Friday, 27 March 2020

Black Redstart

Lade - cool, dry and sunny, ne 3 - Lockdown Day 4 - The wind slackened off overnight making for much better conditions for our circuit of the local patch this morning where the only migrant was a Black Redstart on the fence line by Kerton Rd pit. Meadow Pipit and Skylark were in song on the desert and a male Stonechat displayed to a potential mate. Approaching the willow swamp I noticed that most of the wildfowl had retreated to the far side of south lake over by the wall `mirror`, a sure sign that fishermen were present. Two fellas were seen with all their night tackle walking back towards  Leonard Rd, while two more were still camped in the willows just off the causeway track, one of whom is a serial offender and best not approached. I guess there will be a fair bit more of this kind of flouting of the rules in the current climate, although fishing is, of course banned here whenever.

                                All night fishing camp

Lockdown List
I`ve decided to keep a list on the local patch for the duration of the lockdown which will include birds seen or heard during our walking circuit of lake, beach, bay and desert, plus the Plovers garden.
This mornings Black Redstart was the 70th species.


Thursday, 26 March 2020

Unintended consequences

Lade - cold, dry and sunny, ne 5 - Lockdown Day 3 -  We set off on our exercise walk around the local patch by mid-morning into a nippy old wind coming in off the sea, but at least it was dry with plenty of sunshine. Was good to have an over-the-fence chat with a self-isolating Brian D who was tinkering around in his back garden. He was in good spirits and had already fired up his moth trap for the season and despite it being cold last night had attracted an impressive five species to light, including an Early Grey. We only encountered half a dozen local dog-walkers along the way, all keeping a respectable distance from one another, and most of whom looked as though they were keen to get home out of the rasping wind.
  Typically, in such weather conditions passerines were in short supply with only Stonechat and Linnet worthy of mention. A scan of north lake delivered at least 30 Mediterranean Gulls on the water amongst a couple of hundred Black-headed and Common Gulls, although there were probably more amongst a large flock of a thousand plus gulls that rose up and down in the distance towards Romney Salts where ploughing operations were underway.

                                Starling on Plovers roof

Unintended Consequences
Most of us have had to radically change our modus operandi during these strange times and it got me thinking that already, even after only Day 3, a routine seems to be developing. This time of year, with the sea watching season upon us, I would normally be spending some time down the point, followed by a brief look at the local patch, and then onto somewhere else (that is if we didn't have guests in) and maybe a look at the sea again in the afternoon.
  Now there is absolutely no rush to get going in the morning as we`re only allowed out once. The highlight of the day is our (Pat, Barney and I) walk around the local patch which takes us about an hour and half; I don't think I`ve ever looked at in such detail before with every nook and cranny being scrutinised, and there is the added bonus of having Pat along with her keen long-sight to callout distant birds.
  Something else I did today that I can`t remember ever doing was to read the i newspaper - from back to front in one hit, which took about the same time as to walk the patch. Normally I`d just scan the sports pages ( remember that simple pleasure, the footie reports, to check how QPR had done the night before, that sort of thing) and carry on with my day. Actually, for 65p its a cracking read and real value for money, while afterwards you can use it for all sorts of useful things, like lighting the fire, lining the cat litter tray (if you have a cat, of course) and most important of all, rip it into squares for toilet paper, just like me old mum used to do with the Daily Mirror, but without the hazard of black print transfer, if you catch my drift!
  Anyhow, I`m rambling on a bit now, and it`ll soon be time to go to the front door and clap like mad in appreciation of our magnificent NHS, and when we come back in I can sit down and enjoy my ration of six squares of Cadbury chocolate, another unintended consequence of the lockdown.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020


Lade - cool, sunny, se 2 - Lockdown Day 2 - I walked the garden first thing with the dog, which took all of ten minutes, just to ensure a crippling rarity hadn't dropped in overnight in the bushes, and then retreated indoors with a cuppa to check the bird feeders through the window for half an hour. It was the usual spadgers, doves and pigeons, plus Robin, Dunnock and Wren around the pond, but not a sniff of a Bluethroat!
  At 0800hrs we set off on our permitted daily exercise walk out across the shingle, south towards Kerton Road pit, returning home alongside the lakes and ponds where a pair of Stonechats and a Fieldfare over were the only additions to yesterdays foray. However, as the sun rose and the thermals bounced off the stones, a pause by the aerial ramp scanning towards the airfield delivered the wonderful sight of a male Marsh Harrier `sky-dancing` with a female, while a second bird looked on. Also up and soaring, three Buzzards and two Kestrels, plus Curlews coming off the beach to roost and a `mewing` Mediterranean Gull high overhead.
  Back home, after delivering groceries to local elderly folk in self-isolation, I settled down in the back garden for a spot of sky-watching. During a two hour session around noon several more Curlews, Mediterranean Gulls and Oystercatchers flew overhead, while a female Sparrowhawk flew through the garden scattering the sparrows but misfiring.
  With a light south-easterly airflow off the continent, all morning I`d been expecting a Red Kite and sure enough following a tip off from DB one passed along the coast and over the cottage receiving a good old south coast welcome by the local avian bullies, aka - Herring Gulls. Other kites were also reported today from Littlestone and St Mary-in-the-Marsh.  

                                Barney enjoying the spring sunshine

                                Plovers sky-watching position

                               The only jet in two hours!

I-pod selection
I can`t image why, but since the coronavirus lockdown virtual visitors to this blog have almost doubled (to at least 10!), in contrast to our paying guests booked on spring Birdwatching Breaks which have had to be either cancelled/deferred until goodness knows when. So, with more time on my hands than is safe and in a desperate attempt to make the blog slightly more interesting, and keep me sane, I`ve decided to waffle on a bit more than usual. Those of you who know me will be saying, "well that shouldn't be too difficult!". Anyhow, it may not always be bird related but I`ll attempt to keep the vibe high and not mention the C word.
  OK, here we go, first offering: Music, in my humble opinion is the greatest human art form. Whilst updating this blog the I-pod has been pumping out a selection of random tunes Pat and I put together a while ago, mostly of bands we`ve seen down the years or music we just love or has some meaning or relevance. I made a note as they came out, so pick the bones out of this lot and see what you think:
- Jennifer Warnes - Empty Bottle - American vocalist with a haunting voice.
- Elvis - In the Ghetto - I`m not a great fan of the King, Pat is, but this one is my favourite.
- Carole King -  Smackwater Jack - off the classic 1971 album Tapestry.
- Oysterband - Milford Haven - a roller coaster tour of Britain from the Kent folk rockers.
Dr John  - Down in New Orleans - memories of 9/11 when we were in that fascinating city.
- Steve Forbert  - The Oil Song - classic protest song from an old folkie from the deep south.
- Billy Bragg - Man in the Iron Mark - a moving song from the angry man of English folk.
- Paul McCartney - Blackbird - one of the best ballads ever written, pure genius.
- Glenn Campbell - MacArther Park - written by the legendary Jimmy Webb, three songs in one!
- Van Morrison - Days like this - reminds of my dear old mum, how I miss her.
- Nick Drake - Northern Sky - a fine track from the tortured balladeer from the 70`s.
 -The Clash - Rock the Casbah - West London`s finest, I used to see Mick Jones at Loftus Road.
 - Bowie - Life on Mars? - "From Ibeza to the Norfolk Broads", masterful lyrics from David.
Buffy Sainte-marie - Universal Soldier - classic anti-war song.
- Michelle Shocked - Anchorage - saw her at the Jazz CafĂ© once, she was on stage for over 3 hours! 
- Rod Stewart - Mandolin Wind - Rod at his best, and he even played the banjo back then.
- Moody Blues - Forever Autumn - Got all their old albums, saw Justin Haywood at Canterbury a few year back, his voice was still like a clarion bell.
  That's it for now, look some of `em up, they`re guaranteed to put a smile on your face in these troubled times, many are from the 1970`s though, but then that was the best decade ever for music!

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Clear skies over Romney Marsh

Lade - cool, dry and sunny, se2 - A stunning morning for the first of what will become our daily "exercise walkouts" from Plovers on Day 1 of the three week coronavirus lockdown. We`re fortunate living beside the NNR that within a couple of minutes we`re on the shingle ridges and able to walk the local patch where its easy to avoid the few people present. 
  Bird wise it was fairly quiet with five Goldeneyes still on south lake, singing Chiffchaffs by the ponds and a hunting Sparrowhawk across north lake. Small numbers of wintering ducks remain for the time being, amid ever increasing pairs of breeding Great Crested and Little Grebes, while a Peacock butterfly was on the wing along the main track. The only unusual sighting, or rather hearing, was a single Siskin that zinged overhead and out to sea.

                               Regrowth Valerian

  A couple of other observations of note this morning. Firstly, the resilience of Valerian, that last year RSPB spent a lot of time and effort spraying what is an invasive species, although it does seem to attract plenty of insects to its pollen-rich blooms. However, it has returned with a vengeance, as nearly all of the sprayed dead clumps have now burst into greenery.
  The second striking observation can be found in the skies above the Romney Marsh. In normal times I could count upwards of 20 vapour trails as planes homed in on a tracker unit situated out near Old Romney. This morning there were none, our carbon footprint since this pandemic must have reduced significantly.  

                                Clear skies over Romney Marsh

Monday, 23 March 2020

Early spring migrants

Dungeness - cold, dry and sunny, se2 - There was only four cars in the RSPB car park mid-morning and during a self-isolating circuit of the bird reserve I only encountered two other people. However, despite the surreal atmosphere there were a few spring migrants on offer, the highlights being: a Firecrest and several Chiffchaffs by Firth hide; single Black-necked Grebes on Burrowes and Dengemarsh; a Jack Snipe by the corral; a Water Pipit on Hayfield 1 and a flyover Yellow Wagtail, my first of the spring. Elsewhere en-route several Marsh Harriers, Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Great White Egret, Lapwings, Redshanks, four Dunlins, Raven and plenty of Cetti`s Warblers and Reed Buntings in song. 
  At Lade a check of the beach revealed my first Sandwich Tern of spring, while on south lake five Goldeneyes were present. Another Firecrest was in the Plovers garden this afternoon.

                                Lapwing on the Hayfield

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Black-necked Grebe

Dungeness RSPB  - cold, dry and sunny, e 5 -  A biting east wind spoiled what would have been a fine spring day. We walked from Boulderwall to Dengemarsh where there were one or two surprises along the way, including a fine drake Pintail on Tanners pool, a Black-necked Grebe on the lake at Dengemarsh that soon disappeared from view heading towards Hookers reedbed and at least two Water Pipits showing briefly on Hayfield 2. Also noted 55 Curlews and 50 Wigeons around Cook`s pool, two Marsh Harriers, a Great White and three Little Egrets on Gun Club pool, plus displaying Lapwings and Redshanks, calling Bearded Tits, two Chiffchaffs and plenty of singing Cetti`s Warblers and Reed Buntings throughout. It was also good to see a few families out walking the trails.
  Working in the garden this afternoon I had cracking views of two Firecrests in the garden fir trees. 

                                Black-necked Grebe, one from the archives

Friday, 20 March 2020

Twitching madness

Lade - cold, drizzle, overcast, ne 4 - Had a run around the peninsula this morning kicking off on the local patch where a rasping wind coming off the bay prevented any credible wader watching. The usual suspects were present on the incoming tide, plus plenty of Common and a few Mediterranean Gulls and three Shelducks. On south lake it felt like mid-winter with five Goldeneyes and a few diving ducks out in the middle, while everything else had retreated to the shelter of the willow swamp. There was little bird song due to the weather conditions.
  The Dungeness RSPB reserve visitor centre and hides are now closed until further notice in line with governmental advice, as are the two beach hides at Dungeness managed by DBO, but the nature trails across the bird reserve and NNR remain open and accessible for now. I checked along the access road and up to Dengemarsh where it was eerily bereft of both birds and birders, although to be fair the wind didn't help.
  At the point there was a few more visitors scattered about and the Glaucous Gull was patrolling the foreshore, although very little appeared to be moving on the sea with just a couple of small flocks of Common Scoters heading up-Channel. Around the old lighthouse one or two Black Redstarts, Wheatears and White Wagtails were present, along with a cluster of birders peering into the garden looking for the Short-toed Treecreeper that had been reported earlier.
  I wandered over, keeping a respectable distance, and realised that none of the group were locals. After a few enquiries it was apparent that most were twitchers having travelled in from elsewhere. Now, I haven't got an axe to grind against the twitching fraternity (I`ve done my share in past years) but one of them had travelled to Dungeness from Doncaster by train and bus, via London! When I gasped and said (rhetorically), "are you mad?", he just shrugged and made some lame remark about the "rarity value" of a STC.
  In these unprecedented times, an example of totally irresponsible behaviour.