Monday, 30 August 2010

Sandwich and Oare

Sandwich Bay Obs had an open day yesterday so we went down for a look. It's actually quite a long way to Sandwich and given Rob's poor getting-up skills we weren't underway super-early. Got there about lunchtime, I guess. It was a very breezy day, quite cloudy too. Not much for me and the BigMac to photograph - everything below is Rob's.

We had a nose around the obs building, lingering by a selection of moths in little plastic pots. Some I recognised (Garden Tiger, Poplar Hawkmoth), others I didn't, but a friendly bearded moth-man came along and told me what they were, and let me hold one of the Poplar Hawkmoths until he (the moth) started doing warm-up wing-buzzing, then it was time to quickly put him back in his pot.

We went down to the nearest scrape, Restharrow, joining a few other birders in the hide there. It was rather quiet birdwise, but presently this Little Egret breezed in, settled in a near corner and began picking its way towards us along the waters' edge. It was actively feeding and doing that entertaining leg-jiggling thing to try to get the aquatic delicacies moving.

While everyone was busy watching and photographing the egret, this small duck punted past in front of us, much closer than the main group of distant Teals. I gave it a second glance and realised it was a Garganey - check out that lovely double face stripe. I managed to tear Rob away from the egret to grab a couple of frames before it paddled out of view.

Meanwhile, this cute juv Little Ringed Plover (the only wader around) was pottering towards us on the large central island, and eventually got near enough for some recognisable pics. Not sunlit pics though, sadly. In fact the cloud was really closing in.

We went back after that, and got in the car moments before the downpour began. We went to Oare, really at my insistence, even though it was really blattering down hard within minutes. However, the forecast had said this would happen, and not to worry because it would all be fine later. And so it was - when we reached Oare the rain had ceased and the sun was breaking through the thinning clouds. It was still very, very windy though.

Oare was stuffed with stuff. At the pull-in there were hundreds of Black-tailed Godwits striding through the belly-deep water. On the muddy 'pier' were a handful of Golden Plovers, starting to moult their summertime black bellies.

We'd not been there for long when everything went up - clearly a raptor was around. Peering through the swirling mass of birds, I finally discerned a pointy-winged outline - not the Peregrine I'd expected but a Hobby, which seemed to be hurling itself very fast at godwits, gulls and other unsuitably large fare. Then I got onto its real target - a Starling, frantically trying to veer out of harm's way. The Hobby made a breathtakingly close grab for it, missed and then it was over - Hobby going one way, everything else the other.

There it goes. There are always mixed feelings when you witness a near miss - relief for the victim-that-wasn't, and sympathy for the hungry hunter. The Hobby went and sat down in a field on the other side of the road after this, and was still there when we left. Not even a bunch of Sand Martins whizzing a few feet above its head could rouse it to action.

Rob missed the drama of the Hobby attack as it was happening, but here's his shot of the aftermath. The birds settled on the opposite end of the flood after this, and that was pretty much the end of the day for photography.

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