Thursday, 23 March 2017

Hirundines and Firecrests

Dungeness - cold, cloudy, e 5 - As forecast the wind swung round to the east overnight and blasted in off the sea all day making for difficult birding conditions, and it looks as though we`ve got this for the next few days at least. However, despite the poor weather there was the first arrival of all three species of hirundines today with two Sand Martins over ARC and a small mixed flock of two Swallows, two House Martins and a Sand Martin on Burrowes, viewable from the Visitor Centre around midday. Several Pintail were among the ducks, no doubt migrants judging from others that  passed the point yesterday.
Lade - An afternoon visit delivered two Sand Martins over north lake and a Firecrest in the Willow Swamp. There was also another Firecrest in a Littlestone garden this morning and a further 20 plus around the Long Pits (LG).

Dungeness - Called in for a natter with CP who was toiling away on the seawatch hide refurbishment despite the blasting wind. Whilst there two parties of Brents totalling 48 flew low over the sea heading up-Channel.

                               Seawatching hide refurbishment in progress

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Dungeness seabirds

Dungeness - 0545-0745hrs - cold, cloudy, sse 5 - The lure of a southerly airflow attracted a hide full of regulars this morning for what proved to be a worthwhile session. Plenty of Gannets were forced close to shore, some feeding, others passing up-Channel, along with the best showing this spring so far of Sandwich Terns and Common Scoters with at least 100 of each. Fulmars are a given here on a southerly blow and 30 plus sheared past mostly heading west and some inside the buoy. About ten parties of Brents plodded up-Channel during the watch comprising around 150 birds along with 20 Red-throated Divers, six Shovelers and 31 Pintails. Also noted several Mediterranean Gulls, plenty of Kittiwakes, Cormorants and Great Crested Grebes, a Bonxie and three Slavonian Grebes on the sea.

                               Sunrise over Dungeness

After breakfast we headed down the bird reserve for a circuit of Dengemarsh - just as the rain started and the wind picked up! Unsurprisingly, not a great deal was noted apart from the usual plastic fantastic wildfowl, including Egyptian Geese on the fields, Hooded Merganser on Hookers and Ring-necked Duck on Cook`s Pool. The hayfields were bereft of birds apart from a flock of Magpies and Crows, which doesn't bode well for the Lapwings this spring. Raven, two Bearded Tits, a few Linnets and Reed Buntings and a Marsh Harrier also noted, and for the first time this year there was no sign of any Great White Egrets. The highlight on Burrowes was a stunning summer plumage Black-necked Grebe and six Goldeneyes.

Lade - Our local Starlings and House Sparrows provided great entertainment this afternoon bathing in the pond where they were joined briefly by a Chiffchaff coming down to drink. A Sparrowhawk nipped through scattering the flock, the first I`ve seen for a while.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Sandwich Terns

Dungeness - 0700hrs - cold, dry, sunny, w 3 - A noticeable dip in the temperature meant a return to fleece and gloves this morning on the stroll down to the Patch. Among the melee of gulls over the boil were a couple of Mediterranean Gulls and a first winter Caspian on the beach; although I didn`t see the Iceland Gull it was present later in the morning (LG). Two Sandwich Terns briefly paused before moving east and several Harbour Porpoises were feeding around the boil. A Raven flew over the power station with crop bulging and a couple of Mipits displayed along the wall.
  A quick chat with the seawatchers in the smartly refurbished hide confirmed that little was on the move this morning apart from a trickle of Sandwich Terns, Gannets, Kittiwakes and a few Red-throated Divers, auks and Brent Geese.
  On the land a couple of Chiffchaffs in the lighthouse garden and a Wheatear opposite Jarman`s was about it.
Lade - The wind picked up through the day and by the time I ventured out back with Barney this afternoon most passerines had gone to ground, although there was a lone Chiffchaff singing in the willow swamp. Mid-March can be one of the quietest times of year in the birding calendar as winter visitors depart and before the main body of spring migrants arrive, and it certainly felt like that today.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Harrier count

Walland Marsh - 1600hrs - dry, cloudy and windy -  This afternoon I joined CP for the final harrier count of the winter and to be honest due to the blustery wind and lateness in the season I wasn't expecting a great deal - how wrong I was. Eventually, 14 Marsh Harriers came to roost including several adult males, one of which was displaying over the reedbed for some time before going down. The highlight of the watch though concerned a small juvenile Hen Harrier, presumably a male, that was in view for about an hour, flying up and down the reedbed, periodically landing and even chasing the much larger Marsh Harriers in an aerial tussle, odd behaviour indeed. Then, just before lights out it was joined by a second darker ringtail that went straight to roost alongside it, but separate from the Marsh Harriers. So, a fascinating end to the winter harrier roost count.
  Also noted in the general area a Bittern, two Common Buzzards, seven Golden Plovers, Skylarks, Mipits, Cetti`s Warbler and a Corn Bunting.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Birding for juniors

Lade  - mild, cloudy, sw 3 - 0700hrs - There was nothing much of note over the pits first thing although the Chiffchaff count rose to 10, including two birds singing and feeding around the pond in the garden.
Dungeness - 1030hrs - We were on grand parent duty this weekend and our six year old grandson Albert was keen to try out his new 8x30 bins in conjunction with a Plovers checklist. I`ve always adopted the `two hour rule` for nippers under ten years of age, as any longer and they tend to get fed up. Other criteria to consider are: the weather, it has to be fine, which it was this morning; the birds need to be close and, crucially, said junior birder has to want to go, which he did.

                                Tree Sparrow nailed and on the list

  So, we were all set and raring to go, with our kit in order and a snack to hand (cos little kids have to eat constantly, or at least this one does!). We headed for the bird reserve, pausing first at Boulderwall for Tree Sparrows where at least nine birds showed like good `uns on the feeders and perched in nearby scrub chupping away merrily. I was meticulous that the little fella got onto each species properly and confirmed the id by telling me a few salient field markings, as he was keeping a tally for the trip. He also noted Reed Bunting, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Great and Blue Tits here.

                                Ring-necked Duck and Long-eared Owl showed well

  Moving up to Cook`s Pool I couldn't believe our luck as the drake Ring-necked Duck was virtually the closet bird to the track, displaying to the Tufted Ducks. Wigeon, Coot, Moorhen, Little Egret and Cetti`s Warbler were all identified around the pool, plus Lapwing, Stock Dove, Canada and Greylag Geese on the fields.
  We then spent some time birding from the hides around Burrowes where his list rattled merrily along with more wildfowl, gulls, Cormorants and the like, including Goldeneye and three Pintails. The egg display in Makepeace hide was duly inspected, as were the whale bones by the Dipping Pond, where we finished with superb views of the roosting Long-eared Owl, which really did put on a show; preening, ear tufts erect, orange irides blinking, the full works, and not a single twig obscuring the head.

                               "Long-eared Owl over my shoulder"

  We actually spent almost three hours in the field, including some time nattering in the visitor centre and collecting a Long-eared Owl pin badge which is now pinned proudly on his fleece. So, a successful jaunt all round and of the 62 species recorded this morning I`m confident he managed to properly see 48 species - with no string attached! 

Friday, 17 March 2017


Lade - 0630hrs - cool, sunny, w 2 - Following the fog of yesterday this morning dawned bright and sunny with a cool westerly airflow. We ventured into the Kerton Road pit first off to check for an early Little Ringed Ringed, of which there was no sign. However, Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher, Shelduck, Skylark and Mipit all showed signs of breeding, but the island that once supported a Black-headed Gull colony is now unsuitable, being overgrown with willow scrub.

                                 Chiffchaff - bird of the day

  Back at Lade the willow swamp held at least five singing Chiffchaffs with several others heard in back gardens along Leonard Road; judging from comments on Twitter there appears to have a been something a fall of Chiffchaffs this morning with reports from across the peninsula. There was no sign of either the Slavonian Grebe or Great White Egrets since last weekend, so I can only assume they`ve moved on.
Dungeness - After assisting CP moving sheets of marine ply into the seawatch hide in preparation for tomorrows rebuild we checked the lighthouse garden where at least two Chiffchaffs were feeding amongst the Euphorbias.
  On the bird reserve this afternoon the Black-necked Grebes were still on a choppy New Diggings, but there was no sign of the Long-eared Owls behind the Dipping Pool. On Boulderwall Pools the long-staying Ring-necked Duck was at the far end of Tanner`s associating with Tufted Ducks, plus a few Wigeon, Teal and five Little Egrets, but there was no sign of the Garganey and Smew from earlier. Burrowes was quiet apart from the usual gulls and wildfowl.   

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Herring Gulls

Lade - Misty, mild, sw 2 - The plan this morning was to head down to Dungeness, but when I rolled out of bed at 0600hrs the first thing I heard was the foghorn blaring away; the entire peninsula was wreathed in a sea fret. Anyhow, being the eternal optimist, and thinking it would soon clear I did go, if only to walk Barney around a fog-bound Trapping Area which was virtually birdless apart from a few tits, finches, Mipits and a Chiffchaff.
  Plan B was then initiated, so it was back to the local patch where you could just about see the far side of the lake, until another bank of fog rolled in. Infact the murk didn't clear from Lade until late morning, while at nearby Dungeness the fret lingered all day judging from the booming fog horn.

                                "You can`t fool me that easily"

  Its that time of year again when the Herring Gulls are getting ready to breed, and all along this part of the coast you can hear them day and night clamouring away, shitting everywhere and looking for a suitable roof to nest on. I`ve got something of love hate relationship with these birds as while I`m not too keen on being crapped on, they are great at giving a heads up on passing birds of prey - two Red Kites so far this spring.
  However, many folk hereabouts (including us) have taken precautions to deter the gulls (wire mesh and spikes around chimney stacks and roof ridges are essential) or be terrorised all summer long. Unfortunately our local chippie owner (who doesn't live on site) continues to encourage the damn things by chucking out fish waste onto a nearby flat roof, despite being asked to desist.
  Another form of deterrent being tried locally is to fit a plastic owl with a rotating head in a prominent position, but as you can see from the above picture its going to take a little bit more than that to fool a wise old Herring Gull!