Thursday, 31 October 2013

Godwits Galore - 31st Oct

After the beautiful day yesterday when it was duty day with the twins I was looking forward to a lovely day out this morning but, oh no, lets have a damp, dreary day for your reward!  Not to be put off, I went to Seasalter and waited until the rain stopped, drinking coffee, just seeing a marsh harrier over the arable fields. The tide was still up on the beach allowing me to count the waders on the beach in front of the chalets by the Sportsman. A count of 65 ringed plovers and c.200 dunlin plus 8 redshank, then as the tide left the beach a large flock of 240 barwits landed on the freshly exposed mud just below the beach. Amongst them 260 knot and c.25 grey plovers, quite a nice surprise on such a morning and no dog walkers to scare them off.

                                                         Bar-tailed Godwits and Knot

No sign of the wheatears or whinchat today, I rather hoped they would hang to be a November tick. Chaffinches were moving west again, c.150 during my hour and a half. Brents were very few I only counted about 50 here, maybe more further up. A peregrine swooped across the fields behind putting up the c.600 strong flock of golden plover plus lapwings must which must be of similar numbers.

Brent Goose

The same 'orangey' marsh harrier appeared again and c1000 starlings were diving around, sometimes landing in the fields or onto the beach looking for food.

Common Gull

Earlier, I stopped by the Ski Club where a couple of common gulls were having an argument on the posts. I didn't check the 'island roost' today as a dog walker was coming along the beach which is probably why the waders turned up near the Sportsman. 

Friday, 25 October 2013

Swift sp seen at Seasalter. 24th Oct.

A tweet by Geoff Burton alerting that a swift sp was seen circling and going west at Seasalter by Greg Herne. A call from Mark Chidwick got us down there within a few minutes but no sign of the bird. Worked our way west stopping at the pumping station where c.400 black-tailed godwits were feeding off the outfall, they seem to be slowly increasing in numbers as only seen a couple of weeks ago when I saw six. Also my first big numbers of knot, big being 42! A small flock of dunlin was wheeling about amongst the brent and a group of 5 shoveler sitting on the mud was a surprise.  Moving onto the S.Swale NNR, still no sign of the swift just a few beardies pinging in the reedbed so Mark told me,  (new ears please).  Beyond the white post we started to see a few birds, the 2 wheatears were still on the beach together with c.20 mipits and 6-8 skylarks and a pair of stonechats further on.

There was little to photograph, just snapped at this distant skylark on the wall and working our way back in the hot sunshine (had to take my coat off, crazy weather) we saw 5 clouded yellow butterflies and finally a buzzard circling Cleve Farm.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Return to Hemsted Forest 23rd Oct

I wanted to return to Hemsted especially to see the parrot crossbills to which I only had a quick view last week.  I have not been out the last few days, what with looking after the twins for two days and a bit of man flu plus all the rain so today was just what I needed.  I was surprised to see they still attracted crowds of people although when I arrived there was nothing much to see but finally the two-barred appeared back towards the road but it never came to the oak tree, plenty of commons though.

 Common Crossbill

I met plenty of the Kent birders inc. Mark Tomlins, Grant Demar, Jerry Warne, Rick Smith, Marc Heath, Derek Smith, hope none of you should have been at work!  There was a flock of about 20 commons which at one point landed in one of the small pines allowing a group shot.

Common Crossbill

Not much happened for a couple of hours around lunchtime, I moved around to the back of the track with a few others to get closer to the large tree they seemed to often use.  From here I got a few views of the odd parrot amongst the commons, finally getting a shot albeit not very good due to the distance. This shot was cropped to just over to 700 pix across.

Parrot Crossbill

Added this highly cropped photo to show the bill which does not appear crossed like the common crossbill, seemed pretty straight on this individual as in some other photos. 

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Three Crossbill Species in a Day

The weather looked good for a visit to Hemsted Forest and an attempt to see the Two-barred, Parrot and Common crossbills. As is often the case, as I was walking to the site, wonderful views of the two-barred were being had but gone when I arrived on the scene! Typical, however, the drill was to sit tight and await their return and after an hour they duly returned, that is a dozen commons and one two-barred, all descending onto the lone oak and pine. Distant for the camera, even with converters  but you have to have a go, so a few record shots.

Two-Barred and Common Crossbill
Oddly, crossbills were the only birds seen most of the time as throughout the morning and early afternoon returning every hour or so. Many of them flew across to pines on the left where they descended down to a large puddle to drink but this was a dark area and no good for photos except perhaps early morning when the light may have been ok.

Around midday a flock of crossbills landed back down the track towards the 'car park' and amongst them at least one Parrot Crossbill but too far for a photo.  Meanwhile, the two-barred returned within another flock giving a few more photo opportunities.

I nipped back to the car for some food etc., during which time the parrot crossbill made a closer visit near the oak tree I was told. Walking back to the site a brimstone butterfly was a surprise to see, whilst during the morning a couple of red admirals were flying about plus a party of l.t.tits. The after lunch session didn't come up with anything better, most views were distant in other corners of the forest but I was very happy with two Kent ticks in one day!

Snow buntings and Shorelarks 16th October

Wasn't sure where to go today and the weather wasn't sure either but I finally settled on Chambers Wall and a walk along to Minnis. I soon met Derek Smith whose excellent hearing put me onto siskins and 2 grey wagtails flying overhead and later on the path to Cold Harbour, a ring ouzel flew out of a bush and back towards the embankment. I parted company there and continued down to the sea and on route saw a kingfisher, marsh harrier and a merlin was over the arable putting up a huge flock of mainly linnets.  Nothing going on at Cold Harbour so continued towards Minnis with a few reed buntings, chiffchaffs, mipits and blue tits on the way. A lone figure ahead of me disappeared from view but  eventually catching up with him he turned out to be Steve Ray who had just caught up with the two shorelarks.  

The weather was grim now with rain in the air so after grabbing a few shots we hastened on towards Minnis when after a 100yards the two snow buntings were posing on the beach just below the wall not more than eight feet away. Filling my boots there I parted company with Steve and made my way back along the embankment in the rain. 

Snow Bunting
It was still a bit early to get back home so I diverted to Reculver Towers where a Black Redstart was hopping about on the large rocks.

Black Redstart

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Sunny afternoon at Seasalter. 15th October.

After an uneventful morning at the 'Feast hide', Grove Ferry where my only chance at kingfisher was thwarted by a noisy person the hide, I imagined the rest of the day was going to be on the PC.  However, after lunch the sun came out and  I spent a couple of hours at Seasalter. I went straight to the South Swale LNR where around the beach huts the two wheatears were still present.  Two or three chaffinches were feeding around the huts also but no sign of any black redstarts.

Making my way along to the start of the wall, a clouded yellow was moving from flower to flower allowing a me to get a couple shots.

Clouded Yellow
A couple of mipits were flitting about and on the wall the two whinchats were still on site but I could not approach closer than about 40yards. They led me a merry dance but I eventually got a record shot which needed a tight crop.

The tide was out and a count of the brent revealed only 81 birds, none in the top corner at Castle Coote either when a couple of days ago when there was up to 4000......some clear out. Along the edge of the beach a little egret kept me company whilst out on the arable a peregrine landed in the middle of one of the fields.

Little Egret
On the walk back, several common darters were active in the late afternoon sunshine often landing on the concrete wall. 

Common Darter

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Missed Most of The Big Day; 10th, 11th, 12th.

Escaping from the grandchildren for one hour Thursday, I nipped down to Seasalter with the bins seeing 14 bonxies and four gannets, the tide was out so nothing was going to be close. Much the same Friday but I went to Reculver in time to see one Leach's petrel, 3 velvet scoters, a few gannets and wigeon before the rain started.
Today I went down to Seasalter after the deluge yesterday, the tide was going out and nothing much to see on the flats. Moved along to the plots and walked just over the bridge finding six brambling feeding on the path (record shot) and further back in the bushes several reed buntings and mipits plus one whinchat

Further on at South Swale c.20 redwings were feeding on the bushes just behind the Sportsman PH otherwise fairly quiet. Along the wall c.20 mipits were feeding on the apron plus one whinchat which would not allow a close approach so just a record shot, heavily cropped.

The brent flock had increased overnight it seemed, there being at least 3000, difficult to estimate as they were strewn all along the shore up to Castle Coote plus wigeon amongst them.  One dog walker flushed the lot, not sure why as they normally allow a reasonable approach, clearly no fieldcraft.

Further on, near the large bush growing on the apron, 3 wheatears were still present along with a few more mipits. On the fields behind c.70 lapwings, a couple of kestrels and a flock of c.150 finches, mainly linnets but to far to ID.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Seasalter round up. 7th October 13

Made a start at Wraik Hill which was very quiet except for 4-5 chiffchaffs, one singing his head off.  Moved down to the levels and a quick stop  revealed nothing to speak of, just one swallow. Next stop, the Ski Club where 155 ringed plovers were all resting just a few yards out. Then onto the pumping station area and plots but only walked to the plots entrance finding a kingfisher but not much else, although counted 46 egrets along the shore. Last stop was South Swale, the tide rapidly coming in up to the beach and around the huts it was very quiet, no wheatears or goldfinches.  Continued up to the white post where two dark geese flew eastwards almost overhead whilst I was talking to a tall gent. Unfortunately, they were flying away and I couldn't ID them properly but couldn't see any pale wings. Thought I should ring Geoff at Swalecliffe. However, moving on I managed to pick up the red-necked grebe just east of Horse Sands where it stayed in mid-channel for the next hour or so. Met Mike Norman and wife as I was walking back and put them onto the grebe and Mike found a guillemot as we chatted. Home for lunch but a lovely day, should have stayed out all day! No photos today.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Lesser Grey Shrike on Sheppey

After a day at Howletts Zoo on Saturday I needed something good today and hearing about Mike Buckland's super find yesterday I hoped news would come in this morning confirming its continued presence.   Found again by Mark Chidwick in the same place this morning I ventured over there finding it far out across the fields.  Good scope views could be had but photography was on the back burner as the bird had flown even further away from the path and the heat haze made it doubly difficult.  Stayed a good while with the gathering group of birders when the bird finally took a long flight after an insect and landed on a closer bush.  Used the 1.4 converter on the lens but it was still a tiny image, I cropped down to c.7-800 pixels on most shots, then reduced down to 640.

On the way home I called in at Seasalter and looked over the wall hoping to see the red-necked grebe but only found 20 odd grebes and a red-throated diver.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Ring Ouzels Galore

Met up with Steve Ashton this morning and thought we would make try for some ring ouzels as there appeared to be a good chance at Langdon Hole. At first walking down the path there seemed very little although seeing Phil Smith looking at something further down gave us hope. It appeared they were only chaffinches, linnets etc. but behind us we saw three ring ouzels flying east, dropping into some bushes. Heading in that direction we began to hear and see others but none would sit up for a photo, they were the most shy of birds. We met up with Steve Ray and together we tried to see/count/photograph these birds. Finally, we managed a few shots but they were always distant and usually covered with some foliage. It was difficult to estimate the numbers as they seemed to move around together but you didn't know whether you were counting the same birds again and again.  We all thought there must have been 20 - 25 birds which may have been an under estimate as I myself remember counting 14 birds coming out of one bush alone!

Other birds we saw were; 2 black redstarts, 1 stonechat, 2 yellowhammers and a surprise with 11 grey partridges, 1 reed bunting and numerous swallows plus a few house martins.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Seasalter. 1st October

After getting back from Rome yesterday afternoon I wasn't particularly desperate to get out but thought I would give the local patch a look over for a couple of hours. Along the seafront, the 'island' roost held 55 ringed plovers, about 30 brents and 3 sandwich terns plus the usual gulls and oystercatchers and curlew. I moved on up to South Swale where around the beach chalets c.40 meadow pipits were feeding on the grass and beach, clearly an influx as I never see that many.  Further on by the wall 2 wheatears were flitting about with a few more mipits and 1 linnet. Overhead, swallows were trickling westwards plus at least 4 house martins.

Out on the arable I counted 54 lapwings although initially there only looked a handful at first plus 61 golden plovers. The tide was going out and the 1250-1500 strong brent flock was spread out all along the shore as far as I could see, so maybe more. Seems to have been a good breeding season as I could see lots of young birds amongst them.

On the way back a couple of egrets were flying east and 4 teal were drifting with the brent flocks which were beginning to get close to the beach by the chalets. Just here I saw another wheatear amongst all the mipits on the beach, then everything went up, some mobbing the short-eared owl that had come over the huts and then dropped down briefly into the grass before moving off again.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

No Binoculars in Rome; 26th - 30th September

Yes, a few days away without the bins, something I have not done for nearly thirty five years.  A few brownie points being claimed as well but the trip to Rome was indeed a mind blowing experience. Arriving Thursday evening, just in time to meet the group of nearly forty people......was this a big mistake. They all looked old but getting to know a few of them I realised some were younger than me! Anyway, we soon settled into the Hotel Ripa, in the Trastevere area, just over the River Tiber (Tevere, they call it) from the main centre of interest.
The next morning after a whistle stop coach tour around the city it was time to get out and see the sights, the first being the Piazza de Trevi and the famous 18th century fountain depicting Neptune riding on a seashell. 

Trevi Fountain

The whole facade is crammed into the tiny piazza which was thronging with people and busy ice cream shops and policemen blowing their whistles at tourists who dared put a foot over the wall into the water.

 Trevi Fountain

Next, walking through the busy streets we came to the magnificent Pantheon, 'Temple to All the Gods', built by Marcus Agrippa in 27BC but rebuilt by Hadrian in AD125. Inside, you can appreciate the huge dome 43 metres high and in diameter, we were told that the base of the dome was 18 feet thick and thinning to 4 feet, completely unsupported. On fine days the open hole in the roof sends a shaft of light into the windowless structure plus also lets in rain!

The Pantheon

  The Pantheon - huge, thick metal doors

The tombs of Raphael, his mistress, the architect Peruzzi and the first King of Italy lie within the structure. 

We walked on a little way to the large Piazza Navona which has been a prime spot for recreation since AD79, hence its oval shape. In the Middle Ages it was used for jousting tournaments and later in the 17th and 18th century spectacular water pageants.

  Piazza Navona - Bernini's 'Fountain of Four Rivers'

After lunch in the square most of chose to go on the optional tour of the Vatican and St.Peter's Basilica in the afternoon. During these tours we had a smart Italian lady guide who was a fountain of knowledge of all the ancient history of Rome. We were all given a receiver and earphone and she just talked into a microphone giving us all the information. 

The entrance to the Vatican Museums was free this day for some reason, crowded of course and over 4 miles of corridors and rooms of sculptures, paintings and art to marvel over we were told.  A selection of photos below give an idea of the grandeur of the building.

 Vatican museums

 The long corridor of the 'Map Room'

It got a bit OTT after a while, just so much and finally ending at the Sistine Chapel which was a bit underwhelming for me. The chapel had no lighting in it and was quite dim which didn't show off Michaelangelo's ceiling as well as other areas in the Vatican. The place was crammed with people all talking but being told to keep quiet by a couple of 'guards' standing on podiums but they had no effect, quite funny. Its in here where the Cardinals sit and select new Popes. No photos are allowed but with such low light it would not be easy to get a shot anyway.

We then moved to St. Peter's next door, the like of which puts our cathedrals into shade as regards to grandeur.  Begun in 1506 under Julius 2nd (replacing the previous church built in the 4th century) it was finished in 1626, although it has changed shape a few times since as demanded by various Popes.

 Entrance to St.Peter's Basilica
Michelangelo's 'Pieta' in St.Peter's, carved when he was 26 years old

 The High Altar
 No time to climb up to the base of the Dome but people are walking around it!
There they are!

We left the splendours of St. Peter's and made our way back to the hotel by bus and tram with the help of our tour manager who accompanied us on all trips. 

The next morning we left the hotel at 8.30 and a short coach ride to the Colosseum and Palatine. Built in AD72-80 the four tiered elliptical amphitheatre seated 50,000 spectators on stone benches according to their social status. Mornings were programmed for animal fights and shows, the afternoons kept for gladiator fights and contrary to popular belief there is little evidence that Christians were fed to lions here.

 Colosseum - next to a main road - our manager and lady guide 
 Small holes all over the Colosseum where iron pegs had been removed years ago

 The many arches led into the seating as a modern stadium
                 The number over this arch being Gate 53

Popes and princes stripped the Colosseum of its marble cladding and iron for their churches and palaces leaving it a complete ruin. Many parts have been reconstructed and two levels are accessible to the public. It is thought there was a sort of canvas canopy over the structure as to sit out in the heat of the day would be unbearable and post holes have been found to support this theory.

 Entering through the arches was just like a modern stadium
 The lower passage ways were under a floor where animals and men awaited their destiny
 Seating areas have all been removed or looted in the past
 A small section of seat reconstruction
Toilets would have been included for the 50,000, usually a communal affair where users would sit over a running channel of water!

A short walk of a few of hundred yards brought us to the Forum. Nothing really remains intact just remains of columns and arches and other walls etc. The Forum was the centre of government and was surrounded by the Palatine, Capitoline and Esquiline Hills, the draining water providing all their plumbing needs! Most of the area has now been excavated as it was abandoned after the barbarian invasions, plus floods, fires and earthquakes and recently, plunder by Renaissance architects reduced it to a muddy cow pasture.

 One of the many gates built in honour of the general when a great war had been won

 Remains of the Forum

Finishing our morning tour the group was then left to disperse go our own way, many of us heading over to the main street and cafes. Quite easy making your way round with the map, all the monuments right in amongst the streets. After lunch we made our way to the 'Spanish steps' which lie at the head of Via Condotti, the street with all the designer shops, the rich, would like to be rich, and lovely ladies strutting their stuff.

 Via Condotti
The Spanish Steppes
I couldn't see what was special about the Spanish Steppes but named after the nearby Spanish Ambassador's residence. There is a 17th century French church at the top of the steps. Slowly made our way back to the hotel, several stops in bars on the way as it took about two hours passing the monument below.

Monument to Vittorio Emanuele

Last day and a 8.15 coach ride out to the Villa Borghese where the avid and ruthless art collector Cardinal Scipione Borghese built a handsome villa on the east side of the park and home to his outstanding collection. Being nephew to Pope Paul V he was able to use his position to acquire some fine works of art. The collection includes some fine sculptures by his protege, Lorenzo Bernini and paintings by Raphael,Titian, Carravaggio and Botticelli.  Again, no cameras allowed so no photos, not that I needed any more of that sort. Many of the paintings have been restored and look as if they have had a coat of vanish which are full of reflections when seen under artificial light. Whereas, the originals were a more matt look and did not exhibit that problem. I have since read that many feel the paintings have been 'ruined' to which I agree! 

 Spent 15 minutes listening to the Police band on the Spanish Steps- excellent
 Castel Sant'Angelo
 The River Tiba or Fiume Tevere

Last view of St. Peter's Basilica
Leaving the Villa Borgehese late morning we walked through the park down to the Spanish Steps where the Police Band were on parade playing on the Steps to a huge crowd, an excellent band. Spent the afternoon looking wandering through the city and finally along the banks of the River Tiber passing the mighty Castel Sant'Angelo, a fortress built in the times of Hadrian. Finally reaching the hotel, an hours rest before out again for diner. 

Next morning left the hotel at 8.00 for our 11.00 Easyjet flight back to Gatwick getting home at 14.45. Good weather throughout, temperature c.24 deg C, didn't need a coat! An interesting trip with a lot to learn and appreciate. Hope you enjoyed the account.