Friday, 25 January 2013

Trials of Life & Death

Dungeness RSPB  - 0930hrs - cold, cloudy, ne 2 - Another nippy old day with the temperature barely sneaking above freezing, and by late afternoon with the wind increasing it seemed even colder. However, according to the Met Office we should have the shorts out by Sunday as a warm front moves up off the Atlantic...
Anyhow, started off at New Diggings where 10 Smew included 2 `white nuns` along with 5 Goldeneyes and a mixed flock of 150 Pochard, Tufted Duck and Coot (more of which anon). On the ARC side of the causeway road 120 Shovelers and hundreds more diving duck, a few winter thrushes, Great White Egret and a Bittern flying over the lake.
For many of our birds its been a tough time of late, what with snow and ice, but one group that has prospered are the raptors, as testified by this mornings shenanigans. Along the access road we stopped by Cook`s Pool to scan the fields (where 6 Barnacle Geese lurked amongst a group of Greylags and Canadas) when I noticed a Peregrine tumbling down into a dive and smack a Wigeon
full square; the unfortunate duck exploded into a cloud of feathers and hit the turf as dead as the proverbial door nail. A large female Peregrine then swooped down, mantled the twitching duck and spent the next 5 minutes plucking and tucking into breast of Wigeon before leaving the bulk of it to the crows. Needless to say the rest of the Wigeon flock were very wary of leaving the safety of the water...
Nothing unusual in that little encounter but what followed bordered on the extraordinary. From Dennis`s hide I watched, at some distance, an adult Marsh Harrier separate a lone Coot from the flock on New Diggings and repeatedly dive bomb it as it tried to rejoin the flock. At times the harrier was standing on the Coots back in the middle of the lake with its legs under water and flapping like an Osprey about to come up with a fish! At one stage it actually lifted the Coot clear of the water before dropping it back again. This went on for about 5 minutes after which the gulls mobbed the harrier and it beat a hasty retreat. That was one lucky Coot. I estimated there to have been about 10 Marsh Harriers hunting across the bird reserve this morning, so I guess these raptors have to be at their opportunistic best to secure a meal.

 Adult female Marsh Harrier attempting to drown a Coot, New Diggings

The other two raptorial encounters were less dramatic and concerned a Sparrowhawk over by the water tower plucking what looked like a thrush, and a Kestrel by Boulderwall flying off with a probable sparrow it had just nabbed from around the feeders.
Littlestone -  1530hrs - A last look along the beach revealed the Snow Buntings feeding on the tideline and all the usual waders on the sands.
ps: Anyone planning a trip down this weekend should be in for some top class winter birding. At Dungeness there are plenty of auks, divers, Kitts and Gannets offshore, plus regular sightings this week of Velvet Scoter, Eider, Red-breasted Merganser, Brents and of course the wintering Glaucous Gull by the fishing boats. On the bird reserve raptors are plentiful, plus up to 16 Smew, 10 Bitterns and 5 Great White Egrets; while the scrub in the car parks and ARC willow trail has attracted one or two Firecrests and Woodcocks. A drive across Walland Marsh should yield Bewick`s and Whooper Swans, White-fronts, Merlin, Buzzard and Hen Harrier, plus Barn Owl at dusk, while Scotney is worth checking for geese and wildfowl. The seafront at Hythe is hosting 6 Purple Sandpipers and the car park and foreshore near Littlestone Lifeboat Station has 2 Snow Buntings, and if you get the tide right 10 species of shorebirds. Good birding.

1 comment:

  1. Paul,
    Nice writing, I always enjoy your posts. We're lucky to live in such a good wildlife area - all-be-it now 1 Wigeon less.