Cooling Marshes, Kent, 7th December 2014

Thursday, 24 September 2015

'Empidonax' Flycatcher, Dungeness, 22/9/15

If you try and text the word 'empidonax' on my phone, the auto correct changes it to 'emptiness'. As in Emptiness Flycatcher.

You can't really blame the program designers for that, it's not often a British birder would have reason to do such a thing. Empidonax flycatchers are a group of birds highly similar in appearance that range throughout North and South America...which makes the discovery of one on the beach (!) initially, at Dungeness on Tuesday morning, ludicrous frankly.

When I first heard the news my mind drifted back to the Caribbean islands I visited in January; there I saw tyrant flycatchers (the family to which 'empids' belong) among lush, humid gardens and forests. It was this jarring realisation that set off the unexpected after work trip to the coast.

Emptiness would definitely not be a word to describe the scene on the Dungeness road that evening, even less so the front garden of a little cottage that the bird eventually sought refuge in for the rest of the day. There it lurked in the dense collection of shrubs, the closest thing it could find to a forest, through the constant drizzle and showers with a few chiffchaffs to keep the masses on their toes. Occasionally it hopped into full view, making use of various garden items as perches from which to dart after tiny insects - water butt, wheelie bin, satellite dish, picnic bench, window sill, scooter handle, old lobster creel and best of all...the doorstep. As the rain passed and the sun hurried home the evening, the bird became more active and for a delightful twenty minutes or so flitted regularly between perches, once or twice darting up to pick out insects from webs under the roof. In the best of the light it was a striking bird, two white wing bars on long wings and a greenish mantle contrasting with distinct yellowish underparts more obvious than I had imagined. Not that my souvenir record shot, replicated here and formally lowering the quality of the web, would suggest:

'Empidonax' Flycatcher (Acadian?) on a scooter, Dungeness, Kent, 22/9/15

So, of these very similar-looking birds, which species it it? Logic (and better photos than this) suggest the bird is likely to be one of five empids that breed on the the eastern coast of North America with consensus pointing towards Acadian Flycatcher which would be a first for Britain (and a second for the Western Palearctic). Being wholly inexperienced with this group I'll make my own mind up when I've read more, but that sits well with what I've seen so far. Plus some of its poo was collected for dna sampling so maybe that'll help solve it - see, isn't birding exciting?!

Dashing off to see things like this isn't for everyone (as this excellent and thoughtful blog describes), but it was a unique encounter that will linger in my memory.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Can you hear the nightingales sing? (Part 3)

It had all gone quiet on the Lodge Hill front recently...until this headline rather came out of nowhere yesterday:

The BBC reported on it here and Miles King provided this interesting blog on the news.

Too early to celebrate? Perhaps, but this is certainly a welcome development in the saga.
"We have recognised a loss of £11.3m due to increased uncertainty over the recoverability of our costs to date following the disappointing decision by the Secretary of State to call in the proposed scheme for public inquiry"
I'm not sure what they've spent £11.3 million on so far but with an experienced developer like Land Securities releasing a quote like this, who would want to step up in their place?

Lodge Hill has been shown time and again to be a site of unique value for wildlife on a local and national scale. It's time that the MOD ceased this reckless pursuit and perhaps took a look at the positive steps taken by the German government with regards former military bases. Similarly, Medway Council needs to take this opportunity to re-evaluate their planning strategy. Chattenden is not the place for a development on this scale, it's time to move on.