Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Velvet Scoter

Dungeness - mild, sunny, s2 - With a weather system originating from the Azores bathing the peninsula in a blanket of warm air it felt curiously unseasonal, but perfect for a wander along the foreshore where the usual gulls and Turnstones were encountered. On the sea a steady flow of Cormorants, Black-headed Gulls and Kittiwakes moved between the bays, plus a few Gannets, Red-throated Divers, three Brents and at long last a Velvet Scoter, which was new for the year.
  A check of the Kerton Road triangle revealed a few Skylarks over, plus a pair of Stonechats and a Dartford Warbler in the broom scrub, although I failed to locate the grey Stonechat.
RSPB - The fields at Boulderwall were packed out with hundreds of Lapwings, Golden Plovers, Wigeon, feral geese, corvids, Stock Doves and Starlings, an incredible sight. The drake Ring-necked Duck remained on Cook`s Pool while the Cattle Egret was lurking in a ditch by the Corral. Also noted Great White and Little Egrets, Marsh Harriers and Kestrel, Mipits and Tree Sparrows.
  Scotney - The Black-throated Diver was still on the lake by the quarry, where also a Black-necked Grebe plus a pair of Ravens over.    

Tuesday, 6 December 2016


Lade - mild, broken cloud, misty, light airs - We flogged around the local patch in superb winter weather conditions following a spectacular sunrise. A rolling mist partly covered the power station and water tower to the south and it was so still I could hear the Shovelers filter feeding on south lake well before I got there. A couple of Goldeneyes were also present amongst the diving ducks and a 1st winter Caspian Gull was in the gull roost. Passerines of note included two Stonechats and several each of Mipit and Reed Bunting, while two Marsh Harriers worked the farmland by the airport.

                                Shovelers feeding on south lake

A late afternoon visit to check for owls over the Desert drew a blank where the roosting Curlew flock was briefly disturbed by a passing fox. Elsewhere, the Ring-necked Duck was reported from Boulderwall on the bird reserve, the Black-throated Diver at Scotney and a small flock of Bewick`s Swans was on the fields at Horses Bones Farm on Walland Marsh.

Monday, 5 December 2016

The Great British Folk Festival

Skegness - Just returned from a brilliant weekend away at The Great British Folk Festival with our folkie friends from down the road, Stan, Kaz and Dan. While we`ve been to loads of outside summer festivals down the years, an indoor event in the winter was a first for of us all, and a big hit it proved to be.

 The line up over the three days was pretty tasty with some old favourites such as Oysterband, Kate Rusby, Donovan and Lindisfarne, but also John Watterson (aka Fake Thackray) a performer I`d not come across before. The late Jake Thackray was a true craftsman of the English language noted for his satirical and witty folk songs, and John`s session on Sunday had all the warmth and respect that you would expect from a lifelong Thackray fan.
  Quite often folk festivals chuck in a surprise act and this weekends `joker in the pack` was Bob Geldof. I didn't quite know what to expect but he was top notch, hammering out a mix of Irish folk and heavy prog-rock numbers, a weird world music song and finishing with some of the old Boomtown Rat`s favourites. The band was as tight as a drum with a core of Irish musicians, complete with a fiddle player in a suit and string vest - brilliant! Between songs Geldof held court on a number of topical issues in his inimitable style with subject matters ranging from global poverty and climate change, while slagging off everything from corrupt governments and the Catholic church, to folk festivals and the Daily Mail! His ramblings were well received by a raucous audience and, needless to say, peppered with plenty of expletives!
  So, a great weekend of music, song and beer alongside like-minded souls, while the accommodation, food and, especially the staff, at the Butlin`s venue were also superb. The only natural history item of the weekend belonged to the roadside raptor count across the flatlands of Lincolnshire. Common Buzzards and Kestrels were just about equal in number, but what one Earth they find to feed on in that arable desert is something of a mystery, particularly the Buzzards.

Lade - Got home just in time to take Barney for a walk out back where we jammed in on a cracking sunset and a Short-eared Owl quartering the Desert.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

First Smews of winter

Lade - cold, frosty, sunny, light airs - A stunning morning for a wander down to the Kerton Road pit and back across the Desert to Mockmill. On the first `official` day of winter the clear overnight skies had delivered a frost on the shingle and ice in the sewers. A scattering of Reed Buntings, Mipits and Skylarks were flushed from the storm ridges while Mockmill held a couple each of Snipe and Stonechat, a Cetti`s Warbler, Sparrowhawk and Water Rail. As if to confirm winter`s arrival the first two redhead Smews were on north lake plus three Goldeneyes on south.
Dungeness RSPB - There was no sign of either the Cattle Egret or Ring-necked Duck at Boulderwall this morning, although the duck had reappeared by mid-afternoon, while the Long-eared Owl was also absent from its usual roosting perch. Two more Smews were on Burrowes, but mobile, along with 15 Pintail, five Goldeneye, two Blackwits and hundreds of Cormorants, wildfowl and gulls. The bird feeders in the car park were busy with tits and finches where I was surprised to see a Brambling, a scarce winter visitor in these parts.

                                Water Rail, ARC

  Over the road on ARC we had cracking views of a Water Rail in front of Hanson hide and a very pale Common Buzzard, plus Kingfisher, Redshank, two Marsh Harriers and all the expected gulls and wildfowl.
  We couldn't find the Bewick`s Swans at Cockles Bridge or anywhere else on Dengemarsh, but the Black-throated Diver was still showing well on Brett`s pit at Scotney.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Great Northern Divers

Lade - cold, sunny, e 3 - A cracking morning for a circuit of the local patch where we were joined by CP who`d come by to help lift and shift some furniture at Plovers (many thanks again Chris). All the usual wildfowl were noted on the lakes, plus three Goldeneyes that dropped in, while a Marsh Harrier terrorised the Coot flock. Back along the beach the recent strong onshore winds and high tides had taken their toll on the sand dunes at Greatstone. As the tide raced in across the sands we teased out nine of the regular ten wader species including close views of Knot, Grey Plover and Sanderling.

                                Greatstone sand dunes


Dungeness - 1330 - 1530hrs - After a torrid lifting and shifting session (which involved removing a few doors and much grunting and groaning) and a spot of lunch, we headed for a seawatch at the fishing boats where we were joined by PB and MH. The highlight of the watch was a Slavonian Grebe on the sea amongst the Great Crested Grebes and three westbound Great Northern Divers. Also noted a steady flow of Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Gannets, a few Red-throated Divers and several parties of Brents and Common Scoters.

                               UK Border Control

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Black-throated Diver

Lade - mild, cloudy, n 2 - After a fraught few days driving to West Sussex and moving our Kate into a new flat, and yesterday`s frustration at dipping the Forster`s Tern by an hour, it was good to get out and about birding today. Despite the local Folkestone and Hythe birders scouring the coastline the tern was not relocated.
  However, this morning we worked the local patch where a Dartford Warbler in Mockmill Sewer was the highlight along with several Stonechats, Mipits and Reed Buntings. South lake attracted a couple of hundred roosting gulls with at least one adult Caspian Gull amongst the Herring and Black-back flock. A Marsh Harrier quartered the far reedbeds, while two Goldeneyes were on north lake.
Dungeness - A wander along the foreshore by the fishing boats (optimistically hoping for a passing tern...) revealed nothing more than a trickle of Kittiwakes, Gannets, auks, two Mediterranean Gulls and a Red-throated Diver.

                               Ring-necked Duck, Boulderwall

  On the bird reserve the Ring-necked Duck showed well at Boulderwall, as did a Bearded Tit. The Cattle Egret was a little more elusive further out amongst the stock, along with hundreds of Wigeon, Lapwings, feral geese and the like, plus a number of Grey Herons, Great White and Little Egrets. On Burrowes, where the islands are fast disappearing under water, there was plenty of wildfowl including Pintail, Goldeneye and Goosander and hundreds of Cormorants. From Firth hide an adult Yellow-legged and a 1st winter Caspian Gull.
Scotney - Yesterday`s Black-throated Diver remained on Brett`s pit to the west of the caravan park where it showed like a good `un.

                               Black-throated Diver, Scotney

Thursday, 24 November 2016


Lade - The past couple of days has seen a subtle change in the weather from wet and windy to drier, but still windy conditions, as a high pressure system settles over the country delivering a north-easterly airflow. Yesterday it started off calm and a Short-eared Owl quartering the Desert towards the water tower was a delight to watch. We walked Mockmill Sewer where a few autumn Blackbirds and Song Thrushes lingered in the scrub and a Woodcock was flushed by Barney, one of only a handful I`ve seen this past couple of months.
  Around the pit margins Water Rails and Cetti`s Warblers were chattering away and two Marsh Harriers chivvied a flock of Coots for weaklings over by the `mirrors`. By the ponds a flock of Long-tailed Tits harboured a Chiffchaff and a couple of Goldcrests while a second Woodcock rocketed skywards from the willow swamp. Amongst a couple of hundred wildfowl on the lakes lurked a single Goldeneye and a pair of Pintails, the latter a scarce bird hereabouts.
  On the walk home the two Woodcocks got me thinking as to how scarce they`ve become over recent years. The latest Kent Bird Atlas shows a significant breeding range contraction across the county for no definitive reason. Many thousands are still routinely shot here in Britain during the winter months, particularly in the Western Isles and Cornwall, while millions more come to grief from Continental gunners. How anyone would want to shoot such a beautiful bird for so called `sport` is beyond me, but they do, and no doubt will continue to do so until, like the once common Eskimo Curlew, there are none left.

                                Raptor `Hill`

  Today was a different tale altogether on the local patch as the strong wind meant most birds were either hunkered down or sheltering in the willow swamp. Out on the Desert a mound of shingle (that passes for a `hill` in these parts!) delivered a smart Peregrine which eventually flew majestically over south lake to make a half hearted feint at a Woodpigeon. Over the years I`ve seen a number of raptors utilising this lookout point, particularly Hobbies in the summer and Merlins in winter.
RSPB - There was no real change on the bird reserve with the drake Ring-necked Duck and Cattle Egret still at Boulderwall, a roosting Long-eared Owl behind the Dipping Pond, Goosander on Burrowes and four Bewick`s Swans viewable from Cockles Bridge. Elsewhere, the Snow Bunting flock was reported from St Mary`s Bay.