Dengemarsh - cool, showery, sw 4 - 1300hrs - In between the downpours, and in a freshening south-westerly, we headed for a circuit of Dengemarsh where, despite the wind, we had a decent session. The Glossy Ibis was initially on Hayfield 2 with a small flock of Little Egrets and feral geese, before moving to Hayfield 3 with a Blackwit and Garganey, plus more Little Egrets, Shelducks, crows and Magpies. At least 10 Hobbies were hunting alongside Swifts and hirundines over Hookers and a Bittern both `boomed` and gave superb flight views. Juvenile Bearded Tits and Reed Warblers also noted.
Galloways - The ranges yielded two pairs of Stonechats with young and five Ravens, three of which were juvs. The Egyptian Geese, plus goslings, remained on Brett`s and this does appear to be a new breeding record for the area. Little Owls were again present at two locations.
Dungeness Spring - As spring migration is sort of over (cue a stonking great rarity) thought I`d have a quick look back at what for many of us down here is the most eagerly anticipated period of the year. This summary is by no means exhaustive, and largely from memory, so any errors that have crept in are totally down to me.
First up, seawatching (oh no, I hear most of you say) - it splits birders down the middle, a bit like mustard, you either love it or loath it. I`m in the former camp, even if after nine consecutive springs it still feels as though I`m on a learning curve, especially when alongside some of the old stagers. Anyhow, it was a good spring off Dungeness for divers with some record day counts of Red-throats, plus plenty of Black-throats, and even a few Great Northerns, around the end of April into May. Common stuff such as Gannet, Brent, auks, Red-breasted Merganser and Common Scoter ploughed through in their usual numbers along with a scattering of scarcer ducks such as Velvet Scoter, Eider, Garganey, Pintail and what seemed like loads of Shoveler. Southerly winds pushed a few Fulmar and Manx close to shore later on in the season and the odd Shag, Red-necked Grebe and Long-tailed Duck were seen by a lucky few. Passage waders such as sandpipers, Whimbrel and Avocet trickled through, although Barwit numbers seemed to be down this year.
For many seawatchers though it is the terns and skuas that maketh the spring and this year there was no shortage of either family. Several large daily pulses of Commic Terns, running into the thousands, made for a memorable spectacle along with some decent counts of Little and Black Terns (some of which spilled over onto the bird reserve lakes) plus a Roseate Tern, while Little Gulls also fared well. Bonxies featured well in early spring seawatches, while Arctic Skuas were slow to follow, but worth the wait, and let`s face it, what is there not to like about these charismatic seabirds in their breeding finery. But it falls to the Pomarine Skua to deliver the ultimate seawatching buzz, and as such that warm Bank Holiday Monday in early May will live long in the memory as over 100 of these iconic seabirds ploughed up-Channel en-route to their northern breeding grounds, much to the delight of the many observers present.
On the land however, it was yet another disappointing spring with a dearth of passage migrants through the peninsula. A trickle of Wheatear, Meadow Pipit, Black Redstart, Firecrest and Chiffchaff moved through early on, while low numbers of sub-Saharan phylloscopus and sylvia warblers followed. Only a handful of Cuckoo, Yellow Wagtail, Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher and Whinchat were recorded, plus single figures of Gropper, Serin, Nightingale, Tripit and Turtle Dove (now a virtual rarity), but on the bright side a few more Ring Ouzel than usual. However, it was a good spring for rare warblers; the elusive Hume`s remained from the winter, a Yellow-browed skulked in the lighthouse garden and best of all a Blyth`s Reed Warbler sang like a good `un in the trapping area, but true to form was difficult to see. Also of note were singles of Hooded Crow at Dungeness and Red-rumped Swallow at Lade.
On the bird reserve the high water levels frustrated wader watchers but a flock of 10 Black-winged Stilts briefly on the Hayfields was an unprecedented event, followed by a pair that almost settled to nest a few days later. A super rare Long-billed Dowitcher briefly graced the hayfields and left many a long-faced wader lover in its wake. However, Wood Sandpiper was about the only other notable passage wader during this period, along with a trickle of Whimbrel and Greenshank. A one day Purple Heron showed well on Dengemarsh, but other long-legged jobs such as Great White and Cattle Egrets, Glossy Ibis, Spoonbill and Common Crane came and went all too briefly, on and over the bird reserve, as did a number of Bee-eaters across the peninsula.
BOPs had a pretty good spring with above average numbers of Common Buzzards and Red Kites drifting across the Marsh, along with a flurry of late May Honey Buzzards and singles of Montagu`s Harrier and Black Kite. But, for me, one of the birding spectacles of the spring went to the Hobby, whose numbers peaked at 25 over the wetlands at Dengemarsh as they athletically hawked large flying insects. Terrific stuff.