Friday 30 January 2015

Pomarine Skua

Dungeness - 0845 hrs - cold, dry and sunny, n 3 - Seawatching at this time of year is very much a last resort or done for a change of scene; there`s nothing likely to be new on the pits, but the sea, well you just never know, and this morning proved the point. From the fishing boats all was initially quiet until the Cormorants located a shoal of sprats. Within ten minutes there was over 200 of `em gobbling up fish, working in small teams corralling their prey; then the gulls came in for any by-catch, hundreds of the mostly larger species. After 15 minutes up to 20 Gannets joined the party, plunge diving from on high amongst the melee, closely followed by the star of the show, hammering in low over the waves out of Hythe Bay, a stunning immature Pomarine Skua. In it swept like a large, black falcon, steaming into a Kittiwake, which immediately disgorged its catch, and then away west down-Channel. After 30 minutes the fish were dispatched and the show was over with the Gannets moving back out to sea and the gulls drifting along the beach.
Burrowes -  Plenty of wildfowl between Makepeace and Scott hides with over 200 each of Teal and Shoveler, 100 Wigeon and Gadwall, 60 Pintail, eight Smew and two Goosanders the highlights. Elsewhere around the lake, three Great White Egrets, two Marsh Harriers and a Black-necked Grebe.
Distant views of the North Downs showed a sprinkling of snow on the hills.

                                Shovelers, Burrowes

                                Goosander, Burrowes

Thursday 29 January 2015

Bewick`s Swans

Walland Marsh - cold, dry and sunny, w 3 -A superb winters day with bright sunshine throughout and ideal for a jaunt out onto the Marsh. For once the Bewick`s Swan flock (86) and a single Whooper were close to the lane near Horse Bones Farm, grazing the winter wheat and showing well; one bird in particular came even closer as it drank from a puddle. By Hawthorn Corner a decent size flock of winter thrushes were finishing off the remaining berries and foraging in adjacent fields, along with a host of Blackbirds and Song Thrushes. A seed dump yielded 30 Corn, 20 Yellow and 10 Reed Buntings, until scattered by a Sparrowhawk. Cutting back across to Midley more thrushes scattered out of the hedgerows along with Chaffinches and two flocks of Tree Sparrows, while a fallow field was fulls of corvids and Woodpigeons. At Wheelsgate we had a walk along the railways line where Barney flushed a fox and then a hare!  Further along a few Skylarks and Mipits fed in a weedy patch, plus several Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers.

                                Bewick`s Swans, Walland Marsh

ARC - From the causeway road two Smew and a Pintail in a large mixed flock of ducks, while from Screen hide the usual Great White Egrets, Marsh Harriers and Bitterns (he says in a blasé manner).

Wednesday 28 January 2015

Weather change

Lade - mild, cloudy, wet, w 5 - What a difference a day makes with the light airs and sunshine of yesterday giving way to yet another weather front bringing rain off the Atlantic; although staying mild, for the time being at least... On the local patch most of the wildfowl were sheltering from the wind behind islands or around the willow swamp, while the singing Robins, Dunnocks and a Song Thrush from the day before were now silent.
ARC - The usual wildfowl here including two Goosander and a Smew from the causeway road, plus Bittern, Kingfisher and Great White Egret from Screen hide. Wandered down to the pines where Barney found some tender bramble leaves to ease his stomach upset; he always seeks this particular leaf which must have the soothing herbal qualities he requires.

Scotney - The first winter Scaup was at the Sussex end and at least one Black-necked Grebe sheltered behind a bank, while the usual feral geese were on the grass.
Lydd - One sorry looking Cattle Egret was hunkered down behind a shed in the field opposite Wraxalls stone yard.
                                Cattle Egret, Lydd

Dungeness - An hour at the fishing boats this afternoon was largely uneventful with the usual Kittiwakes, Gannets and auks fishing offshore. Hundreds of large gulls roosted on the beach, but I could find nothing of note amongst them.
Dungeness RSPB - Thanks are due to the staff who organised yesterday evenings volunteers quiz at the visitors centre, where a good time was had by all.

Monday 26 January 2015

Back to normal

Dengemarsh - mild, cloudy, w 2 - For a change of scene we walked the gully this morning which was virtually birdless apart from a flyover Raven and two Stonechats. From Springfield Bridge the usual wildfowl, grebes, Marsh Harriers and egrets, plus several Snipe flying over the reedbed. The flood and hayfields, whilst looking superb with plenty of shallow water, did not attract a single bird. 

                               Kingfisher, ARC

ARC - Following the mass influx of birders over the weekend `normal` service was resumed today with empty hides and plenty to see. From Hanson and Screen hides we had several flight views of Bitterns, plus perched Kingfisher, two Great White Egrets, a couple of Marsh Harriers and ten Goldeneye on the water. Cetti`s Warbler and Water Rail called from the Willow Trail (now out of bounds) and a tit flock held 15 Long-tailed and two Goldcrests. Down at the pines Green Woodpecker and Chiffchaff, plus a small flock of Tree Sparrows in the car park.

                                Goldeneyes, ARC

Saturday 24 January 2015

Winter thrushes

Lade - cold, dry, sunny, nw 4 - Its becoming a bit of a habit to avoid the bird reserve at the weekends as often the hides are crowded with visiting birders, and I`m lucky enough to be able to visit in the week. This `tradition` is very popular with Barney who loves nothing more than snuffling around the local patch chasing a few rabbits and cocking his leg up every piece of vegetation, so this morning we took in a full circuit and even slogged up the beach to the point and back around Kerton Road Pit. A decent step in gorgeous winter sunshine even if the north-westerly wind had a keen edge to it.
On the lakes duck numbers were down on last weekend, although many were taking shelter from the wind in and around the willow swamp and difficult to count. Four Goldeneyes were the highlight, although it does seems as though the RCP has done the off; obviously a wild bird then... Despite the chill, and looking for evidence of spring (ok, clutching at straws) a pair of Great Crested Grebes were engaged in a bit of courtship display, a Dabchick `trilled` from cover and a Herring Gull was testing out last years nest site on a solar panel.
  Mockmill was dead but several Marsh Harriers and a Kestrel were trying their luck on the fields behind the `mirrors`, so we cut down Seaview Road and hit the beach where eight species of waders were noted on the incoming tide, best of which was a flock of 65 Knot, 12 Grey Plover and eight Ringed Plovers. At the point a few distant Gannets and Kittiwakes fished amongst rafts of Great Crested Grebes and Cormorants, while a flock of 28 Brents headed east. Kerton Road Pit was largely barren apart from a few gulls and two Stonechats.

                                Herring Gull trying out nest site

Walland Marsh - We had a wander round the Marsh this afternoon, first off checking the wild swans at Horse Bones Farm where 86 Bewick`s and one Whooper Swan were present and closer to the lane than of late. At Wheelsgate up to 500 winter thrushes were of note, many of them pulling large earthworms from a flooded ley, plus a scattering of Song Thrushes and Blackbirds along the railway line. Further on the solar farm margins held ten Yellowhammers and several Chaffinches. Finished off at a harrier roost in the company of PB and BB where up to 12 Marsh Harriers were in the general area, plus two Buzzards, 50 Linnets, hundreds of Lapwings, Greylags and at least 28 White-fronts. 

                                Winter thrushes, Wheelsgate

Tim and Jenny from West Sussex finished their stay at Plovers having enjoyed two days birding around the Marsh during which time they connected with `specialities` such as Bittern, Smew, Marsh Harrier, Cattle and Great White Egrets, Bewick`s and Whooper Swans, Black-necked Grebe, Tree Sparrow and Corn Bunting.

Friday 23 January 2015

Buntings and daffodils

Walland Marsh - cold, sunny, light airs - The perfect winters day for a mooch round the farmland tracts, where there was plenty on offer. First stop a seed dump near Brenzett which attracted a bunting fest, at least by today's standards: 20 each of Corn and Yellow, plus five Reed. Also, 10 Chaffinches and a pair of gorgeous Bullfinches. Further along the lane and over the railway line I was astonished to see a verge of nodding daffodils in full flower in the warm sunshine; what a wonderful sight and a gentle reminder that spring is not too far away.

                                A welcome splash of colour

Onwards to Midley and decent numbers of thrushes along the verges and on sheep folds, mainly Blackbirds and Song Thrushes, but also a fair few Mistle Thrushes, Fieldfares, plus two Jays.
Marsh Harriers, Common Buzzards, Kestrels and a Merlin were all duly logged on the walk out near the wind farm where a large flock of grey geese contained 30 White-fronts. Thousands of Lapwing, Goldies, corvids, Woodpigeons and Starlings comprised the bulk numbers along with more thrushes, 100 Linnets, 50 Chaffinches and lesser numbers of Mipits, Skylarks, 10 Corn Buntings, five Snipe and three Stonechats.
The usual Tree Sparrows were on the Midley feeders and drying barn dump, but the wild swans were in a slightly different position at Horse Bones Farm, being further west and bit more distant, although earlier in the day they were closer to the road. A Little Owl posed briefly near a Lydd chicken shed, plus more Lapwings, 100 Curlews and 10 Corn Buntings in a flooded turf field. Checked out the `Cattle Egret` paddock where there was no sign of either birds or beasts, but a Grey Lag flock further down Dengemarsh Road attracted two Tundra Bean Geese.

                                Curlews, Lydd

                                Little Owl, Lydd

Towers/ARC Pits -  After a spot of lunch, and picking up Barney, we headed back out for a wander up to pines and and over towards airport pits, which was fairly fruitless apart from a flock of Long-tailed Tits and a couple of flushed Snipe. Back at Screen hide things picked up though with regular flight views of several Bitterns during a 90 minute watch along with three Great White Egrets, five Marsh Harriers, Cetti`s Warbler and Chiffchaff.

                                Bittern, ARC

Friday Summary: Apparently, the two Cattle Egrets spent the day out on Dengemarsh, but did return to the Wraxalls paddock at dusk to roost. At Scotney the three Black-necked Grebes were at the farm entrance end and the 1st winter Scaup in Sussex. At Nickoll`s Quarry, Hythe the 1st winter Night Heron was still present; view from the green trailer on the public footpath in the north-west corner of site. 
On the RSPB reserve up ten Smew (including a drake) were on Burrowes lake with Scott hide being the best viewing position; unfortunately, that means driving down the one mile access road to the visitor centre (and back) which is in a very bad state of disrepair with deep pot-holes throughout. The Society have got plans to repair it, `when the weather improves`. So, if you are planning a visit this weekend, and are fit and able, the best bet is to park in the ARC car park and do the four mile circular walk. However, four wheel drive vehicles and tanks should easily take the track in their stride!
Good birding.

Thursday 22 January 2015

Winter sunshine and a small rant

Lade - cold, cloudy, light airs - A much better day with a glimpse of the sun and hardly any wind making for a much milder feel than of late. Having received reports of a `dead brown bird` from one of the locals by the swing bridge we had a wander round but couldn't find anything. Legions of wildfowl on the water included five Goldeneyes, two Shelduck and a Pintail, but no sign of the long-staying Red-crested Pochard. The Marsh Harriers were once again eying up the Coots.

                                Coot`s on the menu...

ARC - From the causeway road a host of ducks, including hundreds of Gadwall and Teal, several Goldeneye and Pintail, a Goosander and two Great White Egrets.
Scotney - Tons more ducks and feral geese here with the 1st winter Scaup at the Sussex end and three Black-necked Grebes near the farm entrance. We checked out Pigwell which had a couple of Stonechats and a Great White Egret, but couldn`t find the Cattle Egrets in their usual field at Dengemarsh Road, although I understand they`d returned by late afternoon.

                                Stonechat, Pigwell

First rant of the year
Arrrrgh! Last night I dipped in on the BBC`s Winterwatch with the usual illustrious trio playing up to camera. Packham was showing the daft one a splendid drake Goosander on a river up north somewhere. Great I thought this looks good; and then it got even better as a Harlequin Duck hove into view! Wow, brilliant, a 1st winter drake cavorting about in the torrent, no, THE 1st winter drake, so it must be in Scotlandshire, a proper five star mouth-watering rarity, plus a few shots of camera toting twitchers on the river bank behaving responsibly. Mmm, this looks good I thought..., reminds me of Iceland..., until that is Packham descended into some ludicrous leg-rubbing act, and looking at the bird through binoculars clad with studs. Not sure why they put this show on so late, being as it`s clearly aimed at kids it might as well go out at 4pm. Come on BBC, buck up and sort the presenters out, `cos some of the content is really good.

Wednesday 21 January 2015

Birders block

Lade - cold, cloudy, rain, se 3 - It had to happen sooner or later, although its come on early this year: birders block, things have just got a bit samey. I know I really shouldn`t moan, as where else in the south-east could you spend a morning in the field and see three species of egrets, Bittern, harriers, Smew, Goosander, Scaup, Black-necked Grebe, wild swans, divers, Gannet, auks, Kingfisher and the like, not forgetting a Night Heron and Lesser Yellowlegs either side of us? Answer, pretty well nowhere, "so pull yourself together and count your lucky stars", I hear you say. Ok, ok, I`ll shut up, but the weather these past two days hasn't helped either, being cold and grim with wintry showers, and I know its the same for everyone...
  Anyhow, not sure where this post is going, but this morning we checked out the point from the boats where a `blizzard` of gulls contained at least one adult Med Gull, with at least 105 Turnstones  roosting on the shingle.

                                Gulls, Dungeness

                                Turnstones, Dungeness

  This afternoon a drive across Romney Marsh delivered a Great White Egret on the canal near the Hamstreet garden centre, a thousand Woodpigeons near Newchurch, a Little Owl on straw bales at Honeychild Farm and at least four Buzzards, including one perched on the ruins of the ironically named `Hope` church. Quite what these raptors find to feed on in this arable desert is a bit of a mystery, but I hear tell that the brown rat population is high this winter.
  As dusk approached we walked Mockmill hoping for an owl or two, but it was not to be. Several Marsh Harriers drifted over to roost and thousands of Lapwings and Woodpigeons filled the skies just before light out.
  The weather looks a bit kinder over the next few days, so hope springs eternal, plus we`ve got birders in at the weekend which should buck me up a bit.

Monday 19 January 2015

The north wind doth blow

Dungeness - 0900hrs - cold, cloudy, n 3 - Without doubt the coldest day of the winter so far with a rasping wind out of the north. We had a bit of a spin round the peninsula today, along with many other birders who also had the same idea, some of whom were down twitching the Night Heron.
There was little happening offshore with only a trickle of feeding divers, auks, Kittiwakes and Gannets. On the beach towards the Patch an adult Med Gull but nothing else amongst around a thousand gulls. On the shingle by the concrete road a 1st winter Caspian Gull was still present.
RSPB - On ARC two Great White Egrets, two Goosanders and a Smew on the water while a Bittern showed briefly from Screen hide, along with Chiffchaff and Cetti`s Warbler in the reedbed. On Burrowes ten Smew included a stunning `white nun`, plus 25 Pintail and two more Great White Egrets.
Lydd - The two Cattle Egrets were in their chosen field in Dengemarsh Road, while at Horse Bones Farm 84 Bewick`s and one Whooper Swan were noted, but distant.
Littlestone - Checked the beach on a falling tide where 15 Grey and five Ringed Plovers of note.

Sunday 18 January 2015

A sky full of birds

Lade - 1100hrs  - cold, wet, overcast, light airs - The monthly WeBS count produced the highest numbers I could remember for a long while including over 900 Coot and 280 Teal forming the bulk with Smew, Red-crested Pochard and Pintail the quality. Also of note a Great White Egret in the reeds in front of the wall `mirror` and several Marsh Harriers on the wing despite the drizzle.

                                Fox, Walland Marsh

                                Peregrine, Walland Marsh

Walland Marsh - 1430hrs - I always look forward to our monthly jaunt onto Walland to count the harriers with Marshman, and this afternoons effort was one of the more memorable. En-route the wild swans were present in their usual field near Horse Bones Farm but distant. As we arrived on site birds seemed to everywhere, and in large numbers. A rape-seed field was grey with a couple of thousand Woodpigeons, while a field of mustard held 100 Linnets, 50 Chaffinches, 20 Redwings and lesser numbers of Corn Buntings, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Mipits.
  From the roost count site at least 5,000 each of Golden Plover and Lapwings on a wheat ley were spooked by a Peregrine causing the whole lot to take flight and filling the sky with birds, it was an amazing sight and sound. Meanwhile over a thousand Greylags made a fearful din as they rose off the flood, due to wildfowling activities over by the reservoir, revealing 38 White-fronts in their midst. Phew! hectic stuff. Eventually, things settled down a bit and the geese returned, the falcon plonked itself down on the deck and a fox sauntered along the sewer margin towards us. In the reedbed a Jack Snipe broke cover along with 10 Common Snipe while Water Rail, Cetti`s Warbler and Chiffchaff were all heard. 
  As for the Marsh Harriers, well they put on another good show with 21 coming to roost including the `golden` female and at least four adult males. Other raptors noted were three Buzzards and Kestrels, a Sparrowhawk and to cap off a cracking afternoon a Barn Owl flew over the flood into the darkness.
  A terrific session out on the flatlands with all those plovers the highlight for me.

                                Sunset over Cheyne Court, Walland Marsh

Saturday 17 January 2015

Jack Snipe & Firecrest

Lade - 0900hrs - cold, dry, sunny - At last a `proper` winters morning with overnight sub-zero temperatures cold enough to fuse the pebbles together, something which doesn't happen that often down here. With light airs and blue skies lifting the spirits we glided over the shingle ridges to work Mockmill Sewer. For the first part it was birdless, then singles of Dunnock, Stonechat and Blackbird perched atop the scrub soaking up the sunshine. Two Water Rails squealed from cover and I nearly stepped on a Jack Snipe that flew a short distance before dropping back down into the sedges, unlike three Common Snipe that zig-zagged away calling furiously. Behind the `mirrors` several Marsh Harriers and a Kestrel were taking advantage of the good weather while a distant Buzzard sat on a straw stack. Hundreds of Lapwings, Woodpigeons, Stock Doves, Starlings, corvids and gulls were active on the fields beside the airport.

                                Lade sound `mirrors`

                                Starling soaking up the sun

Skirting back around south lake confirmed the presence of the wintering duck Red-crested Pochard, plus two Smew amongst the throng. Cetti`s Warbler, Chiffchaff and Long-tailed Tits were all noted in the willow swamp. By midday the rain clouds were gathering, but whilst working in the garden I had brief views of a stunning Firecrest in the fir trees, one my favourite birds.
The afternoon was pretty much a washout with hefty showers rattling across the peninsula, which got even more forgettable when I learned that QPR got beat 2-0 at home by the unmentionables...

Friday 16 January 2015

Night Heron

Nickoll`s Quarry, Hythe - Rain, cloudy, cold w 2 - 1030hrs  - With the rain hammering down we set off for the eastern extremity of the Marsh for another stab at the heron. This time I togged up in full foul weather gear along with back up in the form of Barney; just in case we encountered fat bloke and nipper, which we didn't, but let`s face, who else would be daft enough to be out on a day like today (don't answer that...). This time we accessed the site via a public footpath off Burmarsh Road, and from the shelter of a green trailer beside the fishing lake soon located the 1st winter Night Heron hunched up in a hawthorn bush looking decidedly miserable in the pouring rain - it was probably thinking, "why did I ever leave that cosy aviary..."

                                1st winter Night Heron, Hythe

Anyhow, we soon got fed up (Barney hates the rain, it plays havoc with his beard...) looking at the inert speckled lump, so after taking a few pics (just so`s I can swoon over it in my dotage) we sploshed back to the lane.
Whilst drying off by the car there was a sudden screech of brakes accompanied by the smell of burning rubber, and bless my old sea boots, who should it be but Bedfordshire`s finest, LGRE, a Marsh year tick if ever there was. After a hurried greeting and some small talk about a recent Black-necked Grebe at Dunstable I suggested he put on some outdoor clobber as it was a touch swampy out there; as usual he was attired as though for a night out clubbing. After giving exact details on the herons whereabouts off he went in search of a year tick. Good to see you Lee, and keep on twitching!
Dungeness - 1400hrs - Back on the peninsula the rain had finally petered out so we gave it an hour at the fishing boats where at least 350 Great Crested Grebes were on the sea, plus a sprinkling of Guillemots, Red-throated Divers and passing Gannets and Kittiwakes.
Lade - On south lake the Red-crested Pochard and two Goldeneyes were still present, while two redhead Smew flew off towards the bird reserve. At last knockings a few Magpies came to roost in the willow swamp, but nothing like the numbers before New Year.

Thursday 15 January 2015

Hythe heron

Lade - wet and windy, sw 6-8 - Another shocking period of weather with overnight gale force winds and torrential rain rattling around the cottage causing it creak and groan. By daybreak the winds had lessened in strength, but the rain continued off and on throughout the day in the shape of hefty showers. We ventured over the local patch during a dry interlude, but there was little of note apart from the usual wildfowl.
Nickoll`s Quarry  - Had to go to Hythe this morning, and against my better judgement considering the weather conditions, decided to give the Night Heron a go en-route. Anyhow, it proved to be a comedy of errors as I got soaked to the skin and covered in mud by slipping over along the track from Palmarsh which resembled a swamp; and just for good measure I got bit by a dog! When I aimed a boot at the savage beast and remonstrated with the owner he told me to, "f-off and get a life". I just couldn`t be asked to get into a row, so I took his advice and left. I never did find the damn bird, but would strongly advise anyone visiting site over the coming days to wear a wet suit and flippers, and avoid a fat bloke with a Labrador, a terrier and a bad attitude.
But what is it with Hythe and herons? In the words of Blackadder, "I smell something fishy, and I`m not talking about the contents of Baldrick`s apple crumble". Last year a pond heron, a few years before a Green Heron and a Night Heron, and now another of the latter;  come on, someone`s having a laugh at our expense, and what about that zoo up on the hill...  

Wednesday 14 January 2015

Egrets & Sawbills

Dungeness RSPB - 1000-1300hrs - cold, dry, sunny, sw 3 - Seventeen birders turned out this morning for a guided walk on the bird reserve, although we spent most of the time in the hides around Burrowes. At least six Great White and two Little Egrets were present, plus hundreds of  common wildfowl including 20 Pintail, six Goldeneye and a Black-necked Grebe. From Scott hide at least six redhead Smew were noted and a flock of six Goosanders flew across the water. A Kingfisher perched close to the hide, while several Marsh Harriers and a Raven were seen near Christmas Dell hide. The bird feeders in the car park were busy with tits, finches and the like, plus a Chiffchaff in the scrub.

Tuesday 13 January 2015

A brief respite in the weather

Lade - 1045hrs - mild, sunny, sw 3 - A shocking past 36 hours with strong winds and rain throughout, often heavy at times, put paid to any effective birding. However, the sun broke through by mid-morning and out came the birds, and birders. On the local patch a Great White Egret on south lake by the sound `mirror` was new, as was a Black-necked Grebe on the water amongst a thousand plus ducks, Coots, grebes and a Red-crested Pochard, while a Pintail remained on north lake. Marsh Harriers must`ve had a difficult few days and least four hungry birds were on the wing, flushing hundreds of Woodpigeons and a couple of thousand Lapwing over the farmland.

                                Great White Egret, Lade Sound `Mirror`

ARC - From the causeway road two each of Smew (one drake) and Goosander, plus Pintail and a Great White Egret, that appeared to be cosying up to a Mute Swan on the Cormorant island. From Hanson hide six Goldeneyes, two more GWEgrets, and flight views of two Bitterns from Screen hide. Also noted hereabouts six Marsh Harriers (including the grand ole golden female), Chiffchaff, Cetti`s Warbler, Water Rail, Tree Sparrow and Reed Bunting. 

                                `White Nun`, ARC

                                Unlikely bed fellows...

Lydd - The two Cattle Egrets remained in the field opposite Wraxalls in Dengemarsh Road, while in the field near Horse bones Farm at least 86 Bewick`s and one Whooper Swan were present.

Sunday 11 January 2015

Barrel jellyfish

Lade - 1030hrs - cold, dry and sunny, sw 3 - Mrs PT joined us for a circuit of the local patch in bright sunshine, but with a nippy wind. On south lake the wintering Red-crested Pochard was amongst 900 or so Coots and assorted ducks and grebes, while two Marsh Harriers were eyeing up the throng for a weakling. Around the willow swamp a tit flock contained two Chiffchaffs and a Kingfisher zipped across north lake.

                                Barrel Jellyfish Rhizostoma pulmo, Greatstone Beach

After a cup of tea with friends and a natter half way round we walked back along the foreshore where two whopping great Barrel Jellyfish were washed up on the sands opposite Romney Tavern. These dustbin-lid size sea creatures are abundant south of the equator and were probably deposited on our beach as a result of a series of weather systems and ocean currents originating from the Azores. Unfortunately, the true beauty of these simple plankton feeders is wasted when seen washed up and lifeless on a beach. 
On a rising tide we counted 750 Oystercatchers, 45 Barwits, 53 Knots and 35 Grey Plovers just before the sea covered their feeding grounds and they flew to roost.

Saturday 10 January 2015

Caspian Gull

Dungeness - 1300hrs - mild, sunny, w 4 - After the strong wind and rain of this morning we ventured down the point this afternoon. The sea was quiet with just a few distant Gannets, divers and auks being about it, so in desperation I turned to the roosting gulls on the beach. A large mixed flock contained a 1st winter Caspian Gull before the whole lot were flushed by walkers and flew off towards the bird reserve. We mooched along the foreshore towards the lifeboat station for a bit, without success, and then circled back round to the lighthouse where another gull flock delivered nought.
Lade North - Scanning from the school ramp both Marsh Harrier and Buzzard were in action over the fields, flushing Lapwings, Golden Plovers and Woodpigeons in their wake. On north pit a Pintail was the only duck of note.

Friday 9 January 2015

`White nun`

Dungeness - 0900hrs - mild, sunny, w 3 - A much better morning than yesterday and very mild with temperatures up to 13C. We joined PB on the concrete road for a brief seawatch which was a typical winter scene with hundreds of Red-throated Divers, Gannets, Kittiwakes and Great Crested Grebes toing and froing, feeding offshore. In amongst the throng was a single Fulmar down-Channel (a year tick, if I was bothering with such a list...),10 Brents up and a distant unidentified skua.
RSPB - A tour of the bird reserve produced 11 Smew on Burrowes, including my first drake of the winter which flew in from the north and eventually landed behind the Cormorant willows in front of Makepeace. All the usual Shoveler, Gadwall, Wigeon and Teal on the lake, plus several Great White Egrets and Marsh Harriers, Sparrowhawk in the car park, a Firecrest by Dennis`s hide and a Buzzard on the fields at Boulderwall. From the causeway road, two more Great White Egrets.

                                Cattle Egret, soaking up the sunshine

Lydd - The two Cattle Egrets were enjoying the sunshine in their usual field opposite Wraxalls stone yard and at least 91 Bewick`s Swans were in the rape-seed field near Horse Bones Farm out on the Marsh.
Scotney - All the expected wildfowl here including the 1st winter Scaup and over 1,000 feral geese.  The pits at the back held 20 Shelducks and 12 Egyptian Geese.

Wednesday 7 January 2015

Gulls and Brents

Dungeness - mild, cloudy, sw 3 - Visited the Patch this morning where we were joined by PB. A couple of thousand Black-headed Gulls were the most numerous of the tribe with lesser numbers of all the other common species, plus three Kittiwakes. Offshore the usual fishing divers, auks and Gannets and a flock of 50 Brents headed east.
We then spent the rest of the morning checking the gulls coming off the beach as high tide approached, including some 300 Great Black-backed Gulls roosting on the Desert, but failed to find any white-winged gulls or much else of note..
The Cattle Egrets remained faithful to their usual field in Lydd (PB).

Tuesday 6 January 2015

Purple Sandpipers

Hythe - cold, grey, sw 3 - Had to go to Folkestone today for a B&B Association meeting so didn`t get much time in the field. However, on the way home a quick stop at the sea defence blocks on the beach by Stade Street yielded three Purple Sandpipers and eight Turnstones.

                                Purple Sandpiper, Hythe

Monday 5 January 2015

Pomarine and Great Skuas

Dungeness - 0915-10130hrs - cold, dank, sw 2 - We joined MH and PB at the boats for a lively high tide seawatch during which time we discussed the weekends football (less said the better if you follow QPR), politics, fish stocks and the forthcoming shingle movement (starts next Monday). Hundreds of Cormorants were moving between the bays along with good numbers of Red-throated Divers, Great Crested Grebes and auks (mostly Guillemots, but also one or two Razorbills) on the sea, plus a steady flow of Gannets and Kittiwakes, some of which passed close to shore. Several small groups of Brents headed east (leaving already?) and four Mergansers went down-Channel. However, most surprising was a brace of skuas, with a cracking close Bonxie and a more distant Pomarine Skua.
  The day then went rapidly downhill as I arrived home when Mrs PT announced that we needed to visit Chavford for essentials that we couldn't order online. She`d caught me with my guard down, but I quickly rallied.
 "What about my bad back, it just won`t take the 40 mile round trip", I pleaded.
"Doesn't play up when you`re out birding and looking for that little bastard", she retorted.
"Actually, its a Little Bustard", I smugly replied, "and anyhow what about Barney, he was limping when we were out this morning and needs looking after".
And so the excuses and counter excuses continued like a game of ping pong until I crumbled and sulkily agreed to go. The only bonus was a Grey Wagtail along the Stour and a Great White Egret on the canal at Hamstreet on the way home. Happy days...

Sunday 4 January 2015

Waders in the mist

Lade  - cold, grey, misty, n 1 - It was a dank old morning with low cloud and mist throughout and the dull drone of the Dungeness foghorn drifting down the coast. I`d been up since 5am doing a bit of writing and thinking, as you do, and wandered out in to the garden now and again for a listen and a stretch to ease the lower back pain. Apart from the intermittent foghorn there was silence, no winter thrushes, waders or gulls calling, no traffic noise, just silence, it was wonderful being shrouded by a cloak of swirling mist, peace and quiet, all was right with the world, until about 7am when it began to wake up. Anyhow I slavishly cracked on at the keyboard, drinking tea with Barney flopped across my feet, until Mrs PT joined us around 9am. Outside the fog thickened and the prospect of second breakfast seemed far more enticing than a slog across the shingle, or searching desperately for an  already `tweeted` 1st winter Caspian Gull in the roost at Dunge (well, let`s face it...).
  As 10am approached Barney looked up hopeful for a walk, but as soon as he heard the jaunty tune of Barwick Green on the radio he slumped back into bed knowing that nothing shifts his master when the omnibus edition of The Archers is playing; well, nothing that is except maybe a Little Bustard, but certainly not a Caspian Gull... Anyhow, having missed Fridays episode I had to listen to the full hour and a quarter (how sad is that...), so we didn't hit the shingle until nearly noon, by which time the fog had cleared a little.

                               Sanderlings and Oystercatchers, Lade bay

  Eventually we togged up and Mrs PT joined us for a circuit of the local patch where there was no change on the lakes with the Red-crested Pochard still present, plus Chiffchaff and Long-tailed Tits in the buddleia bushes. Walking back along the foreshore the tide was on the turn and waders were returning to feed, so we spent a pleasant hour watching Sanderlings scurrying close by and Turnstones picking over detritus higher up the beach. As the sea retreated the `big boys` put on an evocative show, emerging from the mist, a clamouring and a curlewing.

                                "A walk, at long last"

 After a late lunch we returned to the foreshore, but a sea fret soon rolled in covering us in moisture and dramatically reducing visibility, so we headed home and fired up the wood-burning stove. I always find a winter fog, with its stillness and murk, gives the landscape hereabouts a weirdly ethereal feel; but somehow comforting, like being wrapped up in blanket, baffled from sight and sound, safe and unseen and perfect for smuggling. 

Saturday 3 January 2015

Return to Mordor

Lade  - Mild, low cloud, rain - A grim day of rain, heavy rain, more rain, drizzle. mizzle and any other adjective to describe the wet stuff, but it was mild... The only bright note on the local patch was a stunning Firecrest in the willow swamp.
Hamstreet - On the way back from Ashford we noted a Great White Egret on the canal by the garden centre, a common enough bird on the Dungeness RSPB reserve, but still rare elsewhere. The back road across the Marsh via Ivychurch yielded good numbers of Fieldfares and a Buzzard.
Also today a Glaucous Gull was reported on the beach at Dungeness (DBO) and Smew numbers moved into double figures on the bird reserve.

Friday 2 January 2015

Dungeness in the sun

Lade - 1000hrs - warm, dry and sunny w 2 - With the overnight wind dropping away and the clouds clearing it turned into a stunning winters day with warm sunshine enticing a number of flying insects out, including a Peacock butterfly in the garden. Over the pits the female Red-crested Pochard was amongst the throng on south lake and a couple of Marsh Harriers drifted over the back.
Dungeness - We had a family wander round the point in shirt sleeve weather. On the beach the anglers were landing plenty of whiting, dabs and a few codling, while offshore a trickle of Kitts, divers, auks and Gannets were present. On the land a Black Redstart by Westbeach was the highlight, plus two Stonechats by the Britannia and a Raven `cronked` along the beach.

                                Dungeness in the sunshine

Lade  - Walked the foreshore searching for a reported dead, "big seabird" that turned out to be a Cormorant. All the usual waders were on the sands.

Thursday 1 January 2015

Tawny Owl symphony

Park Wood, Appledore - 0700hrs - mild, sunshine/cloudy, wind increasing through the day, sw 2-5
Here we go, here we go, here we go - again! A cracking day in the field with CP (wheelman), MH (entertainments) and PL (awestruck once-a-year-birder) commenced in grand style at Park wood where we experienced the most amazing Tawny Owl symphony any of us could remember. At times five owls called around us for over half an hour, giving several flight views; a brilliant start to the year. We hardly ventured from the car park area where we mopped up on woodland birds including two fly-over Woodcocks, Buzzards, Sparrowhawk, Coal and Long-tailed Tits, Goldcrest, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Bullfinch Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Jay.
Walland Marsh  - Moving down on to the flatlands we cleaned up on all the common thrushes, plus Golden Plover, Tree Sparrow and Yellowhammer. At Horsebones the Bewick`s Swan flock totalled 90, along with a Whooper Swan and four Tundra Bean Geese. Moving on to Scotney a 1st winter Scaup and two Black-necked Grebes were located at the Sussex end, plus the usual feral geese, Shelduck, Pintail, Dunlin and Ringed Plover near the farm. The two Cattle Egrets duly obliged in the field opposite the stone yard in Lydd.

                                Cattle Egret, Lydd

Greatstone Beach - We arrived just in time to clock up seven species of shorebirds including good numbers of Knot, Grey Plover and Barwit.
Dungeness - A seawatch from the boats delivered plenty of Gannets, Kittiwakes, Red-throated Divers and auks offshore, plus bonus birds in the shape of Bonxie and Red-breasted Merganser.
RSPB - Plenty of NYD birders here enjoying the sawbills, egrets, ducks and Marsh Harriers around Burrowes. Over the road from Hanson we had cracking views of two Kingfishers and a Chiffchaff.

    Kingfisher, ARC

Lydd Airport - Following a tweet from NB we ended the day with another treat, a stunning male Black Redstart feeding on the deck by the hangars. We finished on a respectable 107 species of birds, but it will be the Tawny Owls that will live long in the memory.

                                Black Redstart, Lydd airport