10th April 2017:
Today did not quite pan out as expected and what started out as a planned trip to RSPB Dungeness morphed, for various reasons into a 100 mile perambulation around the Kentish and East Sussex countryside with a view to getting some pictures of some of the fabulous spring flora that I drove past on my way back from Belle Tout on Thursday.
Being that most of this blanket of colour was strewn liberally along roadside verges meant that any stops were completely random and reliant on an appropriate layby. It was far cooler that the 25c of yesterday but the sun did its best to shine and provide a springish feel to my pictures.
We headed down towards Maidstone to start with before deviating through Bearstead and south towards Headcorn before turning west in Biddenden and then south to Hempsted Forest (remember the three species of Crossbill there a few autumns ago?).
An suitable spot alongside a damp wood already heaving with budding Bluebells and a carpet of Wood Anemones allowed me to sneak up on some of the latter and mounds of golden Lesser Celandines with both species having their open faces turned towards the sunshine. A time-lapse on these would have looked superb and they followed the sun round. Chiffchaffs, Coal Tits, Nuthatches and Great Spotted Woodpeckers could be heard but there was no sound of the hoped for Nightingales although it is still a little early.
|Wood Anemones & Celandine|
|Wood Anemones - less pink in this one|
The walk through the pines and clearings of Hempsted Forest was quiet birdwise with just a few Goldcrests, Coal Tits, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers along with a male Yellowhammer and a pair of Bullfinches. The path edges were literally pulsating with the comings and goings of countless thousands of aggressive Wood Ants and any stop to look at something was pre-empted by noticing where your feet were first!
Little spikes of Bugle were being visited by Bombus pascorum and lapidarius as well as energetic Bee Flies – Bombylius major and I was looking at any hoverfly that I found too.
Most seemed to be Platycheirus albimanus but I did find what I am hoping is Eupeodes latifasciatus as well as Eupeodes luniger which I am more familiar with.
|Eupeodes latifasciatus - I hope|
|Eupeodes latifasciatus male- I hope|
|Eupeodes luniger - female|
|Eupeodes luniger - female - inverted Y shape on frons (above antennae)|
Green Tiger Beetles whirred away in front of me and as usual refused to allow themselves to be snapped and I looked for Adders but to no avail. Everyone else seems to bump into them this time of year in almost any appropriate spot I think it may be as long as 15 years ago that I last saw one in the wild.
Back at the car there were some Dog Violets and Greater Stitchwort flowering on the bank and a Common Lizard scuttled out of view.
|Pretty sure these are Dog Violets|
Westwards again with Old Lodge NR programmed into my phone – it’s not often I use a Sat Nav but the route was somewhat convoluted and I needed help. There were some superb patches of Lady’s Smock growing by the roadsides but not where I could ever stop so I was very pleased to find a suitable patch and gap just before getting into lovely village of Rotherfield.
There were clumps of this archetypal spring bloom – also known as Cuckoo Flower – interspersed with patches of limey yellow Primroses and sky blue Field Forget-me-nots and huge fluffy Dandelions while Wild Garlic was wafting up from the stream verge.
Such peculiar activity attracted the attention of a local who pulled over to see what I was doing hunkered down in the vegetation! You could see the local rag now... ‘Man stops to be with the flowers!’
Lunch in the Old Lodge carpark and then off for a walk around the circuit hoping that the sun would keep shining and that northerly wind would keep away.
Being the middle of the day the birds were fairly quiet and I did not encounter a Redstart at all but this was made up for buy several beautiful Woodlarks whose mellifluous song drifted down as they sang in lazy spirals across the clearings through the pines. It simply is one of my favourite songs and although melancholy it fills me with such joy. A Tree Pipit was also encountered and there seemed to be good numbers of Willow Warblers already on territory while both Lesser Redpoll and Siskin were seen in display.
|Bilberry I think|
|Bloody Nosed Beetle - cheers Annie for the ID|
A young couple and their dog were about 100 yards in front of me and she suddenly started to scream and the dog bark. Another birder called out – ‘Bet you have found an Adder!’ I nonchalantly headed down the slope trying to conceal my anticipation that it might still be there.
Thankfully they had still got their pooch on its lead and had stepped back allowing me to approach cautiously and have the most amazing Adder experience I could ever imagine. This feisty male was already rearing up and stayed that way for the duration which must have taken an incredibly amount of muscle strength. He was sucking in air and hissing it back out at me like some reptilian heavy breather and was obviously seriously hacked off with having been disturbed in the first place.
I watched him and was mesmerised by his hypnotic Kaa eyes but managed to break away after five minutes and leave him to go about his business... I was elated!
The big male of the local pair of Ravens entertained me on the walk back round with their nest somewhere in the pines and a pair of Stonechat on the thickly scented Gorse rounded things up nicely before heading for home via yet another garden centre or two...
|Raven mid-kronk as he kept an eye on me|