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.