Archive for the ‘Natural History’ Category

Sue and I spent a week in Norfolk in early September this year.

On one day we went into Sheringham, a pleasant town on the coast.

Sheringham is the eastern terminus of the North Norfolk Railway. They were holding a Gala day on the day we were there so there were lots of historic locomotives to be seen.

Another day we went to the RSPB reserve at Titchwell. The highlight was an excellent view of Common snipe

We also went to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve at Cley Marshes. The highlights of the visit were views of a Common Crane and a Cattle Egret.

Our third trip to a nature reserve was to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve at Welney.

It was a very good week and we enjoyed visiting some of the wonderful nature reserves in North Norfolk.

Clouds

Posted: September 21, 2021 in Landscape, Natural History

This week just some pictures of clouds taken on a recent walk. I am fascinated by the complex shapes and the way the light interacts with them.

My weekly wildlife walk takes me across the grounds of the estate where I live to the Tarn, a local park around a small lake. I am very fortunate to live on an estate with really nice grounds adjacent to a golf course and a park and so we see lots of wildlife.

After leaving the estate a short stretch of road leads to the entrance to the Tarn, descending from street level past the old ice well of Eltham House (now the clubhouse of the golf course).

I do this walk once a week and record all the wildlife I can see and hear. The results are then reported back to a number of different schemes set up to monitor the wildlife in the UK.

This week it is rather quiet. The Canada and Greylag Geese flocks are absent, they use a number of different sites in the area. There are good numbers of Mallard, Coot and Moorhens, so they have had good breeding seasons. The resident pair of Egyptian Geese still have 3 young but these are now indistinguishable from their parents. No dragonflies were seen, which is surprising as we usually have Common Darter present during August and only one butterfly, a single Speckled Wood was seen on the whole walk. It seems to have been a poor year for butterflies locally.

On Sunday Sue and I travelled down to Kent to meet our friends Keith and Elaine as we were all going on a boat trip around the Isle of Sheppey, which lies of the north coast of Kent.

The Island is separated from the mainland by a stretch of water known as The Swale. It is not a river since it has no source and no estuary, joining the River Thames near Whitstable and the River Medway near Queenborough. And it was at Queenborough that our journey commenced as we joined the Jacob Marley for our trip.

We set off down the Swale. Originally the island was only reached via ferries but when the railway arrived, a bridge was built to carry traffic and the trains across the Swale onto the island. The current bridge dates from 1960. The problem was that this had to be raised and lowered to let some boats into the Swale, particularly at high tide so in 2006 a high level road bridge was built next to the railway-road bridge so traffic could flow to and from the island to the mainland without any hinderance from ships on the Swale.

After passing under the bridge we proceeded past Ridham dock, the last working dock on the Swale.

Although there is still plenty of evidence of past commercial activities

Once past Ridham, there is open country on both sides of the Swale. On Sheppey, we pass the famous Elmley Nature Reserve, once managed by the RSPB, but now an independent company. A Hobby flies over the boat on its migration south and there are lots of wading birds returning from their Breeding grounds feeding or roosting on the mudflats. Some maybe going further south and some may remain here for the winter. Large numbers of Little Egrets, once a rare bird in the UK, are seen feeding along the mudbanks.

The previous day had seen the Medway barge race and so we encountered a number of different sailing barges making their way back to their moorings.

At the eastern end of the island we come to Horse Sands where there is a small seal colony with both Common and Grey seals present.

Reaching the eastern end of the Island we turn west along the north coast. Soon we see 2 Artic Skuas chasing gulls. These birds are like large gulls and they chase smaller seabirds hoping to make them drop the food they have caught rather than catch their own. A little way further we see another Skua closing on the boat from behind. It looks different as it flies low to the water, but it overtakes the boat and is lost from sight by us before we can confirm its identity. Our conclusion was that it was probably a juvenile Long-tailed Skua, which is quite rare for the Thames, but we couldn’t be absolutely sure. Unlike the adults, the juveniles do not have the Long tail streamers which give it it’s name. The following day up to 20 were seen in the Swale so it is likely that our unconfirmed identification was correct.

Out in the estuary we can see the old wartime defense forts and the more modern Thames wind-farm.

Looking to land we can see where the island is eroding.

We pass the wreck of the Richard Montgomery, a wartime munitions carrier, that ran aground and broke up off Sheerness. Much of its cargo is still aboard and it is estimated if it ever blew up then houses would be affected by the shockwave in Sheerness and in Southend on the opposite side of the Thames and a wave up to 5m high would hit both coasts. Soon there will be nothing to see as there are plans to remove the masts to relieve the weight on the superstructure which is breaking up.

Soon we are back at the western end of the Island passing the docks at Sheerness

And then onto Queenborough where we disembark. A great trip full of interest and some excellent birdwatching as well.

Greenwich Reach

Posted: August 24, 2021 in Birds, Landscape, London, Natural History, UK
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Out for my monthly survey walk along the River Thames at Greenwich counting the waterbirds using the river. Even in the summer months when it is very quiet there is always plenty of activity on the river to see.

In addition my walk is opposite the historic town of Greenwich.

At the west end of the walk there are views up river towards central London

At the eastern end is the Millenium Dome, now known as the O2, a concert and exhibition venue.

But what about the bird survey. There are the first signs of birds returning from their breeding grounds – Black-headed Gulls which have been almost absent since April were back with about 150 seen on the walk. Other Gull numbers were up slightly and I would expect this increase to continue over the next couple of months. A Group of 16 Canada geese was more then I had seen previously here so it will be interesting to see if they stay on the river or are just moving through.

Other things of note were a Eurasian Sparrowhawk seen flying high over one of the riverside housing developments and a Great Cormorant perched on jetty – unfortunately he refused to turn round and so i only got a back view.

The weather forecast wasn’t promising but Keith and I decided to further explore the marsh at Tilbury Fort in Essex. We spent the morning in Gravesend and walked the usual route along the river and although the river was quite except for gulls, the gorge in the park produced 2 Garden Warblers, a Reed Warbler and a Grey Wagtail.

Making our way back along the promenade we caught the ferry over to Tilbury. On landing our attention was immediately drawn to a falcon chasing a group of Starlings. At first I thought it was a peregrine, but quickly realised it was too small and was actually a Hobby. I think a Starling would be too big for a hobby to catch (usual food is things like Dragonflies) so I can only think it was either practicing its flying or simply having some fun. It moved off quickly west following the river. On our last visit we followed the river walk but today we turned inland along the western edge of the marshes that surround the fort. Oystercatcher and Shelduck were on the river shore.

Little Egret, Kestrel, Lapwing, Grey Heron and a large number of gulls were on the marsh but sadly no other wading birds. A group of Common Swift passed over heading south. It was as we reached the far end of the path that the weather finally broke and we were forced to seek shelter from heavy rain. Once this had passed we made our way back to The World’s End, a pub on the river for some welcome refreshment.

Little Egret (Photo by Keith)

Returning to the ferry, Keith spotted a small brown butterfly in the vegetation, a Brown Argus, which is a species that I rarely see and so it was great to have a long look and to see all the identifying features. It was a good way to end the day.

Brown Argus (Photo by Keith)

It has been awhile since my last birdwatching trip, so it was with anticipation that I set off to meet Keith at Gravesend for a trip into unknown territory. We often walk the promenade at Gravesend, usually before RSPB meetings as it is a convenient place midway between our homes. On these walks we often look across the river and wonder about what is on the other side, around the town of Tilbury in Essex. So it was on this day that we decided to venture across the water and see what possible habitats we could find.

We took the ferry from Gravesend, leaving from Town pier.

and 10 minutes later were stepping ashore at Tilbury

Even as we left the terminal we could see the potential of this site for waterbirds and waders in the winter. Unlike the developed Gravesend riverfront, the Essex side, east of the terminal is just marshland (to the west is the cruise terminal and the container port!).

Inland from the river was a mosaic of grassland and pools which surround Tilbury Fort

Tilbury Fort was originally built by Henry VIII to protect London from ships coming up the river and eventually became one of a number of forts on both sides of the Thames. It has been updated in many conflicts and during times of tension since as can be seen by the current armaments, which date from WW2.

Moving on we passed more marshland until we reached the power station, where the path turns inland. We hardly saw anyone on our walk, although we did find our way blocked by a family of horses at one point.

There plenty of butterflies and it was nice to see some Marbled Whites, a species which seems to be spreading into London and is seen much more frequently than it used to be.

There was not a great variety of birdlife present, with Mediterranean Gull probably being the best sighting, but the site will be a lot more productive in the winter, when the water birds return to the river from their nesting grounds.

So with lunchtime drawing on, we made our back to the ferry and the crossing to Gravesend.

After lunch we did our normal walk along the promenade to Gravesend Fort and the local park.

The highlight of our walk was a Painted Lady butterfly, which we found in the park.

A good day out and some nice sightings but also we have identified another local area of potential, which we cant wait to return to in the winter months to see what is there “across the water”.

Sue and I trip down to see Keith on his home patch for a few hours birdwatching. Our first stop was the RSPB reserve at Northwood Hill in search of Nightingales and Cuckoos.

Both species are vocal when they first arrive in this country but soon fall silent, in the case of Nightingales, or depart after laying there eggs. so its important if you are going to locate them to do so early on. Both birds were in fine voice with at least 5 different Nightingales, and 2 cuckoos on the path down to the viewpoint. There were also a number of Blackcaps and a Chiffchaff.

Nightingale singing at Northwood Hill

Arriving at the viewpoint we had lunch looking over the marshes. Whilst having lunch we had a variety of birds singing from the surrounding vegetation including Nightingale, Common Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat and Blackcap

After lunch we traced our way back to the car, serenaded again by Nightingales. The sun had come out and so had some early butterflies including Red Admiral, Peacock, Orange Tip and most surprisingly, a Painted Lady.

Blackcap (m). Photo by Keith

Our second stop was Keith’s local patch at Abbotts Court. A party of Swallows with one House Martin were over the lakes together with Blackcaps and another Cuckoo, which flew over our heads. A Reed Warbler was also heard.

In all we saw 40 species in a few hours and caught up with some of the recently arrived summer visitors.

Sunrise #43 — talainsphotographyblog

I am a real sucker for a great sunrise or sunset photo, so I had to share this one when I saw it.

It was good to be able to get back to visiting familiar haunts. It is probably a year since Keith and I walked the riverfront at Gravesend, so it was great to be able to visit on Thursday.

The normal wader population that we would see in the winter had gone to the breeding grounds but the highlight of the day was 7 Mediterranean Gulls in full plumage. Also 2 Blackcaps singing in the riverside park.