Boughton Park and Wierton Hill Farm
There was a hard frost early on the 1st, but the days slowly became warmer by the end of the first week, a somewhat overdue spring in terms of temperatures. However, light but steady rain fell on the 10th, on which date a frontal system brought steady rain. However, later in the second week, high pressure to the northwest of the UK brought cold northerly winds, a drop in the temperature, with variable amounts of sunshine. Into the third week and frontal systems brought periods of showers. High pressure again exerted influence for the last week, with mainly cloudy, dry conditions and northerly winds of variable strength.
A change in the weather brought torrential rain early on the 31st, when the northwest wind reached almost gale force at times. The rain eased mid-morning and I managed just over an hour-long visit, when it was difficult to hear or even see many birds. It was frustrating too, as I was unable to confirm seeing both Blue Tit and GS Woodpecker young, when I was almost certainly hearing them call. The pair of Buzzards, tumbling, turning and plunging in the strong wind, appeared to be enjoying themselves but only one Coot was visible on the lake, as on the 30th.
By the end of the month 71 species had been noted, four short of the thirty-two year mean and, with the interesting additions of Pochard and Little Egret, the annual total had risen to 92, eight below the end of May monthly mean.
It was cloudy and dry, with a moderate to strong northwesterly wind on the 30th. There was no sign of any activity at the GS Woodpecker’s nest, or in the surrounding trees. A hen bird was seen some seventy metres SW and she flew on further S, so I was unable to confirm that any had fledged. Few passerines were heard or seen in the strong wind but a post breeding flock of some 70 Starlings flew NE. Three gull species flew in a northerly direction, including a total of nine Herring and just singles of Black-headed and LBB Gulls. It was interesting to see a Carrion Crow eating on the reservoir bank, having taken food from the water’s service.
Only a short visit was possible early on the 29th, when it was cloudy, brightening up later. Of interest was finding a GS Woodpecker’s nest, ,just north of the lake, with a large nestling being fed by its mother. It was pleasing to see a Spotted Flycatcher again, perched high above Peens Lane gate and another family of fledgling LT Tits was present by the reservoir.
It was mainly cloudy on the 28th, with showers either side of the visit and an occasional glimpse of the sun. Even less song was evident, though one Nightingale was in good voice, within the traditional territory and a Cuckoo called from the Deer Park. Of note was the sight of the first fledgling Woodpigeon on the earliest date so far recorded, as well as the first fledgling Wren, nine days earlier than the thirty-two year mean. A Treecreeper sang from the alder copse, Bob heard another Lesser Whitethroat and totals of four Swifts and four Swallows flew over. Rook families by now were scattered widely from the rookery, through the poplar wood and into the Deer Park. A good selection of gulls flew mainly N, apart from a Mediterranean Gull, which called clearly as it flew S. Totals of four Black-headed, three Lesser Black-backed and eight Herring Gulls all flew N or NE.
There were similar weather conditions during the visit on the 27th, when there was a surprise, distant sighting of three Lapwings flying NE, the first of the year. Otherwise it was another relatively quiet visit, though two Nightingales uttered bursts of song, as did the Garden Warbler. Both Wren and Great Tit were seen carrying food, the former probably to nestlings and the latter to a fledgling, which called but remained hidden. In addition the first Common Spotted Orchids were flowering.
After completing my BBS at Marden, only a ninety-minute visit was again possible on the 26th, the 25th anniversary of my Needle-tailed Swift. However, a short time spent scanning over the reservoir failed to produce anything of note and the visit was uneventful. Short bursts of Nightingale and Reed Warbler song were heard but no interesting flyover species were seen.
The 25th was overcast and cool, with little wind and only a ninety-minute visit was possible after my Great Cheveney Farm survey. As anticipated, there was no sign of the Little Grebe on the lake, where each Coot was tending the demands of single youngsters. The reservoir Reed Warbler continued to utter just short bursts of song and a pair of Pied Wagtails, at Boughton Place, continued to collect food for their nestlings, but the nest has yet to be found. One one the Coot fledgling obviously didn’t like worms.
It was almost cloudless on the 24th, with a cool, light to moderate northeast wind. With the breeding season well under way, relatively few birds were singing and daily counts of passerines in particular were considerably lower than earlier in the month. A Cuckoo called again but both Hobby and Turtle Dove had not yet appeared. However, there was a pleasant on the lake, where a Little Grebe was present, the first since 2014, when one of the pair departed and the last single was present there until Apr 24th, with one visiting on Oct 10th. With so many large carp now present, it is unlikely it will stay.
There was a light but cool northwesterly on the 23rd, the influence of another zone of high pressure and it proved to be a fairly uneventful visit. Just one Nightingale sang, from the original territory and the juvenile Moorhen called from within the overflow pipe. With lone drake Tufteds, on both waters, it is possible that ducks are sitting within the respective islands.
After heavy overnight rain, the 22nd was dry, mild and still, with occasional breaks in the cloud. Two Nightingales sang from their respective territories, the two Reed Warblers were active and a Skylark called as it flew W. The tale of a young Moorhen being fed within the tank of the overflow continued, as the calls of a young were heard and looking into the tank, a brief glimpse of one was possible before it disappeared into the overflow pipe. It will be a while before it will be able to fly out. A few brief bursts of song were again heard from the Garden Warbler’s territory. A Cuckoo called from the eastern border, two Swifts soared over the Deer Park but the continued absence of the local Swallows is of concern. It was a little surprising to hear four Dunnocks in song, hearing a Bullfinch sing is a comparative rarity and fledgling passerines remain elusive.
The 21st was mild and overcast, with a blustery southwest wind. I hadn’t seen Bob for a couple of weeks and when I joined him on the south bank of the reservoir, to bring him up to date, he reported seeing a Raven flying NE, which must have been while I was in the reservoir oak copse. At least five House Martins could just be seen flying high N. A few Swifts were also flying high and a LBB Gull flew NE, as two BH Gulls visited the reservoir. Two Nightingales were eventually heard to utter brief spells of song, the Reed Warbler also sang very little but a second bird was present in the reedbed. The Garden Warbler at the west end of Gary’s shaw sang a few phrases, the first since the 11th but, apart from a Buzzard over the temporary grass, little else of note was seen.
Only a two-hour visit was possible on the 20th, which was dry, mild, overcast and dull. Not unexpectedly, the Kestrel was perched at his favoured site, at least three Swifts were seen and the most significant sighting concerned a total of 47 Herring Gulls, largely immature birds, circling over and flying on NE, comprising parties of 5, 12 and about 30.
The annual May Big Sit took place on the 19th and the full story will be available elsewhere. Alan Pavey joined for a valuable period, adding the first Willow Warbler – number 75 on the May Big Sit list, which I was also able to hear. He also spotted two Skylarks flying over, the first since 2009 and pointed them out to me. Tawny and Little Owls called, a pair of Egyptian Geese flying W from Monks Lakes and a Grey Heron there were welcome early additions. I only managed to reach 47 species and unusually called it a day as early as 4pm, as there seemed little chance of adding four species to equal the twenty-three year mean. I’ve never missed Swallow, Dunnock or Mistle Thrush and in recent years sightings of Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Hobby have been irregular. Sadly, Turtle Dove has not been recorded since 2011.
It was overcast on the 18th, with a southerly breeze and the first showers fell as I completed a three-hour almost uneventful visit. Of most interest was the sighting of the first Spotted Flycatcher of the year, perched in one of the three lakeside pines, almost a week later than the mean date. I also saw my first Cuckoo of the year, since the first called on Apr 18th, and a cock Reed Bunting appeared by the reservoir.
The visit on the 17th was high-lighted by the brief visit of a Little Egret to the reservoir bank, before flying off high to the SW. This species has been an almost annual visitor since 1999. On the reservoir, just two fledgling Moorhens were visible, with two drakes and one duck Tufted Duck present and another two pairs were seen on the lake, where the pair of Coots were feeding three young again and a Buzzard soared conveniently. In the oak copse, the pair of Treecreepers continued to feed their nestlings, but there was no sign of any new fledgling passerines. However, the first fledgling Rooks were visible in the rookery; one day later than the mean week for the six years since the rookery was established.
The 16th was milder, still, with variable cloud cover and typically, the Kestrel was on its favoured perch again but not for long. A lone LBB Gull flew NE and three Black-headed flew S. The Greylags fed on the reservoir bank with just five of their six goslings, while just one Coot was seen on the lake, with a similar decline to three young. In the oak copse I came across what must be, at 570mm, the tallest Early Purple Orchid that I’ve ever seen, probably caused by a lack of light.
The 15th was chosen for the mid-month census, it was dry but a light to moderate northerly wind made it feel cool at 7° – 10°C. Tawny Owls hooted from three different territories, followed by two Little Owls and the list slowly expanded to 30 by 5.45 am, including two Nightingales and a Reed Warbler in song, a LBB Gull flying N but only five Greylag goslings were present. A short while later a Cormorant flew over, an unexpected surprise and my first for the month. I could see the lake around 9.50 am, where the pair of Canada Geese was present as expected, number 40. There were a few longish gaps, as additional species were located, including a Goldcrest in the spruce copse, but I was still only on 46 at 11.50 am, when I ventured into the oak copse by the reservoir. I was pleasantly surprised to find both Treecreepers visiting their nest and as I walked round the reservoir back to my car, a pair of Greylag Geese were proudly swimming with their six newly hatched goslings, two Swallows flew N, a Bullfinch called from the damson hedge by the car and, as I was about to change my footwear, two Swifts flew N, 50 at 12.27 pm. A total of just 50 compares with the May mean of 54 and a total of just 385 birds is well below the mean of 518. The most obvious absentee was Kestrel, House Sparrow had only been seen on the 5th and both Garden Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat had ceased singing, presumably nesting.
Though it was overcast early on the 14th, the moderate strength northerly wind created sunny periods but the temperature only rose from 7°C – 10°C during a two-and-a-half-hour visit. Of most interest was the appearance of a second GC Grebe on the reservoir, though the two kept well apart. The new arrival, presumably a female, spent some time exploring the island area, where a pair bred in 2015. The strength of the wind and the fact that many species were now breeding, meant that comparatively little song was heard and the only tits were represented by two calls from Blue Tits! The Coot family had returned to their nest, presumably for warmth, while the second adult visited with food.
A moderate strength northeasterly soon broke up the cloud cover on the 13th, which became bright and sunny. A Pied Wagtail provided close views along Peens Lane and a Kestrel was disturbed a little further south. Two LBB Gulls flew NE and three BH Gulls visited the reservoir but continued N. There was comparatively little song under the overcast sky but snatches of song was heard from two Nightingales later and the Reed Warbler continued to sing. My first two Swifts flew N over the spruce copse but there was no sign of the Coot family on the lake. As I was about to leave the reservoir, I glimpsed a possible Sand Martin but was unable to relocate it. However, a total of 25 immature Herring Gulls flew NE in the next ten minutes or so and of added interest was the first sighting of a Broad-bodied Chaser.
It was dry, with high cloud cover for much of the nearly four-hour visit on the 12th and a light to moderate northeast wind rose around 7.30 am. It was surprising to see a drake Pochard flying in to visit the reservoir for a short while, only the third record since April 2013. Also, five fledgling Coot were being fed, as they swam around the lake, where two pairs of Tufted Duck were again present, with another three pairs on the reservoir. Two pairs of Starlings continued to collect food, from the grass south of the Atlas cedar, for their respective nestlings in nests in the nearby lone oak and also under the church eves.
It was dull and misty on the 11th, with occasional showers. A few more bids were singing towards the end of the four-hour visit, including three Nightingales and a Lesser Whitethroat, by the west bank, near the footbridge. A few snatches of Garden Warbler song were heard in Gary’s shaw. Two BH Gulls flew S and one Herring Gull N. A first cock Pied Wagtail for the month perched above the damson hedge near Tanyard, the Coot young were still in their nest and the six Canada Geese goslings continued to thrive.
The visit on the 10th met with a change in the weather and light rain fell throughout the four hours. The Nightingales in particular didn’t sing much at all, but a second Reed Warbler, possibly a migrant, sang briefly from the willow on the north bank of the reservoir, while the now resident bird sang at length, as did the Garden Warbler from the bramble in the southeast corner. Nothing of interest was seen flying over and by way of contrast I was surprised to see the first lily in flower, in the alder marsh.
On arrival at 6 am on the 9th, it was already 16°C, rising to 21°C three hours later. There was variable, high cloud cover, with a light southeasterly breeze. Song from a Nightingale close to the pump station virtually confirmed the presence of a third male, though I never managed to hear all three at the same time. A male Sparrowhawk flew E over the reservoir carrying prey, the four eggs had disappeared from the Moorhen’s nest and there was still no sign of the young. A Garden Warbler sang briefly from the southern reservoir bank and later, a Treecreeper sang and flew onto one of the three lake pines, and it was possible to note that at least three nestling Coots on the lake island had hatched – towards the end of the mean hatching week and long after the earliest on 1st April 1998 and 2014.
On the 8th, following a survey at Great Cheveney Farm, where I heard a burst of Cetti’s Warbler song from beside the Lesser Teise, I managed a two-hour visit from 9.15 am, in warm, sunny conditions, with a light southeasterly breeze. Though the Nightingales and the Reed Warbler did occasionally sing, relatively little song was heard so late in the morning. Four eggs were visible in the Moorhen’s nest but no fledglings were seen, for a change two Coot were present and a Buzzard circled high over Bishop’s Wood.
It was mild and sunny on the 7th, when a light southeasterly blew variable amounts of high cloud over, during a nearly five-hour breeding bird survey visit. Quite high totals of 19 Wrens and Robins sang, as did seven Common Whitethroats. A Mediterranean Gull was heard calling, as it flew high S, a total of eight BH Gulls flew S and just one Herring Gull NE. The Reed Warbler continued to sing but remained invisible and a cock Reed Bunting also sang briefly before flying across the reservoir. Calls from the rookery suggested that a few nestlings were active.
Only a two-hour visit was possible on the 6th, under thin, high cloud, with occasional breaks and warming sunshine. The Moorhen brood of six young was still in their nest, with an attendant adult and the Reed Warbler continued to sing from the reservoir reed-bed. Alarm calls from a Blackbird in the rarity hedge brought my attention to an adult Tawny Owl, conveniently perched for a few photographs. A pair of Egyptian Geese at the lake visited the island, possibly looking for a nest site.
At 9°C early on the 5th and only a very light southeasterly breeze, it felt milder and became more like spring, with the increasing warmth from the sun and the welcome song of the first Reed Warbler from the reservoir reed-bed, eleven days earlier than the mean arrival date. It was also enjoyable to see a party of five fledgling LT Tits being fed in the marsh alders, fifteen days earlier than the mean fledging date and having a fisherman point to a Moorhen’s nest with two fledglings and three eggs, nearly two weeks earlier than the mean fledging date. It truly felt more spring-like, a Grey Heron flew ENE and two Swallows visited the reservoir.
I spent three unsuccessful hours near Otford on the 4th, where I’d hoped to see the Rufous Turtle Dove, which failed to appear on this occasion. I managed two-and-a-half-hours on the patch from 10 am, in increasingly warm sunshine, during which I noted six butterfly species, including my first Large White and Speckled Wood for the year. It was interesting to hear a Nightingale singing from the first and most frequently used territory, in the southwest corner of the reservoir. Hitherto I’d only heard a call from there. Nine Greylags were present but no sign of any of the goslings. Gary’s shaw Garden Warbler continued to sing and I was surprised to see a Treecreeper in the hawthorn scrub at the southern end of the rarity hedge. A Swallow appeared briefly near Spindlewood but there was no obvious evidence of a pair returning to Zika’s ‘derelict office’ to breed again.
The 3rd commenced still and cloudless, with a light frost. A light northwesterly breeze rose and a few clouds drifted over, as the temperature rose to 10°C. A Grey Heron flew down to the pond at Keeper’s Cottage, the pair of LT Tits by the car park continued to feed their nestlings and the Garden Warbler near Gary’s continued to sing well.
Though it was 9°C early on the 2nd, it felt colder under the overcast sky, with a southerly breeze. Light drizzle also fell at the beginning and end of the three-hour visit. The Greylag pair appeared to have just six goslings and on returning to the reservoir three pairs of Tufted Duck had flown in, with an extra two pairs on the lake, where six Canada Geese goslings were still active. Neither of the Garden Warblers sang but two Lesser Whitethroats did and an additional Common Whitethroat sang from the cherry orchard territory. Only a brief five minutes was required in the spruce coppice, where two squirrels were photographed in a broken branch hole, three Jays seen were unusually silent, a Goldcrest was located rapidly and my first Treecreeper for ten days suddenly appeared. A LBB Gull flew NE and three Swallows were seen briefly over Bishop’s Wood.
The 1st of May was almost cloudless, with a hard frost, slowly becoming warmer and reaching 15°C during the afternoon. At the reservoir, one pair of Greylag Geese had eight goslings, a pair of Tufted Duck flew in and with fishermen again present three BH Gulls had flown in to feed. It was interesting to see a pair of Carrion Crows also taking the bait from the water’s surface and a Nightingale was heard singing from a possible third territory, certainly a third bird was heard calling from the first territory to be established in 2011 and used in subsequent years. A second Garden Warbler was heard singing from the southeast corner of the lake, with at least two male and one female Blackcap nearby in the alder copse.