Saturday, 27 May 2017

Mini-beast hunt

Lade - warm, cloudy, SW 3 - 0800hrs -  Twenty species of macros in the garden MV this morning included Silver-ground Carpet, new for the year and only my third record. All quiet over the local patch, although news of a Bee-eater flying around the point had me carefully scanning the skies back towards Dungeness. Fast developing thunderclouds from the west promised a dousing, but eventually petered out to a short splash of rain followed by clearing clouds and bright sunshine.

                                Thunderclouds over Dungeness

Dungeness - 1000hrs - A visit to the bird reserve was mainly to carry out a mini-beast survey for our grandson`s homework. In amongst the creepy crawlies were plenty of damsels and a few dragonflies, Smooth Newts and a Grass Snake.
  The highlight on Burrowes was a fine Curlew Sandpiper in russet breeding plumage. A Great White Egret flew over by Boulderwall and a Hobby over ARC. 

                                Common Blue

                                Four-spotted Chaser
                                Common Gull on nest box

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Bluethroats, warblers and KPs

Guines - warm, dry, sunny, light airs - It was an early start as we headed under the water and through the Chunnel for a day birding in northern France with MH, CP and SG. Within twenty minutes of arriving in Calais a short drive brought us to the marshes at Guines, and what a fabulous session we experienced across two locations. The warbler tribe was outstanding with ten species noted including at least eight singing Marsh Warblers, several of which showed extremely well, in contrast to a single skulking Icterine Warbler.

                                Guines marshes

                                Singing Bluethroat

                                Spotted Flycatcher

                                Marsh Warbler

  Other highlights included several Cuckoos and Turtle Doves, two Marsh Harriers, Kingfisher, Spotted Flycatcher, Jay, Hobby, Short-toed Treecreeper and a Serin, but top marks went to a pair of Bluethroats collecting food, presumably for juvs nearby, and a stunning male sat atop a willow singing like a good `un for a full ten minutes!

                                Grey Partridge

   Moving onto the nearby forest a family party of five Hawfinches and Marsh Tits was the highlight. Other goodies in the woods and surrounding area included two Yellow Wagtails, several Yellowhammers and Buzzards, Grey Partridge and a Sparrowhawk.

                                Oye-Plage flood meadow

Oye-Plage - The afternoon was spent on the coast where the beach delivered eight Kentish Plovers, plus a pair with three fluffy chicks, at least 30 Little Terns around the colony, plus 56 Ringed Plovers, Sanderling, Dunlin, Greenshank, Skylarks, Mipits and a Lesser Whitethroat in the Sea Buckthorn.
  On the old gravel pits, from the hides, plenty of Little Grebes, Avocets and Lapwings, a Garganey, Yellow Wagtail, Grey Partridge, Turtle Dove, Cuckoo, Shovelers, Teal, Pochard, feral geese, hirundines, Kestrel, another Kentish Plover, Sandwich and Common Terns, Mediterranean Gulls, 13 Spoonbills, two Black-necked Grebes, Ruff, Redshank and a Little Ringed Plover.
  Another memorable day in a foreign field during which time we clocked up 104 species at a leisurely pace, and in the fine company of Mark, Chris and Steve.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Barred Red

Lade - Humid, sunny, E 2 - Another busy night in the garden MV with Shoulder-striped Wainscot and Barred Red both new for the year. The latter species is an infrequent visitor to light here.
Whilst emptying the trap a late Greenshank flew over calling.

                                Barred Red

                                Common Blue in the moat

                               Dodder, a parasitic plant and abundant this spring

Dungeness - Had a mid-morning wander around the point looking for butterflies, of which there were few on the wing apart from in the more sheltered moat where Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Small Tortoiseshell, Common Blue, Small Heath and Small Copper were all noted on the Valerian. After a cuppa and a natter with SG and MH in the Obs garden we continued our quest adding Brown Argus to the list, plus a few Silver Y and Yellow Belle day-flying moths.
  A Black Redstart singing from the power station complex was the only bird of note.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Summer at last

Lade - warm, dry and sunny, E 2 - These past few mornings have been spent criss-crossing the local patch checking on the breeding birds and enjoying the wide range of flowering plants now in bloom following last weeks deluge. The garden moth trap has also been busy with a steadily rising list of regular early summer macros coming to light.

                                Cypress Carpet

                                Green Carpet

                                Mullein Wave

                                Tawny Shears

  The warbler tribe were very much in evidence out back with seven species confirmed breeding and another probably so. Cuckoos were highly vocal and juvenile Starlings were everywhere feeding on cranefly larvae and the myriad of invertebrates coming off the sward. On the debit side I could only find two pairs of Meadow Pipits and Skylarks. On the lakes a pair each of Shoveler and Pochard appear to be breeding.

                                Juvenile Starlings are all over place at the moment

                               Wren - the little bird with a big song!

Hastings CP - On Sunday we ventured over to Fairlight for a change of scene at the country park which looked in superb nick in the bright sunshine. The rolling hills are a complete contrast to the flatlands I`m used to, so I was soon puffing and panting, up hill and down dale like a Billy goat. Stonechats were most obvious feeding juveniles and chacking away, along with Whitethroats, Linnets, Mipits and even a Yellowhammer. Overhead both Peregrine and Raven were noted.

                                Stonechat were commonplace around the country park

Friday, 19 May 2017

Death`s-head Hawk-moth

Lade - cool, cloudy, showery, N 2 - Following heavy overnight rain during which time over an inch fell it was no surprise to find a large flock of Swifts and hirundines feeding over south lake in the cool weather conditions. The hirundines were roughly two-thirds House Martins, plus a few Sand Martins in amongst the Swallows. Every so often they would perched on overhead wires affording good views.

                                Death`s-head Hawk-moth, Dungeness Bird Observatory

Dungeness - News came through this afternoon concerning a Death`s-head Hawk-moth found on a private house on the Estate. It was soon transferred to the Bird Observatory, much to the delight of a steady trickle of admirers, myself included. This was my first, and what a stunning beast, in pristine condition showing the unique skull-like marking from which it derives its name.
  This species is a scarce immigrant from the Continent and can make a mouse-like squeaking sound when agitated, although this particular specimen was quiet and settled while I was present. A fabulous and iconic moth, and well done to all concerned for making it available for viewing.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Tree Pipit

Dungeness - 0830hrs - muggy, cloudy, E2 - Spent the day showing Luke from north Kent the birding delights of the Dungeness Peninsula. The recent rainfall had freshened up the vegetation and brought forth a floral flush of great swathes of creamy-topped Sea Kale, sulphur Prostrate Broom and the first Yellow-horned Poppies. Painted Ladies, Red Admirals and Small Tortoiseshell were all on the wing when the sun broke through.
  At the Patch the second year Iceland Gull showed well feeding along the scum line, plus two Mediterranean Gulls loafing on the beach. A few Gannets drifted by out to sea while a party of Barwits moved up-Channel and a Whimbrel came in off. Several Sandwich and a Little Tern coasted west and at least five Harbour Porpoises were feeding just offshore.
  All the usual birds noted on land: Whitethroats, Linnets, Mipits, Pied Wagtails, a Black Redstart on the power station and Wheatear opposite Jarman`s on the beach. We called in at the Obs and jammed in on a recently trapped Tree Pipit in the hand, something of rarity these days and many thanks to the staff for a photographic opportunity.

                                Tree Pipit - a scarce and declining spring migrant

RSPB - Pretty quiet here with the usual Tree Sparrows and scrub warblers showing well at Boulderwall, plus a pair of Avocets on Burrowes and the expected ducks, grebes, terns and gulls across the lake. From Springfield Bridge, two Corn Buntings, two Ravens, Marsh Harrier, a party of Swifts and up to six Hobbies over the reedbed. A circuit of Galloways produced a pair of Stonechats and Little Owls, plus a Mistle Thrush.

                                Little Owl - a declining resident

Scotney Pits - Yellow Wagtails, Corn Bunting, Skylark, Buzzard and Little Owl were all present around the farm or out back, where the Avocet colony appears to be doing well with 20 pairs either still sitting or attending to recently hatched young. Other waders noted included Common Sandpiper, Ringed Plover and Redshank.
Walland Marsh - A circuit out on the Marsh in gloomy light produced Tree Sparrows, Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard, Cuckoo and a Kingfisher, but no sign of any Turtle Doves.
ARC - From the shelter of Hanson hide, with the rain pelting down, a Little Ringed Plover and a three species flock of hirundines made for a fitting end to a decent day`s birding in fine company. We racked up 86 species of birds for Luke, before rain stopped play, and both agreed that the Tree Pipit was Bird of the day.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Moths galore!

Lade - humid, light airs, drizzle - The high overnight temperatures did the trick as the garden MV was stuffed full of moths this morning, the best catch of the year so far, with 22 species of macros. The highlights being, the first White Spots, Mullein Waves, Foxglove Pugs, Brown Silver-line, Puss Moth and Cream Spot Tiger.

                  White Spots - a Red Data book species, common here on the shingle

                               Brown Silver-line - nationally widespread, scarce here

                                Cream-spot Tiger - locally common and first for the year

Dungeness - 0700hrs - A stroll down to the Patch delivered the `resident` 2nd year Iceland Gull still present feeding along the scum line. Over the boil, 20 Common Terns amongst the gulls. On the land a singing Black Redstart on the power station, plus Wheatear, Mipit, Stonechat and Skylark on the beach opposite Jarman`s was about it. Very quiet on the bird reserve too where the highlights were a pair of Avocets on Burrows, five Hobbies over Dengemarsh and flight views of a Bittern on ARC.

                                Marsh Frog, Dipping Pond

  Leaving the allotment I was surprised to see a pair of Red-legged Partidges in a silage field by Lydd wood, my first of the year, if only I was keeping such a list...
  Was good to see a few House Martins nest building on the housing estate adjacent to the allotment, and more along the Coast Road at Littlestone this afternoon where the temperature reached a dizzy 21C.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017


Lade - muggy, sunny, S 3 - 0700hrs - Another pretty decent catch in the garden MV last night  included Waved Umber and, new for the trap site, a delightful Mocha, a localised resident across southern Britain.

                                Mocha - new for the Plovers trap site

  Seeing as the wind was light first thing we walked Mockmill where the Sedge Warblers and Common Whitethroats were in full breeding mode with every patch of scrub alive with their song. This summer is going to be a bad one for anyone allergic to Brown-tail moth caterpillars, or rather their irritant hairs, once they`re shed and airborne. The scrub across the NNR is smothered in silken tents and alive with rapidly growing larvae. Here at Mockmill great swathes of blackthorn have been denuded of greenery as the caterpillars munch their way to maturity, but at least one Cuckoo was plundering this plentiful food source.

                               Browntail moth larvae, Mockmill Sewer

  An evening visit on the Marsh, in perfect weather conditions (still and muggy), primarily searching  for Turtle Dove failed miserably, despite visiting three sites over four hours. However, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Little Owl, Cuckoo, Skylark, Yellow Wagtail, Bearded Tit, Tree Sparrow, Linnet, Yellowhammer and Corn Bunting were all noted, but in depressingly low numbers.
  The only high point was the large number of migrant Painted Ladies and Red Admirals fluttering along the lanes, and a weedy headland on a field of oil-seed rape with a flush of Blue Tansy, a cover crop good for attracting pollinating bumble bees and used as a green manure (thanks to DB for the ID).

                               Blue Tansy Phacelia tanacetifolia

                                "Phew, it`s  hot work chasing rabbits"

Monday, 15 May 2017

Small Heath

Lade - muggy, drizzle, S 4 - A stiff breeze out of the south with drizzle all morning made for wretched birding conditions, although a large mixed flock of Swifts and hirundines over north lake kept me busy for a while. By early afternoon the sun broke through and a check of the sands revealed a few Barwits and Knots amongst the non-breeding Curlews and Oystercatchers.

                                Small Heath and Prostrate Broom, Long Pits

Long Pits - A circuit of the lakes this afternoon in broken sunshine was pleasant enough and even brought forth a few butterflies in the shape of a Painted Lady, several Red Admirals and our first Small Heath of the season. The Prostrate Broom has supplanted the Gorse in the yellow flower stakes with great swathes of sulphur spread across the shingle wastes. Birdwise it was fairly standard fare with Reed, Sedge and Cetti`s Warblers, Lesser and Common Whitethroats, Blackcap and Chiffchaff all noted, plus singles of Cuckoo, Kestrel and Hobby. A few hirundines and Swifts came and went, but there wasn`t a sniff of the midday Bee-eater that over flew the peninsular.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

A passage of Whimbrels

Saturday - Lade - warm, dry, sunny, sw 4 - A blustery day made for difficult birding on the local patch with few passerines noted. A party of Swifts moved north during the morning and two migrant Wheatears were on the Desert. An evening visit to the beach in glorious sunshine delivered a party of 16 small, dark Ringed Plovers of the tundra race, plus 10 Knots, 30 Curlews, 15 Barwits and two Shelducks.
 The garden MV lamp attracted a record 10 species of moths to light last night, the best so far this spring. Silver Ys were most numerous followed by Tawny Shears and Light Feathered Rustics; Common Swift and the Shears being new for the year.
  Whilst wandering around the garden just before midnight, looking for `our` Hedgehog, I heard the distinctive call of the Seven-note Whistler amongst the clamouring of Oystercatchers flying to roost on a flood tide. Looking up into a crystal clear sky to the north I could just about make out a flock of some 30 Whimbrels passing high over the peninsula on migration. A magical sight and sound on which to finish the day.

Sunday - Lade - Once the early morning drizzle cleared it turn it a fine spring day, albeit blustery again. However, around the garden our first Painted Lady of the year paid a visit while Holly Blue, Peacock and Red Admiral were all noted.

RSPB - A late morning visit to the bird reserve with our grandson delivered good views of a Hobby on ARC and new for his life list. Burrowes was quieter than of late with a pair of Avocets in front of Firth hide and, briefly, the long staying Iceland Gull on a distant island. Elsewhere, there was plenty of Common Tern activity around the lake, although for the most part the Common and Herring Gulls seem to have taken the prime nesting sites. On the way back out a Wheatear flew over the track by the bee-hives and a male Marsh Harrier quartered the fields at Boulderwall.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Woodchat Shrike

Lade - muggy, sunny, S 2 - 0700hrs - With some welcome overnight rain (about 6mm) for once it was wet underfoot for a circuit of the local patch where the highlight were two Spotted Flycatchers around the willow swamp (scarce here in spring) and a Ring Ouzel in Mockmill. A few Swifts and House Martins drifted over while both Hobby and Sparrowhawk were noted and the first Cootlets of the spring were on the water.
  An afternoon visit for butterflies delivered our first Brown Argus and Common Blues of the year along the old railway line footpath, while a number of Silver Y moths were disturbed from long grass. In the garden several Holly Blues were active in the sun traps.

                                Common Blue, Lade

Dungeness - A visit to the Patch this morning was unremarkable apart from an immature Lesser Black-backed Gull that exhibited the hallmarks of the Baltic race. An hour from the seawatch hide this afternoon was also quiet, apart from a superb Pomarine Skua sporting a magnificent set of cutlery that came in high over Rye bay before eventually descending to sea level the other side of the Cardinal buoy. Also noted a trickle of Gannets, Kittiwakes, Common and Sandwich Terns, auks and a Little Tern. The local beach Fox paid a visit just as we were leaving, although it was a touch wary of Barney, so wandered off down the path towards B station before crossing onto the foreshore.

                                Beach Fox

                                Woodchat Shrike, Dungeness

A late afternoon phone call from DB told of a Woodchat Shrike on the beach opposite South View cottage, necessitating a sharpish return to the point - and what a cracker it was, perched on an old gorse stump and sallying forth to feed. This was a new bird for me at Dungeness; if only I was keeping a year list... Unfortunately I didn`t have much time as guests were due in this evening, so only managed some poor record shots, although I`m sure there`ll be plenty of decent pics from the long lens on site. And yet another great find by local birder Dave Bunney.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Curlew Sandpiper

Dungeness RSPB - muggy, hazy sunshine,  e 2 - 1200hrs -  News came through regarding a Curlew Sandpiper on Burrowes this morning, which was no great surprise considering that the habitat is superb for passage waders at the moment with plenty of low islands and good feeding for a tired and hungry migrant. When I arrived on site the bird was camped on a distant island, but it soon flew towards us and landed on a shingle spit just in front of the Visitor Centre affording cracking views for over half an hour. It was an adult individual coming into breeding plumage, sporting streaky flecks of red feathers down the flanks, a pale eyebrow, grey/brown blotched upperparts, a white rump in flight and a long de-curved bill.

                                Adult Curlew Sandpiper, Burrowes

  Curlew Sandpipers are mainly an early autumn migrant down here, associating with the likes of  Dunlins and Little Stints. Numbers vary annually and last year was a poor autumn for this species; a spring bird is much rarer making this little beauty most welcome. Curlew Sands are long distant voyagers (mmm, just had a Moody Blues moment...) wintering along the western seaboard of Africa and moving north-east to breed. They nest on the high Arctic tundra of coastal, central Siberia, so our bird still had a bit to go after briefly refuelling at Dungeness.
  There was also a host of other passage waders scattered around the lake, plus loads of Black-headed Gulls and Common Terns looking to nest, and a couple of Arctic Terns over the lake.