Sunday, 26 October 2014

Cliffe Pools, RSPB Reserve, North Kent

I had a couple of hours on Friday afternoon and decided to visit an old haunt of mine at RSPB at Cliffe Pools, in Kent, on the south side of the Thames Estuary.  I like this site as its a little rougher and basic than many of the more manicured reserves, plus it is located along the Thames so you can watch the ships go by heading for Tilbury or further up river. I have visited the site on several occasions in the past and spent may long days there, this was going to be a relatively short but exciting visit.

Almost immediately I was met in the first of the pools by a single Coot who, on noticing me, swam off slowly, constantly looking back to see if I was still there.

During spring and summer these guys are pretty aggressive towards each other and I have witnessed a good number of fights in these very pools.  However at other times of the year they are quite gregarious and in one of the other pools I noticed these;

Coots all, I lost count at 143 but there was not a single fight for the entire time I watched them.

A little further into the area I spotted two adult Mute Swans

These are among the largest, if not the largest, bird found in the UK and are pretty common, although, I must admit it was the first time I had seen them here.  In an adjoining pool there was another, but juvenile;

Probably not speaking with its parents as teenagers are wont to do from time to time :).

Another common species in the waterways of England is the Great Crested Grebe which are almost always found here.  The conditions suit them perfectly here as while the pools are fed by the tides they are not tidal so it can feed and swim to its hearts content.  I have yet to see one of their mating rituals in real life, one of the joys for the future.

A close relative of this the Little Grebe was also fairly abundant around the pools;

On a little island in the middle of the centre pools I spotted another of our fairly common species, the Mallard, preening and resting in the cool afternoon.

The seem to be on every available body of water there is n the UK.  I have even seen a pair swimming in a pool that was generated by a heavy rain shower in the middle of a field.  Completely surrounded by sheep, they were not in the slightest bit bothered.  Another bird which was in evidence at the pools was the Lapwing, or Northern Lapwing as we call them in Saudi (mainly because we often get several different types).

These guys will soon be heading south for the winter I expect.  There is a nice little line of them in the next picture behind the Little Egret.

A lone Moorhen was spotted in one of the smaller pools, probably feeling a little left out of the collection of Coots which were all over.

Finally for the photographs a little shot of the ubiquitous Robin Redbreast.  There were a good number of these around the area all singing their hearts out.  As far as I know they protect their territory all year round and outside of breeding season the females also protect a territory, so probably just informing everyone he is still there and to keep off!!

During the visit I also saw a good number of Black Headed gulls and a few larger ones in the distance but too far for ID.  A lone Kestrel was flushed from one of the walkways too, so close that both him and I were startled and he was long gone by the time I gathered my wits and grabbed the camera!  What can I say the trials of birding.

As every a brilliant few hours.  Oh well back to Saudi and birding in the heat :)



Friday, 24 October 2014

A brief visit to marshes near Lower Halstow

Lower Halstow is a small village on the North Kent coast near the mouth of the Medway river. The marshes are deep mud and shingle and many of the islands in the Medway estuary are protected as areas of scientific significance.  I only had a short time there on this visit but thought I would get a look at what was about. Most of the pictures are long distance shots as the mud is deep and the consistency of quicksand in places.

Three Wigeon feeding in the river.  The water at this point would be fresh as the tide was fully out.

A little further along the same stretch of river

Another bunch of Wigeon a couple of males but mainly female. In the foreground is a solo Oyster catcher ad a couple of Sandpipers but I can't see what type.

Wigeon (20) again but this time joined by a flock of Avocet (38 I get), who would be a water bug in there?  Also at the far side of the river is a Shelduck.  I am beginning to think the two waders are Green Sandpipers, again not certain though.
These were a delight for me I must say as I had never seen them here (or anywhere!!) before.  A small flock of about 18 Brent Geese feeding on the weed.  Early winter visitors.

A solo Redshank asleep on the mud.


 A small group of Starling feeding on the weed in the bay

A solo Lapwing resting on the mud.  There were a number of these around the bay but they proved very difficult to get a good photo of.  This one was a little more obliging.
Happy days, 90 minutes of birding and a new species.  Happy bunny!!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Home Patch Revisited - 9th October 2014

Over the EID celebrations in KSA I decided to return to the UK for a couple of weeks to attend to some personal matters.  While there I had the chance for two relatively short outings , one in and around Colne in Lancashire and the second close to London, but more of the latter in another blog.

My walk around Colne was a familiar one along Colne Water to the bridge near Wycoller along the Ferndean Way

All along the walk there was the rattling sound of the many Magpies which are resident in the area.  At this time of year the majority of these can be found feeding in the fields either singly or in small groups.

At the bridge on Coal Pit Lane I stopped to do a little river watching and noticed the resident Dipper hunting in its own unique way.

white-throated dipper (Cinclus cinclus)
They stand on rocks in the stream and watch for movement under the water bobbing up and down. As far as I know it has never been established why they do this bobbing but perhaps it helps them see into the reflective water.

white-throated dipper (Cinclus cinclus),
On spotting something they either dive straight in or stick their head under water to get a better look.
Heading away from the river up the lane I followed the pathway across some fields and spotted a number of Great and Blue Tits but only managed to get a usable photo of this little Blue Tit today.

blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus or Parus caeruleus)
The woodland area was very quiet today so I passed along out on the the Trawden road heading for Ball Grove.  In the fields by the river I noticed this Grey Heron, the first of 5, I saw on my walk.  Most appeared to be young ones and later, on my way back, I got to within 10 or 15 ft of one who watched me intently but never moved.  This was somewhat similar an experience as Rob Tovey and I had with a young Purple Heron in Al Hayer, in that case we could almost have touched it.

grey heron (Ardea cinerea)

In many of the fields searching for food were the Carrion Crows which were behaving much like Blackbirds, standing and listening for a bit then pouncing on whatever it was they found.

carrion crow (Corvus corone)

I continued along to Ball Grove Pond and, as always, there were the usual collection of Mallards.

mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) Female

mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) Male

and the occasional Common Moorhen

common moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)

Also flying about were quite a few of the Black Headed Gull, minus the black head at this time of year

black-headed gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)

At the second pond along this walk I noticed another regular of the riverside, the Grey Wagtail.  I expect I will be seeing these guys pretty soon in Saudi on their way south for the winter.

grey wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)
As always when home life interrupted my visit and I headed home after a couple of hours walk.  One really interesting thing I did hear from a fellow birder was that a Green Woodpecker was seen recently above the second pond at Ball Grove.  These are not uncommon in the UK but I don't know of any being in our area.  Something to be on the look out for in the future.

Species List.


Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Al Hayer - 4th October 2014

Up early again today, although we were a little late arriving on site due to a slight oversleep by our driver.  Temperatures are a bit fresher these mornings at around 26 C with a light breeze.  I started my walk in the south field and skirted the river / reeds all the way up into the second field on the north side of the road and back again.  A good few fishermen were about after the first hour or so which disturbed things a little but it did not have too much impact on the birds.

Almost immediately on entering the field I spotted a Black Scrub Robin sitting on a bush.

black scrub robin (Cercotrichas podobe)

And a little further along I noticed a small family of Moorhen who, for once, did not notice me first.  In all I counted 13 in a small area in the lower field.  They were even confient enough to walk out into the field to feed so my new invisible cloak must have been doing the trick ;). 

common moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)

In good numbers again this weekend were the Barn Swallows which were busily performing their aerial dance collecting insects as they went along.  This week however they were joined by a small number of Pale Craig Martins, I can't remember seeing them in this area before, although they are relatively plientiful aroung the Cricket Club.

Out in the field bathing in the sprinklers and feeding were a group of Cattle Egret.

cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis)

and also a number of Squacco Heron.

squacco heron (Ardeola ralloides)
and as always the ever present White Cheeked Bulbul kept watch on my every move.
white-cheeked bulbul ( Pycnonotus leucogenys )
This week saw a significant increase in the number of European Bee-Eaters in the area, at one point there were a number in the air and 10 or more resting on the overhead cables.  These guys visit us at this time of year on their way south. 
european bee-eater (Merops apiaster)

european bee-eater (Merops apiaster)
Additionally there was the ever present group of Little Green Bee Eater who are resident in the area.
green bee-eater (Merops orientalis)
In every bush and tree there was a small complement of Streaked Weavers chattering away.  These little guys only seem to flock later in the day I think, something I must watch out for in the future.

streaked weaver (Ploceus manyar)

One bird I notices a fair few of this time and had not noted in the area before was the Common Myna

common myna (Acridotheres tristis)

There were about a dozen of these in the trees and feeding together on the sprinklers.  They are common enough in central Saudi Arabia but not often seen out here.

common myna (Acridotheres tristis)

Further along the sprinkler line was the White Throated Kingfisher, there were three of these spaced out along the sprinkler, generally just watching the goings on below them, but they occasionally would make a short flight to the ground and back.

white-throated kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)

As always there was the resident mob of Graceful Prinia.  These very active little warblers are difficult to get a photo of as they move about in the trees quite quickly so I was quite pleased to get a shot at this one out in the open for a few moments.  All along the walk you could hear these guys chattering away to one another.

graceful prinia (Prinia gracilis)
Hunting in the reeds was this young Durian Shrike, it was quite tame by comparison with many of the birds in the area so allowed some reasonable shots.

daurian shrike (Lanius isabellinus)

I did not get to see many Purple Heron on the ground this week as they were nearly all seen in flight heading east in small groups.  This one I did get in flight although not brilliantly.

purple heron (Ardea purpurea)
On crossing the road into the two northern fields birding tailed off for a little bit as there were a number of fishermen setting up their nets and generally creating a lot of noise.  However, further out into the dry area I came across a pair of Crested Lark busily searching for food amoung the tufts of vegetation.

crested lark (Galerida cristata)
 And on an unused sprinkler a single spotted flycatcher making its sortie like flights to catch insect and then returning to its perch for a breather.
spotted flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)

A male and female Namaqua Dove were spotted nearby and a little later I spotted a good number of these out among the reeds and Tamarisk bushes.

namaqua dove (Oena capensis)

A pair of March Harriers circled the reeds hunting, though I did not see them dive in at any point this morning.

marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosus)
I am pretty sure this was a male , though he was flying quite high at the time so I only got this photo of him.
marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosus)
Just to top off what was an exciting days birding, I walked back towards the car and my attention was drawn to a commotion in a nearby tree, as I looked closer a flock of approximately 50 Cattle Egret took to the sky, completed a circuit of the tree and returned to perch on it. 

cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis)

cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis)

 In all another wonderful day's birding.

Species List 

Purple Heron
Green Bee-eater
Cattle Egret
European Bee-eater
Squacco Heron
Eurasian Hoopoe
Western Marsh Harrier
Daurian Shrike
Common Moorhen
Crested Lark
Laughing Dove
Barn Swallow
White-throated Kingfisher
Rock Martin (Pale Crag-Martin)
White-eared Bulbul
Graceful Prinia
Black Scrub-Robin
Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin
Common Myna
Streaked Weaver
Spotted Flycatcher