Sunday, 17 January 2021

Dartford Warbler and Scaup

 Lade - dry and sunny, NW 2 - What a difference a day makes! Yesterday`s weather was a shocker, being cold and overcast with heavy rain and sleet showers throughout, in contrast to the warm sunshine of this morning and blue skies. Our daily perambulation around the local patch took us south along the beach to Kerton Road and back along the working gravel pit to Lade where the highlight was a Dartford Warbler and Stonechat in the triangle broom, but only a handful of Pochard, Shoveler and a Great Crested Grebe on the lake. En-route we bumped into one of the regular dog-walkers who spoke of an encounter he`d had with a Short-eared Owl flushed by his dog on the desert, "one day last week". 

                                  Oiled Red-throated Diver, Lade south

  Whilst out news came through from OL concerning a pair of probable Scaup (bins views only of sleeping birds) on north lake which were soon confirmed as three (two ducks and a drake) by JY and DS, and were most likely the Scotney birds. By the time I`d called in home and picked up my scope I arrived on site to find said Scaups in flight having been flushed by walkers on the airport side of the lake; DS, however, who was quicker off the mark than I managed some decent images (see below).  A Red-throated Diver on south lake was only my fourth in 15 years and like all the others before was oiled and preening furiously. At least six Goldeneyes were noted across both waters.

                                  3 Scaups, Lade north (by David Scott)

                                  Drake Scaup with Tufted Duck for comparison (by David Scott)

  Elsewhere this weekend we noted the long-staying Black-throated Diver on ARC yesterday, while our  monthly harrier roost count due to take place this afternoon on Walland Marsh was cancelled due to the current travel restrictions.

Friday, 15 January 2021

Flotsam and Jetsam

 Lade - cold, cloudy NE 2 - Following a miserable wet Thursday (27mm recorded at Littlestone by OL) today was at least dry with lighter winds, if still grey and overcast. However, this allowed a full circuit of the local patch and a thorough search of all the nooks and crannies for anything remotely new blown onto the lakes. Wildfowl were again few in number with three Goldeneyes on south and another two on north lake the only ducks of note (and still no Smew so far this winter), plus a large flock of around 1,000 roosting gulls that comprised mainly Common Gulls. A Goldcrest and Chiffchaff flitted through cover by the ponds and at least three Marsh Harriers worked the main reed bed by the wall `mirror`.

                                 Common Gull

                                  Beached bladder wrack and plastic

                                  Shingle extension along Greatstone beach
                                  Crows foraging through dead cockles

  Many more Common Gulls were loafing on the beach along with distant Black-backs, Curlews and Oystercatchers. Scores of crows picked through the thousands of washed up cockles along the strandline, along with four Ringed Plovers amongst a large patch of moored seaweed peppered with plastic refuse, and an usual sight on this sandy foreshore. Looking along the sand dunes from the Tavern viewpoint I was amazed by the extension of a finger of shingle which now covers about 200 yards in front of the dunes. Three years ago you could walk down onto the bay over sand without touching a pebble; such is the relentless march of the longshore drift process. 

Sunday, 10 January 2021

Winter bites

 Lade - cold and frosty, nw 2 - The coldest night of the winter so far as sub-zero temperatures delivered a spectacular hoar frost to the shingle vegetation hereabouts, fusing the pebbles together and making for slippery walking conditions on our daily circuit of the local patch. Visibility came and went  during the morning until a thick bank of freezing fog eventually rolled in from the hinterland obscuring the sun for the remainder of the day. 

                                  Jack Frost touched everything this morning

  Wildfowl continue to be low in number, along with the two species of grebes and Coot, while a maximum of five Goldeneyes were present across both waters. Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Marsh Harrier, Grey Heron, Water Rail, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Long-tailed Tit, Chiffchaff, Cetti`s Warbler and Reed Bunting were all noted across the weekend. Yesterday I went even further taking in the farmland north of Lade and out across the fields towards Romney Salts recording Golden Plover (50), Lapwing (100), Common Gull (120), Stock Dove (20), Curlew (40), Linnet (50), single figures of Pheasant, Skylark, Stonechat, Redwing, Song Thrush and Corn Bunting, plus several Buzzards and Kestrels. 

                                 Border Terriers are perfectly at home in the cold!

  On Friday morning, just before the Dungeness Estate was shut to visitors, a walk around Long Pits and the Trapping Area produced a Jack Snipe by the wigwams, Firecrest, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Long-tailed Tits in the bushes, plus a Buzzard on the Desert being mobbed by three crows. At least 800 Cormorants flew over heading to roost on Burrowes. As already stated, please note that the Estate is now closed to visitors until further notice for obvious reasons.

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Lockdown 3

 Lade - cold, cloudy, wet, ne 2 - Well, here we go again as we enter lockdown number three which will more than likely be with us til mid-February at the earliest; this lockdown appears to be more akin to the first one implemented last March than the slacker one just gone. Either way it doesn`t make a great deal of difference to me as I stay mainly local anyways. 

                                Oystercatchers flying to roost this afternoon

  Walking out from the cottage this week in the cold and wet has not been a particularly pleasant experience and on more than one occasion we`ve had a right good old soaking. However, this afternoon there was a brief glimmer of brightness whilst we were on the beach, but for the most part it has been overcast with Mordor-like light conditions. The Lade wetlands have been quiet with no real change from my last post and apart from Oystercatcher (960) and Curlew (320) wader numbers on the bay have been few and far between.                                                                                                                                         There has been little change to the birds on the Dungeness RSPB reserve where from today onwards, until further notice, the car parks, trails and toilets will be open daily for local visitors from 10am - 4pm, while all hides and the visitor centre remain closed. As far as I`m aware access to the Estate is currently still open, although the situation is being reviewed. 

                                 Barney on the beach

Sunday, 3 January 2021

Great Northern Diver

 Lade - cold, overcast, light northerly - A weekend of grim, grey weather with occasional rain showers. We flogged around the local patch both mornings noting a maximum of six Goldeneyes across both waters as well as all the usual ducks, Coots and several grebes, plus Chiffchaff and Long-tailed Tits by the ponds. Yesterday evening the gull flock on north lake contained four Mediterranean Gulls. Scanning over the airport and Romney Salts produced five Marsh Harriers heading to roost, two Buzzards, a Kestrel and a flock of 20 Linnets. On Saturday afternoon at ARC the wintering Dusky Warbler showed well in lakeside scrub just north of the Screen hide alongside Chiffchaff and Firecrest, while a flock of 56 White-fronts flew overhead.

                                  Goldeneye, south lake Lade

  This afternoon a trip to Folkestone produced a Great Northern Diver on the sea off Sandgate and ten Mediterranean Gulls along the coastal park. On the way home a check of the sea defence blocks at Hythe for Purple Sandpipers drew a blank due people clambering over the rocks, some clutching small children which seemed senseless to me considering the risk of slippage and potential hospitalisation. 

Friday, 1 January 2021

New Years Day

 Romney Marsh - cold, grey, light airs - It was a somewhat muted start to the New Year with our usual birding tour of local sites reduced to just two of us due to the virus restrictions. A Barn Owl was the first bird of the day at St Mary-in-the-Marsh. It was then onto Park Wood just before daybreak for at least four hooting Tawny Owls followed by a range of typical woodland birds including Woodcock, Buzzards, Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers, Coal and Long-tailed Tits, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Goldcrest, Jay and the first of many Ravens seen or heard today. We then dropped down onto the Marsh where the canal delineates the flatlands from the hill country between Warehorne and Kennardington, one of my favourite habitats. Winter thrushes were numerous along with resident Mistle and Song Thrushes, loads more Jays and plenty of common, wayside birds, including that tricky-to-find trio of Tree Sparrow, Bullfinch and Yellowhammer. Crossing Walland Marsh we logged up to ten each of Buzzard and Kestrel (what on earth do they find to feed on ?), 22 Bewick`s and two Whooper Swans.

                                  Buzzard atop a bush full of c100 Corn Buntings!

  Scotney is always a make or break site when day-listing and today proved so with a wide range of farmland and wetland species on offer in near perfect weather conditions and with farming operations suspended for the holiday. A pair of Scaup and a Long-tailed Duck on the back lake were the highlights (the former something of a rarity these days down here) and a flock of 58 White-fronted Geese heading high towards Rye calling evocatively. Also, two Green Sandpipers, two Redshanks, four Marsh Harriers, two Great White Egrets, Little Egret, Golden Plovers, 100 Corn Buntings, Sparrowhawk, Raven, Stonechat, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Reed Bunting, Linnet and a host of common wildfowl and gulls. A Red-legged Partridge on the ranges was also something of a bonus, plus another flock of 65 White-fronts over Lydd.

                                  White-fronts over Lydd heading north

   En-route to the sea we paused on the causeway road for the wintering Glossy Ibis sat on a tiny island on ARC and the Black-throated Diver on New Diggings, plus several Goldeneyes. At Dungeness we eventually located a 1st winter Iceland Gull amongst the throng at the Patch along with at least ten Mediterranean Gulls and a Razorbill, plus a Grey Wagtail on the power station sewage works. Offshore the usual auks, Gannets, Kittiwakes and Red-throated Divers on the move. Back on the bird reserve Ruff, Cetti`s Warbler, Egyptian Goose and Greenfinch went onto the day list. Our final port of call, in fading light, was Lade bay where despite disturbance from dog-walkers we managed seven of the ten regular wintering wader species, plus three Common Scoters crossing the bay and a pair of hunting Peregrines.

  A cracking, laid-back birding day in the field during which we racked up 106 species, yet still managed miss the following `expected` birds : Brent Goose, Bittern, Shelduck, Pintail, Water Rail, Dunlin, Caspian Gull, Little Owl and Chiffchaff, while the wintering Dusky Warbler was reported from the ARC car park scrub. Many thanks to Chris for driving.

Thursday, 31 December 2020

Farewell 2020!

 Lade - cold and sunny, nw 2 - Well what a year it has been! It started off so promising here at Plovers with a full program of wildlife tours planned for our guests throughout the spring and summer seasons, until the virus struck and the whole lot were cancelled. Along with many others in the leisure sector it has certainly been a tough year, but nowhere near as tough as those frontline workers battling the virus in hospitals and care homes across the country, heroes every one of them. So, in retrospect we have been fortunate down here throughout this crisis, along with its various lockdowns, to still have access to the Dungeness NNR with its wealth of flora and fauna; and there certainly were some memorable moments. 

                                 Spring Wheatears,  Lade beach

  On the birding front I managed to clock up 216 species of birds across the peninsula during 2020, which is about average for me with only a few seabirds missing, mainly due to the Estate being closed in the first lockdown. Notable spring raptors included Sea-eagle sightings from the Netherlands population, decent numbers of Red Kites and Ospreys on passage, a Red-footed Falcon on Dengemarsh and several Black Kites through. The heron tribe once again featured well with Great White and Cattle Egrets and Glossy Ibis throughout, while spring `overshoots` included Black-winged Stilt, Purple Heron, Bee-eater, several Short-toed Treecreepers and a Rosy Starling at Lydd, part of a nationwide influx. As over 100 pairs of Common Terns settled down to breed on Burrowes and ARC two Whiskered and a Gull-billed Tern briefly added some glamour to proceedings.

                                  Rosy Starling, Lydd

  Willow Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Redstart and Whinchat were in short supply on spring passage, in contrast to Sedge Warblers and Whitethroats that seemed to be everywhere. With restricted access to parts of the bird reserve, and the hides closed throughout, wader-watching proved difficult, although plenty of Whimbrels could be seen and heard passing overhead during spring and autumn. Migrant Woodlark and Nightingale were noted at Lade and Cuckoos bred again, where there was also good numbers of grounded Yellow Wagtails and Wheatears on the desert in late summer. 

                                 Red-flanked Bluetail, Dungeness

                                  Pallas`s Warbler, DBO

  Autumn was notable for a rash of rare warblers including Pallas`s, Hume`s, Dusky and Yellow-browed at DBO, plus a sensational Red-flanked Bluetail, which was also part of an unprecedented influx across eastern Britain. Classic `drift` migrants such as Pied Flycatchers, Ring-Ouzel, Red-backed Shrike, Wryneck and Shore Lark enlivened the season as the first of the finches and thrushes arrived from the east and a late Dusky Warbler took up residence in the scrub around the ARC car park.

                                  Summer Solstice 2020

  However, the most memorable outing of the year for me was midsummer morning spent on the bird reserve with our Lucy watching the sun come up along with a cacophony of bird song and a Barn Owl hunting close by. A couple of hours later we sat overlooking the wetlands at Dengemarsh soaking up Bittern `booming`, Marsh Harriers food-passing and a singing Savi`s Warbler, a new species for me at Dungeness, pure magic. 

  The New Year beckons and although the first couple of months could be grim, hope springs eternal as the vaccines are rolled out, so stay safe and good birding to one and all for 2021.