Joined the Joker and Marshman for a day over the water in the Pas-de-Calais, and what a cracker it turned out to be.
Cap Gris-Nez - 0730hrs - cool, sunny, w 3 - Not something I`ve done before, a spring seawatch at Gris-Nez, where the conditions are completely different from Dunge, being elevated on a cliff top with the sunlight coming from behind, making identification a whole lot easier. During the hour there was a steady flow of Gannets, Sandwich and Common Terns, Kittiwakes and Fulmars eastbound, while most of the 200 Common Scoters were heading west. Up-channel highlights were 5 Black-throated Divers in summer plum, 10 Red-throated Divers, 2 Arctic Skuas, and singles of Black Tern, Red-breasted Merganser and two Shoveler. A small flock of Eiders and scoters loitered offshore while several Med Gulls came and went. Whilst on the seawatch small numbers of coasting Swallows, Mipits, Goldfinches, Chaffinches, 4 Redpolls and a singing Rock Pipit were all noted.
The fields at the Cap were full of Mipits, Skylarks, Yellowhammers, finches, several Chiffchaffs and Stonechats, a Willow Warbler plus a Marsh Harrier over. Nearby arablelands held breeding Lapwings and hawkeye Marshman located a pair of Grey Partridges, a species that is just about finished at home.
Foret de Boulogne - We headed inland to the trees stopping at two random spots across this largely deciduous forest which was full of birds and not a grey squirrel or muntjac deer in sight. The broad verges beside the tracks were full of wild flowers: bluebells, wood anemones, cowslips and the like. Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps were abundant, along with Blue and Great Tits, several Willow Warblers and at our first stop we added Sparrowhawk, Bullfinch, Nuthatch, Greater pecker, Cuckoo and Marsh Tit. At the second stop hooting Tawny Owl, Buzzard, Short-toed Treecreeper, Long-tailed Tit were all new for the day, but best of all a pair of Willow Tits put on a terrific show, a species now probably extinct in Kent and across much of southern England. We all agreed that it was a long time since we had last seen the two black-capped tits at home in the same wood.
Oye-Plage - The afternoon was spent back on the coast at one of our favourite birding haunts to the east of Calais where the lagoons were full of birds. En-route in the Oye flood plain the Joker called "harrier" and a Hen Harrier drifted over the road to be greeted by mobbing Lapwings.
From the main hide large numbers of wildfowl were on offer: 50 Shelducks, 30 Shoveler, 20 Pintails, 10 Teal, 2 Egyptian Geese and a stunning close drake Garganey. Small numbers of Redshank, Avocet, Little Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Oystercatcher all added to the variety, plus 10 Dabchicks, loadsa gulls, singing Cetti`s Warbler, Kestrel, a flyby Brent, a Mistle Thrush and a musk rat.
The lagoons further east held hundreds more gulls (including Meds), Cormorants, Greylags, Avocets, 200 Sandwich Terns, a stunning pair of Black-necked Grebes, a sleeping Spoonbill, another pair of Garganeys and 2 Spotted Redshanks, one of which was a dusky job almost in breeding plumage. Phew! What a session.
Our final port of call was the vast intertidal foreshore back towards Calais where we walked out onto a sea-shell ridge and scanned - several close Ringed Plovers, a long dead beached porpoise, singing Skylarks over the dunes, and, hang on a mo, what`s that pale, long-legged, short-ended plover teetering in the heat haze being hassled by a Ringo...? A short move along the ridge and bingo, a trio of Kentish Plovers materialised like spectres out of the haze amongst a mixed flock of 20 each of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers. We then sat tight and one of the little beauties came close enough to offer up a record shot with the bridge camera, a cracking end to a brilliant days birding, as always in great company.
We ended up with 103 species for the day, but that was immaterial really when you look at the quality of the birds logged. Standouts of the day were the Black-throated Divers, Kentish Plovers, Spot shanks, Garganeys, Sandwich Terns and that pair of Willow Tits, a bird I used to be so familiar with and appears to be on a one way ticket to oblivion in England.