These past few days I`ve spent some time out on the Romney Marsh proper (so east of the Rhee Wall between the New Romney to Appledore Road) ranging across random areas of farmland that birders don't normally visit. My tactic, for want of a better word, is to park up and walk the lanes/footpaths, so nothing scientific, just listen, observe and record.
With the harvest in full swing, and tractors and trailers racing along the narrow Marsh lanes, you have to be on your toes or end up in a ditch. The oil-seed rape is all but in and some fields have already been turned over, with one near Burmarsh attracting a large mixed flock of Lapwings and Golden Plovers amongst the usual corvids and gulls. Two Common Buzzards were also noted there feeding on invertebrates and were by far the commonest raptor across the flatlands.
The combines have moved onto the winter wheat with great clouds of dust in their wake; I waited by one field as the last section was mown to see what emerged - a single Pheasant! Another wheat field was already being ploughed through with a few Black-headed Gulls in the tractor wake and a flock of House Sparrows around the margin, but otherwise it was a birdless scene.
There are few headlands on this part of the Marsh with the fertile earth turned over close to hedgerow or reed-fringed sewer, where most of the few passerines can find safe sanctuary. Of the scarcer farmland birds Tree Sparrows were noted at three sites, all close to dwellings with trees, and probably bird feeders, while singing Corn Buntings were noted at two sites around Snave and Burmarsh. It was good to find Turtle Doves near St Mary in the Marsh and Newchurch, with juveniles at the former location, although I found no sign of Grey Partridge anywhere; indeed I only saw two Red-legged Partridges.
Of the so-called commoner farmland species, Kestrel, Yellowhammer, Whitethroat, Skylark, Yellow Wagtail and Linnet were thinly distributed and mostly found in and around the few remaining sheep folds, along with plenty of corvids, Stock Doves and Woodpigeons. Reed Buntings and Warblers were also noted at several places where the reeds were thickest, while Swallows were common enough around farmyards and villages. Little Owls were seen at two locations, and a juvenile Cuckoo at one.
Observations on crops concerned the increasing acreage of maize being planted this summer. This head-high, hungry fodder crop forms an impenetrable thicket (as I found out when trying to locate a Looker`s hut near Dymchurch) and what long-term effect it will have on the landscape and birdlife only time will tell. Turf fields also appear to be on the increase, especially around New Romney and there were a fair few fields of linseed. Where potatoes are grown and irrigated are nearly always the best spots for Yellow Wagtails.
In summary, it was pretty much as I expected, with most of the bird activity near farm buildings and around the villages, as well as sheep folds and sewer margins, but very little on the intensively farmed arableland.
Almost as rare on the Marsh these day are pubs, and of the few that remain my recommended top three are: The Bell at Ivychurch, The Star at St Mary in the Marsh and the Shepherd and Crook at Burmarsh. It`s thirsty work surveying - mine`s a pint of Harvey`s Best!
Dungeness - warm, dry, cloudy, nw 2 - 0730hrs - A wander down the point delivered very little on a flat calm sea apart from a few passing Sandwich Terns and Gannets. With the power station outlet turned off there was nothing doing at the Patch. On the land a scattering of Willow Warblers was noteworthy.
ARC - 1100hrs - With island strimming in progress on Burrowes, hundreds of Cormorants, ducks, feral geese and swans had decamped onto ARC. In amongst the throng was my first Wigeon of the summer, although waders were surprisingly few in number with only Snipe, Wood Sandpiper and Turnstone new in, plus the usual Little Ringed Plovers and Redshanks. A Kingfisher posed nicely on a willow perch in front of the hide, while several pulses of Swifts and Sand Martins went over, plus a Cuckoo. Back at the car park more Willow Warblers and a Spotted Flycatcher were snapping up flying insects and flocks of Sand Martins and Swallows adorned the overhead wires.
Scanning across towards the water tower just after midday yielded several soaring Buzzards and Marsh Harriers, plus a high Glossy Ibis that disappeared over towards Dengemarsh, but despite a thorough search this afternoon the ibis was not relocated. However, a Great White Egret was present along with many more Swifts and Sand Martins, plus a few Common Sandpipers and Redshanks.
Just as I completed a circuit of the Marsh TG called telling of a Temminck`s Stint on Burrowes, a scarce passage migrant and not by any means noted annually. It was an adult bird in moult and viewable from the lookout point near Dennis`s hide, and a great way to finish any birding day.