Monday, 5 October 2015

Autumn garden Hornets

This autumn the back garden has been favoured by many Hornets which are now free from nest duty in the swan song of their lives. Some loiter around the edges of the pond, others are on the hunt for prey and they're struggling as their main prey of choice, the Honey Bee, is presently scarce.  Hornets always seem to favour our garden in late summer and autumn; I think its a mixture of sun, shelter from the wind and plenty of foliage to hunt within. The daily numbers peak in early afternoon, but by 4 o'clock they've gone elsewhere. They're never far away though. At night, with just the outside house light on, it takes just a few minutes to a lure them into view.  If the garden moth trap is switched on, we will have many dozens of Hornets angrily hitting the mercury vapour lamp, unable to draw themselves away.

I have photographed them in previous years  performing their nuptial flights together and it would be great to see this strange sight again.

Monday, 28 September 2015

The wonderful Total Lunar Eclipse

Myself, Sian and George stood in the garden at 3.30am to watch the most beautiful Lunar eclipse or 'Blood moon'. As the moon deepened in colour, the Milky Way revealed itself as defined across the sky as I've ever seen it in England. My pics are not too bad, I used a big telephoto lense and hand-held as best I could.
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Tuesday, 22 September 2015

The 'Mega' Flycatcher from the Americas

Lively, often confiding and feeding briskly all the way to sunset, the rare American flycatcher at Dungeness this evening. It's a well deserved bird for all those birders who endure the bleakness and often unrewarding bird watching days on the peninsula.

Some nice yellow colour showing on the underbelly and breast feathers of this American flycatcher

Monday, 7 September 2015

Rob Davis - a magnificent man in his flying machine

Rob Davis in his Spitfire Sunday evening.
For 20 years of living in Shadoxhurst, Rob Davis has entertained and thrilled us with his 'War Birds' in the skies, most famously with his P45 Mustang 'Big Beautiful Doll' and, until this morning, flying a two-seater Spitfire.

Last night in the beautiful evening sun I photographed Rob having some fun in the clear skies over the Shadoxhurst countryside. He made several flights criss-crossing above the garden before coming into land at his airstrip just a mile or two away. It seemed a perfect way to end the day and who could have imagined what might have happened on the next day. For today, Rob has made an emergency landing when his Spitfire's engine stalled. I'm very relieved to read that Rob is unharmed despite some extensive damage to the plane. This come just several years after Rob survived a mid- air collision when his Mustang, 'Big Beautiful Doll', was clipped out of control at Duxford Airshow where he parachuted to safety just a few hundred feet from the ground.

Watching Rob's masterful skill flying War Birds, I've always had the feeling of the great discipline and skill he has, it's no surprise that he landed his crippled Spitfire in seconds and in safety.

In Kent, Rob is very well known not just for his plane displays, but also his generosity and big heart.  For decades he hosted air shows, and now vintage Steam Rallies, from his farm near Woodchurch. Many many people will tonight be relieved that, once again, he's not only survived, but walked away unscathed from what could have been another vintage plane tragedy. Happily though, the great man lives on to tell the tale and hopefully fly again.

 Links of the story so far -

Friday, 4 September 2015

Iceland - late August - some common birds

Nearly a week back now from a family holiday in Iceland and the memories are still fresh. A wish to return there sometime soon is feeling imperative.. ..but perhaps a spring or early summer visit would be better for birds.

As it had rained heavily here in Kent whilst we were away, I'm thankful of the mostly good weather we had on our Iceland visit.  So warm was it, that on our penultimate day that we had 20 Swifts overhead (a southerly wind in the days before) and there was bountiful insects for them to catch. 

Memories now are of grand waterfalls, majestic glaciated mountains and dramatic empty volcanic landscapes. With vistas of seemingly never-ending mountains, Iceland is a much larger than I thought it was going to be. The roads are mostly empty and are well maintained so driving is enjoyable with plentiful Northern birds never far away. In the evenings the landscapes were filled with the unfamiliar calls of Skuas and Divers, the distant honking of Whooper Swans and Geese and the whistle of Golden Plover.

Having said all that, if your a serious birder (heavy bins and no kids), August is not the month to go. Wildfowl which you'll see, are in all-brown eclipse plumage, most sea birds have left the cliffs and generally birds are not looking their best. What birds I photographed were mostly opportunistic dashes out the car. The list of specialist Icelandic birds I didn't see is embarrassingly high - I didn't even see a Harlequin Duck - but hey-ho they'll be there next time.

I guess the highlight bird I did see was this juvenile Gyr falcon - a first for me. Against the hillsides  hunting low over lake fringes, the falcon looked rather dull, a monotone grey. Perched against the sun it looked surprisingly dark - a mixture of greys and browns a long way from the striking arctic white Gyr falcons embedded in my mind since childhood.

Will update my text more soon, I think most the bird pics below are self explanatory. Landscape pics to process and present soon too.

Perhaps the most photogenic birds we saw were Red Throated Divers with accompanied by their near full size chicks.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Hawfinch In Packing Wood

Rarely do patchwork birders get ornithological rewards in return for all the hours of walks through familiar trails in search of something out of the ordinary. But today it happened to me as a distant and dumpy Hawfinch decided to sit on top of a tall Spruce like a Tinsel star on a Christmas tree, giving me time to slowly correct my mistake that the bird was initially a Crossbill! So today I slightly underservedly found my first local Hawfinch in 20 years of trying. A Happy Fathers day for me.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Moulting Marsh Harrier over the garden

 Marsh Harrier, with strong feather moult June 11th

Despite Shadoxhurst's mid-Kent position with the Isle of Sheppey to the North and Romney Marsh to the South, we rarely see Marsh Harriers commuting between the two. In fact it could be 10 years since I last saw one fly over the house. But yesterday's strong and cold North Easterly wind had me just the once pop-out to the garden and luckily spot this large, wafty, scruffy thing coming over from the south criss-crossing the sky in constant pursuit by crows.

At first I thought the bird was an adult female, but if it was, you'd expect it to be nesting with rather plump chicks at this time of year. Adult Marsh Harriers tend to moult in the autumn after the breeding season. On one of the pics it's possible to see some grey feathering appearing on the wings, so I'm hedging a bet that this is a one year old male bird, battling away in the wind eventually making it's way North, perhaps finally kicked off its parents patch.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Insects in the Shadoxhurst woods

Four Spotted Chaser
An afternoon of cycle ride searches for absent Butterflies around Shadoxhurst meant most of the interest seemed to be Dragonflies such as this Four Spotted Chaser (above), and also many Broad Bodied Chasers and the odd Hairy Hawker too.
What Butterflies I could find included several Brimestones, and what I'm sure will be the last of the Grizzled Skippers at Alex Pastures this year. The Speckled wood below was the smartest fly on the wing today.

Speckled Wood on the byway at  Duck Lane
Very few days left for this last remaining Grizzled Skipper a Alex Pastrures
A common Summer Sawfly species