Monday, 17 February 2014

Short, sweet patch-check

I knew from other bloggers' reports that I wasn't missing much by not visiting my local patch at all so far this year. But on Sunday the combination of sunshine and a little free time made it seem silly not to go and have a look. All the lakes were, predictably, full to the brim, and the Darent more a torrent than a trickle, but the actual trails were not too muddy. At least, those to the Willow hide weren't, and I didn't venture further than that. I saw very little in the way of exciting birdlife, but the light was nice and the Gadwalls and Greylags were frisky.

This little fella was probably the star of the show - the Little Grebe is by no means a permanent resident on the lakes here and as far as I know has not been proved to breed here. Maybe this will be the year (or maybe not, as there was only one of them).

There were several sedate paired-up Gadwall couples, and this unruly mob of several males in pursuit of a female.

It looks like she has made her selection.

The twosome went off to feed together, and came very close to the hide windows.

I noticed the drake had a hint of a white neck-ring, which I've seen on some male Gadwalls on photos before. I've also seen the view expressed that this is a sign of some Mallard ancestry, but there's nothing else at all Mallardy about this handsome boy.

Another Gadwall drake... well, there really wasn't a lot else around. No Shovelers, no Wigeons. A handful of distant Mallards and Teals, a few Tufties, one lone Pochard. A Kingfisher hurtled past but didn't stop, and didn't even catch a bit of sunlight as it went so was just a silhouette.

Oh yes, and there were Coots, of course. For once they were all behaving themselves, no Coot fights to photograph.

A pair of Greylags arrived, and swam over to in front of the island...

... where this happened.

It was interesting to note the very different post-coital behaviours of the two birds. The male struck a triumphant posture with head and wings pointed skywards, and gave a series of loud honks. The female had a vigorous bath. I suppose you would feel like pampering yourself after some thug of a male has just almost drowned you.

More geese - a Canada pair that overflew the lake. Also overflying the lake were many Woodpigeons, the odd Magpie and the occasional Jay, while in the field beyond there were a couple of Egyptian Geese and a male Pheasant.

The resident Mute pair were gliding regally about, and occasionally giving chase to a juvenile Mute which presumably is their offspring from last year and should really be moving on by now.

Unfortunately the Mute in angry mode was too close for my lens, so here is his angry wing instead.

Friday, 7 February 2014

A sunny interval at Dunge (and Hythe)

After much scrutiny of weather forecasts, Phil (check his fab blog here) and I decided to hang on til today for a trip to Dungeness, trusting the BBC with their promise of afternoon sunshine. We drove past numerous flooded fields and rolled into the reserve entrance at just gone 10am, noting a Buzzard wheeling overhead at the start of the track.

I include this horrid photo of a Curlew to a) show how grey and gloomy it was when we arrived and b) because it was the only wader we saw in our whole time at Dunge. Not even a Lapwing to be seen.

After a failed search for a Black-necked Grebe from the visitor centre, we visted all the hides along Burrows Pit in turn. From the first, we found three redhead Smews, which did some flypasts before settling among some (sadly distant) Tufted Ducks for a short while. There were also a couple of female Goldeneyes, again miles away.

Much closer at hand, something was fossicking about in a bramble patch directly in front of the hide. It proved to be a Chiffchaff and came out briefly into full view, before deciding it was too cold and windy for all that, and diving back into the brambles.

On to the next hide, from where we could see a huge number of Shovelers, ducks and drakes, and more Tufties, plenty of Coots and not much else.

Phil then called my attention to a small gull flying over the water, and although I thought it was going to be a Black-headed I took a few shots anyway, and examination of these (on max zoom) revealed that it was in fact a Little Gull.

In the scrub below the hide window, a couple of Long-tailed Tits were bouncing around, but not really coming out and giving us the chance of a clear shot - too windy for such little and unwieldy-tailed birds.

We moved on to the Frith hide, and found a large flock of dozing Tufties close to the windows on the nearside. As you can see, the sun had started to come out at this point, although the wind was brisk and played havoc with the Tufties' headgear.

A Smew came closeish to feed near the shore, as did a Great Crested Grebe. Right over on the other side was a huge flock of what, going by the noises they were making, had to be Wigeons and Teals.

We had just got up to leave when a female-type Goosander popped up close inshore, right in front of us. We rehooked the windows open and took a stack of shots of this beautiful bird.

In between its fishing dives it had an argument with a Coot, and revealed that it was carrying no weapons (apart from its fearsome double saw of a bill).

We did take a look at the last hide but saw nothing much from it apart from Cormorants, many of them perched in the row of stunted trees where they nest (I think). Back to the visitor centre, noting a Little Grebe on the pathside pond on the way, and then over the road to the ARC, stopping for a moment at the warden's cottage for the compulsory Tree Sparrow check (several showing in the garden bushes).

Arriving at the ARC car park, we found this Kestrel adding a touch of nature to a very complicated-looking telegraph pole.

The ARC hide was empty, allowing us to grab the coveted corner spot and enjoy great views of a hundred sleepy Wigeons close to the hide.

These four drake Gadwalls and their lady friend were engaged in a spot of communal courtship, and there was much chasing around on the water and frantic flights, the whole time we were there.

 Pair o'Mallards. The drake looked very shiny in the sunlight.

A Marsh Harrier that had been exploring the far shore struck out towards the middle of the water, causing the nearby ducks to flee in a rather half-hearted manner.

The flushed ducks joined those close to the hide. The Coots seemed impressed with this Wigeon's belly-flop landing.

We walked from the ARC pit down the road to take a look at the New Diggings, in hope of seeing the Black-throated Divers (two of them) rumoured to be there. The walk is a little hair-raising, as traffic hurtles along this road very fast indeed and the verges are rather narrow most of the way along, but we got there unscathed.

 A scan across the New Diggings revealed only two birds. Happily, they were both Black-throated Divers. Sorry about the photo, they were a really long way out.

Having survived the walk back to the car, we went on to the beach, hoping to find the Glaucous Gull. To cut a short story shorter, we didn't. And our presence upset some of the gulls that were loafing near the boats, causing them to take off and also to release several lengths of silly string-like gull poo.

Disappointingly, there wasn't too much moving offshore, at least not at close range. One thing that was moving was this Guillemot, powering along on its penguin-flipper wings.

On the walk back, Phil stopped in his tracks and drew my attention to something on the shingle to our left. When I saw what it was I said something delightedly inarticulate and began to take photos. The Stoat, for that was what it was, came scampering in its curious gait across the shingle, paused briefly to eyeball us and then vanished behind one of the tiny beach houses.

We decided to try the patch, but again drew a blank, seeing just more of the commoner gull species over the water and not a sniff of a Glonk. The only pics I took on this bit were of House Sparrows by the car-parking area at the power station.

For the last stop of the day, it was off to Hythe to look for Purple Sandpipers. On the way we managed to bring the raptor day-count to four, with a Sparrowhawk from the car. At Hythe the first breakwater we tried held a solitary, worried-looking Turnstone, but we had more luck at the second.

Four smart Turnstones were showing very well on top of the sunlit rocks. A careful check of the shady side revealed a few Purple Sandpipers as well, and after a short wait, one of these (clearly not wanting to disappoint its fans) wandered onto the sunny side.

Oi, wake up sandpiper! It may not be the most action-packed shot ever, but I like it because you can see a hint of actual purple on the scapular area. After sitting on this rock for a while, it woke up and walked back to the shady side.

An interesting find on the beach. This is a Sea Mouse (Aphrodita aculeata), which is a kind of marine worm. There were lots of these in the tideline. They are about 10cm long and their hairy bits are startlingly iridescent when caught in the light.

While Phil clambered over the breakwater rocks looking for a view onto the resting sandpipers, I stuck to the sunny side and photographed passing gulls. I didn't realise at the time that one of them was a Mediterranean Gull.

And finally a Common Gull, inviting us all to admire the magnificence of Hythe's seafront. The sun was about to disappear behind a wall of low cloud, so we decided it was time for us to disappear too.

Monday, 3 February 2014

I'm back and so's my camera - Shellness

Hello all. Well, it took Nikon quite a while to return my camera, presumably because I sent it off just before Christmas. But now it's back, and I took it to Sheppey yesterday to make the most of the sunshine. I went with Rob, having beguiled him with tales (and photos) of the monster high-tide roost that Phil and I had enjoyed there a few weeks ago.

Rob stopped at Leysdown to buy some lunch, and while I was waiting I sat on the sea wall and watched a few Black-headed Gulls as they chased the flies that were resting on the warm concrete. This one came quite close to me in its fly-quest, and my photos show it caught several. Its hood is almost complete - an early sign of spring.

We drove on to Shellness and walked the very boggy track to the shore - not a problem for me as I was wearing my brand spanking new wellies. But the view at the end was disappointing - quiet sea and shore, nothing like the numbers of my last visit. It was nearly high tide, and on the spit beyond the blockhouse there was a dark huddle of mostly Oystercatchers, but very little else was happening.

A Common Seal took pity on us and swam past closeish. Not nearly as close as the seal I'd seen at Leysdown, but sadly that had turned out not to be a seal at all but a dog. This was at least the real thing.

I walked off towards the spit after that, to see if there was any way to get a clear view of the birds out there. The point itself was roped off - the signs said this was because it has breeding Little Terns. Well, not in January it doesn't... but it's just as important to keep the roosting flock safe from disturbance. Once I was past the point and could look back on it in good light I could see the Oyks quite well, but they were mostly asleep and not terribly inspiring as photographic subjects.

I did keep an eye on the big field on the way to the point and back, hoping for a Hen Harrier, but all I got was a Shelduck, and a small flock of Skylarks. A few distant Brents went by on the far side.

A jet-skier went by in the Swale, which didn't bother the Oyks but disturbed some other waders which must have been roosting out of sight. They went up and flew about before returning. Here are some Bar-tailed Godwits...

... and here are some Knots, with a couple more Barwits.

I rejoined Rob and found him photographing a Turnstone that was unconcernedly pottering on the shoreline, a couple of metres from his feet. I didn't know the Sigmonster focused that close... I joined in and took lots of shots of this obliging bird, and the two friends that then joined it.

Lovely little birds. I know they are not exactly difficult to find or photograph but they were a bit of a day-saver for us.

A few waders flew by over the sea after that but the only ones I managed to get my lens onto were this party of Ringed Plovers and Sanderlings. Proof that one in two of all Shellness waders are blurry :) It was by now about 3pm and we decided to go to Elmley for the last bit of daylight, and just drive down the track and back.

There were quite a few Brown Hares on show from the Elmley track, including this one which was sitting very near the track, busily chewing its heels.

Also, lots of Lapwings. But very, very little else. We reached the end, turned around and headed back. It was on the way back that we got lucky with a sighting of a Short-eared Owl, not the easiest bird to find this winter. It was nearly dark by now so the photos are, of course, dire, but here they are anyway.