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. 

The BIG GARDEN BIRD WATCH has been running since 1979 - 39 years' of data. In 2018 there were 490,489 sets of results with 6,764,475 birds counted and the top 10 are: 1- house sparrow, 2- starling, 3- blue tit, 4- blackbird, 5- wood pigeon, 6- goldfinch, 7- great tit, 8- long tailed tit, 9- robin, 10- collared dove.
In England both robin and blackbird counts were down in numbers. Let's see if we can do better this year in 2019's BIG GARDEN BIRD WATCH! This data will be extra important to see what effect 2018's funny weather has had on wild life.
The dates for the B.G.B.W are 26th – 28th of January the last weekend.
Good watching and feeding and a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

We had a very interesting talk at our indoor meeting in November by an RSPB staff member and friend of mine, Adrian Thomas, on gardening for wildlife.
He also surprised me by presenting me with a golden Kite pin badge in recognition of 35 years volunteering for the RSPB. (Well done, Brian! – Editor)
He is the author of a very good book entitled (surprise, surprise) ‘GARDENING FOR WILDLIFE’ which dispels a lot of the myths. You do not need a scruffy garden full of native weeds a formal garden with a mix of native and imported species such as single dahlias, lavenders, lupins, redhot poker, wallflowers and verbenas such as verbena bonariensis. This book would make a nice Xmas present for any one interested in wildlife and gardening. The field trip to the Burgh on top of the South Downs and Pulborough Brooks RSPB reserve produced a good mix of birds of prey.
Keep your feeders topped up and clean for the next BIG GARDEN BIRD WATCH from 26-28 January.
Big Garden Birdwatch 2019 registration opens 12 December 2018.

Every September to early October birders study the wind direction, looking for NW to N Easterly 15 miles an hour plus. When this looks likely, it's off to Shellness Point on the Isle of Sheppey for a sea watch, hoping these conditions will bring seabirds close into the Swale - the channel that separates Sheppey from the mainland.
We missed the best day - a very wet Sunday, but got the second best day with 300+ gannets, 30 sandwich terns, 2 black terns a few common terns, 24 great skuas, 1 arctic skua and 5 pomerine skuas - the icing on the cake was one pomerine that flew along the beach 12 feet away!
Closer to home a grey phalarope spent 10 days at Bough Beech reservoir entertaining people by flying up catching flies. The winter birds are coming in from northern climes for their winter break – so keep looking and keep feeding.

This year still seems to be rather strange. Very few migrants seem to be passing locally. A small number of swallows and house martins the odd chiff chaff, a whinchat and a few sightings of hobby.
A trip to Reculver on the North Kent coast was very quiet. The highlights were a large number of swallows and martins collecting round the towers feeding up for a couple of hours then they just moved on. A hobby went through obviously following the feeding flock and a yellow wagtail popped up on the rocks in front of me for a few seconds then disappeared.
Then round to Oare Marsh - this was much more productive. Water rail, spotted crake, ruffs, curlew sandpipers, little stint, 50+avocets, 1500 blacktailed godwits, 100+golden plover, dunlin and ringed plovers on the flood. Little owl, whinchat and 100 terns flying over - mainly common with at least  one arctic among them.

Migration is getting under way…
The swifts have gone but a few swallows and martins are still around. Numbers of warbler species - whitethroats, lesser whitethroats, pied and spotted fly-catchers and willow warblers have been seen on the coast. Ospreys have been seen at Lewes and Langstone Harbour.
An evening adventure to Oare Marshes, near Faversham, was very interesting - first problem was to negotiate Kent C.C's road closures with a couple of long detours. On arriving wader passage is in full swing: black and bartailed godwits, dunlin, snipe, ring and golden plovers, curlew sandpipers, avocets, yellow wagtails and a magnificent spotted redshank in its black summer breeding plumage - well worth the detours!

It's been an interesting month – Sainsbury's have taken on board the fears about plastic pollution by swapping their recyclable glass vinegar bottles for PLASTIC!!!.
The two trips to Ashdown Forest were not very fruitful as far as nightjars and woodcock were concerned - just 2 nightjars and 1 woodcock though the 1st trip allowed close views of Dartford warblers - a bird at the northern end of its range the 'Beast from the East' had many of us worried that they could have been wiped out.
Our mystery trip to Dungeness RSPB reserve was quite good producing wood sandpiper, greenshank, little and ringed plovers, a golden plover in full summer plumage - possibly driven off its breeding ground by the moorland fires that have been raging.
Keep looking and feeding – and don't forget to provide plenty of water!

What a funny year we are having every thing seems to be late this year and mostly in small numbers.
The only good news locally is a slight increase in numbers of house martin nests on Oxted School and House Martins back in Caterham High Street. I heard one distant Cuckoo calling from Blanchmans' Farm Nature reserve but no more locally.

A trip to English Nature's Grove Ferry reserve was depressing where there used to be hundreds of swallows, swifts and martins just ONE swallow and SIX swifts, ONE hobby instead of the ten or more of a few years ago. Very few dragonflies or other insects. The late Rachel Carson in her book 'The Silent Spring' about the damage to the environment by the over use of chemicals is getting more and more correct.
On a more positive note we moved on to Oare Marshes Nature Reserve where we saw avocets, blacktailed godwits, garganey (a Summer visiting duck) and an American Bonaparte's gull, being the highlights.

The most important thing I must do is to thank KNIGHTS GARDEN CENTRES for their extremely generous donation of £150 to East Surrey RSPB Group for our help at the Dene, Woldingham over half term week.
Secondly, I must reiterate the importance of feeding and putting out clean unfrozen water in harsh weather conditions.
During the extremely cold weather between 20th February and 2nd of March I had 23 species visiting my garden. Fieldfares, black birds, song thrushes and one mistle thrush, plus great, blue, coal and longtailed tits. Robins, like the black birds, declared a truce and stopped chasing one another away, as well as chaffinches, a dozen goldfinches, nuthatch, great spotted woodpecker and house sparrows, to name just a few.
Keep looking and feeding because the birds are moving about some will be leaving and some arriving.

On our February trip we went to Selsey Bill and Pagham Harbour.
At Selsey Bill, turnstones were running round the car park between the cars! A search of the sea produced red breasted mergansers, common scoter, med gulls and great northern divers or as the Americans and Canadians call them - loons.
The Canadian $1 coin has a picture of a loon on it and is known as a loon!
Going in to Pagham Harbour at Church Norton produced large numbers of dark bellied brent geese, good numbers of waders including avocet, black tailed godwits, curlew, dunlin and knot. On the sea were Slavonian and great crested grebes, velvet and common scoter.
A trip up to the Burgh, on top of the Downs, gave us close red kites, short eared and barn owl. The barn owl flew over my head about 6ft high - a fantastic view!

On 14th of January we went out for our first field trip of the year the weather was great for a trip to the Isle of Sheppey not too cold! A very good total of 60 species for the day - Functon Creek, just this side of the Swale, produced 300 avocets, good numbers of golden plover and supporting ducks and waders over the bridge to Elmley gave us buzzards, marsh harrier and lapwing, ruff and curlew close to the track. Round to Leysdown added red throated diver, turnstone, sanderling, oystercatchers skylark and snow bunting. Going round to Capel Fleet we saw whooper swans, barnacle, greylag and white fronted geese which gave us 4 types of geese - having previously seen dark bellied Brent geese.
Then on to the raptor mound, one of the best places in the south-east for birds of prey, 20+ marsh harriers, male and female hen harriers – Britain’s most frequently killed bird of prey. The last birds were 2 barn owls! What a great way to finish the day!
If you would like to find out more about us come and see us at Knights at The Dene, Woldingham  on Monday 12th and Friday 16th February from 12 - 4 o’clock to show young people common garden birds - this is during half term week.