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.