Tuesday 28 March 2023

Kentish Nature Walks #69 - A damp day where spring tried to hide - 28th March 2023

 A www.blueeyedbirder.com day out:

A few spots was what the weather forecast suggested for out day out in Kent with a light southerly wind. Perfect I thought for a wander around Dungeness at the end of March.  We met at 8am in the ARC as the first few drops of rain started to fall.  It was quite cool and the breeze hardly felt southerly in temperature.  The water level had gone up once again and there were literally just a handful of Tufted Duck and Pochard to be seen bobbing out front along with plumed Great Crested Grebe and two male and a female Goldeneye.


A single Oystercatcher was hanging onto the only emerged nubbin of land.  A 2nd year male Marsh Harrier was out hunting and was still sporting vivid cream shoulder pads that glowed in the low light while the bushes held a few singing Chiffchaffs and Tits.

One of the dwarf Salix species but I have no idea what one

With the weather holding on just about, we made our way down to the Lighthouse where the wind had got up in the spaces of just a few minutes and was fiercely blowing into our faces. Not quite what we expected.  We lurked outside the hide trying to find some shelter and actually had a quite a good session with 32 Common Scoter with a single male Velvet, 47 Brent Geese, a Razorbill and a female Merganser east while Gannets milled around offshore and a single distant Sandwich Tern was seen.   Great crested Grebes bobbed around and drifted along with the tide while Common Gulls were seen amongst the Herring and hulking Great Black-backs.  The French coast was visible for miles to the east with trees, radio masts, pylons and buildings being visible.  It was quite remarkable.

Great Black-backed Gull

Brent Geese with France beyond

No Black Redstarts were visible or audible in the complex behind and the walk from there down to the Obs Moat produced no small birds bar a couple of displaying Meadow Pipits and four smart Pied Wagtails.  Where were the Wheatears?! 

Two Peregrines came into the pylons to shelter from the rain and I was sure that both were males.  They chose different pylons some way apart and surely the females should be sitting tight at the moment?


Purple nubbins of new Sea Cabbage shoots

At the Moat our luck changed with a flurry of Firecrest activity. Four birds were quickly seen either side of the path and performed admirably flashing their almost emerald upperparts and gleaming heads.  There were smiles all round.   Three more were found further round but despite scanning we were still in a Wheatear free zone.  Two Skylarks, two Chiffchaffs and four Meadow Pipits were added but nothing else before we got back to the Lighthouse garden where the Euphorbias were glowing lime green but only two more Chiffchaffs could be found.

Rabbit Gorse topiary


We slow drove back out scanning for errant white arses and shivering tails but to no avail and so headed for Boulderwall and Cooks Pool which looked great but lacked the all important Ibises.  Some splendid Curlew probed the grass and a small flock of Wigeon were seen grazing and a Great White Egret was playing hide an seek.  A Raven followed the car as we drove down further and after a recuperative cuppa we headed round to Springfield Bridge where the rain was now heavy and icy.  

None of us had any inclination to get out and stare at Dengemarsh that was devoid of any birds at all so I opted to drive east to Sandgate to try for the Hume’s Yellow-browed Warbler in Enbrook Park.  The trees offered us some shelter in this lovely ravine park but we could not find the little warbler but were content with more excellent views of several Firecrests and Long-tailed Tits and I saw a pair of Grey Wagtails at the waterfall on my second circuit during lunch.

Blackbird - sometimes the 'common' can become an eye-catching beauty. When did you last really look at one closely?

Grey Wagtail

It would have been remiss of me not to note the Ectoedemia heringella on the nearly every Holm Oak leaf

Northwards now to Stodmarsh where at least I hoped we should see some more birds!  Just as we reached the village I picked up five Cattle Egrets with some cows in a roadside field and thankfully we could watch them without getting out in the rain! 

Cattle Egrets

Once there the rain abated somewhat and we actually had a fairly pleasant couple of hours walking to the first two hides and back.  Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Chaffinches sang as we approached the Reedbed Hide and Bullfinches called softly but out of sight.  The water levels were high here too with just a few Shoveler, Mute Swans, Coots and Moorhens out front while a pair of Great Crested Grebes were nest building and Bearded Tits could be heard pinging from both sides and occasionally seen dashing over the reed top with tails bobbling.

Shoveler - so delicate with such a big bill


The male Bullfinch was actually singing as we walked back out but remained hidden and Water Rails squealed and kipped from all around us while a Raven kronked but never came into view.  The Marsh Harriers were putting on a superb display and at least three full adult males were patrolling and interacting in some good aerial tussles with the females.

Evidence of Beavers were everywhere with some classic spear point stumps, half felled trees and seriously gnawed tree trunks.  I must get back and see them one evening.

The sweet scent of the Cherry Plums reached us now that the rain had stopped but it was still very cool and there were no insects of any sort to be seen. A few Tufted Ducks were out on the main lake and thankfully the female Ring-necked Duck was quickly found.  She was actively feeding but showed very well in the scope.  Given how many times I have not see RND this year it was actually something of a relief to clap eyes on one!

Cherry Plum

Ring-necked Duck

Squadrons of Cormorants kept arriving from the coast and heading off to Westbere and Cetti’s Warblers shouted at us with great regularity from the path side bushes but we did not even get a single glimpse despite their proximity.  Song Thrushes had started singing as the rain stopped and one stayed put for us all to watch as he serenaded in the late afternoon.

We took the boardwalk loop on the way back and the Beaver work was even more evident with a dam and new pools and so many cleared saplings.  The clouds were building again so we made our way back to the cars stopping to have a look at the first Cuckoo Flower of the season by the last pool.

Cuckoo Flower - very bushy plants

It had been a difficult day but by the end we had actually done quite well given the atrocious conditions.  The journey home was enlivened by seven Med Gulls in a field alongside the M2 as is now the norm for this time of year!

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.

Back home in the garden a few more spring flowers were blooming  but there were no insects whatsoever.

pale Lesser Celandine  

Lesser Celandine  

My solitary Early Purple Orchid is looking good!

Sweet Violet 


Marsh Marigold

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