Sunday, 31 December 2017

Last rites of 2017

Lade - wet and windy - A dreadful day throughout with persistent heavy rain on a brisk south-westerly wind; the only saving grace is that its mild. The two regulars (Long-tailed Duck and Slavonian Grebe) remained on south lake and should be available for anyone attempting a NYD bird count tomorrow, although we may be deferring ours until Tuesday due the weather forecast.
  Elsewhere around the peninsula there are the usual range of winter visitors including a handful of Bewick`s Swans in the fields near Lydd, gulls on Burrowes (an Iceland yesterday, per PB) but as yet a lack of any wild geese and Smew.
  Good birding to one and all for 2018.

Friday, 29 December 2017

More on lugworms

Dungeness Black Lug - Following on from yesterdays post regarding lugworms, and the lack of in Lade bay, I`ve been contacted by Dave Bunney from Dungeness. As many of you may well know Dave is well known in these parts as an ace finder of rare birds in and around his garden at South View (Bee-eater, Woodchat and Red-backed Shrikes, Radde`s and Melodious Warblers in 2017). He also dug/pumped for bait for over 30 years professionally, so knows a thing or two about these prized worms; I joined him out on the sands one afternoon about 10 years ago whilst researching for a Countryman magazine article, and I can confirm its damn hard graft. 
 However, according to Dave, numbers of Black Lug often decline during December - March, probably because of the cold weather, but no one really knows for sure why some years are worse than others, so maybe this winter is a random poor year, but he assures me that come the spring they will return in vast numbers. He went on to say that "millions" can get washed ashore following storms out at sea, whilst offshore fisherman have reported great bunches of worms being attached to anchors when dragged up, suggesting large populations in the sandy seabed of the Channel.
   Apparently, `Pete the Bait` (no surname, no pack drill) is a glass half empty kinda guy, so maybe my gloomy prognosis was ill informed. Oh, and I learned something else too - Dave`s wife also dug bait alongside him for seven years!
  Many thanks for the information on Black Lug Dave, and keep finding those rarities in the New Year.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Where have all the lugworms gone?

Lade - cold and frosty - A cracking day to be out and about with bright winter sunshine and light airs, and looking at the forecast for the next few days, probably the best weather for a while. There was a steady trickle of birders throughout the morning paying homage to the wintering Long-tailed Duck and Slavonian Grebe, both of which were back on south lake along with half a dozen Goldeneyes and the usual common ducks and grebes. The Dartford Warbler was also reported in the gorse scrub beside the track, while we noted Green Woodpecker, Kestrel, Marsh Harrier, Cetti`s Warbler, Chiffchaff and Kingfisher across the site.

                                Lade sands without a bait digger in sight

  We completed the circuit back along the beach scanning the vast expanse of mud for distant waders at low tide, but what struck me more than anything else was the absence of bait diggers pumping for lugworms, or black lug as they`re known locally. On a day like today you would normally expect to see anything up to 20 blokes (I`ve yet to see a lady) scattered across the sands, pump in hand towing their storage trolleys behind looking for all the world like Antarctic explorers.
  Coincidently, back home I happened to bump into `Pete the Bait` one of the local pumpers and when asked about their absence said, "there ain`t any out there mate, had to go to Winchelsea beach last week, weren't many there either." He had no explanation for this apparent collapse in numbers of black lug.
   Now, I`m no expert but if you`ve got 20 pumpers each taking an average of say 100 worms a tide (which is probably a conservative estimate), so around 2,000 daily or 14,000 a week that's` a lot of worms. And then of course, and quite rightly so, around a thousand Curlews and Oystercatchers will be hunting them on a double tide, that weekly figure could easily total 20,000 black lug extracted in one way or another from the bay. Please feel free to correct me if you think I`m over estimating the extraction rates.
  So, Black Lugworm Arenicola defodiens is a finger-thick segmented marine worm (a bit like a fat earthworm) black in colour and can reach 10" long when mature and is highly prized as bait for fisherman, particularly if cod is your quarry. Such beasties can live for up to six years, are sexually mature at two and spend most of their lives in U-shaped burrowes under the sand.
  When I suggested to `Pete the Bait` that perhaps the current extraction rates are unsustainable (pumping is far more efficient than digging by the way) he poo-hooed me and blamed the birds!
Whatever has caused the collapse in Lade Bay Black Lug numbers it sure ain`t the waders.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Memories of 2017

Lade - These past few days have seen indifferent weather conditions across the peninsula from mild and cloudy on Monday with gale force winds, to bright and sunny yesterday morning, followed by  downright foul conditions today with heavy rain and a scudding wind out of the north-west. We continued our daily circuits around the local patch with some success, despite the spectre of the dreaded C word season (now, thankfully receding well and truly behind us). However, the Long-tailed Duck had decamped to north lake, while the Slavonian Grebe could be seen just about anywhere, but mostly at the southern end of south lake. Several Goosanders came and went while up to 12 Goldeneyes were present. Yesterday was particularly productive in the brief period of sunshine and light airs with a male Dartford Warbler calling and briefly perching atop the gorse by the aerial. Kingfisher, Bittern, Cetti`s Warbler, Marsh Harrier and Water Rails all put in an appearance around the site.

Review of 2017

Living in one of the best locations in the country for birding does spoil one somewhat and during the course of a year being out and about in the field on a near daily basis you can rattle up one or two species. Now, I`m not much of a lister (219 species this year) or a twitcher (Lesser legs, Woodchat Shrike, Hume`s Warbler and Squacco Heron all seen locally this year), but am a sucker for an `event`. By that I mean, for example, large movements of migrants, close views of seabirds, finding something decent on the local patch or maybe an unusual piece of behaviour.
  The first winter period produced many memorable days around the peninsula with such delights as Polar gulls, wild geese and swans, scarce grebes and ducks, raptors and owls, but the stand out event wasn't even on the Marsh, it was one cold afternoon on the Leas in Folkestone with my seven year old grandson watching a Starling murmuration. We arrived an hour before sunset and it wasn't long before the first birds appeared flying along the cliffs, gradually gathering strength until a swirling mass of around ten thousand moved as one unit in an aerial ballet up and down the Leas and over the town in the setting sun. An accompanying rush of wings and chattering only added to the spectacle just before they descended in silence to roost in the grounds of the Grand Hotel and adjacent park trees. Magnificent stuff indeed.


  Spring at Dungeness is a much anticipated season and while, its true, many of our summer migrants such as Turtle Dove, Tree Pipit and Cuckoo have massively declined in my life time, there are always days to remember, and none more so than during late April, my favourite period of the year. On the land spring falls are now few and far between, so when hundreds of Willow Warblers and Blackcaps dropped in one morning, along with a scattering of Redstarts and Whinchats it was a reminder of what used to happen on far more regular basis only half a century ago.
  But it was the sea that stole the show on the 29th with anything up to ten thousand Commic Terns streaming through, followed the next day by a passage of skuas, divers and scoters. Settling down in the shelter of the fishing boats we were treated to some of the closest views many of us could remember of flocks of Pomarine, Arctic and Great Skuas, plus a supporting cast of summer plumage Black-throated Diver, Little Gull, Velvet Scoter and Black Tern.



  On the local patch at Lade a Grasshopper Warbler was only my second record followed by a single sighting of a Night Heron, but the main event was a pair of Black-necked Grebes that settled down to nest, eventually fledging two young to flying stage. Cuckoos continued to breed in the reed beds, parasitising the numerous Reed Warblers.
  Due to low water levels on the RSPB reserve there many memorable wader days, particularly with Arctic waders such as Curlew Sandpiper and Dunlin in July, comprising mostly adult birds in nuptial plumage. Scarce Pectoral Sandpiper, Dotterel and Little Stints all added to the variety of waders on offer.
  Once again the autumn period on the land was something of a disappointment by Dungeness standards. However, there were some quality birds with the likes of Red-backed Shrikes, Yellow-browed Warblers, a trapped Hume`s Warbler and an elusive Radde`s Warbler, but on the whole numbers of many migrants were low.
  One event that does stick in the memory though concerned House Martins one October morning when thousands were held up in fog around the lighthouse and power station, swarming like gnats, before eventually heading south once the weather lifted. Unfortunately, the main birding event of the autumn, an unprecedented irruption of Hawfinches into central and southern England largely passed us by.
  What 2018 has in store for us only time will tell.




 

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Gulls again

Dungeness -mild, cloudy, w 3 - 1100hrs - Gulls do tend to split birders into two camps; a bit like Marmite, you either I love `em or loathe `em. Personally, I`ve not got much love for Herring Gulls as living along the coast the buggers are a nightmare in spring and summer, crapping everywhere, screaming from roof-top nest sites and general dishing out grief to all and sundry. As for the rest of the tribe, Caspian and Yellow-legs, I can take `em or leave `em, although the former are growing on me.
  However, `proper` gulls are a different matter, particularly those from the polar regions, and they don't come much more spectacular than the Glaucous Gull, a great brute of a bird and highly entertaining as it goes about bullying its relatives, so it was good to watch a first winter bird in action along the foreshore by the fishing boats this morning.   

                                1st winter Caspian Gull


                                1st winter Glaucous Gull

Lade - No real change here with the Long-tailed Duck still distant and continually diving on south lake, while the Slavonian Grebe had moved to north lake along with two Goosanders.


Saturday, 23 December 2017

Glaucous Gull

Dungeness - mild, cloudy, w 3 - Yesterday`s Glaucous Gull remained along the foreshore ranging from the lifeboat station to the power station, but mostly around the fishing boats at high tide, where also a 1st winter and an adult Caspian Gull on the beach. Offshore hundreds of Great Crested Grebes on the sea along with scores of Guillemots, Kittiwakes and Red-throated Divers.
Scotney- We joined CP for a check of the pits this morning. On the front fields the usual feral Barnacle Goose flock was present but there was little else of note on the roadside lakes apart from 50 Shelducks at the Sussex end and a few Redshanks. Through the farm yard and a Black Redstart was surprise hunting insects on a log pile by the farmhouse.
  Outback hundreds of Lapwing, Golden Plover and Wigeon on the fields and around the lakes. Also noted a Great White Egret, Common Buzzard and Marsh Harrier. We walked out to the game cover, by the dung heap, where small numbers of Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Reed Bunting, Song Thrush and Goldfinch present plus a Brown Hare, something of a scarcity these days.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Solstice past

These past few days must`ve been difficult for anyone suffering from so-called `Seasonally Affective Disorder` with a bare eight hours of `daylight` rarely raising the luminosity above the candela of a constipated glow worm! Personally I`m not too bothered by the winter gloom; just work around it, keep busy and look forward to the increasing daylight. However, I do suffer from what I refer to as `Christmas Affective Disorder`, so a double whammy for many I suspect at this time of year.
  Last night we went to a Solstice gathering at Greatstone (nothing sinister, no dancing around the Lade `mirrors`, just a meal and a drink with a few kindred spirits) and it was good to know that I`m not alone. Happy smiling folk just enjoying ourselves and trying to come to terms with the juggernaut that is Christmas, a kind of group therapy for fellow sufferers.
  Its the excess that really winds me up, ships bringing in unnecessary crap to flog in pound shops - you know sort of things: inflatable plastic Santas, spray cans of artificial snow, tinsel and baubles, the list is endless, all made in Far Eastern sweatshops with no regard for the environment and shipped to the West in giant, polluting container ships.
  And, worst of all there`s the food, mountains of it stuffed in every shop you go in, much of which will be wasted: chocolates, biscuits, millions of battery-reared turkeys, and with half the population over weight, more indulgence we can well do without.
  I could go on, but I`m sure you know the drill...
Dungeness - mild, cloudy, light airs - Anyhow, it was much better weather wise today with the sun even poking through the clouds at times. At the point at least one of the Dartford Warblers showed briefly in scrub by the Britannia pub, alongside a couple of Stonechats. A walk down to the pines and Tower pits on the bird reserve delivered plenty of Long-tailed Tits, Blackbirds, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and several Chiffchaffs. ARC was packed out with wildfowl and waders, mostly Lapwings and dabbling ducks, but also three Ruff, a couple of Snipe and two redhead Goosanders. The Bewick`s Swans were still in the field opposite Cockles Bridge.
Lade - It was good to meet James on site this morning, a keen young birder from Sevenoaks, along with his father Stuart, and show them the wintering Slavonian Grebe and Long-tailed Duck. His excitement at seeing a first ever Slav Grebe was a joy to behold, the sheer enthusiasm and exuberance of youth, what a marvellous elixir for a hoary old cynic like myself.
  There was also a good showing of up to 10 Goldeneyes on the lake, plus 200 roosting Common Gulls. A Peregrine caused panic amongst the gulls and Starlings along the coastal strip and James found a Dartford Warbler in scrub near the tunnel which was still present late afternoon, plus a Stonechat and Goldcrest. A day to remember, I reckon, for a highly able teenage birder.
 

   

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Dull days

Lade - mild, misty, overcast - A grim, Mordor-like day with low cloud and mizzle throughout. There was no change to the wildfowl on south lake with both Slavonian Grebe and Long-tailed Duck still present. However, there did seem to be a few more Blackbirds around the site, while a pair of Ravens flew in off the bay, `cronking` loudly, before heading inland.
Dungeness - The Bewick`s Swan flock remained faithful to the wheat field opposite Cockles Bridge and the usual Tree Sparrows were on the Boulderwall feeders. On Burrowes two 1st winter Caspian Gulls were on the islands from Makepeace and Firth hides, while a Black-necked Grebe was over by Scott hide. The roosting Long-eared Owl was tucked in the willows behind the Dipping Pond, but very obscured, and it was only due to a couple of mobbing Great Tits that betrayed its presence.
  Whilst at the Kerton Road CafĂ© the owner spotted a couple of Stonechats outside in the broom scrub with a Dartford Warbler in tow.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Slavonian Grebe

Lade - cold and frosty, light airs - Another stunning winters morning with bright sunshine and blue skies, although if the forecast is to be believed it could be the last for a while as milder weather is due to arrive shortly. The local Slavonian Grebe has been a bit elusive of late, but not so this morning when it showed like a good `un close to the main track on a mirror-calm lake, allowing a photographic opportunity; don't you just love that ruby-red eye!
  Also present on south lake were the less than obliging Long-tailed Duck, two Goosanders and 11 Goldeneyes. Two Marsh Harriers worked the far reed bed and a Bittern took flight leading me to conclude that there may be two currently on site, one on each lake.

                                Slavonian Grebe close to the main track, Lade

Monday, 18 December 2017

Barn Owl

Lade - cold, frosty, sunny, light airs - A nippy start to the day with a light ground frost on the pebbles. Almost the first bird seen on south lake was the elusive Long-tailed Duck working its usual part of the water in front of the linear reed bed south of the wall `mirror`. Goldeneye numbers were slightly up on yesterday and a Kingfisher showed well on north lake.

                                Magpies chattering amongst themselves

                                The elusive Long-tailed Duck eventually surfaced

  This afternoon we tramped across to the south end of the lake to try a different angle on the diving duck, and much to my surprise it was actually on the surface preening for a full 15 minutes, before recommencing its underwater forays. Whilst there attempting a pic, two redhead Goosanders dropped in. Just before lights out a check of the fields towards the airport revealed two Marsh Harriers heading to roost and a distant Barn Owl hunting by a large straw stack.
  Elsewhere around the peninsula today the 13 Bewick`s Swans were still in the field opposite Cockles Bridge and the Long-eared Owl was at roost behind the Dipping Pool (PB). Smew remains an unexplained absentee among the regular winter visitors.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Long-tailed Duck

Saturday - Lade - cold and sunny, N 2 - Another bitterly cold morning following an overnight frost. On south lake the Long-tailed Duck was back, although it probably hadn't gone away just tucked up on the bank somewhere. It is, however, one of the most frustrating of birds, spending most of its time under water and only surfacing for the briefest of seconds. There was little else of note around the site.




Sunday -Lade - cold, misty, sunny, light airs - This morning dawned frosty and still with sub-zero overnight temperatures combining with the mist to turn the shingle landscape into a winter wonderland. A slippery walk across the hoar-frost smothered shingle to the pits delivered another scene of wonder as a bank of fog rolled across the main lake covered in an icy rime. Looking back to Dungeness the power station loomed threatenly out of the mist.
  Birdwise the Long-tailed duck had gone AWOL again, despite a couple of visiting groups of birders constantly scanning the far side of south lake. However, there was plenty of other stuff to see including a Bittern and Kingfisher on north lake, a Firecrest in the willow swamp and several Goldeneyes across both waters. Raptors were much in evidence with Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Kestrel and Sparrowak on the hunt.
Walland Marsh - By noon clouds rolled in from the south-west, the temperature rose with rain arriving by mid-afternoon - just right for the monthly harrier count! Chris and I tramped out to our watch point in dreary weather conditions and as a result only three Marsh Harriers came to roost. Two more were noted in the area along with two Buzzards and a ringtail Hen Harrier that went straight through towards the ranges. A mixed flock of Lapwings and Golden Plovers, five Little Egrets, a Great White Egret, plus several hundred Fieldfares completed a quiet session on Walland Marsh.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Yellowhammer

Dungeness - cold, cloudy, n 4 - A bitter cold day with a cutting wind out of the north, just right for an hour at the fishing boats! All the usual suspects noted including good numbers of Guillemots, Great Crested Grebes and Gannets fishing just offshore, plus a few Kittiwakes and Red-throated Divers, two Med Gulls, three Common Scoters and a distant Bonxie. On the beach an adult Yellow-legged Gull was amongst a throng of a hundred gulls.
  From Cockles Bridge the Bewick`s Swans were still in the corn field opposite amongst Mutes. We then spent some time along Dengemarsh Road where the recently flooded fields contained   hundreds of birds, mostly Common and Black-headed Gulls, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Woodpigeon, feral Greylags and corvids, plus 20 Egyptian Geese, five Brents, two Ruffs and five Redshanks. The weedy field near Springfield Bridge held an interesting mix of passerines including 50 Linnets, 20 Goldfinches, 10 Chaffinches, 10 Reed Buntings, four Corn Buntings and, bird of the week, a Yellowhammer, only the second one I`ve noted on the shingle. 

                                Winter wildfowl on Burrowes


                                   Stock Dove and Tree Sparrows on Boulderwall feeders

  Around the bird reserve the usual array of wildfowl and gulls, although less in number from earlier in the week, and still no sign of any Smew or the Long-eared Owl. The Black-tailed Godwit flock was on ARC where also Great White Egret, Kingfisher and Bittern noted, while the Boulderwall fields held the usual Wigeons and Lapwings. The bird feeders were particularly busy with at least 15 Tree Sparrows counted in the garden.
  A quick look at Lade delivered the Slavonian Grebe on north lake, but no sign of the Long-tailed Duck. Up to ten Goldeneyes remained across both waters.
  We had a great evening at the Romney Morris Christmas sing around at the Shepherd and Crook at Burmash, and on the way home just before midnight a Barn Owl flew across the road on the outskirts of the village.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Bewick`s Swans

Dungeness - cold, dry, sunny, w 4 - We kicked off at the point first thing where it was very quiet bird wise. Together with PB we had a brief look for the Dartford Warblers by the Britannia without success, although the wind was brisker than expected. A party of six Brents moved down-channel by the fishing boats.
  From Cockle`s Bridge the seven Bewick`s Swans were still in the corn field opposite amongst 50 Mute Swans, where also Buzzard and Great White Egret noted. A check of New Diggings and ARC from the causeway road gate drew a blank on any sawbills, but plenty of common diving ducks and gulls, two Great White Egrets and the usual Marsh Harriers present.
Lade - A thorough scan of Lade south failed to locate the Long-tailed Duck. The Slavonian Grebe, however, was on north lake amongst a flock of Pochards, plus a Redshank and a flyover Bittern.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Weather break

Lade - cold, frosty, sunny, light airs - After two days of gale force winds the morning dawned bright, and thankfully still, although crossing the welded shingle ridges was fun. Around the local patch raptors were making the most of the pause in the poor weather with Marsh Harrier, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard and Kestrel all noted. On south lake the Long-tailed Duck and Slavonian Grebe were still present along with 10 Goldeneyes across both waters. There appeared to be an increase in Woodpigeons with the bushes around the willow swamp shrouded in grey.
Dungeness - On the bird reserve the Bouldwall fields were full of birds, mostly Wigeon, Lapwing, Stock Dove, corvids, Coots, feral geese and a few Golden Plovers. On the drive out a small flock of Bewick`s Swans flew over towards Cockles Bridge. Burrowes held the usual ducks, Cormorants and gulls, while there was no sign of the Long-eared Owl behind the Dipping Pool. From Hanson hide the usual egrets, wildfowl and waders, plus a Bittern creeping around a reed bed margin. Elsewhere, two Dartford Warblers remained in scrub by the Britannia pub at Dungeness (DW).

Monday, 11 December 2017

Missed list

Lade - cold, heavy rain, ne 7 - A shocker of a day down here; infact it was one of the worst in the 12 years we've lived here with gale force north-easterlies and torrential rain bringing down garden fences, ripping tiles off the cottage roof and flooding the garage - and it wasn't even a named storm!!
The weather conditions were so bad that we were confined to barracks for most of the day as the wind and rain lashed the peninsula.
  However, it did mean that I could catch up on some paperwork and in an idle moment check out the Plovers bird list for 2017. Now, regular readers of this blog will know that I`m not much of twitcher (did a fair bit of that back in the 80`s and 90`), but we do keep a running total of birds seen around Dungeness and across the Romney Marsh during our outings. We normally average about 220 species (228 was out best tally five years ago), although this year we are running low at 214, although with three weeks remaining there`s still the chance of a few more.
  However, the stand out bird on the `missed list` this year is Grey Partridge. I`ve checked all their former haunts and drawn blanks, so unless any are artificially introduced for so called `sporting purposes` they are as good as extinct down here. Several summer visitors eluded us this year including Black-winged Stilt, Roseate Tern, Wood Warbler, Bee-eater, but to be fair they were few and far between, as were sightings of seabirds such as Shag, Little Auk, Sabine`s Gull and that ace rarity, Puffin. Other passage migrants missed were Stone Curlew, Radde`s Warbler, Crossbill and despite much autumn viz migging, Hawfinch...
  There, were of course, one or two goodies during 2017 and plenty of memorable days, all of which will be included in a forthcoming end of year review.       

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Weekend of weather

Lade - A weekend dominated by the weather with a bitterly cold, dry and sunny Saturday contrasting with a vile Sunday morning when gale force winds and heavy rain lashed in from the south. By midday the rain eased off but the wind remained so strong it was difficult to walk across the shingle to the pits to do the monthly WeBS count, while Barney got blown over twice! The wind eventually eased off from the west by late afternoon heralding another cold night.
  As for the duck count I couldn't find the Long-tailed Duck, although the Slavonian Grebe remained on south lake and Goldeneyes totalled 10. Most of the rest were sensibly sheltering in the willow swamp or on north lake.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Dungeness end of week summary

Lade - cold, sunny, nw 2-4 - A cold, dry end to the week, but with a withering wind out of the north-west that picked up through the day. On south lake the Slavonian Grebe and Long-tailed Duck were still present, although it took a while to locate the latter due to its constant diving. At least 10 Goldeneyes were scattered across both waters and several Marsh Harriers hunted the back reed bed.
  Elsewhere today on the bird reserve the Cattle Egret was seen on Boulderwall fields while the Long-eared Owl reappeared at roost behind the Dipping Pool. A Little Gull (PB) was on Burrowes where, throughout the week at high tide, a number of Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls have been located amongst the thousands of gulls. A flock of eight Goosanders have been mobile between Lade and Burrowes and Great White Egrets can be encountered at most wetlands across the peninsula.
  This week Dartford Warblers have been reported from scrub around the Britannia pub at Dungeness and also in the Kerton Road triangle. Lade sands now has its full complement of wintering waders, while across the wider Marsh small parties of Bewick`s Swans have begun to arrive in the Scotney area of Walland Marsh.
  With the change in weather, surely this weekend will see the arrival of one or two Smew to the  gravel pit lakes, or maybe a white-winged gull, we shall see...

Thursday, 7 December 2017

In memory of Don Green

Don Green - 1935 -2017 - Yesterday we travelled up to Bedford to attended the funeral of one of Bedfordshire`s senior naturalists and a dear friend, Don Green. Inevitably there was a large turnout of birders present who knew Don including several Dungeness regulars from the past such as Peter Smith, Barry Nightingale and Arthur Livett. It was also good to meet up with Rob, Stewart and Pete from the former `Dunstable Wednesday Club`, and Dave Kramer, among many others.
  However, I first met Don in 1978 when I moved to Dunstable and became involved with the Bedfordshire Natural History Society. His farmhouse was a regular meeting point for those involved with the creation of a nature reserve at the nearby sewage works, where we stored gear in his barn and concocted up ideas for the reserve, often over tea and cake with his wife Maureen.
  Don held numerous positions in the Society from the 1960`s onwards and as a result was recently awarded honorary life membership together with Maureen, who was always at his side over the many years when they organised the meetings programme and performed the thankless task of  projectionist for the evening slide shows. 
  Don also used to organise winter birding weekend trips to the Solway in Dumfries and Galloway which were always a fun occasion. We stayed in a family run hotel in New Galloway and after a long day in the field the craic was brilliant in the evening with everyone telling stories from their travels, many of which became more and more embellished as the malt whiskeys flowed! What great memories and Don was in his element with tales of back-packing around Europe in the 50`s and his time in Canada as a lumberjack!
  Even though I left Bedfordshire in 2006 Don often used to phone for a natter to update me on the Bedfordshire scene and to see how things were going down here, and he regularly visited Dungeness with the bird club. I shall miss those chats and visits, but feel privileged to have known such a wonderful human being who had such warmth and verve for life.
  Our deepest sympathies go out to Maureen and the family at this difficult time. 
 
Thursday - Sweet Caroline - 0900hrs - mild, wet and windy, S 7-8 - I joined BC in the seawatching hide this morning more to watch Storm Caroline batter the Dungeness peninsula than the expectancy of any birds. And sure enough a big sea was running up-Channel with a steady passage of Gannets, Fulmars and a few auks making light of the gale force wind and spray.
  From Hanson hide on the bird reserve a decent selection of wildfowl, waders and gulls included an adult Caspian Gull and 30 Black-tailed Godwits until flushed by a Peregrine. Also present, two Great White Egrets and a Kingfisher.
  The local patch at Lade was windswept and I could find no sign of the Long-tailed Duck.
 

                                Acadian Flycatcher, Dungeness 22nd September, 2015

Acadian Flycatcher in Kent: new to Britain - The morning of 22nd September 2015 will be forever etched in my memory, as no doubt it will be for many Dungeness birders. It was raining hard outside as I bid farewell to our B&B guests in the porch, the mobile phone trilled on the sideboard and went to answerphone. I cleared the breakfast table and loaded the dishwasher, while Barney looked on expectantly for his morning walk.
  Ah!, yes, the phone message..., from Plodding Birder, sounding as though he was having a heart attack, babbling on in broken tones, due to the usual poor mobile reception at Dungeness:  "There`s an Am...r...can fly...cher at the boats!" I`m not much of a twitcher, but this was local, and within five minutes I was on site with a handful of other awe struck locals (which very soon turned into a flood of hundreds), and the rest is history as they say.
  However, the stimulus for this post is the December edition of British Birds that has just arrived, featuring a full and authoritative account by David Walker of the Acadian Flycatcher found by Martin Casemore on that memorable morning, and a must read for all Dungeness regulars. Well done to all concerned.  
  

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Wildfowl and gulls

Lade - mild, overcast, light airs - Once again south lake was the main attraction with a flock of eight Goosanders flying in just after daybreak on what was a gloomy day throughout. The Long-tailed Duck and Slavonian Grebe remained on site along with seven Goldeneyes.

                               Goosanders were back this morning

 Several birders went in search of the Long-tailed Duck this morning and reported negative news back to the visitors centre around midday, so I checked the lake out this afternoon just before dusk and can confirm the duck was still present, along with the Slav Grebe, although there was no sign of the sawbills.
  A couple of tips for anyone visiting tomorrow. The Long-tailed dives continuously, surfacing between dives for barely a couple of seconds, so it is easy to miss, particularly as it slumps low in the water. It seems to favour the far side of the lake from the footpath between the 200` wall  `mirror` south to the small islands in front of the reed beds, often amongst the roosting gulls. The Slav Grebe sticks mostly to the north-western corner of the lake by the `mirror` reed bed and occasionally disappears into the channel behind the willow swamp. Good luck!

                                Long-tailed Duck briefly surfacing in late afternoon light

Dungeness - 1000hrs - A guided walk for RSPB around the circular route this morning, in calm weather conditions, delivered a typical range of wintering birds for the guests. Burrowes was heaving with thousands of gulls, Cormorants, ducks and Lapwings, every island being smothered in birds; and if gulls are your bag then this is the place to be with a variety of Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls amongst the five common species. Also on Burrowes, three Ruff, two Dunlin, 20 Pintails, plus brief views of a Water Rail from Scott hide. At Dengemarsh two Great White Egrets along with  several Marsh Harriers, a Buzzard and two Ravens atop a pylon. Bearded Tits were heard from the viewing ramp while Golden Plover, Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker, Meadow Pipit, Cetti`s Warbler, Goldcrest, Long-tailed Tit and Kestrel were all noted elsewhere during the circuit. There was no sign of yesterdays roosting Long-eared Owl behind the Dipping Pool.

                                Adult Caspian Gull from Firth hide

Monday, 4 December 2017

Bittern

Lade - cold and frosty, light airs - A stunning view of a `super moon` around dawn made for a spectacular start to the day. On the local pits Long-tailed Duck, Slavonian Grebe and eight Goldeneyes were still present on south lake, but yesterdays Goosanders had moved on. A flight view of a Bittern over the far reedbed was the first of the winter. Also noted, two Marsh Harriers and a Goldcrest.
  On the Dungeness RSPB reserve today a Cattle Egret was noted in the fields at Boulderwall, while a Long-eared Owl had returned to the roost site behind the Dipping Pond for the third year running.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Water Rails and Long-tailed Duck

Saturday - Lade - cool and cloudy, n 2 - A lot milder than of late and with lighter winds the weather was ideal for a good look around the local patch. Behind the `mirrors` the rough pasture attracted a flock of 50 Linnets, several Mipits and Skylarks and two Common Buzzards, but no sign of yesterdays Rough-legged variety. The lakes were fairly quiet on the wildfowl front with just two Goldeneyes of note, while the recent Slavonian Grebe was still present.
  There seemed to be an influx of Water Rails as virtually every patch of reeds had a squealing bird. Two broke cover and flew across open water by the main track, and I did wonder if the three Marsh Harriers flopping around in the main reed bed were hunting rails? Around the willow swamp plenty more rail vocalisation was underway, plus Cetti`s Warbler, Goldcrest, Chiffchaff and a number of  Blackbirds.
  We hit the beach as the tide was ebbing and rattled up the usual ten species as they returned to feed, plus 30 Black-tailed Godwits, an unusual bird here. Also on the sands, three Brent Geese, four  Shelducks and at least 500 Great Black-backed Gulls.



                               Black-tailed Godwits and Turnstone, Lade beach

Sunday - mild and cloudy, w 2 - A superb morning on the local patch with a noticeable change of wildfowl from yesterday. The star of the show was a female Long-tailed Duck that frustratingly stayed well out in the middle of south lake and, as is the case when they first arrive, spent most of its time diving for fish. The last one I had here was 10 years ago, so a welcome record.
  There were some good back up birds too. A flock of eight redhead Goosanders that after a bout of frantic feeding eventually settled down on the far side of the lake to preen and roost. Goldeneyes were up to eight in number, including three cracking, head-tossing drakes, plus the Slavonian Grebe, now in its second week showing well around the scaffold island. Wigeon, Shoveler and Pochard had all increased in numbers overnight.

                                Goldeneyes

                               Long-tailed Duck

                               Slavonian Grebe, Lade south

  Other birds of note around the site included an adult Yellow-legged Gull amongst 1,000 Black-backs and Herring Gulls roosting on the water, two Marsh Harriers working the reedbeds, plenty of vocalising Water Rails, Goldcrest, Chiffchaff, Cetti`s Warbler, Stonechat and Green Woodpecker.
  On Friday I collected my recently repaired bridge camera from Hythe Camera Shop (brilliant service as usual) and put it through its paces over the weekend.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Rough-legged Buzzard

Lade - cold, showery, n 2 -5 -  A thoroughly nasty day weather wise with a raw-bone wind delivering a number of heavy showers. However, bird of the day number-wise was the humble Blackbird which seemed to be everywhere following an overnight drop-in. Birds were seen in coastal gardens, across the shingle  scrub and around the willow swamp; at one stage a party of eight and three came in high off the bay, plus 10 Fieldfares. Also of note, a flock of 15 Goldeneyes that flew across south lake before disappearing towards the bird reserve.
  An early afternoon phone call from Dave Bunney told of a Rough-legged Buzzard that had just passed over Long Pits heading towards Lade. I nipped round to Hull Road and scanned towards the pits where the Roughie was tussling with a couple of Marsh Harriers! Further investigation during the afternoon failed to relocate the bird, so I assume it continued its journey northwards.
Dungeness - From Hanson hide a wader flock of six Redshanks and two Dunlins was on the islands amongst a scattering of common dabbling ducks including eight Pintails and 12 Shelducks. More Blackbirds were noted from the Willow Trail and along the access road where Buzzard, Kestrel and Marsh Harrier present. On Burrowes PB located an adult Caspian Gull amongst the throng while a Black-necked Grebe was seen from Scott hide (P&PB). A Peregrine also put in an appearance.