Wednesday 8 March 2023


I paid a long overdue visit to Elmley NNR last week. I took a leisurely drive along the two mile long entrance track giving a chance to see and photograph the wealth of lapwings which feed and breed on the marshes.
Redshanks were also plentiful but harder to photograph as they fed non stop, pausing only briefly to lift their head to check for danger. The biggest danger to them is from the many raptors present on this site. Marsh harriers were everywhere on this particular day, along with buzzards, sparrowhawks, kestrels and even the diminutive merlin who spend their time terrorising the flocks of starlings and the skylarks. There was no sign of short eared owls from the car park area so, despite the bitter wind I decided to walk down to the first hides, about a mile or so down the track. There were many wigeon, shelduck, gadwall and various other water fowl on the scrapes and hundreds of greylags all across the marsh. I also spotted a small flock of godwits (black-tailed I think) feeding not too far from the track and managed a quick picture, below.
Unfortunately there was nothing to see on the scrapes in front of the hides so I returned to the car park, accompanied for a few yards by a hare, which burst unexpectedly from the undergrowth and ran ahead of me for a short while before disappearing into the long grass as suddenly as it had appeared.
While driving back along the entrance track I noticed this common snipe hunkered down out of the wind alongside a small pool of water, its cryptic plumage rendering it almost invisible to all but the sharpest of eyes. Little grebes are plentiful at Elmley but being so small and wary are often difficult to photograph. So I was pleased to spot one diving repeatedly in the reed lined margins, quite unconcerned by my presence. It soon managed to catch a perch which it eventually subdued enough to swallow, spines and all, before resuming its search for more prey.

Monday 13 February 2023


It's been several years since I posted on my blog so i'm looking forward to hopefully picking up where i left off. The new birding year started for me on 2nd January at New Hythe lakes. It wasn't an auspicious start with a disappointing 38 species seen. Goldcrest and bullfinch were probably the highlights among the usual suspects like the redwing above. It's fair to say i think, that it's been a disappointing winter at New Hythe with a single juvenile goldeneye on Alders big lake being the only decent winter visiting duck so far. Although a smattering of firecrests and the first bittern seen on site for about six years have helped maintain some interest. Last week saw the return of oystercatchers on the tidal Medway, seen from our viewpoint at Bucket Wood along with redshank, kingfisher, several snipe and visits from the common seal which has been entertaining the regular watchers for several years now. Two mediterranean gulls over Abbey Mead lake were an unexpected surprise as well last week and this morning a red kite drifting high over the sunken marsh brought my total species for NH so far this year to 58.

Sunday 20 January 2019



In my last post I mentioned the large influx of Snipe along the river at Bucket Wood. Here's a picture of some of the thirty or so birds that I could see at the time. I subsequently heard a report of somebody else seeing approximately fifty fly from the river at high tide the following day. I do wonder if these might be birds that were heading West away from the heavy snow across much of Europe at the time.


I managed to locate the long staying Ring-necked Duck on Abbey Mead lake on 14th January. As ever it stayed well out of range for a decent picture so this one will have to suffice for now. This bird has been around since Glenn found it on 19th December, long may it last. I bumped into Alan Roman on the same day and while we watched in vain for the Hen Harrier to reappear we were treated to a fly past from a Marsh Harrier. This was my 66th species at New Hythe this year and was soon followed by a sighting of a Water Rail (67th) in the NW corner of the sunken marsh.


New Hythe called once again on 18th January. Once again I found myself at Bucket Wood and once again I failed to find the Hen Harrier. I haven't heard any reports of it now since about 12th January. I hope I get to see it again but if not, well, it was great while it lasted.

My morning wasn't all unproductive though because around midday as the tide was falling, I spotted a huge bow wave travelling fast along the side of the reedbed upstream from the wood. I knew straight away that it was a Common Seal chasing fish. I watched it patrol along the same stretch a few times before surfacing with a decent sized Flounder.

Luckily it decided to eat it there and then and although fairly distant I was able to get a few pictures while hiding behind the reeds. They're easily spooked and if they see you they dive and disappear downstream. Last time I saw this happen I was with Terry Laws when a seal caught a large Mullet just opposite Bucket Wood. I hadn't got my camera with me that day. Terry had. I wasn't happy.


Also on the river that day were three Redshank, two Green Sandpipers, Water Rail and lots of Snipe and Teal.


Saturday 12 January 2019


The new year has started well at New Hythe with Hen Harrier, Ring-necked Duck and Goldeneye all making it onto the 2019 day list of 51 species recorded on January 1st. Other nice birds included Kingfisher, Little Grebe, Snipe, Goldcrest, Siskin and Bullfinch. Although not a huge total I don't think this is too bad for a single inland site in the middle of winter.

My list has now reached 65 species, the  most notable addition being a female Goosander which has been commuting between Alders big lake and the motorway lake in recent weeks. Treecreeper, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Little Egret and Grey Wagtail have also been added. On January 8th two Peregrine Falcons flew over bucket wood while Terry and I were on duty there. We also recorded at least five Buzzards, Kestrel, Common Sand and c.100 Lapwings, a huge flock by New Hythe standards.

I visited New Hythe for a couple of hours this morning and to my surprise the Hen Harrier appeared once again. As usual following the river from the south, crossing the Sunken Marsh and flying low over the large reedbed on the east side of the Medway. The other surprise was circa 30 Snipe along the muddy banks of the river exposed by a very low tide. We don't usually see more than half a dozen of these birds at any one visit so this was exceptional. The Harrier appeared twice more giving Glenn and John the chance to add it to their lists.

Wednesday 2 January 2019


 I wouldn't say 2018 was a particularly straightforward year at New Hythe. The 'Beast from the East', followed by the long summer heatwave made life difficult for the wildlife and for me too.

 At times it was a struggle to motivate myself to visit and when I did there was often nothing new to find, sometimes for weeks and weeks on end. Thank goodness for dragonflies and butterflies during the summer months, although it was a poor year for some butterfly species, courtesy I expect, of said 'Beast'.

 I guess this was a good year for dragonflies though, there was certainly lots of activity, with Migrant Hawkers flying well into November. Disappointingly, I was unable to find a Willow Emerald damselfly on the wing at New Hythe in 2018 despite my best efforts. This is only the second year they have been reported at this site, Glenn found the first in 2017, so it was very frustrating not to get it on my NH list this year, especially since Glenn and Terry did!

Having said all that my New Hythe bird list eventually finished on 105 species, compared to only 99 in 2017. I was pleased to see five new site species during 2018, these were; Hawfinch, Curlew, Dunlin, Hen Harrier and Ring-necked Duck. Thanks in part, to a little help from my friends.

The Whooper Swan pictured above and below turned up on Brooklands Lake at New Hythe on or around 13th October 2018. It's a super bird but unfortunately appears to be quite tame and therefore is probably an escapee from a collection somewhere. Because of this it also escaped my year list too, which would have been 106 had it been wild! It's still at the lakes now by the way.

Tuesday 17 July 2018


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


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!

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


 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.


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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.


 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.

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......


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


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


 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.