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.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Bluethroats and Harriers!

Spent a snowy weekend in Dunstable during which time we checked out Willen Lake in Milton Keynes for a forthcoming article. Much has changed since my last visit about fifteen years ago and it now has established patches of woodland and trees bordering north lake. There is also a viewing hide in place overlooking the island. All the usual winter wildfowl were present including Goldeneye and Goosander. Red Kites and Common Buzzards were noted just about everywhere we went this weekend, particularly along the downs at Dunstable.
Lade - Arrived home early afternoon to a cold easterly wind and snow flurries just in time to do the monthly WeBS count where two Long-tailed Ducks and Black-necked Grebe were the highlights.
Dengemarsh Gully - En-route to Walland, together with CP, we called in at the gully where a male White-spotted Bluethroat had been located earlier in the day. With a biting east wind blowing across the gully the bird was sensibly feeding deep within the sewer along the muddy margins and showed quite well despite the gloomy weather conditions. Whilst watching it from the sluice, pottering about feeding amongst sprouting rushes, we were surprised to see another male Bluethroat fly out from the bank and attack it, after which it then disappeared into the gorse near a couple of Firecrests! Bluethroats are rare enough here in the spring and in my time there have only been two previous records, so to see two together is quite unusual.

                               White-spotted Bluethroat, Dengemarsh Gully

Walland Marsh - We then moved onto the Marsh to carry out the final harrier count of the winter at our usual spot. Eventually, 19 Marsh Harriers came to roost at three different locations in the reed bed, all of which were females; two males did fly over the site but roosted elsewhere. Also noted hereabouts, three Buzzards, several Snipes and Reed Buntings, 20 Fieldfares, a Sparrowhawk and 25 Corn Buntings to roost.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Eiders and Black-necked Grebe

Dungeness - mild, cloudy, SE 2 - 0915-1015hrs - An hour long seawatch from the hide proved most productive with a trickle of Red-throated Divers, Common Scoters, Sandwich Terns and Gannets up-Channel, plus a flock of 75 Brents, 12 Shelducks and 18 Eiders (15 + 3) many of which were drakes in full breeding plumage. There was plenty of action on the land too with up to 10 Firecrests around the point, mainly in the old lighthouse garden, along with several Chiffchaffs, Blackbirds, Robins, and two Black Redstarts and a Reed Bunting near the old experimental building. A male Peregrine was perched atop a pylon by A station.
  This afternoon the first Wheatear of spring was on the beach opposite Jarman`s (JTM).

                                Up-Channel Brents

Firecrests continue to show well

Lade - A Black-necked Grebe on south lake was new in alongside the two wintering Long-tailed Ducks, four Goldeneyes and two Dartford Warblers in the scrub. By the caravan park a Black Redstart was the first of the spring on the local patch. Also noted, Marsh Harrier, Chiffchaff, Green Woodpecker, Reed Bunting and Stonechat.

                                Black-necked Grebe, Lade

  On the outgoing tide from the Tavern viewpoint a decent variety of beach waders on show included 150 Knots and 20 Grey Plovers, while a flock of 100 Sandwich Terns sat noisily on the sands as individuals delivered sprats to their mates in a show of pair bonding.

       Sandwich Terns, Lade sands

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Brents and `boxing` hares

Dungeness - mild, sunny, SE 4 - A brisk south-easterly made for a bracing walk along the beach opposite Jarman`s where the only difference to yesterday was a Black Redstart at the fishing boats.
0845-0930hrs - A seawatch from the hide produced an up-Channel passage of 300 Brent, 30 Red-throated Diver, 50 Common Scoter, 10 auks, 20 Gannet, 7 Shoveler, 4 Pintail, 4 Curlew, Shelduck and Fulmar. Several Med Gulls also noted coming and going, while Firecrests continued to show in the old lighthouse garden.

                                Brents on the move, Dungeness

A guided walk around the RSPB circular trail delivered the expected wildfowl and gulls plus Marsh Harrier, Great White Egret, Green Woodpecker, Reed Bunting, Linnet, Peregrine, Raven, Snipe, Ringed Plover, Chiffchaff and cracking views of a Firecrest in the willows by New Excavations. Best of all though was watching a pair of `boxing` Brown Hares by Burrowes.
More Black Redstarts and Firecrests were reported from across the Dungeness peninsula today.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Showy Firecrests

Lade - mild, cloudy, light airs - A spring-like feel to proceedings today heralded a superb mornings birding commencing on the local patch with a fall of Chiffchaffs with at least 10 around the willow swamp including two in song. Reed Bunting, Cetti`s Warbler, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Blackbird, Dunnock and Great Tit were also in fine voice. On south lake the Long-tailed Ducks and Goldeneyes were still present.
  Moving onto the bay from the Tavern viewpoint where eight species of beach waders noted including 120 Knot, 40 Bar-tailed Godwit and 20 Grey Plover. Sandwich Tern numbers had increased to 150 alongside 50 Common Gulls roosting on the sands.

                                Firecrests in the old lighthouse garden

Dungeness - Moving onto the Estate where we walked the beach in search of an early Wheatear without success. Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Stock Dove, Skylark and Stonechat were ample compensation though. In the old lighthouse garden up to five Firecrests performed to order, constantly calling, flitting through the shrubs and coming down to forage in the open on the lawn.
Superb views of the stripy sprite that surely must feature in every birders top ten list of favourite British birds.

                                Common Gull from Firth hide
  A brief look at the sea delivered a trickle of passing Gannets, Red-throated Divers, auks and Common Scoters, plus a flyby from one of the wintering Glaucous Gulls.
  Moving onto the bird reserve where there was plenty on offer on the pools and fields at Boulderwall, including three Smew, Great White Egret, Marsh Harrier, Curlew, Wigeon, Lapwing, Snipe and Golden Plover. On Burrowes the usual wildfowl, Cormorants and gulls, plus five Chiffchaffs in the willows outside Firth hide.
  A brief stop in the Kerton Road triangle yielded two Stonechats and a Dartford Warbler.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Firecrest arrival

Dungeness - mild, wet and overcast, SE 3 - Firecrests are a typical March migrant and today there appeared to have been a drop in across the peninsula. Despite the foul weather this morning, overnight it was clear and the south-easterly airflow obviously done the trick. At least three were noted in and around the old lighthouse bushes with another two in a private garden on the Estate. We had one in the garden at Plovers and another at Lade pits, while others were seen on the bird reserve.
  A seawatch from the concrete road delivered a steady up-Channel passage of Brent Geese, Red-throated Divers and Common Scoters, two Sandwich Terns, 20 Wigeon and five Teal. Plenty of auks and Great Crested Grebes were on the sea and a juvenile Glaucous Gull flew west. Earlier, the first Arctic Skua of spring moved east and an Iceland Gull was at the Patch (OL).

Sunday, 11 March 2018

First Sandwich Terns

Lade - mild and wet, sunny later, S then E 3 - These past few days have been something of a cross-over period between winter and spring with two Long-tailed Ducks moving between south lake and the Kerton Road pit, where a Black-necked Grebe was present this afternoon. Four Goldeneyes were still on site, although duck numbers generally have declined as expected at this time of year. Little and Great Crested Grebes seem to have moved into breeding mode with much trilling and head-shaking respectively, while Reed Buntings and Cetti`s Warblers were in fine voice staking out territories.

                                Long-tailed Ducks, Lade south

                                Coltsfoot in bloom

Elsewhere around the peninsula this weekend wintering birds clung on with the two juvenile Glaucous Gulls commuting between the Patch and Burrowes, three Smews favouring Tanner`s Pool on Boulderwall fields and a Slavonian Grebe from Christmas Dell hide. Dartford Warblers continue to be present on shingle scrub across Dungeness.

                               Sand dune damage from last weeks easterly gales

                                First Sandwich Terns of the spring

Hints of spring were in the air today with our first Sandwich Terns of the year on the sands at low tide comprising a flock of 45 raucous birds, plus two Mediterranean Gulls. More were noted past the point this weekend, plus  singing Chiffchaffs on the bird reserve and Black Redstart on the power station. In the Channel good numbers of Brent Geese were on the move eastwards.

Thursday, 8 March 2018


Dengemarsh - mild, sunny, SW 5 - Spent the morning walking the circular route around the marsh from Springfield bridge and back. With all the recent rain the hayfields and flood looked in good nick for the forthcoming breeding season, and indeed there was several pairs of Lapwings displaying despite the brisk wind. Shoveler, Shelduck, Teal and Grey Heron also noted on the flooded fields. On the main lake the expected grebes and wildfowl, while the field opposite the hide had a large mixed flock of Wigeon, Teal, Greylags, Lapwing and Golden Plover, plus several Snipe and at least six Ruff. Also plenty of Reed Buntings and Cetti`s Warblers on territory, plus Tree Sparrow, Marsh Harrier, Great White Egret and Stonechat. The farmland section was predictably quieter with just a few Skylark, Meadow Pipit and a single Corn Bunting of note. From the bridge we had good views of Raven coming and going with food for young. Thunderous explosions emanating from the Army ranges kept the flocks of wildfowl and plovers on the move.

                               Dengemarsh flood

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

White-winged Gulls

Lade - cold, misty, murky, drizzle - A grim morning during which we just completed our circuit of the local patch before the rain set in. The Long-tailed Duck and Goldeneyes were still on south lake and a 1st winter Glaucous Gull and Little Gull flew along the foreshore heading south.

                                Male Ringed Plover

Dungeness - Much drier this afternoon with a brisk wind out of the south-west and sunshine. A wander around the point delivered Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Stock Dove and Pied Wagtail showing signs of breeding, plus a pair each of Stonechat and Ringed Plover. A 1st winter Iceland Gull was amongst the gulls on the beach, while it was good to see a Brown Hare bounding over the shingle. On the sea, hundreds of Cormorant and Great Crested Grebe fishing close to shore, plus a few auks, Gannet, Kittiwake and Red-throated Diver further out.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

March migrants

Dungeness - 0800hrs - mild, cloudy, sw 2 - A stroll down to the Patch delivered yesterdays 1st winter Iceland Gull still hanging around on the beach with hundreds of its commoner congers. Offshore 100 Red-throated Divers moved between the bays.

                               Iceland Gull, a typical spring passage migrant

Lade - Moving onto the local patch where the Herring Gulls along the coastal strip went into meltdown as we approached south lake. Up went the Jackdaws, Crows, Starlings and Feral Pigeons joining the gulls in a great swirling mass and noise of birds. Eventually, I located the cause of their actions, a stratospheric Red Kite that drifted steadily northwards over New Romney.
  On the lake a large gull roost had assembled comprising at least 500 Common Gulls, another typical spring migrant. The Long-tailed Duck put in a brief appearance as did a Dartford Warbler, while Grey Wagtail (rare here), Snipe, Redshank, Cetti`s Warbler, Green Woodpecker and Marsh Harrier were all noted.

                                A few of the hundreds of Common Gulls present

  This afternoon we checked out the Kerton Road quarry where a couple of Skylarks sang from on high in the warm sunshine. Shelduck, Oystercatcher and a pair of Stonechats also noted.

Monday, 5 March 2018

A wader day

Dungeness - cold, overcast, S 2 - 0830hrs - Spent a most enjoyable day guiding for Trevor and Janet. We kicked off with a highly profitable one hour seawatch from the concrete road during which time we rattled up 50 Red-throated Diver, 70 Brent Geese, 20 Guillemot, 15 Common Scoter, 20 Gannet, 20 Kittiwake, Shoveler and a Mediterranean Gull, all east bound. A pair of Skylark also showed particularly well.
Littlestone - As the tide was still out we scanned the foreshore opposite the old lifeboat station where there was extraordinary numbers of gulls and waders running into several thousands. Dunlin, Sanderling and Oystercatcher each numbered over 700, while good numbers of Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits, Curlew, Knot, Grey Plover, Turnstone, Redshank (50) and Ringed Plover made for an impressive supporting cast. All the common species of gulls noted, plus several Mediterranean and one Little Gull from the Varne boat club.
RSPB - We spent the afternoon on the bird reserve where the Boulderwall fields and lagoons were full of birds, mainly Golden Plover, Lapwing, Wigeon and Starling, plus three Smew on Tanners pool, Great White Egret, Stock Dove, Kestrel and the usual Tree Sparrows, tits and finches on the feeders. On Burrowes a 1st winter Glaucous Gull was present on an island in front of the VC, while at Dengemarsh, Marsh Harrier, Snipe, Raven and a large flock of Linnets were logged. We finished the day at ARC with 500 Wigeon on the still partially frozen lake and two singing Reed Buntings.
  A cracking days birding in fine company during which time we noted 70 species of birds. The highlight was the large numbers and variety of waders on Littlestone beach.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

First Med Gulls

Lade - cold, showery, S 2 - Spent the weekend catching up around the local patch following our two day stay in Folkestone. Compared to last week the weather had turned almost tropical with the thermometer steadily climbing into single figures and the blasting east wind relenting. However, despite the snow quickly disappearing ice takes longer to thaw and south lake remained half frozen with a wide strip of brash ice between the clear water and solid ice formed by the gale force wind. Around a thousand gulls were roosting on the ice including our first two Mediterranean Gulls of the spring, plus a small flock of Dunlins. Three Goldeneyes were among the low numbers of ducks and grebes, while there was no sign of the Long-tailed ducks on either lake. At least one of the wintering Dartford Warblers had survived the cold spell, briefly calling and sitting atop the gorse.

                               Brash ice, Lade south

  Today we got out early, although there was no change from Saturday apart from a reduction in the ice cover on south lake to about a quarter. By late morning the rain set in from the south so we headed for home and a late breakfast.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Emma to the rescue

Folkestone - cold, freezing rain, E 4 - We`ve had to spend a couple of days in Folkestone on emergency grand parent duties as our Lucy was snowed in with Showstoppers in Dublin and not due back til Sunday at the earliest. Yesterday afternoon we ventured out along the Warren but the wind was so fierce it was unbirdable (if there is such a word!). However, despite the blasting winds and rough seas about 50 Mediterranean Gulls were loitering on the rocks below Copt Point, plus a couple of grounded Golden Plovers on the field behind the Martello tower.
  Today the roads and paths around Folkestone were treacherous due to the rain instantly freezing and forming sheets of black ice on the frozen ground. Around the Warren small flocks of Fieldfare, Song Thrush and Blackbird looked as though they`d just arrived from the near continent and a couple of Snipe flew over. In the garden at Grove Road, Jay and Great Spotted Woodpecker foraged in the snow.
  Looking at the weather chart warm air pushing up from the south in the form of Storm Emma looks likely to be our saviour with a balmy 9C forecast by Sunday.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Wisps of Snipe

Lade - very cold, overcast, E 6 - Another savage morning of weather. While we`ve missed the heavy snow down here, and look likely too if the forecast is accurate, it is as usual the east wind that has been the overriding factor. I cannot remember feeling so cold, maybe its my age...
  Anyhow, we ventured out for three hours around the patch where the weather is starting to have an effect on the birds. Small wisps of Snipe broke cover from dry scrub and around the lake margins, presumably due to their normal feeding grounds on wet fields being frozen solid. A few Golden Plovers and Lapwings drifted over, while the Curlew flock roosted on the Desert by Mockmill sewer. Blackbirds and Moorhens were also around the margins and took no notice of us as they scratched away at the frozen earth searching for food. There are always winners though and a Kestrel was enjoying what looked like a Dunnock or Robin for breakfast.

                                Barney, oblivious to the "Beast from the East"                               

                                Jackdaws taking cover

                                Lade `mirrors` in the ice

About a quarter of south lake was iced over pushing most of the wildfowl onto north lake which seemed largely unaffected. Quite a few ducks had departed though and I could find no sign of the Long-tailed Ducks or Goldeneyes. Walking along the causeway and around to the swing bridge I noticed that the RSPB work party had done a good job on cutting back the willows and blocking off access points into the willow swamp used by fisherman.