Thursday, 23 March 2017

Hirundines and Firecrests

Dungeness - cold, cloudy, e 5 - As forecast the wind swung round to the east overnight and blasted in off the sea all day making for difficult birding conditions, and it looks as though we`ve got this for the next few days at least. However, despite the poor weather there was the first arrival of all three species of hirundines today with two Sand Martins over ARC and a small mixed flock of two Swallows, two House Martins and a Sand Martin on Burrowes, viewable from the Visitor Centre around midday. Several Pintail were among the ducks, no doubt migrants judging from others that  passed the point yesterday.
Lade - An afternoon visit delivered two Sand Martins over north lake and a Firecrest in the Willow Swamp. There was also another Firecrest in a Littlestone garden this morning and a further 20 plus around the Long Pits (LG).



Dungeness - Called in for a natter with CP who was toiling away on the seawatch hide refurbishment despite the blasting wind. Whilst there two parties of Brents totalling 48 flew low over the sea heading up-Channel.


                               Seawatching hide refurbishment in progress

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Dungeness seabirds

Dungeness - 0545-0745hrs - cold, cloudy, sse 5 - The lure of a southerly airflow attracted a hide full of regulars this morning for what proved to be a worthwhile session. Plenty of Gannets were forced close to shore, some feeding, others passing up-Channel, along with the best showing this spring so far of Sandwich Terns and Common Scoters with at least 100 of each. Fulmars are a given here on a southerly blow and 30 plus sheared past mostly heading west and some inside the buoy. About ten parties of Brents plodded up-Channel during the watch comprising around 150 birds along with 20 Red-throated Divers, six Shovelers and 31 Pintails. Also noted several Mediterranean Gulls, plenty of Kittiwakes, Cormorants and Great Crested Grebes, a Bonxie and three Slavonian Grebes on the sea.

                               Sunrise over Dungeness

After breakfast we headed down the bird reserve for a circuit of Dengemarsh - just as the rain started and the wind picked up! Unsurprisingly, not a great deal was noted apart from the usual plastic fantastic wildfowl, including Egyptian Geese on the fields, Hooded Merganser on Hookers and Ring-necked Duck on Cook`s Pool. The hayfields were bereft of birds apart from a flock of Magpies and Crows, which doesn't bode well for the Lapwings this spring. Raven, two Bearded Tits, a few Linnets and Reed Buntings and a Marsh Harrier also noted, and for the first time this year there was no sign of any Great White Egrets. The highlight on Burrowes was a stunning summer plumage Black-necked Grebe and six Goldeneyes.


Lade - Our local Starlings and House Sparrows provided great entertainment this afternoon bathing in the pond where they were joined briefly by a Chiffchaff coming down to drink. A Sparrowhawk nipped through scattering the flock, the first I`ve seen for a while.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Sandwich Terns

Dungeness - 0700hrs - cold, dry, sunny, w 3 - A noticeable dip in the temperature meant a return to fleece and gloves this morning on the stroll down to the Patch. Among the melee of gulls over the boil were a couple of Mediterranean Gulls and a first winter Caspian on the beach; although I didn`t see the Iceland Gull it was present later in the morning (LG). Two Sandwich Terns briefly paused before moving east and several Harbour Porpoises were feeding around the boil. A Raven flew over the power station with crop bulging and a couple of Mipits displayed along the wall.
  A quick chat with the seawatchers in the smartly refurbished hide confirmed that little was on the move this morning apart from a trickle of Sandwich Terns, Gannets, Kittiwakes and a few Red-throated Divers, auks and Brent Geese.
  On the land a couple of Chiffchaffs in the lighthouse garden and a Wheatear opposite Jarman`s was about it.
Lade - The wind picked up through the day and by the time I ventured out back with Barney this afternoon most passerines had gone to ground, although there was a lone Chiffchaff singing in the willow swamp. Mid-March can be one of the quietest times of year in the birding calendar as winter visitors depart and before the main body of spring migrants arrive, and it certainly felt like that today.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Harrier count

Walland Marsh - 1600hrs - dry, cloudy and windy -  This afternoon I joined CP for the final harrier count of the winter and to be honest due to the blustery wind and lateness in the season I wasn't expecting a great deal - how wrong I was. Eventually, 14 Marsh Harriers came to roost including several adult males, one of which was displaying over the reedbed for some time before going down. The highlight of the watch though concerned a small juvenile Hen Harrier, presumably a male, that was in view for about an hour, flying up and down the reedbed, periodically landing and even chasing the much larger Marsh Harriers in an aerial tussle, odd behaviour indeed. Then, just before lights out it was joined by a second darker ringtail that went straight to roost alongside it, but separate from the Marsh Harriers. So, a fascinating end to the winter harrier roost count.
  Also noted in the general area a Bittern, two Common Buzzards, seven Golden Plovers, Skylarks, Mipits, Cetti`s Warbler and a Corn Bunting.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Birding for juniors

Lade  - mild, cloudy, sw 3 - 0700hrs - There was nothing much of note over the pits first thing although the Chiffchaff count rose to 10, including two birds singing and feeding around the pond in the garden.
Dungeness - 1030hrs - We were on grand parent duty this weekend and our six year old grandson Albert was keen to try out his new 8x30 bins in conjunction with a Plovers checklist. I`ve always adopted the `two hour rule` for nippers under ten years of age, as any longer and they tend to get fed up. Other criteria to consider are: the weather, it has to be fine, which it was this morning; the birds need to be close and, crucially, said junior birder has to want to go, which he did.

                                Tree Sparrow nailed and on the list

  So, we were all set and raring to go, with our kit in order and a snack to hand (cos little kids have to eat constantly, or at least this one does!). We headed for the bird reserve, pausing first at Boulderwall for Tree Sparrows where at least nine birds showed like good `uns on the feeders and perched in nearby scrub chupping away merrily. I was meticulous that the little fella got onto each species properly and confirmed the id by telling me a few salient field markings, as he was keeping a tally for the trip. He also noted Reed Bunting, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Great and Blue Tits here.



                                Ring-necked Duck and Long-eared Owl showed well

  Moving up to Cook`s Pool I couldn't believe our luck as the drake Ring-necked Duck was virtually the closet bird to the track, displaying to the Tufted Ducks. Wigeon, Coot, Moorhen, Little Egret and Cetti`s Warbler were all identified around the pool, plus Lapwing, Stock Dove, Canada and Greylag Geese on the fields.
  We then spent some time birding from the hides around Burrowes where his list rattled merrily along with more wildfowl, gulls, Cormorants and the like, including Goldeneye and three Pintails. The egg display in Makepeace hide was duly inspected, as were the whale bones by the Dipping Pond, where we finished with superb views of the roosting Long-eared Owl, which really did put on a show; preening, ear tufts erect, orange irides blinking, the full works, and not a single twig obscuring the head.

                               "Long-eared Owl over my shoulder"

  We actually spent almost three hours in the field, including some time nattering in the visitor centre and collecting a Long-eared Owl pin badge which is now pinned proudly on his fleece. So, a successful jaunt all round and of the 62 species recorded this morning I`m confident he managed to properly see 48 species - with no string attached! 
 
 

Friday, 17 March 2017

Chiffchaffs

Lade - 0630hrs - cool, sunny, w 2 - Following the fog of yesterday this morning dawned bright and sunny with a cool westerly airflow. We ventured into the Kerton Road pit first off to check for an early Little Ringed Ringed, of which there was no sign. However, Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher, Shelduck, Skylark and Mipit all showed signs of breeding, but the island that once supported a Black-headed Gull colony is now unsuitable, being overgrown with willow scrub.

                                 Chiffchaff - bird of the day

  Back at Lade the willow swamp held at least five singing Chiffchaffs with several others heard in back gardens along Leonard Road; judging from comments on Twitter there appears to have a been something a fall of Chiffchaffs this morning with reports from across the peninsula. There was no sign of either the Slavonian Grebe or Great White Egrets since last weekend, so I can only assume they`ve moved on.
Dungeness - After assisting CP moving sheets of marine ply into the seawatch hide in preparation for tomorrows rebuild we checked the lighthouse garden where at least two Chiffchaffs were feeding amongst the Euphorbias.
  On the bird reserve this afternoon the Black-necked Grebes were still on a choppy New Diggings, but there was no sign of the Long-eared Owls behind the Dipping Pool. On Boulderwall Pools the long-staying Ring-necked Duck was at the far end of Tanner`s associating with Tufted Ducks, plus a few Wigeon, Teal and five Little Egrets, but there was no sign of the Garganey and Smew from earlier. Burrowes was quiet apart from the usual gulls and wildfowl.   
 

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Herring Gulls

Lade - Misty, mild, sw 2 - The plan this morning was to head down to Dungeness, but when I rolled out of bed at 0600hrs the first thing I heard was the foghorn blaring away; the entire peninsula was wreathed in a sea fret. Anyhow, being the eternal optimist, and thinking it would soon clear I did go, if only to walk Barney around a fog-bound Trapping Area which was virtually birdless apart from a few tits, finches, Mipits and a Chiffchaff.
  Plan B was then initiated, so it was back to the local patch where you could just about see the far side of the lake, until another bank of fog rolled in. Infact the murk didn't clear from Lade until late morning, while at nearby Dungeness the fret lingered all day judging from the booming fog horn.

                                "You can`t fool me that easily"

  Its that time of year again when the Herring Gulls are getting ready to breed, and all along this part of the coast you can hear them day and night clamouring away, shitting everywhere and looking for a suitable roof to nest on. I`ve got something of love hate relationship with these birds as while I`m not too keen on being crapped on, they are great at giving a heads up on passing birds of prey - two Red Kites so far this spring.
  However, many folk hereabouts (including us) have taken precautions to deter the gulls (wire mesh and spikes around chimney stacks and roof ridges are essential) or be terrorised all summer long. Unfortunately our local chippie owner (who doesn't live on site) continues to encourage the damn things by chucking out fish waste onto a nearby flat roof, despite being asked to desist.
  Another form of deterrent being tried locally is to fit a plastic owl with a rotating head in a prominent position, but as you can see from the above picture its going to take a little bit more than that to fool a wise old Herring Gull!

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Singing warblers

Lade - 0700hrs - mild, dry, misty, w 2 - We flogged around the local patch this morning with little reward on the migrant front apart from a singing Chiffchaff and Blackcap in the willow swamp. The resident Cetti`s Warblers had certainly found their voices with at least five males belting it out around the lakeside margins, with one bird showing particularly well in the bare willows. As the morning warmed up several Common Buzzards and Marsh Harriers took to the skies over the Desert.
Dungeness - The two Iceland Gulls remained  at the Patch, although one moved to Burrowes around midday. The Long-eared Owl, Slavonian Grebe and Ring-necked Duck were in their usual positions around the bird reserve, while a Smew was on the pool in front of Christmas Dell hide.
In the warm sunshine several Small Tortoiseshells were on the wing at Lydd allotments this afternoon.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Spring migrants

Sunday - warm, dry, sunny, s 2 - Despite the Met Office forecast for rain, today turned out to be another cracker in this corner of England. The Lade WeBS count was notable for 60 Shovelers and the continuing presence of a Slavonian Grebe. In Folkestone singing Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were noted at two locations including the Lower Leas Coastal Park.
Monday - Dungeness - warm, dry, sunny, n 2 - Another fine spring day, although the wind had swung around to the north. An early morning tour of the peninsula delivered our first Wheatear and Black Redstart of the year at the lifeboat station and lighthouse garden respectively. Also in the garden several Chiffchaffs, Chaffinches, Blackbirds, Dunnocks and Great Tits. Whilst chatting to the regulars in the seawatching hide a Red-throated Diver, six Common Scoters and a Bonxie flew through, plus Rock Pipit, 10 Redwings and two Med Gulls over. Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Skylark and Stock Dove all showed signs of breeding along the foreshore.



Lade - No change from yesterday on the pits. However, around midday the Herring Gulls along the coast went into meltdown as a Red Kite headed north towards Greatstone.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

A flock of Garganeys

Dengemarsh - 0600hrs - mild, misty, light airs - It made a change to be out and about this early morning without a breath of wind. It makes such a difference, particularly for finding passerines, and during the course of our circuit we had plenty of singing Reed Buntings, Tree Sparrows, Dunnocks, Cetti`s Warblers and Chaffinches, plus Bearded Tits, Stonechat and Chiffchaff at Hookers.
  Yesterdays Hooded Merganser proved elusive until it flew over with a pair of Shovelers, while a redhead Smew was briefly on Cook`s Pool. Best of all though, whilst chatting to BD on the ramp, a flock of five Garganeys (three drakes and two ducks) swam into view in a back channel, our first of the spring. Two Bittern sightings were noted around Hooker`s where also two Great White Egrets, two Marsh Harriers, a Sparrowhawk, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers and a Raven over calling. The fields at Boulderwall attracted 25 Curlews amongst a Wigeon, Stock Dove and Starling flock. From the causeway road Black-necked and Slavonian Grebes could still be seen on New Diggings.
  While having first breakfast back at Plovers news came through of an Alpine Swift over Dengemarsh - half an hour after I`d left! I checked Lade pits without success, although it seems as thought the swift went straight through. Other news from Dungeness today concerned a Wheatear on the beach by the lifeboat station, a Black Redstart in the lighthouse garden and a decent passage of Brent Geese (LG et al).

                                Common Dog Violets

                                Jay sunbathing

                                Grey Herons at nest

                                Royal Military Canal from Aldergate Bridge

                                Lympne and Stutfall Castles

West Hythe - 1200hrs - A walk along the canal from West Hythe to Aldergate Bridge and back, in glorious spring sunshine, delivered a host of common birds in song, plus our first singing Chiffchaff of the year, six Bullfinches, Goldcrest, Jay, Treecreeper, Goldfinch, Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers. Whilst scanning through the rookery and heronry (at least six Grey Herons on nests) several Common Buzzards and a Red Kite soared along the hillside.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Barn Owl

Dungeness - 0630hrs - mild, dry, sunny, se 2 - A superb morning to be out and about in the field. A check of the beach opposite Jarman`s resulted in a few singing Linnets, Skylarks, Mipits and Pied Wagtails, plus four Stock Doves, a Stonechat and 20 west bound Jackdaws overhead. We joined MH and CP from the boardwalk for an hour seawatch which produced very little apart from 20 Red-throated Divers, 15 Brents and two Common Scoters up-Channel, plus a few Kittiwakes, Gannets and auks.
East Guldeford - 1745hrs - Returning from Rye this evening we had cracking views of a Barn Owl by the railway line crossing the A259, my first of the year. The worry was that it was hunting a rough margin right beside what is a busy and fast road. Crossing Walland via Midley two Common Buzzards sat on posts were noted, but no further owl sightings in perfect still, mild conditions.
NB: A drake Hooded Merganser was seen on the bird reserve this afternoon on the small lake beside Hooker`s, viewable from the back track to Lydd (MH et al).  

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Singing Linnets

Lade - warm, dry, sunny, sw 2 - Once the early morning cloud lifted it turned into a fine spring day with the temperature reaching 16C by early afternoon. Scanning the Desert for a Wheatear again drew a blank, but two singing Skylarks and Mipit was ample compensation. We walked Mockmill where the first singing Linnets of the season were noted, plus several Reed Bunting and a pair of Stonechats. A Marsh Harrier worked the fields towards the airport passing a hovering Kestrel.



  On south lake singles of Slavonian Grebe and Great White Egret were still present, plus two adult Mediterranean Gulls amongst the Herring, Common and Black-headed Gulls. As the tide came in a flight of 23 Curlews flew over to roost on the shingle.
  On a falling tide I spent some time counting the beach waders from the Tavern and Varne viewpoints as follows: Oystercatcher 620, Ringed Plover 12, Grey Plover 23 (Littlestone), Knot 15, Sanderling 230, Dunlin 280, Bar-tailed Godwit 21, Curlew 410, Turnstone 46 (Littlestone), Redshank 4.
Littlestone - A walk along the foreshore and back through the golf links this afternoon delivered several singing Skylarks, Mipits, Reed Buntings and a Rock Pipit near the car park at the St Mary`s Bay end.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Grey Wagtail

Dungeness - wet and windy, mild, sw 3 - 0830hrs - A grotty start to the day with low cloud, occasional drizzle and a blustery wind,  although it did improve this afternoon. A wander around the back of Tower Pits delivered very little apart from a few singing Great Tits, Cetti`s Warblers and Reed Buntings, plus Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers, Great White Egret and a Kestrel. March is the month that Mediterranean Gulls are on the move down here, so it was no surprise to see two on the water from Screen hide amongst a raft of Common and Black-headed Gulls and a scattering of Shelducks, Shovelers and Goldeneyes.
  Over the road the drake Ring-necked Duck had moved onto the pool by the first bend, while one of the two Long-eared Owls was showing like a good `un at roost behind the Dipping Pool. Burrowes held six Goldeneyes and that was about it apart from the usual Cormorants, common gulls and wildfowl.




                               Grey Wagtail, Dungeness

  1400hrs - An hour at the fishing boats/seawatch hide this afternoon produced very little in the way of movement apart from a couple of Med Gulls and auks. However, hundreds of Great Crested Grebes and Cormorants were on the sea and the 1st winter Caspian Gull was feeding amongst a melee of gulls by the Fish Hut.
  Grey Wagtails are scarce down here on the coast, being mostly known as an autumn passage migrant, but just recently there`s been a bird associating with Pied Wagtails and Mipits around the sewage plant on A Station. This afternoon it proved most confiding as it picked off insects attached to lichens on the power station wall in typical wagtail fashion.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Red Kites over Lade

Lade - cool, sunny, w 2 - 0800hrs - A cracking morning to be out in the field with light airs and warm sunshine taking effect by midday. Whilst standing on the old railway track scanning the Desert for an early Wheatear the Herring Gulls kicked off big style over the caravan park by the coast. They were all up in the sky wailing and shrieking like banshees, which could only mean one thing... and sure enough I eventually latched onto two raptors soaring down the coastline - Red Kites, classic March migrants. By now all the Jackdaws, Crows, Starlings and feral pigeons along the coastal strip were airborne amongst the gulls, combining to make a huge mass of swirling birds, and a lone Crow persistently mobbing a Kite. I followed the two birds south as they entered Dungeness airspace, dragging up more Herring Gulls along the way, until eventually disappearing from view. Although I didn't notice it at the time a Peregrine sat on the wall `mirror` may well have been  involved in the `welcoming` committee at some stage.


                                Red Kite being mobbed by a Crow

Old Romney - Continuing with the raptor theme, between New and Old Romney around noon at least six Common Buzzards and three Kestrels were taking advantage of the thermals, while one of the former was sat atop the ruins of Hope Church. Several singing Yellowhammers were also heard.


                                Hope Church, Romney

Dungeness - From Hanson hide this afternoon, five Goldeneyes and four Shelducks on the lake, a Great White Egret in the reedbed and several soaring Marsh Harriers and Common Buzzards over the water tower. From the causeway road two Slavonian and a Black-necked Grebe on New Diggings.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Ravens

Dungeness - 0645hrs - mild, cloudy, w 2 - The first birds we were greeted by as we arrived at the point this morning were three Ravens flying around, tumbling and cronking loudly. Along the power station wall several Pied Wagtails and Mipits, plus a Grey Wagtail on the sewage plant. At the Patch the two Iceland Gulls were amongst the melee of gulls along with at least four Mediterranean Gulls.
  From the seawatch hide nothing much was happening apart from a trickle of Gannets, Red-throated Divers, auks, Common Scoters, Med Gulls and Fulmars, although a Great Northern Diver went through earlier (LG).
  Elsewhere today around the peninsula, Slavonian and Black-necked Grebes, Ring-necked Duck, Long-eared Owl, Smew and White-fronts were reported from the bird reserve, plus a Black Redstart in the gully and Tundra Geese at Scotney (PB et al).

Sunday, 5 March 2017

A few finches

Saturday - Dungeness - mild, cloudy, w 2 - With the wind and rain abating we headed down to the point first thing for a wander. From the fishing boats at least 500 Great Crested Grebes were on the sea, plus several Mediterranean Gulls, auks and Gannets coming and going. On the beach a trickle of Goldfinches, Greenfinches and a single Siskin overhead, our first of the year. On the land a few Skylarks, Mipits, Robins, Dunnocks and two Stonechats, plus a Chiffchaff in a private garden.
  At the Patch the two 1st winter Iceland Gulls and a Little Gull still present along with the usual melee of gulls over the boil including two more Mediterranean Gulls.
  A quick look in at the bird reserve revealed the drake Ring-necked Duck still on Cook`s Pool displaying amongst the Tufted Ducks. Also on the pool a large flock of Wigeon, 10 Teal, two Shelduck, Great White and Little Egrets, while on New Diggings two Slavonian Grebe.
  At Lade the two Great White Egrets and Slavonian Grebe remained on south lake.
Sunday - Dengemarsh-  cool, cloudy, breezy, sw 4 - After the rain band went through this morning we ventured out for a circuit of Dengemarsh. The expected Marsh Harriers were on the wing, plus Great White and Little Egrets, four White-fronts in amongst the Greylags, 100 Wigeon, 100 Lapwings, four Ruffs and a redhead Smew on the small pit by the back track. Four Corn Buntings, 10 Tree Sparrows, 10 Reed Buntings, 10 Mipits, 10 Pied Wagtails, four Cetti`s Warblers and 50 Linnets also noted around the route.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Pintails

Dungeness - mild, cloudy, light rain, sse2 - 0645hrs - A wander down to the Patch first thing delivered one of the 1st winter Iceland Gulls on the beach and two Mediterranean Gulls over the boil. Offshore plenty of Gannets, auks, Kittiwakes and Great Crested Grebes comprised the bulk numbers, plus a few Red-throated Divers, a Bonxie east and, inevitably with a southerly blow, several Fulmars. The regular Caspian Gull was on the beach by the Fish Hut.
  Met Lee Gregory in the seawatch hide, the new seasonal warden at DBO. Welcome to Dungeness Lee, and let`s hope for a better spring than last year.
  A late afternoon visit to the fishing boats yielded 13 Pintails past the point, although many more had been logged during the day. Also, 20 Red-throated Divers, 15 Mediterranean Gulls, 12 Wigeon and 25 Brents.


                               Grey Plover and Turnstone, Littlestone

Littlestone - Walked the beach from Littlestone to St Mary`s Bay where hide tide roosting waders included 20 Grey and five Ringed Plovers, 30 Dunlins and 10 Sanderlings. On the way back through the golf links a small mixed flock of Mipits and Skylarks fed on a bare patch and a couple of larks sang over the fairways. Also noted two Stonechats, Kestrel and Green Woodpecker. 

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Long-eared Owls

Lade - cold, cloudy, w 3 - A nippy morning with a brisk westerly airflow. We walked Mockmill and out across the Desert where it was virtually birdless apart from a pair of Reed Buntings in the sewer scrub. The Slavonian Grebe on south lake was fishing close to the bank amongst 20 dabbling Shovelers.

                                Slavonian Grebe, Lade


                                Long-eared Owl, Dipping Pool

Dungeness - The two Iceland Gulls were back at the Patch this morning and one was seen on Burrowes later. This winter two roosting Long-eared Owls have been star performers, off and on, in the willows behind the Dipping Pool on the bird reserve. About midday one bird was sat in full view sheltered perfectly from the west wind, ear tufts up and eyes half open. These two beauties wont be here for much longer, so best to enjoy `em while you can.