Sunday, 23 September 2018

Half a chance...

RSPB Rainham Marshes 23rd September 2018
With tropical Atlantic storms tracking up the west coast during the last week, it has been painfully slow at RSPB Rainham Marshes where a due west is probably the most frustrating wind direction we can have.  Seabirds were dropping in across the country with Grey Phalaropes seemingly trying to get into very county bird report for 2018 but alas with almost no water to speak off we were missing out.

However the weather forecast suggested that during the course of Saturday night the winds would shift north easterly with rain and so we all got our hopes up for a push up the Thames this morning in the incoming tide.

We are by that bit marked Purfleet...

I arrived before half six to open up and Andy Tweed joined me not long afterwards and with Ruth, Phil and Vic we remained ensconced there for most of the day. The weather was foul and reports were soon coming in from the Kent coast of superb skua and shearwater movements so we stuck to our task and no sooner had I suggested to the newly arrived Stevenage RSPB group that we were looking for Skuas then they found three hulking Bonxies floating around mid river!

Essence of Bonxie

and three became four - Neville Smith

This trio bobbed up river until they were joined by a fourth and headed back out to the east.  A few terns past through in little flurries but it was not as good as we hoped with just 22 Common, 16 Arctic and possibly as many as eight Sandwich seen. However, we did pick up a juvenile Roseate Tern loosely with a group of Arctics which was a nice surprise and the first of this age any of us had seen here.

Two Sandwich Terns at a gazillion ISO - Paul Hawkins

Motley's and a Vagrant
Graham and his Stevenage crew scored again at lunchtime when they found a juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper feeding on the Tringa Pool.  We high tailed it round there in the rain and got some superb views of this immaculately marked juvenile as it fed in the rain on the now wonderfully muddy pool with a large male Ruff and several Pied and White Wagtails.

juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper- Andy Tweed

The sky was full of hirundines, mostly House Martins but with the other two present in smaller numbers.  We reckoned that at least 600 of the former went through during the day, sometimes in quite large spiralling flocks. Others were hawking at head height in the lee of the big poplar trees by the Ken Barrett Hide and around the chestnuts in the woodland.

There were definitely more Chiffchaffs around too with small groups around the centre all day where the juvenile male Sparrowhawk did its upmost to catch one all day although it did take out and unsuspecting Chipping Sodbury by the shop feeders.  He spent quite a lot of time perched on fences and such like, affording great views and at least by the afternoon he had dried out from his sodden morning appearance!
They the odd partially leucistic Great Tit was around the feeders on and off during the day and still catches me out everytime I see it!

leucistic Great Tit

Soggyhawk - Andy Tweed

As the sun came out and the blue skies and white fluffy clouds emerged, the Hobbies arrived out of nowhere and two juveniles put on a great show outside the window with both Sparrowhawk and the Kestrel for company.  Buzzard and Marsh Harrier unsurprisingly also started hunting but with fine weather the day of river watching was done but it was certainly worth the time and effort put in.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Blowing away the cobwebs - Dungeness 10th September 2018

A post-breakfast poodle out took me in the direction on Dungeness.  With such a busy week behind me, I was not even sure if anything had been around bar the usual array of egrets but I fancied finding something myself anyway.

By half nine I was ambling towards the sea with Meadow Pipits pinging from the Sea Cabbage in front of me.  The south-westerly wind was already picking up and my short seawatch produced good views of France, a fine Tri-master heading down Channel that felt somewhat familiar and looks like it may have been the ‘Gulden Leeuw’ that we see past Rainham most years, many west bound Sandwich Terns, a couple of young Arctic with the Commons around the patch, four Gannets and a 1st year Med Gull.

‘Gulden Leeuw’- I think

I headed back into the Obs gorse clumps which were birdless bar a Dunnock before veering towards the Desert where some rather clumsy, smash and grab birding by others, initially gave me a couple of flight views of a Wryneck before the application of some proper fieldcraft and a little patience gave excellent if somewhat blustery views of this lovely little woodpecker about 50 yards from where I saw one last September almost to the day.


Two each of Whinchat and Stonechat and a single Wheatear flitted around but two Chiffchaffs were the only warblers encountered.
The drive back down to the reserve showed four stately Great White Egrets feeding in a line along the back edge of the ARC pit but I could not find the Cattle Egrets on my drive in past Boulderwall. Burrows Pit was very quiet and it was not until the sheltered corner that I found four more Great Whites along with singles of Grey Heron and Little Egret.
Rather oddly three of the Great Whites were standing belly deep in the water while dozing and preening.

Great White Egrets

Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters zoomed up and down the sheltered paths and Green-veined White, Speckled Wood, Meadow Brown, Small Heath, Small Copper and Common Blue were all nectaring on the last of the Ragwort and Vipers Bugloss.

Common Blue

Small Copper

Small Heath

Field Grasshopper

Devil's Bit Scabious

I spent some time in the Dengemarsh Hide looking for the Pectoral Sandpiper but could only find two male Ruff, seven Snipe and two juvenile Black-tailed Godwits amongst the throng of duck and Greylags.  A Great White Egret unsurprisingly hunted along the reedy fringe.
It had not been seen for a couple of hours but there are many place for it to hide but I was surprised when it flew in from the far right where the view if obscured and crossed the whole pool to land near its two Ruff buddies.  Here it showed for less than a minute before flicking over the back and out of view once more.  I did feel sorry for the two people who had just left having spent 90 minutes searching...

Great White Egret #9
I carried on round and headed back to the main track to see if I could see the Cattle Egrets and much to my delight I picked up three of them well away from the cattle wading through the grass with Starlings exploding out all around them. Within a couple of minutes they were out of view once more.

Cattle Egrets
White Wagtail

Thorn Apple - Datura stramonium
 Time for a quick coffee and then a scoot over to the Hanson Hide where amazingly I could see not one Egret but the 14 juvenile Black Terns were more than ample compensation as they dipped as if on elastic to the choppy surface.

My long week was starting to catch up with me once again and so I decided to head for home which, with a closed M20, meant a slightly more scenic route than I had intended.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Blue is the Colour - North Kent 21st August 2018

With a few jobs out of the way before nine I headed outdoors with the intent of going on a butterfly hunt. It was warm, humid and the sun was trying very hard to break through.

Sunglasses on and off down the M2 where I found a solid wall of low cloud that looked suspiciously like rain but with none forecast I thought it would pass and so I pressed on to a site near Lenham where I then spent the next half hour reading my book in the car while it persistently rained.

Deciding that this was not going to be an invert day I headed north and back out of the gloom on a route that would avoid Sittingbourne on my way to Oare Marshes but with the all important route closed, I was forced to endure the horror that is currently the middle of the town one way system.  It was starting to feel like things were conspiring against me...

I eventually made it to Oare and to my surprise the tide had only just turned and the East Flood was covered in waders. They were mainly Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank but with a smattering of Dunlin, Ruff and Avocet and about 200 Golden Plover. A solitary juvenile Little Ringed Plover fed way over the back and a Common Sandpiper flicked across the pool.   

Of any different calidrids there was no sign and I had just missed the Bonaparte’s Gull so I ambled down to the Swale where he was immediately on view methodically walking across the newly exposed mud collecting worms. 

Bonaparte’s Gull

Sixty-nine Common Terns loafed on the mud in one flock with tree juvenile Black Terns among them while four more Blacks were off shore with some more Commons.  A juvenile Common Gull fed along the tideline and 22 summer plumaged Grey Plovers were on the Harty side of the river.

A Curlew Sandpiper flew over calling with some Dunlin but did not stop. Nice to know that I have remembered this one!

A few Yellow Wagtails called while I walked back to the car and a quick check of some flowering Fleabane produced several fly species including an Eristalinus sp which I think was aeneus, Eristalis tenax, a tiny Soldier Fly and the tachinid, Eriothrix rufomaculata.

Eristalinus sp

Eristalinus sp

Eriothrix rufomaculata

Soldier Fly - I think
With sunshine to the south I decided to heath back to the Downs but chose Queendown Warren as it was easier to get to what with the horrors of Sittingbourne and the road closures affecting Faversham.

The sun stayed with me and I enjoyed a wondrous visit with the place to myself and only the swathes of scented Marjoram and Thyme and the countless Butterflies for company. Me time...


Basil Thyme

I remembered being caught out last year by the number of Common Blues here and in fact only saw that species but this time it was different and although most of the blues seen were Common, I did get some superb views of shining electric blue Adonis although they do not really like to sit with their wings open.

Common Blue
Adonis Blue

Adonis Blue

Adonis Blue

Adonis Blue

Adonis Blue

Adonis Blue with my Canon SF60

Adonis Blue - same insect with my Galaxy S9+ phone.... ridiculous...

Brown Argus was the commonest butterfly with dozens flitting around and engaging in frantic courtship chases. The size variation in this species was as usual, surprising.

Brown Argus

Brown Argus

A single female Holly Blue was found and at least three Chalk Hill Blues flounced about in more bouncy flight compared to the directness of the others.

Holly Blue

Chalk Hill Blue

Chalk Hill Blue

There were still many Meadow Browns about although most were tatty along with a couple of Gatekeepers and two immaculate Small Heaths while all three Whites were seen.

Meadow Brown

Small Heath

Large White

One more species found its way onto the list with a pair of dazzling Silver Spotted Skippers careening around but thankfully stopping long enough for me to creep up on them and endure the pain of the micro thistle rosettes within the rabbit cropped turf!  They are such stunning little butterflies.

Silver Spotted Skipper

Silver Spotted Skipper

Unsurprisingly there were other insects too with Migrant and Southern Hawkers patrolling the edges and rides and Common Darters zipping out after prey from favourite perches.  Honeybees and a few tatty bumblebees droned about, favouring the Marjoram while I picked up several Tachina fera and once again the hulking Nowickia ferox. 

Lasioglossum calceatum - Common Furrow Bee

Lasioglossum calceatum - Common Furrow Bee

Tachina fera

One of the larger Robber Flies

Buzzard overhead

It was actually getting too hot and the breeze was picking up so I returned to the car pleased with my efforts before taking the scenic route home.