Sunday, 16 May 2021

Spring lament

 Lade - cool, sunshine and showers, SW 4 - Apart from a walk around the Trapping Area yesterday morning (which was dead by the way) the rest of the weekend`s birding has been spent on the local patch. Swifts have been coming and going over the lakes throughout and I could happily watch them all day long, which is a good job as there has been precious little else of note on the migration front lately apart from a few laggard Whimbrels roosting on the shingle on Friday evening. It is to be expected though, and as we pass the middle of May bird migration is steadily grinding to a halt, although there is always the chance of a southern over shoot to come, even into early June. Singles of Black Kite, Red-rumped Swallow, Purple Heron, Cattle Egret and Honey Buzzard have already passed through the Dungeness peninsula this spring, but as is often the case here they don`t tarry for long, and we surely must be due a Bee-eater or Black-winged Stilt, or perhaps a Golden Oriole or Whiskered Tern. So, never mind the rarities, let`s have a quick look back at the bread-and butter migrants. 

                                  Wheatear, Dungeness

  Due to a pulse of warm Saharan air in February a ridiculously early Wheatear at Galloways kicked the season off in style, although a blocking high pressure system to the north throughout much of April held things up making numbers of this classic harbinger of spring generally low and in fits and starts; particularly on my local patch where only a handful were seen. A scattering of Ring Ouzels, Whinchats, Common and Black Redstarts, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers were all well received as were a couple of Wood Warblers and a Grasshopper Warbler, but lets face it, compared to just 50 years ago when I started birding, the numbers of migrant passerines today is pitifully low. However, Willow and Garden Warblers moved through in better numbers than last year as did Lesser Whitethroat, while Chiffchaff and Blackcap were about average. Common Whitethroats, Sedge and Reed Warblers seemed to be abundant across the Dungeness NNR and plenty of Sand Martins were noted. Out on the Marsh a few Turtle Doves, Cuckoos, Nightingales and Yellow Wagtails appeared at traditional haunts, although the latter was poorly represented at Scotney when I visited last week.

                                  Whimbrels, Boulderwall fields

  Many hours were spent by local seawatchers logging the up-Channel passage of seabirds with the highlight being a couple of record-breaking days comprising thousands of Common and Arctic Terns with a supporting cast of hundreds of Little and Black Terns, Little Gulls and several Roseate Terns, but this was very much the exception to the rule. Duck numbers were lower than in previous years, probably due in part to persistent offshore winds, as was the Bar-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel passage, but did include good numbers of Velvet Scoters. There was also a record one-day passage of Manx Shearwaters linked to gale force winds while the Pomarine Skua passage was about average. The staple diet of seawatching at Dungeness such as Brents, Red-throated Divers, Common Scoters and Gannets were plentiful at times, but many passed well offshore due to the northerly airflow, and with the hides closed viewing conditions were at times difficult to say the least. In summary then, like the curate`s egg, good in parts.

                                  Garden Warbler, Plovers garden

  Personally, my spring highlights were the flock of 18 Garganeys at Dengemarsh, a Black-necked Grebe and Pied Flycatchers at Lade, and best of all, a Garden Warbler singing in our garden, but then I am easily pleased! 

Thursday, 13 May 2021

Rye Harbour

 Rye Harbour - cool, cloudy, showery, SW2 - Spent the morning guiding for Mark and Maria around the Beach Reserve at Rye, my first visit of the year, which was a bit of a challenge with the hides closed and a fine drizzle coming and going. The new Discovery Centre is now complete and set to open fully in the near future, and most splendid it looks too. However, birdwise it was very quiet with no Sandwich Terns and Mediterranean Gulls breeding, just a few Black-headed Gulls and Common Terns, and four pairs of Little Terns. Avocets were plentiful though along with breeding Ringed Plovers and Oystercatchers, but only two Redshanks and one Little Ringed Plover. As for passage waders the highlight was a flock of 23 Tundra Ringed Plovers, six Red Knots, four Turnstones, around 100 Dunlins and a Common Sandpiper. Studying the Dunlins it was astonishing to note the huge variations in size, bill length and plumage amongst potentially three races. Other birds noted around the circuit included a Brent Goose, 30 Shelducks, four Little Egrets and a Wheatear. A brief seawatch produced two Red-throated Divers, 10 Gannets and seven Common Scoters. 

                                  Little Terns and Avocet, Flat Beach

The afternoon was spent at Castle Water where a pair of Marsh Harriers were active around the reedbed, plus vocalising Bittern and Bearded Tit along with Cuckoo, Reed, Sedge and Cetti`s Warblers. Also noted plenty of Swifts and hirundines, several Little Egrets and Gadwalls, a Pochard, Kestrel, Hobby, Long-tailed Tit and six Whimbrel in a sheep fold. We eventually tallied a respectable 111 species over the three days birding at Dungeness, Orlestone Forest and Rye Harbour. 

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Painted Ladies

 Lade - cool, dry and sunny, SW 2 - A gorgeous spring morning to be out and about around the local patch where two Common Sandpipers flying around the margins of south lake were new in, calling frantically on bowed wings and habitually bobbing when landing. Yet again the ponds were alive with warbler song as Reed, Sedge and Cetti`s Warblers, Lesser and Common Whitethroats progressed through their various breeding cycles. From the willow swamp Cuckoo, Blackcap and Chiffchaff song also added to the early morning chorus as a party of 30 Swifts and 20 Swallows hawked flying insects rising off the canopy. An afternoon visit taking in the Kerton Road pit and the Desert across to Mockmill yielded little extra apart from three Whimbrels and eight Curlews. The only other news today concerned a Purple Heron flushed from Long Pits that was seen to fly over towards the reserve (per MC, OL).

                                  Garden Ladies

As the sun warmed up the garden Painted Lady butterflies moved in to feed on the wall flowers and bask in the suntraps following their long journey from the south, some of them looking worn and worse for wear. A large influx of migrant Painted Ladies has been reported across southern coastal counties these past few days moving up through the continent from their breeding grounds in North Africa, and a most welcome sight they are too. 

Tuesday, 11 May 2021


 Orelestone Forest - warm, dry and sunny, light airs - Spent the morning guiding for Mark and Maria where at least ten Nightingales were in song across the woodland complex; actually seeing them was another matter of course, and we only had one brief flight view, but the sound of these supreme songsters was as evocative as ever in this old wildwood. Other summer migrants present included three `purring`  Turtle Doves, a calling Cuckoo, Willow and Garden Warblers, a Spotted Flycatcher and perhaps most surprising of all a Tree Pipit on territory. Resident species were thin on the ground with a `hooting` Tawny Owl of note amongst the usual woodland birds. Butterflies included Orange Tip, Peacock, Brimstone, Red Admiral and Painted Lady. Down on the Marsh between Warehorne and Kenardington another Turtle Dove and Nightingale heard, plus Bullfinch, Yellowhammers and at least four soaring Buzzards.

                                  Orange Tip

                                  Tree Sparrow, Scotney

                                   Black Redstarts, Dungeness

Moving onto Scotney where a nesting Tree Sparrow by the farmhouse was another surprise. Outback while we noted Skylarks, Yellow Wagtails and Corn Buntings they were few in number; also, four Avocets, several Little Egrets and a couple of Common Terns, while the front fields and lakes were largely deserted. Another visit to the point delivered better views of a pair of Black Redstarts along with Wheatear, Stonechat and Peregrine. We finished the day at Lade checking the beach waders where just a few Curlews and Oystercatchers remained and four Ringed Plovers. On south lake a party of 30 Swifts dropped in, a Cuckoo called by the `wall mirror` and six Whimbrels flew over the Desert whistling.

Monday, 10 May 2021


 Dungeness - warm, dry and sunny, SW 4 - Spent the day guiding for Mark and Maria from the West Midlands, my first outing since the easing of lockdown. We kicked off with a one hour seawatch from the Patch hide where plenty of Gannets, Sandwich and Common Terns were feeding offshore while a few Common Scoters and four Brent Geese moved up-Channel. The breeding Peregrines were active around A station where we watched the male dispatch a freshly caught feral pigeon. All the usual suspects were noted near the old lighthouse including Wheatears, Black Redstart, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Linnet and Whitethroat. 

                                 Early Purple Orchid and Painted Lady, Dungeness

  Moving onto the bird reserve where at Cook`s pool two Whimbrels, Great White and Little Egrets and the usual warblers were noted. The first of at least ten Hobbies seen throughout the afternoon hawked St Mark`s flies over the water along with a couple sat on the grass taking a breather. Around the circular trail more Hobbies and scrub warblers noted including several Lesser Whitethroats. On the hayfields two Greenshanks, four Redshanks, a pair each of Gadwall and Shoveler, ten Shelducks, various feral geese and a very brief Golden Plover in near breeding plumage. From the ramp `pinging` Bearded Tits, Marsh Harrier, Cuckoo and Kingfisher. Over the road on ARC we located the long-staying Glossy Ibis at the south end of the lake, nesting Black-headed Gulls, a calling Green Woodpecker, 100 Swifts and all three species of hirundines. Also seen today, and part of a widespread influx that seemed to commence yesterday, several Painted Lady butterflies.  

Sunday, 9 May 2021

Spotted Flycatcher

 Lade  - A weekend of wet and windy weather on Saturday morning followed by warmer conditions once the front went through in the afternoon and more thunderstorms early and late today. A couple of seawatches at Dungeness delivered several Arctic and Great Skuas amongst the usual flow of Gannets, Common Scoters and Common Terns yesterday, plus a Mediterranean Gull within the settled terns and gulls on the beach in front of the Patch.

                                 Common Terns and Med Gull, the Patch

The local patch continues to produce a better than average showing of Garden Warblers and Lesser Whitethroats around the ponds than in recent years, along with our first and untypically elusive Spotted Flycatcher of spring. Otherwise it was a fairly predictable run of migrants across the peninsula today with the Glossy Ibis still on the reserve and at least three Poms through this morning, plus two Great Northern Divers (RW). 

                                  Spotted Flycatcher, Lade ponds (by Dave Scott)

                                 Gathering storm clouds over the Desert

Friday, 7 May 2021

Warblers, chats and flycatchers

 Dungeness - cool, cloudy, NW 3 - An early morning circuit around the point delivered a decent scattering of established breeders including Wheatear, Whitethroat, Stonechat, Black Redstart and Meadow Pipit all in song. An odd piece of behaviour meriting a mention came from two Black Redstarts cavorting about atop one of the highest pylon `arms`, something I`d not seen before at such a height, their `distress` may have been due to a male Peregrine sat atop an adjacent pylon. The Trapping Area harboured plenty of song from Chiffchaffs, Whitethroats and Blackcaps, plus several Willow and Garden Warblers and Lesser Whitethroats, and two Redpolls over calling. Out of the chill wind in the sun traps three Grizzled Skippers basked in the warming rays. A couple of visits to the north end of the Long Pits revealed brief bursts of song from a Wood Warbler and a Grasshopper Warbler (both scarce passage migrants here) while Pied and Spotted Flycatchers and Redstart were also reported in the general area today. From the access road to the visitor centre five distant Whimbrels were on the Boulderwall fields and a Hobby flew over Cook`s pool. Burrowes was quiet with most of the prime nesting islands and rafts already occupied by Herring and Lesser-black Backed Gulls.

                                  Grizzled Skipper, Trapping Area

                                 Wheatear, Dungeness

                                  Tern raft, Long Pits

On the local patch DS found a Pied Flycatcher first thing by the ponds, this time a smart male which he managed to photograph. It became far more retiring as the day wore on and I only had fleeting glimpses of it in cover as the wind picked up this afternoon. More Willow Warblers and Lesser Whitethroats had also dropped in here and my first Hobby of the spring at Lade flew behind the wall `mirror` this afternoon. Many thanks to Dave for providing the superb pics below.

                                  Pied Flycatcher, Lade ponds (by Dave Scott)

                                Lesser Whitethroat, Lade ponds (by Dave Scott)

                                  Willow Warbler, Lade ponds (by Dave Scott)