Friday, 16 July 2010

Stodmarsh and Grove

Long time no blog. However, I got out for a bit of birding yesterday, and although it didn't go according to plan AT ALL it was still most enjoyable. Sue and I drove to Grove Ferry with the intention of hooking up with the Sevenoaks RSPB group, but they were nowhere to be seen. Undaunted, we walked around the reserve alone, starting with the short trundle down to the Grove Ferry viewpoint. It was cool and windy, with sunny spells.

I'm not sure I've ever been here without a scope (or access to someone else's scope) before. The birds on the little lake or lagoon or flash or whatever you want to call it were distant, and the light was bad, but not so bad that I couldn't make out Greylags, Mallards and Cormorants. If there were smaller water birds out there though, they eluded me.

Assorted birds flew by - or were blown by (it was actually really, really windy), among them Common Terns, Stock Doves, Cormorants and this Sand Martin. As the Bigmos is currently in the lens hospital (needlessly occupying a bed according to Sigma, who have so far found nothing wrong with it despite Rob explaining about its back-focusing problem), I only had the 70-300mm. I can only apologise for this and the other not-terribly-good photos you're about to see.

All the birds went up soon after this, flushed by a couple of juvvy Marsh Harriers which didn't deign to come within photo range.

We went on to the main reserve entrance after this, and strolled through the trees to the Marsh Hide. On the way, we saw lots of Red Admirals, which seem to have staged an invasion this summer as their cousins the Painted Ladies did last year.

Painted Ladies and Red Admirals are closely related, and both occur as northbound migrants in Britain during the summer. Over the last couple of decades, the Red Admiral has broken new ground by beginning to overwinter here. Its cryptic underside provides it with camouflage through the long months of immobility.

When those wings open up, you're looking at a seriously bright and distinctive butterfly. Most of the dozens we saw around Stodmarsh were pristine. This summer's influx is probably down to a big arrival of continental migrants rather than a massively successful breeding effort by the overwinterers.

The high winds kept reedbed birds low and quiet, with just the occasional snatch of Reed Warbler and Reed Bunting song audible over the sound of a gale rushing through thousands of reed stems. We settled in for a long spell in the Marsh Hide, which overlooks wet grassland and were rewarded with some nice sightings.

There's a tern raft on the large lake at Stodmarsh, occupied by several nesting pairs of Common Terns. Several came to fish in the river visible from the Marsh Hide. This is uncropped - not a bad effort from the 70-300mm as the backdrop is quite nice to look at.

And here's a cropped pic. The terns were a delight to watch as they hovered over the water, adopting some strange aerial poses as they struggled to keep those long wings and tail from getting blown about.

From this hide we also saw a selection of common stuff and a couple of distant Turtle Doves. We went back from there to the car park, had a drink, had a look at the sightings board which noted several things we'd failed to see, and then went to the nearby Reedbed Hide which overlooks open water surrounded by well-established reedbeds.

I was most surprised to see this Great Crested Grebe towing a monster reed across the water. Nest-building at this time of year? Apparently so - it went back and forth the whole time we were there, bringing assorted soggy vegetation back to its hiding place in the reedbed.

Our patient vigil also yielded a distant Marsh Harrier, a food-carrying Reed Warbler, a trio of Green Sandpipers lurking on a muddy bank almost out of sight, and a very distant Hobby. Nothing spectacular, but it's always a joy to spend time at this gorgeous reserve.

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