Thursday, 15 November 2018

" Get Shorty "

The sight of  a Short-Eared Owl hunting over the salt marshes on a cold winter afternoon is something I look forward to each winter, some years you see them, others you don't.
This seasons arrival is well in progress,with many S.E.Owls being reported from many of the usual sites around Kent .

After last weeks disappointing 'no show' at Rainham RSPB, for me anyway,  I thought I would try my luck again, this time on the Isle of Sheppey.

I  had a small window of opportunity, a free couple of hours for a late afternoon visit. I decided to visit Capel Fleet and check out the rough pastures alongside the road that runs through Harty Marshes, plenty of pull-ins where you can park up and watch the Owls if they decide to show up.

 Due to a few traffic holdups I arrived quite late in the day with just about an hour of daylight left.

I could see a team of beaters waving there red flags, and dogs dashing around in the  fields flushing out the game birds towards the shooters, I always think its ironic really when I see the roadside signs asking you to drive slowly and be aware of the wildlife, I suppose its so they have more birds to blast out the sky.
 I was beginning to think there may be too much disturbance for the Owls.

Red -Legged Partridge

Driving down Capel Hill towards Harty marshes I could see my first S.E.Owl hunting next to the road in the distance, but it soon drifted across the marshes and out of sight, but a good start.

I drove to the end of the road for a quick look out across the Swale and returned back to Capel Fleet.
where I parked up, near the Raptor viewpoint and waited for the sun to go down.

It wasn't long before another Short-eared Owl put in an appearance closely followed by a second, the light was disappearing fast now, but I could still watch them quartering the pasture, they didn't seem to happy when there paths crossed,  and a passing Marsh Harrier also felt there wrath.

I managed a couple of photographs which had to be lightened up slightly. not the best photos hopefully I will get another chance before the winter passes.

Other birds noted on this short visit were a flock of Fieldfare, my first this winter, a few Corn Bunting, at least five Marsh Harrier going to roost, two Buzzard, and a very confiding female Kestrel. lots of Red Legged Partridge, Pheasants of various shades, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit and as I left Capel Fleet, a Brown Hare running along the edge of the field was another first for the year.


Corn Bunting

Last rays of sunshine
A short but productive visit

Saturday, 10 November 2018

All Change on the Marshes !

 Autumn colours are nearing there end as the winter winds strip the trees of there leaves, there is a whole different atmosphere on the marshes now, the reedbeds are much quieter, except for the occasional Cetti's warbler bursting unseen from reedbed scrub.

Butterflies are a distant memory, the occasional Ruddy Darter still making an appearance when the sun does shine. but the night time temperatures are dropping fast.

Time to start looking for those winter arrivals, Rainham RSBP has been hosting a couple of Short -Earred Owls of late,  a passing Hen Harrier, Rough-Legged Buzzard and the resident Marsh Harriers making this a very attractive reserve to visit.

 Not to mention the Cattle Egrets and now a Bittern showing occasionally. to a lucky few.

Thought I would do an anti-clockwise walk, so that I would end up near the river wall for a late afternoon search for the Owls. As I walked through the woodland I could see quite a few Redwings, my first winter bird observation, no Fieldfares for me although they have been reported here.

My first port of call was the Ken Barrett Hide, the scrape here has been re-profiled of late, looking a bit stark, but there are a few birds around the muddy margins, in particular Snipe.


Other birds noted here were Coot, Moorhen, Heron, Shoveller, Mallard, Teal, Mute Swan, Pied Wagtail, Starling and a brief appearance of a Marsh harrier which disappeared into the reedbed.

Marsh Harrier

Grey Heron

Walking through the Reedbeds along the Northern walk  all strangely very quite, just the odd appearance of a Wren, Blue Tit, Blackbird, on the main pools I could just make out a small flock of Black Tailed Godwits, Lapwing, Cormorant, Common Gull, Herring Gull, no sign of any Cattle Egrets unfortunately just a Little Egret.

Arrived at the Shooting Butts Hide for lunch. where I entertained myself watching the Teal, engrossed in there bathing sessions, my second winter visitor was seen or rather heard here in the form of Wigeon, there soft whistling calls a reminder that winter has arrived.

Scanning around the pool margins a few waders were found, always a bit distant though.

Black Tailed Godwit
Ruff, Lapwing,& Snipe

Green Sandpiper
Light was beginning to fade, time to move up to the sea wall and wait for that elusive Short Earred Owl.

Greylag Geese
Unfortunately no sign of the Short Earred Owls, settled for a female Kestrel which presented itself on a nearby tree, still a bit distant for my lens.

With a cold chill setting in and the light fading fast, time to make a move. just two winter visitors so far, Redwing and Wigeon,but plenty of time as the winter season just starting.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Highland Tigers !!!

You would think that it would be an easy task to see at least once in your lifetime, each of the native creatures that reside on our relatively small isle.

For me that appears an impossible task, as I think back over this years sightings, its not been great.
Fox, Rabbit, Grey Squirrel, Brown Rat, Wood Mouse, House Mouse, Common Seal, Fallow Deer,  Water Vole and a single sighting of a Hedgehog.

If I recall my wildlife sightings in this country, its not very impressive with  just one live sighting of a Badger, a few sightings of Otter, Grey Seal, Red Deer and Pine Martin all from Scotland, Hare, Mountain Hare, Mole, Weasel, Stoat, Bank Vole, Common Lizard, Adder, Grass Snake, Smooth Snake, Toad, Common Frog, Marsh Frog, Common Newt and various unidentified Bat species.

 There are still many creatures missing from my wanted list, the Scottish Wildcat, the Polecat, creatures I'm pretty sure I'm never going to see.

So  when I discovered a zoological collection dedicated to British wildlife, namely the "British Wildlife Centre" in Surrey, not to far from where I live  I thought I would pay  a visit and check out some of these British wild animals.

Not sure how I would feel about seeing a Fox or Badger in an confined space, but no different than seeing a African Lion in a cage I suppose, I was pleasantly surprised, the enclosures are well designed with the animals welfare taken into consideration, all the animals looked in very good condition and behaving very naturally, the centre's main object is to educate the public, specializing in school visits encouraging children to appreciate and respect our native species.

 My first target came into view, the " Highland Tiger" or Scottish Wildcat, in my head  I was visualizing a thick coated, lip snarling, heavy set cat much larger than the domestic cat we are all familiar with.

I was slightly underwhelmed  by my first look at the Highland Tiger, shows how important it is to see wildlife in the flesh so to speak, to be fair these cats do get a thicker winter coat,  watching the cat move around the enclosure I certainly got  a feel for the cat, all the salient identification points could be picked out, the thick wavy stripes running down the forehead, thick black unbroken stripes on the body, black dorsal stripe ending at the base of the tail, thick blunt tipped tail with distinct black bands.

A short talk by one of the keepers explained how these cats remain unapproachable, cannot be domesticated, and very close to he brink of extinction, they do have a breeding program here and they hope to reintroduce some back to the highlands eventually, watching them chase around the enclosure after food morsels not hard to visualize them in there natural surroundings, certainly not the same thrill as seeing one in the wild, but at least I have seen one. maybe there is hope for a future sighting.

Indicator of the differences between a domestic cat and Wildcat

Most of my Stoat and Weasel sightings have been very fleeting affairs, so it was nice to watch the Stoat and weasel whizzing around there enclosures.

 A good look at the Polecat  was worthwhile and I hope to return sometime this winter to get some better photographs.

Polecat (Phone picture0

Weasel (phone picture)
Otters were very showy in an excellent natural looking enclosure, encompassing a small lake,complete with a Holt.


A great place to visit, with some very informative talks by the 'keepers', nice to see some of our country's more elusive creatures as well as the so called commoner species, observation areas to watch Badgers in their "Sett" and Otters in their " Holt" with plenty of  other photo opportunities,  the chance to watch Pine Martins, Red Squirrels in a walk through aviary type enclosure and some of our other more desirable rodents like the Harvest Mouse, Yellow necked Mouse, all animals difficult to catch up with.

Monday, 29 October 2018

Autumn Rut at Knole !

My wife loves a visit to a stately home, especially one looked after by the National Trust, I suggested Knole House in Sevenoaks, with an ulterior  motive in mind, a visit to this lovely stately home set in the grounds of one of Kent's last remaining deer parks, just so happens to coincide with the Fallow deer rut  which is in full swing at this time of the year, the opportunity to witness the Bucks "strutting there stuff" was too good to miss.

I have never witnessed this annual event, not for the want of trying, I have visited Richmond Park, home of  the more dramatic looking Red deer, I have heard the roar of the Red deer stag but that's as far as its gone, time to look at the Fallow deer.

So with the stately house visit out of the way, time to walk around the estate, we walked towards a wooded area where we could hear the roars and bellows of a Buck which sounded promising.

A short walk into the woodland and the Buck was there strutting around his hareem containing at least ten to fifteen does, another  buck appeared, a clash of antlers and the buck was on its way chased by the hareem owner. my first "rut action" was over in seconds and no camera to record the event.

 I decided to revisit the next day with my camera in the hope of capturing the event.

The weather was good, bright but chilly, I didn't arrive until midday and after making my way back to the woodland area we had visited the day before there didn't seem to be a lot happening, the buck was still guarding his hareem, but no other bucks decided to challenge him, all was very peaceful.

Fallow deer buck showing off his fine pair of palmated antlers.

I was surprised how well the spotted colouring of these fallow deer does, blends in well with the autumn leaf litter of the woodland floor.

I made my way back to the front of Knole house, and a rise at the back of the car park where I had seen a few Bucks resting under some Oak trees, unknown to me this rise is known as "Echo Mount" a notorious rutting stand, being one of the high points in the park.

I settled down on a fallen log under a nearby Oak tree, a good fifty yards away which I reckoned was a safe enough distance, I resigned myself to getting a few Buck portraits, there was a least four Bucks resting under the trees, with just one individual strutting around roaring and bellowing, the resting Bucks seemed content to let him get on with it.

Once again I thought I had missed the boat, that was until a female Doe appeared on the scene, probably attracted by the roars of the Buck, who proceeded to chase after her.

The resting Bucks sprung into action now that this Doe had arrived onto the scene, two of the Bucks started to parallel walk sizing each other up, it wasn't long before that inevitable clash occurred, what a sight, I couldn't believe it, right place, right time for a change.

Buck demonstating his "goosestep"

In the hour or so that I sat watching the "Stand" on Echo Mount I witnessed at least five clashes all initiated by the arrival of a female.

 This was the second clash.

The third Clash

The first three clashes all involved the same two Bucks, another Buck decided to take his chance.

The Fifth clash !

And to the victor goes the spoils !

One of my best wildlife experiences albeit in a deer park, the telephoto lens certainly came into its own today, and those that chose to ignore the warning signs and venture to close, take heed !