Friday, 28 December 2012

Roosting Waxwings, Shadoxhurst

Back playing football in the Shadoxhurst field this afternoon, with Lewis and friends, I could hear Waxwings calling in the distance for much of the time we were there. The weather was as wet and gloomy as ever making it impossible to spot them from afar.

Then at about 4.15 pm the birds were audibly much closer and calling strongly together. We quickly spotted the flock of at least 50 birds as they made a slow 'figure of eight' flight over the gardens of Molloy Road and then over the football field, before finally dropping into roost in gardens near the village pavillion. I'm pleased my son and friends saw them so well, all be it as silhouettes.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Boxing day Waxwings and Little Egret

Yesterday, I walked around the football field in lovely sunshine, but alas no Waxwings there. But there was a confiding FIeldfare sharing turf with a pair of Mistle thrushes. An hour later and the sky had turned grey, and I was driving up towards the post office when 20 Waxwings flew low over the roadside gardens. 

Today, a Little Egret has been stalking the flooded field behind the garden a nice bird to be ending the year with.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Fly-catching Waxwings

We received a phone call from friends in the village this morning to let us know that the Waxwings were still in their favourite hedgerow behind the Shadoxhurst football field. So off we went on a walk to find them- which didn't take long.  In the hour viewing the Waxwings, the twelve birds took little interest in the remaining Berries of Haws and Rose Hips, but instead were fly-catching insects. Whilst it was difficult to see what they were catching, it was a fine sight to see, the birds oblivious to our presence. The resident Starlings were also feeding in the same way and in the warm sunny air we could hear if not see the occasional hover fly whizz by.  No doubt, a mid-winter insect bounty is a more energy rich meal than fruit berries despite the energy expended in catching suitable prey.

Before watching the Waxwings we had a little walk in the woods close to Hornash Lane and were rewarded with a calling Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. This is I think our first record this year - and good to know that there is still one around. 

Elsewhere on our walk, a Kestrel preyed on half-drowned Earthworms forced to surface heavy soils flashed with rainwater.  Two Buzzards were never far away, and a party of Meadow pipits were feeding in the Scout field. 

Thank you to David and Daphinee for telling us about the 2 Little Egrets that have returned to the ditches around the village - unfortunately today, we didn't see them.  

The Waxwings are now into week 2 of their stay around Shadoxhurst and we have Apples in the gardenand two bushes, laden with Rose Hip Berries. Fingers-crossed they're going to find them soon.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Waxwings still in the village

Making the most of the late afternoon sunshine before the next wave of rain arrived, I joined a game of football with my son and his mates. Once again, it wasn't long before I could here a party of 12 Waxwings, trilling from a hedgerow beyond the field. I quickly whizzed around to tell some more bird loving neighbours, but sadly the birds were flushed by a Sparrowhawk.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

More Shadoxhurst Waxwings

 Having put my neighbours in the village on 'Waxwing alert', it wasn't long before my friend Geoff, a resident in the next street, reported back to me that he'd had twelve Waxwings strip his Rowan tree of berries on Sunday. Geoff sent me a couple of pictures and is very excited that his 2 year old Rowan tree has provided such entertainment. Thanks for the pics Geoff!

In 20 years of living in Kent, I cannot remember a winter where Waxwings are turning up just about everywhere in our southern side of Kent.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Garden Waxwings and Stock Dove

 I wondered if my imagination was playing tricks on me earlier in the week, when I thought I could hear Waxwings 'trilling' somewhere in our garden vicinity.
And then on Saturday there they were, six magnificent Waxwings sat at the top of a tall Spruce Tree in our front garden. The tree is taller than the house, and also visible from the back garden which is where George, Lewis and myself watched them from. These are the first garden Waxwings for at least a decade. On this occasion no pictures I'm afraid.

Even rarer, a Stock Dove has followed in the foot steps of our Summer Turtle Doves and joined the local Wood pigeons for a daily seed feed. This is the first Stock Dove in 18 years to feed in the garden. Around Shadoxhurst Stock Doves are present as a breeding bird in just small numbers, but there has been notably more Stock Doves wintering in the area this autumn.

Stock Dove, photographed from the kitchen window.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Waxwing roadside casualty

My sister Skyped me this morning to show me a freshly killed Waxwing, it was from a flock of 400 birds in Burton, Lincolnshire. It had been hit by a car, but was still alive when she picked it up. The winter's Waxwing invasion, has seen the birds desperate act of feeding on roadside berries taking its deathly toll. Sadly, 2 hours later, I too was picking up another Waxwing casualty from a flock at Hamstreet that are also dicing with death along the hedgerow of the very fast A2070. Coincidentally the bird I picked up was a beautiful male - just as my sister had found. It had a broken neck but was otherwise was unmarked - very sad. I weighed it at 70 grammes.

The birds at Hamstreet are depleting the Hawthorn berries rapidly and yet the flock is still building in number, there were at  least 50 + birds at Johnson's Corner today, with more birds feeding in the hedge towards the Kingsnorth turn-off on the A2070. Hopefully the Waxwings will soon be visiting our gardens, with just Sparrowhawks to contend with.

To cute for their own good, Waxwings have little fear of people or cars

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Don't disturb the Harriers

Might as well be stood there with a gun
I stumbled across a bunch of birders at Walland Marsh today. They were standing and talking with little concern for the Harriers (or was it a Crane?) they'd come to see. I asked them to stand down from the brow of a bank overlooking a close-by Harrier roost. The same view could be had from simply taking 10 steps down the bank and out of the flight-line of incoming roosting birds. As I walked away, I saw that no one had moved. So a big thumbs down to all those birders who were there - and you were noisy, too. When you hear that the roost isn't used by Harriers like it used to be in the past, you might know the reason why.

Anyone visiting Walland Marsh reserve should not park their cars beyond the field gate (I suggest the pub car park), and never walk on top of the perimeter bank for the same reasons the RSPB put up signs for children saying 'please do not stand on top of the bank'.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

November Swallow

This morning at daybreak a Swallow made a purposeful dash across the garden to quickly disappear to the south.  This made Swallows present for the last eight months in a year when we think that despite the weather, Swallows locally had a good and extended breeding season.

Back in October a flock of 200+ Fieldfares took a low pass across the garden with the aid of a strong Northern wind on the 27th. Unusually, on the 10th, a flock of Greylag Geese flew North over the house instead of roosting on Romney Marsh. Single Yellowhammers have started to return to the garden for seed and Wood pigeons are feeding young, with no regard for any formal breeding season.

Greylag geese

Monday, 1 October 2012

A rare September garden Brambling

Undeserved, this Brambling. A confession, on Saturday morning I stood at the back of the garden practicing 'birds in flight' shots with a new camera. So thin on the ground were any birds, that turning around in frustration while walking back to the house, I snapped anything at all - including this small brown thing was sittiing high on the top of our garden spruce. It was only only when I looked at the pictures on screen later, that I realised that we were looking at our third garden Brambling and first autumn record in 16 years.

Sparrowhawk makes a splash

Yesterday, at the back of the garden, I cut-back an overgrown Blackthorn tree that had smothered one of the ponds. I cut it back heavily to let in some light, but I left one branch to over-hang the pond. I figured it would be good for Sparrowhawks and possibly Kingfishers. At the time Sian chuckled at this... today, cleaning our mountain bikes on the deck 130 feet away from the pond, a superb male Sparrowhawk took to trying out the new perch - as predicted!. We all watched it from some distance, as it seemed very inquisitive about the pond itself. To our pleasure it dropped down onto the pond edge. I made my way down the garden and spotted the bird again this time leg deep in water. From behind a small conifer and armed with my new camera, I used the flip down LCD screen whilst taking pictures with the camera high above my head. I got a few lucky pics, but frustratingly the exciting ones of the bird bathing were partly obscured by garden foliage in the path of my lense.  But, never mind, I'm convinced of the attraction of my designer perch, and hope we'll have the Sparrowhawk back again soon.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Juvenile Gannet sits it out at Dungeness

My first early morning birding trip down to Dungeness point for sometime was, I hoped, going to be a morning of rich pickings. However, the morning soon turned out to be dominated by just one lonesome and magnificent juvenile Gannet.

Walking the shingle ridge by the the fishing boats, there wasn't a great deal to see - just a dozen or so Gannets closely following a group of Porpoises was the only interest. But walking on, and in my path with camouflaged brown plumage and sleeping posture, a solitary Gannet awaited me. I wasn't far from nearly walking straight into it before it raised its ruffled head and stopped me in my tracks.

The young Gannet appeared weak and was going nowhere and I felt concerned for the bird's safety - especially as it wasn't going to be long before Saturday morning dog walkers would be wandering across the shingle ridges.

I sat with the bird for some time taking pictures and contemplated what I was going to do with it next. Looking back behind me a small group of fisherman were having breakfast on the beach after a long night's fishing. They kindly gave me an 8oz Whiting which I offered to the starving Gannet. As I approached the bird, holding the fish out, it immediately started begging for food with its beak open wide. Down dropped the Whiting, head first, swallowed in one move. I then offered Squid and Mackerel to the Gannet, neither of which it would swallow.

I decided that now with some food down it's neck I'd try and float it back to sea. With the help of a friendly visitor to Dungeness we caught the bird, clasped its beak tightly and took it down to the shoreline. Despite an incoming tide, our lonesome Gannet was quickly swimming out to sea and out of harm's way. In fact, within a minute, it was just a speck in the distance and back in the company of a passing party of feeding Gannets.

Interestingly, last weekend, 200 miles up in the North Sea and, to be more precise, in the Humber Estuary, my sister and birding buddies watched a large group of juvenile Gannets unusually flying off-course and close to the Humber Bridge.

Story and excellent photographs here:

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Turtle Doves - one month in the garden

Turtle Dove pair, Shadoxhurst, Kent, June 2012
On a gloomy wet day exactly a month ago, a pair of Turtle Doves dropped down onto the lawn to join our local Wood pigeons, Collared Doves and finches for some loose bird seed - (coincidentally bought the same day).  That such a scarce bird would visit our garden seemed incredulous at the time.

Since then we've put plenty more seed down to entice them back again, and we've not been disappointed, with the birds making 3 to 4 visits a day. Turtle Doves, just like their commoner cousins can't resist a crop full of seed!

Like Collared Doves, if you can sit still in the garden (on those rare days when you can), the Turtle Doves will join you, and forage around the lawn, all be it at an arm's length. They are easily flushed though, a reflection on a window, a mad teenager zooming up and down on a mountain bike, any activity in a neighbours' garden, all will keep the birds away.

In the garden, they look half the size of a Wood Pigeon and significantly smaller than the Collared Doves too.  They prefer to stay in shade and dappled light and feed with their bodies low and horizontal to the ground.

As the weeks have gone by, we've been expecting great things from our star Doves, as we believe they're breeding not too far away. When the birds first appeared they were always close together, following each other around the lawn, and if disturbed, both flying away very close to each other too.

After the fourth day visit, the birds were shamelessly mating on the lawn in the same fashion as your typical feral pigeon does in the town park! Following that day, for two weeks, the birds have been alternating time in the garden to feed up on seed.

For the last week, both birds have again occasionally visited together, leading us to think that perhaps that there are some fledglings not too far away. Could it be possible that we will have a family of Turtle Doves together in the garden - perhaps the coming week will have the answer.

Slightly Bluish Crown - identifies the male bird (above and 2 images below)

The female bird has a browner plumage and a yellow tip on the bill - otherwise its hard to separate the two birds

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Marbled White Butterfly - in evening summer light

 Marbled Whites do not have a particularly long summer life on the wing, so with poor weather predicted for the week ahead, and still feeling inspired by the Wild flowers, and the evening light (after heavy showers) I decided on a quick late visit back to Orlestone forest.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Marbled Whites & Small Skippers - sun basking in Orlestone

In contrast to record-breaking rain over much of the UK, down here in South Kent, we've had a touch of summer including some hot humid weather with hours of sunshine lasting long enough to almost forget how bad the weather has been.
Such weather has allowed some of our Butterflies to have been able to put on a good show, in particular, the very beautiful Marbled White. Just on the edge of the village in flower-rich hay fields backing onto Orlestone forest, we've found a favored field for a large number of Marbled Whites to sun-bath the afternoon and then the evenings away.
Reference guides show the female Marbled White as having a cream tinge to to the underwing, and thats dificult to see in these images as the light was warm and low in the sky at the time, however the bottom butterfly does look more strikingly marked so we can assume this is the male.

Marbled Whites,  Orlestone Forest 7.30pm  July 6th

The same fields had good numbers of Meadow Brown Butterflies and just a few exquisite Small Skippers (pictured below). Returning back to the same fields this morning, and it was a different scenario, still warm but damp and overcast to. In fact the only insects to see and feel where Mosquitos. Back in Birchett Woods, a Lesser Spotted woodpecker was calling against a surprisingly strong chorus of Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Garden Warbler and Blackcap. A family party of Bullfinches was also present.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The lid on local Nightjars

My lads, now15 and 13, through semi-forced bird and wildlife watching, have grown up with a good knowledge of wildlife sights and sounds they'll never forget. For now though, they don't really join me on plods around Orlestone forest, unless it involves taking a mountain bike. But, it's not a problem, they spotted the Kites back in May, they know the call of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, a purring Turtle Dove, and the churring call of the Nightjar.

The Nightjar once heard never forgotten, is a bird we used to take our boys down to Orlestone forest in their toddler years right-up to 2008 to see and hear. Then, a quick walk along the trails of Birchett Wood or just a short stop in Fags Wood car park would guarantee Nightjars. But now I've not heard one for three years. I could just be unlucky, but it feels to me like they've gone.
 Last night, in still muggy air, no Nightjars at all in the forest, and that would have been my fifth visit this year. Orlestone forest has benefited from some expansive spruce-fellling in recent years so certainly there is plenty of new habitat for them to recolonise. On the plus side, young Tawney Owls where calling across the forest, so there's evidence of a good breeding year for them at least.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Breeding Green Woodpeckers and Buzzard news

Probably with another week of hole confinement to endure, a family of Green Woodpeckers are being raised in Orlestone Forest. With a patchwork of Woodland, sheep pasture and grassland, Green Woodpeckers may well be our commonest Woodpecker in the Shadoxhurst/Woodchurch area.

Close-by, in woodland I've surveyed countless times throughout the spring, a thriving family of Buzzards finally made their presence known, and judging by their activity last weekend, may well now have left the nest.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Turtle Dove pair - a new garden addition

Turtle Doves - a new garden tick. June 16th 2012
During the unseasonal storm of last Friday, in this wretched early summer we're experiencing, gale-force winds lashed through the countryside. Bizarrely, a Turtle Dove purred away that day, very close to the back garden edge. Such is the scarcity of Turtle Doves, I hoped that once the storm had died away the Dove would hang around long enough to photograph. But it wasn't to be. The storm died away and the bird was gone. So rare was the event, I thought perhaps the bird had been displaced out of its normal habitat, but that didn't make much sense as the local Collared Doves went about their normal garden business, unruffled by the terrible weather of the day.        
   Three days on, Sian thought she had heard a Turtle Dove purring again. Coincidentally, I'd put some seed out today (bought half-price at Tesco!) something I don't normally do in summer. In no time at all, Finches, House Sparrows and a lovely male Yellowhammer came into feed. Then this evening, the surprise of the year, two Turtle Doves dropped into the garden - perhaps attracted by a small number of Wood Pigeons and Collared Doves already feasting on the seed. Once landed, they immediately pranced the lawn for food. They seemed as tame as Collared Doves and came very close to the house, hard to believe this was the same species I struggle to get anywhere near in Orlestone Forest.
   The weather at the time was cold, wet and surprisingly dark. I managed just one sharp picture, before the birds walked out of sight to the back of the garden, where I'd also added some seed. Will the birds be back tomorrow, are they breeding on our door step? .... only time will tell! Whatever happens, today's appearance of Turtle Doves in our garden feels like a dream with no right to be repeated.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Around the Village, in the garden, through woods..

Woodchurch Road, Shadoxhurst
In fields neighbouring Shadoxhurst there has been a lot of Flax (Linseed oil) grown this year. The blue-flowered Flax looked at its best during May - the flowers have just about gone now.  Perhaps, just because of its more subtle colour, it has a more pleasing effect on the landscape than the fields of oil seed rape that neighbour us.

A few notes from the garden and pictures taken in-between the bank holiday rain showers. The Red-tailed Bumble Bees are visiting the last of the season Water Avens. Before I forget; in the garden pond we have discovered a female adult Great Crested Newt, the first one for at least 5 years.

Red-tailed Bumble Bee and Water Avens
In the paddock behind the garden - there's the occasional horse rivalry going on.

Out in Orlestone Forest again, and when the sun shines the occasional Grizzled Skipper can be seen.

Grizzled Skipper, Orlestone Forest.
 ... and on a big cycle ride around Orlestone forest today we found this magnificent 'Chicken in the Woods' fungus fruiting on an oak tree.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Orlestone forest - Spotted flycatchers and Crossbills

Woodcock 'roding' at Orlestone forest - May 27th

Weekend walks in Orlestone forest for the most part showed much improved numbers of our more scarcer migrants than previous years. A bike-ride down Duck Lane and through to Woodchurch Road had four singing Spotted flycatchers and four purring Turtle Doves. In the same area all our previous Nightingales territories continue to have singing birds - some 8-10  birds present.  Long tailed tits seem to have had a bonanza of a breeding season, with many family parties trailing through the Stone Wood area.

With the more settled warm weather, Grizzled skippers and Small coppers are on show in small numbers.

Perhaps the highlight of my weekend walk was a party of 20 Crossbills vacating one woodland area for another on Saturday morning.  Crossbills seem to be resident in the forest this year - could it be that they've bred?

A late evening walk in Faggs Wood had just one one Woodcock present and, as yet, no Nightjars. Surrounded by the calls of Cuckoo, three close-by Tawny Owls, the song of Nightingales and our commoner song birds, Orlestone Forest is now at its best!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Red Kites - and then they were gone..

I returned back to the newly ploughed fields near Shadoxhurst today just in case the Red Kites may have returned. But sadly, no second chance, it was pretty obvious there were no birds present.

Now, just a few Wood pigeons were feeding, scattered across the red brown fields. Gone were the fast-moving, noisy tractors with their ploughs throwing dust, soil and earthworms into a trail of Gulls and the fantasy sight of Red Kites in tow.  To the hungry Red Kites, which will have wandered from much hotter and drier weather in Europe, the site of Gulls and Crows feasting on spoils from freshly tilled soil must have been a strong lure to drop down into our little corner of Kent, and hang around for a few days and recharge on an earthworm bounty. But that, as we know, was yesterday. All I have today are a few more images from yesterday to share.  The photos were taken within minutes of the birds going off to roost, and I'm left with the feeling if I only I'd found them earlier in the day, I may have taken some much higher quality pictures, but I mustn't complain, for me and Lewis, watching Red Kites swooping around tractors on our patch of Kent will be a life long memory.

More images, up-to-date information and recent sightings can be found on Martin's very excellent web-site at:

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Red Kite group - Shadoxhurst / High Halden area

Returning back from my son's football practice this evening and driving between High Halden and Shadoxhurst, we were amazed to find ourselves watching four Red Kites following tractors ploughing fields. The birds on closer inspection were not wing-tagged and of rather scruffy appearance, suggesting to me they're of continental origin.

As the farmer's finished ploughing for the day, the birds responded in a similar way, and rested on the ploughed earth for a little while before roosting together in the trees behind the field. Despite me watching them land, they were very difficult to relocate again in the foliage.

As I watched the birds, I met a Homewood school student cycling down the road. She told me that the birds had been in the area for 3-4 days. She went onto talk about an Oystercatcher, her local Buzzards and Deer all watched around the same farmland area. I was very impressed with her  wildlife knowledge and presentation - a credit to the school I'd say! Perhaps a future 'deadly 60' presenter one day - heh?!!

I think the farmers may have completed ploughing the area, and the birds may well just move on soon. Even a Kite can only eat so many Earthworms! This is my second Red Kite sighting this year, no doubt due to increasing numbers in Europe and the UK.

STOP PRESS - 6 birds present on Wednesday morning, thank-you Martin for checking.