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.


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