Thursday, 24 December 2015

Hen Harrier Xmas Present

Its been fairly quiet again over the last couple of weeks but with a few tasty moments plus a few days off giving the garage a re-hash and de-clutter. 

I spent an hour or so at Seasalter photographing the dunlin etc..

Then over to Swalecliffe hoping to photograph the two yellow-legged gulls but they had flown before I got there. However, two herring gulls, the argentatus  race from Scandinavia were fairly close where their larger size, darker mantle and paler yellow bill with an orange spot rather than a red spot could be seen.

I then went over to Hampton where I found just one purple sandpiper on the beach.

12th Dec.
A walk around the plots produced the SEO, song thrush and 8-9 long-tailed tits (month tick), c.40 goldfinches, 2 stonechats, 6 reed buntings and a great tit (another month tick).  From the Sportsman, 5 golden plovers with the curlew and c.40 lapwings. Just on the LNR, the little grebe posed briefly for a nano second in the ditch next to the large reedbed.

A very late start, didn't wake until 8.52 (Xmas party at the Marine hotel) but down to Seasalter as Geoff had seen 3 snow buntings whilst I was asleep! A long walk to nearly  C.Coote did not produce the needed tick, however, I did see plenty of dogs along the beach!  I also noticed the EA had been along the seawall and had cut down the three large willows again that grow on the apron and attract reed buntings and goldcrests to name a few.  Behind the YC., c.300 lapwings dropped into the field, one of the largest gatherings this winter here.  
Meeting Geoff back at the pumping station 'beach bench' for coffee, we saw 3 little gulls, 3 red throats, 1 linnet, 2 mergansers and 3 gannets plus the c.600 dunlin that have adopted Seasalter for their winter roosting quarters.

Went to Swalecliffe for a very short visit seeing a distant red-necked grebe before quickly responding to the washing machine repair man who was only ten minutes away. An hour later I was back, seeing the great northern diver and good views of a short-eared owl.

 Quite fond of crabs

The SEO seemed un-phased by all the humans and dogs in the area and gave some easy photo opportunites. 


At Seasalter I had an unproductive visit but managed to tick off black-tailed godwit, grey heron and another sighting of kingfisher and marsh harrier. Finished early due to the rain.

A visit to the Stodmarsh Reedbed hide produced little except the usual marsh harriers, no hen's or bitterns.

Today, a visit to Grove and the Feast hide but only found gadwall and mallard etc..

After a few domestic duties and awful weather I ventured out to SS again, oddly in the sun and blue sky, what a strange experience. The tide was in and the waders were desperate for their photos to be taken on this lovely morning and this I did all morning, somehow missing Steve Ray who was doing the same further along the beach.

It you stand still, with very slow movements, birds will often approach quite close, doesn't easily mix with a general bird-watching session. However, spending all this time with them interesting behaviour can be observed, it was interesting to see how a turnstone dealt with a cockle.


It was such a lovely day and I had brownie points that enabled me to go over to Grove again this time hoping a glimpse of a hen harrier. Apart from a young couple I was the only person there but I had fine views of SEO, 2 barn owls and.......success, a female hen harrier plus a peregrine on the walk back.

The morning didn't work out well, a late start as a request, or more of an order 'peel all the potatoes for the family tomorrow'. This done, a quick check around Whitstable Castle for the hoopoe reported two days ago then over the Swalecliffe, not much here, but then lost interest and joined the family down the town.
However, after a quick trip to Tesco in the afternoon I nipped down to SS, just taking the bins and met Dave Brown who told me he had just seen a male hen harrier, raven and shortie. A couple of minutes later the harrier re-appeared and gave excellent views, I've not seen one for years at SS. What lessons have I learnt before.....'never go out without the camera' ........but it probably wouldn't be there if I had the camera!


Tuesday, 8 December 2015

The First few Days of December

1st December

A very mild day again, the car registering 13degs, the tide was out and a light wind from the SW. and another visit to the patch.  Nothing much to report, on the plots 15 gadwall, 13 teal plus stonechat, chaffinch cetti's etc.. Out over the mudflats, the usual dunlin, ringed plover, 2 egrets and a large flock of knot numbering c.2000.

The next few days I thought it was time to look around the county starting with an uneventful trip on the 2nd to the Reedbed hide, Stodmarsh, just distant harriers.  

The next day I went to Dungeness seeing the long-eared owl tucked away in the bushes, no point in trying to photograph that one.  Further on, the Scott hide was empty, lovely, nice views of kingfisher which landed on posts in front of the hide and further out large numbers of assorted duck including a pair of goosander. Best of all was a water rail walking down below past the hide giving a chance of a few close shots.

 Later I was joined by a chap with a small bridge camera that sounded like a phone going off when he kept switching it on plus the beep, beep of the focus confirmation kept sounding off all the time as he seemed to be taking photos all the time of very distant duck! I suppose you have to start somewhere, should I have said something?

The next few days I didn't do much birding although on Sunday 6th after a lunch out with friends we took a quick look over Seasalter marshes finding a SE Owl and later a barn owl.

Mon. 7th

I made another visit to SS mopping up a few more species for the month. It was nice to see sanderling numbers are increasing with 14 feeding with the c.500 flock of dunlin one of which was still in breeding plumage. Also a big count of 26 great black-backed gulls.

Dunlin, still in breeding plumage!

A call from the Swalecliffe HQ announced their yellow-legged gull was on show again plus a friend. I nipped along  there as Yellow legged would be new for my Whitstable WUDCA list. Sure enough, they were still on show along with 132 G.B.B gulls that Geoff had counted earlier. 

Today, the late start after the rain was much the same as all week, plenty of dunlin and the sanderling numbers must be c.15-18 and G.B.B.Gulls numbered 38.

The c.2000 knot flock was still present but other waders were thinly spread. On the plots a SEO was flushed and a couple of duck shoveler were in the dyke although I think I should call it the 'river' as its bigger than the Stour in places.

PM. I went to Grove finding a couple of barn owls and harriers plus lots of fieldfares coming into roost.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Bits and Pieces

A few visits around the area over the last few days hasn't revealed much. On Sunday after the blow, I counted 54 barwits, c.5-600 knot plus the rook put in an appearance. Other birds were kingfisher, cetti's, 3 redwings, 2 stonechats and a distant kittiwake.

The following frosty morning produced some teal on the plots and 5 black-tailed godwits just off the outfall were a welcome month addition. Tuesday was a camera day, finding quite a few waders and a cracking egret coming into land made it a successful morning.

Today, Thursday, I checked on the SEOs finding 2 on the wing plus a marsh harrier and I found 6 fieldfares needed for the month! It was the first time I actually saw an owl catch a vole/mouse and eat it whilst sitting on a gate.  A short seawatch revealed 214 wigeon in mid-channel plus 8 g.c.grebes.
I then took a drive over to Hampton but no purps. just a couple of redshank and turnstones - waste of time.

 Distant record shot of SEO with prey

Saturday, 21 November 2015

What a Blow

21st November

Initially, I went to Grenham Bay but no sign of a surf scoter so could only think to get back to SS and sit in the car by the Ski Club and see what went by.  Immediately, big numbers of kittiwakes (c.500) were flying west along the beach in groups of c.40 every few minutes plus even more out on the sea keeping the c.400 gannets company, the most I have seen I think! A couple of small parties of little gulls came in close plus a few singles throughout the one and a half hours I was there. Using bins  the distant birds went past mainly unidentified but a group of 7 bonxies flew close along the beach allowing me time to get a few photos.

As midday approached the wind seemed to die off a bit allowing me to get out and scope 2 juvenile pomarine skuas sitting on the sea, occasionally lifting up briefly showing all their barred underparts. 

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Quiet Weekend

A few short visits to the patch over the last few days didn't prove very exciting except for the SEOs which totaled 3 in the air at once but four have been seen M.R.. This Sunday pm again saw two patrolling the fields but fighting against the strong winds. Also we finished off with a nice merlin flying in and settling on a mound by one of the gates.

Light was low - needed ISO 3200!

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Goosander and Wheatear Brighten up the Week

After a rainy couple of days in Norfolk it was back to much the same weather at Seasalter although not quite so wet! 

8th Nov.
Still very mild, 14 degs. - a look over the beach and sea produced 1 male merganser and 8 sanderling plus dunlin, turnstones and ringed plovers. A flock of c.20 siskins flew west along the seafront and inland the plots were quiet. At the LNR, a little grebe was in the ditch just behind the Sportsman PH which was a good month tick.

Again, very mild, 17 degs., and not much doing - I parked up by the outfall which afforded a view over the sea and whilst having a coffee  a goosander swam past the outfall, I was out like a flash camera in hand getting a few shots.  

As it was mild I didn't need a coat so I stayed out a bit longer (its amazing how much more you see when you get out of the car)!  A few dunlin of various sizes were on the outfall and I picked out two showing the differences in bill lengths. The larger one is perhaps the Greenland Arctica or Northern/eastern Russian race Alpina? The small one, maybe  Schinzii which breeds in Iceland/Baltic and a few in the UK.
The brent flock only numbers about c.250 and still virtually all adults - the most juvenile birds I have seen was a group of five!

Various size differences in the dunlin bill and leg length.

Another visitor that I'd not seen for a while was Whitstable's race of 'pied crow', seen flying west over the sea.

The sub- race Whitstableii race of crow! 

One of the smaller races of dunlin

Hearing of Geoff's wheatear at Swalecliffe prompted me to get there and see this unusually late individual that would normally have gone back south in September or early October. I eventually found it on the Herne Bay side after seeing  stonechat and little egret on route.  

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

SEO Week!

28th Oct.

An afternoon visit to Dover harbour to photograph the female red-breasted merganser that had been a few weeks I later heard.

   Beautiful plumage details on the cormorant

31st Oct
It was a sunny morning but still a bit misty, I parked up by the plots entrance and was listening to the radio report on the Manston story. It was a phone in and quite 'to the point' so I opened the boot to continue listening, got the scope out and seawatched there for a good hour.  Quite a good move as I picked up two short-eared owls coming in off the sea, one of them going over the plots. Other birds included; 2 pintails, 10 shovelers, 20 wigeon, 22 g.c.grebes, 4 gadwall and 8 gannets.

The brent flock numbered 314 in front of the plots with just 1 juvenile and further along on the LNR I found a goldcrest in the first bush growing out of the 'apron'.


I went to Sandwich Bay to try and photograph the owls but failed to connect well, they were always distant, I only got a couple of record shots.

1st. Nov. 

This morning proved to be a waste of time as Seasalter was covered in thick fog however, I managed to find 36 species inc. kingfisher, snipe, 3 gadwall and 19 collared doves on wires by the Sportsman.

2nd Nov.

It was still foggy at Whitstable all morning so in the afternoon I went to Sandwich as I heard it was clear and photographed the short-eared owls. I saw 2 birds but another surprise was a covey of 26 grey partridges, the most I've seen. 

3rd Nov.

Seasalter looked quiet as I tried to bump up the month list managing  to add greenfinch, plus c.80 bar-tailed godwits, a flock of c.75 knot, the first I have seen since August, plus another kingfisher. However, things came to a halt when I saw two short-eared owls hunting over the field behind the LNR which was when I went back into photo mode and spent the next hour or more with them and the camera. The light was bad needing high ISOs and not much contrast for the focusing system to work well.