Saturday, 19 April 2014

Highland Games

Lazy Sunday afternoon we set off on our marathon with a gentle journey north up the East coast and crossing the Pennines via the A66 setting down at the Premier Inn, Carlisle J45 M6.  

17th March
After a hearty breakfast, we continued north while we can still use pounds sterling. A wrong turn took us past Celtic Park and later, back on track, we passed St Johnstone FC (Perth) before we stopped off at Crubermore Lodge. This quiet little road has proved rewarding on a previous holiday and today was no different. Red Grouse at close quarters at various points got our target list moving and Dipper was under the same bridge as last year with Goosander seen earlier up river.

Heading east we acquired our first Hooded Crow at Kinloss and we moved on in search of Burghead Harbour. When we opened the car door on arrival we realised in seconds we were nearer the North Pole! Fresh or what! Eider duck were everywhere and just outside the Harbour mouth were several Long Tailed Ducks. We walked over the headland to look at the open sea and there were birds all over the water; Eiders featured heavily again and I have never seen so many Long Tailed Ducks, good numbers of Red Breasted Mergansers were supported by a flock of Common Scoter. Shags and Gulls completed the interest and before we left a Peregrine gave a demonstration on clearing Feral Pigeons before we left.

We then headed towards our base in Inverness and popped in to the nearby Loch Flemington to add American Coot to our list. If I’m not mistaken I have seen 50% of all British records, having seen my first in Stodmarsh long before digital photography. This proved to be the first of two American lifers for Dan.
While light prevailed we took a short drive along the Beauly Firth on the South side. More Red Breasted Mergansers were evident and large numbers of Pink footed Geese adorned the shoreline fields and at one pull in, we found a small group of Yellowhammers and added Marsh Harrier not a raptor we had anticipated.

18th March
The day started on the Black Isle with local guide, Andy Howard. Andy had directed us to Ptarmigan the previous year and Dan wanted to get some memorable Scottish wildlife photos. Andy delivered. We found a quiet woodland opening with Red Squirrels and some great birds. Siskin made fleeting appearances and Coal Tits were so confiding that I thought they would eat from our hands. A Raven flew over but the prize bird was undoubtedly the Crested Tit. We both had this bird on our British Lists but you can’t help but enjoy every moment they choose to share with you.

When we left a Red Kite was circling over open farmland and we went down to the North side of Beauly Firth. The light reflected off the water but we did have Bottle Nosed Dolphin close to the shore. From here we headed off  in search of Mountain Hare.

Driving over Andy gave Dan some coaching on what you can and can’t do to get as close as possible for the benefit of the camera. The results were impressive even though the weather closed in.

19th March
With good weather we headed off ever earlier to Cairngorm National Park where we had some useful info on a possible Capercaillie. We found the location and walked the track searching the woodland for this elusive member of the Grouse family. The birding Gods were smiling, the male bird exploded from above us out of a pine with all the noise associated with a Woodpigeon and some. It flew down the bridleway reminiscent of a scene from Jurassic Park but provided great views as we composed ourselves and took in the experience.

With the sun shining and tomorrow not so clever we opted to run over to Ben Rinnes, the highest mountain in Morayshire, to find Ptarmigan and possibly more Mountain Hare. Half way up I sent Dan on ahead, we were running out of time. The wind was approaching 60mph from the North and I could not motivate myself to pursue hypothermia. Dan completed the task and even from my sheltered position I managed to pick out some winter plumaged Ptarmigan. Hat’s off to the intrepid explorer.

From here we moved on to Troup Head. Absolutely stunning to watch the Gannets fly around your head until the sun set. The only bad news was the 80 mile journey back to base camp.

20th March
Up at very silly O’Clock to visit a Black Grouse lek. The rain was tipping down and the Grouse had more sense than us. The first disappointment of the trip. Not wishing to see the day lost we headed back to Burghead, sea ducks shouldn’t be put off by the wet.

The Eiders were calling to each other in their resplendent plumage and the Harbour also held a Long Tailed Duck and Red Throated Diver. Driving back to Inverness we saw several groups of Whooper Swans. The largest flock in Ardersier totalled 31. We also found a Hooded Crow and Pink footed Geese provided a fly by.

As the weather was breaking we decided to head north and visit Dingwall. Unknown to us this proved to be the home of Ross County FC, a very nice ground. The sun emerged between showers but we managed to walk the Firth footpath without a soaking. We found the Ring Billed Gull that had been found a week earlier and hadn’t been reported since so that was a real (American) bonus. We located a flock of Tree Sparrows suggesting their demise in Kent may not be replicated everywhere. A flock of 21 Scaup made an unexpected addition to our list and a Grey Wagtail was clinging to a railway bridge over the river. Sadly the day was drawing to a close and tomorrow was going to be long day back to Kent.

21 March
I opened the curtains was mightily relieved. The late news forecast snow overnight and there was no sign and Dan offered to share the driving. I thought first stint in a different car where the traffic was not so heavy was a good idea. The minute we left Inverness the snow started and there were plenty of clues in the fields to suggest this was not the first. Before long it was a blizzard and it took nearly 100 miles to clear the weather. Once we left Scotland we started to catch up on our timetable but it all went wrong at Wigan when the M6 was closed by a pile up. Three hours later we started to move on again until we met the next accident at Stoke.
We sailed down the M1 but had more problems on the M25 with a broken down lorry in the middle lane. Eventually we made Kent only to find the M2 closed at Faversham. Fourteen hours and 635 miles after leaving Inverness we finally made Greenhill.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Stodmarsh, First visit of 2014

Parked up before day break, there was a noticeable movement of Fieldfare moving east in several loose flocks. As the light improved we strolled to Reed Bed Hide where the water levels were unsurprisingly high and a pair of Mallards were our only company save a male Marsh Harrier coming out of roost.

Dan's attention was caught by a call which we investigated and added Chiffchaff to our year lists in the reeds immediately behind the hide. As we walked to the Alder Wood several Water Rails were heard calling but none were kind enough to show themselves.

The Wood rarely disappoints and today was no exception, the common birds were in abundance and our annual lists grew featuring a mixed flock of Siskins and Goldfinches, Great Spotted Woodpecker, calling Tawny Owl, Treecreeper, fly over Stock Dove and as we emerged a pair of Bullfinches flew past in beautiful sunlight. No sooner had we noted this, then a male Hen Harrier quartered the reeds heading towards the local farm.

As we scanned the main lake we added Buzzard and Sparrowhawk but the water remained uneventful. We thought we would try Marsh Hide for Water Pipits. We were amazed how passable the walk proved to be but Martyn Wilson past in the other direction and prepared us for the worst. We scanned vigourously and found two Snipe to add to the Lapwing which was spooked by another Marsh Harrier. A distant Grey Heron was added to the list and just before leaving we had a Sparrowhawk fly alongside the Hide soon after a Merlin had darted across the grass in pursuit of prey lost to sight behind brambles.

The morning ended with a stop over at Collards where we completed our morning out and a reasonable list of 50 species but failed to add the Slavonian Grebe. Looks like a reason to visit again soon!

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Ibis' At Dawn

This morning Dad and I went to Sandwich Bay for first light with news of the Glossy Ibis' still being there for the past couple of days. As we went in the hide at Restharrow, there seemed to be two geese on the island, so once we sat down we realised that they were Egyptian Geese! A welcomed addition to our year lists as they seem to be one of those birds you have to be in the right place at the right time unless you go to Sevenoaks. We then scanned the pool where the majority of the birds were Teal but there was a bird on the far side that looked like the bird we came to see and it was! After a little while the other bird appeared meaning the 2 Glossy Ibis' had stayed much to everyone's delight. The Egyptian Geese took off after trying to spook the Glossy's, they flew towards Sandwich and disappeared over the horizon. Other birds of note from the hide were Shelduck, Lapwing, Pheasant, Coot, Little Grebe, Mallard, Gadwall, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Dunnock, Collared Dove, Starling, Herring, Black-Headed and Common Gull, Magpie, Crow, Wood Pigeon and Stock Dove.

From the scrape we joined Adam for a walk round as on his way to the hide he picked up on Merlin and Raven. On our way to the sea some Grey Partridge flew over the bank alongside that runs from the hide further towards the marshes but by the time Dad was looking in the right direction they had run from where they had just flown from! More gulls were present along the way plus a pair of Stonechats. Watching the sea for a while didn't produce too much but 100+ Great Crested Grebes, a couple of Red-Throated Divers and 5 Common Scoters brightened it up. Also seen were Great Black-Backed Gull, Oystercatcher, Curlew and Cormorant. We then walked towards the estate and around the elms. 2 Mistle Thrushes in a garden were the first additions of the day from the walk. Further round a Song Thrush was singing away while Blue and Great Tits were keeping the trees busy. A pair of Chaffinches were about along with a lone Ring-Necked Parakeet.

After this we left Adam at the hide as we drove the road trying to find any further additions. We had 2 Corn Buntings, plenty of gulls, 24 Curlews, 6 Grey Partridge, Kestrel and Collared Dove. At the cow shed there were a good number of Stock Doves and Jackdaws, a Pied Wagtail was also seen.

Egyptian Goose
Both Ibis'

2 of each

Grey Partridge pretending to be mounds

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Sunday Morning on Sheppey

With no football fixtured on Sunday morning we decided to head to the Isle of Sheppey. A beautiful crisp morning started at Capel Fleet, brilliant views of Marsh Harriers in the early morning light. From the road leading to the viewing point and to the other side of the island we clocked up Wood Pigeon, Blackbird, Mute Swan, Coot, Stonechat, Reed Bunting, Meadow Pipit, Marsh Harrier, Lapwing, Kestrel, Starling, Grey Heron, Pheasant, Great Black Backed Gull, Lesser Redpoll, Crow, Green Sandpiper, Robin, Pied Wagtail, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, House Sparrow, Red Legged Partridge, Common Buzzard and Corn Bunting. The Redpoll was a pleasant surprise as we wasn't expecting one to be out on the marshes! On the way out there seemed to be a slightly leucistic Kestrel being picked on by a 'normal' one, a bit odd seing two Kestrels pinning themselves down next to the road.

After this Leysdown and Swale NNR was due a visit. Walking along the path there were a lot of birds in the fields on the right so a quick scan gave us a Hooded Crow, if only everything was that easy to find! Brent Geese were in good numbers along with Carrion Crows and Wood Pigeon. On the way to the hide Curlews were everywhere, there were also Skylarks, Herring and Common Gulls. At the hide hundreds of Greylags were feeding and a good number of White Fronted Geese. After almost giving up on finding the reported Pink Footed Geese I managed to come across one but couldn't find the other. On the way home we went down the drive at Elmley seeing Lapwing and Coot on the way in. After parking up Dad went and checked the pool below the toilet block and luckily the Barn Owls were showing in their box in the tree next to the pool. The pool produced Teal, Wigeon and Coot while by the parking area a couple of Moorhens were feeding. On the way out stopping to take pictures of the Lapwing a Merlin darted across the fields adding a bit more excitement to the visit.


Tuesday, 14 January 2014

A day out at Dunge

Saturday started with my alarm going off at an ungodly hour to meet Adam at 6:30 in Sandwich. We arrived at Dungeness at first light and we were going to start at the fishing boats but we got out the car for 2 minutes and got soaked. With this we jumped back in the car and swiftly moved on to the ARC Pit. On the South end of the pit a Great White Egret was in amongst wildfowl and a single Little Egret. From the hide we picked up Shoveler, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Wigeon, Grey Heron, Great Crested Grebe, Great Black Backed Gull, Cormorant, Smew, Goldeneye, Coot. On the way out we picked up Marsh Harrier, Tree Sparrow and Green Woodpecker. On the New Diggings we saw only 1 Black-Throated Diver of the 2 reported and another redhead Smew.

We then moved back to the fishing boats in search of Caspian Gull but no luck there. There were hundreds of Great Crested Grebes and Guillemots on the sea along with fishing Gannets offshore. After this we went on to the trapping area where the Hume's Warbler was reported. After wading around for a while we went to the spot where Adam had it on the Sunday before. We waited but nothing so we moved around and then sods law says that it will turn up there. We heard it call but luckily Michael was still wading around in the area and located it. We then moved round and all picked up on it. A lifer for me and I believe for Harry too.

We popped in to the RSPB centre on our way to Scotney. A Pintail was the only new bird for the day. At Scotney we stopped at the first road in search of Long-Tailed Duck but couldn't pick it out. We then stopped at the entrance to the farm and a fellow birder kindly showed us the Long-Tailed Duck in his scope. After this brilliant bird we moved on to the next. We stopped at the bends and in amongst the Greylags there were 8 White-Fronted Geese and 2 Bean Geese. Bean goose being another lifer for me. On our way home we checked the marshes for Bewick Swans and there 40 together.

Bean Geese

Monday, 21 October 2013

Birding The Week Away

Dad had the week off this week and I only had work on Monday so we made the most of the week. On the Monday, Dad went off to Cliffe Pools to see if he could find the Lesser Yellowlegs but it proved unsuccessful. He then proceeded to go to Oare Marshes to see if the Red-Necked Grebe and the Eider were offshore but no luck although he did find a Scaup.

On Tuesday we decided to go to Reculver and have a look around the caravan park. We didn't see too much out of the ordinary. With a westerly wind the bushes on the East side were teeming with Chiffchaff and Goldcrest. On the South side the berry bushes were being demolished by Redwings passing through. A couple of Curlew were also seen flying from the fields behind the caravan park. We then moved on to the towers to see if anything was passing by on the sea, we saw Brents, Wigeon, Gadwall and 2 Swallows come in off the sea. After this we moved to Shuart to check the bushes on the way to Plumpudding. From Shuart up to the embankment we saw the usual suspects in the bushes along with a Kestrel hovering over the fields. We stopped in a gap in the bushes to allow a dog walker pass and stalking the fields was a Ringtail Hen Harrier. After walking the track a bit further we saw another Harrier, this time it was a female Marsh Harrier. At Plumpudding we bumped into Derek and he hadn't seen too much apart from 2 Snow Buntings feeding on the beach. After checking the bushes with no luck of finding anything other than the Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Goldfinches moving through. We then moved on to the sea wall keeping an eye on the shingle to find the Snow Buntings, no luck with them but we did come across a pair of Shorelarks! Having not seen them yet this year this was a great bonus. I didn't have too much luck with getting a good picture but I didn't want to disturb them as they must have just come in and were feeding up. Walking along the sea wall didn't provide too much else and as we arrived at the shingle ridge I twisted Dad's arm and said that last year I had Snow Bunting and a Brambling and it was enough to tempt him. Unfortunately we didn't see either of these birds but we did find a Mealy Redpoll in amongst a flock of about 100 birds consisting of Goldfinches, Linnets and Mipits. We were pretty sure but after consulting others throughout the day we were convinced. Just after this a Chinook flew over our heads coming from inland and that was a spectacle in itself but then a Short-Eared Owl flew out of the grass in front of us and dropped down the other side of the sea wall and out of sight. All of this was in the space of 5 minutes too!! We also added Rock Pipit in Coldharbour (or as I like to call them now....Ripit) After this we headed towards the embankment to walk back to Plumpudding but nothing apart from more finch passage. I said to Dad shall we give Plumpudding one more go and he agreed and this provided us with a Great Grey Shrike! We were standing talking to Derek, Matt and Anne and out the corner of my eye I saw something hovering above the bushes that looked grey with a black bit on the head but I couldn't find it again, so I asked if they hovered and the answer was yes so we all checked the bushes finding it sitting on top of one, although only a brief view it was a hell of a lot better than the view I had at Newlands Farm. It then went on to a bush by the railway line giving good scope views.


Mealy Redpoll

After this we headed to Northdown park in search of Warblers but no luck. Nice to meet some new faces though. We headed back the next morning and we saw our first Fieldfares of the winter and a Woodcock fly out of the park. These were the highlights of a poor morning.

On Thursday with news of young Mr Hook heading our way we decided to go to Reculver again but no where near the excitement of Tuesday. We did find the Snow Buntings showing very well and we refound the Ringtail Hen Harrier. Good company but a disappointing day for birds.

Friday was spent at Hemstead Forest looking for all kinds of Crossbills, mainly the Two-Barred. There were more birders than birds though I think! We stayed all day picking up Common and Parrot Crossbills and then we decided enough was enough and went back to the car. Sitting in the car devouring the sandwiches that were calling my name I looked at my phone and a text from Mike said "2 car" and then it suddenly clicked that it was supposed to say "2 bar!" so we rushed back and waited 10 minutes and it appeared! 2 lifers in one day! A pair of Brambling were also noted flying over.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Vismig at Swalecliffe


I know we haven't blogged much recently but I'm going to try and keep on top of it now as I can't get out too much now working 6 days a week so it shouldn't be too hard! Getting down to Swalecliffe for sunrise was the plan of action before I went off to my football match.

Sunrise from the brook

Plenty of vismig this morning with the early morning mist burning off. As I parked I caught a glimpse of some winter thrushes flying over but as I was still in the car I couldn't identify them. I started by checking the brook from the bridge and working my way up towards the beach. Seeing the usual birds there: Blue Tit, Dunnock, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Magpie, Starling, Blackbird and Wren. Black Headed Gulls and Herring Gulls were flying over too and a Green Woodpecker was heard in the sewage works. Goldfinches were also passing over frequently but outnumbered significantly by Greenfinches. Working my way up the brook a few Chiffchaffs were seen but more were heard, there were also some singing making it feel like summer....whilst in my coat. Up by the sluice there were an influx of Blackcaps as I saw at least 3 males and 1 female or juvenile, I also saw more there on my way out, a couple more males and another 3+ females/juveniles. There were also a good number of Song Thrushes in that area too. The tide was out so didn't see much on the mud or the sea. The resident Linnets were flying around the scrub and I also picked out some juvenile Reed Buntings, there were at least 3 but 2 were quite mobile so I could have carried on counting the same ones if I wanted. There were 50+ Meadow Pipits on the beach feeding only to be spooked by a dog walker, otherwise I would have only said about 20! A Grey Wagtail flew over while I was near the bridge by the shingle adding a bit more variety. On the way back I added Great Black-Backed Gull and a Great Spotted Woodpecker.

A nice morning out even if it was for only a couple of hours. It is always good to see some vismig, even if it's just the little things like seeing all the Blackcaps and Mipits today, I love it.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Churring the night away 26 May

Down to the woods and no big  surprise. A late evening visit to Church Woods hooking up with another Father/Son combo as we listened to constant Nightingale song and the roding of Woodcock.

Our purpose was fulfilled when the Nightjars started churring and we found a female sitting in a nearby tree. A return visit will be needed to enjoy decent flight views as on this occasion they were less than accommodating. Nonetheless 180  Kent birds this year so early is very pleasing just need a bit of time to catch up with Dan’s impressive 187.  

Oare Marshes 22 May

Got in from work just as Dan headed off to coach his under sixteen protégés and his throwaway line was the Bonaparte’s has moved to Oare. Nuff said. Jeans on, Scope out and off I go. A small crowd of us connected with the bird in the mouth of Faversham Creek. I must say the view was a lot better than the Seasalter bird of ’98. Dan caught up with the bird a day later.

Stodmarsh 19 May

We wanted to catch up on a couple of outstanding summer arrivals and it started well with Nightingales in the car park but we were soon distracted by the sight of nearly forty Hobbies doing what they do best and from our vantage point behind the Alder Wood we just stood and admired the whole display. What else could be as good use of a Sunday Morning.

Even managed to add Little Egret to my one mile list!