Monday, 2 October 2023

Common Hawthorn

St Mary`s Bay - warm, dry and cloudy, light airs - An early morning Ted walk commenced on the field in front of the golf links in humid, misty conditions, ideal for grounded migrants and to be fair, for a change, there were a few passerines to be had, mostly Meadow Pipits, Linnets, Goldfinches, Skylarks and a few Wheatears. After all this site has got form and in my time has delivered the likes of Shore Lark, Red-backed Shrike, Lapland and Snow Buntings; I always reckon it could be good for a Richard`s Pipit, but not this morning... As the tide was out the sands attracted the usual Curlews, Oystercatchers and several Turnstones, but yet again an absence of small sandpipers.

                                 Wheatear and Meadow Pipit, St Mary`s Bay

White Cliffs, Dover - We then drove to Folkestone to pick up our Lucy, and on to the iconic White Cliffs for a birthday walk along to South Foreland lighthouse, a site I`ve not visited for about ten years. The scenery, of course, is spectacular; which was a good job as there was a distinct lack of bird life apart from a few Chiffchaffs in the bushes and Jackdaws along the sea cliffs. After pausing for a packed lunch at the lighthouse we returned along the hinterland route (still bereft of migrants) to view the Chough release site where eight birds nervously perched on the cage and along the adjacent fenceline. It certainly made for a spectacular setting though, with the castle nestling in the background and mist rolling across a deep, grassy valley. I`m a sucker (no pun intended!) for a good tree and during the afternoon we came across a spectacular Common Hawthorn specimen, which somehow had matured into a rather smart tree as opposed to the usual hedgerow bush. It was also a pleasure to bump into Heather Chantler (formerly of Dungeness RSPB) this afternoon for a natter, and thanks again to my lovely daughter Lucy for the company along the way. 

                                  Ted and Lucy

                                  White Cliffs

                                  Langdon Hole

                                  South Foreland lighthouse


                                 Ted and Lucy
    Common Hawthorn, Dover

Saturday, 30 September 2023

Tree Sparrows

Scotney - warm, dry and sunny, SW 2 - Suitable weather then for a change of scene for this morning`s Ted walk at a site I`ve neglected of late. We started off checking the front lakes from the cycle track which held the usual common diving and dabbling ducks, feral geese (120 Egyptians), Cormorants and gulls, four Little Egrets, two Curlews and singles of Green Sandpiper, Whimbrel and Greenshank. There were very few birds on the lakeside fields apart from ten Yellow Wagtails, 20 Meadow Pipits and 50 Linnets near the farm buildings. We then tramped out back to the new pits where 200 Lapwings, a Common Sandpiper and a Redshank were added to the meagre wader list, but little else. The highlight of the farmland birds were two small flocks of Tree Sparrows near the nest boxes along with ten more Yellow Wagtails and several Ravens ovehead cronking loudly. A field near the dung heap attracted a couple of hundred Meadow Pipits, Skylarks and Goldfinches, but no sign of any Corn Buntings, and not a single raptor was seen throughout the visit. Other sundry birds included two Wheatears, two Stonechats and a Grey Wagtail over calling. 

                                 Yellow Wagtails and Tree Sparrows, Scotney

En-route to the point we called in at the bird reserve for lunch overlooking Cooks Pool where all eight Cattle Egrets and a Glossy Ibis were noted around the suckling herd and where we bumped into Neil B and family for a catch-up. The weather conditions were most unsuitable for a seawatch but I wanted to see how Ted would react to an hour (1230-1330hrs) of static birding at the fishing boats; mind you, after walking for miles around Scotney he was probably pleased to have a rest - I know I was! I wasn`t expecting much but there was a steady down-Channel trickle of, mostly distant, Sandwich Terns, Gannets and auks (including three close Razorbills), four Arctic Skuas, two Common Scoters and my first Red-throated Diver of the autumn. And as for Ted, he was fine, until a yacht hove into view which set him off for a spot of barking!

                                 Ted seawatching

Thursday, 28 September 2023

Autumn Moths

New Romney - warm, dry and cloudy, SW3 - This morning`s Ted walk around the farmland tracts to the north of town produced a similar range of birds to my last post. The hedgerows and scrub continue to attract plenty of passage Chiffchaffs and its been a pleasure to watch these tiny waifs bathing in the garden bird bath; everyone of which has to be checked for a possible Yellow-browed! Hundreds of Swallows were also on the move today, hurrying south over the turf and arable lands amongst large mixed flocks of gulls; one roughly ploughed field off Hope Lane attracted 50 Meadow Pipits, 20 Skylarks and a scattering of Reed Buntings, Linnets and Goldfinches. Sparrowhawks and Common Buzzards are being noted daily, some of which are probably continental migrants, while on Tuesday a flock of 26 westward bound Grey Herons was noteworthy. Due to the night time humidity the garden moth trap has been ticking over nicely with an increase in typical autumn species such as Lunar Underwing, Black and Autumnal Rustics; recent highlights have also included six Clancy`s Rustics and four Delicates two nights ago, and a Vestal and a Barred Sallow last night.


                                  Barred Sallow
                                  Ted on the turf

Visits to the bird reserve have yielded nothing new with the long-staying Little Stint, a few Snipes and Golden Plovers still present from Hanson hide, plus three Glossy Ibises and up to eight Cattle Egrets on the Boulderwall fields/ARC. Yesterday afternoon an hour at the fishing boats delivered a few Sandwich Terns being harried by Arctic Skuas, several passing Gannets and a flock of 12 Common Scoters, along with a steady passage of Swallows heading out across the Channel.

Sunday, 24 September 2023

Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs

Littlestone - warm, dry and sunny, S4 - There was a noticeable change in the temperature today as I checked through the garden moths with the cool northerly of yesterday replaced by a pleasant and warm, southerly breeze that had set in overnight; the first Lunar Underwings in the trap confirmed that the mothing season is entering its final phase of the year. However, we had a change of scene for our Ted walk this morning; St Mary`s Bay to Littlestone, where we walked the field in front of the golf links and back along the beach. Despite the brisk wind Wheatears were much in evidence with at least 20 birds noted, including a flock of ten along the sea wall, and a similar number of Meadow Pipits. The sea was quiet apart from a dozen or so Sandwich Terns and a single Bonxie powering westwards about 100 yards offshore, and my first of the autumn. 

                                          Lunar Underwing

                                 Wheatears, Littlestone

                                  Ted on the beach

Go into any woodland across southern England in the summer months and by far and away the most numerous migrant warblers will be Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps, both normally detected by their distinctive songs, and once the canopy closes over difficult to observe. The diversity of woodland birds, both resident and migrant species, has declined dramatically in my lifetime, apart from these two which have very much bucked the trend and prospered. Population dynamics is a complex subject best left to others, but the ability of both of these birds to shift their wintering grounds in line with a rapidly changing climate is probably a major factor in this success story; lets face it, why cross the Sahara if you can survive the winter in Europe and the Mediterranean Basin. So, its no surprise then that the Chiffchaff is the most widespread and numerous passage migrant of the tribe. Currently, they can be encountered just about anywhere, but last Friday we also had a large scale arrival of Blackcaps across the Marsh with hundreds gracing the coastal scrub at Dungeness. Trying to estimate such `falls` is pretty neigh on impossible but it must`ve have run into the thousands; I certainly noted over 100 ranging from my back garden in NR to Lade and Tower Pits/ARC, while hundreds more were reported from St Marys-in-the-Marsh, the Trapping Area and across the bird reserve. Also logged on that day were a few Common and Lesser Whitethroats, an increase in Robins and my first ten Siskins of autumn overhead at the pines. A memorable autumnal spectacle then, and on a par with the House Martin movement a fortnight ago.  

                                 Chiffchaff and Blackcap

Wednesday, 20 September 2023

Black Tern

Dungeness - warm, dry and cloudy, SW6 - For this morning`s guided RSPB walk for four guests I decided to abandon the circular route due to the strong winds and lack of hides around Burrowes; we walked to Firth, and as we were the first visitors of the day flushed everything in front of the lookout, from where there was no way of sheltering from the tempest. So, it was back to Dennis`s hide for shelter and a stakeout checking through the common wildfowl, Lapwings and gulls for something of interest. A steady passage of Sand and House Martins pulsed over the waters throughout while two Great White Egrets, two Marsh Harriers and four Ruff were noteworthy. Moving onto Boulderwall Fields where at least six Cattle Egrets were noted amongst the suckling herd and a Kestrel over. We then settled in at Hanson hide enjoying good views of the Glossy Ibis pair, a juvenile Little Stint and singles of Little Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Common Sandpiper, Garganey and Pintail, while a Black Tern appeared briefly over the Cormorant island before relocating to Burrowes (per SM). Needlesss to say, due to the weather, we hardly saw any passerines this morning, although Chiffchaffs could be heard calling from the willow scrub. Seawatching at the point today continued to witness an unprecedented passage of Balearic Shearwaters heading down Channel.

                                 Cattle Egrets, Boulderwall fields

Tuesday, 19 September 2023

Balearic Shearwaters

Dungeness - Cloudy, showers, SW 5-6 - On a day like today, and at this time of year, there`s only one realistic birding option - a seawatch from the point, where I joined DW et al for two hours (0930-1130hrs) sheltering in the lee of the fishing boats as the wind picked up to near gale force. The early seawatchers had recorded 25 Balearics and six Sooty Shearwaters from the hide; while during my stint from the boats we had at least 18 Balearics coming down Channel, mostly a good distance out but including two flocks of seven birds together. Also noted a steady movement of Sandwich Terns and Gannets, several auks, five Arctic Skuas and a probable Long-tailed Skua, a few hirundines striking out for France, plus Harbour Porpoises and Grey Seals in the sea.

                                 Clifton Nonpareil
                                  Barred Red

The only birds of note recently on my Ted walks around the New Romney farmland have been flyovers of Great White Egret and Grey Wagtail. Chiffchaffs seem to be everywhere though, including in the garden, where a Blackcap was also noted drinking from the bird bath. The stand out moth in the trap of late was a stunning Clifden Nonpareil, a first me, yesterday morning. 

Friday, 15 September 2023

A thousand Oystercatchers

Lade - warm, dry and sunny, SE2 - A stunning autumnal day of weather, but once again poor for passage migrants; infact, 10 Chiffchaffs, 20 hirundines, 10 Meadow Pipits, five Stonechats and a Wheatear was about it.  Two Great White Egrets were of interest continually flying over the site as though they were pair-bonding; surely they must breed locally soon. There was no sign of the Black-necked Grebe on south lake, where a lone Common Sandpiper briefly settled on the shingle island, and duck numbers were low. As the tide came in on the bay 35 Curlews flew to roost on the Desert. The Oystercatchers roosted at Kerton Road quarry where a rough count totalled at least 1,000 birds, plus several Sandwich Terns, 100 mixed gulls and a Black-tailed Godwit. On the shingle scrub a flock of 20 Linnets, 10 Meadow Pipits and three Stonechats were present.

                                  Wheatear, Lade

                                 Oystercatcher roost, Kerton Road quarry

With the harvest now almost complete the fields around New Romney have been turned over to the plough and drill which has attracted large numbers of highly mobile gulls, pigeons and corvids. Mediterranean Gulls are easily the most numerous of their tribe with several hundreds on the arable lands and loafing on the turf fields. A few more Sparrowhawks and Common Buzzards have been noted along with a several parties of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits over, plus singles of Grey Wagtail and Green Sandpiper yesterday morning. A couple of visits to the fishing boats at Dungeness this week produced nothing more than small groups of passing Sandwich Terns and Gannets, outbound Swallows, Guillemots on the water and Porpoises and Grey Seals.