Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Gullfest 2015

Also a Fulmar- and Turnstone-fest. For once my overnight stay at dad's in Hastings coincided with lovely sunny weather so I went down to the beach to take a few photos this morning.

Actually, before that, I went out for a run on the seafront. I set off crazily early (about 5.30am, very much still dark outside) as had a ton of stuff to do before coming home, including a steady five-miler. I was about 20 feet into my five-miler, heading towards Rock-a-Nore, when I spotted a Fox jogging towards me. It showed no fear at all, trotting past me pretty much within touching distance, then stopping and turning to look at me when I stopped and turned to look at it. Lovely start to the day.

With the run done and dusted, I went out again after breakfast, heading for Rock-a-Nore again to look for Fulmars. There seemed to be more pairs than usual, at least 20 between the East Hill lift and the end of Rock-a-Nore - the air was full of their hacking-cough calls as they conversed with their neighbours and significant others.

The birds on their ledges are a bit high up for pics but when they launch off and wheel about they can get quite frame-filling.

In pleasant contrast to the Fulmar cackles was the tuneful voice of this Song Thrush, in a tree at the base of the cliff.

This Woodpigeon was having a relaxed preen on the very heavy-duty fence that is presumably there to protect the road and buildings from cliff-falls.

The Feral Pigeons are very active, doing courtship flights around the cliff face. Also lots of Jackdaw action. But a disappointing lack of Ravens - in fact I've not seen a Raven here for more than a year now. Perhaps they have moved east to the quieter Fairlight cliffs.

A selection of Herring Gulls. They have to do something special to make it into my blog these days, whether that be posing with wings unfurled like an angel; flying in front of some nice buildings on the West Hill; providing safety advice; demonstrating the 'long-call'; posing in a foursome with all four birds showing their lovely profiles; or trying to access some lager dregs in a plastic pint glass.

I walked along the Stade beach for a while, then noticed someone walking the other way, so I stopped and let them coax the many loafing gulls my way, so I could get pics of the young Great Black-backs.

On the beach were several Turnstones, and also several washed-up dogfish. I took some pics of one of the former as it walked along picking at the latter.

A couple of non-avian subjects also caught my eye on the edge of the beach here - a nicely dressed fence post, and a pair of chairs demonstrating some highly atypical chair behaviour.

With time running out, I went up to the top of the East Hill for 15 minutes or so to see if I could find a Raven or Peregrine or something, but no luck. Photographed the Ferals and a shiny Magpie from the top, and the Dunnock was singing from the scrub beside the steps.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Wrapped up warm at Dungeness

Friday saw Phil and I travelling to Dungeness, in some trepidation because, although we were in a nice warm car and the sun was (mostly) beaming down, we knew that there was some serious windchill going on outside, and if there's one thing Dungeness does well, it's windchill. We arrived at the warden's cottage at about 10.45am, just as a female Kestrel zipped low across the track in front of us.

She landed on the cottage chimney stack and stayed there while we cautiously got out of the car and took some photos. As you can see by the state of her plumage,  it was indeed super-windy. No Tree Sparrows were showing at the feeders, so we got back in the car and drove on to the visitor centre.

Some of the trails were closed because of flooding. But the gen was that there were several Smews on Burrowes Pit. The water on view from here was very choppy indeed and the only birds braving it were a small fleet of Coots, but we thought there might be some sheltered bits further along, so walked down to the Makepeace hide.

This hide sits on a corner and shelters a bit of the pit. In this area were great rafts of ducks, avoiding the roughest bits of the water. Most of those close at hand were Shovelers, with larger numbers of Wigeons further out. Here and there were also smaller groups of Tufties, Pintails, Teals and Gadwalls.

 Here's a little flight of Teals...

... here's a chillaxing female Gadwall...
... and here's a rowdy pool party of Wigeons.

A pair of Great Crested Grebes materialised among the closer ducks.

Further out we could see a redhead Smew, and thought that it might be more readily viewable from the next hide along, so we opted to continue.

On our way round, we met this Robin foraging on the path, and coping well with the wind periodically knocking it flying.

From the hide at the far end of the pit, half a dozen redhead Smews were visible, a couple of them pretty close. As we watched this one, a Kingfisher nipped past.

We went back to the visitor centre, walking into the wind now so were obliged to adopt a ridiculous bent-double posture to make any headway. After a look at the board and a bit of debate, we decided to try the ARC next.

We paused on the way, for Phil to investigate a warning light on the car (a call to the garage said we were not immediate danger of catastrophe) and for me to photograph these Curlews in fields by the path.

The ARC car park was empty, a worrying sign which was borne out when we reached the hide and from it could see nothing but Coots and two very distant Goldeneyes. Because we are nothing if not optimistic, we walked around the other side to the viewscreen, seeing a couple of Marsh Harriers on the way.

From the viewscreen, we could see ONE bird. This one. At least it is a 'good' bird - one of the nine Great White Egrets currently present in the Dungeness area. The sheltered water right in front of the hide looked the perfect refuge for birds to get out of the wind but it was deserted.

So, we headed for the beach next. I had hoped there might be some seabirds around besides the usual, but this was not to be, though down at the Patch there was a phenomenal number of gulls on view.

A few pics to give you an idea of the scale. These were taken while sheltering in the lea of the rather nice new seawatching hide.

The sea was throwing some pretty crazy shapes.

It was by now about 2pm, very sunny, and still windy as heck. We returned to the car, and decided to drive on to Hythe and have a look for Purple Sandpipers, as has become something of a winter tradition. The drive is always enjoyable, through a string of coastal villages - all of which I'd like to live in - before you get to Hythe, a very nice coastal town which I'd REALLY like to live in.

We parked near the first breakwater, and while Phil made a phone call I went down onto the beach and looked for waders among the big rocks. There was some work going on nearby, with diggers shifting the shingle about, which I thought might be why I could find no Purps, but then Phil joined me and instantly located a lone Purp. However, it was distant and we couldn't get closer. The next breakwater we checked, at the far end of Hythe, was Purp City, though, with at least six of the chubby little waders pottering about on its rocks, along with two Turnstones.

Two Purps and a Turnstone. The light was, as ever, tricky, but it was (again, as ever) a joy to see these confiding little waders.

A few gulls were drifting past. I was hoping for a Med but had to make do with Black-headeds. The vicious wind also seemed to have dropped, it was really very pleasant and I was sorry to have to leave.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Chilling at Rainham

I'm so fed up with the cold weather. I'm trying to build up my running distances at the moment, with a view to MAYBE doing a half-marathon (my first since 2007) in March, but it's difficult getting motivated to get out of the door when it's barely above freezing. Motivation is a little easier to come by when the objective is birding rather than running, though, and I was pleased to accept Shane's invitation of a morning at Rainham. We were forecast greyness, so I brought the D700. In fact there was quite a bit of sunshine and the D300 with its crop factor would've been a better option. Life was simpler when I had one camera...

There was a lot of wader action as we walked out onto the reserve, heading clockwise. Overhead were flocks of Lapwings and Dunlins, and these Golden Plovers, seen in pic 1 with the Eurostar. Pic 2 is here because I was amused by the way the two in the bottom left seemed to be sharing a single pair of wings.

Water levels were very high, and there was a lovely array of birdlife on view from Purfleet hide. All three waders mentioned above were here in profusion, along with Wigeons, Teals, Gadwalls, Mallards, Shovelers and the odd Pintail, though sadly none were close enough for good photos.

Once past the water, things quietened down a lot. We clocked a couple of Marsh Harriers way away over Aveley Marsh, and 'weet-weet-weet-ing' Mipits leapt out of the rough grassland as we went by.

Little birds of the reeds were in short supply. We found a pair of Reed Buntings, but there was no sign of any Beardies and not a single Cetti's was to be heard. From the Marshland Discovery zone we could see another flock of Wigeons and a Little Grebe.

We went into the tower hide, and surveyed a scene of much water and, on the Target pools, many gulls and Shelducks, looking lovely but distant in strong sunshine. A lone Grey Heron stalked along, and on the other side, looking into the light, there were more of the same wildfowl as before.

Finally, a bird close enough to fill the frame (nearly) - juvvie Mute Swan.

We were on the return loop now, and slammed the brakes on when a Stoat bounded across the path in front of us and vanished into the undergrowth. We searched for it, I made squeaky noises for it to investigate (it didn't) and then Shane spotted it tearing along the boardwalk behind us. Always good to see a mustelid, but I do wish I could get some decent photos!

Next we stopped off at the little pools by the boardwalk where Water Rails have, of late, been showing very well. And we found one, but it was very tucked away and all my photos only show its flicky white rear end. As we watched it, a dark juvenile Sparrowhawk came bombing past.

The feeders were attended by modest numbers of Great Tits, Blue Tits, Reed Buntings and a single Robin. Goldfinches were singing and calling nearby, and as we walked on Shane found a pair of shy Bullfinches and I found a Chiffchaff.

Back at the visitor centre, I bought a cup of tea and we relaxed in the warmth for a while, enjoying a nice view of a flock of Black-tailed Godwits coming in off the Thames as we did so. Then we set out again to walk the first bit of the path again.

The sun was becoming more elusive now, but we enjoyed closer views of Teal and Wigeon from Purfleet hide.

We cut back along the riverside, walking on the low path close to the water. On the Thames were many Teals, plus a few Cormorants and a Great Crested Grebe. A few Redwings flew along the shore, including these two which just about permitted a recognisable photo.

We were almost back at the visitor centre when we found a Stonechat pair, working their way along the bankside. The male was a bit skittish but the female was a little star, flying right over to where we stood and striking a series of poses for us.