Sunday, 26 March 2017

The Warren

The Warren, Folkestone - 0900hrs - sunny, dry, e 5 - I was on grandparent duty in Folkestone today, so after dropping Lucy at the station we headed down to the Warren for an expedition with the little fella. From the track down to the beach several migrant Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and a Firecrest called from cover, eventually showing themselves along with Bullfinch, Long-tailed Tit and Great Spotted Woodpecker. Whilst searching for fossils on the foreshore I noticed a flock of 40 odd Brent Geese fly into the bay where they paused for about 20 minutes before heading off east. However, the little bloke got onto them along with a vocal Raven overhead, both of which were lifers.
  There was a decent flush of Violets, Primroses and the like in flower along the sheltered chalk cliffs and plenty of bees coming and going, plus a few Small Tortoiseshells on the wing.

                               Fossil hunting on the beach

                                Watching the Brents

                                Brents in the bay

                               Barney in spring plumage

  Back at base camp this afternoon, whilst working in the garden, another Blackcap was in song along the railway embankment and a Comma butterfly basked on a wooden fence.
  On the way home I called in at Hythe where two Purple Sandpipers were present on the sea defence blocks opposite  the Imperial hotel, despite two lunatics clambering over the slippery rocks near the splash zone.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Heronshaws of Lydd

Lydd - Yesterday, in bright spring sunshine but with a keen wind out of the east, I paid my first visit of the year to the Lydd heronry to check on the number of occupied nests. The majority of nests are in the grounds of the Grange on the corner of Dennes Lane, beneath the towering presence of the `Cathedral of the Marsh`, All Saints Church, Lydd and a few more on adjacent properties.
  Having made contact with the owner of the Grange, who is proud of `his` herons, we had a wander through the scattered woodland where Barney was most interested in the vast array of Badger holes and diggings. Apparently, these setts support up to thirty animals, and I`m not surprised judging by the extent of the earth workings. Just next door the Badgers can range across sheep pasture and further scattered woodland towards the Glebe, so perfect feeding habitat, while access into the formal garden of the Grange is restricted by an electric fence to prevent it resembling `the Somme`.
  However, back to the herons. While the majority nest in evergreen Holm Oaks and Scot`s Pines there are three pairs separate from the main body of the colony nesting in bare Oaks. In total I counted 16 occupied nests, but fortunately due to the kindness of one of the church wardens I have access to the church tower, enabling a more accurate count.
  I could find no evidence of any Little Egrets from the ground, but they have been reported; maybe I`ll have more luck from atop the tower. It is also worthwhile mentioning at this juncture that there is a large and vocal Rook population with scores of nests scattered across the tree tops, and a constant cacophony from the rookery.
  When I took over from the former heron counter, Ted Carpenter, he commented on the wide variety of trees in what is a mini arboretum, and I promised to do a proper survey at some stage. As yet I haven't got round to doing one, but even a quick glance at the woodland and grounds revealed some impressive specimens, particularly of Holm Oaks, while a Magnolia tree in the formal garden also looked spectacular in the sparkling sunlight.

                                Magnolia and Grey Heron, Lydd

A Brief History of Lydd Heronries
As far as I can ascertain Grey Herons have nested at the Grange/Glebe site since 1962 with a peak of 28 nests in 2001 and an average of about 20 nests since, with Little Egrets first reported in 2009. Prior to this period there were scattered breeding records from Westbroke, Lydd, Snargate in the 1950`s and from Walland Marsh, Dengemarsh and the Oppen Pits in the early part of the 20th Century.
  However, the heron`s association with Lydd goes way back into the mists of time. According to the Account Book of the Chamberlains of Lydd (1428) the sending of young heronshaws to officials of the Confederation of Cinque Ports was payment for favours rendered, as heron flesh was held in high regard and featured on the menu at many a great feast.
  The site of this ancient heronry was situated on what is today part of the Lydd Army Ranges where a Holly wood was planted on the shingle wastes during the 12th Century, the hardwood timber being used in the construction of sea defences, quays and the like. By the 15th Century the mature wood was known as the Holmstone and supported a substantial heronry, a great asset to the Corporation of Lydd who obtained young birds for the table just prior to fledging when at their fattest. The Holmstone heronry was also used for sporting purposes by falconers and archers using longbows to bring down adult birds.
  As the gun eventually replaced the longbow and falcon, heron numbers declined rapidly, along with the felling of trees during the Napoleonic period to prevent smuggling. Human pressure finally sounded the death knell for the Holmstone heronry and by 1909 Dr Norman Ticehurst writing in the Birds of Kent decreed that the heron had ceased to breed at this site.
  Thankfully, in these slightly more enlightened times the Lydd town centre heronry looks safe from molestation, although being only a small colony its presence remains tenuous. For those birdwatchers wishing to get cracking close views and photographs of herons in the nest the church tower is open to the public on Bank Holiday Monday 1st May. RSPB have a presence atop the tower (with myself on the morning shift) and it really is a worthwhile experience as by then the youngsters will be clambering about the tree tops.
  I would like to thank Ted Carpenter for providing much of the information on the Holmstone and Grange heronries for this summary.

Saturday - dry, sunny, ne 5 - At Lade pits this morning two Swallows pressing north over the shingle were the only migrants of note. Whilst cutting Barney`s coat in the garden a Firecrest was heard in the fir trees before eventually coming down to drink in the pond. Others were reported from across the Dungeness peninsula today, while the two Iceland Gulls were still at the Patch as the first Arctic Skua of the spring passed up-Channel (SO).
  This afternoon we called in the bird reserve on the way back from the allotment. On New Diggings three Black-necked and one Slavonian Grebe and five Goldeneyes, the Ring-necked Duck was still on Cook`s Pool and more Goldeneyes were on Burrowes, plus Dunlin and Redshank.


Thursday, 23 March 2017

Hirundines and Firecrests

Dungeness - cold, cloudy, e 5 - As forecast the wind swung round to the east overnight and blasted in off the sea all day making for difficult birding conditions, and it looks as though we`ve got this for the next few days at least. However, despite the poor weather there was the first arrival of all three species of hirundines today with two Sand Martins over ARC and a small mixed flock of two Swallows, two House Martins and a Sand Martin on Burrowes, viewable from the Visitor Centre around midday. Several Pintail were among the ducks, no doubt migrants judging from others that  passed the point yesterday.
Lade - An afternoon visit delivered two Sand Martins over north lake and a Firecrest in the Willow Swamp. There was also another Firecrest in a Littlestone garden this morning and a further 20 plus around the Long Pits (LG).

Dungeness - Called in for a natter with CP who was toiling away on the seawatch hide refurbishment despite the blasting wind. Whilst there two parties of Brents totalling 48 flew low over the sea heading up-Channel.

                               Seawatching hide refurbishment in progress

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Dungeness seabirds

Dungeness - 0545-0745hrs - cold, cloudy, sse 5 - The lure of a southerly airflow attracted a hide full of regulars this morning for what proved to be a worthwhile session. Plenty of Gannets were forced close to shore, some feeding, others passing up-Channel, along with the best showing this spring so far of Sandwich Terns and Common Scoters with at least 100 of each. Fulmars are a given here on a southerly blow and 30 plus sheared past mostly heading west and some inside the buoy. About ten parties of Brents plodded up-Channel during the watch comprising around 150 birds along with 20 Red-throated Divers, six Shovelers and 31 Pintails. Also noted several Mediterranean Gulls, plenty of Kittiwakes, Cormorants and Great Crested Grebes, a Bonxie and three Slavonian Grebes on the sea.

                               Sunrise over Dungeness

After breakfast we headed down the bird reserve for a circuit of Dengemarsh - just as the rain started and the wind picked up! Unsurprisingly, not a great deal was noted apart from the usual plastic fantastic wildfowl, including Egyptian Geese on the fields, Hooded Merganser on Hookers and Ring-necked Duck on Cook`s Pool. The hayfields were bereft of birds apart from a flock of Magpies and Crows, which doesn't bode well for the Lapwings this spring. Raven, two Bearded Tits, a few Linnets and Reed Buntings and a Marsh Harrier also noted, and for the first time this year there was no sign of any Great White Egrets. The highlight on Burrowes was a stunning summer plumage Black-necked Grebe and six Goldeneyes.

Lade - Our local Starlings and House Sparrows provided great entertainment this afternoon bathing in the pond where they were joined briefly by a Chiffchaff coming down to drink. A Sparrowhawk nipped through scattering the flock, the first I`ve seen for a while.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Sandwich Terns

Dungeness - 0700hrs - cold, dry, sunny, w 3 - A noticeable dip in the temperature meant a return to fleece and gloves this morning on the stroll down to the Patch. Among the melee of gulls over the boil were a couple of Mediterranean Gulls and a first winter Caspian on the beach; although I didn`t see the Iceland Gull it was present later in the morning (LG). Two Sandwich Terns briefly paused before moving east and several Harbour Porpoises were feeding around the boil. A Raven flew over the power station with crop bulging and a couple of Mipits displayed along the wall.
  A quick chat with the seawatchers in the smartly refurbished hide confirmed that little was on the move this morning apart from a trickle of Sandwich Terns, Gannets, Kittiwakes and a few Red-throated Divers, auks and Brent Geese.
  On the land a couple of Chiffchaffs in the lighthouse garden and a Wheatear opposite Jarman`s was about it.
Lade - The wind picked up through the day and by the time I ventured out back with Barney this afternoon most passerines had gone to ground, although there was a lone Chiffchaff singing in the willow swamp. Mid-March can be one of the quietest times of year in the birding calendar as winter visitors depart and before the main body of spring migrants arrive, and it certainly felt like that today.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Harrier count

Walland Marsh - 1600hrs - dry, cloudy and windy -  This afternoon I joined CP for the final harrier count of the winter and to be honest due to the blustery wind and lateness in the season I wasn't expecting a great deal - how wrong I was. Eventually, 14 Marsh Harriers came to roost including several adult males, one of which was displaying over the reedbed for some time before going down. The highlight of the watch though concerned a small juvenile Hen Harrier, presumably a male, that was in view for about an hour, flying up and down the reedbed, periodically landing and even chasing the much larger Marsh Harriers in an aerial tussle, odd behaviour indeed. Then, just before lights out it was joined by a second darker ringtail that went straight to roost alongside it, but separate from the Marsh Harriers. So, a fascinating end to the winter harrier roost count.
  Also noted in the general area a Bittern, two Common Buzzards, seven Golden Plovers, Skylarks, Mipits, Cetti`s Warbler and a Corn Bunting.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Birding for juniors

Lade  - mild, cloudy, sw 3 - 0700hrs - There was nothing much of note over the pits first thing although the Chiffchaff count rose to 10, including two birds singing and feeding around the pond in the garden.
Dungeness - 1030hrs - We were on grand parent duty this weekend and our six year old grandson Albert was keen to try out his new 8x30 bins in conjunction with a Plovers checklist. I`ve always adopted the `two hour rule` for nippers under ten years of age, as any longer and they tend to get fed up. Other criteria to consider are: the weather, it has to be fine, which it was this morning; the birds need to be close and, crucially, said junior birder has to want to go, which he did.

                                Tree Sparrow nailed and on the list

  So, we were all set and raring to go, with our kit in order and a snack to hand (cos little kids have to eat constantly, or at least this one does!). We headed for the bird reserve, pausing first at Boulderwall for Tree Sparrows where at least nine birds showed like good `uns on the feeders and perched in nearby scrub chupping away merrily. I was meticulous that the little fella got onto each species properly and confirmed the id by telling me a few salient field markings, as he was keeping a tally for the trip. He also noted Reed Bunting, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Great and Blue Tits here.

                                Ring-necked Duck and Long-eared Owl showed well

  Moving up to Cook`s Pool I couldn't believe our luck as the drake Ring-necked Duck was virtually the closet bird to the track, displaying to the Tufted Ducks. Wigeon, Coot, Moorhen, Little Egret and Cetti`s Warbler were all identified around the pool, plus Lapwing, Stock Dove, Canada and Greylag Geese on the fields.
  We then spent some time birding from the hides around Burrowes where his list rattled merrily along with more wildfowl, gulls, Cormorants and the like, including Goldeneye and three Pintails. The egg display in Makepeace hide was duly inspected, as were the whale bones by the Dipping Pond, where we finished with superb views of the roosting Long-eared Owl, which really did put on a show; preening, ear tufts erect, orange irides blinking, the full works, and not a single twig obscuring the head.

                               "Long-eared Owl over my shoulder"

  We actually spent almost three hours in the field, including some time nattering in the visitor centre and collecting a Long-eared Owl pin badge which is now pinned proudly on his fleece. So, a successful jaunt all round and of the 62 species recorded this morning I`m confident he managed to properly see 48 species - with no string attached!