Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

On a fine clear but cold day I decided to venture out to Upper College Farm, an area of rough ground, in Bexley Village. In the past 4 weeks it has been home to a rare visitor which breeds in NE Europe (Finland/ Russia) and at this time of year should be in Northern India or China.

It was a very confiding bird which fed along the path, totally oblivious of the people taking photos or watching it despite being only a few metres away. This is the third one I have seen in London, the last being at Walthamstow 4 years ago, but this was definitely the best views.

I was reminded the other day of just how much our bird life has changed over the course of my birdwatching life (c40 years). Many of the species I regarded as regulars even 20 years ago have now become rare in, or indeed disappeared from, the UK and some species which we regarded as Mediteranean then are now common. Predominant amongst those are the white ‘Herons’ – Great Egret, Cattle Egret, Little Egret and Spoonbill. I remember it taking me around 10 years till I saw my first Little Egret. It became a species I kept missing, always arriving after it had moved on. Now I see them in my local park and more often than not, I see more of them than Grey Herons on trips to estuaries. They even breed in London now. The other 3 species also now breed in the UK and are found in increasing numbers and are no longer considered rarities. A sign of the changing time and climate.

Last week Keith, Sue, and I spent a day birdwatching on the Isle of Sheppey, off the north coast of Kent. Our first stop was south of the town of Leysdown on the eastern end of the island. There had been a party of Shore Larks here for a few days and we hoped to catch up with these attractive but increasingly rare winter visitors to the UK. We had only just arrived when a pair of birdwatchers further along the sea wall were signalling to us and we were soon looking at a group of 4 Shore larks on the field below us. They then flew up onto the sea wall to give us even clearer views. There was also a large party of Brent Geese on the mudflats.

From here we drove west and took the Harty road towards the south coast of the island. This long and winding road crosses Harty Marshes with opportunities for birdwatching along the route. At one stop we saw a distant White-fronted Goose in a field, but we were struck by the absence of birds of prey, except for a lone Kestrel, along the way. This may in part have been a result of the strong winds that were blowing all day.

At the end of this road is Harty Ferry, the site of the old ferry to the mainland (now replaced by a road bridge at the western end). Scanning the marshes, we had a selection of wading birds including Oystercatcher, Curlew and a single Godwit. Two Marsh harriers were seen distantly but along with another two kestrels, these were the only birds of Prey.

Soon it was time to make our way back across Harty Marsh towards home, stopping briefly at a site just by the bridge to the mainland, where we saw a small flock of thrushes. Unfortunately, we were unable to identify them before they flew off. Were these a group of newly arrived winter thrushes?

A good day with the highlight being the wonderful views of Shore Lark.

Devon Wildlife

Posted: October 18, 2021 in Birds, Landscape, Natural History
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A few pictures from my recent short trip to Devon with Keith. We were joined for two days by local birder and artist Mike Langman.

A great couple of days with lovely countryside and some great birds. Thanks to Keith and Mike.

following our week in Norfolk, sue and I drove around the wash to South Lincolnshire for another week. We spent most of the week exploring the nature reserves on the northern shore of the wash.

Frampton marshes is a RSPB reserve near Boston which I think is one of the best reserves in the UK. It is not different this time as I saw a Black Stork, a visitor from Europe, which had been present for a number of days. Sadly although we saw it flying across the reserve we didn’t manage to photograph it.

Gibraltar point is a national nature reserve, which is on a spit of land south of Skegness. The highlight here was a group of Spoonbills, once a rare species but now becoming established in a number of places in England.

On one day we traveled north to East Yorkshire to visit the RSPB reserve at Blacktoft Sands to see a white-tailed Lapwing. It breeds on inland marshes in Iraq, Iran and southern Russia. The Iraqi and Iranian breeders are mainly residents, but Russian birds spend the winter in India and north east Africa. So it is a long way from home. the first record in the UK was in July 1975 and it has been seen here on less than 10 occasions since.

On the final day we went to Whisley nature park, near Lincoln. I have never visited here before but found it a fantastic place. Highlights seen here were a Hobby, Little Stint, Little Ringed Plover and Wood Sandpiper, although all too distant to photograph.

A fantastic week

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.

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)