Saturday, 17 March 2012


It's been a busy few days. On wednesday Carol and I took advantage of the Spring like weather and did a long walk from Shoreham, notable for its first world war, white memorial cross on the chalk hills above the village. From the footpath above the cross we stood and watched as a pair of very noisy Ring-necked Parakeets swooped around in the trees below. The arrival of a Sparrowhawk a moment later was the probable cause of their excitement, although anyone who has been near these birds probably knows that they don't usually need the threat of a raptor to get them squawking.

The walk crosses the downs and passes very close to the Eagle Heights wildlife park and bird of prey centre. On previous walks we have been entertained by various eagles flying over our heads during the centre's raptor displays. This must sometimes raise the excitement levels of anybody in the area with a birding interest if they are unaware of Eagle Heights' presence. Today though the avian interest was from one of several pairs of Buzzards seen throughout the walk, whose evocative calls alerted us to their presence as they circled each other like hesitant fighters before coming together, briefly locking talons, breaking away again and resuming their upward spiral. If only i'd taken my camera.

We continued on past Lullingstone Castle, one of the country's oldest family estates and home of the World Garden, before joining the path alongside the fast flowing, Chub laden, River Darent. There's a lovely twelve acre Trout fishing lake adjacent to the river, it's private and there's no access unless you are a member of the fishing club but it looked like the sort of hidden away lake that could turn up some interesting birds during the winter months. We could only see Coots and Great Crested Grebes from the bench where we had our lunch but a Kingfisher zipping along the river, a very smart Grey Wagtail and a Grey Squirrel who insisted on sitting on a branch directly overhead and dropping twiglets in our lunchbox, gave us some entertainment, not to mention the Chub.

The final stretch took us through flat fields in the Darent valley, where in the afternoon sun, we were accompanied by hovering Skylarks, their liquid song more reminiscent of high summer than mid March and we watched another pair of Buzzards who circled together before landing in the top of a bare tree.

On thursday Marianne Taylor and I visited Dungeness. These are the highlights of a very pleasant day, but for a more comprehensive account and a visit to 'The Wild Side' just click on her name.

The Tree Sparrows at Boulderwall farm as you enter the reserve didn't play ball, refusing point blank to come close enough for a decent picture. The one above is the best I got. We failed to find the Long-tailed Duck which was supposed to be on Burrowes pit, but to be fair the low sun and even lower haze made scanning for a single bird on a large lake quite difficult. I settled for the inshore water where Gadwall below, a single Redshank and a couple of Ringed Plovers were seen.

I thought we might stand a chance of seeing a Common Lizard or two as the sun was shining quite nicely, but a cool breeze put paid to that. Some reptiles were out and about though, as we found out when Marianne spotted some movement in a thick piece of bramble patch, which turned out to be a ball of Grass snakes, the like of which i'd never seen before. It was difficult to work out how many there were but I saw at least three tails gliding away into the depths of the brambles as they spotted us peering in. In all honesty I think there may have been more than three but we'll never know. I confessed to being baffled as to what this was all about but Marianne suggested that maybe they had just emerged into the daylight and were keeping warm, sounds pretty likely to me.
I really hoped that we would see the first hirundine of the year but it didn't happen, we did see plenty of Marsh Harriers though and one or two were quite vocal, not something I hear very often.
A nice little flock of Golden Plovers flew over as we approached Denge Marsh hide and from the inside we had a brief and distant glimpse of a Gt White Egret. There was the usual assortment of wildfowl and a string of a dozen or so Little Grebes who ducked and dived their way across the far side of the lake. All this to the accompaniment of the loud crump of exploding artillery shells and the whizz of ricochetting machine gun bullets as a full scale battle ensued on the nearby army firing ranges. I believe I may have ducked and dived a couple of times myself.

We drove down to Dungeness beach in the hope of hooking up with the long staying Glaucous Gull which neither of us had managed to see before. And we still haven't. So it was on to the Dungeness Observatory and a walk around the moat. We had almost gone full circle when we finally found a bird, a handsome Black Redstart which Marianne spotted on a fence post, two Meadow Pipits completed the round.

The picture above is a Pike, or two, or three, who were busy spawning in the shallows, with others, just in front of the viewing screen on the ARC site. They were constantly swirling on the surface together and swimming right into the reeds at the very edge of the lake, I wish we could have looked directly down on what was an utterly fascinating event which i've not seen very often, despite being a fisherman on and off for best part of fifty years. I was so taken with the scene that I forgot to look at the birds!

I paid more attention as finally, we made our way down the track to the Hanson hide, getting a bonus look at a slightly less shy than usual Cetti's Warbler which flew up into a small bush before taking a bold flight across the track in front of us. Best birds from the curiously empty hide were a male and female Goldeneye. Thankfully they came within half decent range of my increasingly inadequate 70-300mm lens and I was able to get a shot of the male, below.

Trouble is, as Goldeneye watchers will know, when they are in feeding mode they don't stay on the surface for more than a second or two..........

..............before this happens!

On friday I was at Stodmarsh where I saw the two Glossy Ibis, one of which is silhoutted above. But that's another story.


Marianne said...

How kind of you not to mention my Chaffinch/Chiffchaff incident! (I meant to say something about it in my blog but forgot...) Great account, it was a fab day despite not connecting with some of the birds.

Ken. said...

Where do I start, what a busy few days you have had. Good to see the weather was nice for you and Carol on your walk.As it happens Pam and I went to Eagle Heights last year and we had a pleasant day, nice to get so close to birds of prey, good for practising photography.
Then comes your day at Dunge with Marianne. You 2 certainly left no stone unturned, it is often nice to see other creatures apart from birds.
Better luck with the Glaucous Gull next time.
Well done with the Ibis at Stodmarsh again.

Marc Heath said...

Love the Ibis shots, one of the few species that probably look better in silhouette than in the light.

ShySongbird said...

Two very pleasant outings there Phil. I think you will find the 'ball' of snakes was snakes doing what comes naturally...mating! ;-)

Lovely pic of the Goldeneye, very striking birds I think.

Well done with the Glossy Ibis sightings, there was one seen briefly at Draycote last Sunday, needless to say I wasn't there to see it!

Greenie said...

Phil ,
Great read and shots .
I must agree with ShySongbird re. the Grass Snakes . I've heard of several sightings this year , but none for me yet .
Agree with Marc too regarding the Glossy Ibis , a species that I have never seen .

Phil said...


I'm far too much of a gent to do that! Anyway, i'm way ahead of you in the faux pas league.


Thanks, not sure i'd know the Glaucous if it perched on my shoulder anyway.


Thanks, if only i'd meant it to be a silhouette!


Do you know it never even occurred to me that the Grass snakes were mating. Such inocence!


Nice to get something before you for a change :-)