Sunday, 20 January 2019

Alpha Pool !

Alpha pool, one of the Cliffe pools complex is not the easiest pool to access, but the chance to see all five species of Grebe on one pool has been tempting me since early December 1918, two Red Necked Grebes were reported back in November 2018, then a number of Black Necked Grebes up to four at one point were reported near the end of November, a Slavonian Grebe from mid December 2018, Little Grebes and Great Crested Grebes are resident birds throughout the year.

Now January, all the Grebes still in attendance, it was now or never. I parked up at the Cliffe pool RSPB car park and began the long trek down to the Alpha pool, loaded up with optical equipment I walked down past Flamingo Pool, a quick scan revealed Tufted Duck, Pochard, Shelduck, Coot, Little grebe, Lapwing,  plenty of Redwing in the Hawthorn beside the track, always wary.

Near the end of the Flamingo pool I joined the Saxon Shore Way which leads round to Higham bight on the River Thames,  I decided to ignore the Sign warning walkers that the path was closed due to erosion, not sure how long that was there or how relevant, I'd also come to far to turn around, I fought my way through the overgrown Hawthorn and bramble beside the sea wall and headed towards the gravel works, the footpath still in good order.

Back on the Saxon shore way  I approached Cliffe fort passing the old "Brennan Torpedo Launch site" looking decidingly neglected,

Brennan Torpedo Launch 

Installed in the late 19th century, the Cliffe Fort torpedo installation is one of only seven that were built in England.

I believe the original idea was to protect the upper reaches of the thames from enemy vessels.

These torpedoes were designed to be steered with trailing wires to their target

Had a range of about 1000 yards, the thames is relatively narrow here.

Never used in anger. removed in 1905

Cliffe Fort
Cliffe Fort is one of 5 surviving coastal forts in the Thames and Medway; the others are Coalhouse, Garrison Point, Hoo and Darnet. All of these are Royal Commission Coastal Forts, built in the same period 1860-70, and are casemented coastal batteries, it's a shame it cant be restored, still quite impressive.

Back on the Saxon Shore way the path was showing signs of erosion but still passable, I walked on past the old wreck of the 'Hans Egard', a large merchant ship grounded here back in the fifties, although battered daily by the Thames tides, still an impressive wreck, built in Denmark the ship had three masts in its heyday

Wreck of the ' Hans Egard '

Top end of Alpha Pool was now in view, there used to be a Boat club here in years gone by, couldn't see any signs of that now. I set up my scope as there were quite a few waterfowl close by, Tufted Duck, Pochard, unbelievably a Red Necked Grebe almost the first bird seen, and then the second Red necked grebe swam close by. The birds were quite distant and I couldn't resist trying for a photograph for that record shot.

Red-Necked Grebe

A good start, I walked on midway down the length of the pool, I was confronted with another sign warning me of the presence of  'Adders' I decided to take heed of this sign even though they would all be hibernating at this time of the year.

I set my scope up and scanned the waters, Three Black-Necked Grebes came into view, quite distant and staying in very close company to each other, could'nt find the fourth.

Black-Necked Grebes

Little Grebes were all around the pool, two Great Crested Grebes just starting to come into breeding plumage were seen. thats four species of Grebe just the Slavonian to find now.

I moved further down the pool and scanned towards the gravel workings at the far end of the pool,
more Little Grebes, the Slavonian Grebe finally surfaced among the Little Grebes where it flew a short distance before settling down on the water. To far for a photograph, with the cold wind effecting my ability to hold the binoculars still, I decided to head back.

But five species of Grebe on one pool was well worth the trek.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Jeskyns Country Park.

 Waxwings are one of those Winter visitors that cause much excitement amongst wildlife watchers, a gorgeous bird to watch and try and photograph.

They have been in the country for some time this winter, mostly up north and the midlands.
Cold weather and the depletion of berry supplies up north gradually pushes them further down south.

Finally news that they have reached Kent, with a report of at least twenty Waxwings in our local Country Park at Jeskyns had me reaching for the bins and camera and scurrying off to scour the park.

I was not alone, quite a few other enthusiasts were also searching, news that just one had been seen at daybreak and no further sightings since was discouraging, more cold weather is on the way so I'm sure they will reappear somewhere in the area.

So with no sightings of any Waxwings I consoled myself with a nice sighting of a pair of Yellowhammers, a bird I don't see very often, these were feeding in the scrub around Henhurst Lake.

Yellowhammer at Jeskyns Country Park

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Friends Reunited !

My last blog page found me recapping the recent winter visitors to the garden and pear tree, I mentioned the fact that my tamed garden Robin known affectionately as my "little feathered friend" was conspicuous by his absence, the last time he fed from my hand was back in February 2018,  where once again he had managed to lure a female to his territory and looked like breeding once again in the Ivy nest box. but an inquisitive cat disturbed them, and I guess they found a new nesting site, he was not seen around the garden again, after this long absence I presumed that he may have died  or moved to a new territory.

A new Robin possibly a female, seen around the garden appears much shyer and  definitively not going to feed from my hand.

I felt quite sad really, I had built up a nice friendship with my previous Robin, dating back to March 2017, that's just under two years.

And so, as I was filling up the bird feeders in the greenhouse, I turned and came face to face with a Robin sitting on a plant bracket, about two feet from my face, surprisingly, he didn't fly off, could this be my little feathered friend, surely not,  I put  some mealworms in the palm  of my hand and tentatively reached out towards the Robin, to my surprise he flew down to my hand and took a mealworm, this was my friends reunited moment.

We now meet regularly at the greenhouse each morning, exchange a few meal worms before getting on with our daily routines.

The shyer Robin, which I'm guessing is a female and possibly a potential mate to my feathered friend watches close by in amazement, but as yet, not brave enough to feed from my hand. I usually place a few mealworms on an old feeding station and move back  a few steps, she will then fly down and feed on the mealworms

Time will tell if she will overcome her natural wariness.

What amazes me is the Robins obvious memory, now coming to my hand for feeding over the last twenty two months, with several periods of long absence in between.

I'm hoping they move back to the garden and breed again, we will see.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Service Due !

 Bird species around the Pear Tree in the garden are starting to increase now that the bleak winter months are here. Fortunately I have kept the feeders full, Goldfinch  visit every day on the Niger seed feeders, usally flying in to the top of the Pear tree, and then swooping down  to the feeders, as winter creeps on they move on to the sunflower feeders.

No Greenfinch have been seen in the garden so far this winter, and just the occasional female Chaffinch.

Blue Tit, Great Tit are regular as you would expect, nice to see the Long Tailed Tit flock moving through the gardens, occasionally lingering on the fat ball feeders.

Ring Necked Parakeets are more regular now in the winter months feeding on the peanut feeders, taking advantage of the odd apples I have been placing out for them.

Wood Pigeons have started to feed on the Ivy berries although they do not look quite ripe at the moment, and my first view of a wintering male Blackcap on the Ivy seen on the 17th December was nice to see.

My tamed Robin seems to have moved on or possibly died, although a new Robin has taken over the Pear tree territory, much shyer, will be interesting to see if this one can be hand fed.

Blackbirds seem quite numerous around the garden, Starlings House Sparrows and Collared Doves all visit the feeders regularly.

The immature Sparrowhawk continues to visit the garden, still hasn't made any successful kills or none that I have witnessed.

I saw him sheltering in the leeward side of the garden Laurel tree during a particularly heavy rain shower. As the storm passed and the Sun came out he flew to the Pear Tree, facing into the wind he spread his tail feathers and wings and appeared to be using the wind as hair dryer, perched for some time in this position, I could see the wind ruffling his feathers as they dried out.

Once content that feathers had dried out he proceeded to Preen, paying particular attention to the tail feathers and feet.

Usually the Sparrowhawks depart quite rapidly once they catch sight of you,  I know this one could see me as we made eye contact several times but he seemed secure enough to continue his feather servicing unperturbed by my presence. 

Although  the garden and feeders are firmly on the Sparrowhawks circuit, this hasn't deterred the 
birds visiting the garden, so far this winter.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Under Attack !

I tend to look at the House sparrows that visit my garden as my own personal little House Sparrow colony, in reality couldn't be further from the truth, no nesting anywhere near my house or the pear tree, but each day they come in ever increasing numbers.
 I know that they usally remain within a mile or so from where they were born, so they must be finding suitable breeding areas close by.

Pear Tree feeding station. with House Sparrows
I'm not alone in noticing this increased activity around the garden, it always amazes me as I watch them feeding,  how they can instantly on mass, dive for cover, its not always obvious what has spooked them, fortunately there is plenty of cover nearby, where they remain hidden waiting for one brave soul to venture back out on to the feeders, which usally encourages the remaining  birds to venture  out on to the feeders.

The local SparrowHawks appear to have the feeding station firmly on there radar, a juvenile male has been making regular incursions into the garden, varying his approach, to date he has been unsuccessful.
 I have seen him sitting in the Pear tree, in my mind studying the layout of the garden for his next attack.

This young male is quite east to identify, so I'm pretty sure its the same individual, unless there are a number of young males with white spots across there back in the local area. 

Caught sight of this adult male sitting on the fence the other day.its not looking good for the Sparrows they need to keep there wits about them.

I think he's spotted me watching him.

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.