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.

Sunday 5 August 2018

Of rare tringas, pizza, planets, space stations, tumbling tents & a sea breeze...

27th July - 4th August: A little recap...

Late on Friday 27th July, Pat Hart and Bill Stallard found a moutling juvenile Marsh Sandpiper while doing the trail lock up in the extremely uncomfortable heat and humidity.

This dainty little Tringa was feeding actively on Aveley Pool at RSPB Rainham Marshes with two Greenshank and was only the second record for the reserve with the first being an amazing 55 years ago in August 1963.  It was also the first London recording area record since 1984 and was therefore bound to attract some attention in local birding circles.

Marsh Sand dozing with two Greenshank - Alan Shearman

I opened at a little before seven on Saturday morning with the knowledge that the bird was thankfully still present but it annoyingly flew off just before the first visitors arrived and headed towards the Thames. 

A tense two hours followed during which time this strange wet stuff fell momentarily from the sky. We consulted Google and found out that it was called ‘rain’. No one in living memory could remember what it was and some people even came back into the centre appearing ‘wet’.

No sooner had got our head around these alien concepts than it had passed us by and as if by magic the sandpiper was back on the pools where it stayed for the rest of the day generating some much needed footfall and ornithological good will.

It was good to get the marsh back on the map for a rare bird and with Aveley pool looking so good, let’s hope that this will be the first of several good autumnal passage birds.

Marsh Sandpiper - David Morrison

Part Hart got some nice footage on the first evening...

And so after the excitement of the Marsh Sandpiper twitch during normal hours, the second shift for the day started as it became time for the annual Big Wild Sleepout.  All the guests turned up so wonderfully promptly that we were able to head out onto the reserve in very good time and (with pizza in hand) the party of about 30 of us wended our way through the amazingly verdant southern trail towards the RDZ and Brick Building.

The wind had been picking up all day but we tried not to worry about putting up tents until we needed to and were content wandering through the whooshing green reeds that were attempting to swamp the path but at least the temperature had dropped from the almost unbroken barrage of heat over recent weeks.

We made good time even with stops to watch Marsh Harriers and Little Egrets and thus began the task of erecting the tents for the night.

Pat Hart may have been the hero for finding the Marsh Sandpiper but unfortunately he was not so lucky with his little pop up tent which decided that it did not like the spot he had chosen and careened off into the distance in a serious of bounding loops before becoming attached to a bramble patch way off towards the Butts Hide in quite possibly the only completely inaccessible spot on the whole marsh.

Pat's tent becoming one with nature...

He watched it forlornly and was thus resigned and consigned to sleeping in the big hide for the evening while his tent became a shelter for other wildlife...

Banging in tent pegs was slightly problematical with the drought leaving the ground set like a concrete foundation but with teamwork and a few spare pegs we managed to help get everyone set up in plenty of time for dinner, a cuppa and a moment or two to chill out.

Caroline may have brought along some pizza...

as did Robyn, while Phil had not even got a tent let alone a pizza...

...and then there was Alistair with his gormet main course

We all reconvened at 8pm and Jules and Alistair took most of the families off for some nocturnal pond dipping while Pat and Ken took the remainder around to Aveley Pools. It was all a bit windy but everyone enjoyed themselves and was welcoming of another brew upon their return. 

Thankfully the cloud was holding off and while the Collins and Archers set up the moth traps in the lee of the Brick Building, I popped the scope onto the orb of Jupiter with at least three of its moons on show before a five minute window allowed us to zoom in on the mighty Jupiter, even further away at 746 million miles distant!

It is currently tilted so that you can see onto the rings which is just mind boggling when you think about it.  I am always in awe of her majesty but no one else had ever seen it before and for many it would become the highlight of the evening. Unfortunately it was all too brief and thin cloud veil was enough to remove this might celestial body from view.

Lapwings called in the dark and we were even lucky enough to hear the Marsh Sandpiper with the two Greenshank flying around above us. It was nice to put that learned call from Lesvos into good use! Greylags could be heard out on the marsh with the odd croak of a Grey Heron.

At 1014pm precisely the International Space Station sped into view from the west, glowing brightly as it shot over our heads 254 miles up at 17,130mph!  These figures are almost as amazing as Saturn and we were treated to a second showing after it had popped around the globe at 1151pm.

By now the moon had risen but alas with none of the eclipse glow that we all missed on the cloudy Friday evening but it shed enough light to illuminate the marsh and campsite in a soft white glow.

With that it was time to call it a night in preparation for an early rise which seemed to come about all too soon.  We broke camp by just after 7am with rain in the air and amazingly managed to have enough to time for some extra pond dipping in the Woodland zone on the way back before the weather finally let out its breath and a light persistent rain settled in for the duration of the day.

0530 dawn - prior to me shouting wakey wakey at 0630

Young Rosie and an Oak Eggar moth on her dad's hand...
Phil seemed to sleep ok...

Pat rediscovered the Marsh Sandpiper in Aveley Bay on his very early walk with a couple of the guests which pleased them and the first early birders who saw it before it departed as the rain came in before dropping into our reserve at Cliffe further down river during the late afternoon.

With breakfast served and sorted we bid farewell to our BWSO guests ready to welcome those eager to look for the now already missing sandpiper.

Job done...

For one reason or another it has been a tough following week.  The steady increase in temperature has made excursions out onto the reserve almost unpleasant and the continuing drought has left the marsh looking more like the African veldt than a lush wetland. 

It has however given the team the opportunity to get out there and top the vegetation with the tractor.  Just how they have been enduring several hours in the cab with a malfunctioning air conditioning system is beyond me but they have kept stoically at it. The dry conditions have allowed them to mow areas and islands that are normally either unreachable or only doable with the hand held brushcutters later in the season.  All we need now is some good heavy, steady rain...

There same selection of waders as last week remained on Aveley Pool with the Black-tailed Godwits peaking at about sixty and singles of Wood Sandpiper and Knot being the most notable newbies.

I headed out to do some trail pruning of my own early on Friday morning and was delighted to find a Pied Flycatcher in the Cordite sycamores along with a couple of Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and both 'throats.  A pair of coupled Southern Hawkers still managed expert circuits and I saw both Blue-eyed and Migrant Hawker on the inside although it was already too warm by 0730 for them to settle for a picture.

Back at the centre the bees were fantastic on the Echinops with six or possible seven species of Bumblebee clambering over the lilac spheroids with the odd waving leg to see off any other bee that intruded on their reverie.

male Bombus lucorum

I found three Wasp Spiders in the car park. They were my first this year and although I know others have been seen, I reckon it is a poor year for the species that I suspect was hit by the late cold and snow in the early spring.

Spider perfection...

My long stint at work finished that day and I have spent the weekend trying to recuperate and recentre.  It has not been easy in the exhausting heat with a heavy head and so a dash to the coast yesterday evening was required to find a sea breeze and to try out the camera on my shiny new Galaxy S9+.

I chose Reculver Towers and it was thankfully quiet.  The Saxon church stood proudly amongst its Roman fort ruins and it always amazes me that it has survived so long on its precarious mini coastal cliff.  The phone camera is seemingly at least as good as the S7 and if anything has greater depth of field and clarity. It will take some playing with but the knowledge that I will always have a good camera with me is secure...

All the above taken with the S9+

Sand Martins skittered around the short sward, so close at times that you could hear the snap of the bill (like you can with Spot Flys) and see the little crescents on the backs of the juveniles.

House Sparrows and Starlings foraged and just off shore a scaly juvenile Med Gull loafed with some Black-heads before heading off over the inland wheat fields that were enveloped in dust from a combine harvester.

Grey Heron

Grey Heron & Little Egrets

Med Gull

Med Gull & Black-heads



I spent some time playing with the super slo-mo (to which it rather bizarrely adds music...) and the little waves before checking out some Little Egrets and Grey Herons in a solitary fir.

Phone close up is good too...

The sea-breeze was deceiving and the heat was still in the air so it was time for fish ‘n’ chips from Beltinge with a cliff top view across the mouth of the Swale, over Herne Bay pierhead, to Shellness, Warden Point and Southend beyond...