Great Crested Grebe
 
 

These articles are written for the CR6 magazine and reproduced here with the permission of the author, Brian Hobley (01883 625404). If you would like to reproduce them in your magazine, it would be courteous to ask him. 


October
I finally managed to get out sea watching, it started out as just that - watching the sea - until things livened up about lunch time… 10+ great skuas [bonxies], 4 Arctic skuas, gannets, Sandwich terns and snipe coming in off the sea. Then a text came through that the star bird was sitting on the beach opposite the Leysdown 'pitch and putt' course. A Sabine's gull - a small gull that only comes to land in the Arctic to breed, the rest of the year they stay at sea, real sea gulls. The day's supporting cast consisted of a good selection of waders, dunlin, black and bar tailed godwits, sanderling, grey plover, curlew and avocets. A trip to Bough Beech reservoir produced a merlin - Britain's smallest falcon. Locally ring ouzels, whinchats, stonechats and wheatear have been seen - so keep looking and feeding.
Brian Hobley


September
I finally managed to get to Oare Marsh near Faversham but a week too early - more of that later. Oare had the lowest level of water that I have ever seen there - more mud than water, but still managed a good day's bird watching. Ruff, curlew sandpiper, little stint, large numbers of black-tailed godwits, redshanks and avocets. Small birds were represented by rock pipits, yellow wagtail, whinchats - all birds heading south to Africa for the Winter as well as being species I have not managed to see this year.
The following Saturday and Sunday were days that Sea Watchers can only dream about. The Thames estuary was crammed with sea birds: 127 arctic skuas over Oare great skuas (bonxies), pomarine and long tailed skuas. sooty shearwaters and Manx shearwaters, Sabine's gulls -all uncommon Autumn migrants going south from their Arctic breeding areas and I didn't go to see them. Ah well, you can't win them all…

Brian Hobley


August
Not a lot to report locally. Good numbers of great and blue tits with the occasional coal tit and nuthatch, a few starlings, robins, dunnocks, woodpigeons and collared doves - otherwise very quiet. A fly-over red kite most days - which is good to see. This leads me on to a subject which is not the illegal persecution of birds of prey particularly close to Grouse Shoots. A young white tailed sea eagle poisoned in Scotland. Two dogs poisoned the Peak district NATIONAL PARK One died the other was very ill - it could just as well of been young children! It is time grouse shooting was banned or at least licenced. Buzzards and kites have been shot and poisoned frequently in the name of pest control on the moors. Locally a dead peregrine has been handed to our new local wildlife crime officer.
On a brighter note the three little ringed plover chicks all reached theflying stage, as did the lapwing chicks at Bough Beech Reservoir. The lapwing was a very attentive father - I saw a crow go over and he went at it like a Spitfire! The ringed plover chicks flew 22 days after hatching by flying over the hedge from the North Lake only to land in the road so we had to chase it over the hedge on to the main lake... it obviously had not been taught its highway code!
Brian Hobley


July
I have managed to escape from house arrest to save my sanity!
Two trips to Bough Beech and a trip to Ashdown Forest with lots of space and very few people. At Bough Beech I managed to see a reed warbler, lesser whitethroat, kingfisher, common terns, green sandpiper, little ringed plover, and a lapwing with three young chicks. The highlight was a spotted fly catcher, a bird which used to nest in Warlingham and many other places, not now though as their numbers have crashed - lack of habitat and lack of insects!!
Talking about lack of insects, on another trip to Ashdown Forest, normally insect repellent is the order of the day, not this time - not a midge to be seen. From the long car park a short walk produced a Dartford warbler, a bird which being on the northern limit of its range suffers badly from hard winters. The list also included a stonechat, linnets, willow warbler, chiff chaff, meadow and tree pipits. Going back to Hind Leap we managed to see the target birds, woodcock and nightjars which came very close, which made it a very good evening bird watch.
Keep looking as there are a lot of siskins and crossbills coming in from Scandinavia.

Brian Hobley


June
Still under house arrest so not a lot to report. I had a sighting of a gannet flying very high and going North. Unfortunately the white-tailed sea eagle that has been travelling round Kent, Surrey and Sussex has not come this way…  but keep looking for a ‘flying barn door’ going over!
I have heard that some people are worried about red kites taking cats - this not a problem as kites feed mainly on earthworms and carrion. The two that dived on the cat probably saw it as a threat.
In my garden there as been a brood of blue tits zipping about feeding together with blackbirds, robins and nuthatches - one of which came with a couple of feet of me standing next to a feeder. Wood pigeons are getting quite cheeky coming within a few feet demanding food and house sparrows are in and out of the hedge using the bird bath and pond for drinking and bathing.
Locally, there have been reports of hobby and, at Bough Beech Reservoir, there has been an osprey which I missed (on my first trip out for ten weeks I left 25 minutes too soon as there were to many people about), plus there are also a couple of little ringed plovers and nesting common terns as well as a variety of warblers.

Brian Hobley


May
Only a few things to report: Swifts came back on the 6th, holly blue butterflies appeared and 3 female solitary bees turned up in the front garden - these bees look like black bumble bees.
So I will tell you about the best £2.50 I've ever spent! On a trip down the Nile we spent a couple of days at Crocodile Island where they were offering Bird Watching Safaris for 25 Egyptian pounds (£2.50 UK). Got up at 5am to meet the local guide - we walked out of the resort along the bank of the Nile. As we went through the gate there was a crested lark on the path in front and a fantailed warbler in the scrub a couple of feet away. As we progressed along the bank we came to place overlooking a small reed bed on the edge of the river where every heron I've seen in this country were within a few feet of each other - grey, purple, night, squacco and striated herons plus great white, cattle and little egrets. Just to give a flavour as we walked back into the complex, the guide pointed out black-shouldered kite to add the marsh harrier seen previously! We finished off with a masked shrike - 80 Species in an hour and a half! it had to the best £2.50 spent!
Keep looking and feeding and, above all, stay safe.

Brian Hobley


April
In these worrying times nature is a good way of releasing the stress levels. The birds are still singing, migration is under way and on the 8/th I had my first Swallow over the garden, plus 4 Buzzards (two singles and a pair) and a single sparrowhawk.
As I have often said, "Keep looking as anything can turn up!"
And BOY-O-BOY it did!
Sitting in a garden chair looking up for any high flying birds of prey…then a totally mind blowing sight - a BLACK KITE drifted over my roof about 2' over the ridge and glided the length of my garden, 15' or so over my head as there were only 3 or 4 in the country on that day - it really was my lucky day!
The other birds in the garden have been nuthatch, great spotted woodpecker, greenfinch, goldfinch, blue, great and coal tits, starlings, house sparrows, dunnocks, robins and blackbirds. The butterflies were brimstones, commas, orangetip and small tortoiseshell together with honey bees, solitary and buff tailed bumble bees! Keep looking and feeding - anything really can turn up!

Brian Hobley


March
As if the bug is not bad enough…. On the 23rd February Brian T, myself and another friend went to Poulter park by the River Wandle on the border of Sutton and Merton. We saw yellow browed warbler, Siberian chiff chaff and common chiff chaff, firecrests. goldcrests and grey wagtail. Only then to be caught by some idiot in full hazard gear spraying some type of pesticide on the far bank in a strong wind blowing in our direction! So much for ‘ELF and safety’ as all 3 of us suffered mild poisoning.
On a lighter note on the 15th March a few of us went to Stodmarsh near Canterbury the wind was a bit strong but we had very good views of plenty of close ducks: gadwall, shoveller and teal.
Brian Hobley


February
I want to thank the people at Knights, Chelsham for their help in advertising The Big Garden Bird Watch on 25th January.
The weather has not been very helpful as far as birding goes - we had to postpone our field trip on 16th February due to Storm Dennis. It's a good job three of us did a couple of trips to find some rarer or uncommon birds! We went looking for long tailed ducks, known as old squaws by native Americans, as a flock calling sounded like a group of chattering squaws! Found 2 on Scotney gravel pit near Lydd – then the next stop was Dungeness RSPB reserve to look for a male smew, a beautiful black and white duck known by previous generations as' the nun'. In the same area were great white egret and a fly-over of wild geese possibly white fronts.
Further onto the reserve while eating lunch we saw a male golden eye - another black and white duck, smart but in a different way to the smew. Having been told there was a fire crest in front of the Firth Hide a short time later we found 2 fire crests, 2 or 3 chiffchaffs and a nice flock of long tailed tits. Then off to Walland Marsh looking for the group of wild Bewick's swans – unsuccessfully, but we did find a flock of 100-200 fieldfares - the first of the year for us.
The daffodils are coming out and hopefully the weather will get better! So keep looking and feeding!

Brian Hobley


January
We started our first field trip of 2020 on a not very inspiring morning, wet and drizzling which cleared by 9am to produce a sunny but windy day. A repeat of the last trip of 2019 was very productive. Roughlegged buzzard, common buzzard, lots of marsh harriers - a success story from just three in the whole country in the 1970s to a few hundred  now. Just a single hen harrier - the most persecuted bird in Britain especially on grouse moors where they just disappear even when radio tracked. Wader numbers were good with a large flock of knot, golden plover, dunlin. lapwing, avocets and oystercatchers to name just a few. The day ended on a high note with a LONG EARED OWL roosting in the old orchard on Elmley National Nature Reserve. Later we had cracking views of at least 4 barn owls - one as close as 8 feet away.
Locally the birds seem few and far between red kite, common buzzard and the usual garden birds.
Keep looking and feeding something will turn up - it usually does!

Brian Hobley