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Tuesday 28 February 2012

A Little Update

Here are a couple of photos of a Little Owl, taken on Walland Marsh on Saturday (25th).

Little Owl - looking directly at the birders!

Little Owl - something much more interesting over there!

Monday 20 February 2012

The search continues.... Ashford goodies are the result.

Well the search for the Eagle continues for both the parents and myself. Various areas have been looked at over the last five days, visiting areas such as the RM Canal, Walland Marsh, the Rother Valley, Park Wood (Appledore), Warehorne and Kenardington. The highlights have been the continuing presence of a Great White Egret along the Canal at Appledore Sluice (16th & 17th) plus the usual Marsh Harriers, Kestrels, Sparrowhawks and Common Buzzards in their usual haunts. The Bewick's Swans are still favouring the Midley area, though varying in numbers. Tree Sparrows, Yellowhammers, and a pair of Little Owls near Wheelsgate Farm were a welcome sight. A Peregrine Falcon was hunting the Midley area on the 18th and a Green Sandpiper was noted by Fairfield Church.

Late morning on the 18th we made a rare excursion into the Rother Valley, an area that is very under watched. 3 Shoveler (2 drakes) were noted in the flooded fields by Blackwall Bridge (Wittersham), another Peregrine at Hexden Channel and a Great Spotted Woodpecker along Rolvenden Layne. Late lunch was taken back at Eastwell Lake on the edge of Ashford where we met KP. Birds noted here: Common Buzzard, Kestrel, immature Peregrine, Grey Heron, 3 Wigeon (1 drake) and a Little Grebe amongst the common wildfowl, with the undoubted highlight being a female RED-CRESTED POCHARD spotted by Mum. A year tick for us all and only the third noted here.

We then followed KP to Conningbrook GP's where a drive along Blackwall Road revealed 3 Little and the Great White Egret, while further along between Blackwall and Goodcheap Farms we noted 1+ Brambling amongst a large mixed flock of c500 Chaffinches and Linnets, quite a sight for this winter. Inevitably birds of prey were attracted to this feeding frenzy and we noted 1 Kestrel, up to 3 Common Buzzards and a cracking male Merlin zooming through. To round things off a Woodcock flew around us, having been flushed by walkers in a nearby copse.

Of course the route back home came to an abrupt halt when I discovered the Iceland Gull in the roadside fields - see previous blog post. KP managed to return to the area to confirm the sighting. A great bird for Ashford. A red-head Goosander was noted from the main road bridge over the river Stour.

Sunday (19th) dawned bright and sunny but with a cold wind. We set off towards Conningbrook again and surprise, surprise, the ICELAND GULL was still present in one of the fields. A couple of calls/texts were made at 09:05 but by the time birders arrived the Gull had moved on (while we were checking out the lakes nearby). However between us all, we were able to confirm there were now TWO Great White Egrets present on site along with 4 Little Egrets, 4 red-head Goosander, 2 Great Crested Grebes, several Wigeon, 2 Mistle Thrushes, and a flock of Long-tailed Tits.

3 of the 4 Goosanders taking off (all red-heads) and a Tufted Duck muscling in

Great White Egret along the river Stour

Great White Egret - not difficult to spot here

Great White Egret in flight

Saturday 18 February 2012

Iceland in Ashford !!!

This has got to be one of my best finds around Ashford, since I started birdwatching.

Today (18th February - 15:00) Adult Iceland Gull (record shots below) in a winter wheat field behind Conningbrook Gravel Pits, TR036429, with Black-headed, Common and Herring Gulls. What a cracker, this bird has made up for this week's missed White-Tailed Eagle on the Romney Marshes.

Iceland Gull with 2 Black-headed Gulls

Iceland Gull (right) with a Common Gull (left)

Iceland Gull getting airborne

Iceland Gull

Iceland Gull

Iceland Gull heading off towards the William Harvey Hospital

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Packham Talk and a Missed Eagle

Late on Sunday afternoon (12th) Angela and myself took a walk along the rather frozen RM Canal between Warehorne and Kenardington, where Thrushes were again much in evidence. Redwing and Fieldfare were plentiful with smaller numbers of Blackbird, Song Thrush and Robin. Several Lapwing were spotted along the thawing tops of the Canal banks. A Kestrel sat nearby but the highlights were 3 Yellowhammers (2 males) in the scrub and bushes.

On Monday (13th) with the temperatures slowly rising, the parents took a trip to Dungeness, noting a Common Buzzard near to New Romney at Hammond's Corner. At the ARC Pit they had a Marsh Harrier, 2 Ravens, a Chiffchaff, Kestrel, Green Woodpecker and all of the usual duck species on the free patches of water. On the opposite side of the road, the New Diggings held 11 Smew (2 drakes), 13 Goosander (5 drakes), a Great White Egret, 1 Bittern and 2 Grey Herons - quite a collection there!

They moved on to Scotney where they found 2 more drake Smew, 3 White-fronted Geese, 11 Brent Geese including 1+ pale-bellied bird and a male Stonechat. They ended the trip on Walland Marsh where the Bewick's Swan flock numbered 73, Tree Sparrows were noted on the feeders and 2 more Common Buzzards were seen (Old Cheyne & Woolpack Inn areas).

That evening Angela, myself & GF travelled to Canterbury, where Chris Packham was giving his 'Goes Totally Wild' talk at the Gulbenkian Theatre. Having grown up watching Chris on the Really Wild Show and now Spring/Autumnwatch, it was fantastic to meet the man and listen to his experiences of Antarctica, Wildlife Photography, Conservation, England Football Management and his beloved Poodles - Itchy and Scratchy. Thoroughly recommended.

A text message at work on Tuesday (14th) afternoon resulted in an early finish as a White-tailed (Sea) Eagle had been reported at Boltoph's Bridge near West Hythe. Sadly by the time the birdwatchers had arrived, the bird had moved on but it was nice to catch up with BB, MC, BH, CT, MW plus Mum, Dad and others. Birds noted as it got dark were: Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Green Woodpecker, 2 Grey Herons and several Fieldfare over. The best phrase for us all is "better luck next time".

Today (15th) my Dad had a walk around Conningbrook Gravel Pits where he had an excellent set of birds: 4 Grey Herons, 4 Little Egrets, 1 GREAT WHITE EGRET, 1 BITTERN, 5 Snipe, 30+ Lapwing, 100+ Tufted Ducks, 100+ Teal, 40+ Pochard, 50+ Gadwall, 3 drake Shoveler, 11 Wigeon, 7 GOOSANDER (5 drakes - possibly some of the birds noted at Eastwell Lake recently), 3 Great Crested and 2 Little Grebes, Green Woodpecker, Jay, 24 Linnets and a bird of prey with jesses - quite likely a hybrid falconers bird.

Sunday 12 February 2012

Driveway Pipit and a Snowy Bedgebury

With the snow, ice and subzero temperatures remaining, the garden has continued to attract interesting visitors. On Friday (10th) there was a Song Thrush, Redwing and a party of 7 Long-tailed Tits, while yesterday (11th) Thrushes dominated with 3 Blackbirds (2 males), 5 Redwing, 2 Song Thrushes and 2 Mistle Thrushes. A surprise bird was a Meadow Pipit, which Dad flushed off of the driveway when he opened the front door. The bird then returned later to the cleared drive to feed once more. The final highlight were two Goldfinch, briefly on the seed feeder.

The afternoon (11th) was spent with Angela and the parents wandering around a snow covered Bedgebury Pinetum.

Snowy Bedgebury Pinetum

At times it was tough going, but a good list of woodland birds were seen and/or heard. There were many Goldcrests and Coal Tits calling with an extremely confiding Goldcrest near the northern toilet block. The northern Forest Office feeding station held the greatest concentration of birds, with Blue and Great Tits, Pheasant, 2 Dunnocks, Song Thrush, Jay, several Siskins and Lesser Redpolls, Nuthatches, male Bullfinch and a party of 6 Crossbills flying over (with 2 briefly settling in the pines). We then headed back to the finch roosting area near the fallen tree where, amongst a group of c10 Greenfinch and several Siskin, Lesser Redpoll and Chaffinch, we located two separate HAWFINCHES perched in the top of the trees. A surprise male Tawny Owl hooted twice at around 15:15 while we were watching the gathering finches. With the cold starting to bite we headed back to the visitor centre where a small patch of free water on the lake held a number of Mallard plus a couple of Coot and Moorhen. A drumming male Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Wren rounded off another enjoyable visit.

Visitor Centre Lake - complete with Mallard, Coot & Moorhen

The journey home added a Red-legged Partridge on the road near Goudhurst, with Mum spotting a Common Buzzard near Bethersden.

So far today (12th), we have added Pied Wagtail and another male Greenfinch to the growing list of garden birds visiting since the snowfall.

Friday 10 February 2012

More Kumlien's Gull Photographs

This week I have managed to sort through a few more of the photos that I took of the Kumlien's Gull in Dover Harbour last Saturday (4th).

Thursday 9 February 2012

Local Thrushes & Hard Weather Movement around Ashford

As usual it's been a week at work so limited bird sightings from me. However my Dad has been out and about. Monday(6th) was another day of watching the garden, resulting in a flock of 14 Redwing coming to the Cotoneaster bush. One Redwing remained on Tuesday and a Song Thrush visited yesterday and today. There has been no further sign of the Tree Sparrow.

Yesterday (8th) Dad walked the Singleton - Great Chart - Godinton Park triangle where the highlights were a Woodcock, 1 Snipe, Sparrowhawk, 2 Jays, several Redwings, 2 Green and 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Today he visited Eastwell Lake and noted: 4 Common Buzzards, 9 GOOSANDER (5 drakes) - a first for this site, c50 Teal, c40 Tufted Ducks and a similar number of Pochard, 6 Gadwall, 3 Little Grebes, 2 Jays and singles of Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Sunday 5 February 2012

It's a Sparrow... but not as we know it !

Pulling back the curtains this morning (5th) revealed the full extent of the damage. c10cm of snow had fallen in Ashford overnight, resulting in a day staring out of the window into the garden, catching up with the Blog and sorting out the photos that I had taken at Dover. The car and driveway were cleared and this resulted in seeing a group of c10 Redwing fly over, calling noisily. I got a text alerting me to the presence of a juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard that had flown over Kennington. Sadly it didn't enter our airspace but well done to the finder - a top bird for the Ashford area.

Birds noted during the day in and around the garden:
3 Blue Tits, 2 Blackbirds (male and female), a Robin, 2 Dunnocks, 4 Feral Doves (matching the snow), 1 Woodpigeon, 10 Collared Doves, 2 Jackdaws, 2 Magpies, single Carrion Crow, 7 Chaffinches (3 males), 1 Common Gull, 2 Herring Gulls (adult & 1st winter) and 5 Black-headed Gulls, plus many Starlings and  30-40 House Sparrows.

A lovely selection of garden birds, we feel proud to have given these birds a fighting chance during this cold snap, though just a touch disappointed that the R-L B had missed us. However around 1:30pm during lunch, a bird caught my eye on the mixed seed feeder. I couldn't believe it - a sparrow with a black spot on a white cheek. Panic ensued for the second weekend in a row as binoculars and the camera were hastily grabbed. It was a TREE SPARROW, the first one we had seen in the garden in the 30 years that we have lived here. All the birds were spooked by something but around 20 minutes later it returned with the House Sparrow flock and gave more prolonged views on the feeder - a few record shots were taken through the window. A lovely bird, especially as they are extremely scarce away from Dungeness and a couple of sites on the marsh. In fact the nearest we have seen Tree Sparrow to Ashford is Warehorne. Lets hope it returns ... with a few of its friends.

What a brilliant weekend birdwatching !

Tree Sparrow in the snow covered Cotoneaster bush

Tree Sparrow with commoner cousins

Kumlien's and then a White Out !!!

The parents managed to see the Kumlien's Gull in Dover Harbour on Friday (3rd) along with a Shag, 1 Knot, several Razorbills, a Guillemot, Turnstones, 1 Rock Pipit and some Kittiwakes. They then paid a visit to the east end of Folkestone between the Harbour and The Warren where they saw several Mediterranean Gulls. Their final stop was a frozen Aldington Flood Gap where they added Kestrel, Jay & Lapwing to their day list.

Saturday morning (4th) was fairly overcast early on but, together with Angela, we made our way from Ashford along the M20/A20 to Dover Harbour hoping to connect with the Gull. On arrival at c10:50am the sun broke through and, once parked in one of the £4 Marina car parks, we took a walk along the slightly snowy Prince of Wales pier with a backdrop of  Dover Town, Castle and the White Cliffs.

Dover Castle

A group of 3 Gadwall (1 drake) and around 10 Great-crested Grebes were east of the pier along with a Common Seal. The old hovercraft pad held several Grey Plover, Knot, Dunlin and Turnstone amongst the loafing Gulls, none of which were Kumlien's. Reaching the cafe at the end of the pier a couple of groups of Razorbills were noted feeding along with many Kittiwakes and a single Shag. Looking towards the Admiralty Pier a number of birders could be seen looking for the Gull and through the telescope I managed to pick up the Kumlien's in poor light. At one stage it flew past an airborne Mediterranean Gull before disappearing without Angela getting on the bird. For the next five minutes we couldn't locate it, before I suddenly spotted it right in front of us. It headed off back to the Admiralty before Angela picked it up again right by the cafe, now really close and feeding off of scraps thrown in by the nearby fisherman. The camera was hastily readied and for the next 10-20 minutes the bird showed brilliantly in very good light. A call was made to AF & BF who I could see on the other pier and then the birders started to arrive, MC, PP and A# arriving first.

Kumlien's Gull head-on

Kumlien's Gull having spotted the fisherman's scraps

Kumlien's Gull against the background of the cliffs

Kumlien's Gull against the blue sky

By now our fingers and toes were starting to get cold so we left the others to the bird and headed back to the car. Just past the shelters, Angela called out that there was a small bird perched on top of a metal fence that surrounded the hoverpad. Expecting it to be a Rock Pipit that Mum and Dad had seen the day before, I was shocked to find that, through bins, it was a Snow Bunting, a top find by Angela. Quickly putting the news out on the information services, we were soon joined again by MC, PP, A# and at various stages; BF & AF, KP, DB, GH, MO and other Kent Birders. Nice to see you all again. The Bunting showed well but could be elusive at times as it fed around the fence, barriers and the short vegetation.
Male Snow Bunting on the hoverpad fence
Snow Bunting - with snow

After warming up in the car and having a snack and a drink, we headed for Samphire Hoe Country Park, a place that Angela had never visited before. During a circular walk around, we noted: singles of Snipe, Curlew and Lapwing, 2 Shelduck heading east, 3 Robins and 3+ Green Woodpeckers along the railway line and 3 Stonechats (a pair and a single female). On departure we had a female Black Redstart while we were waiting for the tunnel lights to change.

Final stop of the day was Folkestone - the cliff top between the harbour and The Warren. Here there were a number of Mediterranean Gulls, flying around and perching on the street lights and buildings - ideal for the camera to make another appearance. We then made our way back to Ashford for a spot of shopping, eating and DIY !!!

Mediterranean Gull with a metal leg ring

The parents were out too, birding the Marsh and Dungeness, seeing the following:

Warehorne - Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Bullfinch (male).
Fairfield - Common Buzzard, several Teal & Gadwall.
Walland Marsh - Sparrowhawk, c53 Bewick's Swans, Marsh Harrier.
Lydd Airport - Black Redstart again.
ARC Pit - 5 Bewick's Swans flying over, Marsh Harrier, Snipe.
New Diggings - Little Egret.
Dungeness RSPB - 2 Marsh Harriers, Smew (drake on Burrowes), 4 Goosander (including a drake on Burrowes), several Tree Sparrows.
Dengemarsh - 3 Marsh Harriers.

Overall another fantastic day. Until the snow arrived at about 10 pm !!!