Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Hirundines

Lade - 0630hrs - cool, cloudy, W4 - A much cooler day with low cloud cover and a scudding wind which delivered the first decent count of hirundines of spring; 100 mostly Swallows, plus a few martins and two Swifts over, along with Yellow Wagtail, Whimbrel and Greenshank. In the shelter of the Willow Swamp a Nightingale gave a couple of short bursts of song, while the two Long-tailed Ducks were back on show on south lake. A lone Wheatear was on the Desert. An evening visit was far less productive as the wind had increased, plus a fine drizzle.
Dungeness - After breakfast I dropped into the bird reserve with our two American guests. At Boulderwall several Tree Sparrows were on the feeders, while six grounded Whimbrels noted along the access road, plus Marsh Harrier, Wheatear, Cuckoo, Linnets, Sedge Warblers, Common and Lesser Whitethroats. On Burrowes, Sandwich and Common Terns, Bar-tailed Godwit, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper and Ringed Plover. The Cattle Egret was still on Dengemarsh, plus Cuckoo and Hobby.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Passage waders

Dungeness - 0600-0800hrs - cool, sunny, WSW 3 - An early seawatch from the hide was very disappointing with three distant Bonxies being the only birds of note. A dribble of Gannets, Kittiwakes, auks, Sandwich Terns, Common Scoters, four Red-throated Divers and three Fulmars was about it, while two Black Redstarts were on the power station complex, one in song.
Lade  - A Greenshank over calling was our first of spring as was a Common Sandpiper on north lake. A couple of Swallows and a Yellow Wagtail flew over, but as the wind picked up grounded passerines became difficult to detect amongst the scrub. An evening visit produced our first ten Swifts of the year along with a mixed flock of all three hirundines hawking insects over the willow swamp in a brisk and chilly south-westerly airflow.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Pomarine Skuas

Dungeness - warm, dry, sunny, SW2 - 0830-1000hrs - A seawatch in the company of MH and CP this morning produced my first two Pomarine Skuas of spring, albeit distant views, in contrast to several Arctic Skuas (both light and dark phase) that came much closer in their pursuit of Sandwich Terns. Plenty of flocks of Common Scoter, Gannets, Whimbrels, a few Red-throated Divers, seven Little Gulls, a Little Tern, and a mixed flock of Brents and Whimbrels kept the interest going. Once again at least 20 Harbour Porpoises were noted just offshore.
  On the land a Wryneck seen earlier at Long Pits failed to reappear until the afternoon although plenty of warblers were in song, particularly Lesser Whitethroats and a Garden Warbler. Our first two Small Copper butterflies were also noted.
Lade  - Nothing new here from yesterday apart from more Whimbrels over calling and a Mediterranean Gull.




Pom Predictor
So its that time of year again when local birders turn their thoughts towards the spring passage of Pomarine Skuas. A question I am often asked by visitors is, "what is the best time to visit Dungeness to see `em"? There is, of course, no definitive answer to that question as this enigmatic seabird is prone to the vagaries of migration with all its twists and turns.
  Some years only small numbers are recorded passing Channel headlands, probably due to weather systems out in the Atlantic sending them up the western seaboard of the British Isles. However, while a specific date may be impossible to predict recent history has shown that the last week in April and first week in May to be the most reliable period. Occasionally it can be earlier or later by a few days, but almost always straddling the two months and sometimes trickling on until the end of May.
  Generally speaking early morning is best with a wind from a southerly vector and cloud cover, but often if there is a passage pulsing through Poms can turn up throughout the day in ones and twos and even in small flocks. They rarely interrupt their travels to chase terns for fish, just power steadily up-Channel at varying distances from shore, but sometimes inside the Dungeness cardinal buoy. Watchpoints such as Portland, Selsey Bill and Splash Point often get birds before us at Dunge, so it`s worthwhile checking social media for a heads up on what`s happening down-Channel, and the Dungeness Bird Observatory and local Twitter feeds.
  About the size of a Herring Gull, Pomarine Skuas at first glance appear all dark brown, but on closer inspection sport a pale belly, white wing flashes and a broad yellowish neck collar giving a capped appearance. Variable length, spoon-shaped central tail feather complete a distinctive ensemble affording a unique `heavy, rear end` jizz which separates them from the other two regular species (Great and Arctic) noted off Dungeness.
  Having spent the winter months at sea off the west coast of Africa Pomarine Skuas undertake a long migration northwards to breed on the Arctic tundra where they switch from a seafood diet to one of mainly lemmings and fledgling birds. Along with other members of the skua tribe they are fearsome in defence of their nest and young and will dive bomb and strike intruders, including humans.
  Last year the first Poms appeared on 23rd April, all 23 of them, with a peak of 129 on 30th and the final three on 14th May. In 2016 the first two were on 21st April with a peak of 121 on 6th May and the last one on 22nd May (stats from the Dungeness Bird Observatory website).
  And today the first spring Poms of 2018 passed Dungeness, opening another chapter on the fortunes of this enigmatic, migrant seabird.
  

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Nightingales

Park Wood, Appledore - warm, dry and sunny - Had to go to Ashford early this morning so on the way home called in at Park Wood for a couple of hours. With the canopy far from closed the ground flora was in fine fettle with the intoxicating smell of bluebells reminding me of my childhood spent in the Chiltern`s beech woods pre Red Kites. Along the southern fringes of this fine old woodland with its ancient purlieu, in contrast to a very modern vineyard, butterflies on the wing included orange tip, green-veined white, speckled wood and a gorgeous brimstone. Scanning across the canopy, over a hazy Low Weald, revealed a couple of Buzzards, a Sparrowhawk and our first Hobby of spring.




  Across Park Wood at least three Nightingales sang intermittently with one briefly showing as it moved through dense cover. Garden Warbler was new for the year, but apart from the ubiquitous Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps the only other summer migrant was a lone Willow Warbler. However, Nuthatches were in good voice along with Treecreepers, the two woodpeckers, Jay, Goldcrest and common tits, finches and thrushes.



Lade - A late afternoon check of the local patch revealed the two Long-tailed Ducks still on south lake, plus a Ring Ouzel on the Desert along with a Wheatear and five Whimbrels that dropped in and out briefly.
 

Friday, 20 April 2018

An influx of Red Kites

Dungeness - warm, dry, sunny, light airs - An early morning wander around the point delivered a small fall of Willow Warblers and Lesser Whitethroats, several Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and a Common Whitethroat. Two Wheatears were in the Desert and a Black Redstart sang from the power station corner near the Obs. There also seemed to be an increase in Chaffinches in the bushes and a single Brambling flew over calling.
  The sea resembled a mill pond where plenty of Harbour Porpoise were in view. The seawatchers reported it slow going, although a small passage of Little Gulls and Bonxies moved through later (PB).

                                Willow Warbler at DBO
 
  Plenty more grounded Willow Warblers and Lesser Whitethroats were noted around Dengemarsh whilst surveying for Cetti`s Warblers. Marsh Harrier, Cuckoo, Common Buzzard, Swallows, Stonechat, Wheatear and Yellow Wagtail were also seen, plus flight views of a Cattle Egret heading towards Galloways.
Lydd - I called in at the allotments late morning and whilst walking to my plot noticed a large flock of birds `kettling` skywards. To my astonishment they were Red Kites, 16 to be precise! As I rushed back to the car to grab my bins another bird flew over about 100 feet up being terrorised by two Herring Gulls making it 17. Scanning the flock again also revealed three Common Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk. As I tweeted the news out other local birders began to pick up the flock as it moved across the Peninsula, while a phone call from BD told of half a dozen over Lade. Two House Martins were also new for the year around the adjacent housing estate where there is a small colony.
  Back home sitting in the garden having lunch and the HGs alerted me to yet another Red Kite drifting northwards along the coastline. Judging from others seen at Littlestone, New Romney and Scotney there could easily have been up to 30 Red Kites over today. Other reports of Red Kites along the south coast came in from Beachy Head to Kingsdown.
  As for the origins of these birds, well that`s anyone`s guess. Most likely they originated from the burgeoning Chilterns/Thames Valley population which have also colonised the North Downs, but alternatively birds seen coming in off the sea could be `proper` migrants drifting over from France en-route to northern Europe to breed.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Warblers

Lade - warm, dry, sunny, light airs - A superb morning to be out and about around the peninsula surveying breeding birds. By midday the temperature reached a ridiculous 21C! Warblers were the order of the day with 10 species noted, although not in any great numbers. At the back of Lade north two singing Corn Buntings and a calling Red-legged Partridge were of note, while a single Wheatear was on the Desert. No change on the lakes with the Long-tailed Ducks still on station. At the ponds our first two Grass Snakes of the season and plenty of active Marsh Frogs.



                          Sedge Warblers were the most obvious of the tribe this morning

                               Grounded Whimbrels from the Access Road

Boulderwall - After breakfast I continued on the Cetti`s Warbler survey (minus Barney who was suffering from the heat) checking out the Gun Club and Tanner`s Pools area where another five singers were added to the tally. A Yellow Wagtail flushed from amongst the sheep was about the only passerine of note. Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Teal, Wigeon, Little Egret, Green Woodpecker and a flock of nine Whimbrel grounded by the Access Road were noteworthy. Several more Grass Snakes and a Weasel also seen, but I managed to miss three Hawfinches which briefly landed along the track by Dengemarsh before flying off eastwards.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

First Whitethroat

Lade - warm, dry and sunny, light airs - The warmest day of the year so far with the temperature hitting 19C by early afternoon. After a third attempt at running the garden moth trap a single Common Quaker became the first of the season. Out back a Whitethroat in Mockmill was our first of the spring. Plenty of Sedge and Cetti`sWarblers, Chiffchaffs, Mipits, Skylarks and Linnets around the site and the Long-tailed Ducks were still on south lake. Passage migrants continue to be thinly represented with hardly any Swallows through so far and not a single House Martin.
Dungeness - 1500hrs - An hour at the fishing boats with PB, MH and SG this afternoon was pretty slow going on the seabird front with a close Little Tern being the highlight. Sandwich Terns were much in evidence while further out a Bonxie and a few Gannets moved up-Channel. There continues to be good numbers of Porpoises feeding offshore.
  Elsewhere today a Serin paid a brief visit to the point and a Hobby was seen over Dengemarsh.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Skuas and ducks

Dungeness - cool, dry, clear, SSW 3 - 0625 - 0825hrs - An entertaining seawatch from the hide this morning resulted in some quality seabirds in the shape of 25 Bonxies, 10 Manx Shearwaters, two Velvet Scoters, six Eiders, a pair of Garganey and a Black-throated Diver, most of which passed within or just outside the cardinal buoy as they migrated up-Channel, except for the Manxies going west. There was also a decent supporting cast of Gannets, Common Scoters, Sandwich and Common Terns, Fulmars, auks, Red-throated Divers, plus 10 Arctic Skuas, two Little Gulls, 20 Whimbrels, two Teal and a Mediterranean Gull. No doubt many more were noted during the morning. For a fuller picture refer to the DBO Website.
Lade - After breakfast we headed out over the local patch where the highlight was a `reeling` Grasshopper Warbler in Mockmill along with 10 Sedge and two Cetti`s Warbler, a pair of Stonechats, our first Cuckoo and plenty of Linnets. At the risk of sounding like a stuck record the two Long-tailed Ducks remained on south lake. Several parties of Whimbrels were seen and heard passing overhead throughout the day.

                               Shelducks, Lade sands

  An evening visit over the bay to scope the sands was notable for that curious phenomenon of light and tide which occurs every so often where bye the coast of France appears to be much closer and more obvious than usual, as were the ships in the Channel. Birdwise, just the usual Sandwich Terns, waders and gulls including a pair of Shelducks and five Ringed Plovers. 

Monday, 16 April 2018

Harbour Porpoises

Dungeness - 0730hrs - mild, sunny, SW 2 - A hazy start to the day from the seawatch hide where it was much slower than yesterday, but still with a trickle of common seabirds such as Sandwich Tern, Gannet, Common Scoter, Red-throated Diver, Fulmar, Eider, Brents, Arctic and Great Skuas. At the Patch just a couple of Common Terns and 50 immature gulls. Harbour Porpoises have been very much in evidence this past week and this morning at least 20 were performing just offshore.
  On the land a Black Redstart on the power station wall, several Swallows inbound, a handful of Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps in the lighthouse garden.

                                Blackcap, lighthouse garden

                                Dunnock, Lade

Lade - A late morning circuit of the local patch found seven Cetti`s Warblers in song, plus the Long-tailed Ducks and four Goldeneyes still on south lake. Several groups of Swallows moved quickly through and the first Reed Warblers were singing from the main reedbed. Other migrants noted included Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Lesser Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler. Several Marsh Harriers and
Buzzards were soon thermalling over the Desert in warm sunshine.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Common Scoters on the move

Lade - The weekend weather has been dominated by fog rolling in off a cold sea which pretty much put paid to any birding yesterday morning. Walking around the local patch was a weird experience as there were migrants present with a scattering of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs singing from back gardens and a Tree Pipit over calling, a passage migrant I now don't expect to see/hear every spring. Also heard overhead Yellow Wagtail, Brambling, Siskin and several Mediterranean Gulls.
  An afternoon visit yielded our first Lesser Whitethroat of spring in scrub behind the `mirrors`, while the Long-tailed Ducks were still present today.
Dungeness -Thick fog all Saturday morning didn't clear until midday, but an afternoon visit with the family off the boardwalk produced a good number of Porpoises off shore, of which one or two were breaching, plus a few passing Gannets, terns and an Arctic Skua.
 Sunday morning heralded much better visibility with a light south-westerly airflow clearing the mist. An early seawatch was notable for a large movement of Common Scoters which numbered up to 1,000 by the time I left site. Gannets, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, auks, Common and Sandwich Terns were also steadily trickling past the hide, plus our first three Little Terns, along with 10 Little Gulls, 12 Shelducks, three Eiders, a Shoveler, two Black-throated Divers, five Red-throated Divers, 100 Brents, three Arctic Skuas and a Bonxie. Two Swallows went out and a Peregrine made a sortie over the sea from the power station.
  On the land, Wheatear and Black Redstart on the power station wall and a brown Merlin on the beach by the new lighthouse.

Friday, 13 April 2018

An Osprey and an owl!

Dungeness - misty, mild, cloudy, light airs - Went down for an early morning seawatch but the fog persisted, so all that was seen were a few Common and Sandwich Terns, a Red-throated diver and a flock of 10 Whimbrels which were our first of the year. A brief scout around the land revealed a Song Thrush and Chiffchaff in the lighthouse garden and a Fieldfare and Brambling over in the murk.

                                Fen habitat, ideal for Cetti`s Warbler


                               Tree Sparrows near New Diggings


New Diggings/Oppen Pits - Continuing on with the Cetti`s Warbler survey for RSPB we went off-piste this morning tramping across the shingle plotting more singing males of which there was at least eight. This isn't an area I often visit and being under watched it was no surprise that it turned up some good birds, including a number of firsts for the year; not that I`m much of a year lister... Singing Nightingale, Reed Warbler and Common Whitethroat were such, plus a Short-eared Owl quartering the Desert behind the Oppen pits, presumably the bird that had been seen earlier at the Point. Biggest surprise of all though was a `black and white blob` sat on a distant shingle ridge that morphed into a grounded Osprey that quickly soared up over Long Pits and out in the murk, making it my first spring bird for some time. Also noted in the general area, four Snipe, Tree Sparrow, Sedge Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Swallow, Marsh Harrier, Sparrowhawk and four `boxing` Brown Hares.
  After a breather in the VC the walk back down the track to Boulderwall delivered half a dozen flyover Mediterranean Gulls, a Great White Egret on one of the small Christmas Dell pools and a Cuckoo by the bee hives.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Treecreeper

Lade - cool, misty, NE 2, sunny later - It was quite nippy first thing with the mist rolling in off the sea, but warmed up around midday as the sun took charge. Incredibly the two Long-tailed Ducks were still on south lake along with three Goldeneye, 20 Shoveler and 10 Teal. Summer visitors were represented by singing Sedge and Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Blackcap.



Dungeness - Had brief views of a very elusive treecreeper in the lighthouse garden found by MH this morning, but being as its Dungeness and the time of year further investigation this afternoon revealed it to be almost certainly of the Short-toed variety based on call and some excellent photographs. For further details later on refer to the DBO website and www.ploddingbirder.blogspot.co.uk
  Having not seen a Great White Egret for a while one was at the south end of ARC and another on Cook`s Pool, plus a Wheatear by the bee hives from the access road. A guided walk around the circular route delivered a decent return on summer migrants for the guests including Sedge and Willow Warblers, Chiffchaff, Swallows, Yellow Wagtail and our first Cuckoo of spring near Hooker`s. Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Raven and Slavonian Grebe were seen at Dengemarsh, an Avocet on Burrowes, plus plenty of Linnets and Reed Buntings, a Dabchick, two Goldeneyes, three Snipe, Egyptian Goose, Redshank, Lapwing, Shelduck, Green Woodpecker and Cetti`s Warbler.
  Also of note today was the relocation of what was presumably the Brookland Hoopoe at Burmarsh and two Hawfinches in Littlestone (OL).

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

St Omer

What has become our annual spring visit to St Omer took place in beautiful warm spring sunshine and light airs. En-route to and from the coast Black Redstart, Swallow, Grey Partridge and several Hares noted. After dropping off the ladies in town we headed for the woods.
Clairmarais Forest-Virtually the first bird we saw on arrival was a cracking Middle Spotted Woodpecker flying around our heads, shuffling up a mature oak tree and calling loudly. A superb start and through the morning two others were heard across the forest. The bare canopy was alive with the song of Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler, tits and finches. We also noted plenty of Jays, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Short-toed Treecreepers, Nuthatches, plus several Bullfinches and my first Tree Pipit and Cuckoo of the year. Common woodland butterflies were on the wing with Brimstone the most numerous. A scan across an adjoining valley delivered soaring Marsh Harriers, Buzzards and Sparrowhawk.


                                The closest we came to a Black Woodpecker!

                                Little Egret and Cormorant colony

Romelaere - The afternoon was spent on the wetland with a circuit of the boardwalk. Sedge and Cetti`s Warbler were in good voice along with the former trio seen in the woods. From the hide there was much activity around the Little Egret and Cormorant colony and we were surprised at how advanced the latter were with well grown chicks in several nests. A huge Black-headed Gull colony contained at least six Mediterranean Gulls and a White Stork flew across the valley. Also noted, two Black-necked Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, White Wagtail, Wigeon, Shoveler and Shelduck, two Musk Rats and our first Grass Snake of the year swimming across a lake.
  Back in town we had brief vies of Serin and Grey Wagtail. A great day out, as always, in the Pas-de-Calais and many thanks to Chris for driving.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Ring Ouzel

Dungeness - cold, misty, ne 2 - With the Dungeness foghorn booming away in the murk we went for a wander around the Trapping Area and Long Pits first thing. Bird of the morning was our first Ring Ouzel of spring that flew from the Desert floor, clacked a couple of times and disappeared into the willows. A few Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps were in song, while Great Spotted Woodpecker, 10 Redwings, Fieldfare and Brambling also of note. A Hawfinch was found at the top end of Long Pits (OL) but had gone to ground by the time we arrived.
Lade - No real change from the weekend here with the long-staying Long-tailed Ducks, three Goldeneyes, Teal, Pochard and Shoveler still on site.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Weekend Summary

Lade - mild, overcast, showers, light airs - A wet start to both days with drizzle didn't bode well but there was plenty to see on the local patch. An influx of singing warblers on both mornings included one or two Willow Warblers and Blackcaps, a scattering of Chiffchaffs and Sedge Warblers along with the resident Cetti`s Warblers. There was a noticeable increase in Linnet numbers across the dry scrub where Wheatear, Stonechat and Meadow Pipit present.
  On the lakes several Swallows through in the afternoon, plus Goldeneye and Long-tailed Ducks still present. Around the willow swamp at least two Firecrests noted and one in the Plovers back garden.



Dengemarsh - An afternoon circuit of the marsh in warm sunshine was pleasant enough but delivered few migrants of any note, apart from a couple of singing Sedge Warblers, Chiffchaffs and a fly through Swallow. I paid particular attention to the flooded fields for pipits, of which there was no sign. However, around ten Lapwings and six Redshanks were displaying over the wetlands, plus a scattering of Teal, Oystercatcher, Shelduck and Little Egret. Also noted, two Marsh Harriers, a Sparrowhawk, Raven, Egyptian Goose, Corn Bunting, Stonechat and a booming Bittern.
  Elsewhere today the Midley Hoopoe was seen at various points around Brookland village, while down at Rye Harbour a pair of Black-winged Stilts dropped in this afternoon.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Herons and a Hoopoe!

Dungeness - 0640-0840hrs - cold, sunny, SE 3 - Joined a packed seawatch hide first thing for a decent passage of mainly wildfowl. Common Scoters streamed by throughout the watch along with small flocks of Shoveler, Teal, Shelduck, two Gadwall, a Merganser and one flock of Brent Geese. Auks (one flock of nine Razorbill), Red-throated Diver, Gannet, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Little Gull and Sandwich Tern trickled through in variable numbers along with several pulses of Common Terns and Black-headed Gulls. A brown Merlin came in and a black Crow went out to complete an entertaining start to the day.
Lade - After breakfast a check of the local patch revealed the two Long-tailed Ducks behaving erratically, chasing one another around and flying out over the wall mirror and back onto the water, Perhaps they were getting ready to go...
  A late afternoon wander across the Desert delivered Wheatear, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit and Skylark, plus a Yellow Wagtail hurrying north.


                                Prime Hoopoe habitat!

Midley - I wasn't expecting yesterdays Hoopoe to have stayed around the drying barns, but on the drive out was flagged down by an unknown birder (thanks whoever you were!) who`d just relocated said exotic on a farm track opposite the model flying club. Over the next hour we were treated to superb views of this classic overshooting migrant from the south as it probed away at the soggy turf pulling out invertebrates like a good `un. Even though it was a couple of hundreds yards down the track, through the scope and with the sun on our backs, it put on a fine performance, even raising its crest a couple of times!
  I`ve been lucky enough to have seen plenty of Hoopoes down the years, at home and mostly abroad, but it is such an iconic bird that you never forget your first one - and mine was on Cup Final day 1972! It was just before I joined the Navy and my best mate Kevin Downer called round (we didn't have a phone at home `til 75) to say he`d had a call from our pal Graham Clarke (aka Mutley) telling of a Hoopoe at Hilfield Park Reservoir, Watford.
  So, off we went, on the 321 Greenline from Maple Cross arriving at the Dome roundabout an hour later. A quick yomp down the A41 brought us to the Colne Valley Water Company reservoir boundary, complete with a ten foot high fence topped with three strands of barbed wire, and Mutley contemplating the climb...
  Anyhow, I wedged my old brass draw-tube Barr and Stroud through the chain link fence and spotted Tim Lawrence (a renowned London birder of the time) laying prone on the ground inside the site watching the Hoopoe probing the turf 20 yards away. So, over we went, or rather Kevin and I did, as Mutley got impaled on the barbed wire and proceeded to howl like a monkey! We thought this was hilarious (we were only 16 years old, don't forget) and were both doubled up with laughter as Mutley eventually extracted himself from the wire leaving half of his parka flapping atop the fence.
  We then joined Tim and enjoyed cracking close views of the exotic. None of us had cameras, but we all scribbled and sketch away in our note books, as was the order of the day back then. We left the site via a hole in the fence that Tim had found, much to Mutley`s disgust!
  And we made it back home for the match - Leeds 1 Arsenal 0 - Sniffer Clarke getting the winner and Mick Jones dislocating his shoulder near the end. Happy days indeed.
The Grange, Lydd - Paid my second visit of the season to count the heronry in the grounds of the Grange. After chatting to the owners a tour of the site confirmed my suspicions that the number of nests was much lower this year, although by how many I cannot exactly tell until next months Heron Watch from the church tower. This will enable me to look down into the dense crowns of the holm oaks which support the majority of nests.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Cetti`s Warbler

ARC/Tower Pits - mild, sunny, NW 2 - Spent the morning surveying singing Cetti`s Warblers on the bird reserve in bright spring sunshine. Despite its obvious, explosive song this bird is not as easy to survey accurately as it might appear. The males defend large territories, which can attract several females, and they nip around pretty rapid between bursts of song. However, the cold snap of last month doesn't seem to have reduced their numbers noticeably as there were plenty of males in song around the two pits, particularly on Tower pits.

                               Cetti`s Warbler (by David Featherbe)

  Chiffchaff, Sedge and Willow Warblers were also in song and a Yellow Wagtail over the Desert was my first of the spring. As the morning warmed up a small `kettle` of Marsh Harriers and Buzzards soared over by the airport along with a cracking Red Kite. Also noted during the survey, Little Egret, two Shelduck, 12 Teal, four Goldeneye, Kestrel, Snipe, Green Woodpecker, Long-tailed Tit and Stonechat.
Lade  - On the local patch this afternoon the two Long-tailed Ducks put in an appearance, while the first Swallows of spring were over the willow swamp.
  Other news this afternoon concerned the discovery of a Hoopoe at the Midley drying barns by T&B H.
 

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Bramblings

Dungeness - mild, sunny, SE 5 - A brisk wind off the sea made for difficult birding on the land. However, a walk along the beach opposite Jarman`s delivered two hunkered Wheatears, singing Meadow Pipit and Skylark and increase in twittering Linnets. Two Bramblings flew over calling, a bird that has shown a return to form this spring with others noted across the peninsula of late and on bird feeders here and on the bird reserve.
  On the sea a steady passage of wildfowl and Brents was underway, plus Common Terns at the Patch and good numbers of Common Gull and Black-headed Gulls through. The beach fox showed well in front of the Patch hide.


                                Brents and beach Fox

Lade  - The strong wind made viewing difficult on the lakes. I could find no sign of the Long-tailed Ducks, although they could easily be lurking somewhere hereabouts, while several Goldeneye, Teal and 50 Shoveler were still present.
Ray Wilkins - Sad news broke this afternoon with the death of Ray `Butch` Wilkins. He played for QPR in the early 90`s and was a great favourite with the fans despite spending most of his playing career with the `blue lot` down the road. He had another go with the Hoops as player manager mid decade and in his first season delivered a top ten finish for the club; although things went pear- shaped the following season after flogging Sir Les Ferdinand.
  I had the good fortune to meet Butch a couple of times and found him an easy going fella and passionate about the beautiful game. 

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Dungeness - mild, cloudy, SE2 - Down at the Patch the only noteworthy event was a movement of around 200 Common and Black-headed Gulls eastwards along the shoreline. Two Mediterranean Gulls flew through, as did the local pair of Ravens.
  From a packed seawatch hide a steady up-Channel passage of Brent Geese and Common Scoter was underway, plus several dark phase Arctic Skuas, Red-throated Divers and distant Gannets.
Lade  - At least four Black-necked Grebes still present, plus two Long-tailed Duck and singing Chiffchaff, Cetti`s Warbler and Blackcap in the willow swamp. In the Plovers back garden this after Chiffchaff and Firecrest.
ARC - This afternoon two more Black-necked Grebes on the lake along with two each of Shelduck and Goldeneye, plus Chiffchaff from the willow trail. Around midday an Osprey flew over Dengemarsh (PB).

Monday, 2 April 2018

Brent Geese

Dungeness - mild, cloudy, SE3 - Started off at the Patch this morning where gull numbers on the beach were low, but did include a couple of Kittiwakes and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Nearby, the local Peregrine sent the Herring Gulls on the power station complex into a frenzy.
  The main interest though was on the sea and during an hour from the Patch hide hundreds of Common Scoters and Brent Geese moved up-Channel with several of the goose flocks almost flying along the beach due to the prevailing south-easterly. Two Red-breasted Mergansers also noted.

                                Coasting Brent Geese

                               Kittiwake and Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lade  - This afternoon there was no change to the variety of wildfowl on the lakes from yesterday, and for a change the two Long-tailed Ducks spent more time on the surface than submerged. I could only find three Black-necked Grebes and despite the rain a couple of Chiffchaffs were in song in the Willow Swamp.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Grebe Haven

Lade - 0700hrs - cool, cloudy, N 2 - And so we move into April, easily my favourite birding month of the year on the Dungeness NNR, when every day seems to bring something new from the south and expectation levels peak towards the end of the month. In contrast to the autumn migration when LBJs skulk silently from dense cover, spring is all about migrants in their breeding finery with some even singing en-route from bare vegetation and easy to locate. 
  Although the weather was chilly first thing (a light northerly airflow) at least it was dry which made a big difference, and this morning was a prime example of what April has to offer hereabouts. A Black Redstart sat on our neighbours roof was a good start, followed by a Firecrest calling from fir trees in front of the cottage.

                                First spring Wheatear at Lade

  Across the shingle, towards the Desert, saw another Black Redstart perched on a post along the old railway track, plus a spanking male Wheatear, our first of the year here. A couple of Skylarks ascended skywards in song over the Desert as a few Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails flew through. Further along the track towards the lakes, Linnet, Reed Bunting, Great Tit, Greenfinch, Wren, Dunnock and Chaffinch all sang from atop the gorse scrub. In and around the Willow Swamp several Chiffchaffs noted and a brief burst of song by the swing bridge confirmed our first Willow Warbler of the season. Green Woodpecker, Cetti`s Warbler, Long-tailed Tit and Water Rail also noted here.
  As for wildfowl and grebes, an unprecedented six Black-necked Grebes were eventually located across all waters, along with 18 Great Crested and 12 Little Grebes, making Lade pits surely one of the best sites locally for this family. Six Goldeneyes remained from yesterday and the two Long-tailed Ducks made it into April; other wildfowl included 50 Shoveler, 20 Gadwall, four Teal and a pair of Shelduck.


                                Three of the migrant Black-necked Grebes

Park Wood, Appledore - A late morning walk in the woods delivered all the expected woodland species including Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Long-tailed and Coal Tits, Jay, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, several Chiffchaffs and a single singing Willow Warbler. With the sun breaking cover it actual felt like spring, particularly as the woodland floor was covered with blooms of primrose, anemone, violet and celandine.


                               Early spring woodland flowers

Dungeness - This afternoon we went to the Point in search of a Glaucous Gull reported earlier, but the sun had brought forth hundreds of tourists onto the beach, so there wasn't a gull in sight. However, at the old lighthouse garden I spent a most pleasant hour nattering to Paul, Jill and Colin, in between putting the world to rights (an impossible job!), and watching a couple of Firecrests and Chiffchaffs feeding on the lawn.
  Last port of call was the bay where the following were counted on the ebb tide from Lade boardwalk and the Varne: 680 Oystercatcher, 440 Curlew, 55 Bar-tailed Godwit, 12 Grey Plover, several hundred Dunlin and Sanderling (too much disturbance for an accurate count), 25 Sandwich Terns and a Shelduck.

                                Firecrest on the lighthouse lawn

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Corn Buntings

Romney Salts - cold, cloudy, showers, W3 - Not the best of days to wander around a farmland tract, but I just felt like a change of scene. However, in between the showers two Corn Buntings were up and jangling merrily away alongside singing Skylark, Meadow Pipit and Reed Bunting. A male Wheatear perched briefly atop a dung heap that attracted 10 Pied Wagtails, several Linnets and a Kestrel. A wander around a stubble field produced a pair of Red-legged Partridge, something of a scarcity down here these days and the first for the year. Also noted Lapwing, Golden Plover, Stock Dove, Buzzard and Mistle Thrush, plus singing Blackcap and Chiffchaff in the woodland at the end of Dunes Road.
Lade - The two wintering Long-tailed Ducks were sat on the far bank when I arrived on site, although an hour later they were out fishing on south lake. An increase in Goldeneyes to 12 and Black-necked Grebe to three was of note and at least 50 Shoveler were still present. In and around the willow swamp a singing Blackcap, Cetti`s Warbler and several Chiffchaffs hinted at the coming spring, as did several highly vocal Water Rails.

Friday, 30 March 2018

First Arctic Skuas

Dungeness - 0645-0845hrs - cold, cloudy, SE2 - With the wind from a favourable direction a couple of hours in the seawatch hide seemed a good prospect this morning, and so it proved to be with a steady up-Channel passage of mainly wildfowl including singles of drake Velvet Scoter and Eider, plus my first two Arctic Skuas of spring. Approximate numbers as follows: 30 Red-throated Diver, 5 Fulmar, 150 Brent Geese, 200 Common Scoter, 100 Gannet, 30 auks, 18 Teal, 12 Shoveler, 10 Kittiwake, 100 Sandwich Tern, 5 Med Gull and an Oystercatcher. Also on the sea the usual Cormorants and Great Crested Grebes, plus two Harbour Porpoises. Later in the morning the first Common Terns of spring were logged past the point, plus a passage of Little Gulls (CP).
Lade - 1000hrs - After breakie we headed out around the local patch where the usual wildfowl were still present, including two Long-tailed Ducks, five Goldeneye and a Black-necked Grebe. Fifty Sandwich Terns were roosting on the foreshore waiting for the tide to ebb, and as we headed for home, and with the rain setting in, our first two Common Terns of spring flew across the bay calling loudly. The rest of the day was a right off due to persistent rain.

Rye waders

Rye Harbour NR - 0830hrs - cold, sunny, sw 3 - Spent Thursday morning at Rye with CP checking out the Beach Reserve and sifting through the hundreds of waders on the high tide roost. Good numbers of Avocet, Redshank and Ringed Plover were the highlight, plus a supporting cast of Oystercatcher, Curlew, Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, seven Knot, four Grey and 200 Golden Plovers on Harbour Farm.  On the wildfowl front plenty of Sheldduck and Shoveler were present alongside a few Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon, Tufted Duck a pair of Pintail and two laggard Brent Geese.


                                Mediterranean and Black-headed Gulls

                                Redshanks from John Gooder`s hide

                               Sandwich Terns, Ternery Pool

  On Ternery Pool around 150 Sandwich Terns and 120 Mediterranean Gulls were making their presence known amongst 500 or so Black-headed Gulls, some of which were already on nests. The cacophony of noise from all three species was a joy to behold and so typical of early spring on this famous old nature reserve.
  Also noted around the site Dabchick, Skylark, Meadow Pipit and Linnet. As we got back home on the Marsh the first spots of rain arrived heralding a wet afternoon.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

First Sand Martins

Lade - cold, overcast, showery, NW 2 - A grim morning to be out in the field with light rain throughout. On south lake the two immature Long-tailed Ducks continued their stay and a Black-necked Grebe was present. Several Chiffchaffs sang from the willow swamp and a Black Redstart flitted amongst the caravans by the aerial mound.
Dungeness - A Slavonian Grebe could be seen from the causeway road on New Diggings, while at least one White Wagtail was amongst the Pieds on the margins of Cook`s Pool. The Boulderwall fields attracted a host of Curlew, Oystercatcher, Lapwing and Golden Plover to probe the saturated ground for invertebrates. At the VC feeders at least four Bramblings put on a marvellous show, despite the drizzle, alongside a number of Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Reed Bunting, Tree Sparrow, Blue and Great Tits, a Moorhen and a Great Spotted Woodpecker.




                               Bramblings and Chaffinches under the VC feeders

Against my better judgement I did the circular walk which started off dry but soon deteriorated by the time I reached Dengemarsh. However, on Burrowes the highlights were several Ringed Plovers, three Goldeneyes and a pair of Marsh Harriers briefly soaring over the Oppen pits, plus singing Chiffchaffs and a Firecrest by Christmas Dell and displaying Lapwings on Hayfield 1/2. From Dengemarsh hide a Bittern uttered a single series of `booms` from Hooker`s reebed and our first four Sand Martins of spring briefly appeared over the lake. The small pit by the bend attracted the trio of wintering Smew.
  Sitting in Makepeace the Sandwich Tern tape lure was playing in an attempt to attract terns to the fenced off cluster of islands in front of the hide. Yet again no egrets were seen during the circuit.

                                Pair of Egyptian Geese, Christmas Dell

Monday, 26 March 2018

Dolphins

Dungeness - 0830hrs - mild, dry, sunny, light airs - Strolling down to the seawatch hide on a warm spring morning I could not have guessed what awaited me. Approaching the hide I noticed a flat calm sea with nothing much happening bird wise, although the regulars were intently `scoping an area off to the south-west where a couple of dolphins were swimming around. Over the next hour we watched as they moved steadily eastwards as the Range Boat approached, and at one stage were briefly joined by a much smaller Harbour Porpoise. They appeared to be fishing, judging from the nearby plunge-diving Gannets, and would submerge for several minutes followed by a bout of action on the surface, during which time they twice leaped almost clear of the water.
  The dolphins were obviously large, heavy looking cetaceans with an erect dorsal fin, greyish above and pale below, and at least once I caught sight of a yellowish streak which left me confused as to their specific identity. They were also quite a way offshore which didn't help, but were probably either Common or Bottlenose Dolphins, both of which would`ve been new for me off Dungeness, although "dolphins" are often reported in the Channel by fishermen.
  During the watch Gannet, Sandwich Tern, Red-throated Diver, auks, Great Crested Grebe and Common Scoter were all noted in variable numbers, plus four Mergansers, two Teal and a Fulmar.
  Another hour this afternoon at the boats delivered similar fare feeding offshore, but no real  movement.
Lade - Not much change from the weekend on the lakes with the wintering ducks and grebes. On the bay a flock of 15 Ringed Plovers was noteworthy.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

`Booming` Bittern

Lade - mild, dry, light airs - A quiet weekend on the birding front with pretty much the same birds on station as last week, including the two Long-tailed Ducks which were particularly showy yesterday. However, in the stillness this evening my first Bittern of spring could be heard `booming` from across the Desert, somewhere over by the bird reserve, probably in Tower Pits.
  A notable feature of this early part of spring has been the arrival of large numbers of Sandwich Terns on the bay. At low tide they sit on the sands, moving onto the shingle beach at high tide. This weekend there`s been a flock of around 70, but numbers topped out at twice that in the week. If the islands on Kerton Road pit were clear of scrub I feel sure there`d be a good chance of them nesting, as it is so close to the sea and almost mirrors their breeding site at Rye Harbour.

                               Two immature Long-tailed Ducks remained on south lake

                                Sandwich Terns on the beach from Lade boardwalk

Dungeness - Yesterday we had a scoot around the point and the bird reserve where it was pretty much the same fare as Friday. The White Wagtails were still on Boulderwall fields and there was a steady flow of twitchers paying homage to the Bluethroat in the gully. Other reported migrants included a Red Kite over Lydd and the first Sand Martins of spring on Burrowes.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Weekly Summary

Lade - cold, sunshine and showers, SW 4 - A mixed day weather wise with warm sunshine around noon sandwiched between cloud and drizzle. Firecrests were prominent today with two in the Plovers garden, another in the willow swamp and three in a Littlestone garden. Black-necked Grebe, Long-tailed Duck and six Goldeneyes continue to be faithful to south lake.
Dungeness - An afternoon visit to the bird reserve yielded the wintering trio of Smew on Tanner`s Pool, two White Wagtails on Cook`s Pool, (thanks to MH for the tip-off), juvenile Glaucous Gull on Burrowes and another Firecrest at the pines by Tower Pits.




Weekly Summary
Its been a case of typical early spring fare across the Dungeness peninsula this week as spring begins to give winter a nudge. Firecrests have been showing well in good numbers, particularly in the old lighthouse garden and Dengemarsh gully, while Black Redstarts, Meadow Pipits, Linnets, Reed Buntings, Chiffchaffs and Wheatears have begun to trickle through. In contrast wintering Dartford Warblers can still be found in the Kerton Road triangle and at Lade.
  On the sea parties of Brent Geese are still on the move up-Channel, although its been a largely disappointing week for other species of wildfowl and waders. Auks, Gannets, Common Scoters and Red-throated Divers are still coming and going, along with east bound Sandwich Terns and Little Gulls plus an incoming Osprey. A juvenile Glaucous Gull is still being seen at the Patch, or on Burrowes, while Mediterranean Gull sightings are steadily increasing.
  Lade sands has been the place for waders with 11 species recorded this week including several pulses of 100 plus Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit amongst many hundreds of Sanderling and Dunlin, plus a brief Little Ringed Plover on Lade south. Sandwich Tern numbers reached 130 at low tide on the sands mid-week.



  And so to the bird of the week, initially two and now one male White-spotted Bluethroat continues to show well, off and on, in Dengemarsh Gully as of Friday afternoon. RSPB have asked visiting birders to view the bird from the road side of the gully and not drop down and walk along the sewer margin as several inconsiderate bird photographers have been seen to do this week. The bird is easy to see from the trackside bank or from the sluice, all that is required is a little patience. Sermon over. Good birding to one and all.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Little Ringed Plover

Lade - 0630hrs - cold, sunny, nw 2 - At last the wind relented and the sun broke through making for a terrific early morning session on the local patch. Walking down Taylor Road we followed a pair of Black Redstarts until the cattery where they spent some time snapping up insects in the bungalow garden and posing for the camera. Three others were noted around the site in back gardens and in the caravan park.
  Scanning south lake from the interpretive signs the distinctive flight call of Little Ringed Plover was heard as one swooped down over the lake, briefly touching down on the shingle and then flying off towards the bird reserve. It was the first of spring.
  Out on the water six Goldeneyes, a Black-necked Grebe and two Long-tailed Ducks were the highlights; surely the Long-tails can`t stay for much longer... Two more Goldeneyes were on north lake along with 50 Pochard and 30 Shovelers.


                                Cattery Black Redstart

                               
Dartford Warbler and Dunnock from the footpath

However, in the calm conditions passerines were in the ascendancy singing from every available perch: Great and Blue Tits, Robin, Wren, Blackbird, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Cetti`s and Dartford Warblers, Reed Bunting and Greenfinch. Elsewhere across the site, Green Woodpecker, Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Buzzard , Curlew, Redshank and Mediterranean Gull all noted.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Ringed Plovers

Dungeness - cold, sunny, N 5 - Another bitter cold day throughout, although the sun broke through during the afternoon making it feel a little more spring-like. A wander around the Kerton Road triangle and down to the pits delivered a Sparrowhawk that flushed a Dartford Warbler from cover, plus Stonechat, Meadow Pipit and Skylark.
  By the lifeboat station at least two Wheatears popped up briefly on old winches before hunkering down out of the wind amongst the broom, while a Black Redstart was foraging in the garden of one of the cottages opposite. Down at the Patch the regular Glaucous Gull was present amongst the gulls on the beach and a Little Gull over the boil.
Scotney - To and from Rye a pit stop along the road produced a flock of 21 Ringed Plovers on the flooded field and the usual Barnacle Geese by the double bend. At East Guldeford two Ruff were within a large mixed flock of Golden Plovers and Lapwings.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Bluethroat gully

Lade - cold, cloudy, snow flurries, NE 6 - Another nippy day with a rasping easterly wind off the sea forcing the ducks on south lake to seek shelter behind islands and around the willow swamp. The Goldeneyes were still present, as was a single Black-necked Grebe. I couldn't find the Long-tailed Ducks, but they were probably lurking in the far reed bed somewhere.

Dengemarsh Gully

                               


                                Immature male White-spotted Bluethroat

Dengemarsh Gully - A visit to the gully late morning delivered further views of the Bluethroats. The adult male was more retiring feeding along the sewer margin and pulling worms before hopping back into cover. In contrast the immature bird was more obliging performing out in the open at the end of the gully by the concrete blocks, where at one stage a male Wheatear flew in and flushed it.
  Plenty of Firecrests, and at least one Goldcrest, were active in the gorse scrub.