Monday, 25 March 2019

Black-necked Grebe

Lade - cold, dry, sunny, nnw 4 - A cracking start to the day with bright sunshine and a nippy northerly airflow. Following a crystal clear night it was no surprise that there were few migrants about apart from a lone Swallow over and several singing Chiffchaffs around the willow swamp. However, the first two Black-necked Grebes of spring put in a welcome appearance on south lake, alongside two Goldeneyes and the few remaining Teal, Pochard and Shoveler, plus good numbers of Little and Great Crested Grebes. Oystercatcher, Marsh Harrier, Sparrowhawk, Cetti`s Warbler, Reed Bunting and Stonechat all noted around the site.

                                Two male Wheatears, Dengemarsh gully

Dengemarsh - Having picked up Clare and Peter from Ashford for a three day Birdwatching Break at Plovers we headed back down to coast where we spent a couple of hours birding the gully. Despite  the brisk wind we managed to locate two male Wheatears, a female Black Redstart, Goldcrest, 10 Linnets, Meadow Pipits and at least 10 Chiffchaffs, plus superb views of a pair of Ravens, a Peregrine alighting on a pylon and a Weasel. The hayfields were less profitable with just a handful of Lapwings. From Springfield Bridge the usual wildfowl and a distant Marsh Harrier.
  From the Lydd Road by the allotment the three Cattle Egrets were in the sheep fold close to the gateway affording cracking close views.

                                 Cattle Egrets, Lydd Road

Greatstone beach - From the Tavern viewpoint we scanned the sands for yesterdays KP without success. However, there was plenty to see in bright afternoon sunshine on a falling tide including 320 Curlews, 15 Ringed Plovers, 50 Sanderlings, 10 Dunlins, 30 Mediterranean Gulls and 80 Sandwich Terns.

                                Sarny Terns and Med Gulls, Greatstone beach

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Kentish Plover

Lade  - warm, dry and sunny, light airs - A mix of weather over the weekend commenced with mild, overcast conditions on Friday night that resulted in a heavy passage of winter thrushes, mainly Redwings, over the cottage plus a few Blackbirds and Song Thrushes.
  There was little change to the birding scene across the peninsula although last night being cold and clear meant that there were fewer Wheatears, Chiffchaffs and Black Redstarts present, while a Rough-legged Buzzard was reported on Walland Marsh yesterday evening (CP).

                                Littlestone golf links

Littlestone - This morning we did a circular walk along the foreshore and back along the golf links. On the bay five Redshank, six Grey Plover and 80 Sandwich Terns were the best of the bunch. The land was busy with dog-walkers and golfers, but there were plenty of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits in song over the rough grass margins. One particular grassy patch by a golfers shelter seemed to attract a good few of the aforementioned plus 20 Linnets, several Pied Wagtails, a Wheatear and a Rock Pipit of the Scandinavian race, plus another probable that flushed off when a group of golfers approached.

  This afternoon, along with a sprightly crowd of local birders, we called in at DBO to celebrate David Walker`s anniversary tenure as observatory warden. Congratulations David on 30 years of sterling service.
Greatstone Beach - Late news this afternoon concerned a female Kentish Plover on the beach found by Owen L at one of this plover`s former traditional haunts. This is first bay record in my time and very well received it was too by a steady trickle of locals.

                                Adult female Kentish Plover, Greatstone beach.

Friday, 22 March 2019

Black Redstarts

Dungeness - mild, overcast, light airs - Another decent morning for early spring migrants with a scattering of Black Redstarts, Wheatears, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests across the point plus Firecrest and Blackcap in the old lighthouse garden. Pairs of Stonechats and Meadow Pipits were in breeding mode singing and nest building, while a pair of Peregrines sat atop the pylons by the power station imperiously surveying their kingdom. The sea was quiet once again with just a trickle of Brents and Common Scoters through.

                                Migrant Black Redstarts and Wheatear

                               Breeding Meadow Pipit and Stonechat

Lade - The Environment Agency were on site today checking on the fish quality from an inflatable. As a result all the wildfowl were on north lake including three Goldeneyes and 20 Teal. There was no change to the birds around the RSPB reserve today, while the Cattle Egrets and Whooper Swans are still being seen along the Lydd Road.
  I ran the garden moth trap for the third time this spring and at last got a result; well, three moths to be precise! Twin-spotted Quaker, Common Quaker and Hebrew Character.
  It also felt good to have my old four legged friend back up and running this morning following an enforced lay off due to a damaged paw.

                                Barney back in the game

                                Twin-spotted Quaker - first moth of spring

Thursday, 21 March 2019

A fall of Wheatears

Dungeness - muggy, overcast, light airs - En-route to the bird reserve a check of New Diggings and ARC resulted in very little of note apart from several Goldeneyes on both waters. On Boulderwall fields the usual Wigeon, Teal, Curlew, feral geese, Great White and Little Egrets.
  A guided walk for a U3A group from Lewes delivered similar fare to yesterday with plenty of Shovelers, Shelduck, Teal, large gulls, Cormorants and Lapwings on Burrowes, plus four Goldeneyes, 10 Ruff, four Avocets, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Dunlin and a lost-looking Brent Goose. The summer plum Black-necked Grebe was still on Christmas Dell pool, while Marsh Harrier, Goldeneye and 50 Wigeon noted at Dengemarsh. Passerines around the site included five Chiffchaffs, 10 Cetti`s Warblers, 20 Reed Buntings and singles of Firecrest and Dartford Warbler.
A couple of Tree Sparrows were on the car park feeders and a Wheatear flew across the access road on the drive out.

                                Ruff on Burrowes

  At Dungeness, two Chiffchaffs and a Firecrest in the lighthouse garden, while a loose flock of six Wheatears performed on the foreshore by the lifeboat station.

                                Three of the six at Dungeness

  Back at Lade a check of the desert revealed another eight Wheatears, plus two more on the beach making ten, a spring record here for me. Also noted five Chiffchaffs in back gardens, another Firecrest in broom scrub and 20 Sandwich Terns on the bay.
  Many more Wheatears, Firecrests and Chiffchaffs were noted across the peninsula, so all in all a pretty good early spring birding day I`d say.

                                Three of the ten at Lade

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Great Tits

Dungeness - mild, cloudy, wsw 2 - Joined OL and RW in the seawatch hide first thing for a short watch with nothing much happening apart from one flock of 50 Brent Geese, plus a trickle of Red-throated Divers and Kittiwakes up-Channel, although the first Common Tern of spring had been reported earlier.

    Brents on the move up-Channel

  A wander around the bushes delivered a noticeable increase in Great Tits and by the time I arrived at the Obs DW confirmed that at least some may have been of continental origin as a party of high flying birds were seen to drop into the moat. In the field the British race Parus major newtoni is indistinguishable from the continental race P. m. major, but a bird in the hand confirmed the latter by  biometrics (a short, slender bill), greyish upperparts and a thick layer of body fat.
  Meadow Pipit, Skylark and Linnet were all in song across the peninsula with a Wheatear on the foreshore near the lifeboat station. Also noted several Goldfinches, two Redwings, two Chiffchaffs and a Peregrine over the power station.

                                Continental Great Tit, DBO

  A guided walk for six birders around the circular route this morning was less than inspiring with 10 Ruff and four Avocets on Burrowes, Snipe and Black-necked Grebe on Christmas Dell the highlights.
Also noted plenty of Reed Buntings and Great Tits, several singing Chiffchaffs and Cetti`s Warblers, two Marsh Harriers, Curlew, Egyptian Goose and Little Egret.

                                Cook`s Pool, Boulderwall

Monday, 18 March 2019


Dungeness - mild, cloudy, w 2 - Joined MC in the seawatch hide briefly where a steady flow of Gannets and Red-throated Divers were coming and going, plus a few Sandwich Terns up-Channel. On the land, when the sun broke through, some welcome spring bird song was music to the ears; mostly of Dunnock, Chaffinch, Wren and Great Tit, but also one or two of Meadow Pipit and Linnet. Two Chiffchaffs and a Firecrest skulked in the lighthouse garden and at least four Stonechats were active in surrounding scrub, two of which were soon trapped by JTM, the male being a rubicola type. Several more Firecrests filtered through the bushes in the moat and a Wheatear was on the shingle outback.

                               Stonechat, DBO

                                Foxes sunbathing, Lade wall `mirror`

  At Lade around noon three Chiffchaffs sang around the ponds along with a Cetti`s Warbler, while a Great Spotted Woodpecker tapped away on a dead branch. A trickle of `mewing` Mediterranean Gulls passed overhead again and more Chiffchaffs could be heard in back gardens hereabouts. Several more Stonechats were noted on the Desert and on the Kerton Road triangle.
  This afternoon on the sands, 50 Sandwich Terns present along with the usual Black-headed and Common Gulls, Curlews, Oystercatchers and ten Ringed Plovers.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

First Little Ringed Plover

Lade - warm, dry and sunny, w3 - After a torrid week of stormy weather with strong to gale force winds throughout, today heralded a more spring-like feel with sunshine and an absence of a blasting wind more conducive to migrant hunting. However, it felt odd to tramp around the local patch without Barney this morning who`s been laid up with a strained leg.
  First off I checked out the Kerton Road quarry where six Shelducks, two Redshanks and four Mediterranean Gulls were on the northern island. Singing Skylark, Mipit and Reed Bunting added to the spring atmosphere while a Wheatear flew across the main lake, the first for the local patch. A flat area with puddles of water attracted four Ringed Plovers and a single Little Ringed Plover (new for the year) before being flushed by a passing Kestrel.
  The walk back towards the lakes yielded two more Wheatears on the Desert, one of which kindly posed for a piccie or two, and a pair of Med Gulls mewing overhead. On south lake still six Goldeneyes and 30 Teal, plus singing Chiffchaffs, Cetti`s Warblers and Reed Buntings around the willow swamp. Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Oystercatcher, Green Woodpecker and Stonechat also noted.

                                One of three Wheatears on the local patch this morning

                                    `White arse`

Walland Marsh - This afternoon I joined CP for the final harrier count of winter at our usual watchpoint out on the Marsh. The wind had picked up a bit and a few hail showers rattled through under glowering skies, but eventually 10 Marsh Harriers came to roost, while the egret roost count was 12 Great White and five Little. Also in the general area four Buzzards, two Ravens, Bearded Tit, Cetti`s Warbler, Reed Buntings and a Barn Owl, plus plenty of vocalising from a number of Water Rails as dusk fell.

Friday, 15 March 2019


Lade - overcast, mild, drizzle, SW 5 -  Another day of strong winds and drizzle throughout made for difficult birding conditions. There seemed to be an overnight arrival of Chiffchaffs with at least five in the willow swamp, two in the garden and others around the bird reserve, most of them in song. Six Goldeneyes remained on south lake along with a pair of Shelducks. A check of the bay from Littlestone revealed eight species of waders with 25 Ringed Plovers suggesting birds on the move.
  Very quiet on the RSPB reserve today (unless large gulls and Cormorants are your bag) with no sign of either the Smew or Black-necked Grebe. The Ruff flock is still present, plus a few each of Goldeneye and Great White Egret and all the usual common wildfowl.
  The four Cattle Egrets were in the field by the allotments from the Lydd Road this afternoon while I could find no sign of the Whooper Swans in the rape-seed fields. A notable 200 Fulmars were logged past Dungeness this morning (per MC).

                                Common Gull, Burrowes

Thursday, 14 March 2019

White-fronted Ruff

Dengemarsh - overcast, showers, W 5 - In a moment of madness and for a change of scene we walked the gully this morning in blustery weather conditions with rain at times. Needless to say it was a case of slim pickings with the only passerines being a few Meadow Pipits, Reed Buntings, Linnets, Chaffinches, two Stonechats and a Firecrest. However, the stony field by Hayfield 3 attracted a flock of 30 Lapwings along with two Redshanks, a Golden Plover and 12 Ruff, one a cracking white-fronted male. Also on the hayfields and flood several Shelducks, Shovelers and Teal.
From the bridge 50 Wigeon, two Egyptian Geese, a Goldeneye, two Marsh Harriers and a Great White Egret.

                                White-fronted Ruff

                                Dengemarsh Gully

On the way back to the reserve the 4 Cattle Egrets were in the field next to the allotments and the pair of Whoopers Swans amongst the Mutes from Cockles Bridge. The first Little Ringed Plover of spring was on Burrowes from Makepeace hide (MC).

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Storm Gareth

Dungeness - mild, cloudy, SW 7 - Gale force winds courtesy of named Storm Gareth swept up-Channel this morning whipping the sea into a frenzy. As is often the case seawatching is rarely brilliant in such conditions although a 90 minute watch from a draughty seawatch hide did deliver three Bonxies, one quite close. Also noted plenty of Gannets, Kittiwakes, Cormorants, auks, 100 Brent Geese, 10 Fulmars, five Common Scoters, three Red-throated Divers, two Sandwich Terns and a Mediterranean Gull.

Monday, 11 March 2019

First Sand Martins

Dungeness - cold, dry and sunny, NW 5 - Following a weekend away in Dunstable it was good to get out and about again today despite the blustery wind. At the Patch two Mediterranean Gulls were the only interest amongst the gulls on the beach and over the boil, while a male Peregrine took shelter on a high perch in the lee of B station. There was very little action on the sea with just the usual Great Crested Grebes, Cormorants, Gannets and auks offshore. In the lighthouse garden at least one Brambling and a Reed Bunting amongst a flock of ten very tired looking Chaffinches in the bushes.

                                Scrub clearance, ARC

  On the bird reserve around midday our first two Sand Martins of the year battled into the wind over ARC from Hanson hide. The Cattle Egrets and Whooper Swans were still on station in the fields along the Lydd road where also Little and Great White Egrets noted, while the drake Smew and Black-necked Grebe were reported from the pits around the main circuit.

Friday, 8 March 2019

No change

Lade - mild and sunny, light airs - At least the morning was pleasant enough, but the wind and rain soon moved in this afternoon. Singing Meadow Pipit, Stonechat and Chiffchaff around the local patch were the highlights, plus displaying Sparrowhawk and Marsh Harrier, six Goldeneyes on south lake, 30 Teal around the willow swamp and a calling Mediterranean Gull over north lake.
  Elsewhere across the peninsula today there was no change with Smew and Black-necked Grebe on the bird reserve and the Cattle Egrets and Whooper Swans at Boulderwall and Cockles Bridge respectively.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

First Swallow and Wheatear

Dungeness - mild, sunny, wsw 6 - A very blustery morning at the point first thing proved to be a fairly dull affair with one flock of 80 Brents through and the usual Gannets and gulls offshore. We joined MC at the Patch which was also quiet apart from a few gulls on the beach.
  Moving on to the bird reserve at the back of ARC by the pines our first Swallow of the year was struggling to hawk insects coming off the willows. Despite the blow plenty of Reed Buntings, Chaffinches and Great Tits were in song. From Screen hide a shoal of spawning red-finned fish in the shallows (which I assumed were probably Rudd) attracted the attention of a smart adult Grey Heron. It soon speared one about a foot long and proceeded to bludgeon it to death, eventually swallowing it whole, the entire process taking about 20 minutes. Needless to say such a meal took some digesting and the Heron was still sat motionless when I left after 30 minutes.


                                Down the hatch


  Whilst there news came through of a Wheatear found by JTM opposite the Lifeboat station. We were soon on site and welcoming a proper harbinger of spring to a very windy Dungeness.

                                          First Wheatear of spring

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Southerly blow

Dungeness - mild, overcast, rain, S5 - Joined the regulars in the seawatch hide this morning for a couple of hours with a big sea running and a brisk southerly blow driving rain into the hide; ah, the joys of seawatching! There were plenty of Gannets going both ways making light of the sea state, a common enough sight here, but one that is always thrilling to watch particularly when they`re so close to shore, along with a steady flow of Kittiwakes and a dozen Fulmars. Moving up-Channel in small groups were up to 100 Common Scoters, 300 Brent Geese and 20 Red-throated Divers, some very close to the hide. Also in the mix all the usual Great Crested Grebes, auks, Cormorants and gulls.
  On the bird reserve the Black-necked Grebe remained on the Christmas Dell pools while the highly mobile drake Smew paid a visit to Tanners pool on the Boulderwall fields. Also noted two Great White Egrets and four Goldeneyes, but little else in the poor weather conditions.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Sea Pie

Lade - mild, dry and sunny, w 2 - Trudging around the local patch of late hasn't been a particularly pleasant experience what with a blasting wind off the Atlantic and rain at times. However, a much better day today heralded another sign of spring with the return of the resident Oystercatcher pair to the scaffold island on south lake.
  There are few wading birds with as many regional names as the Oystercatcher. Across northern Britain it was formerly known as `Cholder` or `Skeldo`, and further south as `Kleeper` and `Oik`, but my favourite is its old English name of `Sea Pie`. Ironically its common usage name of Oystercatcher is somewhat misleading as it seldom eats oysters.
  This large pied wader with a carrot-like bill and nail-varnish pink legs is commonly found around our bays and estuaries where it feeds predominantly on shellfish such as cockles and mussels, as well as crabs and lugworms. The power in that stout bill is formidable; next time you`re down the beach try prising open a tightly clamped cockle with your fingers. It`s almost impossible, but watch an Oystercatcher tease one open in an instant and you can see how in one tidal sitting it can eat as many as 500 cockles. I remember back in the 1970`s an Oystercatcher cull being implemented in parts of Wales to protect commercial cockle beds, which thankfully was rescinded after protests from conservation groups.
  Around 500 Oystercatchers winter on Lade bay and their wild `kleeping` calls are a familiar sound hereabouts as they over fly our cottage to roost out the high water on shingle islands nearby. As spring approaches numbers decline as pairs return to their breeding grounds, which may at an inland river valley gravel pit in the south or a moorland bog in the north.
  Nothing is straight forward with this fascinating bird. For example it will nest just about anywhere from amongst bare stones, in a tree stump or on a man-made structure. Locally Oystercatchers nest on caravans and even the visitor centre roof on the bird reserve where they have also taken to nesting in boxes on poles in the water, a good strategy against ground predators such as Fox and Stoat. Unlike most wader chicks that instinctively forage on the ground as soon as they break out of the egg, Oystercatcher young are unique in depending upon their parents for food. As a result the adults provide food for the first month until fledging, although the young may not be fully independent until a further four months.
  Long may the charismatic Sea Pie (which can live for up to 40 years) flourish among us on this over-crowded island, wherever that may be.