Sunday, 29 January 2017

Bearded Tit's, a Stodmarsh Favourite.

Over the past week or so of cold, often icy conditions on the reserve at Stodmarsh/Grove Ferry, the resident flocks of Bearded Tits have become more vocal and easy to spot as they come up to the top of the reeds in search of seed. Taking advantage, I have been able to get a few images as they go about their business. Easily one of the more spectacular species that inhabit the reed beds of the Stour Valley and understandably a crowd favourite.

Click on image for full size

They could also be seen foraging for food on the ice in front of the Reed Bed hide, not where you would normally expect to see them.

Bearded Tit's, a Stodmarsh favourite.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

A Pipit update.

Not that it matters much, no sleep is being lost, but my Pipit conundrum rolls on. I thought I had the matter solved, but seemingly not. Along with Steve Ray, we both sat in the Marsh hide at Stodmarsh yesterday afternoon (24th), with the pool out in front frozen and 4 or 5 Pipits periodically venturing out onto the ice. I managed a few images and although the birds were not really close enough, with a large crop they are OK for identification purposes. I and Steve were sure that they were Water Pipits. 

I had a theory as to these Pipits.The numbers have now dwindled down to 5 or 6 birds, definitely well short of the 20 + birds seen last week and and this is my theory. The birds originally photographed were in my humble opinion indeed Rock Pipit's (a lot of people will not agree with this but general consensus of opinion and the research I have done via the Internet seems to point to this) bought in to the area by the very cold temperatures (-5 to -7 degrees) experienced of late and the dredging of the dyke with the extracted mud deposited on the bank making a welcome food source for the birds struggling due to the freezing conditions. Once the newly exposed mud became frozen, the visiting Rock Pipits moved on, leaving a handful of Pipits left which I think are Water Pipits, including the ones today seen by Steve and myself. They look a lot paler, cleaner and when calling sounded like Water Pipits, not Rock Pipits. Also they responded to a Water Pipit call and ignored the Rock Pipit call. Feeling rather pleased with my synopsis, I then learnt through social media that people still think the birds posted above are again Rock Pipits. Well that blows my theory out of the water and also leaves me a little unsure of what I am looking at but whilst now convinced that the earlier birds were in fact Rock Pipits (Littoralis) I am just as convinced that the two above images are Water Pipits. Can anyone tell me why the are not. 
Other bits seen, several Water Rails, Four Marsh Harriers, one a superbly marked Male, a skulking Bittern in the reed bed and Steve had a male Hen Harrier before I arrived.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Turning Water into Stone.

Well, I could start an argument on my own in a telephone box.
 I went down to Stodmarsh after finishing work early on the afternoons of the 19th and 20th, taking advantage of the crisp but sunny afternoons. The Reed bed hide as was the rest of the reserve was frozen, hardly surprising as the temperature struggled to better zero throughout the two days. A Pheasant this morning (21st) looked neat against the frozen grass as I walked down the entrance path to the reserve.

Click on image for full size.

As I walked down the back path to the Marsh hide on 19th, a 360 excavator was dredging the dyke from the caravan where the path turns 90 degrees North down to the Marsh hide. The excavated mud and silt was laid out on the bank of the dyke which in turn attracted quite a bit of activity from birds taking advantage of this new food source. I counted 8 Stonechat's in a 100 metre stretch along with a pair of Cetti's Warblers, Blue Tits and Robins and a pair of Water Rails.

That's where the fun and games started. I noticed what I presumed to be at least 20 Water Pipits also foraging about on the newly exposed silt but getting any images was a little difficult. The birds as I approached, even though they were on the other side of the dyke, flushed and flew off, returning a few minutes later further down the path. I eventually made my way to the bottom of the track near to the Marsh hide and used a bush on the bank of the dyke for cover and waited until the Pipits returned. I was able to get a few fairly close shots, of which I posted a couple on social media as Water Pipit images are not easy to come by. That is when, I think the term for it is, the shit hit the fan. A seemingly knowledgeable chap by the name of Steve Newman, a birder from Essex and someone whom I do not know commented that in his opinion they were not Water Pipit's but in fact Littoralis Rock Pipit's. I know the two are hard to distinguish at this time of the year and a few more prominent Kent birders have added their support for Rock Pipit, but there again, a few other prominent Kent birders have sided with Water Pipit. Make up your own mind if you can from the images below.

The above image was taken on the 19th when I would estimate there being 20+ birds present. (I counted 14 birds in one flock as they were flushed by someone walking down the path) The images below were taken on the 20th when there were again approximately 20 but probably in excess of 25 birds seen along the length of dredged mud.

Carrying on the debate on social media, someone has added a link (click on the link if interested enough)  that goes some way into explaining the different plumage's of Water and Rock Pipits and the image below (heavily cropped for this purpose) is almost identical to the 3rd image from this piece and suggests Littoralis Rock Pipit. 

Also I was a little surprised to find that the wintering population in the U.K for Water Pipit's is only 80 to 90 birds (BTO statistics) I thought it was a lot more. So, where does this leave me. Totally confused. Bearing in mind that there has only been 1 previous record of Rock Pipit at Grove/Stodmarsh, do we have now 20+ records ???? Answers on a postcard please. I will carry on snapping them and let the pro's decide on the important bits but for the record and it is in no way important, the title of this post shows the way I rock. One thing is sure, it does make for a fascinating hobby.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Sandwich Bay. (17/01/17)

A trip to Sandwich Bay where I saw a skein of 17 White-fronted Geese circle the pool at Restharrow before dropping down somewhere out on the marsh at Worth. My first this winter. Not too much camera action but I was able to get a couple of shots of a Short-Eared Owl taking a nap before being flushed by a dog not on a lead.

 What I presume to be an Apache Helicopter came along the coastline looking rather menacing.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

A Wintry Woodland Walk (13/01/17)

Just one trip out last week, an excursion to Blean woods in the hope of getting a few Wintry  images. A light dusting of snow (about a centimetre) fell between Thursday evening and Friday morning, bringing the usual travel havoc that accompanies any snow fall here in the south of the country, however tiny the amount. The predicted sunshine for late morning never materialised, leaving photography conditions in the wood tricky, the usual photographer's complaints  of high iso's and poor shutter speeds rolling of the tongue. Saying that, along with Tim Gutsell we had an enjoyable  hour of trying, a few images below making the cut but a lot more relegated to the desktop bin. A squally snow storm ended the session before turning to rain, clearing the dusting of snow quicker than any dose of salting could do.

Of note, probably only to me, whilst working at home (re opening a blocked up fire place) on Wednesday (11th) I saw a flock of at least 10 Waxwings fly over the rear of my house  towards the cemetery in Sturry and a Grey Wagtail foraged in my garden for a few minutes, both new birds in 13 years of living here. Two new garden ticks !!!
After another test on the sample from the Stejneger's Stonechat, it has now been decided that the bird is in fact just a normal European Stonechat, albeit a rather strange looking European Stonechat. It is still worth a visit, its pale grey colour making for a smart looking bird, as witnessed on the 6th. The lack of any images was disappointing so a re visit is on the cards, at least the Kerton Road will be relatively free from birders now the DNA rules out anything rare or exotic.
Just a thought, I would not want to be up in front of the beak with my defence relying on DNA evidence analysed by same person that done the Stenjeger's sample, "Take him down"

Thank's for looking.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Two out of Three ain't bad. (Dungeness 06/01/17)

My first trip out in 2017 was a last minute decision for a day on the Dungeness peninsular with three target birds that I wanted to photograph. The first, a long staying Ring-Necked Duck, a lifer for me, (I don't get out much) secondly, the Red-Necked Grebe just over the border and into East Sussex to the far side of Camber and also hopefully the Steing   Steijg  Stenjg  little grey Stonechat that seems to be of a different race to our normal Stonechats and currently residing in gorse along the Kerton Road close to the Cemex quarry.
Arriving just after 8 am to the entrance of the RSPB reserve, the Ring-Necked Duck was easily found but was just a little too far out on the pool for comfort. Looking a lot like a Tufted Duck with a sore head, it was easy to see why I could never be bothered to go twitch one.

 A Peregrine Falcon dived into view and scattered everything below in a blinded panic, the Ring Necked Duck taking refuge in the reedy margins so I moved onto phase 2 of my targeted birds, the Stonechat just down the road. Just after I had parked up i could see two birders looking back towards me through scopes and then the Stejneger's Stonechat briefly sat up on top of a small twig, allowing me to see just how grey it was in appearance, totally different to our usual Stonechats. I thought this was going to be easy but that's when my luck ran out. The Chat flew off and I tracked it with my binoculars until I eventually lost it some 300 metres away in the direction of the Lade pits. Joined by Tim Gutsell and then Mike Gould we spent over two hours gorse bush bashing and eventually connected again with the bird but it was extremely flighty and I soon gave up on any photos. The light had dipped anyhow so it would have to be close to get anything worthwhile. Mike returned home and Tim and I drove down to Camber and immediately found the Red-Necked Grebe on the far side of the first pit as you leave Camber in the direction of Rye. My luck returned here, and as if radio controlled, the Grebe immediately swam across the lake and spent a little time on the nearside edge, probably the closest we could be to it from the public footpath that runs alongside the pit. It was spitting with rain and the light was poor but at least the Grebe had the decency to pose close in for us.The Grebe then did a complete circuit of the lake and after chatting to the farmer/landowner for a while whom passed by whilst putting out hay bales for the livestock, the bird returned and gave us and a few more photographers that had arrived another photo opportunity. I find even in winter plumage these Grebes are rather smart looking. 

Although the weather was quite poor, light drizzle, windy with very little light, it was not too bad a day with all my three target birds seen, and two of them photographed. The Red-Necked Grebe would of been nice in the sun as it would of been behind us, but always a nice bird to see. It's quite remarkable how different these birds look in their Winter attire, below a Red-Necked Grebe I photographed in its breeding plumage on the 1st of April 2016.

What a difference 4 months can make. Thanks for looking.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Short-Eared Owls (29/12/16)

With three weeks off over the Christmas period and plenty of time on my hands, I have decided to start blogging again. I don't know for how long or how regular the postings will be but here goes for the first one. 

An afternoon out on the 29th December, (my birthday) where I walked down behind the Oyster farm at Reculver and sat on the grassy bank by the Green Wall waiting to see if the Short-Eared Owls would appear. It was not long before there were 3 birds flying around, and I think maybe a fourth bird was present for part of the afternoon. I was able to get a few reasonable images as they quartered fairly close to my vantage point.

Other birds seen in the Oyster farm were Redshank and Dunlin, 2 Little Egrets, 2 Marsh Harriers the other side of the Green Wall, at least 400 Cormorants returning to their roost at Grove/Stodmarsh, (quite a sight as they flew over) several Goldfinch and Linnets, a Green Woodpecker over and a female Stonechat that posed for a photo.

Thanks for looking.