Sunday, 14 October 2012

Reculver and Oare

Today I went with the local RSPB group to Reculver and then Oare Marshes. After threatening rain all week the forecast has a last-minute change of heart and predicated a lovely sunny day, which was what it was.

We kicked off at Reculver at 10am. While everyone was arriving and getting their stuff sorted out I had a quick watch of the sea, which was singularly unproductive. I saw a Turnstone. And then some gulls.

Nothing unusual in the gull department, sadly, just Herring and Black-headed. Still, the light was very nice.

Shortly after this, the group leader John called 'Kestrel. No, hang on. Female Merlin.' I stared where everyone else was looking and eventually discerned a raptorial speck circling high over the sea. Happily she came close enough for some recognisable photos.

We walked up towards the two towers of the Roman fort and down onto the seaside path, where we scanned the rocks and the fort for Black Redstarts, to no avail. Then we turned inland to follow the path around the oyster farm. This path goes in between said oyster farm (a complex of very fresh-looking trenches, which held a few Redshanks) and large arable fields. A few Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and Linnets bobbed overhead, but this stretch of the walk was uneventful.

We looped around and rejoined the path along the sea wall. This was busy with dog walkers and cyclists, so vigilance was necessary. We stopped for a look out to sea, and one of the group picked up a distant grey thing which with good scope views resolved itself into a Red-throated Diver. Our attempts to get everyone to see it were a little hampered by someone's exuberant collie dog who had no interest in Red-throated Divers and kept coming up to us wanting a stick to be thrown.

I couldn't get a shot of the diver, so here's the collie instead. Handsome beast, with an impressive case of heterochromia iridum.

We were all on Snow Bunting alert after hearing from another birder that one was about. Here's the advantage of going around in a big group - all of us were scanning the beach as we went but it was the guy walking at the very back who actually spotted this little beauty. We all hurried back and enjoyed very prolonged and close-range views of what I think is a first-winter male. What a poppet.

Nothing much else happened between the Snow Bunting and the car park. I photographed this Carrion Crow going over the sea, pity it wasn't an Arctic Skua.

After a bit of lunch, we drove on to Oare Marshes. The flood looked very full of water and very quiet, bird-wise, as we passed it (no room to stop). We parked at the sea wall and did the loop around the East Flood clockwise, so beginning along the sea wall. The tide was some way out and there was plenty of exposed mud.

There were numerous waders out on this mud, mostly on the far side, but a few came over to our side, including this Black-tailed Godwit. Also on view were lots of Redshanks, a few Dunlins and a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits.

We were scoping a big, distant flock of waders when I spotted a Stonechat, and then another Stonechat, in bushes just off the path on the landward side. We could also hear much Bearded Tit pinging, but only managed fleeting glimpses of the birds themselves.

We stopped again at the far end of the flood to check out what was on the islands and water. The island nearest to us was generously carpeted with Golden Plovers, and as we watched another bus-load of them arrived and did a lovely flypast for us before settling.

Noticing a bit of squeaky panic among the few Redshanks on the near shore, I looked out for an approaching raptor. A Kestrel duly appeared, and had a bit of a hover over the path a little further down before moving on.

Just where the path swings landwards again, we heard more pinging, and this time the pingers took to the air at some height. For the few seconds the two Beardies were flying high, I fired off shots of one of them - my first ever Bearded Tit photos. Let's hope my next ones are a bit better than this pile of rubbish.

We could see there was nothing much likely to be visible from the East Flood hide, so gave it a miss and rejoined the road. The flood was indeed very quiet, probably because the water was too deep. The island on which Avocets nested in 2011 was reduced to about one square inch of dry land. A few Lapwings and Teals sulked around what islands were still islands. On the other side of the road was this Grey Heron, scratching its chops.

By the time we got back to the car park, it was getting a little cloudy. Everyone went home apart from John, Phil (who, like me, had taken a lift with John) and I. We walked the other way along the sea wall in hope of Corn Buntings, but only came up with this Pied Wagtail.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

I've got visual!

Today, just before I set off home after two fairly quiet hours at Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve, I had a patch 'first', although I've heard one here before. Let's start at the beginning though. I arrived at about 7am, under clear skies, and checked in at the screened feeding station in the wildlife garden, which is usually pointless as the feeders tend to be empty. Not today though. Both feeders were full, and on one was a Nuthatch and on the other was a Coal Tit. Nice. (Though it was too dark for photos.)

On to Willow hide, my plan being to sit there til the sun lit up the water and then, hopefully, a Kingfisher would come and pose for me. (Spoiler alert - this didn't happen.) When I walked in, there were several Gadwalls and a couple of Teals very near the hide but they paddled hastily away, despite my attempts to keep quiet. Having arranged the furniture to my satisfaction (the benches are too low for a short-arse like me but luckily there are a couple of kitchen stools in there too which are a bit higher) I settled down and waited.

The female Mute Swan was feeding quite close at hand, but her fella was nowhere to be seen. I hoped he was OK and, if he wasn't, that she'd be OK. She was making do with the company of a lone Canada Goose. No Egyptian Geese around today, and the only Greylags I saw were a trio that flew overhead at height.

 Because the water was still shrouded in shadow, I focused my attention on the sky and attempted to photograph whatever flew by. This Great Spotted Woodpecker came out of the big tree on the island opposite, heading straight towards me. I'm amazed I managed to catch it - I suppose to get an in-focus shot would have been too much to ask...

Sun getting higher now. The lit-up autumn foliage made a nicely coloured backdrop for this not-quite-sharp male Mallard.

My very best ever Jay in flight pic was taken from this hide a couple of years ago, and I have yet to rival it. This was the best of today's efforts and it's not great, but there was certainly no shortage of acorn-laden Jays, just none of them close enough. Those white blobs in the background are half of a flock of six white domestic pigeons that were wheeling about beyond the lake.

Phew, he's OK. Mr Mute checked in about an hour after I arrived, and powered across the lake in full blown-up aggression mode to join his mate.

Another flyby, a young male Blackbird, yet to develop his yellow bill. I also saw a Mistle Thrush... but that doesn't really amount to impressive winter thrush movement. However, I did see a couple of small flocks of Siskins and, a vestige of summer, a trio of Swallows.

Several frisky Gadwalls arrived, and bickered together with much nasal quacking, before five of them took off and circled the lake, the four drakes all overexcited in the presence of a lone (and rather worried) female.

Another drake, who had been on the water directly in front of me, leapt air-wards to join them.

I left soon after this and walked back towards the visitor centre, noting singing Chiffchaff and Wren, and another little gang of Siskins. I went into the wildlife garden and looked through the screen - still too dark for photos, and moreover the bench was soaking wet. So I walked around the outside of the screened bit to see if I could spot anything interesting in the willow that serves as a launchpad for birds using the feeders. I found a good spot to stand and noted Chaffinch, Great, Blue and Coal Tits, plus a Nuthatch.

Then a Marsh Tit appeared, posed beautifully on one of the screen posts for 0.002 milliseconds and flew. I had to wait, after that, and eventually after four repeat performances from the tit I was pointing my lens the right way at the right moment, and got the photographic evidence of the first Marshie I've seen here, nine months after I heard but failed to see one up by Long Lake.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Two-tree Island

Saturday morning, sunshine, Two-tree Island, Essex. This was a 'first' for me. The island lies in between Canvey Island and the long, built-up stretch from Leigh-on-Sea to Southend, and is a flat, marshy little slab of land, protected as an Essex Wildlife Trust nature reserve. A short walk from the car park there are two hides, the first looking out onto the Thames Estuary, the second, more promisingly, on a patch of marsh separated from the estuary by a steep bank. This is a high-tide roost for waders, although it's quite large and the waders tend to gather at the far end, well out of range for my lens.

Here's a view from the island out towards the Thames. The path is pretty busy and the place is popular with dog-walkers, so it's no surprise that the water here didn't hold anything much.

A view from hide 1. Over the many boats on the Thames came a great flock of what must be Brent Geese, though they were too far off for any detail to be discernible. But the patterns they described, of long straggly lines, looked very Brenty to me.

A few Swallows were passing through, presumably finding enough flies to make it worth their while. There were also one or two Migrant Hawkers about.

 On to hide 2. The marsh has many small islands, each marked with a large letter so you can tell your companion that the *extremely rare wader* is on island K, or B, or whatever. Many of the resting birds were too far off even for confident identification, let alone photos, but when they took to the air as they periodically did (mainly when someone walking on the raised path alongside the landward side of the marsh allowed their dog to run down the bank), better views were possible. Here are some Ringed Plovers and Dunlins.

A mixed bag of blurry waterfowl. Herein are Redshanks, Black-tailed Godwits, more Dunlins and some Teals. Maybe other things too.

There were also a few Greenshanks, which didn't venture very close. This is my best effort at a photo of a bird that is notable for its almost total absence from my blog. Others present in small numbers included Golden Plover and Turnstone.

The Oystercatchers were the most obliging in terms of close fly-bys...

... with the Lapwings not far behind. Here accompanied by a confused young Starling.

In a quiet moment (bird-wise), I took a few shots of this very pretty sailing boat making her way along the channel that separates Two-tree Island from Canvey Island to the west.

The walk back produced a few Curlews going by over the Thames, a Kestrel, a few drifts of Linnets and (photographably) a nice close Common Gull and some Little Egrets over the marsh.