Friday, 16 September 2011

Garden Chiffchaff

Here in Kent, we've had a splendid week of sunny weather. On Wednesday night I had time to sit on the Dungeness beach and share an hour's solitude in the company of a rare Long tailed Skua and watch the sun go down. Tonight, and back in the garden a migrant Chiffchaff is happy to mix with a resident flock of Blue Tits and Great Tits which frequent the over grown plants and Sedges around the garden pond. Once again, the late afternoon sun has enabled me to get a decent photo of a fast moving bird. It's possible in September that many dozens of Chiffchaffs stream through our gardens turning to just a trickle in October and eventually the majority in Africa for the winter.

Whilst we've had a few flights of autumn Meadow Pipits pass over, there are still plently of late summer Swallows and Martins around and also their arch enemy the Hobby. The odd Buzzard is never too far away and a party of 6 Cormorants flew north over the village to.

It may never happen again, so here's a couple more pics of the Long Tailed Skua watching the sun go down on Dungeness Beach.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

2nd summer Long tailed Skua at Dungeness

I spent sometime up on the shingle at the fishing boats watching this Long tailed Skua at close quarters tonight. Unconcerned by visiting Birdwatchers, but always keeping an eye on passing Gulls and Sandwich Terns, this was a rare ocassion for me with a very special bird - my second ever Long tailed Skua. When this bird returns north next spring it may well have its dramatic long tail feathers, and will be returning to an Arctic homeland in the company of Arctic foxes and Lemmings at least for the summer.

But as I write, this bird seems in no rush to make it back to the Equatorial waters of West Africa for its winter home. Sadly this Squa has a missing foot, and also should really be west of the British Isles out in the Atlantic on a more standard path south. However, it's healthy and feisty bird, every bit a Squa chasing Terns and stealing prey at will. It may well be the highlight of the year seeing this bird today, so I'd like to thank Martin - aka the Ploddingbirder for placing pics and information, enabling myself and other birders to catch up with a very close Long tailed Skua. Cheers Martin!

Monday, 12 September 2011

Arctic Tern at Dungeness

Back to the fishing boats at Dungeness on Sunday morning for a 2 hour sea watch. My birdwatching was dominated by Swallows accompanied by House Martins and Sand Martins bravely heading off the point and over a choppy channel sea to France, on then onwards to Africa. Passing low over the water in waves, I estimated 40 birds a minute were passing in front of me, inshore. Also travelling south was this Arctic Tern.

Now Arctic Terns are not such a common site for in Kent as their ousin the Common Tern, and this one is an adult bird moulting from its summer plumage to a winter plumage. It has a white an interesting white cheek effect, created by black fringing on the cheek feathers meeting the grey feathering of the underpart plumage. Its loosing its black cap, but still has a blood red beak to sport. The overall effect is distinctive, if a bit scruffy.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The Dungeness Glaucous Gull

On Tuesday afternoon, gale force winds and heavy rain raced through the English Channel forcing the ferrys to stop running, but also providing the opportunity for some off-course seabirds to be seen at Dungeness. When I arrived at the the fishing boats, the wind and driving spray were fiercely present, but sadly any seabird rarities were were few and far between:- well, in fact there weren't any!

Common Terns fed along the stormy tide line with little problem from the wind, and 'Stubby' the second winter Glaucous Gull, and yet to find his true home back in the Arctic, just sat it out feeding on sprats thrown up on to the beach by the waves. Despite sheltering to the side of the boats, I was soaked to the skin in an hour. My camera too, seemed very wet and salty taking pictures at 1600 and 800 iso with just a few keepers to make the trip worthwhile.

Stubby will one day grow out of his adolescent plumage to be dazzingly white with elegant silver wings fitting for his native home in the arctic.

Common Terns feeding on the tideline seemingly little bothered by driving rain and stormforce 7 gales.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Raven over Shadoxhurst - a first summer record

I've had so little time for birding all summer, but gained a little luck today with this splendid Raven circling high over the garden. I'd been trying to put a bit of shine into my 20 year old Citreon zx for most of the day, and looked-up to stretch my neck late in the afternoon to see this near pristine bird. This is my second record only for the village, the first being back in December 2010 in what was a very severe cold spell.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Garden Spotted Flycatchers

For the past 3 days, our new found Spotted flycatchers family are ever present in the garden. And yesterday, as I worked on clearing our weed-choked pond, I was happily accompanied by our flycatchers whizzing just over head-height and feeding young. I think we have an insect/ flycatcher friendly garden judging by their reluctance to move on.

I didn't think I'd have any time to take some snaps, until the end of the day, luckily the birds were still present and approachable.

One of three juveniles begging for food.

Juvenile and Adult - note the Tick on the side of the adult's head.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Fledged Goldcrests

Whilst many of our common garden birds seem to have bred successfully earlier in the summer, and are now generally keeping hidden in the shade for a summer moult, we've had a conspicuous and noisy family of Goldcrests spending most of the day in our high garden spruce.

Its good to see Goldcrests breeding around the garden in any year, but particularly after a very severe winter in which our smallest bird is considered to have taken a heavy toll.

3rd pair of Spotted flycatchers confirmed for Shadoxhurst

Fledglings were being fed Wasps this afternoon

At the back of the garden but more frequently in the Oaks bordering the paddock field behind, a surprising find - Spotted flycatchers feeding fledglings! How on earth did I nearly miss these? The fledglings look too young to have travelled far from the nest site, so I think these birds have bred in the back of someone's garden along Hornash lane. Its great news for a once a common summer visitor, but now sadly rather scarce.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Fly-over Crossbills

Flying south and in clear blue skies 21 Crossbills flew directly over the garden this morning. These are my first garden Crossbills record. If only they'd stop for a rest in the garden Larch.. and preferably when I've the camera too!

Monday, 18 July 2011

Raptors - mid summer round-up

From the 1st to the 11th of July a Red Kite was seen by many on private farmland adjacent to Church Lane. Unfortunately I didn't see it, even though observers said it often wandered over countryside south of Hornash Lane (viewable from our back garden). The bird frequented the pheasant pen areas within private woodland, surely making itself unwelcome (to some) and of concern to others. Sad to say, but hopefully it's moved on, and to a more hospitable area.

Elsewhere around the village, our pair of Buzzards are very vocal and feeding often close to the suspected nesting site. Watching the birds yesterday, both adult birds could be seen dive- bombing alongside hedgerows and calling wildly as they did so. It appeared to me that the birds were trying to flush potential prey from cover. Occasionally they both soared and called together, low over woodland canopy, where I believe the nest site maybe. Despite many quick visits to the site area, with stays no longer than an hour, I've yet to see prey taken to the nest site. Non breeding Buzzards in various stages of moult can be seen at anytime soaring over the Shadoxhurst/Woodchurch area.

Hobbies are now seen daily dashing across the village in chase of House Martins or leisurely cruising for Hawker dragonflies.

Sparrowhawks now have young on the wing, I witnessed a young bird over the garden following an adult and begging for food. Interestingly, on the 11th of July I saw 2 adult Sparrowhawks still displaying together.

Perhaps now the rarer of our common birds of prey, the Kestrel, has successfully nested on farmland behind Church lane, reared 3/4 young. Thanks to Richard on Moat Farm, Shadoxhurst, for info on Kite and Kestrels. Richard has also reported that Spotted flycatchers have also successsfully reared young from a traditional nesting site on the farm.

Tawney Owls are ever present in our local woodlands that I have visited this summer. With so much noise and commotion from juvenile birds, I believe Tawney Owls, must have had a good breeding season.

Barn Owls are frequently seen between Shadoxhurst and Woodchurch, but breeding nest sites are unknown to me.

Evening searches for Long Eared Owls were fruitless and just one site in the village proved to have Little Owls breeding successfully so far.

The Peregrine seen earlier in the summer seeing off Buzzards high over the village, is to me the most intriguing sighting of the summer, if only I could find more time and luck to find out more!

Monday, 4 July 2011

Juvenile Redshank

Down at Rye Harbour nature reserve, the breeding season is closing in. Most of the Sandwich Terns have flown out to into the bay with young in tow, and the reseve now has many young Waders, Gulls and Terns to see. On this quick visit, this young Redshank was catching Lug-worms for fun, and was not to be distracted by my camera.

Purple Hairstreak and Dog Rose

Sat out-of-sight, usually sun-bathing at the top of Oak trees in their millions, Purple hairstreaks are easy to over look. In the evenings and and late afternoons they tend to flicker around a bit trying to stay in the sun. This one was in the early morning sun, basking at the top of the Dog Rose. To see and photograph the Purple sheen on top of the wings is a rare thing, this one was to be no exception just the curious little eyes and tufts at the end of the wings.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Breeding Little Owls in Shadoxhurst Parish

Tonight, I wanted to find out if we had Little Owls nesting near by. All the indicators were good, as earlier in the year they have been very noticable, even now they never seem too far away. So, as it was the hottest, and most humid night of the year I decided on a late-night walk from the house directly through the hay fields and pasture behind the garden. I went late - 10.30, but still some light in the west) and I soon picked-up and followed the sound of Little Owls.

I hadn't walked for more than 5 minutes from the house, when, from a hedgerow not too far away, a cacophony of Little Owl mayhem filled the still and humid air. It was obvious that this was the sound of an adult, returning back to feed its brood of owlets. The owlets were making a begging call which sounded a bit like chalk being scraped along a blackboard, and this could be heard along a 50 metre length of hedgerow with some tall trees. I'm sure the original nest hole will be in an old craggy oak somewhere along this edge, but by now it was too dark to see anything. The sounds I'd heard were all the information I needed.

As I walked back to the house, the Shadoxhurst church bells were ringing for eleven 'o' clock. The summer triangle stars of Deneb, Vega and Altair, were positioned nicely overhead and with two glow-worms magically shining away in the horse pastures behind the garden, it had been a worthwhile walk.

Mediterranean Gull high over the village

Looking-up, soaring overhead, Mediterranean Gulls mixed-in with Ashford's Herring Gulls and Lesser Blackbacked Gulls can be seen just about daily. They've become a new addition as a fly-over to our garden bird list. In the space of 15 years or less this gull has gone from a rare visitor from Southern and Eastern Europe, to a local coastal breeder with non-breeding birds happy to loaf around fields and towns. Indeed my son has told me there was one in the school playground at Tenterden, scavenging around the litter bins. Mediterrnean Gulls are still admired by birders for their handsomely simple but striking plumage - all white wings, black cap and bright red bill (in summer) and even from a great height they're easy to spot.

Friday, 24 June 2011

House Martins - late June nest building

House Martin showing off its new wall, building on top of the remains of last year's nest.

Just as the village Swallows, Blackbirds, and many others birds are rearing second broods, my next door neighbour's house have a pair of House Martins attempting a little bit of summer nest- building under its eaves.

The nest site is an interesting one with history. It has been used occasionally before by House Martins and always surprises us with its late start in the breeding season. House Martins in Shadoxhurst have a small colony on one nearby road in the village (underneath the soffits of new-build houses), and this nest has always been on the periphery of the main site. In some years, Martins have started to nest-build, only to later abandon. House Martins are colonial birds even when nest building, typically collecting mud together (safety in numbers) for nest construction. It has certainly given my neighbours plenty to worry about as they would dearly love them to breed successfully again.

House Martins are quite capable of having two broods in one summer, and are seemingly in no particular rush to get back to Africa even as the long nights descend in October. I think what has been the catalyst for these birds to re-build a nest now, is the heavy rain we have received in the last few days. Perhaps the near drought we have had in Kent since early spring made it too difficult to collect the soft mud pellets for nest building. And, perhaps, by nesting later towards summer they might escape the attention of our village Sparrows who like to squat and take-on the 'house' as their own. Presently though, our Sparrows seem to have plenty of fledglings to keep themselves occupied with. So good luck to the House Martins - is this just going to be a practice run for a future nest in years ahead? Or perhaps a summer roosting site, or even better, a true summer breeding attempt?

Monday, 20 June 2011

Early summer in Orlestone forest

Mid-June and Chiffchaffs and Garden warblers are still putting some song into the woods. A leisurely bike ride revealed a juvenile Lesser spotted woodpecker 'pipping' on the edge of the woodland edge near Fags Wood. Two sightings of Hobby, also Bullfinch, Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Goldcrest and Coal Tits and many of our common woodland avian suspects.

In the evening there were at least 2 Woodcock 'roding' across the forest rides, but sadly despite many attempts this year, no Nightjars appear to be present.

There are many butterflies on the wing now - White Admiral, Comma and Meadow Browns to name just a few.

Lastly did any one see the Vulcan Bomber flying low over the village Saturday afternoon? It takes me back to my Lincolnshire roots!

Shadoxhurst House Sparrows

This is our garden 'king' Sparrow. He sits boldly above the garden communal nest - chirping his song throughout the day. Unusually he's no longer wary of me or the camera.

Early morning walks through the village show just about every house having its own family of House Sparrows calling from the roof tops - the Kings Head pub being particularly popular. In our own garden, House Sparrows nest in a communal box on a Larch tree. More popular is a big communal nest deep within the safety of a hedge of Dog Rose and Bramble, that I've left specifically for them. Its difficult to know just how many birds nest and roost here - but the noise at dawn is deafening.

Despite the infilling of front gardens with slabs and shingle, I've no doubt that the village Sparrow population is in good shape. Their success is probably a combination of good nesting places (under eaves), and good adjacent farmland for insects in spring and seeds in autumn.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Peregrine falcon - summer Shadoxhurst record

A lunchtime 'sky-watch' proved to be very interesting today. Firstly, 4 Buzzards soared together directly overhead into the sun. Its likely that these were probably our breeding pair joined by two immature birds keeping within a broad territory. One of the birds was the same tatty feathered bird shown on the previous posts.

No sooner had I found the Buzzards when they were joined by a falcon who quickly managed to disperse them. My first impression was that this had to be a Hobby, who are more likely to be breeding not too far away. I snapped a few pics, only to find a series of images of a fine and distant Peregrine falcon. Now an adult Peregrine in mid-June, perhaps defending a territory is a tantalising thought.. ..more sky-watching is going to be needed to try and produce a clearer picture of what may be happening. This Peregrine is our 3rd record for Shadoxhurst.

Peregrine falcon high into the sun (hence poor pic) - my 3rd record for the village. Taken at the same time, one of a pair of probable breeding Buzzards.

Hobby, Med Gull, L.Egret and Turtle Dove

June, the first month after the spring migration has halted, can still be a great month for birding - you just don't know what birds may turn-up. And some of our newer exciting Birds to the UK, are also some of our larger birds too, making them easier to spot. Simple stuff hey!

So, June 6th saw 2 adult Mediterranean Gulls soaring high overhead of Shadoxhurst. Pure white silhouettes, simple black cap and bright red beaks - very easy to spot. The next day another one was flying low over fields on Duck Lane. These are my first records for Mediterranean Gull in Shadoxhurst.

Minutes, after seeing the Gull, a Brilliant Hobby flashed by, taking a casual chase to our village Swallows. Surprisingly, I haven't seen many Hobbies locally this year.

A fly-over Little Egret heading south was the the next day tick. This bird was the first one seen since the winter months.

And on Saturday 6.00am a Turtle Dove could be heard 'purring' over a still and beautiful sunrise.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Buzzard and Carrion crow 'dog fight'

Photographed yesterday, this Carrion crow, in a tatty state itself, takes advantage of a Buzzard in a rather poor moult condition for a spot of 'knock about'. I don't think this Buzzard is one of our breeding birds, more likely a non-breeding 2/3 year old bird. Please correct me if I'm wrong! Pictures were taken directly above the house (and into the sun).

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Sedge warbler - the last summer visitor

Singing from a neighbour's garden this morning, the scratchy collection of noises that just about make a song and belonging to a Sedge warbler could be heard. Just as our local Nightingales have quickly dropped into silence having been here 8 weeks, this Sedge Warbler must surely be the last summer visitor of the year? Sadly, the bird which could be heard most of the morning never ventured to the perfect habitat I've created for it at the bottom of the garden, preferring instead to sing from deep within a garden hedge. This Sedge warbler is the first one we've heard from the garden for at least 6 years.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Lesser spotted woodpeckers have bred in the village

No exciting birding to report at the moment, partly because Lewis and I are playing football in the Shadoxhurst football field a little more than usual. However this also has its birding rewards; we've noticed the wanderings of our local Buzzards a bit more, and yesterday, the gardens bordering the field were the chosen spot of a family of Lesser spotted woodpeckers who constantly pipped their distinctive call for the duration we were there. Lesser spotted woodpeckers have this clever trick of annually being able to escape any territorial detection by me, only to turn-up as a wandering fledged family. Its always a relief to know that despite their scarceness they are still managing to breed. Also successfully bred, are our local Nuthatches whoose young are foraging through the gardens too.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Letter-join: joined-up handwriting made easy!

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Sunday, 22 May 2011

Blue Tits fledgling

George, rescuing a Blue Tit fledge from the lawn.

Actual size, these Blue Tit fledgling birds were probably no bigger than a 50p coin and felt weightless in the hand.

Last night, I pondered the thought with friends that there where no young Blue Tits on the wing yet, and today our garden birds have left the nest. I wish they Hadn't! These Blue tits appeared out of the box, in the middle of very blustery weather today, and I believe their departure is a little premature. They appeared too small and frail, - some were very weak in flight and falling to the ground to easily. Luckily, no neighbouring cats were about at the time.

Other fledglings occasionally seen around the garden at the moment include, Greenfinch, Dunnock, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Robin and Starling.

Village Spotted flycatchers

This picture was taken last Saturday, when I first noticed our Shadoxhurst Spotted flycatchers had returned. Most years one pair of Spotted flycatchers is at least present in the village, and this pair are faithful to the overhead wires and gardens and farm buildings at the top of Duck lane.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Golden Oriole singing - first record Shadoxhurst.

Another early morning slow-paced ramble through the woods south of Shadoxhurst brought my first record of a singing Golden Oriole today. Like the Wood warbler two weeks ago, patience, (which, generally I have none of), was key. Having been cycling and walking since 5.45am, the bird was heard singing for just a 5 minute spell at around 7.00am. I could not view the bird at all, - just about take in, that I was hearing the beautiful flute-like song of a very rare visitor.

Other birds present include, 5 Bullfinches, 2 Cuckoo, Long tailed Tit, Garden Warbler, and Nightingale, all still in 'song' and faithfully occupying territories for a month now. Also a Lesser Whitethroat is singing from the wasteground by the old Car Garage and a pair of Spotted flycatchers are present at the top of Duck Lane.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Wood warbler - a rare visitor to Shadoxhurst

An early morning walk through the woods of Shadoxhurst brought a fine and scarce bird to view.
I was just about to call it 'a day', when, out of nowhere, the distinctive trill of a Wood Warbler joined a chorus of Nightingale, Willow Warbler, Chifchaff, Garden warbler and Blackcap. I managed just a few distant images of this beautiful leaf warbler before it disappeared as quickly as it had arrived. This is my first Wood Warbler in-land record for Kent, so quite an exciting event, as they're an increasingly scarce visitor to the South East. Probably, this bird is 'on passage', and may well find itself in a wooded valley in Scotland or a Wales in the next day or so.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Dunnocks - the almost secret nest

Back in the garden, we've been watching our Dunnock's first egg-lay and now, rearing these healthy chicks. The nest is no more than 3 feet off the ground in a small conifer. The chicks are getting more audible when begging for food, and hopefully will not attract the attention of our neighbour's cats.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Pomarine Skuas fly-by Dungeness

Five Pomarine Skuas close to the first buoy at Dungeness

Seawatching from Dungeness this spring has been very rewarding. The annual migration of Pomarine Skuas can be a hit and misss a fair, but good weather, good light, and a dollop of good luck has brought Pomarines reasonably close to shore. With high pressure and north - north easterly winds, the channel has a become a super-highway of birds moving North including Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Grey Plover, Common and Velvet Scoters, Whimbrel, Divers and Skuas.

Bar-tailed Godwits
Bar-tailed Godwits, Sanderling, Turnstone and Grey Plover

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Surveying TQ 93, RM canal, Warehorne to Kenardington

An afternoon visit to a sun-drenched and breezy Romney Marsh, is perhaps not the best time to go, but all the same it was still very quiet on the birding front. No Kingfishers along the canal, just one Reed warbler in the reeds and the odd Sedge warbler in the scrub. No singing Cetti's warblers or Hobbies or Egrets. And no Turtle Doves - more visits required to get a better picture. Of interest was a pair of Kestrels, 2 common Sandpipers, many Rooks feeding chicks in the surrounding farmland, 1 Grey Heron.


Much better, was the farmland/wetland south of the canal known as 'the Dowels' on the extreme south east edge of TQ93. This is an area I watched 10 years ago, and remember seeing passage migrant Whimbrel feeding amongst Romney marsh sheep. Rather splendidly there were 6 Whimbrel feeding there today. The Whimbrel which flew over our garden today most probably had departed these fields earlier. Other significant birds seen here include a pair of Lapwings holding territory, 1 Oystercatcher, 3 pairs Yellow wagtails, 1 LB gull, 3 pairs of BH Gulls, and 1 pair of Mediterranean Gulls. Access and viewing is poor for this site - who knows whats calling-in here without being noticed?

Garden fly over Whimbrel, Nightingales and common migrants

An early morning cycle ride out of Shadoxhurst, down Duck Lane and through to Stone Wood showed what a good year it appears to be for our common migrants. Undisturbed by traffic and traffic noise, the sound of Whitethroat and one Lesser Whitethroat were calling from garden edges and a Willow Warbler is holding territory in the mini-wasteland that was the car garage at the bottom of the village. There to, Goats Beard is growing in the cracks of the broken garage forecourt. Many Swallows and House Martins were loitering on wires - Mediterranean style, and all just wonderful to see!
I mentioned earlier in April, that Nightingales had returned in good numbers to the woods to the south of Shadoxhurst, but now their numbers have been supplemented further by more birds and the sound is just fantastic. This morning their were 3 birds singing in Hedgerow along Duck lane before even entering the woods. And as I left Stone wood taking the track back to Woodchurch road, 2 further birds were singing in Hawthorn in the company of Skylarks and Yellowhammers! In fact Nightingales seem to be in every woodland I visit at the moment. Whitethroat, Garden warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow warbler are all plentiful too.

A pair of Bullfinches and Long tailed Tits were in the Duck Lane hedge. One Cuckoo is calling and sounds quite wheezy at times, - a metaphor of the bird's decline perhaps? No sign of Turtle Dove. Similar nothing to report on our local raptors. Skylarks are plentiful in the arable land behind Stone wood and back along the fields to Shadoxhurst.

But the bird of the morning was seen after I finished my ride. Stood looking back through the garden, contemplating cutting back the height of our Sallow trees over hanging my neighhbours garden, a splendid Whimbrel at nothing more than 200 feet flew straight over the garden. Camera in hand but slow to respond, I caught this quick snap as the Whimbrel headed North East and into the sun.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Mystery fly is - Phasia hemiptera

Thank you to all that helped to identify the fly featured in my last post. Matt Smith at 'The Wild about Britain' forum, confirmed it as an unusually early record of a male Phasia hemiptera - a parasitic Tachnid Fly that uses Shield bugs as hosts for larvae. Once again, it shows what can be found in our gardens, and also that there is always something new there too.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Mystery fly on Spruce pine

Our large Norwegian Spruce has attracted my eye recently, as its developing a bumper crop of pine cones, and some are developing that beautiful crimson red I posted pictures of last year. This morning, before the sun had gained any real height and heat, sat on the end of low hanging cone was this rather docile fly sunning itself.

In size, it was about the same as a large house fly, but instantly I knew I was looking at something new to me. Its wings Bat-like, were exceptionally striking in shape and the fly had a memorable contrasting orange and black abdomen. I'm looking forward to finding out more. All help gratefully received!