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.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Garden Sparrowhawk

A rare close-up encounter with a male Sparrowhawk, photographed in the rain (what else!) and sheltering it's prey under cover of lylandii tree has been the highlight of the week.  It had caught a juvenile starling and was very wary of a watchful crow that had followed the hawk down as it made its kill.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Nightingales - and second wave migrants

Nightingale at Stone Wood, May 12th

 Visiting my two tetrads for the BTO Nightingale surveys, it's clear that a second wave of birds has arrived with a promising nine new birds singing.  These birds are occupying territories in Hedgerow thickets in open countryside away from the more favourable woodland regrowth in Orlestone forest where territories are already taken. Some of the territories are where birds were present last year too, so even the second wave birds are picky about where to choose a territory despite a seemingly vast amount of similar territory to choose from. Around Shadoxhurst Nightingales can be heard in Hedgerows along Woodchurch road, Church lane and into adjacent countryside. Similarly Birds in  countryside between Park Farm and Kingsnorth have increased in number since my first visit.

The avian highlights of the last weekend were found visiting my favourite area of Stone Wood and surrounding countryside - (all from public footpaths). Here, I was delighted to find four Turtle Doves, already paired up. I think one pair is holding territory in land I'd over-looked last year - so  its good to know that familiar areas can still surprise. I've also noticed the odd pair of Stock Doves in arable  land close to the village. There are presently two Cuckoos singing / visiting countryside covering my village tetrad.
Turtle Doves, Orlestone forest, May12th
Much sorted second wave migrants now arriving are, Spotted flycatcher (one briefly in the garden Monday), and Hobby, one patrolling over the village the same day. Finally, visiting Birchett Wood tonight, four Willow warblers (previously absent this spring), were singing along with at least eight Nightingales and many Garden warblers and Blackcaps.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Slow-worm attacked by Crow (Cert.18)

In the last week, I've frequently seen a Slow-worm sun-bathing close to the compost bin at the back of the garden. Yesterday I took few pictures of it, as it seemed docile enough to not race away.  Most of the time, our garden slow worms, just sit inside the bin or underneath grass cuttings on the compost heap. Here's a picture of our garden friend.

Today, trying to photograph a Blackcap at the back of the garden, I noticed a Carrion Crow land on the fence and then jump down on the ground to investigate some horse dung. It was close enough for  picture so I kept the camera on it. Something caught the crow's eye close to the garden fence at the base of a clump of Backthorn. The crow lurched to the ground and then threw its head back launching a Slow-worm into the air.

The bird became very excited calling down its mate watching from a tree.


 ..but the Crow is to clever for that, and holds the Slow-worm tight to the ground.

In seconds the Slow-worm is divided into small parts and the two birds eat their prey..

The Carrion Crows seem to be never far from the garden, often disputing a nest site with other birds, high in the Larch in the front garden. The Slow-worms are relatively common too, and if they stay hidden in the compost heap and bin, they should survive the loss of an adult lizard like this.

The last thing to say, is that the lizard caught wasn't the one I had seen in the garden earlier. How do I know? Well, our one had lost its tail - unlike the one the Crow caught, which I can see had an undamaged tail. To see such a lovely and harmless creature killed and eaten at such speed is sad, but I'm sure we will see more Slow-worms in the garden over the summer.

And that's the end of  the tale!

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Fledgling Nuthatch at Birchett wood

Getting use to the rain, a Nuthatch fledgling at Birchett wood this morning.

At Birchett wood this morning, Nightingales continue to out-sing and out-number other woodland summer visitors other than Chiffchaffs. At the Northern end of the wood  6 + Nightingales were singing but just 2 Willow warblers could be heard. Blackcaps and Garden warblers are still thinly distributed through out the woods, but the numbers coming through on the coast can only mean a lot more birds will soon be arriving. A Cuckoo was present this morning too.

Whilst, the cold wet weather may have delayed the breeding season for our summer visitors, our residents birds seem to be having no such problems,  as Long-tailed Tits and Nuthatches could both be seen with fledglings in tow today. At home, 14 Swallows fed low and very close to the horses in the pasture behind the garden.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Nightingales colonising new habitats in Orlestone

Tonight, I called in on two areas of woodland that are part of Orlestone Forest. Both areas have been felled of conifers in recent years to leave what is today a scrub of Blackthorn, Sallows and Birch to a height of 2-4 metres. The first area, Sir Edward Street's Wood, had just one singing Nightingale present tonight.

The second area of scrub, just a mile away, was my last stop of the night, and this is the northern end of Birchett Wood (footpath to east of grid ref 982363). This area showed promise with one bird singing here for the last 2 years, so I was keen to see if the Nightingales would be back. However, I was delighted to find the scrub alive with Nightingale song. There are two areas of scrub here are divided by firebreaks, and a rough estimate would be 6 - 10 Nightingales singing. The Nightingales here have found the new scrub exactly to their liking. As for the similar habitat in Sir Edward Street's wood being near empty, well, perhaps birds of a feather really do stick together, or perhaps the scrub height is, in detail, not as tall and the tree density not so dense?

5 year old scrub (?) at Birchett wood northern end May 2nd 2012- Nightingales love it!

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Night-ride listening for Nightingales

A quick 'stop and listen' night time bike ride across TETRAD TQ93T,  revealed no new Nightingale territories to add to the birds from last week. The woodlands of Nickley Wood have no birds present, yet many long-time residents of the village will have living memories of close-by Nightingales singing through the night - but sadly those days have gone. Once I could hear Nightingales singing tonight, they were undoubtedly the birds present in the favored Stone Wood area.
Better news, another tetrad TQ93Z which borders the village, two Nightingales were singing today. Both birds are singing from damp woodland edges of Sallow and Blackthorn and from territories used for the past three years.

To round off the day nicely, a northward bound Whimbrel could be heard calling over the garden tonight. The one below was at Dungeness yesterday morning migrating along a preferred coastal route.

Spring arrives at last

Today, the 1st of May was just about the perfect Spring day in the garden. For once, warmth and blue skies broke through the rainstorms to dominate the day. A new Cuckoo (one that could actually call properly) started the day off nicely. Other spring migrants are here in good numbers now. Blackcaps are singing and present on the garden edges, House Martins and Swallows can be seen hawking above, and in the pond a Grass snake spent the day stalking Newts. Even a Slow worm thought it balmy enough to sit on the compost heap and take in the sun.

For the historical record, I should add that yesterday, I 'spooked' a rare and handsome Ortolan Bunting with David at The Dungeness Bird Observatory. Not having the patience of David, I left him to re-find the bird and consequently show the many birders who were at Dungeness point yesterday. Well done David, and well done Martin aka the ploddingbirder for posting some memorable images.