Monday 25 March 2019

Failing to blow the blues away...

Kent: 25th March 2019:
A traditional spring visit to Dungeness saw the weather set fair today but despite the blue skies and occasional fluffy white clouds it was the biting northerly wind that made it a generally less than pleasurable experience.

We convened at the Old Lighthouse at 730am and immediately could hear a couple of Brambling as we got our gear together.  A smart male was picked up ‘dweaking’ away merrily from the lighthouse garden and had already worn off most of his winter edges to reveal the black underneath.

A duo of Wheatears were swiftly found and Meadow Pipits parachuted around us while ten Jackdaws passed high and south.


Meadow Pipit - Mark Vale

The sea was calm and the wind was obviously keeping stuff offshore but we did manage 181 Brent Geese in three wavy lines snaking up Channel and there were quite a few Gannets milling around.  A single Fulmar and adult Med Gull was the only other species of note with not even one Sandwich Tern being seen – all rather odd.

Brent Geese

The Porpoises on the other hand were just great with animals surfacing in all directions and with great frequency so I wonder just how many are out there? With the feeling being lost in fingers and noses we retreated for another look at the Wheatears before trying to find a Black Redstart that was seen by others but with no joy.   

Wheatear - Mark Vale

Wheatear - Mark Vale

Black Redstart - Mark Vale

The lime green Spurges round the lighthouse were magnificent.

A wander out towards the Obs gave us brief views of another fine male Black Redstart and seven more Wheatears and couple of Stonechats but it was the pair of Peregrines sharing a bloody meal on the pylon that captivated the group.

Wheatear - Paul Rigby

Meadow Pipit - Paul Rigby



News of the Kentish Plover at Greatstone tempted us away and a fun hour was spent on the mammoth expanse of deserted beach with the tide full out.  Six stop start plovers in the distance had us heading along the beach for about half a mile only to discover that all six were smart adult Ringed and not the French interloper with pretensions of Britishness.

However, the most amazing thing on the intertidal zone (about half a mile from the actual sea) was a huge mop head sized mass of gelatinous fingers full of eggs.  They were still wet and the tide was on the turn so I had hope that they would survive but had to send an image to Annie to discover what they were. Squid eggs!  Who would have thought it and certainly a new one on me.

Squid eggs
Foggy, Clegg & Compo...

From here it was down to the reserve where Tree Sparrows were ticked off, facilities were utilised and then after a cuppa we decided that the trail was possibly not the most productive use of our day and abandoned the site for pastures new.

Tree Sparrow - Paul Rigby

This entailed a drive north to Grove Ferry where hopefully the Penduline Tit would give itself up... it did not and in fact the reedbeds were very quiet with a couple of pinging Beardies and shouty Cetti’s for our trouble and no sign of any masked bandits whatsoever.

Two Water Pipits dropped in in front of the Feast Hide and vanished and several Snipe tried to blend in but no amount of staring at Reedmace produced the desired results. 

Marsh Harriers saved the day with several males and females on patrol of one immature putting on a truly magical skydance for us high in the blue as he successfully attempted to attract the attention of the two females nearby.

Marsh Harrier

We had all run out of steam by then and called it a day and even a pop into Oare Marshes on the way home failed to balance out the day . 

You can’t always see everything – such is the nature of our hobby – and I should just be grateful to be outdoors in the fresh air and with birds around me.

However, I could have done with a pick-me-up today but nevermind. 

Counting the days to Lesvos, and the weeks to even grander things...

Wednesday 20 March 2019

Spring at RHS Wisley and some Kite action

17th March 2019
Sunday morning dawned with a hint in the air that it was not going to be like Saturday in any form whatsoever and thus a scoot around the M25 to RHS Wisley was on the cards.
That dreaded Road to Hell did its best to thwart the attempt but the alternative A25 through Westerham and such like did add some nicer scenery and the hoped for Red kite and Buzzards.

Arriving just before ten meant that we were ahead of the masses and a pleasant couple of hours were spent amongst the spring blooms. Camelias and Magnolias were in full bloom in various shapes and forms with the heavy rich scent of the latter discernible in the air.



Helleborines were scattered in carpets of green, burgundy and white with some great looking doubles amongst them while Snowflakes, Grape Hyacinths, Daffodils and Narcissus in all shapes and sizes, Wood Anemones, Epimediums, Winter Aconites and Snakes Head Fritillaries were dotted in naturalised clumps beneath the trees and in the borders.



Dainty Daffs

Wild Primrose

Wood Anemones

Not sure but suspect Squill or Bluebell related

Snakes Head Fritillary

Grape Hyacinth

Winter Aconites


Leucojum aestivum - Snowflake

Leucojum aestivum - Snowflake

The huge rockery was just starting to come to life with tiny Primulas with equally tiny leaves, Saxifrages, Pasque Flowers, saffron yellow Wild Tulips and mini trumpet Daffs.

Primroses and friends

Wild Tulips - I think

Wild Tulips

Pasque Flower - Pulsatilla vulgaris - grandis

The glasshouse at the top of the climb had some great spring specimen plants including exquisite Bumblebee Orchids, some funky Arums, vibrant Ipheions and different dwarf Narcissus and non-blue Muscari.   It was trying to rain at the time and the greenhouse was a suitable refuge before the blue reappeared.

Bumblebee Orchid - Ophrys bombyliflora

Iris - Skyline

Ipheion - Rolf Fiedler

Ipheion - Alberto Castillo

Muscari grandifolium

Narcissus calcicola

Arisarum vulgare

Asarum maximum
The hot house was superb and I was in Orchid heaven and my general ineptitude and getting my collection that live on the windowsill at work was brought home and I could easily see how with the right setting and glasshouse you could become seriously obsessive about collecting these enigmatic plants...

The Orchids...

Cirrhopetalum elizabeth

Porroglossum muscosum


There was colour everywhere with spikes of livid red, orange and yellow from various bromeliads, cascading climber and orchid blooms, heavily scented Dendrobium orchids and variegated leaves in a plethora of shapes, sizes and patterns.

Philodendron melanochrysum

Even some of the Cloud Forest plants were flowering.

The Cacti and succulents were doing their best to look stubborn, tenacious and seriously aggressive but create some superb spiky patterns when you get close up.   I used to have a Pachypodium when I was a kid (a very thorny column with leaves on top) so to see huge ones reaching for the sky was great too.

The walk back through the gardens revealed a great display of different colour Cornus stems interspersed with the white of ornamental Brambles while the scent of the flowering Edgeworthia chrysantha (Oriental Paperbush after Googling) was attracting a few hardy Buff-tailed Bumblebees and a solitary Eristalis pertinax hoverfly that ended up perched nicely on a Daff.  Nuthatches were calling all around and Treecreeper and Goldcrest were heard but the chill breeze was keeping things down.

Edgeworthia chrysantha - Oriental Paperbush

Eristalis pertinax

Eristalis pertinax

I always leave a ‘garden’ with grand ideas and ambitions... time to put one or two into practice I think.

A quick stop to pick up a M&S lunch and then onto Thursley Common for a quick circuit.  Somehow there was room in the car park and after a quick bite to eat I headed out. It was still a tad windy and the cloud was starting to billow up again but the heath and bog were looking magnificent with plenty of water moving about and it will not be too long before the dragons and damsels will be back on the prowl.

I found a singing male Stonechat and his partner and heard a brief Dartford Warbler while a male Woodlark sung his beautifully melancholic song high it the sky, occasionally being highlighted by the skudding white cloud.  For me it has always been a ‘close your eyes and take it in’ song and it fills me with a great joy despite its sad cadence.

There must have been enough warmth in the air to stir the coconut scent - it was heavenly

I looked for brave but chilly snakes to no avail but did find a bold little Lizard that was too cold to even react as I hunkered down with my phone for a shot or two.

Common Lizard
However it was the Red Kites that made my day with four patrolling the area. Two immatures kept drifting back towards where I was standing on the bridleway and gave me the once over. I threw my hat in the air a couple of times and they came straight back to me and circled a little low giving me wonderful views that did not result in my losing my beloved Fair Isle headwear!

I remember way, way back in the dark distant depths of the 1980s hearing about an Epping RSPB coach trip to Thursley where they were incredibly luck to see a migrant Kite passing through.  I may be wrong but I seem to remember a little vignette by Ian Lycett in his wonderful illustrated notebook.  Must ask him...

Look at how the sky changed between images!
And yet now they are so well established and still spreading into new areas. A true conservation success story.

With the weather on the turn it was time to wend our way east back through the Weald countryside towards Horsham before heading up the M23 toward home...