Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Hi Queenie

Went to Grain on Sunday to try and get some photos of the shorelark at high tide. A bright but windy day found me wandering up to the small beach that the shorelark seems to prefer to find not a shorelark but a Barry Wright instead.


Barry indicated that there was no sign of the shorelark but instead there was a fine gathering of sanderling, dunlin, turnstone, ringed plover and a purple sand. What cute chaps feeding and resting amongst the seaweed and attractive shoreline rubbish.


Barry managed to get some cracking shots of the purple sand before I arrived after that it became a bit trickier and the best I could manage was it sensibly having a doze albeit with one eye on me!


Barry and I then went our separate ways and as I wandered along the seawall heading further into the Medway a furry blob winged its way toward me and crashed into the grassy bank.


This is a Bombus terrestris or for those of us that struggle with latin names, me included, a buff-tailed bumblebee and a queen to boot.No doubt someone will tell me it is a queen white-tailed bumblebee but in the other photos I have the tip of the abdomen looks buff, honest. B. terrestris is a species that does emerge early in the year and there have already been plenty of sightings this year. There wasn’t much evidence of flowering plants in the near vicinity so whether this queen was going to survive I’m not sure as she certainly looked a bit dazed and was just trying to warm up a little bit. By their very nature though bumblebees being furry have adapted to life in a cold climate and in fact they don’t like really hot days as they overheat and tend to stay below ground level in their nests. Even so Jan 22nd is stretching the bounds of survival for this beastie methinks a few accompanying flowering plants would have been good.

Starting to head for home I checked the Mosco pool to see if the ring-necked duck that has been in the area was on view but once the teal, pochard and tufted ducks took one look at me they decided to leave en mass even though I was on the road a nowhere near them. Still I don’t think it was there.

A phone call from Barry (thank you) later found me joining him at Northward Hill looking at a reasonably close (i.e. in Kent!) juvenile rough-legged buzzard.

12_01_22_Northward Hill_00812_01_22_Northward Hill_009

At least in the photos you can make out the tail pattern.

So no shorelark but plenty of good wildlife and some pleasing photos.

And finally…RSPB

A long time ago, I visited the legendary Minsmere RSPB reserve for the first time. Back then, even though I was in my teens I was too old to join the YOC, so I had to pay full RSPB membership (£12) and had to apply to get a permit to visit Minsmere. In those days, I don’t think you could just turn up and get in, or if you did you risked being turned away as the number of daily visitors was restricted. Coming from Hampshire having a pre-paid approved permit allowed me to turn up at the wardens hut get my name checked against a register and off I went with me dad for a day watching rarities such as avocets and marsh harriers. Fast forward a few years and I’m now living in Kent and visiting Elmley a lot. Certainly the RSPB has changed a bit and now you don’t need to apply to visit reserves. I’m getting more aware of the environment and other aspects of the natural world than just birds. I get to know a few RSPB wardens and ask them about reserve management but the RSPB reserves are just there for the birds, not interested in protecting anything else, birds, birds, birds, birds and birds. Seemed a shame to me but hey what did I know and birds were pretty cool. Fast forward a bit more, the RSPB strapline, ‘for birds, for people, for ever’ still implies it’s just for birds but now people are included too, a lot of new reserves with great visitor facilities were appearing. Fast forward to today, who would have thought that the content of Birds magazine would have included so many pictures of other wildlife, even including mammals on the front cover! Who would have thought that the RSPB would have had so much success conserving not just birds but a whole forest eco-system in Sierra Leone, fantastic. I like the RSPB, I’ve supported them for years and they do a brilliant job, some of my best friends work for them, they are a British success story. So why can’t they get it right at Cliffe Pools?

Monday, 16 January 2012


My last post has provoked a comment from someone I hold dear that I sound like a moaning old codger or words to that effect. So in an effort to maintain a status quo of normality here is a belated post regarding my growing interest in bumblebees. Whilst there are only a small number of UK species, I’m finding them quite hard to identify. I’m lucky though in that going to Grain I’m getting experience of a couple of the rare species to be found in Kent, namely shrill carder Bombus sylvarum and large carder bee Bombus muscorum. Shrill carder bee has a distribution in Kent that is mainly confined to the Thames corridor although it does appear to now be cropping up in a few other coastal localities within the county. It is quite a small but distinctive bee with an obvious dark furry saddle across the thorax between the two wing joints probably being the easiest id feature although you need to be wary as older bees of other carder species can show a black mark where the body fur has worn away. In fresh condition they also show an orange red tail.



Then onto the large carder bee B muscorum.


I found the above presumed Queen, hanging on this flower on a cool and damp September morning. The problem with trying to id B. muscorum is that it is very similar to brown banded carder bee Bombus humilis. Plus you also have to rule out common carder Bombus pascuorum, which can be done by checking the colour of the hairs of the pollen basket in the queens and workers (i.e. all the females), so, easy isn’t it.

The following 4 photos are almost certainly B. muscorum (large carder bee), well I cannot see a black hair on the pollen basket. There is also the separation feature from common carder B. pascuorum of no black hairs on the side of the abdomen which can sometimes be very extensive.





Now this little chap and yes I think it is a drone (male) on the shape of the antennae but I could be wrong is a common carder B pascuorum but you couldn’t really tell from this photo alone and i’ve probably got the id wrong anyway.


Now onto something a little different from carders. I think the following two photos show Bombus ruderarius or red-shanked carder bee.


The features on this declining species being the orange hairs on the hind tibia, the abdomen being about as long as it is wide and the pale coloured wings. This hopefully separates it from Bombus lapidarius red-tailed bumblebee and Bombus rupestris hill cuckoo bee, both being commoner, so i’m sticking my neck out here going for the rarer of the 3.

Now the next photo is interesting in that I took it at Darenth CountryPark and I think it is a B. humilis or muscorum which just could be a new site. Although I could have got it totally wrong and it is a common carder B. pascuorum, is that a dark hair on the pollen basket?

humilis_muscorum_11_08_09_darenth country park_046

So bumblebees are cute, cuddly, furry, funny make great noises especially when they get stuck in a foxglove flower and are not easy to identify. Grain has a couple of rarer species and they are proposing to build an airport there what a tragedy if it went ahead.

Sunday, 15 January 2012


Went back out onto the Hoo Peninsula again today, this time with Lisa. If you need a toilet stop when you are in between Cliffe and say Northward Hill then the public toilets, separate men and women's, at Cooling are worth knowing about. Situated just past the church on a relatively little used road and very clean. Stopped off at the lookout at Bromhey Farm again and managed to get distant views of a couple of marsh harriers and a couple of buzzards one of which might have been a rough-legged but Lisa was getting cold so we headed back to the car before I could get decent views. Don’t forget there’s a  toilet at Bromhey Farm another good clean example although only a single loo for all visitors to share. I then drove to Grain to try and get some photos of the shorelark in the wonderful winter sunshine. On the way driving through High Halstow there is another toilet opportunity with public loos available although I don’t know what these ones are like. Shortly after starting to wander along the seafront at Grain a canary flew past us making a sound not unlike a snow bunting but it was a canary. On approaching the beach we noticed a couple with their dogs were wandering along it, bugger! It would have been the perfect photo opportunity with the sun behind me but unfortunately the bird wasn’t there. Lisa and I then went for along wander around the Grain area, down west lane to see if the Bewick’s Swans were visible but we couldn’t see them, but a nice flock of 102 lapwings. On returning to the car I decided to give the shorelark another try and drove to the power station perimeter gate, parked up and jumped out for a quick look at the beach on the rising tide. Bumped into Alan and Brenda Fossey who had not seen the lark either and then Jerry Warne turned up as well. I think it has been a while since so many birders had been in one place at Grain, As the lark was not being seen I decided to call it a day but received a message later to say that the shorelark was still there presumably appearing on the beach with the rising tide (odd), I wonder if it turned up with any turnstones?

There are also public toilets at Grain but I've never been brave enough to go near them.

Going back to the two rough-legged buzzards I saw on the 10th, although both birds were very distant, one I certainly thought was a juvenile with pale head, light bases to the primaries and what appeared to be buff washed coverts with the obvious white based tail and broad dark trailing edge.

And finally… Airports

As per the comment on my 10th Jan post (thank you), yes certainly the Hoo Peninsula and especially Grain could have a very final episode within my lifetime. It’s hard to believe that twice now the general area has come under threat with the very dubious honour of hosting a new UK airport. On one of my weekday visits to Grain last year I happened to be interviewed by a journalist for one of the local radio stations who was trying to get views from locals. I was watching the journalist for a while as anyone with a microphone trying to drum up comments from folks sitting enjoying the views into the estuary is a bit different from the norm. What I found odd was that the locals she attempted to talk too were not willing to comment and therefore I was itching for her to approach me. I stood in the same spot and probably out of desperation to get some comment from someone I had my chance. She asked me what was special about the area and what did I think about the proposal to build a Thames airport. I managed to provide what I considered to be a reasonable answer and only managed to mention Boris Johnson once where I said that ‘I thought he was the Mayor of London and didn’t realise the London boundary extended this far i.e. Grain. I suggested that he concentrated on keeping Londoners happy and left the people of Kent alone’. No doubt further posts on this subject will appear in due course.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Catching Up

I was going to go to Sheppey today but at the last minute changed my mind and decided to go to the Hoo Peninsula, primarily to try and see rough legged buzzard and shore lark. First stop was the lookout at Eastborough Farm. With the day almost windless it was quite a pleasant January experience to stand there and overlook the superb grazing marsh albeit if it is a long way from the actual lookout, a telescope is a real necessity here. Initially my first scans picked up no raptors but after about 30 mins and 1 marsh harrier, I picked up a raptor straight out sitting on a fence post, it looked like a rough legged buzzard and once it started to preen I could see further features which clinched it for me.Then a clump of raptors started to appear with 3 buzzards and 4 marsh harriers, soaring or sitting in the various leafless scrub. I then picked up a rough legged buzzard flying low over the bare fields and slightly behind and occasionally obscured by a reed fringed ditch. It finally sat in a field almost totally obscured. I then scanned back to the original raptor clump area and saw what looked like a second rough legged buzzard sat on a fence post with nearby buzzard and marsh harrier. Excellent a second bird, I don’t think I have seen two together in the UK before so a good result. I then moved onto Grain to look for the shorelark that had been found just before xmas I think. It favours the area of the seawall south of the outflow to and including the beach adjacent to the perimeter fence gate. I had great views of it on the beach where it seemed to be loosely associating with a group of turnstone. As the tide rose the feeding turnstone departed up river and the shorelark went with them!

Spoke to one of the anglers who mentioned that recently a 22 pound cod had been caught in or around the mouth of the Medway and this isn’t the first time that anglers have mentioned catching cod in the area. Good news to me that such a large codfish at least existed in the river and estuary. Then he went on to say that trawlers had also been in the Medway estuary, so not really much chance for the larger cod to continue to recover.

And finally… Tesco’s

This year i’m going to start to be a bit vocal regarding environmental issues that get under my skin. The sub section will always start with ‘And finally…’

Did you know that Tesco’s sell live turtles in their stores in China? This has been going on for some years now and as a result I boycott Tesco’s refusing to support them in the high street. I recently sent their customer services section an e-mail asking them when they intend to stop selling live turtles and received the following reply.

Dear John
Thank you for your email and please accept my apologies for the delay in my response.
We appreciate you are concerned about the animal welfare issues associated with the sale of turtles in China. We have a track record of considering evidence, working with others and listening to their concerns. As a result, we have made several significant improvements to the way turtles are sold in our stores, such as making sure that the way in which they are handled is to the highest possible standard.
This approach to animal welfare and the sale of live turtles - seeking out research, acting on it and educating customers - is unprecedented by any retailer operating in China and we hope that these actions will help to drive up standards throughout the supply chain.
Some organisations are asking us to stop selling live turtles completely. While we are committed to upholding the very important issue of animal welfare, we also need to balance different cultural attitudes, in this case respecting the different traditions, expectations and values on this issue that exists in China.
Turtles are a popular and traditional part of the Chinese diet and, having addressed these important animal welfare concerns, we continue to sell turtles in our stores in China.
Thank you for your interest.
Kind regards
Lexy St Clair
Tesco Customer Service

Well the reply hasn’t changed my views on this activity. China has a poor reputation for upholding human rights let alone starting to consider animal rights. No doubt to meet with so called Chinese tradition, Tesco’s will start selling dried pangolin skins and bear gall along with tiger bones in their Asian stores soon within the toiletries aisle, has anyone checked?

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Just In The Nick

Managed to get a local short walk in this morning before the rain set in. Only up to Highcross and back to get a photo of the pond where I have found dragonflies and damselflies previously. Flushed a group of 15 golden plover from a ploughed field which I think is a first for the aera for me and also managed to see a couple of stonechats and a nice group of c. 25 linnets.