Dungeness Spring - a snap summary
As we move into the second half of May spring migration is slowly grinding to a halt; although there could still be one or two goodies to come (perhaps a Red-footed Falcon or Bee-eater, or maybe a decent wader such as a summer plum Red-necked Phalarope, a pratincole or Marsh Sandpiper). Some will say it never really got going and it has been depressingly quiet for bread-and-butter passerines on the land - and what`s happened to the Spotted Flycatchers, Mipits, Garden Warblers, Turtle Doves, Swifts and House Martins? Still, maybe there`s time for them to come yet. But let`s not dwell on the doom and gloom, as after all migrant numbers were down elsewhere along the south coast, and there have been some notable highs this spring.
Seabirds - When all else fails we can rely on the sea to deliver the goods and while seawatching was patchy at times it did produced some memorable watches with DBO record day counts for Red-throated Divers and Commic Terns at 3,175 on 7th April, and 12,500 on 5th May respectively. As for sea-ducks, Common Scoters came through in good numbers and there were some decent counts of Velvets, Red-breasted Mergansers, Eiders and even a few Garganeys, Pintails, Red-necked Grebes and Long-tailed Ducks. As already mentioned there was no shortage of Red-throated Divers throughout April and as the month ended small numbers of Black-throats appeared along with several Great Northern Divers. However, wader numbers were generally poor with few Whimbrels and nothing like the Barwit passage of recent years.
One of the undoubted highlights of the seabird passage is the up-Channel exodus of Brent Geese as the great skeins head for their northern breeding grounds. Early April saw the peak movement with 5,790 recorded on the 7th. But for many visitors to Dunge the migrant most birders want to see is Pomarine Skua and while around 60 were logged through many were pushed well off-shore due to the strong westerlies. Arctic and Great Skuas also showed throughout with one or two days of 50 plus of the latter. Little Gulls and Black and Little Terns were in short supply but a Roseate Tern and a few Manx Shearwaters were noted into May.
During all the hours spent staring out to sea there are often some amusing or unusual occurrences: Carrion Crows and Collared Doves came and went while a flock of Mute Swans drifted by and Great Crested Grebes displayed on the sea. Several Serins hurtled overhead calling and Swallows were seen heading south! A leaucistic Herring Gull was noteworthy as was a coasting male Montagu`s Harrier which eventually came inland at Hythe.
Landlubbers - Spring duly arrived with the first Wheatears on 20th March followed by a small influx of Black Redstarts, Firecrests, Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs. Into April and a trickle of Willow Warblers, Blackcaps and Yellow Wagtails moved through while several passage Ring Ouzels showed well within a fall of thrushes; plus later, small numbers of Whinchats, Redstarts and a Pied Flycatcher alongside the breeding Whitethroats and Linnets. The only scarcity on the land was a grounded Serin that showed briefly to a lucky few on the 13th April.
Around the Bird Reserve - On the RSPB reserve sightings of the elusive wintering Penduline Tits eventually dried up while the Great White Egrets shipped out to goodness knows where. A Purple Heron was flushed from the gully, a White Stork and Spoonbill dropped in and out, a Bittern `boomed`, Ravens `cronked`, Garganeys `rattled`, Marsh Harriers `sky-danced`, while several Red Kites were tracked across the Peninsula. An Iceland Gull put in an all too brief appearance on Burrowes and a flock of flava wagtails contained one or two Blue-headed/Channel types. A few Lesser Whitethroats and Nightingales were heard amongst the numerous Sedge and Reed Warblers and by early May Cuckoos and Hobbies were more noticeable.
It was slim pickings for wader enthusiasts due to high water levels but the hayfields did eventually attract a trickle of Greenshanks, Whimbrels, godwits, Wood Sandpiper, Knot and best of all a showy Pectoral Sandpiper, while Little Ringed Plovers and Common Sandpipers were in short supply everywhere. A Ring-necked Duck that was originally on Lade pits relocated all too briefly to New Diggings while a Green-winged Teal was equally as elusive. Other wildfowl included 3 Scaup on Burrowes and ARC, Black-necked Grebes on Hookers and Lade and a Long-tailed Duck on Scotney.
Probably the `event` of the spring was the occurrence of four separate Red-rumped Swallows amongst the hirundines on the bird reserve. While three were tricky to see the last one was not and showed to one and all as it swooped close to the hides around Burrowes and in front of the Visitor Centre. And finally to the Alpine Swift. After putting in a brief appearance at Boulderwall, the following day it was relocated over the ponds at Lade where it performed at close range skimming over the adjacent caravans in the bright blue sky, and for me the `bird of the spring` due to the close and protracted views of what can be a `difficult` rarity to get to grips with.