Wednesday 31 December 2014

Last rites

Lade - 1000hrs - cold, sunny start, then cloudy, sw 3 - We struck out across the desert in the vain hope of finding the Little Bustard that was reported from East Guldeford yesterday flying toward Camber. If it is still on the Marsh (or the ranges, a likely spot) tomorrow will probably be the likely day for it to be found, what with all the NYD birders in the field. However, a smart Short-eared Owl hunting the airport fields behind the `mirrors` was some compensation, while the usual wildfowl were on a partially frozen lake. The Boxing Day gale did a fair bit of damage down here, including the power line pole below.

                               Power line down, Lade desert

                               Lade south

RSPB - A final scout round the bird reserve delivered the usual sawbills, egrets and wildfowl.

Tuesday 30 December 2014

Review of the birding year 2014

Romney Marsh Birding Year

Looking back over the past twelve months it is plain to see that 2014 was yet another eventful year full of surprises and some wonderful birds for guests to enjoy, both in quantity and rarity value. The total species count for the year of 221 is not the best we`ve managed over the past nine years, but who cares, as there have been so many memorable days in the field.
  The first winter period was dominated by the weather with mild, wet conditions raising the water levels across the Marsh with areas such as the Dowels almost completely flooded. The shingle peninsula was not exempt, and even the Trapping Area at Dungeness became a willow swamp, much to the liking of the years first major rarity, a Hume`s Leaf Warbler that lingered well into the spring. Along the foreshore a Glaucous Gull was a popular attraction along with one or two Caspian Gulls and a number of Little Gulls at the Patch; while the main prize, a single observer fly-through Ross`s Gull proved to be an addition to the Dungeness list. Offshore Great Northern Diver sightings were regular amongst the abundant Red-throated Divers, Great Crested Grebes, auks, gulls and Gannets.

                                1st winter Glaucous Gull, Dungeness

                                Glossy Ibis, going to roost, Burrowes pit

  Much attention was paid to the RSPB reserve where flocks of Smew delighted visiting birders along with wintering Black-throated Divers, Great White Egrets, Bitterns, Marsh Harriers and a Glossy Ibis, but a pair of Penduline Tits proved frustratingly difficult to locate. On Walland Marsh two Tundra Bean Geese, and flocks of White-fronted Geese and Bewick`s Swans wintered, and a Long-tailed Duck took up residence on Scotney where large flocks of Golden Plovers lingered. Elsewhere, Short-eared Owls showed well at Littlestone golf links, along with a Slavonian Grebe on Lade pits and Purple Sandpipers at Hythe; the location for the comedy episode of the year when a Chinese Pond Heron attracted the nations` twitchers to town.

                                Garganey, ARC

  By mid-March all thoughts turned to spring migrants and there were some early records of Wheatear, Sand Martin, Garganey and Little Ringed Plover across the Dungeness NNR. The expected Med Gulls, Red Kites, Black-necked Grebes and Avocets trickled through along with an increase in Black Redstart, Chiffchaff and Firecrest numbers. At sea the first Sandwich Terns arrived, while Brent Geese departed, at times in spectacular numbers, and the two Penduline Tits put in a final appearance at the ARC reedbed.
  And so to April and the main spring passage period which for passerines was a faltering affair with poor numbers of certain migrants such as Willow Warbler and Whinchat, while Turtle Dove and Spotted Flycatcher were almost rarities. On the plus side Ring Ouzels were up in numbers and a Yellow-browed Warbler was found in the lighthouse garden. Around the bird reserve a one day Purple Heron proved popular as was an unprecedented influx of Black-winged Stilts with a flock of ten followed by a pair that lingered into May raising hopes of breeding as they commuted between the hayfields and Scotney. Offshore the seabird passage was well underway, although numbers of skuas, terns and waders were low to start with. However, this was more than compensated for by the Pomarine Skua passage that peaked in early May when over 100 individuals clipped the point delighting the many birders present on what was Bank Holiday Monday.

                                Black-winged Stilts, Hayfields

  May delivered some cracking birds commencing with a Red-rumped Swallow and Montagu`s Harrier on the local patch at Lade, a Hooded Crow at Dungeness, then four Bee-eaters at St Marys-in-the-Marsh, a Great Reed Warbler at Tower Pits and a personal lifer in the form of a singing Blyth`s Reed Warbler on the margins of the Trapping Area. Terns eventually surged through providing a memorable spectacle when hundreds of Common, Arctic and Black Terns dropped onto the ARC lake. On Lade bay summer plumage Arctic waders paused a while including good numbers of Tundra Ringed Plovers and Sanderlings in breeding plumage. Around the peninsula more Bee-eaters were reported along with Wood Sandpipers, Honey Buzzard, a Crane and an all too brief Long-billed Dowitcher on Dengemarsh.

                                Bearded Tit, Dengemarsh

  By and large the warm, dry summer weather was beneficial for breeding birds where across the wetlands grebes did particularly well, also Reed and Cetti`s Warblers and Bearded Tits. A Bittern `boomed` in Hookers reedbed and several `pairs` of Marsh Harriers were successful. Common Terns raised young on the Dengemarsh rafts and elsewhere Mediterranean Gulls nested within a Black-headed Gull colony. On the Desert scrub both Whitethroat and Cuckoo fared well. Around Dungeness power station site Black Redstarts, Raven and Peregrine all bred with varying degrees of success, while at Brett`s Marina a pair of Egyptian Geese raised young for the first time. The Lydd heronry attracted five pairs of Little Egrets, delighting those able to climb the church tower on open day and gaze down upon the nest site.

                                Little Egret, Lydd heronry

  On the debit side Tree Sparrows and Corn Bunting just about maintained their slim status quo across the Marsh farmland, while waders such as Lapwing and Oystercatcher fell foul of increasing predation from crows, gulls, foxes and badgers. Along the foreshore breeding Ringed Plover and Wheatear suffered disturbance from the public and their dogs. The breeding picture was particularly gloomy on the arable hinterlands with traditional farmland birds such as Grey Partridge, Turtle Dove reduced to a mere handful in number.

                               Tree Sparrow, Boulderwall

  The eagerly awaited return wader passage was something of a damp squid this summer due to stubbornly high water levels on the bird reserve with only a trickle of Little Stints and Curlew Sandpipers noted, and an absence of `peeps`; although a Red-necked Phalarope on ARC was well received by one and all. A Glossy Ibis reappeared and three Cattle Egrets heralded a profitable second half of the year for this former rarity.
  As we moved into August passerine migration went into overdrive with large numbers of Sand Martins and Willow Warblers on the move and by the months end an unprecedented fall of warblers, chats and flycatchers across the peninsula. Within the mix were several Wrynecks, Barred, Wood and Melodious Warblers and a Red-backed Shrike, while at Cockles Bridge a juv Montagu`s Harrier performed well. The fun continued into September with Pied and Spotted Flycatchers recorded in the hundreds, plus a large influx of Buzzards and Kestrels.
  Dungeness seawatchers enjoyed an autumn to remember with a record breaking run of Pomarine Skuas and Sooty Shearwaters, plus sub-rarities such as Sabine`s Gull, Leache`s Petrel and several each of  Grey Phalarope and Long-tailed Skua. On the land October yielded large movements of Ring Ouzels and House Martins, plus several Yellow-browed Warblers and a showy Woodlark. A trip down to Castle Water delivered a stunning adult White-winged Black Tern.
  Rarities into November included a Great Grey Shrike, that tarried all too briefly at Dungeness, and a Dartford Warbler at Galloways. On the negative side the overhead autumn passage of pipits, finches, buntings and larks was once again almost non existent, and Yellow Wagtails were low in number.

                                Cattle Egrets, Dengemarsh

  The year finished with Snow Buntings along the coast; Hen Harrier, wild swans and Bean Geese on Walland Marsh; Cattle and Great White Egrets on Dengemarsh; sawbills on the bird reserve, plus a Lesser Yellowlegs down at Pett Level.
  During the course of the year we also made five day trips to northern France, enjoying such gems as Kentish Plover and Crested Lark along the coast; Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Crested Tit and Hen Harrier in Crecy; Bluethroat, White Stork and Black-winged Stilt in the Somme valley and seabirds at Cap-griz-nez. And I haven't even mentioned the butterflies, dragonflies, moths, wild flowers, mammals etc...
  2014 certainly was a memorable year.

Sunday 28 December 2014

An icy blast

Lade - 1000hrs - cold, sunny, ne 5 - Spent much of the morning working the local patch and along the bay where most birds were sheltering behind banks and bushes from the blasting wind coming off the sea. On south lake the long-staying duck Red-crested Pochard remained amongst the ducks and Coots, while a tit and Chiffchaff flock found shelter by the ponds and a Raven flew over calling.

                                Red-crested Pochard, Lade

Greatstone Beach - We checked the tideline for Snow Bunting without any joy, although it was busy with people out walking and enjoying the sunshine, despite the icy wind. Further south towards the Pilot the foreshore drew a blank for yesterdays Glaucous Gull.

                                Glove fence, Greatstone Beach

Dungeness - No sign here of it here too amongst the few roosting gulls, although there was a 3rd winter Caspian Gull amongst the Herring Gulls and Black-backs.
Lade - A late afternoon check of roosting gulls on the gravel pits at Kerton Road also drew a blank.

Saturday 27 December 2014

Lesser Yellowlegs

Scotney Pits  - cold, cloudy, nw 4 - 1030hrs -  En-route to Rye a quick check of the pits from the road revealed the usual feral geese and two Black-necked Grebes, plus plenty of Wigeon and Lapwings on the grass,
Pett Levels - Initially our quarry wasn't showing so we parked at Toots Rock and walked down to Carter`s Flood checking the fields on the way, but there was little of note apart from Curlews, Redshanks, Lapwings, Wigeon, Common Gulls, five Blackwits, a Marsh Harrier, two Kestrels and several Dabchicks on the main road side pools. However, a  call from OL told us that the Lesser Yellowlegs  had reappeared further down the road towards Winchelsea Beach, but by the time we arrived it had flown off a short way. However, eventually it popped up from one of the field ditches alongside a couple of Redshanks and a pack of Wigeon where it gave distant, yet adequate, scope views. We didn't hang about long though as the biting northerly wind made for uncomfortable viewing, so we retired to the nearby cafĂ© for tea and carrot cake, and very tasty it was too.
Walland Marsh - Crossing the Marsh on the way home delivered little apart from distant views of the wild swans and Bean Geese at Horse Bones farm, plus a couple of flocks of winter thrushes (mostly Fieldfares) and plenty of Blackbirds beside the lane.
Lade  - News of a 1st winter Glaucous Gull heading our way (courtesy of PB) had us scurrying down the boardwalk to check the gulls flying down the beach, but it was not to be. Apparently, the bird had been seen this afternoon along the foreshore between the lifeboat station and opposite the Kerton Road junction of Coast Drive.
Anyhow I`m not complaining as Lesser Yellowlegs is a rare bird in these parts and another species to my extended `Marsh` bird list, not that I`m year listing of course...

Friday 26 December 2014

Full suite of herons

Dengemarsh - cold, overcast, light airs - 1030hrs - On a murky, still morning Mrs PT joined us for a full circuit of Dengemarsh, during which time we clocked up all the herons, so`s to speak: Great White and Little Egrets, Grey Herons, a Bittern and distant views of the two Cattle Egrets sat on straw bales over by the town. Being as the reserve was closed we walked the track up past Boulderwall where there was no sign any Tree Sparrows on the feeders, just a few tits and Chaffinches. The fields, however, were full of Wigeon, Lapwing, Starlings and feral geese, plus several Marsh Harriers, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk. Around the arable field margins a few Skylarks, Reed Buntings and Song Thrushes were disturbed, while the chicken sheds attracted a Black Redstart and several Pied Wagtails.
Tracking round via Springfield Bridge the hayfields and flood looked perfect for waders and wildfowl but there was not a single bird present. By the ramp Snipe, Grey Plover and Curlew called overhead, plus Bearded Tit, Chiffchaff and Cetti`s Warbler in the reedbeds, and that was about it really.
NB: Other local news today concerned the long staying wild swans and Bean Geese on Walland Marsh, plus a Lesser Yellowlegs down at Pett Levels (MH).

Thursday 25 December 2014

Littlestone shorebirds

Lade - 0900hrs - mild, sunny, nw 2 - A cracking winters day with bright sunshine from the off, and as a result people out walking in droves. Just the same old stuff on the lakes, plus some good views of Chiffchaffs snapping up flying insects in the sun-trap by the ponds.

                               Grey Plovers and Sanderlings, Littlestone

Littlestone - 1100hrs - Mrs PT joined us for a pre-curry walk along the foreshore to St Mary`s Bay and back across the golf links. With the tide on the way in several hundred shorebirds were up on the shingle roosting (or trying to), mostly Sanderlings and Dunlins, plus 10 Ringed Plovers, 25 Grey Plovers, 12 Knots and 15 Turnstones. Every so often they were flushed by dog-walkers and flew out across the bay, glinting in tight formation before settling down once again. There was little to be seen on the golf links apart from a few Linnets and Mipits.

                                Santa`s all at sea...

Wednesday 24 December 2014

Guilty as charged

Lade - 1000hrs - mild, cloudy, drizzle, nw 2 - Spent the morning flogging the local patch where there was plenty on offer but nothing much new. Mockmill sewer, the scrub behind the `mirrors` and beside north pit was full of Blackbirds and a few Song Thrushes. Three Snipe were flushed from the sewer, while two Marsh Harriers and a Kestrel were hunting the fields by the airport where also two Stonechat, Skylarks and Mipits. The lakes held the usual waterfowl including Red Crested Pochard and Goldeneye.
We then cut down Seaview road to the dunes where a couple of birders had just reported the Snow Bunting further north on Greatstone Beach. However, scanning down that way I could see loads of dogs running along the tideline, and being a responsible dog owner I`d just have to say something  and end up getting in a row, and we wouldn't want that, would we... so we chickened out and carried on south. With the tide up 20 Sanderlings and Turnstones scurried amongst the flotsam opposite the tavern, while 20 Knots and 10 Barwits roosted amongst the Oystercatchers. There was nothing much on the bay apart from a few gulls and Great Crested Grebes.

                                Jim the seaside cat - guilty as charged                              

Back home Mrs PT`s Jim, the seaside cat, was sitting on the lawn with a Collared Dove that he`d just lovingly murdered. Domestic cats are Britain`s most popular pet and there are millions of them, goodness only knows how many birds and mammals they kill, still its not their fault, they`re only doing what nature intended, and as usual its us humans that must take the blame.
Anyhow, that`s enough fighting talk for now, speaking of which, while we`re on the subject of unpopular predators (albeit a native avian one) we finished off the day from the Lade aerial mound where at least 41 Magpies came to roost in the willow swamp, and the sunset was pretty good too.

Tuesday 23 December 2014

Same old stuff

Dungeness - 0845hrs - mild, cloudy, w 4 - For a change of scene we went out to the point first thing and walked along the foreshore from the lighthouse to the boats and back. After a natter with PB on the concrete road a scan of the sea revealed plenty of Gannets offshore, a few Kittiwakes, Red-throated Divers and auks, plus all the usual gulls and hundreds of Cormorants rounding the point into Rye Bay. The gull roost on the shingle contained at least one adult Yellow-legged Gull.
Causeway Road - The usual two Great White Egrets were around the pit margins, plus small numbers of common ducks on the lakes. Two Marsh Harriers were working the reedbed edge on ARC where they disturbed a Kingfisher.
Lydd - The two Cattle Egrets look set for the duration of the winter in the cow field in Dengemarsh Road, while another Great White and two Little Egrets were on Brett`s Pit.
Other local news included the wild swans and Bean Geese on Walland Marsh and the Snow Bunting reappeared on Greatstone Beach opposite the Jolly Fisherman (OL).

Sunday 21 December 2014

Winter Solstice

Lade - mild, cloudy, drizzle, w 2 - And so to the shortest day, a gloomy start with low cloud and drizzle that for me was considerably brightened up by watching the highlights of QPR`s jammy 3-2 win over WBA, thanks mostly to a Charlie Austin hat-trick and Rob Green`s goal keeping.
However, I digress, before venturing forth this morning I spent some time checking the bird feeders where the highlight was a Tree Sparrow on the seed hoppers amongst the House Sparrows, a bird we only occasionally see in the garden.
On the local patch a Great White Egret on the far side of south lake was a noteworthy sighting as they rarely seem to venture over here from the bird reserve. The wintering Red Crested Pochard was amongst the wildfowl on south lake where Teal numbers were higher than of late.
Marshman called in today and reported the Tundra Bean Geese and wild swan flock still out on Walland Marsh between Horse-bones farm and Hawthorn Corner, while a single Velvet Scoter was on the sea off Galloways.

Saturday 20 December 2014

Eagle and Snowy Owls - in Folkestone

Lade - 0900hrs - mild, sunny, w 3 - The lakes were again full of waterfowl and inevitably attracted the attention of Marsh Harriers, with at one stage three females quartering the far side of the water testing the ducks and Coots. Eventually the western section of south lake was vacated as the harriers were loathe to fly out over the middle in the brisk wind and no prey was taken whilst I was watching.
Folkestone - This afternoon I dropped the family off at the Quarterhouse venue, and then went for a wander along the harbour area where several Med Gulls were noted amongst the Herring and Black-headed Gulls. Afterwards I nipped to the bank in the town centre, which is well out of my natural habitat and only the second time in nine years that I`ve ventured this way. Anyhow, en-route I noticed a group of people gathered round the back of a people carrier and on closer inspection was amazed to see three Eagle Owls, a Snowy and Barn Owl tethered and perched on a cross-trees being photographed with kids and stupid adults looking on. The owls were in a sorry old state indeed with tatty, abraded feathers and a dull glazed look to their eyes, and should no way have been in such an environment. The human race never ceases to amaze me...

Friday 19 December 2014

Roadside birding

Tower Pits - 1000hrs - mild, sunny, sw 2 - Once the early morning murk and rain had cleared it turned out to be a fine day with plenty of warm sunshine and light winds. Having spent most of yesterday driving around motorways to and from Hertfordshire it was good to be out and about in paradise again. A wander round the back of Tower Pits and along the railway line yielded several passerine flocks complete with Long-tailed Tits, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrest amongst numerous Blue and Great Tits, plus Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Green Woodpeckers and a couple of Redwings. Four Snipe and two Reed Buntings were flushed from cover and a Merlin skimmed the shingle ridges out on the Desert where hundreds of Black-backs and 20 Curlews were at roost.

                                Roadside egrets

Roadside Birding
One of the great advantages for birders down here who are not so able bodied (or, indeed, for those who want to take it easy and stay warm and dry) is how much you can see from the car. Take this morning for example, once our walk was over we checked from the causeway road where five Goosanders, two Great White Egrets, five Goldeneyes, 250 Gadwall and a whole number of common ducks, grebes and gulls were on view on ARC and New Diggings. Moving onto Cockles Bridge and a flock of Lapwing, Goldies, Wigeon, corvids, Starlings, Woodies and Stock Doves were easily `scoped from the car, where a small flock of Skylarks, Reed Buntings and Stonechats were in the weedy horse paddock. Opposite Wraxalls stone yard in Lydd the two Cattle Egrets were within 20 yards of the road, plus a Kestrel sat on the straw bales. Moving onto Scotney (which must be one of best from-the-car spots locally) and a whole load more wildfowl were on offer, including two Black-necked Grebes and a Scaup (a scarce bird down here now), feral geese and distant Shelducks, Marsh Harriers and Kestrels. Driving out the back of Lydd towards Old Romney delivered Mute Swans in the fields at Swamp Lane (the Bewick`s, Whooper Swan and Tundra Geese having moved to fields between Horsebone Farm and Hawthorn Corner) a Little Owl and two Buzzards nearby, 500 Fieldfares, 20 Redwings near Honeychild Farm and another Little Owl. After calling in at New Romney we pulled up at Littlestone on the way home to scan the beach for waders where six species were seen without getting out of the car, plus all the usual gulls, four Brents and a Shelduck. Not a bad tally for a bit of lazy bones birding.

Wednesday 17 December 2014

Gulls, sawbills & egrets

Dungeness RSPB - 0930hrs - mild, cloudy, sw 2 - Spent most of the morning at the bird reserve, some of which was in a meeting, on a balmy day when temperatures touched 14C by early afternoon.
Although wildfowl numbers were low on Burrowes they did included three redhead Smew, 20 Pintail, Goldeneye and a flock of five Goosanders, presumably the birds from New Diggings. Across the site at least six Great White and four Little Egrets noted, plus the usual Marsh Harriers, Kestrel, Green Woodpecker and the like. In Dennis`s hide DW located a colour-ringed/numbered 3rd winter Caspian Gull amongst the Black-backs and Herring Gulls, plus an adult Yellow-legged Gull.

                                3rd winter Caspian Gull, Burrowes

                               Adult Yellow-legged Gull, Burrowes

Lydd - A circuit of the town produced the two semi-resident Cattle Egrets in Dengemarsh Road and the swan flock in the fields from Swamp Lane that included 20 plus Bewick`s and a Whooper Swan.
Scotney - Stopped off briefly at the Sussex end where the immature drake Scaup and two Black-necked Grebes showed well.
Littlestone - Just before lights out we checked the beach from the Varne where only five species of shorebirds were noted due to the tide being out, but did include 11 Grey Plovers.

                                Its a dogs life...

I`ve had a few enquires of late asking about the well being of a certain Border Terrier called Barney. Well, as you can see from the pic above he`s having a tough time of things, its nothing to do with me either, if I had my way he`d be outside in the kennel... Mrs PT on the other hand insists on spoiling him, just because he`s got a dodgy front paw, but if you ask me I reckon he`s milking it...

Tuesday 16 December 2014

A sun trap

Dungeness - 0830hrs - cold, dry, light airs - For a change of scene on this bright, sunny morning we headed down to the point for a wander along the foreshore from the lighthouse to the fishing boats, where the highlight was a Merlin hurtling down the beach chasing a Pied Wagtail, which hid under a boat to escape its clutches! The sea was predictably quiet with only a few passing Gannets and Red-throated Divers, plus the usual couple of hundred Great Crested Grebes on the water.

                                Lade Ponds

Lade - Back at the local patch the suns rays were beginning to have the desired effect and warming things up a bit. The picture above may not look much but the ponds here are orientated north/south with a willow and a bramble bank on either side, which means they`re well sheltered from the prevailing winds, mainly from a westerly vector, but increasingly from the east. As a consequence this sun trap, even on a winters day, brings forth insects of one sort or another along with a range of passerines. Tit flocks are a staple diet, including Long-tailed as today, plus two Chiffchaffs and a Goldcrest, Robins, Blackbirds and Chaffinches, while the reeds attracted a Stonechat and Cetti`s Warbler. The other plus point about this spot is that the birds are easy to see as they work the willow margin, and although I`ve not yet found a real crippler here its surely only a matter of time...

Sunday 14 December 2014

Wild goose chase

Lade 0830hrs - cold, frosty, sunny, light airs - Sometimes I have to pinch myself as a reminder of how lucky I am living down here on the Marsh. Take today, for example. It`s December, the fag-end of the birding year, nothing much ever happens, its hopeless, isn't it? Well, perhaps not, do read on...
First up the weather was perfect, still and sunny, although the cloud and wind increased from the south-west by midday. On the local patch the usual wildfowl including Red Crested Pochard, Goldeneye and four Bewick`s Swans in a rape field at the back of Lade north, plus Cetti`s Warbler, Goldcrest, Chiffchaff and Long-tailed Tits around the willow swamp.
Crossing the causeway road five Goosanders and two Great White Egrets on New Diggings and in their usual field at Dengemarsh Road, Lydd two Cattle Egrets playing hide-and-seek amongst the straw bales.
Scotney - The expected feral Barnacle, Canada and Greylag Geese on the grass, plus loads of Wigeon, Lapwings and a few Goldies until dispersed by a Peregrine. The new pits behind the farm held 55 Shelducks, 10 Egyptian Geese and four Brents in a field, plus 10 Corn Buntings and 20 Chaffinches around the yard. At the Sussex end two Black-necked Grebes and a Scaup were reported (per BB).

                                Greylag and White-fronted Geese, Walland Marsh

Walland Marsh - First stop Midley drying barns and the surrounding environs where, for once birds were everywhere; chiefly Fieldfares, around a thousand of `em, corvids and Woodpigeons along with a scattering of Redwings, Blackbirds, Song and Mistle Thrushes, and single figures of Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer, finches, tits and Stock Doves, plus Tree Sparrows, Goldfinches, tits, Dunnocks and Robins around the feeders.
We then spent a couple of hours out on Cheyne Court wetlands which held hundreds of Goldies, Lapwings, Teal, Wigeon, Greylags and two White-fronts, plus several Marsh Harriers, Kestrels and Buzzards. Walking around a field of root crops we flushed 100 Skylarks, 20 Mipits and single figures of Snipe, Reed Bunting, Pied Wagtail and Song Thrush. Also, Bearded Tit and three Stonechats nearby.
Back on the lane we bumped into DB and BB and eventually, between us, we located the three Tundra Bean Geese hiding amongst a flock of Mute Swans near the Woolpack reservoir. On the drive back to Midley they alerted us to a male Hen Harrier, which I was jammy enough to see flying low over a turf field near the drying barns, heading out towards Scotney.
So, not a bad little outing, with seven species of geese, plenty of passerines, and the cream on the hot chocolate, a Grey Ghost.
Who said December was duff for birding...? Certainly not me!

Saturday 13 December 2014

Collared Doves and Curlews

Lade - mild and grey am, sunny pm, light airs - Spent most of the day assisting the lumberjacks  cutting back the garden leyandias; we left it until now as surely there wouldn't be any active bird nests, would there? Oh yes there was, incredibly two Collared Dove nests were discovered, both with two eggs, the adult birds sitting tight despite the chain saw buzzing away nearby. Unfortunately, one nest was accidentally destroyed but the second one was left intact. Do these prolific breeders ever stop for a breather, I don't think so.

                               Curlews, Lade - before and after Marsh Harrier attack

It was a glorious late afternoon with barely a breath of wind and a red setting sun as we slogged out across the shingle to Mockmill for a stake out and to see what was on the move at last knockings, carefully avoiding the roosting Curlews en-route. However, a passing Marsh Harrier wasn't as circumspect and tried his luck, plunging down into the flock and flushing them skywards, but without a score as the Curlews kept in a tight group. The harrier drifted off towards the bird reserve, presumably to roost, along with three others over the course of the hour. Hundreds of Woodpigeons flocked into the willows behind the `mirrors`, plus a few Blackbirds, but there was no sign of any owls hunting the rough ground on what was a perfect evening for such activity. So, we hung around and just enjoyed the sunset, beautiful, and as it dipped down over the cliffs at Fairlight, so did the temperature...

                               Sunset, Mockmill Sewer

Friday 12 December 2014

Stormy waters and Bewick`s Swan details

Dungeness - 0930hrs - mild, cloudy, rain sw 5 - Last night at around 3 a.m. I was woken by the sound of gale force winds screaming up-Channel and buffeting the peninsular hereabouts. Our old cottage creaks and rattles in a gale, but having stood firm for over 200 years has witnessed one or two good blows in its time - then just before dawn the rain followed and the wind eased off.
We headed down to the point to check the sea where a steady flow of gulls and Gannets were moving down-Channel, some close to shore. In the Patch hide DW had already found a 1st winter Caspian Gull on the foreshore amongst several hundred Herring, Black-backs, Black-headed and Common Gulls, but there were fewer gulls over the boil than of late. Even though the worst of the storm was over several ships were making heavy weather of the rough seas in the Channel.

                               Wiron 5, Plymouth based trawler, `going green`

NB: Colour ringed Bewick`s Swan
Thanks to John Kirk for an interesting e-mail received today regarding a Bewick`s Swan sporting a green colour ring with the letters AFJ, one of the group currently on Walland Marsh. John managed to read the ring when the swan emerged into the open at the Swamp Farm Crossing gateway last Saturday and information has already been received back from WWT (that was quick!). This individual was ringed near Littleport, Cambridgeshire, in January 2011 and has also been reported in northern Germany. John also strongly suspects it was on Walland last winter.

Thursday 11 December 2014

Wild swans

Long Pits - 1030hrs - mild, sunny, w 4 - Just for a change of scene we did a circuit of Long Pits this morning, optimistically with roosting Leos in mind, but realistically seeing virtually nothing apart from a few tits, Robins, Blackbirds and Chiffchaffs in the scrub and a Dabchick on the water.
Causeway Road - The five Goosanders were still on New Diggings along with two each of Great White and Little Egrets, while on ARC Goldeneye and Black-necked Grebe were out in the rough water with 200 Gadwall in the shallows.

                                Bewick`s Swans, Walland Marsh

Lydd - The two Cattle Egrets appear to have settled down for the duration in the field opposite the stone yard in Dengemarsh Road, while on the northern outskirts of town, on Walland Marsh near Swamp Crossing Farm, the mixed swan flock had risen to 26 Bewick`s (two of which were juvs) and an adult Whooper Swan, which I`ve just realised was new for the year; now, where is that year list..

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Canadian Waterweed

Lade - 0900hrs - mild, sunny, w 2 - Following strong overnight winds this morning dawned calm and clear with balmy temperatures. We wandered across the shingle to Mockmill where a few thrushes, Mipits, Wrens and two Snipe were flushed from cover. The lakes held pretty much the same wildfowl as on Sunday, plus a Goldeneye on north lake. Last nights wind had dislodged huge rafts of Canadian Waterweed from south lake and washed it up along the eastern shore, much to the delight of the Moorhens picking it over for morsels. This submerged waterweed is an introduced plant that spreads rapidly across freshwater lakes and this year it appears to have flourished, judging from the large numbers of Coot and dabbling ducks present.
Whilst on the subject of Coots, they continue to attract the attentions of Marsh Harriers with two large, sub-adult females quartering the lake testing for any weaklings; although one of them got a fierce reception when it strayed too close to a Great Black-backed Gull.

                                Canadian Waterweed, Lade

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Thanet Birders

Dungeness - 0900hrs - cold, sunny, light airs - A group of four birders from Thanet enjoyed a days birding across the peninsula in fine weather, although the wind picked up throughout the afternoon. We kicked off in some style with a late Ring Ouzel in the scrub near West Beach; other passerines included single figures of Stonechat, Pied Wagtail, Mipit, Wren, Robin, Blackbird and Dunnock. The Patch was rammed with several thousand gulls, in contrast to the sea where only two Red-throated Divers and a couple of hundred Great Crested Grebes of note.
New Diggings - Five Goosanders were the highlight here, including two drakes, plus all the usual wildfowl, grebes, gulls and two each of Marsh Harrier, Great White and Little Egrets.
ARC - From Hanson hide two more Great Whites, four Pintail and several hundred common wildfowl, plus Kestrel, Water Rails, Cetti`s Warbler, Blackbird and Redwing from the Willow Trail.
Burrowes - In contrast to recent visits there were huge numbers of ducks on the water including at least a thousand Wigeon and hundreds of Shoveler and Gadwall, plus three more Great White Egrets, totalling seven in all across the site and a 1st winter Caspian Gull. Plenty going on around the car park scrub and feeders with Tree Sparrows, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, tits and finches, although we missed a Firecrest. Buzzard and Marsh Harrier also seen on the Boulderwall fields.

                                Tree Sparrow, RSPB feeders

Lydd - This birding hotspot produced two Cattle Egrets in Dengemarsh Road, while on the other side of town at least 13 Bewick`s Swans and a Tundra Bean Goose were noted amongst the Mutes, where also two Buzzards and a Stonechat.
Scotney - Unusually quiet here with just the feral geese and common diving duck and no sign of any plovers.
Greatstone Beach - We finished the day with nine species of waders on the beach as the tide ebbed with the Curlews still to return before the light beat us. Also, five Teal, on the sea, which is a bit unusual and 500 plus Common Gulls amongst thousands of Black-headed, Herrings and Black-backs.
We all agreed it had been a pretty decent day with 83 species noted; the guests particularly enjoyed the egrets, shorebirds and those cheeky little chaps, the Tree Sparrows, a bird we locals tend to take for granted.

Sunday 7 December 2014

A thousand Coots

Lade - 1000hrs - mild, drizzle, nw 3 - Coming back from an Oysterband gig at Canterbury (Kent Uni campus Sports Hall - the lads put on a decent show despite the crap venue and acoustics) late last night the temperature dropped to -2C on the North Downs. This morning, however, a blanket of cloud had descended across the Marsh elevating the thermometer to a balmy 11C; what crazy, mixed up weather.
Anyhow, today was the monthly WeBS count and we had high hopes of a four figure Coot tally (I`m easily pleased) on the local patch, which was duly smashed at a whopping 1,017 birds. Gadwall, Wigeon, Pochard and Teal were all in three figures, plus singles of Pintail and Red Crested Pochard. Quite why the lakes are so attractive to wildfowl at the moment I`m unsure, but chatting to the fisherman I reckon it could be to do with the amount and variety of aquatic vegetation and associated animal matter. Whatever it is the ducks, rails and grebes love it.

                                Coots, Lade

Walland Marsh - Accompanied Marshman out on the flatlands for the monthly harrier roost count this afternoon in bright sunshine where a record 31 Marsh Harriers roosted at a private site. Other raptors noted included two Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk; also four White-fronted Geese amongst 100 Greylags, a couple of thousand Starlings, Golden Plovers and Lapwings, 50 Dunlin, 50 Teal, 10 Snipe, a Bittern, five Corn Buntings, 20 Linnets, plus calling Chiffchaff, Water Rail, Cetti`s Warbler and Bearded Tit.
Passing Cockles Bridge on the way home a Barn Owl was hunting along the roadside verge.   

Saturday 6 December 2014

Snow Bunting - a patch tick

Lade - 0900hrs - cold, sunny, nw 2 - At long last the gloom lifted from this most south-easterly corner of the Kingdom resulting in a sparkling morning with a light hoar frost sprinkled over the storm beach pebbles, perfect weather conditions for giving the local patch a thorough going over.  First off Mockmill where single figures of Song Thrush, Blackbird, Redwing, Reed Bunting and Snipe were noted in sewer scrub and marsh, followed by two each of Marsh Harrier, Buzzard and Stonechat behind the `mirrors`, plus ten Skylarks over and at least 200 Curlews roosting out the high tide. The lakes had the usual wildfowl, including a Red Crested Pochard, but there was no sign of the recent Smew. Around the willow swamp Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs in a tit flock and vocalising Water Rails and Cetti`s Warblers, plus Kingfisher and Green Woodpecker.
We then completed the circuit back along the beach being careful not to flush the roosting Oystercatchers. Several Skylarks, Pied Wagtails and a Song Thrush were briefly disturbed, while at the Lade end a Snow Bunting flew down the beach calling, from Dungeness way heading towards Greatstone. I managed to get reasonable views of what was a bright individual and probably the one that`s been along the coastline for several weeks now. As this part of the foreshore is included in my expansive local patch, Snow Bunting is now firmly on that list.
Something else that struck me this morning was the number of plant species still in flower, chiefly gorse, but also evening primrose, vipers bugloss, dolly bells, valerian, hawksbit, herb Robert and even a bramble. At Greatstone dunes, which was fully sheltered from the wind and in full sunshine, a  gorgeous splash of sea rocket blooms made a mockery of the low temperatures, although snuggled into the marram grass checking out the scurrying Sanderlings and Dunlins the warmth of the suns rays were very much appreciated.

                                Sea Rocket, Greatstone beach

New Diggings - 1330hrs - En-route to Lydd this afternoon a pause along the causeway road delivered four Goosanders and two Great White Egrets, as per yesterday. After pulling up parsnips and leaks at the allotment I couldn`t resist another look at the Dengemarsh Cattle Egrets, both of which were showing like good `uns close to the road feeding amongst the cows.
Arrived home to the news of a thumping 2-0 home win for QPR to take them out of the relegation zone, how sweet is that...

                                  Cattle Egrets, Dengemarsh Road


Friday 5 December 2014


New Diggings - 0900hrs - cold, grey, light airs - Quite often this large, open aspect road-side lake is sparsely populated, but not so this morning with light winds affording a decent selection of birds across the water. A couple of hundred large gulls made up the bulk numbers followed by Tufted Duck, Coot, Gadwall, Pochard, Goldeneye and Shoveler, while the quality came in the form of four Goosanders, one of which was a stunning drake, arguably our most handsome wintering duck. At least 30 Great Crested Grebes included a head-shaking, displaying pair still in partial breeding plumage. Around the margins were two each of Great White and Little Egrets and a Kingfisher zipped over the western end.

                                Goosanders, New Diggings

Pigwell - Decided to check out the lakes behind Lydd for a change, but only small numbers of diving ducks were present. The rough ground and damp fields did however produce three Snipe, six Corn Buntings and a Stonechat, while distant fields held hundreds of corvids, Woodpigeons and two Marsh Harriers.
Called in at Dengemarsh Road where the two Cattle Egrets were still in the field opposite Wraxalls stone yard.

Thursday 4 December 2014

Smew, swans and a good read

Lade - 0830hrs - cold, grey, n 2 - The temperature didn`t rise much above 4C today making for a `proper` winters day complete with frozen fingers and a runny nose. We trudged out across the shingle to Mockmill where two Stonechats, Mipits and a Snipe were the only birds of note. However, on south lake the first redhead Smew of the winter was on the water, presumably the one that`s been knocking around the bird reserve for a week or more. Whilst on the storm beaches I was fascinated by the antics of a flock of Starlings probing the turf for invertebrate larvae, so intently that they took absolutely no notice of us.

                                Starlings, Lade

Driving across the Marsh from New Romney to Lydd this afternoon checking the farmland was a depressing experience with hardly a passerine seen. Four Buzzards were noted, perched and surveying the landscape eyeing up a meal (although goodness knows what) and one in particular had taken advantage of the ruins of Hope All Saints at the back of Romney. The rape fields near Lydd held the usual Mute Swan flocks with Bewick`s in their midst now numbering 21.

                               Hope All Saints, Romney Marsh (Buzzard, top left)

A good read

Being an old school kind-of-a bloke I love a good book and always have a couple on the go (one of which is usually a natural history book) particularly now what with the long, dark evenings when you`re trapped indoors. This year I`ve ploughed through a few tomes and the three reviewed below are my favourites, and would make good presents, being as its that time of year and all. So, if you`re a bit bookish, I thoroughly recommend all three of `em.

The Secret Life of Birds, by Colin Tudge (Penguin, 2008) - I came late to the table with this one as its been around a while now, but what a cornucopia of facts and figures. Now, if that all sounds a bit dry and dusty, believe me it isn`t as Tudge writes with clarity and humour, essential commodities in such an encyclopedic work. Most aspects of avian biology are succinctly covered and I particularly liked Chapter 4, an `Annotated Cast List` of the all the worlds` bird families from Ratites to Birds of Paradise. A work of pure genius that made me realise how little I really know about birds in general.

The Blackhouse, by Peter May (Quercus, 2011) - A good, old fashioned crime novel, the first of a trilogy set on the Isle of Lewis in the Western Isles. The story revolves around and climaxes on the remote and uninhabited islet of Sula Sgeir, the location of the annual guga hunt which has been carried out for centuries by the men of Lewis; the guga being a Gannet nestling. The author manages to weave a cracking story of human frailties and endeavour, while at the same time telling the factual history and traditions of the hunt. A real page turner; and the remaining two in the trilogy are pretty good too.

A Message From Martha, by Mark Avery (Bloomsbury 2014) - I was really looking forward to this one and read it in two hits, sitting up late into the night. Published 100 years after the death of the last captive Passenger Pigeon (Martha) in an American zoo, Avery elaborates on the background, biology and eventual extinction of what was probably the most numerous bird on Earth. The slaughter and habitat destruction along the way, by what he rightly terms the `European invaders`, was a truly sorry chapter in the pantheon of animal extinctions by human kind, and was totally preventable. He finishes by comparing alarming similarities to the dramatic decline of the Turtle Dove, a summer migrant that is fast disappearing here of course. The only niggle with this book was Avery`s repetitive prose and his propensity to pad the tale out with speculation and irrelevant personal details on his road trip across America. Still, that said, it is a worthy read for the subject matter alone.

Wednesday 3 December 2014


Dungeness - 0900hrs - dull, wet, rain, n2 - A typical grim December day with low cloud and rain coming and going throughout, but it did brighten up this afternoon.We wandered across the beach towards the fishing boats searching for passerines along the way, of which there were none, although DW had a fly over Snow Bunting this morning. A brief seawatch yielded single figures of Gannet, Kittiwake, Red-throated diver, Kittiwake and Brent Goose, all moving up-Channel. On the sea 20 Great Crested Grebes and three Guillemots.
RSPB - From the causeway road a Great White Egret on New Diggings, plus two Goldeneyes amongst the ducks, and a couple of hundred Gadwall on ARC. Burrowes held another four GWEgrets (also singles at Boulderwall and ARC, making seven in total), 23 Pintails, five Goldeneyes and a flyover Redshank, plus a redhead Smew and two Shelducks from the Screen hide on ARC.
However, if there is one little bird that is guaranteed to brighten up a grotty winters day then it has be the Firecrest. A tit flock near Dennis`s hide attracted one, while in the scrub by Tower Pits a much larger mixed passerine flock held another, plus three Chiffchaffs and 15 Long-tailed Tits.
The two Cattle Egrets were still in the field opposite Wraxalls stone yard in Dengemarsh Road, Lydd (PB).

                                Great White Egrets, Burrowes

Lade - Checked out the Magpie roost just before dusk but numbers were difficult to count due to the strong east wind that had picked up during the afternoon. At least 30 birds came in, but low and fast to avoid any buffeting from the blow, plus five Little Egrets and a few Blackbirds.

Tuesday 2 December 2014

Red Crested Pochard

Lade - 0900hrs - cold, grey, n2 - Another grim old morning with a fine drizzle coming and going. The Red Crested Pochard had reappeared on south lake and there was a noticeable increase in Wigeon numbers to around 150. Watched an immature female Marsh Harrier trying out her Coot hunting skills, attempting to separate out a victim from a large flock, but without success.
A passerine flock moving through the willow swamp included 20 Long-tailed Tits, Goldcrest and Chiffchaff.
Brenzett - 1700hrs - Coming back from Ashford this afternoon a Barn Owl flew over the road just past Blue House Farm.

Monday 1 December 2014

Bewick`s Swans and Magpies

Lade - cold, overcast, ne 3 - 0830hrs - A bleak, grey morning with a scudding wind off the bay heralded the first official day of winter. As a result I wasn`t that keen to sally forth across the shingle, but as ever my faithful mutt Barney was keen to be out and about, so I couldn`t really refuse. There didn`t appear to be any change to the duck numbers on south lake, although I couldn't find yesterdays Red Crested Pochard. On the walk home we flushed a small passerine that shot out of the broom like a rocket and headed south without calling, the identification of which will remain a mystery for ever more...
Walland Marsh - As if to signify the changing season at least 12 Bewick`s Swans were in the rape field north of Caldecote Lane with four more over the way by Belgar Farm, where also a mixed flock of 50 House and Tree Sparrows.
Scotney - A quick scan from the lay-bye revealed a host of Goldies, Lapwings, Starlings, feral geese, Wigeon and Common Gulls on the grass, plus five Redshanks, three Dunlins, Ruff and Little Stint.
Checked Galloways from the range road but all we could muster was a Kestrel and Stonechat.
A pit stop at Dengemarsh Road yielded the two Cattle Egrets following stock around in the field opposite Wraxalls stone yard, though distant.

                                Cattle Egrets, Dengemarsh Road

ARC - From Hanson hide hundreds of common wildfowl on the lake and a Great White Egret was about it.
Lade - From the aerial mound we scanned the willow swamp just before dusk for incoming Magpies. Love `em or loathe `em these irascible birds make quite a spectacle as they quarrel with one another around the roost site, and this evening at least 42 came in from all quarters.

Sunday 30 November 2014

A late Swallow

Lade - mild, overcast, light airs  - 1030hrs - Following the excesses of last nights fancy dress (60`s hippy) and karaoke party (yes, there is photographic evidence, and no I won`t be posting any) it felt good to be out and about on the local patch this morning. The fishermen in boats were keeping the wildfowl on the move on south lake where a Red Crested Pochard was present amongst the legions of Coots and Gadwalls. I was amazed to see a Swallow hawking insects in the lee of the willows (my latest record here), but later learnt that one was also seen at Scotney (PB) and yesterday at Greatstone (MH). North lake was stacked out with waterfowl that had been disturbed off south lake. Seen or heard around the willow swamp were single figures of Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Cetti`s Warbler, Blackbird, Reed Bunting and Water Rail, while a couple of Marsh Harriers drifted over.
During the course of breakfast one of the guests commented on `our` garden House Sparrows swarming over the bird feeders, and the fact that `his` sparrows had long since disappeared from his Luton garden. I explained how fortunate we are down here and that there remains a number of thriving colonies locally and the reasons for their success, which prompted me to spend a bit more time watching the colony that haunts the caravan park along the southern boundary, as you just never know...

                                House Sparrows, Lade

Boulderwall -    A scan of the wet meadows from the access road delivered a host of distant Lapwings, Wigeons, feral geese, Curlews, Golden Plovers, gulls, Starlings, two Buzzards, Great White Egret and Marsh Harrier. Whilst there a couple of blokes pulled up and hollered "have you seen the two Pink-feet in the goose flock?" "No", said I. "Over there", pointed the driver. "Well, I can see two Grey Lags with the Canada's", I replied, diplomatically. " I think you`ll find they`re Pink-feet", retorted know-it-all.... and before I had the right of reply he was gone in a cloud of dust down the track (memo to ones self, must brush up on my goose identification...).
We then headed down to Dengemarsh where the two Cattle Egrets put on a five star show amongst a herd of cows, close to the road opposite Wraxall`s stone yard.

                               Cattle Egrets, Dengemarsh