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Welcome to my blog. If you live in Surrey and birding is your obsession (to get out of bed at some ridiculously early time of the morning, no matter what the weather, to go and look at birds isn't normal behaviour, believe me) and you're still a bit of a novice (like me) then, hopefully, this blog is for you.



Monday, 26 January 2015

A STACK OF NIGHT HERON HASSLE

Not much has been happening on the birding front recently apart from a circuitous route to Margate via Hythe to see the juvenile Night Heron last Thursday and a fruitless visit to Juniper Bottom near Mickleham to find Hawfinch.

The satnav suggested the journey to Hythe would normally take about an hour and ten minutes and I took a punt the M25 would be traffic-jam free after a massive artic lorry smashed into the central reservation a couple of days earlier causing mayhem, resetting of concrete and a lane closure.

As it turned out, these roadworks were not problem but I made a calamitous error soon after. Well, actually I'd made one before I left the house.

I should have checked the traffic reports, as I was vaguely aware a recent Channel Tunnel closure could have a knock-on effect for traffic on the M20, but I just didn't bother looking.

The second error was to ignore the rows upon rows of lorries lining up on the inside lane of the M20 just before the turn-off for Detling Hill and the M2. What I should have done was peel off there and take a longer route via the M2 and then head down the coast to Hythe. But no, I was feeling optimistic so I carried on, even though the gantry signs were all claiming Junction 8 and 9 were both closed for Operation Stack.

For those who have no idea what that means, it's was quite simple. Because of the mass of lorries heading across the Channel and delays at the tunnel junctions 8 and 9 were closed and being used as a parking lot for hundreds of lorries  – and I mean hundreds. And boy, was the queue just to get to junction 8 one massive pain in the arse.

Operation Stack
It took a couple of hours to get off the motorway which, I guess isn't so bad, but I was supposed to be visiting my mum, and not taking in a juvenile Night Heron at Hythe.

The issue was I'd got this far, so I had to persevere. I'd get to Margate but later than planned.

I eventually got to Hythe and the muddy footpath to Nockey's Quarry, which consisted of a boating lake by the coast in the middle of nowhere. I was also warned not to venture too close to the bushes where the heron was located as there is a bad-tempered bailiff who owns/runs the place and he's quite unpleasant if he thinks you're trespassing.

Another chap from Sevenoaks was already on site and he located the Heron for me, which I found straight away. So there it was, the Night Heron, perched on a branch, asleep with its back to me.

And that was pretty much how it stayed, apart from momentarily shuffling along the branch, revealing its head to preen itself before reverting back to its unsociable pose. To my mind, it didn't look happy.
A sleeping Night Heron. Worth the trip...
So that was it. As a birding experience it features rather low in the 'memorable' category. And also there is the nagging question as to whether this Night Heron is a legit tick or not. The reason for the doubt is because this area has a habit of turning up rare herons (the Chinese Pond Heron last year is the most notable example) in recent years.

So one has to ask a few questions: firstly is it just coincidence or is it possible these herons all come from a collection somewhere nearby? If that is the case, why is no-one coming forward to say as much? Then if they are all legitimate birds, why is this area so popular with herons?

My personal view is this Night Heron is tickable (well, I would say that, wouldn't I). Other regions in Britain are good for other species of bird – for example, The Burgh in West Sussex is great for raptors. When the Pallid Harrier was there a couple of years back, it was possible to see at least nine different species of raptor in one afternoon.

So Hythe is good for herons. It's by the coast, there are plenty of places for them to roost and to feed. Up the road in Kent, Bough Beech reservoir had a Night Heron during the autumn, and Purple Herons have breed along the coast at Dungeness in the past.

The Juniper Common visit yesterday didn't produce any Hawfinch. This is the area where more than 100 appeared a couple of winters ago - one of those remarkable events that only happen once in a lifetime.

Three had been seen for a couple of days but as one chap I met up with said, it's easier finding 100 Hawfinch than three.
Lovely old damp woodland up above Juniper Bottom – good for Marsh Tit
It was still a pleasant walk, and at least I found a few Marsh Tit in the trees, and saw two Raven flying overhead.

What's next on the agenda. Probably another exciting twitch - the Ring-necked Duck at Bray, perhaps? Birding is full of heart-stopping moments!

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