Thursday 31 December 2015

Autumn 2015

My final reminisce of the year concerns, for many birders, the most eagerly anticipated season - autumn, and there were plenty of superb days to choose from. Typically, days with rarities cropped up as I looked back; from Rough-legged Buzzard to Pallas`s Warbler, a Black Stork over the garden and a first for Britain in the shape of `That Flycatcher`... infact, a varitable cornucopia of avian delights.
In the end I selected a classic morning of migrant hunting at Dungeness, as I`m a sucker for the spectacle of large numbers of grounded drift migrants, and nothing beats finding your own birds.

Dungeness - Drift migrants - 26th October

With guests Linda and John down for a days birding the weather portents looked promising as low cloud and a warm south-easterly airflow washed over the peninsula. From the Light Railway car park finches could be heard passing overhead, mostly Goldfinches along with Siskins, Redpolls, Chaffinches and a couple of Crossbills, plus Meadow Pipits, Skylarks and several Grey Wagtails.
The bushes around the old light were alive with Goldcrests, which in many ways was the `bird of the autumn` due to the enormous numbers hereabouts in October. We paused to watch a Firecrest and a couple of Chiffchaffs picking off insects low down on a tree mallow, while every building or wall seemed to have a perched Black Redstart, including some cracking cock birds, and even one in full song!


  Walking down to the Patch we disturbed several Wheatears and more grounded Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs fuelling up in the tangle of rock samphire. And then a small, brown phyllospus warbler with a bright supercilium broke cover. Over the coming hour it led us a merry dance as it moved, wren-like, between patches of samphire. Eventually it showed well enough to suggest Dusky/Radde`s before uttering a Lesser Whitethroat-like `teck` confirming its identity. The Obs was duly alerted and the troops soon arrived to confirm it as a Dusky, the first for about eight years locally.
  Plenty more grounded migrants were on offer throughout the morning including Robins, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and a Ring Ouzel in the moat, and as we left the Estate a Short-eared Owl arrived off the sea by the lifeboat station. A skulking duo of Great Grey Shrike and Dartford Warbler were also located that afternoon, which left me wondering what else was lurking in the midst of the trapping area unseen...
  However, there were no complaints as it had been a classic Dungeness autumnal day of grounded drift migrants.

Wednesday 30 December 2015

Seabirds and raptors

Dungeness - mild, cloudy, S6 -  A birding day tour for Wendy and Mike from Sussex commenced in grand style with a superb seawatch from the fishing boats. The strong to gale force southerly wind had pushed hundreds of Gannets and Guillemots close to shore affording cracking views of these ocean wanderers as they streamed down-Channel. There was also a good supporting cast of Red-throated Divers, Kittiwakes, 3 Fulmars, 2 Razorbills and a smart Arctic Skua, while large gaggles of Brent Geese forged the other way. Amongst the beach gulls was an adult Yellow-legged and the regular 1st winter Caspian.
RSPB - Around Burrowes all the usual wintering wildfowl including 5 Goldeneyes and 3 Smew, plus Peregrine and Marsh Harrier. The Long-eared Owl had shifted its roost site behind the discovery pond, slightly to the right and in a bit, but could still be seen well enough despite the strong wind. Elsewhere around the site, Tree Sparrows, Great White Egret, Reed Bunting, plus a large mixed flock of Lapwings, Golden Plovers and Wigeon on the fields at Boulderwall.
Scotney - Plenty of diving duck and Wigeon on the lake, plus feral geese and Curlew on the grass.
Walland Marsh - The Bewick`s Swans remained in the Mute Swan flock at Hook`s Wall and several Yellowhammers were located at Midley drying barns. We finished the day counting 22 Marsh Harriers coming to a reedbed roost site, whilst trying not to be distracted by a hunting Barn Owl! Great stuff.

Tuesday 29 December 2015

Summer 2015

Traditionally a quieter season for birds, the early part of summer can be memorable for a rich variety of alternative flora and fauna. As I always attempt to have at least one day a week without using motorised transport this day in June typified one of my favourite kind of summer ramblings.

Summer 2015 - Lade - 14th June - Dragons and snakes

It had been a muggy night with low cloud cover and light airs, perfect infact for moth activity, and indeed the garden mv was stuffed to the gills with a host of macros and micros, beetles and other flying insects. Sifting through the gaudy hawk-moths I came across a couple of old favourites in the form of a snowy White Ermine and the localised White Spot, plus a migrant Bordered Straw that was new for the trap, but expected as others had already turned up in moth traps across the peninsula.
  By mid-morning our B&B guests had departed and with the sun breaking cover it was time for a wander out back. The storm beaches were smothered in wild flowers of every kind as the sunshine opened petals of stonecrops and dolly belles. Tall, pink foxgloves contrasted with purple bugloss and sulphur broom, while vetches and trefoils attracted a myriad of Small Heath and Common Blue butterflies.

  At the ponds the humidity level was high as the sun beat down on bare pebbles luring scores of newly emerged dragons and damsels into life, including several Four-spotted Chasers and Emperors. Marsh Frogs laughed loudly, a Grass Snake basked atop matted water weed and a myriad of invertebrates burst forth taking advantage of the hot micro-climate between bund and willows. Great swathes of Valerian and thick patches of honeysuckle attracted swarms of honey bees along with Red Admirals, Painted Ladies and Small Tortoiseshells.

  In the end I spent a couple of hours around the ponds immersed in this wealth of nature. On the walk back home more plants were interrogated and pondered over, and whilst sitting in the garden with a cool drink later on a Hummingbird-hawk moth inspected the patio Senetti. As the sun dipped in early evening small bats hawked insects in the lee of the garden fir trees to end a truly wonderful day of wildlife watching, and all within walking distance of home.

Monday 28 December 2015

Memories of 2015 - Spring

Its been a tricky task selecting a stand out day from the spring season as there have been more than one or two candidates. Seawatching was good in parts, particularly for divers, and there was a decent spread of late Arctic waders on the sands. White-winged Terns and Black-winged Stilts were the obvious rarity days, but in the end I selected a classic passage migrant day on the land, something that is few and far between these days.

Spring 2015 - A fall of migrants - 13th April, Lade and Dungeness

The day dawned bright and fair as I wandered around the garden, mug of tea in hand, coming to terms with the new day. Amongst the chattering spadgers the sibilant song of a Willow Warbler wafted across from an adjacent garden, lifting the spirits and a sure sign that migrants had dropped in overnight and were on the move. As we walked down Taylor Road more were heard uttering sub-songs from ornamental bushes and trees. At cattery corner the pine tree held two Blackcaps and a Chiffchaff, while Stonechats chacked from nearby broom scrub.
  Across the storm beaches towards Mockmill five Wheatears flushed from tussocks and a pulse of Swallows skidded low over the pebbles heading north. The sewer was alive with the rasping sound of Sedge Warblers song-flighting from bramble wands and Whitethroats scratching in gorse thickets. More Willow Warblers and Blackcaps emerged to bask in the warm sunshine, following their nocturnal exertions, while a Ring Ouzel clacked loudly before disappearing behind the wall `mirror`. On the walk back to Plovers a `proper` spring rarity fizzed overhead calling in the shape of a Tree Pipit, and to complete a cracking morning of migrant hunting on the local patch a Black Redstart sat atop the cottage roof as we arrived home.

  Following a late second breakfast it was off to Dungeness, via the Kerton Road cafĂ© to get a moth identification confirmed, and pause to admire a Red Kite soaring over the peninsula. Whilst chatting to Dorothy she commented on the numbers of Blackcaps in her garden that seemed to be arriving thick and fast along with Willow Warblers and Black Redstarts. My suspicions were confirmed that despite the unlikely weather conditions for a fall, one was certainly underway, and this was hammered home shortly after we arrived at the point. Wandering around the scrub between the old light and the Obs warblers were everywhere. By the moat a flock of 10 Blackcaps foraged bunting-like on the open shingle, with scores more in the blackthorn scrub along with Willow Warblers and Whitethroats.

  Inevitably there was quality to be found: several Ring Ouzels, Lesser Whitethroats and Common Redstarts were located, plus the icing on any spring cake, a stunning cock Pied Flycatcher. Overhead more Swallows pushed inland along with a trickle of Meadow Pipits, Yellow Wagtails, another Tree Pipit and a missed Woodlark.
  But the day belonged to the humble Blackcap that continued to arrive throughout the afternoon, probably in the low hundreds. It reminded me that there used to be many more days like this during the spring at Dungeness, and other coastal migration hot spots years ago, so we stuck around to soak up the experience as you just never know when the next one is going to come along.

Sunday 27 December 2015

Memories of 2015 - Winter

Looking back over the past year is nearly always an overwhelming experience, as it is then that you realise just what a grand place Dungeness and the surrounding environs are. Our guests are often amazed at the wealth of flora and fauna hereabouts, which then reminds me how lucky we are, and not to take it for granted. Anyhow, rather than doing a full review of the birding year I thought I would select some special moments which lodged in the memory bank and typified each season.

Winter - A sky full of birds - 18th January 
For me the highlight of any winter birding day is to join CP for the monthly harrier roost count out on Walland Marsh. We do six each year, but this one just hit the right note as the weather played its part, being calm and cool with a stunning sunset, and birds were everywhere. An added aspect of these jaunts is being abroad with a true countryman who knows every square yard of his beloved Romney Marsh; and I like to feel that just a wee bit of Chris`s passion for the place will rub off on me.

  En-route to site we paused to admire the wild swan flock at Horse Bones farm; nervy Bewick`s and a Whooper amongst their tamed kin. Further down the lane an explosion of Fieldfares and Redwings burst forth from tall hedgerows whilst plundering hawthorn berries, and at Midley a precious, but perilously low number of Corn Buntings and Trees Sparrows were enjoyed.
  Approaching the harrier roost site a spectacle unfolded before our very eyes so typical of these flatlands when several thousand Golden Plovers, Lapwings and Starlings careered into the ether as one unit to escape a pair of hunting Peregrines. We stood and watched, awestruck, as this biomass of rushing wings swirled around our heads before alighting onto the wet fields to join a gaggle of Greylags and White-fronts.
  Walking the roughs beside the sewer a wisp of zig-zagging Snipe included a tiny Jack, while Barney disturbed Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and Linnets from their weed-seed foraging along the way. Chiffchaff, Bearded Tit and Cetti`s Warbler called from reed and sallow and a Kestrel hovered overhead.
  From our watchpoint atop the bund a distant Buzzard perched on a ruined farm building while  hundreds of black crows noisily flapped inland to Wealden roosts, and as the sun dipped below the Isle of Oxney in came our quarry bird - the Marsh Harrier. Wrapped around the sunset hour a continuous stream of harriers of all ages, and both sexes, fluttered over the roost site like giant moths before eventually dropping into the safety of the reedbed for the night: 21 were counted to bed that evening, and as we headed for home in the gloaming the night shift arrived in the shape of a Barn Owl quartering the wetlands, the distant call of a Little Owl and a Badger rambling across a ley.
  A truly memorable afternoon on Walland Marsh.

Wednesday 23 December 2015

Storm Eva approaches

Lade - mild, dry and sunny sw 3 - The past few days have been spent trudging around the local patch into the teeth of gale force winds and drizzle with, unsurprisingly, nothing new on offer apart from an increase in Teal numbers to over 300. However, today the wind slackened and the sun broke cover putting an altogether contrasting outlook on yesterdays grey world; and with the winter solstice now passed every day brings slowly lengthening daylight hours.
The poor weather at least allows time indoors to catch up on those end-of-year jobs, such as collating bird records to submit to the county recorder. Species wise we`re slightly down this year on 209, but its still been an interesting, and at times spectacular, birding year one way and another, of which I shall endeavour to post a summary over the coming week.
RSPB - We called in at the bird reserve this morning to show our 5 year old grandson his first Long-eared Owl, which was posing nicely in the warm sunshine in its usual position at the back of the discovery pond. He also picked out and identified a couple of Great White Egrets at Boulderwall and New Diggings, but after the owl spectacle I just couldn`t get him interested in a 1st winter Caspian Gull on Burrowes...
The weather remained fair for most of the day, but by dusk the wind started to pick up as Storm Eva approached the British Isles. While the worst of the wind and rain are forecast to clobber the long-suffering north-west the next couple of days could also be a bit lively down here too.

Sunday 20 December 2015

Barrel Jellyfish

Lade - mild, cloudy, sw 3 - A circuit of the local patch this morning delivered the usual wildfowl on the lakes, plus 2 new Goldeneyes. Most of the ducks were on the more sheltered northerly water along with a flock of 500 gulls that included a smart adult Caspian Gull. Several hundred Coots were crammed onto the weedy waters round the willow swamp where they were continually harried by female Marsh Harriers.
There was much activity on the bay with an ebb tide attracting huge numbers of waders and gulls. From the Tavern a rough count through a 90 degree sweep went something like: 3,000 Black-headed, 1,500 Common, 900 Herring, 800 Great Blacks and 600 Lesser Black, plus 3 Meds, 2 Kittiwakes and an adult Yellow-legged Gull. There were hundreds more towards Littlestone and Dungeness.
Wader wise, seven out of ten species were present, plus 4 Shelducks and a sickly looking Brent Goose.

                                Barrel Jellyfish, Greatstone Beach

On the foreshore opposite the Tavern at least 50 Barrel Jellyfish had been beached by the high tide. These alien-like ocean drifters normally occur in the summer months following sustained south-westerlies, but it`s unusual to see such numbers about now as they normally go deep for the winter. Wandering around looking at these primitive animals, some about the size of a dinner plate, made me wonder how far they`d travelled across the Atlantic Ocean to end their days on a windswept beach in southern England. It all seemed just a little bit sad really, still that`s the natural world for you.
Walland Marsh - Accompanied CP to our usual watch point for the monthly harrier roost count, which was low at four birds, although at least a dozen others were in the general area. A Greylag flock held 10 White-fronts, and were our first of the winter, while small numbers of Bewick` Swans could be seen amongst the Mutes by Hook`s Wall. Other highlights included 5 Buzzards, 2 Kestrels, 500 Lapwings, 5 Snipe, Bearded Tit, Cetti`s Warbler and best of all good views of a Merlin 

Saturday 19 December 2015

Azorean plume

Dungeness - warm, dry, sunny, s 3 -The record breaking day time temperatures for December peaked at 16C this afternoon in the garden, while last night it remained in double figures. At the point this morning even the brisk southerly wind couldn`t suppress the plume of warm air sweeping up from the Azores. An hour from the fishing boats delivered a steady flow of Gannets, Kittiwakes and auks along with a few Red-throated Divers, a Fulmar and 5 Common Scoters. On the shingle a well marked 1st winter Caspian Gull was amongst the Herrings and Black-backs by the road, while at least two other individuals were located throughout the day.
Late afternoon we called in at the Obs for mulled wine and a mince pie where this unseasonable  weather had delivered a stunning Striped Hawk-moth to the mv trap last night, incredible.

                                      Long-eared Owl, Dungeness RSPB

RSPB - I make no apologies for posting another pic of the superb Long-eared Owl that continues to roost in sallows behind the discovery pond on the bird reserve, and today it was particularly showy  basking in the warm sunshine. Twenty years ago these owls were regularly encountered during the winter across the Romney Marsh roosting in shelter belts above ditches, often in small flocks;
in my native Bedfordshire I once found a flock of 12 Long-eared Owls roosting in dry scrub on the Chilterns at Dunstable Downs.
  Sadly this bird is much rarer today, so make the most of this gorgeous creature, as you just never know when one will present itself in such a confiding fashion in future. As a lasting memory local wildlife artist Stephen Message ( ) has produced a magnificent painting of the Leo. Limited edition prints are on sale in the Visitor Centre.
Elsewhere around the bird reserve Great White Egrets at Boulderwall and ARC, plus Chiffchaffs, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Marsh Harrier behind Tower Pits.

Friday 18 December 2015

Red-listed Curlew

Rye - mild, dry, cloudy, sw2 - At Scotney the usual feral geese and ducks were noted on the grass and water respectively, plus a Great White Egret in the Sussex corner. Down at Rye Harbour Flat Beach was packed out with gulls, waders and wildfowl with several thousand Golden Plovers and Lapwings and hundreds of Teal and Wigeon the highlights. In amongst the throng were good numbers of Curlew, Redshank, Shelduck, Ringed Plover, Turnstone and Dunlin. A flock of 30 Skylarks over was noteworthy and a Peregrine spooked the plovers more than once.

                                Redshank, Rye Harbour

Walland Marsh - Crossing the Marsh on the way home, at Hook Wall, a flock of 150 Mutes feeding on oil-seed rape contained at least 17 Bewick`s Swans, but the views were obscured so there may well have been one or two more. Two Common Buzzards and a Little Owl were noted near Wheelsgate.
Lade - With light airs and the sun dipping rapidly we trudged out across the shingle to Mockmill for last knockings and a roost watch, until I realised that the Curlews were roosting by our watch point. There was no way I was going to flush them so we altered the route and tucked in at the southern end of the sewer, on a gorse ridge with views to the north. I was dismayed, but not surprised, to read in British Birds recently that this magnificent wader has been red-listed in the latest Birds of Conservation Concern review. It is a bird I`m lucky enough to hear and see on a daily basis and everything about them resonates of wild places. I shall not take them for granted in future.
Anyhow, whilst musing over the Curlews, 4 Marsh Harriers headed towards the bird reserve, along with hundreds of corvids, but there was no sign of the Short-eared Owl on the airport fields.
The day finished with another cracking sunset over the flatlands.

Wednesday 16 December 2015

December doldrums

Lade - mild, overcast, sw 2 - I`ll come clean - December is my least favourite month of the year; nothing much happens birdwise, visitors are at their lowest ebb and then there`s Christmas around the corner... enough said.
Trudging round the local patch these past few days have been pretty samey, with a flock of 7 Shelducks yesterday the only `highlight`. On the plus side it has been ludicrously mild and in a moment of madness I even considered getting the shorts out! Around the willow swamp tits, crests and Chiffs had no trouble feeding on the clouds of midges, while back home in the garden several bumble bees were noted on the winter jasmine.
RSPB -It wasn`t much better on the bird reserve with no sign of any Smew on Burrowes or the Long-eared Owl behind the discovery pond, although the owl was reported later on. Over the road we managed to find a couple of Smew on ARC from the pines, and 2 Great White Egrets, but the main source of interest was a Great Spotted Woodpecker hammering away on a power line pole with great determination. By mid-afternoon the Mordor-like gloom and drizzle descended, sending us scuttling home for a brew.
The only other local news today came from Dungeness where up to three different Caspian Gulls were located amongst the roosting gulls (DW).

                                Great Spotted Woodpecker, ARC

Sunday 13 December 2015

Oystercatchers and Coots

Lade - mild, cloudy, occasional drizzle, sw 2 - We spent the weekend birding on the hoof, so nice and local with the car anchored firmly on the driveway. Yesterday I concentrated on the bay counting waders on a rising tide. It can be a bit of a lottery here depending upon disturbance as well as the height of the tide, but I did manage to get a pretty accurate count of Oystercatchers. They were all bunched together at Greatstone, and as the tide ran in flew towards me, and their roost site at Kerton Road pits, in dribs and drabs allowing 920 to be logged. All ten species of waders were eventually tracked down, but only a handful each of Ringed and Grey Plovers. Along the way 5 Med Gulls and 2 Shelducks were also noted.

                                Oystercatchers, Lade bay
This morning it was WeBS count on the pits and it took ages to complete due to the light airs scattering wildfowl all over the place. Eventually, after a recount due to Marsh Harrier attacks, I came up with 1,620 Coots, a new site record, and 540 Gadwalls, plus lesser numbers of Wigeon, Shoveler, Teal, Pochard and the like.
  Whilst on the subject of harriers I watched an old female working the southern end of south lake when she jinked in a corner reedbed and disappeared completely. A careful walk back towards the action revealed the bird had made a kill and was tucking in with gusto. Shortly afterwards feathers floated out across the lake and after 15 minutes she flew off revealing her breakfast to have been a Water Rail, of which there are a plentiful supply hereabouts.
  Around the willow swamp a number of Long-tailed Tits, Goldcrests, Cetti`s Warblers and Chiffchaff noted, while an adult Caspian Gull was amongst a roost of 500 gulls on north lake. Elsewhere around the site, a Great White Egret, Kingfisher, Sparrowhawk, 10 Skylarks, 5 Goldfinches, 5 Mipits and a brown Merlin over the desert.

                                Coots, and more Coots, Lade

Friday 11 December 2015

Weekend forecast

ARC/Tower Pits - mild, cloudy, sw 3 - For a change of scene we wandered down to the pines and along the back towards Lydd by the railway line. Several Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests and at least one Firecrest were present in tit flocks, while the sea buckthorn held a dozen Song Thrushes and Blackbirds and a Reed Bunting. There was precious little else on the farmland apart from loads of corvids and a few Common Gulls. On the margins of the pits Cetti`s Warbler, Water Rail and a Great White Egret over was about it. From Screen hide the usual wildfowl and a couple of Marsh Harriers.

                                Bewick`s Swans, Walland Marsh

Walland Marsh - A herd of 15 Bewick`s Swans was noticeable in a field by the wind farm and viewable with care from the busy A259. The hedgerows around Midley were full of Fieldfares and from Brookland to Lydd we noted 5 Kestrels and 3 Common Buzzards.
Burrowes - Called in to pay homage to the roosting Long-eared Owl in the sallows behind the discovery pond along with a steady flow of visiting owl disciples.
Summary: Anyone planning a trip down to the Marsh this weekend should be assured a wide range of wintering species. Offshore at Dungeness the usual Gannets, Kittiwakes, auks and Red-throats are almost a given, while there`s always the chance of a scarce duck, diver or skua; this week has also noted both Balearic and Sooty Shearwaters, plus a Leache`s Petrel. If gulls are your bag then you`re in for a treat as Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls are present most days on the beach by the fishing boats, and if identification is a problem (and when isn't it!) then Saturday afternoon normally witness the gull aficionados on site with their buckets of fish offal and bread to entice the brutes into camera range.
  On the bird reserve the usual Great White Egrets are still around the site (although some have temporarily decamped to Brett`s marina this past week) plus Smew on Burrowes and of course the Long-eared Owl. In the Visitors Centre there is an optical display this weekend and you may even be able to find a Christmas gift in the shop.
  Elsewhere, as already mentioned, small numbers of Bewick`s Swans are scattered around the Marsh, up to 4 Purple Sandpipers have been noted on the sea defence blocks on Hythe sea front and a Glossy Ibis is present at Pett Level. 

Thursday 10 December 2015

Beach gulls

Lade - mild, cloudy, sw 5 - Another breezy day forced the water birds to move onto the more sheltered north lake and around the willow swamp, where 2 Marsh Harriers were in attendance.
The mystery of the green signs has been resolved, apparently they`re markers for testing water quality.
A check of the sands at midday from the tavern revealed at least 500 Dunlins and 300 Sanderlings amongst six species of shorebirds, plus a thousand gulls, mainly Black-headed and Common Gulls.

                               Adult Kittiwake, Dungeness

Dungeness - From the fishing boats this afternoon a steady flow of close Gannets and Kittiwakes moved west, plus a few auks and a Red-throated Diver in an hour. Several hundred gulls on the beach included a few Kittiwakes, plus an immature Caspian Gull located by PB and DW.
NB: On the bird reserve the Long-eared Owl had returned to roost in the sallows behind the discovery pond and 6 Smew were on Burrowes.

Wednesday 9 December 2015

Beach birds

Dungeness - 0800hrs - mild, dry, sunny, sw 2 - A superb morning for a walk along the beach. We started at the Patch where there was a couple of hundred commoner gulls over the boil, plus the same again on the foreshore towards Penn Bars, where heavy plant was moving shingle in front of B Station. Pied Wagtail, Mipit and Goldfinch noted along the power station wall and 5 Skylarks flew  overhead calling. Apart from the usual gulls and Turnstones the walk down to the fishing boats delivered brief views of a brown Merlin. A chat with the seawatchers confirmed that apart from a few Kittiwakes, Gannets, scoters and divers, all was quiet on the sea.

                                Turnstones, Dungeness

                               Great Black-back juv with damaged leg

Lade - The wind picked up this afternoon but that didn`t prevent the wintering Short-eared Owl putting on a late show over Mockmill.

Monday 7 December 2015

December Balearics

Dungeness - 0815-0930hrs - mild, sunny, ssw 3 - We joined the locals for a seawatch from the fishing boats this morning where a warm onshore wind kept the seabird interest ticking over. The highlight was 3 down-Channel Balearic Shearwaters, which I`m almost sure are my first in December. The main feature of the watch though was a trickle of Razorbills, Guillemots, Kittiwakes and Gannets, 12 Red-throated Divers and 3 Fulmars, plus 50 Great Crested Grebes on the sea.
On the beach an adult Yellow-legged Gull was amongst the roosting Black-backs and Herring Gulls.

Lade - No change here from the weekend although it was fascinating to watch a pair of Marsh Harriers trying to work out how to get Coot on their breakfast menu. With so many bunched together by the willow swamp their strategy was to scatter and divide looking for a weakling. The much larger female dropped onto one bird which then dived leaving the harrier floundering amongst the water weed. The smaller male thought better of it and drifted off to search for more suitable prey; while I`ve often seen mature adult females kill Coots, mostly in the winter when they`re desperate, I`ve yet to witness a male doing likewise.Whilst watching the Coot/harrier shenanigans a Kingfisher flashed by with a Sparrowhawk in hot pursuit!
At last knockings we wandered across to Mockmill, into a glorious setting sun, where the wintering Short-eared Owl was already on the wing gliding over the sewer searching for a meal. As the light fell away hundreds of corvids flew to roost along with 5 Marsh Harriers and 3 Little Egrets. On the walk back a cacophony of Water Rails kicked off in the main reedbed on south lake.

                                Sunset over Mockmill

Saturday 5 December 2015

Tideline wander

Lade - mild, cloudy, dry, sw 5 - A blustery old day with Storm Desmond whipping up-Channel; although looking at the rainfall levels in north-west Britain I reckon we`ve got away lightly down here. After checking the pits, where the now expected water birds were still present in huge numbers, we walked the beach down to Littlestone searching the tideline for a Snow Bunting and the like, but all we could conjure up was a few Turnstones, a couple of Pied Wagtails and a Mipit. Out on the bay hundreds of tiny Sanderlings and Dunlins continued to feed in what was sand blizzard conditions.
Lydd -  At the back of Horsebones farm 4 Bewick`s Swans briefly stuck their heads up amongst the oil-seed rape within a Mute Swan flock. Brett`s pit continues to attract a number of Great White and Little Egrets, presumably due to an abundance of food, while the Long-eared Owl was still present on the bird reserve.

Thursday 3 December 2015

The Missed List

Lade - mild, cloudy, sw 3 - Another dry, spring-like day with occasional sunshine. We worked the local patch where a couple of new signs had been erected on the causeway between the two lakes. After tweeting the conundrum out it seems that others had been found at Long Pits and ARC, but nobody locally has any idea who put them up and what for, so the mystery continues...
Birdwise it was pretty much of a muchness with up to 2,000 Coots, ducks and grebes on the lakes with only 2 Goldeneyes of any note. Several Marsh Harriers, Common Buzzard and Kestrel noted plus the usual vocal Water Rails and Cetti`s Warblers around the willow swamp, and the highlight of the morning a flock of 30 Greenfinches.
As depicted below Barney is back on fine form after his teeth extractions. This morning he flushed a rather large brown rat that duly went to ground in a patch of reeds, which was a sensible move on the rat`s part as Barney hates getting his feet wet!
RSPB - A quick look at Burrowes revealed the usual Goosanders and Smews on the lake, plus 2 Yellow-legged and a Caspian Gull from Makepeace hide. The roosting Long-eared Owl continues to attract a steady flow of admirers to the discovery pond sallows.

                                Mysterious marker posts...

The Missed List
Its that time of year again when we start looking back at what birds we missed during our birding sorties around the Marsh in 2015. So far 209 species have been accumulated, which is quite a bit short of the 225 species high of five years ago, not that I`m complaining as there have been some amazing highlights, more of which in a later post.
However, there`s always the chance of something new before the year is out, like a Waxwing flock drifting south or a scarce water bird on the gravel pits, such as Red-necked Grebe or Long-tailed Duck; and despite a fair bit of seawatching this year we never did connect with a Velvet Scoter. Other omissions from the seabird list included Rosy Tern, Long-tailed Skua, Sabine`s and Glaucous Gulls, although the latter could yet still put in an appearance at Dungeness.
Anyhow, it was a poor year for waders, mainly due to high water levels on the pits, with no Pec or Buffy Sandpipers, or even a tricky little `peep` to mull over. Golden Plover flocks were searched for Dotterel, without success, and will we ever find our poster bird - Kentish Plover on the sands at Lade, it`s now ten years and waiting...
Missed raptors, for the third year running, included Osprey, and while there were several we just weren`t in the right place at the right time as they rarely tarry here due to mobbing by gulls. Monty`s and Black Kite were also absentees. To finish off the dipped non-passerines, Bee-eater eluded us, as did Tawny Owl, but no surprise there.
As for passerines there were quite a few we missed, typically brief flyover types such as Woodlark, Serin, Lap and Snow Bunts, plus Water Pipit, Gropper, Golden Oriole, Great Grey Shrike, Short-toed and Common Treecreepers, Barred and Wood Warblers, none of them easy down here and several that put in an appearance when we were off the Marsh.
Aquatic Warbler is another one of those target species, along with Kentish Plover, that nags away and remains absent for another year. The location is right, so is the habitat and there are no shortage of birders searching for them. I guess both species are in such steep decline on their continental breeding grounds that with each passing year the chances of finding one just gets slimmer and slimmer.

                               The ghost of Denge Beach

Whilst on the subject of absentees, this was the first year we didn`t record a Turtle Dove on passage on the local patch at Lade during the spring or autumn. No surprise really as there was only a handful of breeding birds reported on the Marsh farmland.
But by far the biggest omission in 2015 was Grey Partridge. Numbers of this once common farmland bird have simply collapsed. Despite searching all its old haunts locally, and around Walland Marsh, I could not find a single covey, pair, or singing cock bird, nothing. Sad times indeed for this quintessential farmland bird.

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Swan search

Lade - mild, dry, cloudy, sw 3 - With the passing of Storm Clodagh yesterday the weather settled down today and was incredibly spring-like, nudging 15C around midday. Flight views of a Bittern was the highlight this morning, followed by a Short-eared Owl this evening from the viewpoint by the school. On the bay Knot numbers were up to 150 and 2 Brents were sat on the sands at low tide.
Walland Marsh - Following reports of the first Bewick`s Swans of the winter yesterday I checked the fields between Old Romney and Lydd, but without success; although one flock of swans in a distant field from Swamp Lane was partly obscured and unidentifiable. Several Marsh Harriers, Kestrel and Buzzard were noted, plus Mistle Thrush and 10 Fieldfares.
On the bird reserve the usual wildfowl, including sawbills on Burrowes, plus the Long-eared Owl  roosting behind the discovery pond.
It seemed odd birding without Barney as he spent the day at the vets having some dental work done. However, when I picked him up I was relieved to see him bouncing around, despite being minus six teeth.

Sunday 29 November 2015

Sparrow challenge

Saturday - Its been a weekend of two contrasting days with Saturday spent up in London and Sunday back home. While Pat went to see Lucy in her final performance of Showstoppers in the West End I met our Kate at Shepherds Bush for my birthday present - QPR v Leeds at Loftus Road. Mum and dad were Londoners and while I grew up in the small Hertfordshire village of Maple Cross, Shepherds Bush still retains a lure through the footie club.
I even managed to get in a bit of birding and set about trying to find a House Sparrow around the `village green`, as Shepherds Bush was once known. Unsurprisingly my quest floundered with not a single cheep of a cheeky, London sparra to be heard anywhere. On the other hand parakeets screeched overhead and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were commonplace, several Goldfinches called from plane trees and a Grey Wagtail flew over calling.
At the ground it was good to meet up with some old, long suffering faces from when I was a season ticket holder, and when Gerry Francis and Phil Parkes were interviewed on the pitch at half time, talking about a reunion of the great side of 75/76, I realised how far the R`s had plummeted from those heady days.
However, back to the present and while the first half was a poor spectacle it improved in the second with the introduction of Charlie Austin, the goal scorer and a 1-0 win. As always at Loftus Road the atmosphere in that tight little ground was cracking, thanks in part to a large and  raucous Leeds support.

Sunday - Lade - mild, overcast, sw 5 - What a difference a day makes, from the madness of London - I know which one I prefer! We did our usual circuit of the local patch in a buffeting wind which by the afternoon had built up to gale force as Storm Clodagh swept up-Channel. All the usual wildfowl and waders were noted on the lakes and beach respectively where a female Marsh Harrier was testing out the Coots on south lake. Hardly any passerines were noted due to the wind.
News from the bird reserve confirmed the Long-eared Owl still present roosting behind the discovery pond.

                                Sanderlings, Lade sands

Friday 27 November 2015

In praise of gulls - surely not...

Dungeness - mild, cloudy, drizzle, sw 3-5 - A grey old day with an increasingly rain-laden wind sweeping up-Channel - We wandered down to the Patch where several hundred common gulls were wheeling over the boil and sat on the sea, chiefly Black-headed and Herring Gulls. In amongst the throng were a couple of 1st winter Little Gulls fluttering along the scum line. Offshore 2 Red-breasted Mergansers and Red-throated Divers passed west with several Gannets further out. On the way off the estate I stopped to chat with DW who`d just located a 1st winter Caspian Gull on the beach roost amongst the larger gulls and actually made the effort to `scope it...

                                 Long-eared Owl, RSPB reserve

RSPB - The Long-eared Owl spent its third day roosting in sallows by the discovery pond and if anything was showing slighter better than on Wednesday. On Burrowes lake staff and volunteers have done a superb job of clearing the islands in front of the visitor centre of vegetation. Most of the wildfowl (including 4 each of Smew and Goldeneye) and gulls were at the Scott hide end sheltering from the wind, plus 2 Shelducks in front of Firth. From Makepeace hide an adult Caspian Gull showed well on one of the closer islands. Over the road on ARC plenty more wildfowl, including 4 Goldeneyes and 4 Shelducks, where there was also a report of a drake Smew earlier.
However, I`m becoming increasingly worried that I may be going gull ga-ga and moving over to the `Dark Side`, as I seem to be studying gulls more closely of late. It must be some sort of osmosis effect, absorbed from the Dungeness gull lords; I even found a Caspo on Lade last week, and Meds on the sands at low tide. There I go again, I`m even using the gully terminology - Caspo, Meds and all that.
If this carries on I may need counselling by the end of the winter...

                               Adult Caspian Gull, Burrowes

Thursday 26 November 2015

Roost watch

Lade - cool, dry, sunny, light airs - At last a dry day with plenty of sunshine and no wind, perfect for birding. This morning we checked the lakes where the Goldeneye was still present amongst c2,500 wildfowl. Cetti`s Warblers and Water Rails were particularly vocal around the willow swamp where a Firecrest was noted at the back of a tit flock. Several Marsh Harriers hunted the fields behind the `mirrors` along with Buzzard, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk.

                                Short-eared Owl, Lade

This evening we tramped across the shingle for a stake out at the north end of Mockmill in glorious setting sunlight. After chatting to BD (who`d seen the Long-eared Owl on the bird reserve this afternoon) we soon settled down in our usual spot to scan the flatlands. A Short-eared Owl quartered the rough grassland, occasionally pausing to perch and listen for prey from fence posts; and for once unaccompanied by corvids. What splendid birds they are, I don't reckon I`ll ever tire of watching them. It soon drifted out of sight and as the sun dipped beyond the horizon along came the Marsh Harriers, 7 in total heading towards the bird reserve to roost. Over a 1,000 corvids raced overhead, mostly Jackdaws, along with a flock of 300 Starlings, a straggle of Woodpigeons and 2 Little Egrets. A terrific end to a stunning winters day.

                                Sunset over Mockmill

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Long-eared Owl

Dungeness - cold, overcast, drizzle, nw 2 - Following yesterdays washout this morning wasn't much better with occasional showers and poor light. An offshore wind made a seawatch pretty pointless, so we walked the tideline from the lifeboat station to the lighthouse where all the usual gulls and Turnstones were noted. On the sea were at least 50 Great Crested Grebes and a trickle of Kittiwakes.
A single Med Gull was amongst the gulls on the beach, although later on an adult Caspian Gull was present. The anglers along the foreshore were pulling in plenty of whiting, plus a few cod, and being as its Dungeness there`s always something of interest in the Channel, and this morning it was a stunning wooden sailing ship.

                               Pirates of the English Channel

RSPB - News came through this afternoon of a Long-eared Owl roosting in sallows by the discovery pond on the bird reserve. These highly nocturnal owls have become something of a rarity in recent years so it was a real treat to be able to enjoy this individual at a safe distance as it occasionally looked around showing off those penetrating orange eyes. Long gone are the days when double figure roosts of Long-eared Owls were regularly encountered during the winter period.
Also present on Burrowes, 4 Goosanders and a Smew, while a Bittern showed well from Screen hide at dusk.

                                Long-eared Owl, Dungeness RSPB

Monday 23 November 2015

Winter approaches

Lade - cold, sunny, nw 2 - The past couple of days have been pretty similar on the weather front with overnight frosts, morning sunshine and afternoon cloud - proper winter weather at last. Yesterday the first Goldeneye of the winter dropped on to south lake, followed by a Smew this morning, plus a Short-eared Owl quartering the fields by north lake. Three Stonechats had returned to the desert scrub with a particularly showy Cetti`s Warbler by the ponds.

                                Great Black-backed Gull, Dungeness

Dungeness - 1430 - 1545hrs - We joined PB for a seawatch from the fishing boats where a steady flow of Kittiwakes and auks went to and fro, plus 10 Red-throated Divers, 12 Common Scoters, Gannet, Med Gull and Curlew eastbound, and 3 Gadwall, 2 Dunlins and a Knot heading west. Up to 30 Great Crested Grebes and several Guillemots were on the water and a Peregrine came in off the bay.
The adult Great Black-back with the dodgy wings was in the gull roost on the beach.

Saturday 21 November 2015

Dartford Warbler

Lade - cold, wintry showers, nw 5 - The much predicted icy blast from the north hit with a vengeance today delivering sleety showers and a rasping wind during the morning. As the day progressed the showers eased and the sun broke through, although the wind speed picked up to near gale force making it feel even colder. Needless to say walking across the shingle wastes to check the lakes was not at all pleasurable, and not that productive either with the massed ranks of wildfowl, grebes and Coots still present and seemingly oblivious to the bitter wind.
How weak us humans are by comparison. Barney too is not in the slightest phased by the cold and on the way back this morning he flushed a Dartford Warbler from the broom scrub between south lake and Leonard Road, only my second Lade record, although not too surprising considering their mini influx of late. As a special treat I fried him up a couple of bangers for second breakfast.
With reports of Little Auks appearing down the east coast today we checked the bay and north lake this afternoon just in case, but it was not to be, so we retired early to the comfort of a log fire and a book.

                                Its a dogs life...

Friday 20 November 2015

Dusky Warbler

Dungeness - mild, overcast, w 2 - An hour at the fishing boats this morning revealed a trickle of Gannets and auks westward, plus 9 Brents, 5 Red-throated Divers and a Red-breasted Merganser; several of the closer auks proved to be Razorbills. A steady flow of coasting gulls included several Mediterranean Gulls.
Dengemarsh - With lighter winds we headed to the bird reserve where the Dusky Warbler was still present in bramble and sallows by the lake on the bend in the track south of the ramp. It was actively calling but frustratingly difficult to see with just a couple of glimpses offered up as it moved between clumps of scrub. Also noted from the bridle track were Firecrest, Goldcrest, 2 Stonechats, 20 Long-tailed Tits, Redwing and Song Thrush.
After weeks of unseasonably mild weather conditions the temperature fell away to single figures this afternoon as a cold front advanced from the north-west, which is set to deliver an icy blast from the Arctic tomorrow.

Thursday 19 November 2015

Folkestone Book Fair

Dengemarsh - 0800hrs - mild, overcast, sw 2 - We did a circuit of Dengemarsh first thing, commencing at Boulderwall, before the rain set in by late morning. The highlight was brief views of the `resident` Dartford Warbler in bramble scrub where the return trail meets the bridle path. There was no sign of the Dusky Warbler by the double bends, although it could easily still be lurking amongst the scrub somewhere. A few Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Stonechats and Goldcrests were also present along the way.
Elsewhere around the route the usual wildfowl, Cetti`s Warblers, Marsh Harriers and Great White Egrets noted, plus 2 Common Buzzards, 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers, 10 Skylarks and a Kingfisher.
Folkestone Book Fair, 20-29th November -  Tomorrow sees the start of the annual book fest centred on the Quarterhouse in Folkestone`s Creative Quarter, with a variety of speakers to suit all tastes. We`re attending the talk on Sunday afternoon by Tony Juniper, a life-long campaigning environmentalist, entitled What has Nature ever done for us`, based on his recent book. The name Tony Juniper may be familiar to birders with a penchant for parrots, as it was he who co-wrote Parrots: A guide to the parrots of the world, when working as an ornithologist for Birdlife International.
For further details of this worthy event check out the website at:

Tuesday 17 November 2015

Storm Barney

Lade - Mild wet and windy sw 3-6 - These past couple of days have been dominated by fast-moving weather fronts streaming in off the Atlantic. The strong `uns are now named by the Met Office with  today`s blow entitled, `Barney`: I`ve told my beloved mutt, but he was less than impressed...
There hasn't been much change to the bird life on the wind-swept gravel pits around the peninsula with the 2 Black-necked Grebes still hugging the margins of New Diggings, Goosander and Smew on Burrowes and Great White Egrets just about everywhere you look around the bird reseerve. A Firecrest showed well yesterday morning by Dennis`s hide and during the afternoon there was a report of a Dusky Warbler near Hookers reed bed which proved suitably elusive, and again this morning when it was seen and heard skulking in scrub. Another skulker, a Dartford Warbler continues to remain faithful to the gorse and bramble cover along the return trail. 
Dungeness - A late morning visit along the beach and fishing boats revealed little movement offshore apart from Cormorants, Kittiwakes and Black-headed Gulls, plus 10 Common Scoters west. Great Crested Grebe numbers are starting to increase and 45 Turnstones were present on the tideline.
By early afternoon the rain commenced and the wind rapidly increased as Storm Barney swept up Channel rendering any attempt at birding pointless.

Sunday 15 November 2015

Counting Coots

Lade - mild, cloudy, occasional sun, windy, drizzle, w 6 - 1000hrs - Strong winds blasting across south lake made for difficult viewing for the monthly WeBS Count which was carried out by a combination of old fashioned counting and photographing flocks for checking later, such is the huge numbers of waterfowl present. I carried out a rough count on Friday, in slightly calmer conditions, which tallied with todays count.
Coots numbered a staggering 1,480, a new site record (or at least since I`ve been counting these past 10 years), plus 550 Gadwalls (also a record), so pretty much a 3:1 ratio, and 22 Dabchicks along with good numbers of Wigeon and Shoveler, but fewer Tufted Duck and Pochard. The reason for this glut of dabblers is almost certainly due to an abundance of food in the form of masses of Canadian water weed, which also supports invertebrates such as small water snails and insect larvae.
On the more sheltered north lake around 1,000 gulls comprised mainly Black-headed and Herring, but in the throng were 5 Meds and a 1st winter Caspian. More bird bio-mass on the fields to the north included 500 Lapwings, 100 Golden Plovers, 200 Woodpigeons, 100 Stock Doves, 100 corvids, 20 Magpies and 50 Fieldfares.

                               Canadian water weed

                               Coot and Gadwall, go together like rhubarb and custard                                

                                Coots feeding on water weed

Walland Marsh - Joined CP for the monthly harrier count this afternoon, where thankfully after this mornings effort the abacus was redundant and the wind had relented somewhat. In poor light and drizzle 16 Marsh Harriers came to roost in reedbed, nearly all female or immature birds. Also noted in the general area 2 Buzzards, 2 Kestrels, 12 Skylarks, 10 Fieldfares, 2 Cetti`s Warblers and calling Water Rails. 

Friday 13 November 2015

Storm Abigail

Dungeness - mild, showery, w 4-6 - The morning was dominated by the weather as we received a meteorological slap (at least compared with northern Britain) from Storm Abigail in the form of gusty winds and hefty showers through the morning, although it brightened up this afternoon.
A circuit of the point delivered very little in the way of birds with just a handful of Robins, Goldcrests, Blackbirds, Goldfinches, Kestrel and a Stonechat in the trapping area/desert. Likewise nothing much was happening on the sea and we couldn't even find a Caspo amongst the roosting gulls on the beach; still, Barney wasn't complaining as we covered the shingle at a steady pace without stopping to gawp at the waves for too long.
We also bid our farewells to SG who`ll be migrating back north to Surrey this weekend; all the best Steve and hope to see you next spring.
Lade -  A pre-WeBS count check of the local patch was difficult due to the strong wind whipping across south lake, but I reckon this coming Sunday will see a record Coot count, so watch this space...
ARC - From Screen hide this afternoon 2 Marsh Harriers over, Bittern, Great White Egret and Goldeneye, plus Great Spotted Woodpecker and Chiffchaff at the pines.

Thursday 12 November 2015

Dartford Warbler

RSPB - mild, showery, sw 3 - We spent the morning on the bird reserve having seconds on the Dartford Warbler, which we all heard and saw fairly well as it performed low down in bramble scrub along the return trail. A few finches and thrushes drifted over, but there was nothing like the variety and numbers of yesterday. Around the circular walk were up to 6 Marsh Harriers, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Kingfisher, 5 Cetti`s Warbler, Water Rail, good views of a Raven, 2 Sparrowhawks and all the usual wildfowl on Burrowes.
We finished the four day birdwatching break for David, Val and Sandra with a species tally of 105, but as is often the case it was more about the spectacle of large numbers of birds flocking together as winter looms that will live long in the memory. The thousands of Golden Plovers down at Rye took some beating, as did the hundreds of Fieldfares on Monday by the Royal Military Canal, the wildfowl on Burrowes and waders on Lade bay; and lets face it watching egrets and harriers come to roost is pretty special too. The quality was provided by Dartford Warbler, Short-eared Owl and up to five Firecrests.
Other highlights during the week included a large number of plants still in flower, a myriad of different fungi (which I`m still trying to id!) and good views of Hare and Mink.

                                Orange fungi on wood