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Monday 30 January 2012

North Kent Marshes

Sunday dawned, survey time again over the other side of the water, also another chance to have a crack at the Rough Legged Buzzard.
Driving down with Paul and the temperature gauge in the car showed 1 above, worse still was the dense foggy conditions which had blanketed just about everywhere. On arrival visibility was down to 100 metres as we started the survey, I looked round and the only thing that shone through all the gloom was Paul’s high forehead, it was like a beacon shining through.
Not much chance of finding many birds in this stuff, but surprisingly we did, Paul recorded Bearded Tit again along with Cetti’s Warbler which I also recorded, and Common Buzzard was seen by both of us.
When it did eventually clear, around 11.00am, we were both on the river at our respective watch points; the numbers of waders over the Kent side is quite staggering. The mud flats here are far larger than on the Essex side, consequently far more birds, for starters I had 3100 Dunlin stretched out in front of me, Paul had a similar count of Dunlin at the other end.Wigeon peaked at 860 with 700 odd Dark Bellied Brent’s seen to the east of us. Between us we also had nearly 300 Curlew and 200 Grey Plover, it makes you realise how important these Thames mud flats are, unbelievably some pratt called Boris wants to stick an airport near here.


When we had finished we looked for the Rough Legged Buzzard, eventually picking it up after coming across Marsh Harrier, 2 Common Buzzards and male and female Merlin, all were distant but good views were had of most.

Very distant Rough Legged Buzzard

The Rough Leg eventually flew towards us and we got better views through the scopes, again distant but it was very wary and liked to keep a ¼ mile buffer zone between it and us. It is a cracking looking bird and the challenge in the coming months, if it stays whilst we survey, will be to get a decent photo of it. With the promise of cold weather coming it is unlikely to move on if it has a food source, and could hopefully be joined by another. With up to 3 Common Buzzards on site food does not seem to be a problem.

Short Eared Owl

We also caught up with the regular Short Eared Owl, out hunting in the gloomy weather at 2.00pm, a fine end to the day watching it tangling with a Kestrel. Photos are poor owing to the naff weather and the bird’s not playing ball.

Saturday 28 January 2012

Bickering Black Tails

There is a site on the Essex side of the Thames where, if everything is right, I can get some half decent photos of mainly Black Tailed Godwits. I found this site a few years back by accident whilst surveying, it is an old concrete jetty facing west, half collapsed and disused. When high tide rises in this area, the mud directly in front is the last showing.The trick with it is to get to it without being seen by all and sundry, mainly Black Tailed Godwit, Teal and occasional Redshank. The SAS would have been proud of the approach, every blade of grass is used for cover to reach it.
Once inside, it is a welly job as the mud is quite deep here and there, there are a series of small holes where a telephoto lens can be placed without spooking the birds, it is the perfect hide.
Everything has to come together on the day, I have to catch the tide right as it is rising, it has to be sunny, and most of all the Black Tailed Godwits have to feed on this last bit of mud instead of going to roost.
It doesn’t always happen, on Friday it did.

Click on photos to enlarge

Anyone who has ever seen Black Tailed Godwit together will know what I mean when I say bickering, they don’t stop, feathers are constantly raised and fights quite frequent, presumably amongst the males.

Thursday 26 January 2012

Essex Bound January 25th

Along with Squire Hawkins, we decided to have a day out and visit some sites on the Essex coast as well as a few inland, it had to be a dawn start to make the most of the day, weather as usual was crap.
First port of call was Abberton Reservoir, to say it has changed since I last saw it is an understatement with all the works taking place, hardly recognisable in some areas. On arrival we headed for Layer Breton hoping for the Bittern, this did not show but in its stead we located 2 Redhead Smew at the very back against the reeds. Of the Drake Smew there was no sign unfortunately.
Scanning both sides of the causeway produced 19 Goldeneye, 2 Drake Goosanders, Egyptian Goose, Water Rail and 3 Little Egrets, no raptors were seen other than a male Kestrel.
With all the road works Layer De La Hague causeway was a bit unwatchable as there was nowhere to park so we pulled into the top of the visitor centre by the gates, this proved a good move with 4 Green Sandpipers together on the immediate flooded area in front.
From here we headed for Fingringhoe Wick where a Glossy Ibis and a Great Grey Shrike awaited, we arrived just as the reserve was opening at 9.00a.m.We decided that the hide that overlooks the massive saltmarsh was favourite after talking to the lady in charge. Scanning produced many Dark Bellied Brent’s, Curlew, Golden Plover and Avocet were everywhere with 5 Red Breasted Mergansers and 2 Goldeneye on the river. Paul came up trumps and located the Glossy Ibis out on the Saltmarsh, views were very distant but none the less it was a lifer for me.

A touch of colour on a grey english day

We continued looking around and added 2 Peregrines, 2 Marsh Harriers and 5 Little Egrets. Moving on to the other hide overlooking the estuary added 8 Bullfinch in the woodland, from the hide we saw Knot, Bar Tailed Godwit amongst the commoner waders and a Common Seal fishing.
After this, despite a stop at every vantage point on the way out, we were unable to locate the Great Grey Shrike.
We pressed on to East Mersea on a rising tide after dipping the other Great Grey Shrike near Tiptree, no sign of the Snow Buntings seen a little while ago but many waders were seen going to roost. The best watching was had in front on the sea with no less than 18 Slavonian Grebes picked out loosely associating with around 80+ Great Crested Grebes, the fishing must have been very good.
Also seen on the sea were 3 Common Scoter, 8 Red Breasted Mergansers, 2 Goldeneye, and a single Shoveler sitting with the Goldeneye, quite an unusual sight.

Roosting Curlew on the flood - East Mersea

Dark Bellied Brent Geese arriving

Moving on, we headed for Tollesbury Marina after being pointed in the right direction by Bradders, the target being the resident Red Breasted Goose mingling with the hordes of Brents.Unbelievable numbers of Golden Plover were in the air looking for somewhere to roost, they probably numbered around 4000, the sky was full of them, quite a spectacular sight.
Paul did it again and located the Red Breasted Goose out on the Saltmarsh, another lifer for the day, of course I am not a twitcher, I leave that to my very good mates, there all a bit touched.
Also seen at Tollesbury was a female Merlin with prey, a flyby drake Smew and a female Marsh Harrier.

Dark Bellied Brent Geese at Tollesbury

The last leg of the day saw us heading for Braxstead for the Hawfinch, no luck with these but a Common Buzzard was heard.
An excellent days birding, did not get many photos as most were out of range, just good to enjoy Essex.

Monday 23 January 2012

The weekend and the Valley - Jan 23rd

From past posts you will know I have been doing a lot of surveying lately, the weekend was no different with a visit to the North Kent Marshes. Not an ideal day on Saturday with overcast grey skies in the morning and a very strong south westerly, this put paid to any small stuff making an appearance.
As most are probably aware there has been a Rough Legged Buzzard on this section of marshes, a juvenile, after missing one myself at Sheppey we were optimistic, I was with Paul, that we could see it here.
As you can see from the images below, we did get to see it, very early when the light was bad as we arrived at dawn, but not one to complain even though the views were distant.

Very distant Rough Legged Buzzard

Just about see the white tail and tail band

The Valley

Out at dawn again in search of the Bittern at Berwick Ponds, met Les, despite both of us looking, again no sign. As far as I am aware no one has seen any of them this year, there are usually up to 3 birds, unfortunately they are very hard to see over Berwick. If its freezes up it is easier as they are forced out to search for unfrozen waterways and food, elsewhere they do seem to be easier to see. One big reason could be Berwick’s vast reed bed, it holds water throughout, no doubt smaller fish are in the reeds hiding from the bigger predatory fish, Pike and Perch, they probably have no reason to come to the edge of the reeds.
Elsewhere in the Valley there are now 2 White Fronted Geese, no doubt the birds that were seen on Sunday over Rainham RSPB, with a colder snap they may well be joined by more, Gadwall numbers have gone sky high with 78 seen.

2 adult White Fronted Geese, possibly a pair as one seems larger

Distant Tiercel Peregrine

An unusual sight was a Common Buzzard over in a distant field trying to feed on a dead something whilst 4 Crows gave it a hard time. Fieldfare and Redwing numbers are climbing, especially Redwing, they seem to have been a bit thin on the ground this winter.
To round it off, a Tiercel Peregrine was seen going over Berwick Glades, very likely one of the Thames birds having a day out, they do like to wander.

Taken the previous weekend, a Dark Bellied Brent Goose going past Battersea Power Station, unfortuantely I got the White Balance wrong.

Green Woodpecker in the garden

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Isle of Sheppey - January 17th

Since Monday I have been off work with back trouble, rest is the only option and a visit to the Osteopath to speed things up, they never cure you unfortunately.
I decided on a visit to Sheppey as I was climbing the walls, also I could do most of the watching from the car, Harty Lane, Leysdown Sea front and the Swale Car park were ideal and meant no walking.
I have been going to Sheppey for years being a bird of prey nut; it never disappoints and always produces good birds, especially Raptors.
I decided on arrival to visit Leysdown on a falling tide, a spectacular sunrise greeted me along with a number of waders already arriving from roost. Scanning the sea produced 32 Great Crested Grebes, 19 Red Throated Divers and 44 Dark Bellied Brent Geese, a very good start, quite happy to sit in the car, it was bloody freezing.

Sunrise at Leysdown (click on photos to enlarge)

Upwards and onwards I headed for Harty Lane and the Raptor Watchpoint on the way down Lapwing and Golden Plover were everywhere, in amongst them I also located 5 male Ruffs. Nearing the watchpoint produced 36 Corn Buntings, 2 Kestrels and 2 Stonechats; I also managed to squeeze of a few photos.

Corn Bunting

Male Ruff



I stayed at the Watchpoint for an hour and picked up at least 6 individual Marsh Harriers, 2 Common Buzzards and a distant flock of 30 White Fronted Geese; from here I headed to the Swale Car Park in hope of a distant view of the Rough Legged Buzzard. This did not happen but compensation was provided by a calling Snow Bunting going over, unfortunately it carried on and did not land.
After an hour here I headed back to Harty Lane where I added another 6 Marsh Harriers, a superb Ring Tail Hen Harrier, a male Merlin and a pair of Peregrines. The Falcon was seen to take a female Teal.

Marsh Harriers

Again I scanned around for the elusive Rough Legged Buzzard but it was not to be, neither did I see Short Eared Owl, although if I had stayed late afternoon no doubt I would have caught up with one.
If the back persists I can see myself going back down there, what better way to convalesce.