Tuesday, 17 July 2018

NEWS FROM THE GARDEN



A lot of people have said that house martins seemed to arrive late this year. Ours were right on time and wasted no time in raising their first brood.


They left the nest under the eaves of the gable end of our house and spent a few scary moments hanging on for dear life and still begging for food every time the parent birds flew past.


Having found their wings they moved halfway up the roof where they stopped for a rest..


..before finally reaching the top. Last year we lost one at this point to the local sparrowhawk, but thankfully all went well this time and they were soon fully on the wing flying around the house with the adult birds. As far as I can tell the next brood is well on the way, they might even make three this year.


Nuthatches are great and we're lucky enough to see them in the garden almost every day. A couple of weeks ago there were at least four, a family group I think.


The parents bring the fledglings to the feeders to show them how it's done. Their cousins the great spotted woodpeckers did the same with their red crowned youngsters this year and they are still visiting but look more like adults now.

And finally, on sunday afternoon I had one of the best sightings i've ever had from the garden, when no less than four great white egrets flew over the house heading roughly north. A few years ago, a single great white would have sparked a significant twitch, such was their rarity in England. To have four flying over my house together is astonishing to say the least!

Saturday, 16 June 2018

OLD LODGE RESERVE - ASHDOWN FOREST

Green tiger beetle
 It was a bit chilly when I arrived at Old Lodge reserve in the Ashdown Forest on Wednesday 6th June. I made my way across the reserve to the first of the  small, peaty black ponds where I was hoping to see and photograph some dragonflies. I stopped for a while to snap this green tiger beetle which, like me was only too pleased to start feeling the warmth of the suns rays despite the still cool northerly breeze. I like these little beetles, they make a change from the usual black shiny ones we usually see. They fly too, although not usually too far, so you can usually track them down again when, like this one, they're a bit camera shy and keep buzzing off down the track.
I was disappointed to find the first two ponds almost devoid of dragons, just a few large red damselflies were willing to defy the coolness of the morning. 

Male Redstart
I headed off towards the last of the ponds but was distracted by this super male redstart who, together with the female, was busy catching insects to feed their demanding brood. I perched myself on a log at a respectable distance and spent a very pleasant half hour or so watching them and eventually worked out the location of their nest in a nearby tree. I didn't disturb them which is why the picture is a bit of a poor long distance shot.

Common Lizard
By now the temperature had risen nicely and this meant that the dragonflies were more active on the third pond. Four-spotted chasers, broad-bodied chasers, black-tailed skimmers and emperors were all on the wing, busily defending their territories and steadfastly refusing to stop for more than a second or two. The common lizard above though was more than happy to sit still, basking in the warmth of the sheltered undergrowth to the back of the pond.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly
There's a stream at the bottom of the valley in the middle of the reserve and I headed there in the hope of seeing a golden-ringed dragonfly, one of my favourites. I saw a couple there last year and watched one ovipositing into the stream. Unfortunately I didn't find one on this occasion, maybe a little bit early in the season. So here's a picture of one from last year.

Beautiful Demoiselle
The time spent  wasn't wasted though because I found this little beauty sheltering among the reeds that line this very pleasant little stream. It's a male beautiful demoiselle. A stunning cousin of the banded demoiselle and the first one i've seen on this site. What a stunner!

Wren
And finally. Just as I was photographing the beautiful demoiselle this wren popped out of the undergrowth and checked me out before flying off into a nearby tangle of low lying scrub. Clearly some very hungry mouths were waiting to be fed.



Thursday, 31 May 2018

NEW HYTHE AND GARDEN UPDATE

GRIZZLED SKIPPER
 It's been a good year for Grizzled Skippers. I usually only expect to see one or two of these tiny low flying butterflies each season but this year New Hythe has hosted very good numbers. Still no sightings of Dingy Skippers on site though. It's been some years since the last record and it would be interesting to know why this species doesn't or can't sustain a colony on what looks like a reasonable habitat for them.

GREEN-VEINED WHITE

My New Hythe butterfly list is faltering at the moment. Partly due I think to the vagaries of the English weather and partly down to time spent on site (or lack of) for various reasons. At the moment I have seen ten species including; Brimstone, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Comma, Red Admiral, Green-veined White, Speckled Wood, Common Blue, Orange Tip and Small White. Absent from this list is the Green Hairstreak. But I still have a chance to see one if I get my proverbial finger out!

 It's that time of the year when the birding goes quiet. Or at least it does at New Hythe. So it's eyes down now instead of up as the search for dragons and damsels begins, providing a fresh challenge and the chance to point the camera at something that sometimes even keeps still for a little while.

LARGE RED DAMSELFLY
The Large Red is the first damselfly to emerge and in no time at all they appear to be everywhere. We completed a small garden pond at home a few weeks ago and within a few days the reds arrived, paired up and began their familiar 'in tandem' ovipositing, which hopefully will lead to fresh emergence in the pond during Spring of 2020. 

HAIRY DRAGONFLY
The first of the dragonflies on the wing is the Hairy dragonfly. So called because it has a hairy thorax unlike other hawker species. The suggestion is that the hairs are to give extra warmth as their emergence time is early May and it can be quite cool. Sounds fair enough, but who knows. Funnily enough I found the individual above, fairly early on a cool morning and it was too cold to fly. I picked the nettle and took it to a sunnier spot, took an upside down shot and within a few minutes it was off like a rocket. I was lucky really, this species is not one to stop and pose, so are notoriously difficult to photograph.

BANDED DEMOISELLE
My dragons and damsels list for New Hythe this year is coming along slowly and is running pretty much true to form. The Banded Demoiselles are now on the wing along with Common Blue, Blue-tailed and Red-eyed damsels. There are probably Azure damselflies too but I haven't ID'd them as yet.

BLACK-TAILED SKIMMER
The dragonflies include this super, immature Black-tailed Skimmer which I found perched along the millstream, the aforementioned Hairy dragonfly, Downy Emeralds, Broad-bodied Chasers and a few Emperors. Best of the bunch though is the Scarce Chaser found by Glenn last weekend. This is only the third record for the site and although I saw one here last year it has eluded me so far this year.


DUNNOCK FLEDGLING

 Not much to say about the birds at the moment, my NH year list has stalled at 98 species with no new additions in recent weeks. Here's a new arrival at the site though in the shape of a very young Dunnock who decided to sit in the middle of the vehicle track along the side of Brooklands lake. After a bit of posing for the camera he returned to the safety of the undergrowth.

PAINTED LADY
At home, our House Martins have returned and are currently in situ and possibly on eggs. Hopefully we'll get a couple of broods this year. A couple of days ago we had a brief but welcome visit from our first Painted Lady of the season. Both of our nest boxes have been home to Blue Tit families this year despite the attempts by a marauding Great Spotted Woodpecker to break into one of the boxes. This morning a pair of Bullfinches perched on the back of one of our patio chairs just six feet from the house. They departed before I could get my camera but the male flew straight into our kitchen window. I feared for his life but five minutes later he was up in the cherry tree with his missus as if nothing had happened. Also today we were visited in the garden by a baby Rabbit. It looked very cute but it needs to stay away from Carol's vegetable plot or there may be trouble ahead......

FEMALE BLACKCAP

And finally. We don't usually get Blackcaps in the garden but this female paid a couple of visits this week with the sole intention of pinching our wall basket liner for her nest, presumably nearby. The twitter of tiny Blackcaps would be nice!

Sunday, 8 April 2018

BROWN HARES AT ELMLEY



We are just back from a weeks walking in the Alicante mountains in Spain. I couldn't decide whether to take my camera but in the end decided against it. Wise move. The hotel to hotel unguided walking was tough, sometimes very tough and there was no way I could have carried a heavy camera and lens. A couple of days I didn't even carry my binoculars with me. The odd thing was that I didn't really miss either of them. Sometimes it's nice to be unencumbered and to just see the wildlife and birds without worrying about getting the shot or seeing every small detail.


Anyway, here's a few pictures I took the last time I did take my camera out along the Elmley track on the Isle of Sheppey. Brown hares are not easy to find, most that i've seen were stumbled upon by accident when out walking and usually feature a clean pair of heels as they rocket away into the distance.


I actually saw four hares on this occasion. Three were some distance away. They lay motionless and, to the naked eye were just low mounds of earth in the middle of the field until viewed through binoculars. But this one was much closer and was preoccupied with feeding, scratching and generally lumbering around with that peculiar lanky gait that hares have when not in turbo mode.


It was late March, so I hoped I would see some of the 'boxing' action that these animals are so well known for. This is usually the female fending off the unwanted advances of an amorous male, not a 'may the best man win' battle between rival males that it's sometimes mistaken for. It didn't happen though, but I did enjoy watching this particular hare and not just seeing its heels.


Saturday, 24 March 2018

DUNGENESS BLUETHROAT 21ST MARCH 2018




 There have been a lot of pictures on the internet of a couple of bluethroats at Dungeness, which arrived recently courtesy of some strong easterly winds. 


I'm not an avid twitcher, but I'd never seen one before and sometimes i'll make the effort for a particularly nice bird. This male bluethroat is a particularly nice bird.


I arrived at Dengemarsh gully at about 10am and after negotiating what is laughingly referred to as a road (it's more like collateral damage from the adjacent MOD firing range), I walked along to the assembled crowd of fellow twitchers. For some reason I always feel uncomfortable in this situation, like a gatecrasher at a party. I always think they all know each other and are wondering who invited me. Maybe I should get some counselling.


Anyway, I was told that said bird popped out of the gorse bushes about every ten or fifteen minutes or so. I must say I do like reliable birds who think about their audience. So after about twenty five minutes, during which time I was entertained by more firecrests than i'd ever seen in one place, I was getting nervous (or twitchy) and thinking that maybe the bluethroat would turn into a wild goose.
I needn't have worried though, it soon made an appearance to the accompaniment of what sounded like machine gun fire from the aforementioned military range, but was actually all the cameras clicking in unison. 


Despite sometimes being referred to as a skulking species this bird appeared to be very comfortable with all the people (some of whom were getting much too close I think) and the noise of the cameras. 



Tuesday, 6 March 2018

NEW HYTHE LAKES 6TH MARCH 2018

CETTI'S WARBLER

It amazes me that small creatures manage to survive the type of cold spell recently delivered by the 'beast from the east'. But survive they do, or at least some of them do. Here's a survivor, a cetti's warbler who greeted me and Terry as we walked up the west side of Brooklands lake. Just a 'little brown job' you may think, but their ability to stay completely unseen (if not unheard) adds a little mystery to this particular LBJ and makes a sighting like this so much more memorable.


CETTI'S WARBLER


The western side of Brooklands lake isn't our usual route around New Hythe, but it's the quickest path to Abbey Mead lake where the previous day Glenn had found a black-necked grebe. This is a site tick for me so I did actually drive down on Sunday afternoon to see it, nervous that by Monday morning it might have departed, leaving me with the prospect of possibly another ten year wait for the next one at NH. I needn't have worried though as the grebe was still in situ albeit some distance away from the lake side and out of range for any pictures.

DUNLIN 

After watching the Black-necked Grebe on Abbey Mead we made our way to bucket wood to watch the river for a while. As soon as we arrived Terry picked up on a small wader in the shiny mud exposed by the low tide and this turned out to be a dunlin, another site tick for me and species number 73 for the year so far at NH. Sorry about the poor record shot, all the usual excuses apply!


FIELDFARE

And finally. Here's a long distance shot of a fieldfare, one of many at NH during the freezing weather. Make the most of them. Spring is on its way and the fieldfares and other winter visitors will very soon be on their way too.

Friday, 9 February 2018

NEW HYTHE LAKES 8TH FEB 2018


This winter is never ending. It seems longer than usual and colder than usual. Or maybe it's just my age. Still, February is well under way and spring is just around the corner.

At New Hythe lakes on Thursday a brief burst of ever so slightly warming sunshine showed off this local blue tit's  bright plumage as it posed, not for me, but for a prospective mate. They don't need a calendar to know there's light at the end of the tunnel.


Here's another clue to the impending spring. A black-headed gull, red of legs and bill and just beginning it's partial moult into the dark brown head that gives the lie to its name.

I arrived at bucket wood where the River Medway was at low tide. Apart from the usual teal and mallards I was lucky enough to see two common sandpipers, a green sandpiper, an oystercatcher, lapwings, a single redshank, an unusually brave water rail, a snipe, a grey wagtail and my first New Hythe kingfisher of the year.


At abbey mead lake I finally found the female scaup among the multitude of sleeping pochards, gadwalls, grebes, gulls and tufted ducks. There is another scaupy looking duck with a white saddle to its bill on this lake which tends to hang out with this one. I think it's a pochard/tuftie cross or something of that ilk. I hope the one in the distant shot above is the real McCoy, apologies if i'm wrong.

TUFTED DUCK
Several bullfinches were seen around the site as well as green woodpecker in the east scrub, they do really well here despite the ever present humans and dogs. There was a little egret fishing on streamside lake and the long staying goosander was, as usual, staying as far away as possible.

The last bird on my list was a chiffchaff in the wet wood at the car park end of the millstream and was my 47th species of the morning. This included five new ticks for my New Hythe year list which now stands at 69.


Friday, 12 January 2018

NEW HYTHE, NEW YEAR, NEW LIST

LITTLE GREBE ON THE MEDWAY AT NEW HYTHE


I'm not a great keeper of lists but I do like to keep a yearly patch list, the patch being New Hythe Lakes in Kent.

in 2017 I wasn't able to visit the lakes with the same frequency as I have in other years and this resulted in some slightly disappointing totals. This is how it all ended.

Birds            99  Species Including, bittern, little ringed plover, red kite, waxwing, raven, goosander and scaup.

Butterflies   17  Species Including, clouded yellow, brown argus, painted lady and brimstone.

Dragonflies 12 Species  Including, broad-bodied chaser, downy emerald, scarce chaser and southern hawker.

Damselflies 8   Species  Including, small red-eyed and willow emerald.

I'm sure that 2018 will be better, particularly for the birds. It's off to a cracking start with 59 species in the bag so far including a surprise Hawfinch this morning, a super bird and a New Hythe patch tick as well.
Also worthy of mention today were; common sandpiper on the river from bucket wood and scaup and wigeon on Abbey Mead lake.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

A FEW SPRINGY BITS



 It's a sure sign of Spring when the male Long-tailed Tits start sporting impressive moustaches to try and attract a mate.
 


 The Brimstone butterfly above and the Speckled Wood below are two species that are on the wing in early Spring and right through until Autumn. Brimstones overwinter in the adult form but the Speckled Wood will survive the cold months as either caterpillar or chrysalis. The first ones seen in early Spring are usually from chrysalis I think.





The Bee-fly, or Dark-edged Bee-fly, is another harbinger of Spring, appearing usually in March when temperatures begin to rise. I'm always pleased to see these fascinating and slightly fearsome little beasts. They're harmless to us, but their larvae are parasitoids to mining bee larvae.


I know foxes aren't a sign of Spring but I do like to see them and their cubs are born in the Spring. This one was in Bucket Wood at New Hythe and was unperturbed by my close proximity. I expect urban foxes to be a bit fearless of humans but this one i'm sure is more of a country fox.



Sedge Warblers have arrived back from their migration and can be heard and seen in many areas now, although I've not seen one at New Hythe yet this Spring. This one was one of many at RSPB Dungeness this week. 



Also at Dungeness were the resident Cetti's Warblers who were in fine song and were, unusually, happy to pose briefly.




Finally, this Great Crested Grebe was feeding on one of the smaller lakes at Dungeness where a shoal of fish had sought refuge under the overhanging branches and submerged roots of trees on a small island. It was so preoccupied with this food bonanza that it didn't seem to notice me. Once again, this isn't a sign of Spring, but looking so spectacular at this time of year in their breeding plumage and so often overlooked I thought it deserved a mention.


Saturday, 25 February 2017

IT'S AN ILL WIND...........


 Thursday was Doris day. Not the singer, the storm. Maybe it was the storm that bought this stunning male Green Woodpecker into the shelter of my front garden.


 We do get the occasional garden visit from these birds but generally we hear them in the surrounding orchards and paddocks rather than see them.


This chap must have found an ant's nest I think. He stayed for at least half an hour and spent most of the time with his beak in the grass.....


..... surfacing every second or so to check for the local Sparrowhawk, and for me.


I've lost count of the times i've tried to get close enough to one to get a half decent picture, they always see me coming. 


But i'll settle for these despite being behind glass. Thankfully the window cleaner came a couple of days earlier.


After filling up on ants, he sat for a while looking quite relaxed and I got on with the decorating.