Sunday, September 30, 2018

Farlington Marshes

This autumn (so far) has been the quietest that I can remember. It is a season that is eagerly anticipated by birders with the mass movement of birds, post-breeding adults and newly fledged juveniles. Northern Hemisphere dispersal across North America, Europe and Asia generally take a north to south route spanning thousands of miles. One of the many miraculous aspects of the natural world that we witness every year. It is the east to west displacements that provide the anticipation of something rare dropping onto our shores.

Much of this is to do with weather, not just around our geographical region but much more influenced on a global scale. El niƱo, Nor’Easter, Coriolis effects, the nuances and variations within weather patterns will never be fully understood particularly when considering avian vagrancy.

We hit the end of September and with a huge ridge of high pressure sat across much of the UK extending out into the Atlantic and Continental Europe.  There has been a dearth of rare vagrants up and down the British Isles. This of course could all literally change with the wind, a critical element of the weather system that birders always keep a close eye on.

It did however feel like an end-of-season affair at Farlington Marshes. A bit like two mid-table teams contesting their final match with nothing really to play for apart from the semblance of pride. Birding was pedestrian, the warm sun shone during the morning clinging onto the coat-tails of the balmy summer most have enjoyed.

A juvenile Willow Warbler glowed in the sunlight as it flitted through the bramble. There were plenty of Chiffchaff and Blackcap within the scrubby areas of the reserve. Heading over to the inlet where an adult winter Spotted Redshank strutted along the margins. A few Black-tailed Godwit and Dunlin were busy feeding in the shallows.

The walk round was quiet, a Peregrine was being typically harassed, this time by two Kestrel. As the tide began to race in, waders were being forced off the marsh. Decent groups of flighty Ringed Plover and Dunlin were seen scampering along the shore where further out, Curlew, Oystercatcher, and around fifty Grey Plover were on the move. Eleven Bar-tailed Godwit roosted along a narrow finger of shingle.

A juvenile Northern Wheatear fed busily around the anthills. A scattering of Swallow headed through the reserve.

At the pool, wader numbers were now building. Large groups of Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, and Dunlin were present there with six Knot, and a single Common Snipe. Pintail numbers were increasing that included a handsome roosting drake.

Dropping into Tice’s Meadow on the way back was a first visit to this new reserve. It looked great, with a mosaic of habitat that included some decent pools, a large area of moorland, deciduous woodland and scrub. Looks like a good winter birding site.

Here, a juvenile Peregrine was marauding around the marsh, and my first Bullfinch of the year was a juvenile and a glowing male in the woodland.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Beluga Whale

With the ongoing presence of this totally unexpected sighting of the rare Beluga Whale on the Thames near Gravesend, we headed down for a glimpse of this Arctic wanderer.  A juvenile, way off course, evidently detached from a family pod, these environs aren't untypical of the habitat preferred by this small cetacean.

An extraordinary record.  Not the greatest views, but a few fleeting views as it rolled, and then moved away out of sight.


Monday, September 24, 2018

Staines Reservoir

A quick trip over to the reservoirs where a possibly new Grey Phalarope had once again made an appearance onto the south basin.  This time the weather is stunning, a crisp morning with blue skies and a radiant sun, a real contrast to Saturday and the weekend in general.

The bird was closer in this time, and with the improved weather, the views were much more favorable.  A single Black Tern had lingered on while passerines included three Yellow Wagtail, plenty of Meadow Pipit, and a Skylark.  Around a 100 House Martin were feeding over the causeway that disappeared with a quarter of an hour of arriving.

Two Goldeneye and four Wigeon were also present.


Saturday, September 22, 2018

Staines Reservoir

A really great morning at the reservoirs before the rain set in.  The highlight today was the Grey Phalarope that never got anywhere near to taking a photograph but was fine through the scope as it fed busily three-quarters of the way out on the south basin.

There was plenty around with four Black Tern, six Common Tern, two juvenile Ringed Plover, two Black-necked Grebe, three Goldeneye, and three Yellow Wagtail on the move.

A truly outstanding sight were the huge numbers of House Martin, over a thousand, maybe two thousand, I haven't a clue, but lots, feeding low over the reservoir particularly on the south side.


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Beach Cleaning - Lancing

It seems rather virtuous to have volunteered for a morning beach cleaning in Lancing, but this is where conservation has really entered into the consciousness of the general public.  As part of the Great British Beach Clean, volunteers from all over the country had made time to take part in this national event.

It was a fun morning, the beach wasn't as polluted as I had feared but it was good to be involved.



Saturday, September 15, 2018

Portsdown Hill - Ortolan Bunting

There's been a fair scattering of Ortolan Bunting this autumn, particularly along the length of the south coast that have notoriously difficult to pin down.  Despite clear skies on Saturday morning, the Ortolan that was found the day before just beyond Portsdown Hill remained unexpectedly overnight.

The bird flew in over our heads after a short wait and settled distantly on a large Hawthorn that it had been favouring, and remained there for much of the day.  My first sighting of this bird for the UK.


Farlington Marsh down the road produced very little except for a Spotted Redshank on the lake, three Yellow Wagtail, and a Common Sandpiper.



Saturday, September 8, 2018

Margate to Broadstairs

Decided on something a little different today - an area of coastline I had never explored.  Having spent a lazy morning in Margate, eating and exploring some of the more quirky sights of this ecclectic seaside town, we made our way to Cliftonville.






The habitat here looks good for passerines, particularly chats and so it was no surprise to find a minimum of seven Whinchat a couple of Northern Wheatear, and a Common Whitethroat here.



The Viking Trail meanders along the coastline with stunning views of the white cliffs lining the coast overlooking the sea.  The path does detour away from the coastal edge in places, routing around Joss Gap but then rejoins the path a little further on. 



As Broadstairs edges closer, steps lead down onto the sandy beaches where a promenade sweeps past a number of gaudy beach huts.


Broadstairs itself a lovely town, exuding a sense of class sadly seldom found in seaside towns.  Much like Margate, it has a creative edge, and serves up some tasty desserts.



The walk back to Cliftonville followed the coastline.  The tide had receded allowing passage away from the trail beneath the limestone cliffs.



A few hirundines were present here with a single Common Swift.  Two Northern Wheatear were scampering amongst the rocks and a Common Sandpiper flicked by towards the shoreline.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Staines Reservoir

The reservoir was like a millpond this morning.  With clear blue skies and the warm sunshine, the transformation was almost Grecian.

A count of 13 Black Tern were feeding over the South Basin that was joined by a 1st-year Little Gull.  A Yellow Wagtail flew along the causeway.


Saturday, September 1, 2018

Staines Reservoir

A really productive day despite the Phalarope's short stay at the reservoir on Friday.  A particularly spirited arrival on site where the morning sun blazed across the open water.

An initial count of 17 Black Tern then turned into 21.  By late morning more had arrived increasing to 31.  By midday this had risen again to 36 birds, frequently seen clustered together in a group as they rose up from the water only to return back down to continue their elegant undulating flight across the water.

Black Tern


Seven Common Swift were wheeling over the south basin with reasonable numbers of House Martin.


A winter plumaged Black-necked Grebe drifted across the north basin.  There were five Common Sandpiper hugging the margins.

An adult winter Sandwich Tern flew low over the causeway and continued on north.  Ten minutes later, two Turnstone flew a circuit around the reservoir and again failed to settle.



A Hobby was seen flying slowly through toward the East, where Common Buzzard, Red Kite, Sparrowhawk, and Kestrel were also noted.