Saturday, 24 February 2018

Surrey Hills...or....North-West Kent......

0700 - 1030 clear, cold, frosty, mostly still

Some call it Surrey....but others, geographically challenged, call it North-West Kent....okay, I went over the border heading West.....not my usual rout for birding but....with over 400 Hawfinches reported regularly leaving the roost area it had to be done....when will we ever see this many again....

I managed to gain some valuable information on how to get to site and found it first time, which was just as well....there were already birds out on the trees  on the North side of the valley.

I eventually managed to get down to the edge of the wood for a better view.

Looking ENE....

Looking WNW

But it certainly was a cold and frosty start.  A few sheep further up the valley looked glad of their woollen coat!

The views were, for the most part, distant, it has to be said.  However, the numbers did make up for this.  A total of between 100 and 150 birds seen.  Most of them came to settle on the tops of the trees on the north side of the valley.



Eventually the sun decided to play a bigger part in the day, the light improved a little and some birds were sitting slightly more West up the valley and in the sunshine.  Though still distant.



On the return to the car I was face with this view, by this time the sun was much more up for it....the Surrey...er...far NW Kent....hills.....are a beautiful place.....


The other bird noteworthy here was Nuthatch.  Lots of calling.

And so.  To my...almost...twitch.  Not being  'twitcher' this is the nearest I have been.  

So....to Leatherhead......with directions supplied....drive to Leatherhead Leisure Centre..?  Hmmm.  Okay.....walk away from the Leisure Centre....getting better....and eventually you will find yourself by the River Mole....and its small but fabulous Country Park.  A narrow park on the southern side of the town with a couple of islands in the river, overgrown and ideal for nature.  I found it to be another one of those unexpected almost middle of town 'oasis' similar to Sevenoaks Reserve.  Lots going on and so convenient for the people of the town.

I was directed to 'the wooden bench' where it was last seen by two birders just leaving site but both of whom had been on Hawfinch watch at the same place as me.  Great minds....perhaps!

Thorncroft Manor

This is one of two feudal manor houses in the town from the Norman times.  Thorncroft was rebuilt during the 1770's in, apparently, the Adamesque style and set in 15 acres and is Grade II listed....today it houses 24 offices.  It reminded me immediately of a smaller version of Holkham Hall in Norfolk, the last place I saw this 'twitching' bird.

Redwings on the lawn of Thorncroft Manor

The River Mole Country Park.  Heres the view from Thorncraft Drive end.  It was in this location, in front of the camera, that 'the bird' was supposedly located.

River Mole

So I approached the 'sacred' spot (clue) where the bird had been reported ad photographed numerous times of late.  And so it came to pass, ye, verily, I was approached by two birders who said in to me...'You shoulda bin ere five minutes ago'...as is the way of the bird.

Okay, enough....they had seen it five minutes previous to my arrival before flying away with its bigger cousin.  Local birders.  Having been to the Hawfinch watch at the same place this morning.  Again I was instructed to go forth and find the wooden bench.

So I spent the next 45 minutes parading this spot, or standing in the sunshine on the bridge.  Though it was 45 minutes well spent I have to say. 

First up was a peep-peep along the river as a Kingfisher went racing past.  This was looking like a good spot to stand for a while.  I passed on the 'you should have been here five minutes ago' curse to a lady who told me she hadn't seen a Kingfisher yet along the river.

No sooner was this excitement over than the screech of a Ring-necked Parakeet was heard and one flew across in front of the house.  I managed to find three sitting in a tree along Thorncroft Drive.

Alll this time I could hear a Sparrowhawk calling slightly further east but couldn't find it scanning the area.  As I waited for the bird it flew across in front of me chasing hard a small bird but I couldn't identify it.  The Sparrowhawk, on the other hand, had identified it.  Lunch!  It sat in a tree in the parkland for a while hunched over and keeping a wary eye out at the same time.

So...time has passed.  A scan across the park with its open trees.  And there, the first inkling, chip-chip....chip...the clue...its bigger cousin had appeared and it was bound to follow...

Great Spotted Woodpecker


More...Great Spotted Woodpecker

Where the Great went...the Lesser was bound to follow.  Well, in this case anyway.  It seems to be associating a lot with this Great Spot.  And.....there it was....chasing it....or was it keeping it company.  Hard to tell....

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

It was pretty fidgety most of the time.  It took a few minutes to re-find it after it left the trees in the park and came over to the riverside.  But found it was....and well worth the wait.


A lady appeared with binoculars at this stage....Charlotte (Surrey FB page)...I happily put her on to the bird as it gave some pretty good views and flew close enough for even my dodgy camera to get half decent pictures.....decent enough that you can actually tell what it is...

Better view....Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Whilst wandering this area I had noticed this bridge...


Though it was Charlotte that pointed out the large clam on the side.


An interesting bit of local history.  Its an ornamental bridge and other than this serves no real purpose, sometimes referred to as the Shell Bridge.  Whence it was part of the estate the then owner, Henry Crabb Boulton (a Director of the East India Company and an MP), had a chap in to do some landscaping and canalising....turned out to be Lancelot 'Capability' Brown and it is possible he designed the bridge as well.  The bridge is mentioned in Gilts Leatherhead Survey of 1782-83.  Though I cant find out why the clam is on the bridge.  Perhaps just decoration.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Late Work

Last night.....I was late at work....later than I usually am....sitting in the office doing the paperwork at the end of my shift I was pleased to hear a Tawny Owl....first for the year....and also surprised as I'm based in the St Peters area in Tunbridge Wells....

Dunorlan Park is close by so it must hunt across that way.....a nice find....accidental find...

Spring on...

0900 - 1200 initially misty, bright, sunny but clouding over to 85%, cool to cold NE f1-2

The mist almost cleared, but with the onset of clouds it left a murky misty grey look to the day....

Cold, warmer, rainy....back to cold...but theres no holding back nature....


....its all coming up....Bluebells...

....and nature has provided food for...something.....up in top North Field this is the remains...


...of a Woodpigeon....

Talking of North Field....two Skylarks were singing and a few were fluttering around.  Added to this were 4 Yellowhammers zooming around the field landing at various points around the edge....

Moving to East Pit there wasn't much to see at all...2 Gadwall (though more on the other pits) and 2 Great Crested Grebe (usual number for here) with 4 Coot.  Very quiet.

Along Long Straight it was quiet with a few Blue Tits in flight, but no finches on the Alders.

I could already hear Grey Herons calling....they were quite vocal most of the time I was on site.  At one point there were 4 over the Heronry with another one or two scattered around the site.   Looks like they are getting prepared for the breeding season ahead.

Grey Heron

On Island Pit 5 Teal were present another over on Middle Pit.  Around 50 Shoveler on the two pits today.

On Middle Pit there were plenty of Black-headed Gull and in amongst them 4 Common Gulls.  The 2 female Goldeneye had been joined by a male providing an interesting sight I had never seen before...

Goldeneye

Ive managed to partly capture the behaviour.....in the picture below one of the females is partly submerged and had obviously don't this of her own free will....the male was approaching in full view, with the female slowly swimming backwards....


...it was all over in a few seconds....was this warding the male off, or part of a pairing ritual, the two were swimming together, slightly apart from the other female, after.....

At Middle Pit, whilst I was scanning the Willow on the north side I happened upon a small bird flitting around....a Chiffchaff....a very lucky find indeed, if I hadn't bothered scoping along the edge for more Teal I would have missed it.  A Little Egret was around for a while.

On West Pit the Black-necked Grebe was still present.  Fabulous.  A Snipe flew out from the near by bank and didn't go far.  I searched for it and flushed it a second time.  Down it went.  Jack?  It was hard not to flush it from the east bank and away it went, this time off in an easterly direction for hidden pit.  Common Snipe.  Darker wings than a Jack.....maybe next time.

There must have been at least 4 or possibly 5 Buzzards today and 2 Kestrels, making up the raptor section.

On the way back I found 3 Mistle Thrushes around the puddles area.


Saturday, 17 February 2018

Spring....nearly....nearly....

0730 - 1130 frosty/misty start, cold and clear, warming up in sun

Getting in the car this morning I still wasn't really sure where I was going birding.  Last time out was over on Sheppey mostly for Owls of the Short-eared variety....but that got rained off....and having missed them last winter as well.....I need t get back up there....but then I hadn't been to Whetsted for a week or so....and the pull of looking round 'my' patch.....even when you know theres probably not going to be anything new...its strange....so the patch won...

Hanging over Whetsted this morning was a mist....supported nicely by a frost....clear overhead though which suggested the sun would be up soon and driving the mist away and possibly warming fingers too....

...Spring is in the air...or on the twig...

Sometimes you just happen to make the right decision....sure....if I had meandered north maybe Harriers and Owls were waiting....but.....here at Whetsted it was a fabulous mornings birding...

Fieldfares, Redwings and Starlings were around the paddocks....on the west side of the quarry I found a flock of 8 Yellowhammers...Bullfinches were passing by as well and would be around the site continually.....

...steady as she goes....nature takes back...everything...

For a change of scenery, and as spring is just round the corner....just 20 days till the first migrating Chiffchaff arrives....I decided to wander along North Field....

....the sun had risen enough to give a winter glow.....

There are a couple of areas that, this year, could be really great for the Skylarks...North Field being one of them, several were singing there today and at the moment the farmer has left it alone...hopefully this will continue and if so the Skylarks should be pretty successful there with this ankle to knee high grass....

....looking great for Skylark breeding....

...and what a bonus....Barn Owl hunting over North Field.  Having had to listen to the workers at the quarry tell me they see it every time they come here...and no I don't believe them...it was great to see one still around.  I think their nest was disturbed last year as it was pretty open and obvious...though of course that is nature as well....we are always on the good guys side though....mind you, I don't think a mouse could see the good side of a Barn Owl!...

Barn Owl

....more distant Barn Owl....

...slightly nearer but not as near...Barn Owl....

After a few minutes of watching the Owl it drifted off, no doubt bored of putting on a display for me and more intent of a quick meal before bed time.....so I moved on to East pit....

East Pit

...which was as calm as a....gravel pit....and not too much on it either.....a few Gadwall being of most interest.....

Alder catkins

Along the Long Straight the Alder catkins have burst in to life looking rather resplendent with their deep red colour.....

At Island Pit the Shovelers were lined up on the far side...around 40 or so today....I could hear a few Teal here but they seemed to be hiding in the reeds and Willows somewhere as the water levels remain quite high at the moment...

Overlooking the South Fields is lump 2....

....looking South....

....and here more Skylark were singing.  And again this is looking like a really good area this year if they nest in this bit and the farmer leaves the alone....

Middle pit offered plenty of Tufted Ducks and a couple of Pochard, though there were another 9 over on West Pit.  2 female Goldeneye were busy diving.  Now, many male birds look the best, usually leaving the females to sty a rather drab colour....but I reckon, even though male Goldeneyes look great, the females outdo them immensely....a rather splendid looking bird, especially in the sun....one of my favourites....

2 Little Egrets were a bit flighty around Middle Pit, occasionally taking to trees before moving back to the water....a third bird was over on West Pit.  

About to leave Middle Pit I heard the familiar call of a Chiffchaff....and....amongst a flock of Long-tailed Tits....there it was.....

Chiffchaff

Chiffchaff...again...

.....more....more....Chiffchaff....

A fabulous find....I knew 2 had over wintered on site last winter but had found none so far this winter.  Who knows if this one has been around the site, maybe it just happened upon the flock of Tits and followed them along the way and ended up on site.  Either way....its great to see one....it certainly cheers you up a huge amount....and brings on that 'warblers are coming' alarm even louder...

2 Little Egrets, 1 Grey Heron....and a Magpie...


2 of the Egrets headed for a tree where a Grey Heron had the company of a Magpie already....this Mag(p)ie wasn't for moving either and must have had a bit of a complex being stared down by the Heron gang....

A Water Rail squealed a couple of times...or was it 2 Water Rails...I did manage to catch up with one of them on the footpath that passes along the western edge of Middle Pit.  This is just about the only place to see them on site and you have to be lucky and very quick as they run quickly for cover.

Reed Bunting

At West Pit a couple of Reed Buntings were persisting in the Willows.  There is a very good number of these Buntings around the site at the moment and they seem to be everywhere.

The other star bird....the Black-necked Grebe....was still on West Pit and was still quite distant from the east side where the footpath runs.  Though looking from the other sides it was harder to find.

Black-necked Grebe with 'powder puff' i.d....

Black-necked Grebe

I decided today would be a good day to walk all the way round West Pit.....as I had already come across several Yellowhammers....the west side of this pit is a good place to find more....and indeed....several were singing here and others were flitting about.  A couple of Buzzards were around this area and they are known to nest in the wooded area just west of the pits.

This tree has fallen in to the ditch...though I'm sure it wont be allowed to remain there too long and become interesting ditch habitat....


From the north side....

West Pit....from the north side...

The return journey continued to provide birds....the Black-headed Gull numbers on Middle Pit had increased and with it 3 Common Gulls had joined them.  2 Teal whizzed past and landed on the hidden pit just west of Middle Pit.  So maybe more have moved to that area which I will have to check out next time.

2 Kestrels were calling to each other and have been for several weeks now.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

North

.....as far as Sheppey....

0630 - 1200 clear to start but clouding over, eventually rain, cold....colder.....colder still...SW f1-3

It started off so nicely too....

Sun does rise...early in the morning....

Okay, I was somewhat early really.....but it having been a clear night I didn't really want to miss the harriers leaving.....so a sit in the car for a while after setting up my scope.

Eventually it became light enough to start making out some birds.....several (how many is a covey?) Red-legged Partridge took flight from the field next to the car and headed down the hill to the marsh....though at least two or three remained and gave good views....in the meantime heres a couple by the farm at the church that didn't give good views, but its not too bad....

Red-legged Partridge

The first obvious candidate at this stage were several Barn Owls, always a rewarding sight.  I could hear Teal and some Geese in the semi dark.....the Geese eventually turned out to be Greylags.

In the meantime a few Marsh Harriers were performing their morning ritual of gliding and diving with languid flapping.....at least two Buzzards joined the parade.  Most were silhouettes against the landscape so it is possible I missed a Hen Harrier at this point.  Though the amount of Marsh Harriers already was most impressive.

From the high viewpoint, and now daylight, some geese flew in to view, which after a little hesitation, as they were still very distant upon landing, when they turned in to the sun it became obvious these were the White-fronted Geese, faces glowing......I thought I could make out 3 Whooper Swans on the creek.....it was time to move down to the corner to see what was about....

Having walked along the footpath a little way I still couldn't confirm the Swans identity though there were many Mutes around......the White-fronts were now a little closer and could be identified more comfortably.

At the raptor point the combined Marsh Harrier / Buzzard morning procession continued.  A Lesser Black-backed Gull was on the pile in front of the car parking area.  A Marsh Harrier was feeding on something out in the crop over the road, mostly hidden apart from an ever watching eye.  I found a solitary Corn Bunting here too.

Throughout the day several Stonechats appeared.  To add to this a Cettis Warbler sang whilst I was at the viewpoint.

I oved on toward the church but stopped at the farm buildings just before the church as a very large flock of, mostly, Chaffinches had been joined by Greenfinches and Reed Buntings with a few Goldfinch.

I found a few Bullfinches with some more Chaffinches at the top of the row of Poplars.

I headed down to the church and wandered off to the row of Poplar trees....the first field had Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits in, the second Skylarks.....then my first Hen Harrier of the day closely followed by a second.  Hunting along the far hedgerow.  I wandered down to the gate to the reserve, where the trees become a little more dense and give more shelter which was a quite a relif to get out of the cold wind.

At the gate many Marsh Harriers could be seen across the reserve.  I could get five or six in my scope at any one time.  Over all I was really impressed with the numbers present and eventually found one in the reeds eating a late breakfast.  There was also one with green wing tags but I could not read any details as it was a bit distant.

A number of Brent Geese flew in to join the ones already present....


There was one Barnacle Goose at this time....possibly an escapee from somewhere.

At one point a Marsh Harrier landed, seemingly to distract the birds on the ground as others were to the right of the ditch, below.

Marsh Harrier

Returning to the car I found some Stock Doves and managed to catch two sitting on the line...

Stock Doves

I decided to drive back to the corner to see if I could catch up with the White-fronted Geese again.  I managed this and also found they had Barnacle Geese with them.  These looked totally different from the one I had seen earlier.  A distant Hen Harrier appeared.

I also managed to confirm the Whooper Swans presence...heres 3, though a 4th bird flew off and it may also have been a Whooper.

Whooper Swans

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

The inevitable....

...pinhole burns....all down the front of my favourite satin shirt....
         Nobody Home, R Waters (Pink Floyd)

...well..actually....the inevitable snow picture....


0900 - 1140 cold, snow, occasional flurry, overcast but brightening NE f1-2

In the quarry the finings pile has, somewhat, grown....


...there must be at least 150 tons ish....

Pretty quiet round the site though I found three Bullfinch flocks, 2 of these contained 5-6 birds, but the third had at least twice as many.....

Water levels remain high, as can be seen below....this is the footpath that runs to the west of middle pit....

....looking north...

Signs of Spring continue despite the recent snow and drops in temperature....


I found this Fox today near middle pit....it was certainly recently dead, possible in the last 24 hours....there were no obvious signs of why it had died....but...all things must pass....

Fox....dead....

The last visit produced no Teal....today I found 9....so a return to the usual number on site...there was lots of displaying going on....they have also returned to their usual spot at the eastern end of island pit....

Teal with a Coot....

Another species that seemed to have disappeared were the Goldeneye, the two females that were on middle pit could not be found last time out....but today there were 3 females and one male diving like crazy at the west end of middle pit....

Goldeneye male

Goldeneye female

Duck numbers have reduced, no count today as I didn't have anything to write on...must be a bit more organised....I did count around 45 Shoveler, 5 Pochard...Tufted Duck numbers were also reduced....3 Gadwall...there was definitely 1 Water Rail, but possibly 2....

Surprise for today was on west pit....this is the first time in five years of visiting the pits that I have found a Black-necked Grebe....it was a bit panicky when some Tufted Ducks meandered past...but heres my best shots that I could get....