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.

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.