Sunday, 31 May 2015

Hedgerow and Roadside Nightingales - all present and correct

Male Nightingale in roadside Hawthorn thicket, Shadoxhurst, 2015

Hearing is easy, but seeing Nightingales is very hard. This is one of the first birds I've seen in the last 5 weeks!
Despite a spring which refuses to settle into any regular weather pattern, (other than cold and windy) and also one of the worst springs many can remember for the late arrival of summer migrants, our local Nightingales have battled through to be present in good numbers.

Going by hearing song only can be difficult, this is especially so when the number of birds in a small area is high, but out in the open countryside it's much easier to calculate and register a Nightingale territory. In Shadoxhurst along towards Woodchurch then returning back to the trails of Orlestone Forest there are presently plenty of Nightingales in song.
Two birds in Packing Wood from 2014 are absent, but apart from these, there are dozens of Nightingales that have returned to established territories in roadside hedges and small isolated woodlands (Pound wood) around Shadoxhurst. The numbers of birds I'm hearing indicates a good healthy and widespread population quite surprising against a national picture of rapid and serious decline.
In Birchet, Long Rope, Stone Wood and Alex Pastures the last week has seen a noticeable number of birds singing at night on the periphery of the prime scrub nesting areas. Some of these Nightingales will be late arrival 'second wave' birds, and may not breed this year, but their singing will continue into mid-June.

Visiting the Orlestone woodlands at night and listening to the dramatic, loud song of such a large number of Nightingales is a highlight for me in spring and one of the joys of living in this small area of Kent. Listening from the back of the garden tonight the Nightingale song is distant and widespread but still a joy to hear. There are as many birds singing as I can ever remember.

Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers - hanging on in Kent.

Male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at nest site, (600mm lens and a good distance away). 31/5/2015
In the wind and rain a grubby looking male Lesser Spotted woodpecker returns to its nest site
First the bad news, on my Shadoxhurst woodland walks, despite many hours of  looking and listening, I've been unable so far this year to find Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. This is the first year (in fifteen or so) I've drawn a depressing blank, and it fits perfectly the national picture of a bird very much in decline and missing from large swathes of Britain.
Why Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers have gone from being a fairly common bird to such a rarity and threatened with extinction is complex. My belief was that it was something to do with competition from its larger and increasingly common cousin the Great spotted woodpecker, well known for  taking the chicks of other hole nesting birds. However this idea is flawed because this breeding pair of LSW is surrounded by GS woodpecker territories and they also bred at this  same site successfully last year too.

In France, Lesser spotted woodpeckers are fairly common in woodlands. When I'm there, they seem to find me  rather than me find them. Perhaps Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers once spread east to the UK but really their healthiest populations are in a broad range across continental Europe to Asia?

Now for the good news, a big thank you to Ade Jupp at Butterfly conservation - 
because Ade has found this Kent-based breeding pair for the second year running. So far the chicks are very vocal and the birds are feeding regularly, the signs are good for a successfully fledged family of our rarest woodpecker.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Buzzard - a close encounter

A beautiful late spring morning had me back on the bike early today. I was brushed aside by this hotly pursued Buzzard. More gentle birds included Spotted flycatcher, Turtle Dove, many Nightingales and 2 Cuckoos all in the Shadoxhurst area.

Monday, 25 May 2015


I saw this distant bird yesterday and first thought it was a shot at Goshawk, but taking all pics into account the feeling is it is a female Sparrowhawk. Hard to believe pics 3 and 4 are the same bird, however all pics were taken in quick succession.


Saturday, 16 May 2015

First village Red Kites of the Year

It seems along time since I've seen a Red Kite over Shadoxhurst, but today luck was with me, as it seems there's been a mini-invasion of them happening over much of Kent.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Dawn chorus in Shadoxhurst woodland

Early Purple Orchid, Alex Pastures, Shadoxhurst
Venturing down the garden at 5.30 this morning, my first thoughts were that the cold north-easterly winds had finally gone and so, too, had the crystal clear skies. Instead, it was raining steadily, the sky overcast, the air warm - perhaps a few more summer birds maybe around?. In the garden, a Green Woodpecker was calling loudly against a background of Song Thrush, Blackbird, Robin, Wren, and Chaffinch. I decided to do a dawn-chorus cycle ride, to Stone Wood in the hope of hearing most of our summer woodland birds. I headed towards Duck Lane and Stone Wood stopping regularly on the way to listen. In the village, Starlings and House Sparrows were everywhere, busy with broods under roof tops and eaves. As I left the village into countryside, no sign or sound of any summer migrants at all.

When I arrived at the top of Duck Lane, I walked slowly through to the woodland byway hoping to hear scarcer birds that I've missed so far year. Disappointingly, my list of absent birds continued. No Lesser Spotted Woodpecker this year and even the much commoner Nuthatch, and Great Spotted Woodpecker seem to be a hit-and-miss affair.

Once I'd arrived at the start of the byway there were at least 2 Nightingales in song from the woodland edge accompanied by the ever-present call of Chiff-chaffs - much more like spring, here. These two stalwarts seem to be the only common spring migrants that seem to be back in anything like the numbers to be expected for this time of year. Cycling slowly through to Stone Wood and Alex Pastures, a familiar pattern to my other visits this year, very little Woodpecker call or activity of any kind, and only one Blackcap (should be dozens). Stock Doves were calling and Jays, Crows and Pheasant were present all the way through the wood.

As I arrived at the gate for Alex Pastures, bird song improved immediately with Nightingale and Garden Warbler singing loudly from the entrance and the secondary woodland within the pasture. It's worth noting that the coppiced woodland opposite Stone Wood had no Nightingales present this morning. This area may well be populated by further migrants that may arrive in the week ahead.

Back inside Alex Pastures bird song was not as rich as I'd hoped (bar the Nightingales). Perhaps it was all down to the rain and grey overcast conditions dampening things down. The Turtle Dove purring here last week was silent or absent and there was no Cuckoo.  Blackcaps and Garden Warblers were singing, and engaging in some territorial display. Two pairs of Bullfiinch criss-crossed between the woodland and scrub.

The Nightingales in Alex Pastures have returned in good numbers this spring and there song seems particularly powerful and close in the second field. Despite the bird's physical closeness though, it's impossible to see them, just brief flashes of rufous plumage quickly disappearing back into scrub. Experience tells me that this is one of the highest density populations in the Orlestone Forest complex, its neighbour, Birchett Wood has many fewer birds back so far.

As I left Alex Pastures, continuing on the byway through the woods, there was little bird song variety, - sad as this area represents some of Kent's finest woodland habitat.

Continuing on a to a favorite area of area of scrub at Stone Wood, and expecting Nightingales, I was surprised to find none present at all. Another visit is needed to work out what maybe really happening here. To confuse my Nightingale numbers further along the byway into farmland, I was pleased to find three extra Nightingale territories, with other distant birds calling from farmland hedges too. I concluded, when I arrived home, that I'd ticked off 15 Nightingales in song. Near the end of my cycle ride, at last, another summer migrant present, a Lesser Whitethroat singing from a roadside hedgerow and on the surrounding farmland Skylarks were singing too.

When I arrived home, I was thinking more about the birds I hadn't heard, such as Cuckoo, Whitethroat and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker that were absent from my ride. Perhaps May has time to get better yet?