Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Spots before my eyes

Birding and catching buses in London has some similarities. You wait for one migrant and when it does come along there's a load of them.

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)

After the Redstart yesterday Jack and I had at least five today, possibly up to seven. I've been waiting all Autumn to see a Spotted Flycatcher so when I was walking back to the car and a message came from Jack that there was one in the Freedown I decided to walk down to see it. The only other one I'd seen this year was in the garden on May 10th. There was one sitting at the bottom of a dead bush, and then we saw two more along the fence. We wondered if they were a family party travelling together, but decide that this seems a bit fanciful.

The problem was they were too far away, and the closest point to them, without climbing over the fence, was almost against the light. I did get a picture from this angle but it is a bit harsh.

At one point all three were in the bush together, but they never all stayed still long enough to get three together. Spotted always seems a misnomer to me, streaked is a bit more like it and the scientific name seems to agree.

If you were to make a list of birds in Kent that have declined the most since I started birding, the the Spotted Flycatcher would be near the top of that list. This once common bird of open woodlands, large gardens, and of course Churchyards has become so scarce as a breeding bird in the county that any pair is worth an e-mail on KOSnet. The fact that the last Kent Bird Report actually mentions sites where fledged young were seen emphasises how few there have been recently, although there may be a small recovery this year. In his book, The State of the Nations' Birds, Chris Mead wrote that they declined by 78% between 1972 and 1996, using BTO "Common Bird Census" data. The decline has continued and I'm sure that the ringing data at observatories would show a similar decline in migrants. As an insect eater, as its name implies, one would not have thought that global warming would be the cause, but our much polluted environment must have something to do with it. I'm sure old car drivers (like me) have noticed the decline in the number of flies that have to be scrubbed of the windscreen compared to twenty or thirty years ago.

Although the butterfly numbers weren't high today there were several Commas around the Freedown. I think, when fresh, this is one of the most handsome of our butterflies and this late brood always looks particularly "velvety" to me.

While I was watching the Flycatchers Jack and Flossie strode on to Hope point, when Jack added a Pied Flycatcher to the list. I think Jack was hoping that Flossie would flush a Corncrake out of the grass, but so far she's not shown a lot of aptitude for this particular skill.

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