Saturday, 30 January 2016

Winter Sunshine at Rainham !

The weather forecasters predicted a fine sunny day, and so it was, a short journey through the Dartford tunnel  and I found myself at Rainham RSPB,  unfortunately everyone else had the same idea, I think I'm getting anti-social in my old age.

There was a 'mixed bag' of birds on show today, the walk through the woodlands produced good numbers of Redwings on show again but still quite  camera shy.

The feeding station on the edge of the woodland was still attracting a good variety of birds, I sat quietly on the bench there for a while and watched, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Robin, Dunnock, Blackbird and a few Reed Buntings. This male has nearly moulted into full breeding plumage.

Male reed Bunting
As I approached the reed beds a Cetti's warbler flew out in front of me, too  quick for the camera, in fact a further two sightings of this elusive bird, my usual encounter with this warbler is a sudden burst of song from deep in the undergrowth.

A Wren decided to perch out in the open and burst into its song allowing me to get a couple of photographs, not so camera shy this one, this is one of my favourite photographs of this bird .

A quick look at the Dartford warbler winter territory revealed a couple of flight views as it flew low across the rough grassland hiding in the scattered bushes there, another rubbish record photograph.

Dartford warbler
A quick look out from the Ken Barrett hide revealed just a few waterfowl, Teal, Shoveller, Wigeon, Coot, and a few Snipe on the edge of the reeds.

The walk along the northern trail did not reveal too much, a distant Marsh Harrier hunting on the far side of the marsh.
Lots of birds out on Wennington Marshes but always distant, another male Marsh Harrier seen quartering the distant reed beds, a Little Egret flew overhead.

Little Egret.
Out on the marshes I could make out huge numbers of Lapwings, a few Golden Plovers, Greylag Geese, Canada Geese, Heron.

Lapwing, Golden Plover and Starling.
The walk through the Dragonfly pools did not reveal any Bearded Tits or anything else of interest until I reached the shooting butts where one of the Kestrels was resting on a ledge.


A look in the MDZ hide to see if the Kingfishers were around was successful, seeing one very fast fly by, and a second view as  the Kingfisher hovered very close to the hide window with a small stickleback in its beak before disappearing under the hide.

The Counterwall hide provided a short flight view of a Fieldfare, more waterfowl in the form of Shoveller, Wigeon, Teal, Moorhen. and a few Lapwing bathing in front of the hide.

"Bathing Lapwing"

As you can see, a wide variety of birds seen here at Rainham RSPB, coupled with a nice walk through the marshes in glorious sunshine.

Friday, 22 January 2016

" The Traveller through the Fields "

In winters past I would see so many winter thrushes that I have become a bit blase about their presence, it's not until you start to notice their absence that you begin to appreciate them, and thats how its been for me this winter.

 Since their arrival to our shores from their  Scandinavian homelands back in October last year, our paths have not crossed. and only as recently as a few days ago, have I encounter my first large flock of Fieldfares, my attention drawn by their distinctive calls as they flew high over my local patch at Ashenbank Woods.

Probably more common up north in the early part of winter, they gradually spread southwards before they leave us in spring. possibly explaining why I am seeing them now, together with the cold weather we have been experiencing of late.

  " The Traveller through the Fields "  the Olde Anglo-Saxon meaning for the Feldefare or Fieldfare as we know it, appears very apt for this nomadic bird.

And this is exactly where my first real close encounter with this lovely winter Thrush occurred this year.

 Passing through some old sheep pasture at Capel Fleet in the car, there they were, a huge flock of hundred or so Fieldfare, hunting for worms I should imagine, wouldn't have thought there would be any other invertebrates around to feed on at this time of year.

I pulled up alongside the field, unfortunately disturbing the birds as I did so, (rubbish fieldcraft) apparently when foraging on the ground, the flock works its way upwind, individual birds often pausing  to stand upright and gaze around before resuming feeding, when alarmed they fly off down wind and the flock reforms, before the whole process starts again.

When seen in a tree or hedge you will probably notice that they all face the same direction into the wind.

Luckily for me these did not fly to a hedge or tree, but returned to the field.

For a change I was in the right position, the birds gradually made their way back to where I was waiting, allowing me to get some images.

The male and female are very similar in appearance, my field guide says that the male is slightly larger, and the female's plumage not so well defined, to be honest, I could not distinguish one from the other.

Another interesting fact that I did not realise, unusually for Thrushes the Fieldfare is quite a social bird and nests in loose colonies back on their breeding grounds, they can also be quite defensive of their nest sites, and similar to Terns bombard intruders with their faeces,

Some snow on the ground would have been nice, to give a wintery impression , but then I suppose they might not have been feeding in the short grass, and I wouldn't have seen them.

No Redwings with this flock.

Hope our paths cross again before they leave in spring.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Rainham RSPB - Cold winter's day!

It was one of those days, bright sunshine, but bitterly cold, I was wearing so many layers I could hardly move, but a couple of circuits of Rainham Marshes made you feel good to be alive and one with nature.
Winter Thrush sightings for me have up to now been non-existent, today was different the woodland just before you enter the marshes was alive with Redwings, I have never realised how wary they are though, it seemed that as soon as eye contact was made they were off, even when flying above you they would veer away as if some unseen arm was reaching up for them.
I managed to get a couple of distant images to record the sighting though.


No sign for me of any Fieldfare though.

At the Woodland feeding station, the expected birds were on view, Great Tit, Blue Tit and Dunnock were feeding in good numbers.
The Dunnock a surprisingly good looking bird when the light is shining in the right direction and you can see the detail in its plumage.

Great Tit
Blue Tit
A few Reed Bunting were feeding under the feeders, you can see how well their plumage camouflages them when feeding in this type of reedbed environment 

Female Reed Bunting
A preening Moorhen under the feeder was shocked when our eyes met and realised it was being watched,  it soon took fright and disappeared into the Reedbed.

There were good numbers of Long Tailed Tits feeding in the willows along the trail, never still though.
Long Tailed Tit

A small warbler was seen flitting about the tree in the company of the Long Tailed Tits, a Chiffchaff, I was hoping it might be the Siberian Chiffchaff that has been reported lately, but no, this looks like the European Chiffchaff, albeit a very cold one, all fluffed up.


As I approached the Dartford Warbler site I could see a few people looking for the warbler, as I got closer I was beckoned by one of the observers as the Warbler was showing, but I only saw the tail feathers as it went to ground and disappeared. After a long wait, the observers began to slip away, the bitter cold taking its toll. I gave myself another five minutes before I was going to walk on, luck was with me, the Dartford Warbler flew into view with its two accompanying Stonechats and alighted on a bramble patch, as before, the sun was directly behind it, and the photographs taken were no more than silhouettes,  so once again rubbish photographs that you can just about make out that it's a Dartford Warbler.

Dartford Warbler
Dartford Warbler and Stonechat
The walk around the marshes did not reveal much else, all the usual wildfowl, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Shoveller and Pintail could be seen, Canada Geese and a few Greylags with them.
A fine looking Male Marsh Harrier  was quartering the marshes putting up the hidden Lapwing and wildfowl every now and then, but the hoped for Short Eared Owls did not show for me.

A single Curlew could be seen out on the marsh probing the grass.

A good excuse to return, before winter turns to spring and the Owls leave us, along with the Dartford Warbler most likely.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Amazing Thailand ( Chiang Mai )

Chiang Mai Province is situated in the northern part of Thailand, a relatively short flight from Bangkok airport, just over 70 mins flying time. we were booked into a traditionally styled Thai hotel called Khum Phayer Resort, on the outskirts of Chiang Mai city.

The hotel boasts that the architectural style of the buildings and the landscaped gardens are influenced by the old Lanna kingdom of Northern Thailand dating back to the 13th century,certainly felt authentic and the gardens were beautiful, with many exotic plants and trees surrounding the residential buildings and pool.

Khum Phayer hotel entrance
Almost my first encounter here with the natural world,  was the ubiquitous Common Mynah bird. sometimes referred to as the Indian Mynah. interesting to see that some of the mynahs had been ringed

Common Mynah Bird
Another fairly common bird seen, was the Spotted Dove, and as doves go, quite an attractive looking bird. You can see a theme materialising here, most of the birds I was seeing were of the common variety, but when you do not see them as often as we do in England, a nice bird to see.

Spotted Dove
As I mentioned before, the pool area was pretty spectacular with the overhanging trees  and plants.

The reason I placed this photo of the pool area was to show a new Bee sighting for me. some of the trees overhanging the pool were home to this huge, black and magnificent looking Bee,
The Carpenter  bee, Xylocopa tenuiscapa, again appeared quite common and certainly grabbed your attention as they buzzed  past your eye line. much larger than our 'Buff tailed Bumblebee'.
Carpenter  bee, Xylocopa tenuiscapa,

As always in these warmer countries Gecko's crept out every evening, hunting down the insects of the night, always fascinating to watch and remarkably quick when they want to be. I am not that familiar with these ,but I believe this may be another common species of House Gecko called a Flat-tailed.

Flat-Tailed House Gecko
Whenever possible I took the opportunity to explore the gardens for wildlife, there were a number of water features around the gardens including this impressive waterfall.
In the past I have tried unsuccessfully to get an image of a waterfall using a slow shutter speed to get that silky water effect, this was my best effort and just about managed the silky effect I was after.

Magpie Robin

I thought this was some sort of Wagtail at first sight, but a quick check through my field guide revealed a Magpie Robin, and yes another fairly common sighting.

I noticed a small flock of birds fly in to the trees next to this fountain, they then proceeded to fly through the fountain, using it as a form of shower to bathe, they then perched in the trees to preen.
Quite a non-descript looking bird really about the size of a grey looking Blackbird, these turned out to be, I think the Grey-eyed Bulbul, (common)

Grey-Eyed Bulbul

Two types of Squirrel were seen, one the size of  our grey Squirrel but a red/grey in colour unidentified, the other easier to identify, I think was the Himalayan Striped Squirrel or the Western Striped Squirrel, not easy to photograph with the standard lens on the camera, and very restless in the trees,probably common.

A few other birds seen around the grounds which remained unidentified can be seen below. a warbler type bird that remained high up in the trees, and a large pigeon again high in the trees with the sun behind it.

With the help of my trusty field guide, I narrowed this one down to the  Black collared Starling, horrible photograph, just a record for me.

This one slightly easier, a member of the 'Cuckoo family' I believe is the Asian Koel, again remained high in the tree tops.

Asian Koel

A few more insect sightings, including this spider known as the Saint Andrews Cross Spider, named because of the way they hold there legs in the shape of a cross, looked similar to the wasp spider seen at Rainham earlier this year, this one appeared to have four Stabilimentum in the web.

Lots of butterflies 'flitting' around but very difficult to get close to  for a photograph, I did manage a couple of images but once again these are all very common species, but nice to see.

Lots of these Dragonflies around the water features, called Ditch Jewel the males are bright red a little like our Common Darters , this was the female the only one that came in range of my camera.

One of the main reasons for travelling up to Chiang Mai, apart from seeing a beautiful part of the country, was the fact that there are lots of opportunities to interact with elephants on the various Elephant camps, something my wife was keen to do.
Like most tourist attractions there are good and bad, we did not want to go anywhere  where there was any talk of mistreatment.
Fortunately for us, our friend and guide suggested an elephant rehabilitation centre called Kaeng Kued Elephant Camp. a great place to visit where they obviously love there Elephants.

So these next photographs are dedicated to my wife, dressed appropriately in a 'mahout' outfit
  - feel the love 

We also took the opportunity to visit 'Tiger Kingdom' , another opportunity for my wife to get up close and personal with another of her great loves, although these were a lot bigger than usual.

The proceeds from tourism allows Tiger Kingdom to increase the tiger population through captive breeding apparently.

A slightly surreal situation which makes me shudder when I look back at the photographs.

We met some lovely people here in North Thailand, some new experiences and a great place to visit.
Some more birdwatching at the airport while waiting for the next stage of our journey.
Great Billed Heron seen very similar to our grey heron but larger and darker, Great white Heron, Little Egret, and several Indian Pond Herons seen around the drainage ditches, many hirundines which I could not identify.

Our Journey continues to Southern Thailand for some relaxation in Krabi, to be continued.