Sunday, 22 April 2018

21st April - Stodmarsh NNR, Kent

A visit to Kent to visit my daughter, and for the girls to have a shopping trip, allowed me the chance to visit a reserve I have never been to before.  Stodmarsh, in the River Stour valley just to the east of Canterbury, is an area of wetland and reed beds, and over the years I have seen many reports of good birds here, but never had the chance to visit.  I pulled into the car park a little after 10.00, and after getting sorted out, I started to head along the nature trail.  I stopped though because I heard a different song coming from the trees at the back of the car park.

I had originally dismissed the song as that of a Blackcap, but as I walked I realised that it was a little scratchy, with bits like a Sedge Warbler.  I turned back and found the bird, and my suspicions were confirmed, a Garden Warbler.

It never showed very well, moving constantly as it sang making it very hard to photograph clearly.

 I left the Garden Warbler and followed the path as it wound its way through flooded woodland.  My first Orange-Tip of the year flew past, followed by a Small White.  Neither stopped which is typical of most butterflies at this time of year.

Blackcaps sang from the trees above and a Goldcrest suddenly appeared in front of me.

I finally managed to get a good view of a Blackcap in the trees above me, the leaves yet to open fully and obscure any chance of photographing them.

The nature trail then becomes the footpath  that runs between Stodmarsh and Grove Ferry.  This path goes through open marsh, and alongside small rifes and reed beds.  There was though a lot of strange calls, and these took me a little time to work out what was producing them.  A Coot was busy collecting water weeds and taking them into the reeds.

Dandelions in flower lined the side of the footpath, and these were an attraction to the many Peacock butterflies that were about this morning.

The reeds reflected in the still water of the rifes that were stretching out across the marsh.

I could hear a Lesser Whitethroat singing just off the footpath, but couldn't see it.  It was then that I realised that the strange calls I could hear belonged to many Marsh Frogs that were in the reeds.  But although I could hear them, seeing them was very difficult.

The first Hide was the Marsh Hide.  Over the last few days there had been reports of Black-winged Stilt and Wood Sandpiper from here, so I entered with some optimism.  However there was nothing on the pool in front of the hide, but scanning the pools on the far side I found a couple of Greenshank.

There were also a pair of Redshank, and Green Sandpiper.

All this was played out to a chorus of calls from the Marsh Frogs, but as a Grey Heron flew in low over the pool, all the frogs stopped almost instantly.   I was amazed that they were able to pick up what is probably their nemesis so quickly, and the calling stopped as a result.  The Heron though did not stop long, walked a few steps before flying off once more.

A male Marsh Harrier made several pass byes, but always at the back of the marsh over the reeds.

Lapwing were also displaying on the open grass, their twisting flight displays always a joy to watch.

I left the hide, and continued my walk towards Grove Ferry.  A splash in the water alerted me to a couple of frogs sitting on the weed in the water.  

Marsh Frogs are the largest European frog, and are very aquatic, jumping into water at the slightest disturbance.  The Marsh Frog was introduced into the UK at Walland Marsh in Kent.  They have spread, and can be found in Parts of Sussex and Essex now.  They were introduced as pets or with fish stock, but as a voracious predator, further spread of this attractive frog will be watched carefully

I sat quietly, and the frogs started to sing, inflating the air sacks on the side of their mouths.

It was warm and sunny, but there was very little about.  I expected to see Swallows and other hirundines but there were none about.  There was also no sign of any dragonflies.  I reached the viewpoint at Grove Ferry, a Sedge Warbler was in full song in the reeds surrounding the mound.

By the edge of the bushes a fledged Song Thrush appeared on the grass.

Scanning from the view point, I picked up several Swallows passing through.  Teal and Shoveler along with the Mallard on the open water, and on a small island a pair of Common Terns.  

In the distance there were soaring Buzzards, and every so often I heard the call of Mediterranean Gulls overhead, but never actually saw them.

I decided to walk back along the river path.  More Blackcaps were singing in the Blackthorn, and a calling Kestrel revealed itself being chased by a large female Sparrowhawk.  To finish off the activity on the other side of the river, a pair of Stock Dove called from the trees on the bank.

In many of the channels there were the seed heads of Reed Mace, and these were back lit by the sunshine.

I cut inland once again from the river, and retraced the path towards the Marsh Hide, the frogs were still singing in channels, and there were a few more Peacock butterflies about.

I stopped by a small Hawthorn bush where another Sedge Warbler was singing.

I didn't go into the Marsh Hide, as I had seen a Marsh Harrier heading towards the Stodmarsh car park.  As I was pressed for time, and hungry I decided to walk on.  The Lesser Whitethroat was still singing on the corner, but this time I could see it, albeit distantly.

There was little else on my walk back to the car other than a few more Orange-Tips accelerating past me.

After lunch I walked around to the Reedbed hide.  This overlooked open water, with reeds on both sides.  In the shallow water you could see the dorsal fins of some very large Carp that were spawning in the shallow water just beneath the hide.

There were pairs of Gadwall, an a single drake that seemed intent on trying to steal a female but was constantly repelled by the attentive drake.

A Common Tern flew around the open water calling, and passed close to the hide.

A male Marsh Harrier could be seen over the reeds, it would drop down, and the appear again carrying twigs and reeds, there was no consistency as to where it would take them, so it didn't seem like it was building a nest, maybe more than one nest?

I left the hide,and walked back through the small wooded area.  In a sunny glade a Speckled Wood, the firs t of the year sat in the sunshine.

As I approached the car park, I heard a Nightingale singing, walking around the car park, I was able to pin point where it was singing from, but the scrub was far to dense and I wasn't able to see the bird.  It also did not sing constantly, and there would only be short snatches of sun.  As I waled around in the hope of being able to locate it I came across a few more butterflies.  An Orange-Tip did settle on a flower head but as I closed in on it with the camera a Green-veined White passed by and the Orange-Tip flew up to duel with it. 

A Peacock though was enjoying the warmth given off by the fence.

 And while I wasn't able to photograph the the Orange-Tip I was able to get the Green-veined White that disturbed it.

The Nightingale kept singing off and on, and I kept trying to locate it, but in the end time was against me and I had to leave.  It had been a lovely walk in a really nice place, its just a shame that there wasn't the birds about that I had hoped for, still I managed four year ticks, and three first butterflies for the year.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

14th April - Keyhaven, Pennington and Oxey Marsh, Hampshire

As I got up and walked past the hall window at just after 5.00 am in the morning my heart sank, outside it was considerably foggy, I just hoped this wouldn't be the case on the south coast.  The journey to Keyhaven saw me pass through banks of fog and mist, in one clear patch a bonus, a Barn Owl flying across the road on the Alresford by-pass.  But as I pulled into Keyhaven past the car park, it was thick fog I could see, and as I pulled up alongside Ian's van it was difficult to see across the saltmarsh.  The intention had been for some sea watching, but that was not going to happen, so we walked along the spit to Sturt Pond to see what was about there.

As we walked alongside the stream we disturbed a Greenshank that flew off in the direction of the pond.  The mist hung over the pond as well, and a large flock of Black-headed Gulls dominated the proceedings, their continual calls filling the air.  But every so often you could hear the call of a Mediterranean Gull, and in amongst the Black-headed Gulls were pairs of Mediterranean Gulls.

As well as gulls on the pond there was a large gathering also in th efield alongside the pond.  Mostly Black-headed once again they would paddle about in the field, then all as one fly into the pond, while others went the other way.  As all this went one the calls of the Black-headed continued punctuated by the less raucous brays of the Mediterranean Gulls.  Other gulls present were a single Great Black-backed and a couple of Herring Gulls.

We decided to walk back to the cars, but stopped half way along the stream, as the Greenshank had returned and was standing in the stream.  The still water providing the perfect background to show off the wader.

An almost perfect mirror image.

We drove around to Keyhaven car park, deciding the mist surely would have to lift at sometime.  From the harbour car park we walked along the ancient highway to the lower balancing pond.  Both Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were singing, and a Swallow past through overhead, but the mist made it impossible to see anything on the water.  We walked along the diagonal footpath, and at the point where it meets the Ancient Highway there were at least four Chiffchaffs in the trees.

Catching flies and spiders in the webs.

We walked to the Lower Pennington Lane car park, once again it was impossible to see anything on Efford Lake, then out across the old tip towards the Jetty.  As we walked up the sea wall we were greeted with this view, an almost complete white out.

The metal work though looking quite impressive as it cast dark shadows across the water.

As with the Greenshank, the still conditions provided the perfect background for a Spotted Redshank feeding in the lagoon.  It is just beginning to show signs of the black breeding plumage.

A Cormorant sat on a post in the middle of the lagoon, the mist all around the water.

From Oxey Marsh we headed inland, Meadow Pipits past overhead, as did a few more Swallows.  On the path ahead of us a pair of Skylarks were dust bathing.

There was a few snippets of Willow Warbler song that caused us to pause around the bushes, but very little else.  We walked on and decided to loop back towards the Jetty, passing around Oxey Marsh.  The mist was showing no sign of lifting despite our optimism that it was getting brighter.

 Another Spotted Redshank was in one of the pools close to the sea wall.

 They appear a more refined bird than their cousin the Redshank.

 There were also Black-tailed Godwits, almost in full brick red summer plumage.

 Off shore there were two pairs of Great Crested Grebes, and as we approached the Jetty once again, the higher tide was sending more reflections of the metal work across the still water.

In Butts bay, a pair of Brent Geese were present, probably the last sighting this year until they return again in the autumn.

Fishtail was quiet, with only a few Black-headed Gulls and two pairs of Tufted Duck close in, and it was impossible to see anything at the back of the lagoon.  On the saltmarsh on the other side a Redshank crawled through the eel grass.

 As we approached Keyhaven Lagoon the conditions were not getting any better.

On the lagoon itself another pair of Great Crested Grebes were close in, again the still water casting reflections.

 By now it was 10.30am, and despite the forecast showing clear conditions the mist was still with us.  We decided on heading back to the cars,and having a cup of tea.  By the time we had done this there were signs the mist was finally lifting, so we decided to head once again to the balancing pond, in the hope that we could now see across the water.

A male Reed Bunting sang in the bushes along side the reed bed.

there was no sign of the hoped for Green-winged Teal, it wasn't a case of couldn't see due to the mist, but a case of it just wasn't there!  We also heard of a Pied Flycatcher that we had missed, and rather than wait to see it if it showed we made the wrong decision and walked the highway once again.

On Efford Lake the insects were everywhere, but the only gulls catching them were Black-headed, there was no sign of yesterday's Little Gulls.  We decided to walk back as the sun was now out, and just before the pond we had good views of a Willow Warbler in song.

Could we now say that Spring was here?

 In the bushes alongside the Willow Warbler was also a male Blackcap.  

As we reached the footpath once again we were told we had missed the Pied Flycatcher, and that it had flown towards Iley Lane.  We stopped to check the balancing pond once again, this time all we found of interest was a pair of Snipe.

A walk up and down Iley Lane revealed that we had once again just missed he Pied Flycatcher, but in the sunshine I was able to record my first butterfly of the year, a Peacock.

I can't recall a year when I have had to wait until the middle of April to see the first butterfly of the year, this year has like other years turned the record book upside down, but for lateness rather than early sightings.

A Buzzard overhead was the last sighting before returning to the cars for lunch.

After lunch, we took the same route as before, and saw pretty much the same as before.  Walking towards Pennington we were informed once again that we had just missed the Pied Flycatcher once again, and at this point I knew we were not going to see it.

Several Peacocks passed us, and a single Green-veined White, but the photo I took was not up to scratch.  As we approached the car park at lower Pennington Lane, Ian picked up both a pair of Ruff on the edge of Efford Lake, and above us a female Marsh Harrier.

We walked onto the old tip, and headed to the Jetty, as we came up the sea wall this time we were greeted with a view almost across the Solent to the isle of Wight. 

The metal work was now transformed in the sunshine, the Turnstone taking advantage as the tide started to drop.

The water in the lagoons that was a steely grey earlier in the day was now a lovely deep blue.  A large flock of Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in the grass, but were suddenly spooked and flew up, only to settle quickly on the edge of the water.

 A single Little Egret fished in the middle of the lagoon, its perfect reflection broken as it ran around and lunged into the water after its prey

 Once again another lovely reflection as a Mute Swan sat on a small shingle bank in the lagoon.

 The Godwits were still unsettled and continued to fly around the water.

There was an upsetting scene taking place at the back of the lagoon.  A female Mallard had ducklings, and had obviously hoped the reeds would hide them, but a pair of Grey Herons had found them, and despite the attacks of the mother duck, we saw one take a small duckling.

While the drama unfolded, the cormorant that we had seen early in the mist was still sitting on its post in the middle of the lagoon.

We walked past the Jetty and scanning across the water there was a group of five Great Crested Grebes, but also a larger water bird.  It dived but surfaced and we could see it was a Black-throated Diver, and unexpected find, but welcome.

It continued to dive, moving slowly away from us, so we hurried after it in an attempt to get a better view.

 We left the diver heading towards Hurst Castle, and made our way back to the Ancient Highway.  Another male Reed Bunting singing.

The lake was quieter, without the gulls flying around.  The Ruff were still present, but little else.  Chiffchaffs sang in the bushes, one showing very well.

while a Kestrel that had been hunting the marsh was settled up in a bush from where it could scan the area.

There was no sign of the flycatcher, but we walked the diagonal path one more time, and also scanned the balancing pond.  Turning down Iley lane towards the harbour we came across a Comma, the third butterfly of the day.

There were a couple of Peacocks about, and the Comma would fly off to duel with them as they passed over it, returning always to the same spot on the gorse.

 A little further along a white butterfly that I thought at first was a female Brimstone turned out to be another Green-veined White.  This time though I was able to get an acceptable photograph.

Where the lane meets the highway there is a large patch of Blackthorn, and this has burst into blossom, and with the blue sky looked just as if spring was finally here.

It had been an interesting day, with one or two disappointments, but at the same time an enjoyable day with some lovely photographic opportunities.  As I set off home I was also able to pick up the fourth butterfly of the day, a Brimstone along Lymore Lane.  The forecast for the next day would take us back to winter, but there were signs of warmth and sunshine towards the end of the coming week.