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.
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.
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.
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`.
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.
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`.