Sunday, 30 November 2014

Looking for Raptors!

Isle of Sheppey can be quite good for Raptors, especially in the winter months, getting close enough for a photographic opportunity is another matter.

There have been reports of a Hen Harrier, including the impressive male which is always nice to see, around the Capel fleet and Shellness areas.

Marsh Harriers are quite common here, Buzzard numbers seemed to have built up over the last few years, and occasionally the Rough Legged Buzzard has wintered on these marshes,
 although no reports from here at the moment.

Peregrine, Merlin and Kestrel can all be seen.

 Short Eared Owl can be seen quartering the marshes usually late in the afternoon, and theres always a chance of Barn Owl, Little Owl and Long Eared Owl around Elmley.

So in an optimistic mood, I set off down the track heading for the Spithead hide where I hoped to view the surrounding marshes around Windmill creek.

My first encounter was with a fine Peregrine falcon which decided to make a sortie over a flock of Brent Geese causing mayhem and panic, one poor bird was picked out for a half hearted chase, luckily the Peregrine appeared only to be toying with them, and disappeared over the fields.

I spent a few hours in the hide scanning the marshes hoping to see the Hen Harriers, but no luck here, plenty of Marsh Harriers which are always nice to watch as they systematically search for a meal over the marshes,

This was the only one that came close enough for a photo attempt.

The walk back to Kingshill farm did not produce any other raptor sightings, including Owls.
So it was off to Capel Fleet to try there.

Still plenty of Kestrels along the road through Capel Fleet.

There were a few Buzzards seen in the distance, 
but nothing came close.
Finally caught a fleeting glimpse of Hen Harrier or Ringtail as they are known, just past the Raptor viewpoint.
 I decided to wait around to see if it would return, and as luck would have it, there it was, but it never came close enough for a good photo, just some dodgy record shots.

This cropped photograph above shows how worn the tail feathers were, strangely had no effect on its maneuverability as it hunted over the fields.
No sign of the male Hen Harrier this time, hopefully catch up with it before the end of winter.
the photograph below was the last time I saw one, a fleeting rear view.

So with the light fading fast, one final look along the road at Capel fleet finally revealed the
 Short Eared Owl that I was hoping to see.

Something special about Owls, always nice to see.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Sheppey Roadside Birding !

Spent some time down on the Isle of Sheppey, on this first trip, time was short so much of the time was spent in the car, some lazy birding, but a few photographic opportunities were found.

A quick look out at sea from Leysdown did not reveal much, the tide was in, a few Black Headed Gulls were loafing on the groynes.

I moved on to Capel Fleet hoping to see a few Raptors, 
 passing Capel Fleet, an impressive flock of Coot could be seen,  seems strange seeing these birds congregating in such large numbers, when they spend so much time, during the rest of the year being extremely territorial and aggressive to each other.
There were approx two hundred Coot here.

Some distant Marsh Harriers could be seen quartering the reed beds but too distant for the camera.
There did seem to be quite a few Kestrels along the road, most seemed to be females.

There were plenty of Red Legged Partridge around,
 but no sign of any Grey Partridge, to be fair I think I have only ever seen this species at Elmley and not to often these days, as it seems to becoming scarce bird to see.

Finally this Stonechat flew up and posed on a roadside Hawthorn tree and posed for a quick photograph.

A drive down the track to Kingshill farm at Elmley did not reveal much, except for Lapwings, Starlings and a few Rooks.

As I made my way back down the track this Grey Heron was fishing in one of the dykes completely undisturbed by my presence, one of the advantages of birding from the car.

Lazy birding, but amazing what you can see from the roadside.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Dartmoor - Running waters !

A short break to Devon gave me the opportunity to search for one of my favorite birds. 
The White-throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus), also known as the European Dipper or just Dipper.

We were staying in a newly converted barn on a farm on the edge of Dartmoor, highly recommended, and very comfortable and a perfect base for exploring Dartmoor and the surrounding area of Devon.

Our first trip out took us to Lydford Gorge, a beautiful natural walk, which follows the River Lyd through one of the deepest gorges in the country, complete with a thirty metre high waterfall known as the 'White Lady'

Plenty of woodland birds seen, including Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Great Tit, This is where I caught sight of my first dipper, a very fleeting sighting, but demonstrated its characteristic whirling wings as it flew up stream not to be seen again.

But a more confiding Grey wagtail that was accompanying the Dipper remained, giving me some nice photo opportunities.

I have always thought that the bright yellow colouring was a bit conspicuous, but you can see in these photographs how the bird blends in with its natural surroundings, especially the yellow leaves that litter the undergrowth along the banks of the stream. 
 The breeding male has a black throat that is edged by whitish moustachial-stripes.
A few years ago during a particularly hard winter, one of these was seen in our garden, foraging for food around my old fish pond that was being enlarged at the time.

The next opportunity that presented itself was another beautiful walk from Castle Drogo to Fingle Bridge. 
It wasn't long before I spotted another Dipper, and this time I managed to get some photographs showing it off in its natural surroundings.

The white-throated dipper is closely associated with swiftly running rivers and streams or the lakes into which these fall. It often perches bobbing spasmodically with its short tail uplifted on the rocks round which the water swirls and tumbles.

It acquired its name from these sudden dips, not from its diving habit, though it dives as well as walks into the water.

On our final day in Devon , we took our dog for walk in a provincial park called Simmonds park in Okehampton before we made the long drive home.
This park is bordered by a lovely river  running along its boundary called the East Okement River, unbelievably there was another Dipper, it was a fast flowing river very typical habitat, very approachable, but no camera with me, how annoying is that.

Plenty of Buzzards and the occasional Red Kite were seen along with two sightings of a Raven, quite a few flocks of Redwings also seen.

The moors were disappointing, completely enshrouded in a thick mist, making visibility very poor, quite easy to understand how people get lost on the moors though.

Very enjoyable break in Devon, which included some nice coastal walks around North Devon coastline near Tintagel and Sandymouth.