Saturday, 25 March 2023

Kentish Nature Walks #68 - Leybourne Lakes 25th March 2023

Everyone has spent this week, twitching, bumping into or finding Alpine Swifts or at least wishing that they were.  They are one my favourite birds from any Med visit and I know that I will be seeing them at the end of April in Lesvos but when one is just eight miles from my house even I am tempted to go for a look.  The traffic yesterday was grim around here and it suggested a 40 minute journey to get there so I waited till this morning and pottered down there before breakfast to watch this master of the air hanging on a wall of a some flats under a gutter across the road from the famous Larkfield Tesco of Golden Winged Warbler fame.

It sat there and occasionally looked around at the seven blokes looking suspicious in a house estate before doing the decent thing just before 7am and taking to the wing and dropping down to just a few feet off the ground before hurtling off over the lakes.  Even those initial few seconds were magical.

Rich Bonser managed to get it when it's head turned round...

It was soon re-found hawking in the distance before disappearing. Barry, Rich and I headed up the Brooklands end for a scout round and Barry’s hunch proved correct and he picked it up within just a few minutes.  Much closer views were had initially against a blue sky as it looped in vast circuits overhead.  

And one from Barry Wright as it was much better than mine

Satiated by a pre-Lesvos Alp encounter I headed for home adding Kingfishers, Chiffchaffs and Blackcap on the way.  Barry W went on to find another on the Darenth Lakes complex to the west… good patch working skills.

Ingrebourne Valley - 22nd March 2023

I dropped off the car to have it’s service in Rainham and set off for a walk up the Ingrebourne Valley.  I had about 4 hours to kill but was not expecting to end up walking a nearly nine mile circuit.  It was yet another grey day but certainly warmer but the wind had got up once again. I entered the Valley just above the Albion pub where Chiffchaffs and Cetti’s Warblers were singing strongly and picked up flowering Coltsfoot, Storksbill and some dinky Muscari on the bank around the lake.




The main reedbed to the east had Reed Buntings in song but it was just a bit too early for a Sedge Warbler while Ring-necked Parakeets zoomed overhead in shades of vibrant green and yellow. The Sallows were in full flower but held not one insect which was disappointing while the Cherry Plum and Sloe were equally devoid although both smelt wonderful.


Cherry Plum


The first Teasel head I opened held an Endothenia grub but I could only find Stigmella aurella on the Brambles.  Down at Albyns Farm the Wayfaring Trees were almost in flower and Red Dead Nettle and the first Cow Parsley were mixing with Celandines under the Poplars.

Endothenia cocoon

Wayfaring Tree

Wayfaring Tree

Red Dead Nettle

Cow Parsley

Lesser Celandines

I was pleased to find 14 mature poplar trees had the exit holes at the base of what I presume are Hornet Clearwing moths.  I only found my first of these the previous day at Santon Downham! I checked two Pill Boxes for moths but I suspect they have all awoken from their winter hibernations now.

Hornet Clearwing exit holes from previous years

Large Yellow Underwing Caterpillar - the only invert I saw all day

I looped up to the visitors centre (not even the loos till 10am!) and then cut through to the river and followed where it had overbanked and flooded the main path until I reached the next bridge.  It was a bit muddy but I am sure that the river delivered a good layer of sediment to the land above.  Great Spotted Woodpeckers played chase but it was generally very quiet. the Ash trees were coming into flower and looked wonderful close up.

Ash flowers in the making

I ventured out into the farmland to head back south but there were only Skylarks for company and a Green Woodpecker yaffled from Berwick Glades. I crossed back over the Green bridge where a huge ‘bird table’ had been created and adorned with small but empty feeders.  The pile of food on top was all rotten and sprouting but the local Brown Rats were quite happy to tuck in.  There was not a bird in sight.

A single male Teal and two Moorhens were on the adjacent pool as I Retraced my way to Albyns where two Egyptian Geese were squibbling around the edges before cutting back onto the roads for the route back to the garage ostensibly so that I could rather sadly look for leaf mines in front gardens on my way…

Egyptian Geese

Phyllonorycter leucographella on every Pyracantha I checked

The Brecks - 21st March 2023

A day out: 

An early start saw us convene at Santon Downham just before 8am for our riverside walk.  Leaving all my optics behind was not the most professional thing to do for a tour guide but thankfully there is always a spare pair of bins in the car! Redwings drifted over and Marsh Tit was quickly on the list.  It was another breezy, grey looking day but we persevered and walked down to the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker area but had no joy.  There was still plenty to see with some wonderful Siskin and Lesser Redpoll encounters and better views of Marsh Tits as they foraged in the bankside Alders and Willows.

The river was quiet but we picked up Little Grebe and Grey Wagtail and had plenty of Mandarin sightings which was odd as I have never actually seen any here before despite knowing that there was a population here. Every few minutes a croaking pair would do a circuit.

Mandarins - Jane Ellis (I think!)

There was absolutely no flowering ground flora to be found and the only new plants were the vigorous leaves of Comfrey pushing through. Starlings were investigating the many holes in the old Poplars and Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were also seen while Kestrel was the only raptor at this stage. I also found some exit holes of what I presume is Hornet Clearwing in the base of one of the Poplars.

Hornet Clearwing exit holes

White-lipped Hedge Snail

Back near the cars I opted to check the area opposite for Woodlarks and said that with 12 pairs of eyes we might pick them up on the deck as there were none in song. Two minutes later Gill found a pair grovelling about quite close by and they afforded excellent scope views for everybody.

Woodlarks - Pat Hart

On now to Lynford Arboretum to condense the passengers into just three cars for the trip up to Cockley Cley where the parking can be tricky.  Even this got delayed as two Firecrests were singing loudly in the tall firs next to where we parked up!  Seeing them was as usual very tricky.

Red Kite and Buzzard were seen on the run up towards Swaffham and se settled in for a wait for the Goshawks to appear.  Buzzards, Kestrels and Sparrowhawks were quickly found and Wood and Skylarks sang behind us.  A squally pulse of drizzle pushed through and the brightness that followed felt like the right time for our targets to appear and before too long an adult male came cruising through the tree tops before putting on a fine scopeable display for all present.  He even stooped after a Woodpigeon when his bulk was even more apparent.

Ten minutes later I picked up a female over the same area and we were treated to another prime performance with circling and active flight particularly when she found and saw off a young brown male.  It was the perfect Goshawk experience and many of the party had never seen one before.

Lazy Goshawk watching with hatchback wind and drizzle shelters

Brown Hares were in both fields around us with some sparring taking place with a group of presumably two males and of course the female orchestrating the performance.  Lapwings tumbled over the stony field beyond and several Shelduck were in with the pigs and a host of Jackdaws and Rooks.  The brief sunshine even tempted out a speedy female Brimstone.

Lunch took us back to Lynford before the lake circuit was undertaken.  Two Great Crested Grebes were seen along with a few pair up Common Toads.  Rather disturbingly there were dead Toads and bits of Toad floating around in the clear water too!

The harrowed area was teeming with Bees in the slight sunny spell that we found and all appeared to be Colletes cunicularius.  The ground was moving with little hovering shapes.  A single Andrena praecox was also seen along with a few Buff-tailed Bumblebees.  One was lying on the path and did not look quite dead. ‘If only we had something for it I said’  Sue immediately gets out her official Bee Rescue Kit and we managed to get the bee to have a few minutes of drinking before popping her in the heavily coconut scented Gorse flowers.

Colletes cunicularius - Sue Godfrey

Colletes cunicularius Sue Godfrey

Bee Rescue - Alan Ellis

Andrena praecox

An unknown micro Clover with vivid carmine leaves

Gorse - so wondrously scented

Cladonia rangiformis - the Lichen known as Reindeer Moss - Enid Barrie

The very funky Juniper Haircap Moss -  Polytrichum juniperinum

Buzzards cruised around but there were no Woodlarks singing as we walked back up towards Tree Tops cottage.  A few spots of rain greeted us so we sheltered by the cafĂ© while Enid studied the humble Dandelions and with around 250 micro-species in the UK they will take a bit of investigating!

Taraxacum sp - Enid Barrie

Firecrests were immediately heard singing in the main arboretum but at least we all got a look at one of them this time as it came down to the Hollies for a short while.  Such zippy little sprites. A male Yellowhammer was coming down to the pool in the ally but there were no special finches so we ambled on through the Daffodils down to the lake and paddocks.  Marsh Tits and Nuthatches were feeding off the stone pillar and Little Grebes were trilling from the overgrown lake.

Ashley and the Oriole crew had seen a single Hawfinch come in so we stuck it out for a while and scanned the tree tops. Siskins displayed overhead and a Mistle Thrush hopped amongst the Mole hills.  Treecreepers and Firecrests were singing from the Firs down this end too but once again there proved impossible to find.  We were about to give up and I had started to walk back towards the cars when a last glance at the tall Pines revealed a shape and a few seconds later a fine male Hawfinch was in the bag. It stayed long enough for everyone to have a good look before moving further into the trees and sent us on our way with big smiles.  Bathing Treecreepers at the drinking pool finished things off very nicely! The clouds had once again rolled in and as we had somehow contrived to not get wet we all decided to call it a day and head for our respective homes.

Thursday, 23 March 2023

Oriole Birding - Forest of Dean & Somerset Tour - Day 5 - 17th March 2023

Three of us agreed to get up early and try and make a pre-breakfast visit just across the road to Wells Cathedral.  We were inside just before 7am and had this imposing and immense building almost all to ourselves bar a gentleman putting out candles and another tuning up the immense Grand Piano that presumably would be part of the Kennedy performance that evening.  The Cathedral is a truly wonderous and ancient creation with incredible stonework, towering arches, a massive organ in the centre, decorated ceilings, touch-worn caskets, gleaming stain-glass windows and a fine eagle lectern.

Back outside the Ravens kronked avidly from the top of the towers and surveyed their domain and a large stately circular Yew stood in the cloisters courtyard.  


One last breakfast and then the faff of getting the van back to the front of the Swan Hotel but by just after 8.30 we were underway and off for a last few hours in Avalon. 

The SWT reserve at Catcott was our choice of stop and we were soon in the car park where Great White Egrets and the sounds of many whistling Wigeon greeted us.  The habitat from the main hide was very different to the sites further east with a huge sedge bed interspersed with a myriad of pools that were teaming with dabbling duck.  As expected Wigeon were in the majority given the volume of whistling but there were a few Pintail, Shoveler and Teal too.  I looked for Garganey but had no joy but unlike at the other sites there were Lapwings tumbling in energetic display and it was good to hear them in fine voice for the first time this spring.  There were more Greylags and Canada Geese here too and Reed Buntings were singing from several high points.




Wigeon, Gadwall and Lapwing

Great White in the landscape

From here we walked down the lane to the main access path passing a couple of singing Chiffchaffs on the way before following the muddy lane into the damp woodland. The sedge fields were still pretty dry despite all the rain but hopefully they will soon have breeding waders and duck on them.  Cetti’s Warblers could be heard from the Alder lined ditches and the verges held flowering Gorse, White and Red Dead Nettle and a few Dandelions but despite the slight climb in temperature there were no insects in attendance.


Dead Nettle


The trail to the Tower Hide was followed and it took us through to some fine wet heathland sheltered in the heart of the complex.  Clumps of Bog Myrtle were scattered around and some of the chestnut buds were opening to reveal the curious flowers hidden within. Treecreepers, Coal Tits and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were all heard and like most places around here there were Bullfinches calling out of sight. 

Bog Myrtle

Bog Myrtle

Scarlet Elf Cups were common and I looked under the leaves of the fine Hart’s Tongue Ferns to discover the mobile home made up of the plant’s sporangia of one of the two Psychoides moth larva but I was not going to probe further to discover what colour its head was!

Hart’s Tongue Fern

Psychoides sp moth larva near the midrib under sporangia

Scarlet Elf Cups

A Hedge Snail Song Thrush anvil on the hard anti slip elements of the boardwalk

A spring leaf beetle - Probably Altica lythri

Another close Barn Owl encounter

The loop took us eventually to the hide which was quite literally full of Flies!  They must have hibernated in there and emerged when it warmed up slightly and could not get out.  I did my best to release a few but they stubbornly insisted in heading back to the windows.  Many seemed to be Pollenia (Cluster Flies with their golden hairs) along with a few Musca autumnalis.  Four big fat Queen Common Wasps were a little easier to persuade that the outside world would be a better place for them. 

Common Wasp

Musca autumnalis

The pools below were only home to a few Coots and a pair of Mute Swan and two Cormorants came in for a feed.  Bearded Tits could be heard pinging from the Phragmites along the back and with a bit of patience we all go good views of both sexes as they clambered around.  This was one of our missing species so it was good to get one new bird for the last day.

 Bearded Tit - Andy Buck

Nature agreeing...

With time getting on we ambled back to the van with a stop at some old workings pools in the woods amazingly giving brief views of a Great Crested Newt lounging on the surface before plopping back down with a flick of its long tail.  The sun had even come out although the wind had got up and two male Brimstones appeared as if by magic and zoomed up and down the path.  Alder and Grey Poplar catkins blew in the breeze and a Little Ringed Plover flew over calling a couple of times but I just could not find it.  A Pond Skater appeared on a puddle in front of us and Roe Deer tracks could be seen in the mud. Amazing what you see what you look down as well as up!

Alder Catkins

Roe Deer tracks

Pond Skater - not sure of the species yet

The Gang... we had a laugh

Back at the van it was time to say farewell to Andy before I headed north to drop Claire and Jon in Bristol and Dave and Margaret back at Speech House.  With the passengers all safely dropped off I only had the cross country journey back to Great Ryburgh to go.  It was actually an ok journey that took me quite literally cross country to avoid some serious problems on the M42 and I skirted many spots I had never been near before.  Towards the end I encountered a herd of about 200 Whooper Swans alongside the A47 somewhere near Wisbech and a Little Owl up on a wire (sorry Claire) to round off an exhausting but thoroughly enjoyable five days away.

I spent the night at Dower House again and even manged to pop out before breakfast the next morning and see Cattle Egret, both Partridges, Grey Wagtails and even Avocets around the village.  I handed the van back to Nick and began the last bit of my journey back to Kent.