Thursday, 21 June 2018


Wednesday - King`s Wood, Challock - 2000hrs - 2230hrs - Yesterday evening CP and I deserted the Marsh for the trees and a spot of long overdue Nightjar hunting. We found a large clear-felled area of coppiced Sweet Chestnuts with a few standard trees overlooking a valley and settled down to wait- and-see. With the setting sun at our backs we had panoramic views of the distant canopy. A few Swifts and gulls drifted over followed by a smart Hobby and a close Buzzard, plus Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker.

                                Classic Nightjar habitat, King`s Wood, Challock

  The silence was then shattered as we were `discovered` by a dog practicing its rescue abilities. Having `found us`, with a couple of barks it then bounded off to its handlers and carried out the procedure three more times. Eventually the handlers came into the clearing and explained that the dog was being trained to locate humans by smell, for a canine charity that works with the police, mostly on search and rescue locating dementia patients; not that we`d got the dreaded disease, but we certainly must`ve ponged a bit for the dog to find us so quickly! It`s amazing what odd encounters I`ve had over the years whilst out searching for Nightjars, but that`s another story...

                                Tree Pipit, King`s Wood

  Anyhow, once that was over peace and quiet resumed and we were soon watching a pair of Tree Pipits singing and displaying close by, a real treat as they are such scarce birds nowadays. As the sun dipped a chorus of Song Thrushes wafted on the zephyr along with half-hearted laments from Chiffchaff, Robin, Bullfinch and Blackbird.
  Twilight slowly descended, out came the first bats and moths followed by distant hunger calls from Tawny Owlets and a `roding` Woodcock over the canopy. And then at 2140hrs a male Nightjar broke its slumbers and wing-clapped across the glade, flashing white wing patches in defence of its territory. It soon settled down and for the next three quarters of an hour moved between song posts giving superb flight views as well as perching along dead branches with a clear-sky silhouette showing off its `churring` technique. Two more Nightjars sang nearby which probably accounted for the intensity of `our` singing bird.
  A successful foray into the woods then, and as we returned to the car we could still hear distant  Nightjars `churring` into the blackness.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Curlew Sandpiper

Lade - cloudy, cool, SW 3 - The past few days have witnessed dull early mornings with bits of drizzle bringing down a few Swifts and House Martins until eventually the sun burns off the cloud lifting the temperature. I`ve noticed more Common Terns feeding over the lakes of late, presumably from the bird reserve and Sandwich Terns from Rye flying to and fro from the bay with fish, calling raucously. On the Desert shingle ridges last week I located a pair of Ringed Plovers with chicks and miraculously they still had three well-grown juvs this morning. A pair of Oystercatchers also have a family on the scaffold island judging from the racket whenever a crow flies overhead. On the bay a wader count yesterday delivered: 50 Curlews, 120 Oystercatchers, 10 Dunlins, five Ringed Plovers and a Whimbrel.
  In the garden moth trap the first Elephant Hawkmoth of summer was the highlight amongst a paltry 15 species.

Dungeness - At the Patch first thing the 1st summer Common Tern and an adult Mediterranean Gull were the highlights, plus a Fulmar down, but no sign of a Royal Tern...
  After doing moths on the bird reserve a check of Burrowes revealed a Curlew Sandpiper in non-breeding plumage from Makepeace hide, plus family parties of Oystercatchers, Ringed Plovers and Egyptian Geese. The long staying 1st summer Little Gull was in front of Firth hide and a Common Tern chick was noted on one of the islands from Dennis`s hide.

                                Coot, Curlew Sandpiper and Little Gull, Burrowes

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Marbled Whites

Saturday - Dungeness -  warm, dry, sunny,  SW4 - A visit to the Patch hide yielded the usual Common Terns and gulls, including an adult Mediterranean Gull over the boil and on the beach. Offshore in the brisk wind a few Gannets and Sandwich Terns drifted by, plus two flocks of Common Scoters totalling 60 birds.
  On the bird reserve, Burrowe`s resembled a wildfowl collection with feral Egyptian, Canada and Greylag Geese, plus a pair of Black Swans. A flock of 20 Curlews flew in with the long staying Whimbrel and a Blackwit. Redshank, Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher and Lapwing all noted while post breeding flocks of Pochard and Gadwall continue to increase in number. A few pairs of Common Terns are nesting on three of the islands, although many of the Herring Gulls have now got young making for easy pickings when the tern chicks do hatch.

                                Black Swans and Little Gull, Burrowes

Sunday - Lade - Once the early morning murk cleared the Swifts and House Martins quickly departed and the sun broke through bringing forth a number of grassland butterflies along the old railway line track. Meadow Brown, Large and Small Skippers, Small Heath and Painted Lady were all present, plus our first two, freshly emerged, Marbled Whites, one of my favourite butterflies. Cuckoos were still active across the site, while an arrival of Reed Warblers from earlier in the week were in good voice in reedbed territories. Otherwise all was quiet.

                               Biting Stonecrop, a common Sedum of dry shingle ridges

                                Two pristine Marbled Whites, first of the summer

                                White Mullein, an abundant biennial around the aerial compound

Friday, 15 June 2018

Barney at 12

Lade - warm, dry and sunny, NE 2 - We trudged around the local patch this morning more out of a sense of duty than anything else, searching for and finding a few more Pyramidal Orchids. The old railway line track was full of highly active Common Blues, Small Heaths and Painted Ladies in the hot sunshine. My faithful companion Barney, 12 years old today, never tires of his morning stroll, although like me he is slow to get going sometimes.

                                Barney, 12 today

Thursday, 14 June 2018


Dungeness - cool, cloudy, drizzle, SW5 - That`s more like it, a good old blow off the Atlantic from Storm Hector, just the job after weeks of an easterly airflow; and hopefully the wind will rid us of the awful pong that has been in the air from rotting sea weed out in the North Sea. Anyhow, with an overcoat on we joined DW in the Patch hide to grill the gulls and terns, the highlights of which were two Mediterranean Gulls over the boil and a 1st summer Common Tern on the beach, an unusual plumage type not often seen in these parts. Offshore, a few Gannets and Sandwich Terns noted, plus 10 Swifts moving west.
Lade - With a brisk wind whipping across the water there was never going to be much on offer, but it was good to see 50 Swifts and 100 House Martins over the water, both of which have been in short supply this spring.
  Well, the hype is over, the wall chart is up and the Greatest Show on Earth is underway. My tip for the World Cup; easy - Germany!

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Little Gulls

Lade - warm, dry and sunny, SW 2 - At least the east wind relented overnight and swung round to a more `normal` vector this morning, although not in time for another poor catch in the garden moth trap. On the local patch a number of feral swans and geese have already moved onto south lake in preparation for their annual moult. I watched a family of Mallards commit suicide as for some unknown reason they crossed the widest part of the lake with ducklings, all eight of them were soon predated by Herring Gulls from the coastal housing colony.

                                1st summer Little and Black-headed Gulls

                                Oystercatcher family

Dungeness - A circular walk for RSPB this morning was of interest for a wide range of plant species; seven species of butterflies, including Painted Lady and Small Tortoiseshell; Black-tailed Skimmer dragonflies and many Blue-tailed, Common Blue and Azure Damselflies. Birdwise the only migrants noted were several Lapwings, a Whimbrel, Dunlin and two Swifts. The islands on Burrowes harboured two Avocets, 12 Curlews, Redshanks, Ringed Plovers, Oystercatchers, Common Terns on three islands and plenty of post breeding eclipse Pochards and Gadwalls on the water, plus Egyptian Goose, five Teal and five Shovelers.
  A small flock of mainly Black-headed Gulls in front of Firth hide contained an obvious first summer Little Gull and another odd looking immature gull which I mulled over for a while. It was between Little and Black-headed Gull in size and I must admit that Bonaparte`s Gull crossed my mind, but the legs weren't either short or pale enough for that species. In the end I went for Little Gull at the larger end of the size range. Common and Herring Gulls both had young on the islands and nest boxes. Elsewhere across the site Hobby, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, five Cuckoos and all the usual breeding warblers noted.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Leaflet drop

Lade - warm, dry and sunny, NE 3 - There`s been little change across the local patch these past few days with migration now at a standstill. The wild flowers and butterflies along the old railway line are keeping the natural history interest ticking over. On a slightly more depressing note it was sad to see that two of the new interpretive signs have again been vandalised at Lade, the mentality of some people is beyond me.

                                Painted Lady

                                Poppies and Bugloss, Lade
                                New signage already despoiled

Rye Harbour - Had to go to Rye to drop off our revamped leaflets today so called into the Beach Reserve where we had a natter with Barry the warden about the forthcoming new visitor centre, among other things. The Sandwich and Common Tern colonies were doing well, as were the Mediterranean Gulls, although the Little Terns are yet again struggling with under ten pairs present. Plenty of Avocet chicks were noted along with a range of common waders and at least 50 Shelducks.

                                Pale Grass Eggar caterpillar, Rye Harbour

                                New Plovers leaflet

Friday, 8 June 2018

Honey Buzzard

Lade  - warm, dry and sunny, NE 3 - The past couple of days have been much of a muchness on the local patch with fledgling birds tumbling out of nests to join the large flocks of foraging Starlings and House Sparrows. Cuckoos are still active around the reedbeds and the first Dabchick and Great Crested Grebe young were on the water. Moth trapping, however, has been largely disappointing due to a run of cool, clear nights with a brisk wind off the sea.
  One of the local dog walkers described what appeared to be a Bee-eater on the overhead wires on the Desert yesterday morning, which was no real surprise being as one was noted at Dungeness earlier. Infact there have been so many sightings of `Rainbow Birds` this past month that I`m beginning to suspect they may be breeding locally...

                                                  Tree Sparrows

St Mary`s-in-the-Marsh - I called in on Chris P this morning and whilst nattering in the back garden, and watching Tree Sparrows on the feeders, alarm calls from the tits and finches alerted us to a raptor drifting overhead which turned out to be a Honey Buzzard, my first of the year in England; if only I was keeping a year list...
Burrowes - The long-staying Little Gull was still in front of Firth hide this afternoon and a few common waders were on distant islands. Bitterns continue to show well over the road from the Screen hide, otherwise its been a quiet week on the bird front, but plenty to enjoy botanically.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

First Turtle Dove!

Orlestone Forest - warm, dry and sunny, NE 4 - Spent the day guiding for Cedric concentrating on bird song, which was a bit of a challenge as its about a month past the peak period. However, a circuit of Faggs Wood turned up all the usual resident species, mostly heard: Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Coal and Long-tailed Tits, a Tawny Owl, Buzzard and the like, plus Garden Warbler and Nightingale amongst the migrants, but best of all a `purring` Turtle Dove, our first of the year which we eventually glimpsed. As memorable though was the fabulous display of Common Spotted Orchids throughout the wood, particularly around the car park area.

                                A carpet of Common Spotted Orchids

Warehorne - A stop off by the canal delivered singing Yellowhammers and more common finches and warblers, plus a host of regular grassland butterflies and damselflies.
Scotney  - Wagtails were the target species here and both Yellow  and Pied Wagtails sang and showed to order along with Corn Bunting, Reed and Sedge Warblers, Swallows and Stock Doves. The Avocet island out back held at least six adults and there may well have been some chicks lurking in the cover. Little Egret and all the usual feral geese also noted here.

                                Pied and Yellow Wagtails

ARC -  More warblers were heard, plus good views of a family party of Lesser Whitethroats, a migrant that has been noted in above average numbers this spring. From Screen hide we had protracted, but obscured views, of a hunting Bittern in front of the hide as well as a close male Marsh Harrier.

                                Lesser Whitethroat

                                Peekaboo Bittern

                                Adult male Marsh Harrier

Burrowes - We finished the day checking the islands for waders which held a scattering of Dunlins, Ringed Plovers, Redshanks, 12 Curlews and a Whimbrel. An immature Little Gull showed well in front of Firth hide and it was good to see several Common Terns on the new raft in front of Dennis`s hide.
  We ended up recording 82 species of birds throughout the day with Turtle Dove and Bittern the highlights amongst the birds, but for the sheer spectacle the orchids in the forest took some beating.

                                Little Gull from Firth hide

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Strawberries and Bitterns

Tower Pits - cool, cloudy, NE 3 - So much for "Flaming June". A fleece was required this morning, as indicated by a couple of hundred Swifts and House Martins hawking insects over ARC lake in the cool weather conditions.
  I continued on with the Cetti`s Warbler survey for RSPB, rummaging around the back of the pits and along the railway track, but all the while getting distracted, mostly by Bittern activity and eventually settled down for a couple of hours to wait and see, once the Cetti`s were mapped. I watched what I assumed to be a female bird fly to and fro between ARC and Tower with food; on one visit she landed in a reedbed to feed squawking nestlings with a wriggling Grass Snake clamped firmly in her beak! Half an hour later she was back with a bulging crop, probably of Marsh Frogs judging from how many thousands were `laughing` in the shallows.
  There was plenty of evidence of other breeding birds from singing Dabchick, Reed, Sedge and Cetti`s Warblers, Blackcap, Common and Lesser Whitethroats, Cuckoo, Green Woodpecker, Linnet Reed Bunting and Song Thrush. Hobby, Marsh Harrier, Yellow Wagtail and two flyover Avocets were also noted.
  It appears to have been an exceptional year for flora across the Dungeness NNR; the sheer abundance of bi-annuals such as Foxgloves and Bugloss is quite staggering and with a third of the British wild flower species having been recorded across the shingle cuspate there`s certainly no shortage of identification challenges! Quite often I found myself stumbling along looking at an overwhelming carpet of herbage and taking pics of unidentified plants (of which there are many) for later analysis in Collins.

                                            Southern Marsh Orchid

  One of the pleasures of taking part in an `official` survey is that it is permissible to go off-piste, poking around in corners of the reserve that are normally off limits, and today was one such memorable occasion. Rounding a corner of sallows I wandered into a wide banjo-shaped inlet concealed within a thicket only to be confronted by a scene of wonder - the floor was carpeted in Wild Strawberry plants, hundreds, maybe thousands, in various stages of development, some still in flower and others with ripe berries; and made a mental note to recheck the site on a sunny day for Grizzled Skippers. I hadn't seen a sight like it since a kid when foraging in a Chiltern`s beech woods near our village; I remember picking a yogurt pot full of the tiny, woody but sweet fruits that day.

                                Wild Strawberries

  On the way home I called in at the Kerton Road CafĂ© to view the wild flower meadows, front and back, in full bloom. The Stinking Hawksbeard plants were also in particularly fine fettle, having prospered due to recent ground disturbance during construction work.

                                Stinking Hawksbeard

Lade - An evening wander over the local patch revealed a mixed flock of 50 House Martins and Swifts feeding over south lake in a keen northerly airflow. 

Sunday, 3 June 2018


Lade - warm, dry and sunny - The car stayed firmly on the driveway this weekend affording plenty of time to criss-cross the local patch checking various parts rarely visited, and what a magnificent feast of flora and fauna was on offer. I do so love early summer before the greenery turns brown.
  Saturday started off cool and cloudy which caused a small flock of Swifts and House Martins to cruise in off the bay and tumble down to hoover up invisible insects over the lake. Apart from a new   Lesser Whitethroat rattling from cover in the willow swamp, and a tardy bow-winged Common Sandpiper yesterday, all was quiet on the migrant front. Cuckoo activity was at its peak with the cock birds singing vigorously throughout the day, and most of the night, while the females are busily dropping into reedbeds to deposit their eggs in Reed Warbler nests. It won`t be long now until the adults pack their bags and return `home` to central Africa, so I`m enjoying their shenanigans while I can.
  Elsewhere on the bird front several nervous broods of Mallard ducklings and Cootlets stuck limpet-like to mum when swimming across open water, but I`ve yet to see any grebelets of either species, despite there being double figures of both on site. The Oystercatcher pair seem to have young on the scaffold island as both parents became very agitated whenever a crow flew over. Fledglings were everywhere this morning with Stonechat, Chaffinch, Reed Bunting, Great and Blue Tits, Dunnock, Skylark and Blackbird all noted, plus large mixed flocks of Starlings and House Sparrows feeding on the shingle ridges.
  I checked the bay a couple of times across the weekend but could only muster up a handful of transient Dunlins, Sanderlings and Ringed Plovers amongst a couple of hundred non-breeding Curlews and Oystercatchers probing for black lug amongst the pumpers. The obligatory Sandwich Terns came and went, presumably from the Rye Harbour colony.
  More spikes of Bee and Southern Marsh Orchids were located, plus one of Pyramidal Orchid. Along the old railway track more Painted Lady butterflies were on the wing, fizzing between patches of valerian beside fluttering Common Blues. At the ponds a few Red Admirals and Speckled Woods basked in the sun, where freshly emerged Four-spotted Chasers and three species of damselflies were present. In Mockmill Sewer both Brown Hare and Fox noted with a sprinkling of Cinnabars and Silver Ys in the long grass.
  The garden moth trapping this weekend was largely uneventful apart from our first Ethumia bipunctellas, a micro moth who`s lifestyle is linked with Vipers Bugloss, an abundant shingle plant in this part of the world.

                                One of five Bee Orchid spikes found today

                                      Ethumia bipunctella on the trap site wall

Red Admiral on Valerian

Friday, 1 June 2018

First Painted Ladies

                               New signage, Lade
Lade - warm, dry and sunny, SW 2 - With the wind swinging around to a more familiar southerly vector, and being the first day of summer, so`s to speak, it was no surprise that the first Painted Ladies were in evidence along the old railway line. The much derided garden escape, Red Valerian, is a magnet for migrant Painted Ladies and today was no different as they topped up on nectar after what had probably been a long flight from the continent and beyond. At least 20 were counted along the track along with a similar number of Common Blues and several Small Heaths in the milky sunshine. Also located amongst the herbage were two pristine Bee Orchids and a small clump of Southern Marsh Orchids in a different reedbed location to the usual. Following a recent spate of vandalism the RSPB had erected two replacement interpretive signs at either end of the site.
  In the garden moth trap this morning 20 species including Reed Dagger, Cypress Carpet and Light Emerald new for the year.

                                Common Blues

                                Painted Lady on Valerian

                                                   Bee Orchid, botanical perfection

                                                  Southern Marsh Orchid

Dungeness - Called in at Burrowes around midday where five Curlews, two Whimbrels and a Little Gull were the highlights. A Cream-spot Tiger had laid its eggs on the front window of the Visitor Centre, apparently all 264 of them!
  We also had good views of a Weasel moving her young by the bee hive bend along the access road.

                               Cream-spot Tigers eggs