Saturday, 31 January 2009


Parts of the Dungeness shingle spit are now a national nature reserve, needless to say not the bit with the nuclear power station on it but despite being an eyesore it has no doubt helped to keep away further development in the area. Having said that or rather written that, the small airport at Lydd is looking to expand which given it is right next door to parts of the NNR is not a good idea and I tend to think is the sort of barmy idea that could occur in the small isle that is the U.K. To help support the great work being done by the RSPB to stop this madness visit:

The purpose for my visit was to walk along the beach between the fishing boats and the end of Dengemarsh gulley on the look out for any washed up marine mammals as up to 3 harbour porpoise had been washed up dead in the preceding days. Now, I don't know that much about the small population of harbour porpoise off Dungeness and I doubt many people do as to be honest the marine environment is not one that many folks are interested in as it tends to be hard to study as most of the time it exists in the alien world beneath the waves. Interesting to note that the boundary of the NNR appeared to be very land locked and didn't extend out to sea!
One very real threat to harbour porpoise populations is entanglement in fishing nets known as bycatch and there is still a small commercial fishing outfit that operates from the point at Dungeness. Now I'm sure these fisherman are responsible folks and don't dump their nets at sea and are very careful to safely extract any entangled marine mammal or bird but needless to say many harbour porpoises are killed in net entanglement and populations around the Kent coast and in the English Channel are threatened especially in winter as more fishing fleets move into the area from France and Spain. Whilst heavy seas may take their toll on marine mammals it would generally only affect weak or maybe older animals. On my walk I didn't come across any dead porpoise only a small shark and a gannet which did give me the opportunity to take a close look at a gannets feet and I hadn't realised they had blue lines on them.
Not too far offshore there was a lot of bird activity especially large groups of guillemots and on the tide line were small drifting groups of kittiwakes. One of the fisherman there said that a lot of sprats were very close to the shoreline and these had attracted the feeding birds. Given the cold easterly wind and choppy sea conditions some of the birds were lying low and facing into the breeze. A couple of adult kittiwakes were amongst a group of resting black-headed gulls but took off to feed along the shoreline.

A few first winter kittiwakes were also around this one showing the characteristic black W shape on it's upperwing.

The sea looked quite rough and the waves pounding against the shore were certainly quite frothy (man).

Just behind where the waves would break against the shore a small area of calmer water had developed an interesting looking lumpy froth.

Groups of brent geese were also flying past, this particular flock was the largest I saw with around 150 geese. I took a series of shots but preferred this one with the glare from the sea and the geese in silhouette.

Also in the calmer area just back from the breaking waves were two little gulls, I saw three in all. Both birds would dip down into a trough and start paddling with its feet just on the surface of the water and then pick off whatever it had attracted to the surface, it reminded me of storm petrel behaviour.

Little gulls are beautiful dainty gulls and adults have lovely charcoal coloured underwings.

Looking back toward the shingle bank just up from the shoreline I noticed a group of turnstone trying to get as low as possible out of the wind. At the moment they are in their winter plumage but still very charismatic.

A couple of scarce white-winged gulls were also in the area, namely an adult glaucous gull and a juvenile iceland gull. Both were seen whilst I was there but I only managed to catch up with the adult glaucous and what a great looking bird it is. This bird appears to be in its summer plumage with the well defined red bill spot, it is probably just me but it also seems to be a small individual for a glaucous gull not really coming across as the large billed hulks that I remember seeing in the past. The bill ratio to primary projection is a give away though with the projection being very short compared to the bill length, iceland gulls generally have a long primary projection and shorter bill. Adult Glaucous Gull Different light conditions can have an affect on how pale the back colouration appears.

In flight the wonderful white-winged gull look.

Friday, 16 January 2009

New Hythe

I thought I'd just go and see if the jack snipe was still lurking along the stream that ran along Lunsford lane at New Hythe but no such luck, too much to expect really after a week but you never know. Although it was very gloomy and cold, birds were still confiding with goldcrests down to a few feet. No sign of any bitterns although I didn't get as far as Brooklands. I bumped into two redpolls of the British ssp cabaret along the lane and then whilst watching them I heard what sounded like a woodpecker drumming against some metal and that is exactly what it was. I'm not sure what this great-spotted woodpecker was trying to achieve but I'm sure it must have been giving itself a headache, it was determined to drill a hole into the metal.

Last Saturday, Lisa and I went to Dungeness being tempted by the reports of bitterns being seen on the RSPB reserve. Most of the pools were frozen over but a few open patches of water held a good selection of birds with red-crested pochards, slav and black-necked grebes and smews including a cracking male. We also managed to see certainly 2 and possibly 3 bitterns and some of the views were very good for such a secretive species. Lens envy ensued as I noticed someone there with a Canon 500mm f4 and not to be out done by Steves jack snipe shot, here is my best close up of bittern on the day. You can just make it out where the reeds meet the water in the lower middle of the shot with its head facing left.

On the 3rd Jan I decided to finally go and get some photos of the falcated duck that has decided to stay at Southfleet duck pond amongst all the farmyard ducks and geese and large group of mallards. It was bloomin bitterly cold but luckily the sun appeared for just a few moments and allowed me to get this shot of the glossy green head on this superb male.

Dare I say 'beautiful plumage' but I think it is. The vermiculations and scalloping on the breast feathers is exquisite.

Friday, 9 January 2009

New Hythe

It was one of those nights and mornings that hits our wildlife hard. Just about everything is covered in a layer of ice, making it difficult for foraging birds to find food and try to stay warm. Just on the off chance that a hungry water vole might make an appearance I decided to spend a couple of hours at New Hythe but the water voles were obviously tucked up in a cosy nest hole somewhere (hopefully) as they were not around. Still a few hardy goldcrests, tits and siskins were attempting to find some food as the sun arose higher in the sky and finally started to thaw the ice.

Certainly this morning song thrushes seemed to be more confiding and this individual was trying to warm up and catch a few rays. It had fluffed its feathers up so much it looked as though it had swallowed a tennis ball, one of my favourite thrushes though.

This male shovelers is now well out of his eclipse plumage and looks very handsome.
As the sun was still rising the frost and ice still covered most of the undergrowth and shaded areas. The reedbed where sometimes a bittern lurks looked suitably frosty.

Old dead seed heads were coated in a layer of ice which sparkled in the weak sunlight.

And close up looked like a frosting of small diamonds.

Rabbits on ice is not something that I see very often but this beastie was finding some tasty morsals along the frozen banks of the ditch.

Monday, 5 January 2009


Despite the blizzard like conditions at Longfield I decided to try my luck once again along the Elmley track and see if I could get any shots of Hares in the snow. I was hoping for a bit more snow on the Isle of Sheppey than there actually was but I guess the locals thought that it was bad enough especially adding on the wind chill.

Practically all the lapwings that I could see, and that wasn't very many, were huddled into the grass and facing the breeze that was blowing from the north east. There were quite a few hardier curlews that were actively feeding on the short turf.

A set of foot prints caught my eye on one of the frozen pools and I liked the pattern they created in the sunlight, I guess they were probably made by a coot.

Nearer the end of the track were I have normally managed to see a few hares a good sized group of wigeon and the odd gadwall had emerged from the frozen pool behind the toilet block and started to feed in the corner between the fence and the reeds. I assumed that the reeds provided some form of windbreak against the chilly breeze. Not daft these ducks. The light and view across the marsh was great.

So no hares and very little to report in the way of birds but nice to be out again.