Thursday, 15 January 2009

Another owl, but no larks

I spent the much of the morning on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent, hoping for some good raptor watching. A few patches of fog on the way down weren't unexpected, but as I continued towards the north Kent coast the fog became denser, to the point where, at the turn-off to Capel Fleet, visibility was barely 75 metres.

A male Pheasant gave itself - and me - a scare by running in front of the car as I turned down towards the raptor watchpoint. The next bird, hunched up on a roadside post, was immediately more interesting. Even through the dense murk the silhouette said 'owl', and sure enough a fine Barn Owl got off its perch, hovered briefly over the verge and landed a few posts farther on. I fired off a few record shots, but the bird was nervous and each time I edged closer it moved another along. Eventually, another car pulled up behind me, so I had to move forwards - but I pulled up briefly alongside the owl and fired off a couple of close-up portraits. They are superb birds.

Thereafter, it was slow going and the fog never cleared. A few Common Teal and other ducks were on the fleet, but temperatures were low and the ditches were still largely frozen. Several Curlew were working the banks were the sun had just permeated the fog and softened the going, and a Green Sandpiper call alerted me a bird somewhere; eventually I pinned it down in a frozen ditch. A female Merlin, at least 15 Red-legged Partridges and one or two Corn Buntings were all good to see, as were two Brown Hares, but I gave up waiting for clearer skies and headed back before noon.

I diverted my route home to east and then north London via Sidcup, until yesterday home of a small Woodlark flock. But as stated on the Rare Bird Alert pager yesterday, the stubble fields are now all ploughed and the larks, which peaked at seven, have been replaced by the same number of Pied Wagtails. Ring-necked Parakeets were all over the place, but otherwise it was quiet.

Rainham Marshes was better. First off was a Short-eared Owl hunting reedbeds close to the seawall from the visitor centre - my third owl species in less than a week - and as I walked out via the scrub flights of Black-tailed Godwits and a few Dunlin were streaming in to roost on the wet areas west of Aveley Pools. Up to four Water Rails, two Cetti's Warblers and a Goldcrest were along the new boardwalk, and at the far end, on the right-hand side just before the bend in front of the target pools, at least one Bearded Tit was calling late on. This last species was a site tick for me. Also of interest was a Jay calling somewhere in the woodland - often not an easy species here, though my second record already this year.

Now that temperatures are up and the ice has gone, the target pools were covered in gulls, but I couldn't pick up anything other than the usual suspects today; three of the six Little Egrets, also up in numbers, were on the targets with the gulls. In total, I had five new species for my 2009 site list:

75. Kingfisher
76. Tufted Duck
77. Goldcrest
78. Pochard
79. Bearded Tit


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