Saturday, 31 December 2016

Last words

New Years Eve - grim and grey - 1000hrs - A mild but overcast weather note on which to finish 2016. A circuit of the local patch, for the benefit of anyone attempting a NYDay Birdcount tomorrow (we`re delaying ours until Monday due to the weather) delivered a Slavonian Grebe, Great White Egret and two Pintail on south lake, plus a supporting cast elsewhere around the lakes of Water Rail, Kingfisher, Chiffchaff and Cetti`s Warbler. On a flood tide eight species of waders were noted on the beach with only Redshank and Ringed Plover absent from the usual ten.
Last Words
And so it ends, another year in which the human population continues to spiral towards disaster for planet Earth and our ever diminishing biodiversity. Currently there are around 7.5 billion of us (with 11 billion predicted by the end of the century) and the impact we are having on the natural world is catastrophic. Everywhere you look human activity has forced mega-fauna into ever more isolated pockets as they desperately try to escape the insatiable appetite of mankind for land.
  The levels of decline in so short a time period are quite staggering: for example, before colonisation by Europeans, Africa held 20 million Elephants, now there are less than 400,000, while big cats are predicted to be extinct in the wild within 20 years. Even though most of us will never see such fabulous animals in their native lands, it would be good to know that they are still there for the health of the planet as a whole.
  The Holocene epoch, or Sixth Extinction, has already claimed many species. The Quagga and Passenger Pigeon will soon be joined by many more unfortunates as they fall foul of the ravages of this human induced extinction. Looking around the planet at our world leaders doesn't give much hope for the future either. There`s a warmonger in the Kremlin and a climate change denier about to take up the presidency in the USA, and all the while the religious zealots in the Middle East continue their tribal savagery.
  On the hopeful side there is a far greater awareness of environmental damage and the long term effects it can have, particularly in the so called developed world. Although, far too often we dismiss these portents if it impacts on our rampant consumerism for the latest must-have item, often produced in some impoverished sweat shop in the Far East.
  Anyway, rant over for another year! So, things can only get better, and being a glass half full kind-of-a-bloke I`m sure 2017 will be full of surprises and positive tales more locally, regarding the flora and fauna of Dungeness and Romney Marsh. 
  To finish on I would like to take this opportunity to thank all our guests that have joined Pat, myself and Barney this past year at Plovers and we look forward to seeing many of you again in future. And finally to the many kind words of support I`ve received from readers of this blog throughout the year, a sincere thank you. I`m most humbled and I will attempt to keep it regularly updated in 2017.
  A happy and peaceful New Year to one and all.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

More of the same

Lade - The past few days have been perfect for winter birding being cold, dry and sunny with light airs, and mercifully we seem to have missed the fog that's plagued other areas of the region. On the local patch a Slavonian Grebe appears to have settled on south lake along with a range of common wildfowl, plus Smew and Great White Egret coming and going.
  Elsewhere, around Dungeness the Ring-necked Duck remained at Boulderwall, a Long-eared Owl roosted intermittently behind the Dipping Pond and the Eastern Stonechat was still in scrub at the Kerton Road triangle. At Scotney White-fronted Geese and a Black-necked Grebe were noted, while the Bewick`s Swan flock at Horse`s Bones Farm increased in number to 25. At Littlestone golf links a Short-eared Owl was reported hunting during the afternoon.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

2016 Review

The 2016 birding year was one of contrasting highs and lows, sprinkled with rare and scare birds, and one or two truly memorable days with migrant influxes. So, a fairly typical year really, a potted history of which went something like this:
  A spring Gull-billed Tern and a Laughing Gull on Burrowes and the Patch respectively were the rarities of the year, followed in June by a Black Kite low over Lade beach and a stunning American Golden Plover down at Rye. Other scarcities included Glaucous and Iceland Gulls, Roseate Tern, Melodious Warbler, Rose-coloured Starling, Pallas`s Warbler, Little Auk and Dotterel also at Dungeness, plus Glossy Ibis, Cattle Egret, Stone Curlew, Red-necked Phalarope and Ring-necked Duck on the RSPB reserve, and a Stejneger`s Stonechat at Lydd-on-Sea.

                              

                                Laughing Gull and Little Auk, The Patch

                                Rosy Starling by DBO

  As for breeding birds, species such as Marsh Harrier, Bittern, Water Rail, Cetti`s Warbler and Bearded Tit continued to profit from maturing reedbeds, and a pair of Black-necked Grebes attempted to breed locally. This was in contrast to declining numbers of terns and waders, most of which failed completely due to predation or human disturbance. Peregrine, Raven and Black Redstarts all bred around the power station complex, with mixed results, while Wheatear numbers were again perilously low on the shingle beach.

                               Black-necked Grebe in its nuptial finery

  However, things were far worse on the farmland tracts (where, post Brexit, more marginal land went under the plough on Walland Marsh) with only a handful of migrant Turtle Doves and Cuckoos present, and Tree Sparrow productivity was poor at the remaining known colonies. Our only Grey Partridge was of a singing bird on the army ranges, but on a positive note Scotney farm was the go-to place for declining Corn Buntings, Yellow Wagtails and Little Owls.

                                Male Yellow Wagtail, Scotney Farm

  Great White Egrets steadily increased their presence locally and surely it can`t be too long before they breed locally. There was a notable passage of Red Kites in the spring, as well as House Martins and Willow Warblers in the autumn, while Dartford Warblers and Long-eared Owls were present at both ends of the year. Common Buzzards continued to expand their range across the Romney Marsh. The sea was profitable at times, providing a memorable passage of Little Gulls in January, divers in spring, summer shearwaters and a notable Pomarine Skua passage on 6th May comprising well over 100 `spooners`.

                                Great White Egrets, Burrowes
                          
                                     Roosting Long-eared Owl behind the Dipping Pool

  But if I had to pick a couple of stand out memories from 2016 it would go to two contrasting species. Firecrests are always a delight to see, but late March witnessed an unprecedented fall comprising hundreds of these tiny sprites across the Dungeness peninsula. Small flocks gathered in the lighthouse garden to feed on insects attracted to yellow-topped euphorbias, much to the delight of many birdwatchers as their arrival coincided with the busy Easter weekend, and we even had several birds in the Plovers garden for guests to saviour.


                                Fabulous Firecrests in the old lighthouse garden

  Most Ospreys passing over the shingle in autumn pause briefly over the gravel pit lakes before being harried on their way south by the larger gulls that fly up to `greet` them; infact, during September we watched this type of interaction on several occasions on the bird reserve. Just imagine my surprise then as I approached Lade pits one sunny morning in October to be confronted by an Osprey sat atop the wall `mirror` breakfasting on a large carp! Over the following fortnight this magnificent raptor delighted many visiting birders as it plundered the lake for fish. It may have been a juvenile bird but it had a good strike rate in the carp-rich waters of Lade and I like to think that some of its weight gain it put on here helped it to reach its winter quarters in west Africa.
  During the year we recorded 215 species on our ramblings across the Marsh, but for me the local patch Osprey was `Bird of the Year`.


                                 Lade Osprey
 

Monday, 26 December 2016

Sunbathing Sparrowhawk

Lade  - cool, dry and sunny, nw 2 - A stunning morning with bright sunshine and a cooler north-westerly airflow making it feel more like winter. We flogged out across the Desert to Mockmill where three Stonechats, several Wrens and Blackbirds, a Mipit and two Snipe were the best muster from the sewer scrub. Behind the `mirrors` a couple of Marsh Harriers, a Kestrel and distant flock of Lapwings. The Slavonian Grebe showed well on south lake along with five Goldeneyes, 160 Shovelers and over a thousand gull, mostly Black-headed and Common, plus an adult Caspian amongst the Herring Gulls.

                                Gorse flower in the sunshine

                                Sparrowhawk sunbathing                              

  The south facing side of the willow swamp was a magnet for loafing ducks, grebes and Coots where, sheltered from the wind, the warm sunshine created perfect conditions for a spot of sun-bathing. Whilst scanning the willows in an ever hopeful quest for a roosting Long-eared Owl I came across a female Sparrowhawk perched within an alcove of branches enjoying the warmth. Just below, some of the ducks tucked into the bank had steam rising off their bodies as the sun worked its magic and the hawk twisted and turned her head in fascination as the wisps rose around her and vaporised.
  I settled down to watch, as Barney also found a sunny hollow in the shingle, and over the next half an hour the Sparrowhawk exposed every part of her body to the life-giving rays, including wing raising and plumage shaking making her look the size of a Goshawk!
  This afternoon CP accompanied us for a roost watch at the back of the pits during which we recorded four Marsh Harriers, a Little Egret and hundreds of Lapwings, Stock Doves, Woodpigeons and corvids.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Stejneger`s Stonechat, Lydd-on-Sea

Lade - mild and cloudy - Another unseasonably mild day with occasional flirtations through the clouds by the sun. A Peregrine sat atop the wall `mirror` keeping the wildfowl and Woodpigeons on `Orange Alert`(if you`re under 60, look it up!) but I couldn't locate the Slavonian Grebe on south lake. Elsewhere during a circuit of the local patch a Great White Egret flew over the willow swamp, where Chiffchaff and Cetti`s Warbler were also noted, while along the beach hundreds of gulls and waders had returned to feed on an ebb tide.


                               Stejneger`s Stonechat, Saxicola stejneri, Lydd-on-Sea

Eastern Stonechat, Lydd-on-Sea
Following DNA (poo) analysis the distinctive grey stonechat present in and around the Kerton Road triangle scrub between 8th November and 5th December has been confirmed as a stejneri type. The so called `Stejneger`s Stonechat` is one of several races attributed to the tricky to identify taxon of Eastern Stonechats (including Siberian and Caspian types) that breed across central Asia and Siberia.
  As Siberean Stonechat, Saxicola maurus has been recently elevated to full species status by the BBRC/BOU it therefore follows that the race stejneri falls under the Eastern banner making it somewhat rarer than we first thought; I`m not much of a lister, but that would increase our year list to 215 species, if only I were counting! Seriously though, following a lean autumn migration season down here this record was welcome news, even if it was confirmed by scientific wizardry that most of us don't understand.
  But, rather than try to work out why it was one, based on confusing field observations, I think I shall just reflect in awe at the vast distances it travelled across Eurasia to pitch up on our shores.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Auks aplenty

Dungeness - mild, cloudy, sw 4- A blustery yet mild day with the wind increasing a couple of notches throughout the afternoon. After drawing a blank on the local patch we moved to the bird reserve where a Merlin put on a show at Boulderwall whilst watching the Ring-necked Duck. On Burrowes the usual combo of winter wildfowl, harriers, egrets, Lapwings and gulls, including at least one each of Caspian (adult) and Yellow-legged (1st winter) Gulls.
  1400hrs - An hour at the boats in the company of PB and MH was notable for hundreds of Guillemots and Razorbills on the sea fishing and fizzing left and right, infact the most auks I`ve seen so far this winter. Also offshore hundreds of Kittiwakes, Gannets, Cormorants, Great Crested Grebes, Black-headed and Common Gulls and a trio of Red-throated Divers combined to give a superb seabird spectacle.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Bewick`s Swan-song

ARC/Tower Pits - warm, dry, sunny, light airs - The weather seems to be alternating lately from grey and cloudy one day to sunshine the next, as today. We wandered around the back of the pits where apart from a tit flock, a Chiffchaff and a few Reed Buntings there was little to be found. On ARC a flock of 100 Lapwings, a Redshank, Great White Egret and all the usual common wildfowl.
  Over the road at Boulderwall the Ring-necked Duck was asleep amongst the Tufted Ducks on Cook`s Pool and a Marsh Harrier flushed a large flock of Wigeon on the fields. The Tree Sparrows around the old farmhouse were particularly vocal this morning and I counted 21 sat in a bush by the workshop. The Long-eared Owl was again reported at roost behind the dipping pond.
Walland Marsh - On a winter wheat field adjacent to Horses Bones Farm near Lydd the Bewick`s Swan flock cut a forlorn sight comprising just 18 birds (only one of which was a juvenile). Long gone are the herds of 250 plus with each winter seeing fewer and fewer of these magnificent birds returning to our shores. This is mainly due (as per usual) to us humans draining wetlands and shooting swans en-route from their breeding grounds to winter quarters. So, best make the most of the remaining birds as I fear it won`t be too long before we lose them down here altogether.



Littlestone We walked  the foreshore to St Mary`s Bay searching for Snow Buntings, of which there was no sign. However, there were waders on the beach aplenty including small flocks of Ringed and Grey Plovers, plus a lonely looking Brent Goose.
Lade - It was a cracking late afternoon scene as we trudged across the shingle to see what was moving to roost behind the lakes. A ringtail Hen Harrier headed towards Dungeness, along with several Marsh Harriers and Little Egrets, plus a steady trickle of Starlings, Woodpigeons and corvids. The Slavonian Grebe remained on south lake while Water Rails squealed from reed beds in the still twilight.


Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Tenthredo maculata

Lade - cool, cloudy, sw 2 - First thing this morning the weather followed on from the gloom of yesterday, but soon perked up with the sun breaking through by noon. The local patch was well up to scratch with Slavonian Grebe, Smew and Great White Egret the highlights on south lake, two Marsh Harrier, Kingfisher and a flyover Bittern on north lake. Duck numbers were similar to Sunday`s WeBS count.

                                Slavonian Grebe, Lade

                                Tenthredo maculata, Greatstone

Dungeness - An hour at the fishing boats this afternoon delivered typical wintering fare on the sea comprising mostly Guillemots, Kittiwakes and Gannets, plus a couple of passing Red-throated Divers. On the beach a 1st winter Caspian Gull was in a gull flock by the Fish Hut. 
  Regular visitors to Dungeness will be pleased to learn that a brand new estate road surface (a pukka hot-roll asphalt job) is being laid and is almost complete, so dodging the pot-holes will be a thing of the past!
  We called in at the Kerton Road CafĂ© on the way home where a wasp-like sawfly found in a Greatstone garden today was identified as Tenthredo maculata. Adults are only supposed to be active during the summer months, but it was warm enough once the sun broke through which probably enticed it out in the open to hunt, a smart little critter indeed.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Gulls, ducks and harriers

Lade - misty, grey and grim - An odd weekend weather wise with the fog lingering at Lade for much of Saturday while Dungeness was bathed in bright sunshine from mid-morning onwards. Looking out to sea the fret soon rolled back in as the sun set, but not before Mick and Richard had attracted several 1st winter Caspian Gulls to a feast of fish offal and popcorn at the fishing boats. New for me was hearing a recording of a vocalising Caspian Gull as it fought for food amongst the throng, a distinctive high-pitched rasping note and quite different from Herring Gull. For a listen check out PB`s Youtube link from yesterdays blog post: www.ploddingbirder.blogspot.co.uk
On the beach opposite Jarman`s Barney flushed a Snipe.
 
                                Barney in the mist, Lade

                                1st winter Caspian Gull in the sun, Dungeness

                                Grub up!


  Sunday dawned mild, still and misty, perfect for counting wildfowl on the lakes where there was much to log. The highlights were 140 Shovelers, four Goldeneyes, a Great White Egret, an adult Caspian Gull and a Slavonian Grebe, the first of the winter. Also noted around the willow swamp, several Chiffchaffs and Reed Buntings, two Marsh Harriers, a Water Rail and a showy Cetti`s Warbler. Back along the beach and the sands were smothered in a bio-mass of thousands of gulls and hundreds of waders, an impressive spectacle made even more surreal by a sea fret hanging over the distant tideline.

                                Slavonian Grebe, Lade

                                Oystercatcher on the sands

  This afternoon I joined CP for the monthly harrier roost count at our usual site on Walland Marsh. En-route the Bewick Swan flock was just about viewable from the lane near Horse`s Bones Farm, while the hedgerows down to Midley were alive with hundreds of winter thrushes including Blackbirds, Mistle and Song Thrushes. Around the roost site plenty of Lapwings and more winter thrushes were seen, plus a few Golden Plovers and Snipe, 180 Mute Swans, up to four Common Buzzards and two Kestrels but little Marsh Harrier activity, which was reflected in the roost count of just six birds, a mixture of females and immatures. However, a ringtail Hen Harrier flew through on its way to roosting elsewhere (probably on the ranges) and a hooting Long-eared Owl flew over the reedbed where Water Rails, Bearded Tits and Cetti`s Warblers were heard. As we left site 15 Bewick`s Swans flew in to roost on the reservoir, evocatively honking away, and rounding off another good birding session on the Marsh.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Green Sandpiper

Scotney - warm, dry, sunny - Following reports of a Red-necked Grebe yesterday we checked all the gravel pits from Lydd to the Sussex end but could only find Great Crested and Little Grebes. However there was plenty of variety on offer amongst the hundreds of common wildfowl and waders including two Goldeneyes and four Shelducks. The sheep folds by the cycle track attracted a large flock of Lapwings plus six Redshanks, five Curlews and a Ruff. Out back a Green Sandpiper flew along a farm ditch while hundreds more Lapwings and Golden Plovers took flight, spooked by several Common Buzzards and Marsh Harriers. It was good to see a few Corn and Reed Buntings, Skylarks and Mipits in the field margins.
   On the way home we checked out the fields at Boulderwall where all was quiet apart from ten  Curlews and a large flock of Wigeons. The usual harriers and egrets came and went while the Ring-necked Duck looked settled on Cook`s Pool. On Burrowes, Smew and Goosander were both present.
  Elsewhere, the roosting Long-eared Owl has been seen on and off behind the Dipping pond and up to 17 Bewick`s Swans are present of the fields at Horses Bones Farm near Lydd.
  Following a great evening of beer and song in the Star at St-Mary`s-in-the-Marsh last night (with the newly formed Romney Marsh Morris) a Barn Owl flew over the lane as we approached New Romney on the way back to the coast.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Winter thrushes

Dungeness - mild and dreary start, brighter later - A brief scan of ARC from the road revealed six Goosanders on the lake and two Smews on New Diggings, while the Ring-necked Duck remained on Cook`s pool, Boulderwall. We walked the foreshore from the lifeboat station to the fishing boats where the only bird of note was a 1st winter Caspian Gull on the shingle behind the Fish Hut. Offshore two flocks of Brent Geese totalling 100 passed up-Channel. Whilst at the boats chatting to PB and SO news came through of a Red-necked Grebe at Scotney on the pit behind the caravan park, but was a no show by the time we arrived.


                               1st winter Caspian Gull, Dungeness

Walland Marsh - On the way back from Rye this afternoon we crossed the Marsh where the hedgerows along the back lane to Lydd were alive with hundreds of Redwings and Fieldfares, the most I`ve seen so far this winter. The usual Tree Sparrows and finches were on the Midley feeders and several Buzzards were noted sat in fields, including a distinctive pale individual. I couldn't make out the Bewick`s Swans at Horses Bones Farm, although the low sunlight made for difficult viewing.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

First Bittern

Lade - warm and sunny - What a difference a day makes. With the temperature topping 13C by noon plenty of flying insects broke cover including several bees and two Red Admirals. We went off piste this morning during our circular walk by taking in the foreshore and sand dunes down to Greatstone where a flock of 25 Long-tailed Tits harboured two Wrens and a Chiffchaff. Also noted along the tideline, amongst the Sanderlings, Dunlins and Turnstones, were several Mipits and Pied Wagtails. The highlight on the lakes was a flight view of our first Bittern of the winter over the willow swamp.
  I was surprised to receive quite a few texts and e-mails today regarding my Christmas comments yesterday. Thanks again for your support, its good to know I`m not alone!

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

December doldrums

Lade - mild and dreary - Truth be told December is my least favourite time of year and the grey drizzly weather summed up perfectly my mood as we trudged around the local patch. That said there were a few Goldeneyes on the lakes and plenty of waders on the beach, but nothing much else of note.
  Things weren't much better at Dungeness where the most exciting event was nearly getting run over by a gravel truck along the sea wall en-route to the Patch! On the bird reserve the Ring-necked Duck remained anchored on the pool at Boulderwall while all the usual wildfowl and gulls were on Burrowes. A search of the beach between St Mary`s Bay and Littlestone also drew a blank for the Snow Buntings.
  Its the whole Christmas thing I have a problem with, it drives me nuts every year, the excesses of it all, the crap people buy that they could well do without, the faux joviality and that damn song by Slade being played all the time! Added to which December is a quiet month at Plovers with few guests in (they`ve probably all sensibly buggered off abroad to get away from the ho-ho-bloody-ho!). The thing is I`m not normally a miserable sod, and I know come the day after Boxing Day when its all over that I`ll buck up, but until such time I suppose I`ll just have to grin and bear it.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Patch gold

Lade - mild, sunny, sw 2 - Following the Mordor-like gloom of yesterday this morning dawned bright and sunny, perfect for a thorough tour of the local patch where birds were everywhere. A Dartford Warbler in Mockmill scrub was followed by several Snipe, a pair of Stonechats, Reed Buntings and a Song Thrush. The bay Curlew flock flew into roost nearby (all 620 of them) which I now consider a treasure trove considering their current Red Listed status.

                                Great White Egret

  On the lakes plenty of wildfowl including three Goldeneyes and 120 Shovelers. Around the margins and the willow swamp a Great White Egret, several Water Rails and Cetti`s Warblers, two Chiffchaffs and a Kingfisher. Raptors included the obligatory Marsh Harriers, Kestrel and a Merlin.

                               Oystercatchers

  The walk back along the beach on an ebb tide delivered all the usual shorebirds where 745 Oystercatchers were logged amongst hundreds of Sanderlings and Dunlins, plus two Grey Seals on the bay.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Bewick`s Swans and Fiery Skies

Walland Marsh - mild, overcast, s 2 - We started the day out on the Marsh at Horses Bones Farm where at least 13 Bewick`s Swans were feeding distantly in a field of winter wheat. A Great White Egret was noted on an adjacent sewer margin and a small flock of Redwings flew overhead.

                                Great White Egret, Walland Marsh

ARC - All the usual wildfowl here including Goldeneye, Pintail and a single redhead Smew. From Screen hide brief views of a Water Rail and Bittern, plus a Great Spotted Woodpecker on a power pole and couple of Chiffchaffs, Reed Bunting and Cetti`s Warblers in the scrub. From the water tower a scan of the Desert towards the airfield turned up several Marsh Harriers, a pale Common Buzzard and a distant ringtail Hen Harrier.

                                Long-eared Owl, Dipping Pool

RSPB - On the fields at Boulderwall plenty of Wigeon, Lapwings, Golden Plovers and the like, plus Great Whites and a Cattle Egret, several Snipe and the wintering drake Ring-necked Duck. Despite the low afternoon light the Long-eared Owl showed reasonably well in the willows behind the Dipping Pond. On Burrowes all the usual wildfowl and gulls, including Caspian/Yellow-legged types from the islands in front of Makepeace hide.
  Elsewhere today the Black-throated Diver remained on Brett`s pit at Scotney, more Caspian Gulls were found at The Patch while the five Snow Buntings were reported along the foreshore between St Mary`s Bay and Littlestone mid-week. So, anyone coming down this weekend should be assured of a decent days birding around the Peninsula.



  One of the meteorological events of this past week have been the spectacular sunrises and sunsets across the flatlands, as testified by the fiery skies over Lade Bay yesterday morning.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Velvet Scoter

Dungeness - mild, sunny, s2 - With a weather system originating from the Azores bathing the peninsula in a blanket of warm air it felt curiously unseasonal, but perfect for a wander along the foreshore where the usual gulls and Turnstones were encountered. On the sea a steady flow of Cormorants, Black-headed Gulls and Kittiwakes moved between the bays, plus a few Gannets, Red-throated Divers, three Brents and at long last a Velvet Scoter, which was new for the year.
  A check of the Kerton Road triangle revealed a few Skylarks over, plus a pair of Stonechats and a Dartford Warbler in the broom scrub, although I failed to locate the grey Stonechat.
RSPB - The fields at Boulderwall were packed out with hundreds of Lapwings, Golden Plovers, Wigeon, feral geese, corvids, Stock Doves and Starlings, an incredible sight. The drake Ring-necked Duck remained on Cook`s Pool while the Cattle Egret was lurking in a ditch by the Corral. Also noted Great White and Little Egrets, Marsh Harriers and Kestrel, Mipits and Tree Sparrows.
  Scotney - The Black-throated Diver was still on the lake by the quarry, where also a Black-necked Grebe plus a pair of Ravens over.    

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Shovelers

Lade - mild, broken cloud, misty, light airs - We flogged around the local patch in superb winter weather conditions following a spectacular sunrise. A rolling mist partly covered the power station and water tower to the south and it was so still I could hear the Shovelers filter feeding on south lake well before I got there. A couple of Goldeneyes were also present amongst the diving ducks and a 1st winter Caspian Gull was in the gull roost. Passerines of note included two Stonechats and several each of Mipit and Reed Bunting, while two Marsh Harriers worked the farmland by the airport.

                                Shovelers feeding on south lake

A late afternoon visit to check for owls over the Desert drew a blank where the roosting Curlew flock was briefly disturbed by a passing fox. Elsewhere, the Ring-necked Duck was reported from Boulderwall on the bird reserve, the Black-throated Diver at Scotney and a small flock of Bewick`s Swans was on the fields at Horses Bones Farm on Walland Marsh.

Monday, 5 December 2016

The Great British Folk Festival

Skegness - Just returned from a brilliant weekend away at The Great British Folk Festival with our folkie friends from down the road, Stan, Kaz and Dan. While we`ve been to loads of outside summer festivals down the years, an indoor event in the winter was a first for of us all, and a big hit it proved to be.



 The line up over the three days was pretty tasty with some old favourites such as Oysterband, Kate Rusby, Donovan and Lindisfarne, but also John Watterson (aka Fake Thackray) a performer I`d not come across before. The late Jake Thackray was a true craftsman of the English language noted for his satirical and witty folk songs, and John`s session on Sunday had all the warmth and respect that you would expect from a lifelong Thackray fan.
  Quite often folk festivals chuck in a surprise act and this weekends `joker in the pack` was Bob Geldof. I didn't quite know what to expect but he was top notch, hammering out a mix of Irish folk and heavy prog-rock numbers, a weird world music song and finishing with some of the old Boomtown Rat`s favourites. The band was as tight as a drum with a core of Irish musicians, complete with a fiddle player in a suit and string vest - brilliant! Between songs Geldof held court on a number of topical issues in his inimitable style with subject matters ranging from global poverty and climate change, while slagging off everything from corrupt governments and the Catholic church, to folk festivals and the Daily Mail! His ramblings were well received by a raucous audience and, needless to say, peppered with plenty of expletives!
  So, a great weekend of music, song and beer alongside like-minded souls, while the accommodation, food and, especially the staff, at the Butlin`s venue were also superb. The only natural history item of the weekend belonged to the roadside raptor count across the flatlands of Lincolnshire. Common Buzzards and Kestrels were just about equal in number, but what one Earth they find to feed on in that arable desert is something of a mystery, particularly the Buzzards.
 



Lade - Got home just in time to take Barney for a walk out back where we jammed in on a cracking sunset and a Short-eared Owl quartering the Desert.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

First Smews of winter

Lade - cold, frosty, sunny, light airs - A stunning morning for a wander down to the Kerton Road pit and back across the Desert to Mockmill. On the first `official` day of winter the clear overnight skies had delivered a frost on the shingle and ice in the sewers. A scattering of Reed Buntings, Mipits and Skylarks were flushed from the storm ridges while Mockmill held a couple each of Snipe and Stonechat, a Cetti`s Warbler, Sparrowhawk and Water Rail. As if to confirm winter`s arrival the first two redhead Smews were on north lake plus three Goldeneyes on south.
Dungeness RSPB - There was no sign of either the Cattle Egret or Ring-necked Duck at Boulderwall this morning, although the duck had reappeared by mid-afternoon, while the Long-eared Owl was also absent from its usual roosting perch. Two more Smews were on Burrowes, but mobile, along with 15 Pintail, five Goldeneye, two Blackwits and hundreds of Cormorants, wildfowl and gulls. The bird feeders in the car park were busy with tits and finches where I was surprised to see a Brambling, a scarce winter visitor in these parts.

                                Water Rail, ARC

  Over the road on ARC we had cracking views of a Water Rail in front of Hanson hide and a very pale Common Buzzard, plus Kingfisher, Redshank, two Marsh Harriers and all the expected gulls and wildfowl.
  We couldn't find the Bewick`s Swans at Cockles Bridge or anywhere else on Dengemarsh, but the Black-throated Diver was still showing well on Brett`s pit at Scotney.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Great Northern Divers

Lade - cold, sunny, e 3 - A cracking morning for a circuit of the local patch where we were joined by CP who`d come by to help lift and shift some furniture at Plovers (many thanks again Chris). All the usual wildfowl were noted on the lakes, plus three Goldeneyes that dropped in, while a Marsh Harrier terrorised the Coot flock. Back along the beach the recent strong onshore winds and high tides had taken their toll on the sand dunes at Greatstone. As the tide raced in across the sands we teased out nine of the regular ten wader species including close views of Knot, Grey Plover and Sanderling.

                                Greatstone sand dunes

                                Knot

Dungeness - 1330 - 1530hrs - After a torrid lifting and shifting session (which involved removing a few doors and much grunting and groaning) and a spot of lunch, we headed for a seawatch at the fishing boats where we were joined by PB and MH. The highlight of the watch was a Slavonian Grebe on the sea amongst the Great Crested Grebes and three westbound Great Northern Divers. Also noted a steady flow of Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Gannets, a few Red-throated Divers and several parties of Brents and Common Scoters.

                               UK Border Control

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Black-throated Diver

Lade - mild, cloudy, n 2 - After a fraught few days driving to West Sussex and moving our Kate into a new flat, and yesterday`s frustration at dipping the Forster`s Tern by an hour, it was good to get out and about birding today. Despite the local Folkestone and Hythe birders scouring the coastline the tern was not relocated.
  However, this morning we worked the local patch where a Dartford Warbler in Mockmill Sewer was the highlight along with several Stonechats, Mipits and Reed Buntings. South lake attracted a couple of hundred roosting gulls with at least one adult Caspian Gull amongst the Herring and Black-back flock. A Marsh Harrier quartered the far reedbeds, while two Goldeneyes were on north lake.
Dungeness - A wander along the foreshore by the fishing boats (optimistically hoping for a passing tern...) revealed nothing more than a trickle of Kittiwakes, Gannets, auks, two Mediterranean Gulls and a Red-throated Diver.


                               Ring-necked Duck, Boulderwall

  On the bird reserve the Ring-necked Duck showed well at Boulderwall, as did a Bearded Tit. The Cattle Egret was a little more elusive further out amongst the stock, along with hundreds of Wigeon, Lapwings, feral geese and the like, plus a number of Grey Herons, Great White and Little Egrets. On Burrowes, where the islands are fast disappearing under water, there was plenty of wildfowl including Pintail, Goldeneye and Goosander and hundreds of Cormorants. From Firth hide an adult Yellow-legged and a 1st winter Caspian Gull.
Scotney - Yesterday`s Black-throated Diver remained on Brett`s pit to the west of the caravan park where it showed like a good `un.


                               Black-throated Diver, Scotney

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Woodcocks

Lade - The past couple of days has seen a subtle change in the weather from wet and windy to drier, but still windy conditions, as a high pressure system settles over the country delivering a north-easterly airflow. Yesterday it started off calm and a Short-eared Owl quartering the Desert towards the water tower was a delight to watch. We walked Mockmill Sewer where a few autumn Blackbirds and Song Thrushes lingered in the scrub and a Woodcock was flushed by Barney, one of only a handful I`ve seen this past couple of months.
  Around the pit margins Water Rails and Cetti`s Warblers were chattering away and two Marsh Harriers chivvied a flock of Coots for weaklings over by the `mirrors`. By the ponds a flock of Long-tailed Tits harboured a Chiffchaff and a couple of Goldcrests while a second Woodcock rocketed skywards from the willow swamp. Amongst a couple of hundred wildfowl on the lakes lurked a single Goldeneye and a pair of Pintails, the latter a scarce bird hereabouts.
  On the walk home the two Woodcocks got me thinking as to how scarce they`ve become over recent years. The latest Kent Bird Atlas shows a significant breeding range contraction across the county for no definitive reason. Many thousands are still routinely shot here in Britain during the winter months, particularly in the Western Isles and Cornwall, while millions more come to grief from Continental gunners. How anyone would want to shoot such a beautiful bird for so called `sport` is beyond me, but they do, and no doubt will continue to do so until, like the once common Eskimo Curlew, there are none left.


                                Raptor `Hill`

  Today was a different tale altogether on the local patch as the strong wind meant most birds were either hunkered down or sheltering in the willow swamp. Out on the Desert a mound of shingle (that passes for a `hill` in these parts!) delivered a smart Peregrine which eventually flew majestically over south lake to make a half hearted feint at a Woodpigeon. Over the years I`ve seen a number of raptors utilising this lookout point, particularly Hobbies in the summer and Merlins in winter.
RSPB - There was no real change on the bird reserve with the drake Ring-necked Duck and Cattle Egret still at Boulderwall, a roosting Long-eared Owl behind the Dipping Pond, Goosander on Burrowes and four Bewick`s Swans viewable from Cockles Bridge. Elsewhere, the Snow Bunting flock was reported from St Mary`s Bay.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Gulls and a Pom

Lade - 1000hrs - mild, wet and windy, se 4 - A grim morning with low scudding clouds and plenty of rain. After spending an hour trying to get a quote on yesterdays storm damage to the Plovers roof (we`re 31st on the builders list!) we headed out around the local patch where the only noteworthy sighting was a Great White Egret in the reedbed on south lake. Considering how many are present on the bird reserve across the Desert it`s surprising they don't drift over here more often.
Dungeness - 1445hrs - An hour at the fishing boats produced a mixed flock of around 200 Kittiwakes and Mediterranean Gulls feeding offshore. A few Gannets and auks zipped by and a juvenile Pomarine Skua rounded the point into Rye bay after beating up a Kittiwake.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Red Kites

Speen - We spent the weekend in the Chilterns visiting old friends where we managed to get out and about on two contrasting mornings weather wise: Saturday being cold and frosty, Sunday wet and windy. It was good to connect with species I don't often encounter back home on the Marsh, so the likes of Tawny Owl, Jay, Coal Tit, Woodcock and, of course, Red Kites. Also of note were good numbers of Redwings and Fieldfares, a few Skylarks, Mipits and Grey Wagtails and thousands of Woodpigeons leaving woodland roost sites.
  Twenty five years ago I visited the reintroduction site near Christmas Common in the Chilterns for an article in Birdwatching magazine, where over a five year period 93 kites were released into the surrounding countryside. The majority of birds originated from the Spanish population, with a handful from Sweden and Wales, and the first successful breeding was recorded in 1992 when four pairs raised nine young. The rest, as they say, is history, and today there is a thriving population of Red Kites in the Chilterns, such that wherever we went over the weekend these iconic birds were in view, even soaring over Prince`s Risborough town centre. 

                                Chilterns beech wood

                                Speen
                                Red Kite

                                Llamas

Thursday, 17 November 2016

First Goldeneye

Lade - wet, windy, mild, w 4 - A pretty good session around the local patch this morning, despite some hefty showers, with the first Goldeneye of the winter on south lake amongst increasing numbers of Shovelers and Pochards. Sparrowhawk and Marsh Harrier were both hunting around the willow swamp where Cetti`s Warbler, Chiffchaff and Water Rail noted. Back along the beach on a rising tide seven species of waders were pushed in nice and close, including 50 Knots, 20 Barwits and 15 Grey Plovers. We sat it out watching the tidal flood until the Curlews and Oystercatchers departed to roost and three Grey Seals came in off the bay hunting flatfish.


                                Lade Bay waders

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Long-eared Owl and Purple Sandpipers

Dungeness - mild, sunny, w 2 -Another warm day with temperatures rising to 15 C by early afternoon. At the Patch little of note apart from the usual mass of gulls, mainly Black-headed and Great Black-backs, and a couple of small flocks of Common Scoters moving into Rye Bay. Predictably, yesterdays Dotterel had done the off from the beach opposite Jarman`s.


                                Cattle Egret and Ring-necked Duck, Boulderwall

                                Long-eared Owl, Dipping Pool
RSPB - The fine weather and a rash of good birds had brought birders out in force and the car park was packed. Both the Cattle Egret and Ring-necked Duck showed well at Boulderwall where two White-fronts were in a distant Greylag flock in the fields. At the dipping pool a roosting Long-eared Owl draw an appreciative crowd while a 1st winter and an adult Caspian Gull were in front of Firth hide along with the full suite of their commoner congeners. Also on Burrowes amongst numerous wildfowl, grebes and Cormorants, a Goosander, five Goldeneyes, several Great White Egrets and three Blackwits.

                               Purple Sandpipers and Turnstones, Hythe seafront

Hythe - En-route to Folkestone this afternoon we called in at the Stade Street sea defence blocks where at least two Purple Sandpipers were present alongside 10 Turnstones.