Friday 1 March 2024

Ted Walks

Cold, wet and windy - A year ago today we took delivery of a bundle of energy and mischief that had just completed a one thousand mile journey across the European continent from Rumania; to be precise, it was actually two bundles, as we also took possession of a cat! To say its been a `challenging` year is something of an understatement, but after much hard work, patience and training both Ted the rescue dog and Polly the cat have been tamed (just about!) and transformed our lives along the way. I`ve been around or owned dogs most of my life but can honestly say that taking on a six month old, feral street dog has been a challenge that is not for the faint hearted! 

                                  Ted, in the garden

                                  Ted, Belgar Farm

A sheep dog that has boundless energy such as Ted needs regular exercise and plenty of it, and as a result we`ve spent much time walking out from home and exploring the countryside around New Romney. Further afield he`s been to woodlands on the Weald and North Downs, Scotney, the canal zone, the foreshore between St Mary`s Bay and Dungeness, Dengemarsh and Lade Pits, so we`ve seen a fair old bit of the Marsh this past year, including a few places that I`ve not ventured to before. The majority of our walks have taken place on the farmland tracts around town, which is mostly arable, so winter wheat and barley, oil-seed rape, linseed and turf fields. Drainage sewers and ditches criss-cross the flatlands, many with reed-fringed margins and a few stunted hawthorns or willows here and there. Hedgerows are few with the ones in Hope Lane and the overgrown green lane to Old Romney the best of the bunch. Several  heavily-stocked sheep-folds and a couple of horse paddocks complete the rural ensemble. 

What would farmers do without baler twine!

Needless to say that it was hardly surprising how nature depleted I found the intensively farmed land hereabouts; not once during the many hours in the field did I see a Brown Hare on the dry or a Water Vole in the wet. Tree Sparrows were absent and I`ve still yet to encounter a Little Owl or a Turtle Dove, while many former `common` resident and summer visitors were in pitifully low numbers. However, the highlights have been: Barn Owl, Kingfisher, Green Sandpiper, Common Snipe and Little Grebe along the sewers and ditches; a scattering of breeding Yellow Wagtails, Corn Buntings and Yellowhammers amongst the crops and a singing Quail; on passage, several Wheatears and singles of Ring Ouzel and Whinchat; and a flock of 1,200 Mediterranean Gulls loafing on a turf field in the autumn.  

Tuesday 27 February 2024

Goose Barnacles

Dungeness - warm, dry and sunny, light airs - Superb weather for a days guiding for Mark from Lexington USA. We kicked off at Burrowes where one of the wintering Great Northern Divers showed well from Makepeace ramp. All the usual wildfowl were noted on the lake including five Goldeneyes, plus my first singing Chiffchaff of the year and a Cetti`s Warbler in front of Firth. Following the recent torrential rain much of the reserve was flooded and devoid of birds including the hayfields. However, the exception was the Boulderwall fields where hundreds of feral geese and common wildfowl were present along with 200 Wigeons, 20 Curlews, two Great White Egrets, a Common Snipe and several each of Common Buzzard and Marsh Harrier thermaling on high. From Hanson hide we logged the second Great Northern Diver and a Black-throated Diver mid-way out on the lake. 

                                  Great Northern Diver, Burrowes

                                 Flooded hayfields 1/2

Next stop Scotney where hundreds more Wigeons, Shovelers, Pochards and Coots dominated the main road-side lake, plus 15 Pintails. A Raven showed well by the farm as did a Little Owl on a barn roof. A seawatch from the fishing boats delivered our third diver species as 20 Red-throated Divers flew to and fro between the bays and where a few Guillemots and a Fulmer were also noted. We finished off at Lade Bay with six species of waders and a superb baulk of driftwood covered in Goose Barnacles. A decent day in the fields, thanks mainly to the fine weather, and a respectable 75 species of birds logged for our guest. 

      Goose Barnacles, Greatstone Beach


Friday 23 February 2024

Tree Sparrows

Cool, showery, NW 3 - Late February is traditionally one of the quieter birding periods of the year as the winter visitors continue to drift back east and we await the first of the spring migrants. This past week has been particularly wet for our daily Ted walks with, at times, torrential rain resulting in flooded farmland fields across the Marsh and the water levels on the rise again across the Dungeness wetlands. On Monday we walked Dengemarsh gully which was just about bird-less apart from a few Dunnocks, a Cetti`s Warbler and a Chiffchaff. Two visits to Dengemarsh and the bird reserve today produced the expected Marsh Harriers, Great White Egrets and flocks of Wigeons and Curlews on the Boulderwall fields. The wintering Black-throated and Great Northern Divers are still present commuting between ARC and Burrowes, a single but elusive Glossy Ibis has been reported at ARC, while Lade pits has retained five Goldeneyes. A mid-week drive along the Midley wall failed to locate any winter swans and it would seem that they have departed for the season; infact there were few birds to be seen anywhere as the `custodians of the countryside` continue their relentless drive towards a monochrome and desolate landscape bereft of any form of nature.

                                   Tree Sparrow boxes being `guarded` by Ted

On a brighter note another batch of Tree Sparrow nest boxes has been completed and are ready to go out at Scotney where this once common farmland bird retains a tenuous hold on its existence.   

Sunday 18 February 2024


Mild, cloudy, SW 3 - This morning`s Ted walk (once the heavy overnight rain band had moved through) out towards St Mary-in-the-Marsh produced a few bits and pieces such as several Song Thrushes, Yellowhammers and Skylarks, a couple of Common Buzzards, a Cetti`s Warbler, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers and a lone Cormorant on a bridge over the New Cut. This afternoon I carried out the monthly harrier count at a private reedbed site on Walland Marsh where 16 Marsh and one male Hen Harrier came to roost. Also noted in the general area: hundreds of Starlings, 500 Goldies over, six Common Buzzards, two Ravens, 14 Corn Buntings, two Stonechats, calling Water Rail and Cetti`s Warbler, several Meadow Pipits, Skylarks and croaking Toads. Two Grey Herons were causing havoc over the reedbed chasing the harriers, corvids, gulls and two Great White Egrets. As I walked back to the car in the gloaming around 20 Bewick`s Swans and 100 Greylags flew overhead calling, en-route to their roost sites. 

                                  Newly groomed Ted!

                                  Myriads of flying insects

                                 Sunset over Walland

Friday 16 February 2024


Lade - warm, dry and sunny, W 2 - A superb spring-like morning with the temperature topping out at 15C by midday, ideal weather conditions for a circuit of the local patch. Ravens are now an established part of the birding scene across the Marsh landscape where they nest on the power station complex and at several other sites. The last couple of visits to Lade I`ve noticed them displaying over the stony wastes, but for some reason a pair today allowed a close approach. Ted flushed two Common Snipes from Mockmill where several Song Thrushes and Blackbirds were also noted and a Skylark was in full song over the shingle. However, the lakes were very quiet with few wildfowl and only two Goldeneyes logged. A splash of Coltsfoot in flower along the banks of south lake were classic botanical heralds of spring.  

                                  Ravens, Lade desert


                                 Ted cooling off in south lake

Wednesday 14 February 2024


Dungeness RSPB - mild, overcast, showery, SW 3 - A murky, dank morning was far from ideal weather conditions for a guided walk around the reserve for five guests. Instead we spent most of our time viewing from the visitor centre and Dennis`s, the one remaining hide on Burrowes; we tried to get shelter from Firth lookout but it was hopeless with the wind and rain lashing in. However, duck numbers were very low, presumably some having already dispersed back east for the forthcoming breeding season. A flock of around 100 Shovelers on the island in front of the VC was the highlight along with a scattering of Teal, Gadwall, Pochard, Tufted Duck and five Goldeneyes. The usual gulls and Cormorants were on the water while a Great Northern Diver was still present. Singles of Kingfisher, Chiffchaff and Cetti`s Warbler were also noted around the margins. We then drove down to Boulderwall where a flock of 18 Curlews showed well by Cook`s Pool, close to the gate, along with a few Wigeons and Shelducks and a Great White Egret on the fields. Moving onto the ARC from Hanson hide where more common wildfowl were noted on the lake, plus eight Great Crested and three Little Grebes, another Great White Egret, a flock of 15 long-tailed Tits in the sallows and 30 Lapwings overhead.

                                 Curlews, Boulderwall fields

                                 Dabchick, ARC

On Monday the weather was fine, dry and sunny when we paid a visit to Lade pits where a pair each of Common Buzzard and Raven displayed over the site and five Goldeneyes remained on south lake. Yesterday a farmland walk north of Romney yielded good views of a Chiffchaff in a drainage ditch and five Yellowhammers along Hope Lane, but precious little else.   

Sunday 11 February 2024

Pied Wagtails

Mild, showery, light airs - We spent the morning walking the Dengemarsh circuit, mostly in light rain, where the farmland was saturated with large acreages flooded after the recent heavy rain. There were hundreds of feral geese and 60 Mute Swans on the stubble fields, plus hundreds more Woodpigeons, Black-headed Gulls and black crows where sheep, foraging on turnips, had turned the fields into a sea of mud. The soggy sheep looked a sorry old sight within the confines of the electric fencing with no way of getting to drier land. Another sheep fold near the corral attracted a large flock of Pied Wagtails numbering at least 150 birds, while a weedy field at the back of Hookers held around 80 Corn and 30 Reed Buntings. A few singing Skylarks and Cetti`s Warblers were also noted, along with a Great White Egret, two Common Buzzards, 100 Wigeons and 20 Shelducks across the Boulderwall fields. The section through the bird reserve produced flight views of Bearded Tits and a flyover Common Snipe at Hookers, two Marsh Harriers and several hundred Teal, Shoveler and Wigeon on the flooded hayfields.

                                 Pied Wagtails, Boulderwall fields

Elsewhere today the wintering Black-throated and Great Northern Divers were on Burrowes with another Great Northern on ARC, while the Bewick`s Swans were still, for the time being, present on Walland Marsh to the south of Brookland.

                                   Ted enjoying the rain!