Monday, 16 April 2012

Verona - 11th - 13th April

We arrived in dry weather, but while on the way to the hotel from the airport, the rain started, and very quickly it became very heavy.  We ventured from the hotel into the city, but found a combination of umbrellas and slippery marble pavements made it very difficult to appreciate the city.  A break in the rain allowed us to see Juliett's house, but very little else.

Thursday was a completely different day, the sky was blue and and the sun shone, and suddenly Verona looked a completely different place.  Walking alongside the River Adige, Swifts were everywhere, swooping low over the water and circling around the towers and buildings.

As well as the Swifts, Swallows, House Martins, and Crag Martins were also seen flying low over the water, and under the bridges.  One Swallow sat in the bushes alongside the river as we walked by.  It seemed to be desperate to attract our attention as it sang very loudly.  The final part of the song was a rattle, and we were close enough to see the feathers on it's throat vibrate.  It was lovely to see them, and I hope by the time we get home they arrive there too

The air was cool, and as a result a mist rolled in up the river valley, and returned the city to cloud cover by the middle of the morning.  This provided for some lovely atmospheric landscapes of the old bridge, and town area.  By lunch time the sun and blue sky had returned.

We walked around the city enjoying the sun, and the wonderful scenery.  A stop for refreshments in Piazza Dei Signori, allowed some time to watch a House Sparrow.  Close examination and subsequent research could not confirm this as a true Italian Sparrow, as the dark bib on the breast does not seem to be as well defined as pictures I have seen, however the bib is a lot larger and darker than the House Sparrows, which may suggest this bird was the product of some mixed relationships.

Other wildlife observations of note was the amazing lack of female Mallards on the river, we saw males, and even ducklings with males, but no females.  Also a kestrel was seen hovering over the river bank but did not come close enough to determine whether it was a lesser.

We were extremely lucky to get a wonderful sunny and warm day sandwiched between heavy rain, and a day where rain was forecast.  It allowed us to see this beautiful city at it's best.  If you haven't been, then we would thoroughly recommend it.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Rye & Dungeness - 30th - 31st March

We had arranged this weekend break sometime ago, but over the last week with the good weather we thought we may have struck lucky.  We drove to Rye in glorious sunshine, and when we arrived it was like early summer, with people walking the streets eating ice creams and wearing shorts.  We were staying at the George in Rye which is right in the centre of Rye along the high street.  The parking was awkward but the hotel was superb, lovely room, and wonderful food.  So it was unpack at the hotel, and out into the streets to enjoy the late afternoon sunshine.

Rye is extremely picturesque, with cobbled streets and Tudor style buildings, we walked through the church yard and around the small streets away from the high street.  The sun picked out the buildings beautifully, and also showed up the avian residents on the chimney pots.  Surprisingly the Herring Gulls were not as noisy as I would have expected, but they could be seen paired up and sitting on most of the roofs around the town.

Here is a selection of pictures that represent the town, and the evening walk.

This lane coming up from the car park is of special significance for Helen and I.

So following a nice Italian meal, a good night's sleep and a lovely breakfast, which included a game of hunt the toast, we set off to walk around the levels, and Rye Harbour.  Unfortunately our luck with the weather had run out, as the morning was cloudy with a light drizzle, something we had not recently experienced for at least a couple of weeks.  This though was not going to stop us and we set off across the river and down onto the marshes.

The fields were full of sheep, and it was quickly clear that they were just starting to lamb, there were a few new born around, and there was evidence of recent births on the footpath.  We made our way through the sheep, and then set off across the fields in the direction of Camber Castle.  The drizzle had stopped now, and a single Reed Bunting sang from one of the gates.  Their song is very poor, and in the past when I used to bird around Essex I would find it extremely irritating, but now I very rarely see them around my patch in Hampshire, so this was an opportunity, as it sat singing on the gate as we approached it.

At the castle we headed off towards Castle Water, but quickly realised we were going the wrong way, so back tracked and eventually found the hide.  As we walked into the hide a Chiffchaff was singing in the elder bushes, and posed quite nicely for us.

One feature as we had walked across the fields were the numbers of Mediterranean Gulls in the fields, and as we entered the hide there was also quite a number on the water.  The small island right in front of the hide had several Shoveler and Teal, but looking closer there was a small group of five snipe sitting on the rocks just out of the water.

The Mediterranean Gulls were taking the time to wash and would collect together, while there was quite a bit of other activity going on with the Shoveler swimming around, and Great Crested Grebes and Tufted Duck swimming in front of the hide..

Through all this activity though, there was a real tussle going on at the back of the lake between two pairs of Coot.  They were really going at each other, and must have been to do with a potential nest site.  One Coot could be seen sitting on top of another, holding it under the water, it would break free, and then fly at the other and flip itself over to attack with it's feet.  This went on for some time until finally the fighting moved into the space of some Grey Lag Geese who were not impressed and lunged at the Coot.  Finally one pair had enough and swam off, still being chased by the other pair.  It was quite amazing to watch and photograph.

Leaving the Hide we walked around the water, and then across the levels towards the beach.  Instead of taking the beach road, we walked down to the sea, and walked along the beach.  This was a little harder than we thought, as the tide was out, but there were small streams that were quite deep, and along with very soft sand these made the path difficult, so we finally came backup the beach and walked along the road.  Despite this I was able to get some nice photos of a Common Gull, which in summer adult plumage is a very pretty gull I think, and a Herring Gull taking off.

There were a few hides overlooking the pools at the back of the beach, the first we visited was the Ternery Hide, and as the name suggests there were plenty of terns to be seen although at this time of year they were only Sandwich Terns.  The Terns were very active, and in the photos it is fascinating to look at the individual interactions that are going on between them.  At this time of the year they look extremely splendid in their black shaggy caps and yellow tipped bills.  Also on the islands were Mediterranean Gulls and Black Headed Gulls.  The Med Gulls were paired and could be seen placing vegetation and twigs on the shingle.  Med Gulls have a jet black hood while the Black Headed Gulls have a chocolate brown hood.  The Latin name for the Med Gull is melanocephalus which means "black head" so why it was not called Black Headed I don't know.  The Black Headed Gull meanwhile has a Latin name "ridibundus" which means laughing which fits by the call, but there is a North American gull called the laughing gull, which has the Latin name is "atricula" which means to be capable of speech, and so it goes on!  Anyway both the gulls and the terns were making their usual noise as is to be expected at this time of year.

On the water was a small group of Tufted Duck that would swim back and forth in front of the hide.  As they went by they would all dive, and then pop up almost together.  In this photo I think they look like a gang of teenagers with uncontrollable hair, and not sure what they want to do!

One other feature of the Med Gull is the all white wings, and again in the adult plumage they look gorgeous, and and very much like snow in flight, albeit snow with a black head!

We left the hide, and visited the others but there was not much going on, so we decided to make our way back to Rye via the viewing point and across the marshes again.  As we approached the viewing point a female Sparrowhawk shot out in front of us, upsetting all the small birds in the bushes and trees, it gained height and quickly moved away from us.  At the viewing platform, there was little action on the water and in the reeds, but a male Marsh Harrier glided across in front of us, and gave some very good views as it flew over the reeds.

We walked back around Castle Water, and retraced the path back across the fields.  The sheep were now being moved around, and the new lambs and their mothers were being separated from the main sheep flock.  As we came closer to the main flock, it was clear more lambs had been born, and some only recently.  The were quite a few ewes that looked like they were going to give birth soon as well.  The lambs were in various states, some bright and clean, while others were still getting a wash and brush up.

Once we got back to Rye, we decided to head off to Dungeness, to the RSPB reserve.  On the way the weather changed and the light drizzle returned, at Dungeness the wind was coming from the north and it was quite cold so we headed for the hides.  We debated whether or not to go into the first hide, but was very glad that we did.  Standing just a way from the hide in the shallow water was an adult Spoonbill.  Usually with Spoonbill they tuck their long spoon shaped bill under their wing, and just stand still on one leg.  This one though was quite animated, going through several ways of preening, and even jumping in the air to ward off the gulls as they flew overhead.  As a result I was able to get a series of photos.  It was really nice to be able to see the colour under the chin, and on the bill, which also had a very interesting pattern, although may favourites are where the wind catches the head feathers.  The weather also decided to help, with the sun coming out for a brief moment.

The Spoonbill stole the show but there supporting cast were also worth a mention, and were also quite photogenic.  The roosting Oystercatcher gives a lovely reflection, while the Shelduck, Teal, and Gadwall all look superb in their breeding plumage.

We moved on, and as we entered the next hide we were immediately confronted with a small flock of Knot that were flying around over the water.  The reason for the flying became apparent as a Peregrine swooped through them, but didn't manage to catch anything, and then flew off in the direction of the power station.

There was very little else in the other hides, and the wind was now quite strong, and very cold, a sharp reminder that despite the warm weather of recent days winter isn't done yet.  As we walked back to the visitor centre a female Marsh Harrier glided across the shingle beds, and then over the main pit, again heading towards the power station. 

Just before we left, I wanted to check Dennis Hide for the Long-tailed Duck.  I couldn't find it so we came out and as we walked along the path Helen stopped me.  She had seen a fox in the bushes, and as we waited it came out and walked along the bank.  Next to the hide was the picnic area, and the fox was obviously a regular visitor as it showed no real concern about our presence, although it was very watchful.  It came under the fence and checked out the ground under the picnic tables, clearly there are times when they provide a very easy meal.

Leaving the fox, we drove back to a welcoming hotel room, a nice warm bath, and a lovely evening meal.