Monday 29 September 2008

29 September - East Malling

A lunchtime walk produced lots of nattering but little of natural history note - the Ivy was covered in insects large and small - this Red Admiral probably the most impressive. Quite a few other butterflies on the wing still - Holly Blue, Speckled Wood, etc, so hopefully a few pics still to come. A Brown Argus on site a couple of days ago was so worn I surprised it could still fly.

Caterpillar spp legging it across the path. Smart, parhaps not pretty, but just smart, I shall await suggestions on the ID.
Only other record of note today was a Nuthatch calling for the second time in a few days - it's been a while since we had Nuthatches regularly on site, so perhaps this is the start of more records.

28 September 2008 - Blue Bell Hill

A slight change of scenery - Blue Bell Hill. And looking over almost all of Kent from this vantage point, I tried to pinpoint Adam, Steve & Warren as they went in search of something to brighten their day. This Stonechat refused to allow me anywhere near it - and it certainly wasn't like finding it on your local patch like all the above mentioned folk have done recently no doubt.

This grasshopper has done its best to show all of its features and still remain unidentifiable in my mind.

Dark Bush Cricket - located by its short calls - totally different to the calls of Roesel's seen a day or two ago.

26 Sept 2008 - East Malling

After recent travels, back to reality. A lunchtime walk at work produced what I think to be an Earthstar. I must head up to the attic to see if my old mushroom book is up there.

More Spids - Whate-crossed Garden spid? Certainly, we're heading for that time of year when pic os spiders webs can soon be taken.

Roesel's Bush Crickets - giving himself away with his long drawn-out calls.

Now I'm guessing that this is a Myathropa florae - on account of the pale areas on the thorax.

Common Darter - catching the last of the summer's rays

Wednesday 24 September 2008

20-22 September 2008 - North Ronaldsay

The week 15-19 Sept was always going to be difficult for me with meetings around the country from Monday to Friday. Thus, when news broke on Thursday evening of an American Redstart at Mizen Head, Ireland, I was in no position to make a move west to catch a glimpse of the little gem. This, I have to say, was a great shame for me, as I’ve ringed hundreds of Am Redstarts in Jamaica and I’d dearly love to see one on this side of the Atlantic.

It was during a meeting on Friday 19 September that mega-alert broke news of a Cretzschmar’s Bunting on North Ronaldsay. By the time I was out of the meeting, it was doom and gloom on the phone to birders and plane charter companies – seemingly this was one bird and one island too far.

Early Saturday morning and the surprising news (given the clear skies) that the bird was still present. By 8am I’d drawn a blank – though trying, my final low point was when Pete Davies phoned again whilst birding in sunny Essex to ask if I’d made any progress, “No I f**** hadn’t”, I gave up completely.

Five minutes later and inspired by Pete’s comment and a conversation with Adrian Teapot, operation ‘We must be barking’ was put in to place:

Drive to Guildford – collect Zebedee
Drive to Warwick – collect Neil Howzat and Tony Sheepdog
Drive to John O’Groats – meet the six other lunatics
Go as foot passengers on the ferry to South Ronaldsay
Climb aboard a pre-arranged minibus
Drive to Kirkwall
Board a fishing vessel and power out to North Ronaldsay

Shortly after 2pm on Saturday, with my stomach in knots, I kissed the Good Lady Wiff goodbye and drove away from home, due West to Guildford. By 4am on Sunday morning we were in the car park at John O’Groats (for a nice nights kip on to gravel), at 9am we had all met up and were aboard the ferry and enjoying fabulous numbers of Tysties, Bonxies and Gannets.

Our minibus arrived at precisely the same time as we docked and sped us via the superb White-billed Diver to Kirkwall. At 10.30am we were all aboard the MV You’ve-Got-to-be-Joking and bound for North Ron. Eventually, after many false alarms, North Ron appeared on the horizon and slowly made its way towards us.

We’d phoned the obs in advance, the staff of which met us at the harbour and transported us (past Evan and Heard) to Sangar – the temporary home to a male Cretzschmar’s Bunting!

Or at least, it had been home to a male Cretzschmar’s Bunting – but not when we arrived. The little sod wasn’t to be seen and all reports pointed to it having flown north about 30 minutes previously. 45 minutes later, there was still no sign…. Surely not – not all this way just to dip it!!!!!

I had left the others an found a Yellow-browed Warbler when, distantly, I watched as the group that I’d organised make a concerted move – a telephone call confirmed it, they were watching the bird - and I wasn’t!

As I ran back, the group split up – the bird had flown. This was going to be even worse – I faced a return trip with nine people having seen the bunting, but not me!

Thanks to Alex Lees, however, my worst nightmares did not become a reality – he relocated the bird, yet again, exactly where he said it would be and apparently shortly after two folk had just walked the same patch.

TICK! (picture by Simon Chidwick - cheers mate!)

Saying ‘good bye’ to North Ronaldsay and retracing our footsteps was all done with big smiles all round. Docking back in Kirkwall we split up to go to our various hotels and B&Bs – several pints, glasses of wine and gin & tonics later our heads hit our pillows.

Heading back to the ferry the W-B Diver was distant, but Twite put on a little demonstration for us. A few pictures taken at John O’Groats and we were off – 770 miles back to The Good Lady Wiff (if you have to go via Warwick and guildford!!!).

Going as a group, staying together, going the distance safely and seeing a great bird – this was surely one of my most enjoyable twitches ever. But please, not another twitch for a while!

Wednesday 17 September 2008

16 September 2008 - East Malling Research Station

Little of note today until I had to leave the office and talk on the mobile for 10 minutes. As I wondered around the site nattering, my attention was drawn to a familiar call above me. Concluding the call, I looked up. Sure enough a Pied Flycatcher was calling and flycatching from the top of the purple beech tree that I was near. Nice bird for the site - to my knowledge a 'first'.

Monday 15 September 2008

15 September 2008 - Airways over East Malling

Operation 'Honey Buzzard', and armed with scope, bins and camera a quick lunchtime session with Adam and Adrian to gaze up in to the skies over East Malling Research Station.

Two distant Sparrowhawks and then..... an Osprey!!!!!!!!!!!

Far to far away even for my 'low quality assured' images but I was really pleased with the find, particularly as I had invited an audience to join in.

At 5.30pm Adam I ventured up to Holly Hill to look for Honey Buzzards but succeeded only in finding 38 large aircraft, 57 small aircraft (possibly various species for a really keen plane spotter), 3 hot air balloons, 1+ helicopter. Adam really excelled himself this evening and even called a paraglider - genious!

Sunday 14 September 2008

14 September 2008 - The airways over Larkfield Lakes

With just so many Honey Buzzards being reported down the East coast of Britain - this was surely going to be THE day for raptors over the house. Could I really find a Honey Buzzard for the house list? With chores to do for the impending arrival of 'Junior Baldie' in to this world, I volunteered to sort the cot out that had been loaned to us from elder sister.

Of course, whilst outside cleaning said item, I could scan the airways for large flying objects - Item No. 1 wasn't quite what I was looking for, but at least shouldn't present too many ID problems.

Item 2 was a Grey Heron, doing its best to look broad-winged as it headed south - and if you half closed your eyes and ignored the long neck and ruddy great legs trailing behind it, you could kid yourself, you'd found a raptor (OK, perhaps not).

Back on the the plane front, several of these also flew South on broad wings. ID was of little difficulty and could be separated from raptors on call.

Get in on the game were several Starlings.

And Racing Pigeons...
And Woodpigeons....

BH Gulls - Not trying to look like raptors.

About 50 Swallows logged - all heading E/SE. It was about this time that news came on the pager 'Kent Osprey flew south over New Hythe GPs at 10.58am'. Bollocks - I'd missed it. I was pleased that one had been seen - I felt justified in spending ages scanning the sky. But a bit gutted - I moved to the upstairs bedroom to get a better view of the the sky - ready for the Honey Buzzard that was surely about to appear...

Cormorant - several of these chaps put in a showing and tried to look big and dark and vaguely interesting - apart from the fact that they were Cormorants!

Immature Herrings Gulls - hundreds of these were seen over the day, all shouting 'Check me out' as they tried to look more raptor-like than the Cormorants. There were hundreds of large gulls - and today, I hated every one of them!

And then at 1.30, miracle of all miracles, an Osprey came over from the NW heading due South-East. Total elation after missing the one early - a wonderful rush, I called to The Good lady Wife, we ran out to the front door to get better views - we searched and then slam went the front door! Bollocks, again!

After gaining entry to the house, I then found this Hobby circling overhead - the latest record this year.

A Sparrowhawk then put in an appearance (and actually looks more interesting in this picture than it did in real life). But certainly no Honey Buzzards.

And then, miracle of all miracles (and a slightly bigger miracle than had already occured earlier) at 2.48 a much higher Osprey circled overhead, very slowly tracking South-East.

To have two Ospreys from the house is, in my books, pretty damn good - that three Ospreys flew over the site today is excellent. I assume the Steve Nunn got the first...

Saturday 13 September 2008

13 September 2008 - St Margarets & Swalecliffe

An early start to join Mark Love on a ringing session at St Margarets. Thanks to Operation Stack, Mark had already got the nets open and was processing birds by the time I arrived. In addition to this Sedge Warbler, we caught a Grasshopper Warbler and a few Reed Warblers.
Several Whitethroats - all first year birds were ringed.

A group of 7 long-tailed Tits were caught - providing me with ample opportunity to get practising with my 'extractions' (removing a bird from a net - not taking it's teeth out!).

Presumed Bloody-nosed Beetle marched past as we were packing up.

Mega-alert only went off twice while we were ringing - once for a Western Sand in Ireland and once for this Fan-tailed Warbler. After packing up the ringing session I slowly made my way to Swalecliffe. Though news on the pager sounding les than positive, the bird duly performed 2 minutes after my arrival - yo-yoing and then perching in a dried Umbellifer before another yoyo performance and its departure.
Though looking as though I've got some dust on my camera's sensor - this is 'the bird' of the day. Of course, it could be anything - and given the number of Honey Buzzards heading down the East coast it could be one of those. Tomorrow perhaps...

Sunday 7 September 2008

7 September 2008 - St Mary's

Departure day - news though of a Hudsonian Whimbrel on Porthloo Beach had me out rather rapidly in a quest to add this to my non-existant Scilly list. Alas, I was a minutes too late for the bird which had departed before my arrival.

A nice juvenile Little Gull was seen in amongst the Black-headed Gulls.

Also in the gull flock was this Med Gull.
And now it was time to head for the flat and clear up before heading to the airport for the flight home.
With one helicopter out of action our flight was delayed, further and further 9at least 2/3 hours we were told).
I departed the terminal to see if last night's Dotterel was still on the airfield. En route a fly-by Wryneck below Tolman's Cafe was a welcome sighting - but with no sign of the Dotterel the message came through that the Citrine Wag was still on Porthhellick beach - runing round to the beach I could hear the thing but not locate it...
I checked through the waders on the beach in case the wagtail was amongst the Ringed Plovers - my attention was then drawn to a wader producing a quiet almost grunting noise (I'm rubbish at describing calls). Flying over and landing amongst the plovers a cool juvenile Buff-breasted Sandpiper - amazingly it walked right in front of a chap who was filming the Ringed Plovers - I later asked him if he got good shots of the Buff-breasted, but he hadn't noticed it and would checked his footage later.

With the Citrine still calling, but now behind me, I located the chap who posed just enough for a few pics. Now this really had to be the end of this holiday.... a what followed was a run back to the airport, only to be put on a plane to St Just as the chopper was out of action all day.

5 September 2008 - St Mary's Isles of Scilly

A rather uneventful day - only two memorable moments related to natural history was the finding of the Dotterel on the airport runway (and a Golden Plover) and when the whale picture made it on TV this evening.
A nice way to end the holiday...

4 September 2008 – Pelagic off the Isles of Scilly

With Saturday’s Humpback in mind and a wind getting windier, there was optimism, in my mind at least, before boarding the MV Sapphire.

A lumpy sea provided three Grey Phalaropes whilst we were on our way to our unknown destination.

What followed was chumming, looking, more chumming and more looking before the option of visiting a trawler, about 4 miles away, was put on the table. Given the lack of interest in our self-generated (fish) oil slick, the trawler seemed interesting.

Arrival with the trawler found a large group of birds, mainly Gannets and gulls, feeding and flying around – they all seemed to trying to hide rare sea birds…

Highlights amongst the birds included a juvvy Long-tailed Skua, Sooty Shearwater, several Bonxies, Manx Shearwaters & Storm Petrels. The Long-tailed Skua is a really good bird for the Scillies and would have been a Scilly tick for me, had I not seen an earlier bird on a previous pelagic!

Sooty Shearwater

Towards the end of our stay a superb Great Shearwater made the first of several fly-by’s – OK is wasn’t a White-faced Petrel, but it was a great bird at the end of a great little family holiday.

As for tomorrow? A fast-tracking depression is reported to be winging its way across the Atlantic and heading for Scilly… Will it deposit a predicted plethora of New World vagrants on the doorstep of our holiday accommodation? We won’t know the answer to that until tomorrow – but it does look promising.