south easterly wind, a broad front of Brent Geese moved south at perhaps 1000 - 200om height, flying directly over the garden. I grabbed my camera and wife Sian to witness. I then changed a lense and a card in seconds - took a few pictures in seconds ... and then gone in seconds! Luckily the second wave flew over perhaps 5 minutes apart, again at a great height and they too were soon flying south into the sun.

I believe these Brent Geese are nearly at the end of a 2500 mile journey from Siberia. They've flown south directly over the Thames and Medway estuaries, and then as a short cut, over Mid Kent, Ashford, Shadoxhurst and beyond. With a clear sky and South Easterly winds these Geese could probably view Dungeness or the Rye Bay on the horizon. My guess is that these birds are on their way to the Sussex marshes of Pagham and Chichester or further south west still.

I hope this post gives encouragement to anyone who can't make it to the coast, where the more dramatic bird migration sightings are seen. You just never know what's flying over your own door step!

Brent Geese flying south directly over the garden

Brent Geese as close as I could get with a 500 mm lense.

The birds seemed silent and flew on shallow wings with just the faintest of wing beats

The first flock had 4oo birds the second flock 300 and seperated in time by 10 minutes.

A last close look before flying into the sun - I very rare site over Mid-Kent indeed!

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Speckled Oak Bush Cricket and full moon

Caught silouhetted against September's full moon, this cricket spent many hours motionless feeding high in the garden brambles.

Migrant Hawker - compound eye

Click on any image within the blog to get a bigger picture

A close look at the compound eye of a Migrant Hawker photographed in the garden during the week. The individual cells you can see are called ommatidia. The more cells or ommatidia present, the greater insect's compound eye has to resolve images. With patience larger dragonflies can be approached to within millimetres which is what I did to get this close with a macro lense at hand. Compound images create an image from the mosaic created by the ommatidia. Perhaps to get an idea of what a dragonfly is seeing is to look at the enlarge pixels of a digital image in photoshop or paint. Just imagine each pixel is an individual ommatidia.

Autumn Hawker dragonflies

Male Southern Hawker patrolling over the pond

Whilst our summer Damselfly season ended nearly 6 weeks ago, the two large 'common' Hawker dragonflies are still visiting the garden and will continue to until the first frosts arrive. The male Southern Hawker is patrolling singularly, and feeding over the pond in quite poor weather; although importantly, the temperatures are still quite warm. The slightly smaller Migrant Hawker, pictured, was resting and sunning itself on Rose hips on what was a lovely autumn day. The Migrant Hawker is still numerous, feeding in loose groups in the glade of the garden. The macro pictures below show that the tattiness on the wings isn't just wear and tear, but also seems to be from with dried flower and plant debris (probably Hemp Agrimony) where this species will have been hunting.

Pictures below are the Migrant Hawker

Monday, 20 September 2010

Vapourer moth and Summer bugs

It's such a long time since I've added a post - in fact, sadly, I've just about missed the whole of summer. So to sum-up (before winter's here), the first half of summer to mid- July was gloriously hot and sunny in Kent - but then it went decidedly down hill as soon as my kids started their summer holidays. Looking back I can't remember anything too special that visited the garden. But then the standards are high, with insects such as White Admiral and Hornet a fairly regular sight. Likewise birds such as Hobby, Buzzard, Nightingale, and down by the church at least, Spotted Flycatchers still continue to nest. Most of the pictures I took during the summer seemed to be of insects; all common stuff except for one or two I've yet to identify. But let's start with the Vapourer Moth caterpillar (below) found feeding on Dog Rose leaves close to the house during July.

Vapourer Moth caterpillar, probably the highlight of the garden this summer. Unless you count this....

...I believe it's either a Squash bug or a much rarer Box Bug...

...and then, there was also this (below)! I think this could be some kind of Ground Beetle. A mixture of metallic greens and red flanks it was a beautiful insect to see.

A Nusery Web Spider (above) looks awesome under the macro lens.

Azure Damselflies have graced the garden pond into early August.

A micro Moth species.

Resting in the garden pond reeds, a China mark Moth.

Large Red Damselfly with prey.

Female Emperor dragonfly egg-laying on Broadleaf pond weed. This is only the second time this has happened in 10 years here.

Feeding on Meadowsweet pollen and then moving onto unmentionable things, a pair of Longhorn Beetles.

A Speckled Bush Cricket stalking prey on the flower of Greater Spearwort.

A rare visit to the garden and my hand from the unwelcome female Cleg fly.

A common and beautiful Marmalade Hoverfly species.

Azure Damselfly with prey.

An Orb Web spider.

German wasp on blackberries.

A Parasitic wasp gorytes mystaceus with prey.

An, as yet, unidentified fly species.