Sunday, 29 December 2013

Common Crossbill, Orlestone forest

Female common Common Crossbill, Orlestone forest
I've been on the look-out for Crossbills in the forest since late summer, and whilst they're undoubtedly present a lot of luck and patience is required to find them. This is the fourth group I've found in as many months and all have been in different areas of the forest. This morning my first walk to an area of Norweigen Spruce revealed nothing. My second walk was successful. I found a small group of 4 birds feeding high in the canopy of Scots Pine. The birds made just the briefest of calls and I could only locate them from the sound of cones falling to the woodland floor.  Frustratingly, try as I might to follow the birds, I quickly lost sight of  them as they moved slowly through the canopy to feed.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Fairfield Church, Brookland - a watery Boxing Day world

Late afternoon on Boxing day at Fairfield Church, Kent. Clear windless skies and flooded fields a perfect recipe for a crisp reflection of a iconic Romney Marsh Church.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Christmas Day - storm aftermath and Tortoiseshell butterfly

Black headed Gulls share the same flooded fields with the local horses
A break from work and a break from the persistent daily rain, meant in the garden we were able to watch a Peregrine falcon take a swipe at the Gulls that are congregating in the flooded paddocks behind the garden. Once the Peregrine had flushed all other birds away, a Buzzard came into land just yards from the garden fence attracted by a bounty of worms brought to the surface of the water-sodden land.

A quick walk in Orlestone Forest revealed a small number of large trees had fallen in Sundays storms. One was a large Cherry Tree, almost cut in two, it had fungus growing through its trunk. Other Trees fallen included some of the mature pines in the plantations. There demise will help the forest appear more natural and wild in years to come. We had a pleasant walk, a small flock of Goldcrests were feeding in the larches, but sadly no sign of any Crossbills today. A Tortoiseshell butterfly flying along a glade in the unseasonally warm and sunny weather was the biggest surprise. It had better find secure shelter soon before the next gale arrives on friday.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Wood Ants (Formica Rufa) in Orlestone Forest

'Southern Wood Ant' Formica Rufa in Orlestone Forest
 Stood talking by a roadside pull-in at Orlestone forest with friends Bernard and Andil and lamenting the lack of woodland birds, we were distracted by the tiniest of movements close to the road-side. There, twigs, leaves, dried grasses were seemingly moving with a life of their own. A closer look showed it was the work of Wood Ants toing and froing. We had accidentally found their colony, a little 'Eureka' moment for me as it's has taken me years to find Wood ants in Orlestone forest and this was the first time.

By contrast at the Blean Wood complex, Canterbury, it's comparatively easy to find Wood Ants especially where the woods have been coppiced for the Heath Fritillary Butterfly. Over here in Orlestone forest, whenever I've actively looked for Wood Ants I've drawn a blank.

Looking at this colony, the site seems unnaturally located close to the road and there are several reasons for this: firstly, the colony is sited where the road is intersected by a woodland ride and combined with light from above the roadside, plenty of sunlight is present all year round - a big requirement for Wood Ants; secondly, the Ants have chosen the site due to a lucky accident by us humans. The site is located on the top of a raised bank of mud and stone built to stop illegal entrance to the forest by off-roaders. The loose mixture of stone and earth, has allowed the Ants to build and burrow easily into the bank far easier than the woodland floor.

Colony site is built on a partially over-grown raised bank.
The raised bank has another benefit for the colony too – protection from flooding.  Much of the surrounding woodland floor was flooded during the winter and spring months of 2012/13.  Perhaps this is also another reason why I haven't found any colonies in the past?

Our Orlestone Forest Wood Ants will need some protection in the future. If for any reason the Forestry Commision were to rebuild the bank, the colony would be destroyed.  I'd be very interested to know if anyone else knows of Wood Ants in Orlestone Forest and what their true status is.

'Southern Wood Ants' Formica Rufa

Friday, 20 September 2013

Juvenile Arctic Squa at the Dungeness fishing boats

Sadly just a view from behind, a juvenile Arctic Squa with a Greater Sandeel, freshly stolen from a Sandwich Tern.

At the fishing boats late afternoon, the tide was low and the weather calm, sunny and lovely, I watched four Arctic Squas harassing a dozen or so Sandwich terns at a distance just too far to be photographed.

I picked up one bird flying with rapid wing beats, low and direct across the sky - clearly it was on a raid. As I turned my scope across the horizon to keep up with its speed, it passed across one Tern after another until it hit its target bird, forcing it to drop its catch. The triumphant Squa caught the fish before it hit the sea. I estimated the bird had started its chase at least a kilometre away, and testament to the Arctic Squa's brilliant eyesight. It wasn't long before another Squa was ambushing another Tern in much the same way.

There seemed to be plenty of shoaling fish on the surface today, and in the calm sea the beleaguered Terns were quick to replenish their catch. As it's now Autumn, Great Crested Grebes are beginning to pick-up in number across Greatstone and Dungeness. Some were fishing in groups but most were thinly dispersed across the bay. A solitary Red Throated Diver, still in summer plumage, flew across them, sadly at some distance away. And to complete the afternoon, there were plenty of Porpoises present too.

Resigned that I wasn't going to get any closer views today, I turned and started to walk back across the shingle. I hadn't walked more than 20 feet when an Arctic Squa chased a Sandwich Tern just to my side, stealing the fish just metres above me.  The birds were so close and fast, tumbling across the sky, I just managed a brief burst of images of the winning juvenile Arctic Squa making off with its catch.

Clean your glasses, rub your eyes and squint hard, a Red Throated Diver retaining its summer plumage at the fishing boats.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Marsh Tit - Orlestone Forest

Before I forget, last Sunday morning walking in Faggs Wood, Orlestone forest, a first winter Marsh Tit briefly showed within a mixed Tit flock - sadly couldn't locate again for a picture. This is the first Marsh Tit I've seen locally in 18 years and was seen from a path which generally never fails to dissappoint!

Other than the Marsh Tit, a family party of Buzzards provided the only interest, calling frequently from high in the forest canopy.

Friday, 13 September 2013

A lazy Dungeness evening

Adult Sandwich Tern
 Last Thursday evening and the weather had swung warm and humid from a distinctly cool autumnal feel just the day before. Down at Dungeness the sun came out for a couple of hours too, - a little touch of summer had returned.

Despite it being high tide there was just one fishermen and no birdwatchers. Along the tide line, a passing flock of Common and Sandwich Terns went back and forth fishing, later settling to roost on the beach at dusk.

Out to sea, a pod of Porpoise bobbed up and down between the waves and further out still, two Arctic Squas chased distant Terns for their catch. With the air still feeling warm at seven 'o' clock and the low sun spreading a golden light across the point, I was reminded why Dungeness is so special and how I wished I was there more often.

Juvenile Common Tern

A selection of Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns ready to roost by the Fishing boats

Friday, 26 July 2013

Cypress Carpet

We've been putting on our garden moth light at night whilst the weather has been so good. Being casual 'mothers' we soon get overwhelmed by the number of species we see. This one took my eye, as it wasn't familiar to me, and I'm thinking perhaps it's a Cypress Carpet?

Last days for the White Admiral

Walking the trails of Orlestone forest over the last few weeks and it's been easy to see the very splendid White Admiral butterfly shimmering through the woodland glades, and as in summers past we have one taking 'respite' in the garden. Feeding on the very late bramble blossom in the morning, our Butterfly guards a 20 foot glade of shade in Sallow trees. It's been quite restless chasing away Meadow Browns, Green-veined Whites and Comma butterflies. In flight it's untroubled by it's worn and torn wings so clearly visible in the photographs, so for now there's life in the old Admiral yet!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Lesser Spotted woodpecker - catch them if you can.

At lunch time today, high in our neighbour's Poplar tree, a juvenile Lesser spotted Woodpecker called briefly and gave away the shortest of views as it dropped into the next garden along. Hearing and seeing Lesser spotted Woodpeckers in June is a regular  event around Shadoxhurst proving the birds are continuing to breed successfully.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Mediterranean Gulls disperse to the countryside

The first adult Mediterranean Gulls are wandering away from breeding duties at the Rye Harbour Reserve and thanks to Sian, who heard and spotted six birds leisurely soaring over the garden today. This dispersal is something we are beginning to notice annually here in Shadoxhurst some 12 miles inland from Rye.

I took a quick snap as they move away across the sun, but far better are these pics taken at Rye Harbour 2 weeks ago.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Red Kite - second day

Seen yesterday afternoon from the 295 bus, a Red Kite being mobbed by crows on the edge of the village crossing Woodchurch road. Well done George!

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Red Kite / late spring round-up

At last something of a rarity to shout about. Driving into Shadoxhurst mid-afternoon, we had a brief and splendid view of a  Red Kite as it flew across Hornash Lane at tree-top height. Our first Red Kite since the seven of last May, a bird that is still a Kent rarity.

Spotted flycatcher June 1st 2013. 1 of 3 pairs, Church lane to Stone Wood
 With dreadful weather continuing into May and poor number of migrants reported passing through our coasts, it's quite a feat that in just a small area of mixed farm and woodland, Shadoxhurst has 3 (yes 3) pairs of Spotted flycatchers and 3 displaying Turtle Doves in an area covering no more than a square mile. Also present is one solitary male Cuckoo that seems to cover a territory from Orlestone forest to Woodchurch and Shadoxhurst. I haven't heard a female Cuckoo for at least 4 years, and this is the worst year I can remember for hearing nevermind seeing Cuckoo locally.

 From Church Lane, through to Stone Wood and crossing over to hedgerows adjacent to Woodchurch road, Nightingales are present more or less in the same territories as last year. I'd estimate 10 pairs at least, our Nightingales seem to be more than holding their own.

 Back down in Orlestone forest, Long Tailed Tits seem to have had a bumper year with many family parties criss-crossing the trails. On Sunday, morning they may well have been the commonest bird to view, with Blue Tits and Great Tits yet to fledge and disperse through the forest.

Turtle Doves ( displaying above and calling below)  Duck Lane, Shadoxhurst June 1st

Raptors; there is at least one pair of Kestrel present in the village with a male bird frequently hunting fields across the village. Sparrowhawks are frequently seen along with Hobby (at least when the North Easterly wind drops). The commonest bird of prey has to be Common Buzzard, breeding close-by to the village, you'd be unlucky not to spot one on any walk from the village.

Common Buzzard, nicely camoulflaged, Soapers wood

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Alex Farm pastures (SSSI) ruined by offroaders

Alex Farm pastures close to Orlestone Forest are leased to Natural England. It is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) and its unique and rare wildlife should have had the highest law protection.

 Approximately 8 years ago a newly erected wooden gate, to secure the entrance to Alex Farm Pastures, was sawn in half with a chain-saw.

I never entered beyond the gate and had no idea the site was an SSSI. But those in professional nature conservation did, and in their words - "The pastures represent one of the best surviving examples in Kent of unimproved neutral grassland, a nationally rare habitat".

And so the gate hung, swinging in the wind for years, leaving the land beyond vulnerable to off-roading and shooting and it was only a matter of time before it was ruined.

 I'd estimate that 50% of the grassland has been destroyed..

..all it ever needed was a metal gate. Protection against off-roading in Orlestone Forest seems to be a half-hearted concern by the authorities. Signs and metal posts and bollards go up one year, and are down the next.

To the reckless off-roaders who do this damage, I doubt they feel any authority is going to stop them . . . I'm sure they'll be back.

All the site ever need was a metal gate to prevent the trashing of a rare and unique site.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Dungeness, Faggs Wood and Hothfield Common

Common Terns in the fog and close in-shore at Dungeness this morning..
..and Dungeness Old light House nice and sunny this evening
Day started with a 6.00 am visit to Dungeness where thick fog parted just for a few minutes, so then back nearer home in Fags Wood for the first local calling Cuckoo at last. In Faggs wood its good news and bad news for migrant birds so far. There are plenty of Nightingales and Blackcaps in song, but just a thin number of Willow warblers spread over plenty of good habitat. In terms of scarcer migrants such as Redstart, Tree pipit, Wood warbler there's nothing that I can find at the moment.

Back in Shadoxhurst and playing football in the field with son Lewis, we were treated to several aerial displays of Buzzards and Hobbies against a fine blue sky.

After lunch, the Green family, visited Hothfield Common where we all heard and saw a dapper male Lesser Spotted woodpecker. The bird could be heard calling and drumming in the woodland at the west of the common, a reliable place to see this scarce bird this spring.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker - white barring on back plus small size, is this the bird my neighbours are seeing and hearing  in Shadoxhurst?
My eldest son George, aged 16 can just about remember when we used to visit Hothfield Common to see Tree Pipits put on their fine spring 'parachute' display. Sadly, they have since disappeared from this site for a number of years. There used to be many Tree Pipits here, and puzzlingly the habitat is better than ever, so its hard to see a reason for the decline in there UK summer haunts. It would never have occurred to me a decade ago that these birds would be in danger and disappear at all.

The Day ended with Fish and Chips at Dungeness watching, Gannets, Terns and Porpoises lit by an amber sunset - a great May day.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Adult Buzzard and sub adult moult.

Back from a glorious sea watch at Dungeness by 9.30 am, I spent the rest of the day with help from Sian replacing a 6x4 m pond liner. Ocassional sky watching into blue skies on what must easily have been the hottest day of the year, brought some new summer migrant appearances including: 2 Hobbies together (so high I couldn't photograph) and our first Swift. Our local Buzzards kept their heads down for most of the day, but these two put-in an appearance mid-afternoon directly over the garden. 

Not an expert on Buzzard ageing, I guess we're looking at a fine and immaculate adult accompanied by a streaky and moulting 2/3 year bird flying below. A shame my pics aren't better, I partly blame the sun which wasn't far away.

Sub adult Buzzard with heavy spring moult to primaries and fork effect on tail. Same bird above and below.

Old liner out and new liner in, just the landscaping and planting to finish tomorrow

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Is this a Tree Pipit?

click image to enlarge more
Thank you to Scotthaughie for questioning this Pipit posted yesterday. It was photographed well away from Tree Pipit haunts - in fact Tree pipits have just about vanished from our Mid- Kent forests. The back claw looks fairly long to me, but the fine streaking does suggest  a Tree Pipit. To complicate further theres been little parties of Meadow Pipits passing through this area all month. Happy to place it as a Tree pipit with a little support..

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Buzzard with missing primaries

This common Buzzard wandered over Shadoxhurst around mid-day, missing a few primaries it should be easy to pick-up again. You'd have to hope that it hasn't been shot.

Walking from the house to Blind grooms Lane, there were 3 Lesser whitethroats, 1 Whitethroat and 1 Nightingale in scrubby field edges. There are still little parties of Meadow Pipits passing through. Swallows seem abundant around Shadoxhurst this year, but we're still waiting to hear our first Cuckoo. Not a true migrant and notable by absence are Bullfinches, they seem to be getting even scarcer. As the month ends I note that Siskins, Redpolls all seem to have moved northwards now.

Insect wise, with plenty of sunshine now, we have seen the odd Brimestone and Orange tipped butterflies in the garden.

Meadow Pipit, Shadoxhurst playing field