Thursday, 7 February 2008

Start to Chat

The under-cliff at Kingsdown marks the end of the "White Cliffs of Dover" and the small scrubby area at the foot of the cliffs is sometimes host to some interesting birds, although my forecast of a Pied Wheatear is still to be fulfilled. Closely related to Wheatears are Starts and Chats and Black Redstarts are regular here. Mature males are very handsome with almost black faces and chests with striking white wing patches. Females, such as the bird above, are a rather more subdued smoky grey, but still have the reddish tail, which is most apparent when they give it the characteristic shivering movement.
Along side the Black Redstart, and almost invariably within few yards of it was a female Stonechat. Above it is make use of the very ugly fence that has be erected there. I'm always a little disappointed when the best photo opportunities are either sitting one or next to a man made atrocity as it the two pictures above.

Although Black Redstarts are often associated with building now, in the past they were a bird of rocky terrain and the large rocks placed as part of the sea defences make a good substitute and are more attractive than the fence. Black Redstarts came to prominence after the second World War when they colonised bomb-sites in London, although a few pairs had bred along the south coast previously. Since then they have expanded and often use industrial sites such as power stations.
Stonechats seem to have quite an interesting strategy for getting through the winter. Some member of a population migrate south, where it is milder and food is easier to find, while others remain in the UK, where if it is mild they fare quite well and are in place to breed and set up their territories earlier than those that took a winter vacation.

This male was inside the fenced area most of the time and seemed to associate less with the Black Redstart than the female did. He has been ringed at sometime, but it is impossible, without recapturing him, to read the ring. Bird ringing (called banding in the USA and some other countries) is carried out locally at Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory and also in South Foreland Valley, St Margaret's. The ringers are licensed by the British Trust for Ornithology and the information collected is used in building our knowledge of bird movement and demographics so useful when conservation issues come up.
At one time both the Black Redstart and the Stonechat sat on the wooden wall at the top of the beach, but they were just too far part for both be in focus, even when I stopped down a couple of stops. It does though give a good demonstration of the longer tailed, more streamlined shape of the Black Redstart, and the shorter, dumpier look of the Stonechat.

Other birds The Great Spotted Woodpecker that last year used the metal "Top Hat" on our chimney to drum on, has returned, unexpectedly early in the year. The noise he produces is unbelievable and I have named him "Keith Moon reincarnate"


Steve of Kingsdown said...

Excellent report and pictures Tony. Although I've seen the Stonechats two or three times a week for the last few months, I've never noticed the ring on the male - duh!
I'll have to go back and check my photos.

Benjamin Young said...

I've been to Old Parker's Cap (the under-cliff at Kingsdown) many times, but I have never seen the Black Redstarts. Where do they hang around most often? Or are they only passing through?