Thursday 31 March 2016

Firecrest clear out

Dungeness - 0800hrs  - cool, cloudy, n2 - A much quieter morning for migrants with only a handful each of Firecrests and Chiffchaffs remaining in the scrub around the old light, plus a singing Black Redstart. Between the lifeboat station and the new lighthouse 4 Wheatears, a pair of Stonechats and a sprinkling of singing Linnets, Mipits, Skylarks and Pied Wagtails. Also noted Stock Dove, Kestrel and a Raven over `cronking`. Unsurprisingly, there was negative news from the early morning seawatchers.

                               Pied Wagtail, Wheatear and Stock Dove, Dungeness

Lade - Similar here with all the Firecrests and Chiffs having moved on overnight. Another Swallow over south lake and more singing Linnets was about it.

Wednesday 30 March 2016

A fall of Chiffchaffs

Lade - warm, dry, sunny, light airs - The overnight rain delivered the goods in a fall of Chiffchaffs. Their metronomic songs could be heard in gardens and shingle scrub hereabouts comprising at least 25 birds. Even the broom on the shingle ridges held grounded Chiffs. Also noted on the Desert an increase in Mipits and Skylarks, a pair of Stonechats and the first singing Linnets. Over south lake our first Swallow of the season fizzed north and the Great White Egret remained in the reed bed.
As the morning warmed up several Buzzards moved along the coastline and received a `warm ` welcome from the local Herring Gulls.
  Back home in the garden 2 Firecrests were still present, while Coal Tit, Goldcrest and Chiffchaffs were noted in a Littlestone garden during the afternoon.
  Elsewhere around the peninsula today plenty of Firecrests and Chiffchaffs were reported at Dungeness, plus Wheatears, Swallow and a singing Willow Warbler, while a Sedge Warbler sang at Dengemarsh; spring has officially sprung it would seem.

Monday 28 March 2016

Storm Katie

Lade - Storm Force 10 - 0730hrs - There`s something intoxicating about extreme weather and the latest named storm was certainly that. The associated heavy rain hit the flatlands during the early hours, but by dawn the clouds had cleared revealing slashes of welcome blue skies. However, the wind remained storm force throughout the morning, preventing the Cheyne Ct Wind Farm from operating, bringing down power cables across the road at Cockles Bridge and doing much damage to roofs and fences hereabouts.
  Seawatching at Dungeness in a storm is rarely productive and I didn't fancy using the car, what with all the debris blowing everywhere, so we set off into the tempest for a circuit of the local patch. Once clear of the housing it was difficult to make any headway walking across the open shingle and twice Barney was blown over into a bush! We eventually made it to the edge of south lake where you couldn't stand upright due to the wind gusts.

                                South lake, Lade

                                Barney keeping head into the wind after a tumble

  A flock of Jackdaws grounded beside the lake didn't budge when we passed within 10 yards and incredibly, a pair of White Wagtails running about on the grass by the aerial mound seemed to make light of the conditions. As always in a south-westerly blow the ponds were completely sheltered, and bathed in warm sunshine, attracting singing Chaffinches, Reed Buntings, Dunnocks and a Chiffchaff, while Firecrests could be heard calling from the willow swamp.

                                 Grounded Jackdaws, Lade

                                White Wagtails, Lade

Back home for a second breakfast and in the shelter of the garden fir trees we had terrific views of a couple of Firecrests and Chiffchaffs feeding around the pond, while the Goldcrest was in full song out front.
  However, things took an extraordinary turn on the Firecrest front this afternoon. Whilst working in the kitchen with the door open and the sun streaming in I noticed a movement out the corner of my eye, it was a Firecrest - in the back porch! A certain Border terrier sat on the door mat a yard away had also seen it, but he stayed put like a good `un as the tiny sprite foraged around the porch picking off a couple of spiders. The whole episode was over in about 30 seconds, but it will live with me for ever.

Sunday 27 March 2016

Great White Egret

Dungeness - 0700hrs - sunshine and showers, sw 5 - An hour in the seawatch hide was slow going with only a few parties of Brents and Common Scoters on the move up-Channel, plus single figures of Med Gulls, Sandwich Terns, Gannets and Fulmars. In the bushes around the old lighthouse there was still a number of Firecrests and Chiffchaffs.
Lade  - Cracking views of 2 Firecrests in the garden this morning feeding around the pond, plus several Chiffchaffs and the usual pair of Goldcrests. Over the pits a Great White Egret was tucked away in the reed bed on south lake sheltering from the wind while Firecrests could be heard calling from the willow swamp and fir trees along the coastal gardens.
  News from around the bird reserve today included a Bean Goose on Dengemarsh, Smews and Spoonbills on the Boulderwall pools and Black-necked Grebes on New Diggings.

Saturday 26 March 2016

Iceland Gull

Dungeness - 0630-0830hrs - mild, overcast, s 4 - The wind eventually swung around to the south in the early hours affording favourable seawatching conditions this morning from the hide. By the time we arrived it was already full with the usual suspects, plus David Roche on a flying visit from Norfolk. Hundreds of Gannets fed/moved offshore while there was a steady up-Channel passage of Common Scoters and Brents underway, plus a sprinkling of Red-throated Divers, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, auks, and the icing on the cake 3 dark phase Arctic Skuas, our first of the spring. In amongst the thousands of coasting gulls were several Mediterranean Gulls and, surprise, surprise an immature Iceland Gull that appeared out of nowhere before passing in front of the hide and drifting along the tideline towards the Patch. Several of the more alert photographers managed to fire off some shots (check out: ). On the sea hundreds of gulls, grebes, and Cormorants, plus 2 porpoises. We wandered up to the Patch checking the blizzard of gulls for the Iceland but without success. In the lighthouse garden numerous Firecrests were still present with others in Westbeach scrub and behind the café.
Lade - An afternoon check of the pits in near gale force winds turned up our first 3 Sand Martins of the season hawking insects in the lee of the willow swamp above the causeway. Also, 2 each of Firecrest and Goldcrest in the garden today.

Friday 25 March 2016

First Wheatear

Dungeness - warm, dry, sunny, n 2 - At last we`ve seen our first Wheatear, a female on the beach near the lifeboat station, so that`s it, spring has officially arrived! With this being the best day of the Bank Holiday weekend, weather wise, birders were everywhere enjoying the sunshine and a host of gorgeous Firecrests performing like good `uns, particularly in the lighthouse garden where there was at least 10 birds. At times they were flitting around on the grass in the open snapping up insect morsels for all to see, flying between birders and even one that briefly alighted on a camera lens! A terrific sight, and one of our finest birds. More Firecrests were scattered around the gorse scrub on the point along with a few Blackbirds, Goldcrests, Chiffchaffs, 3 Continental Coal Tits and half a dozen Black Redstarts.

                                1st Wheatear by the lifeboat station

                               Chiffchaff, lighthouse garden

                                Firecrests, lighthouse garden

RSPB  Moving onto the bird reserve at Boulderwall, 5 Smew were on the pools included two drakes, while the 2 Spoonbills were more elusive and only showed briefly. Wigeon, Curlews, a Dunlin, 2 Little Egrets and 7 Buzzards overhead also noted. At the old farmhouse there was plenty of Tree Sparrow activity around the nest boxes and a Chiffchaff sang from the willows in ARC car park.
From the causeway road the 2 Black-necked Grebes were still on New Diggings.

                                 Tree Sparrows. Boulderwall

Thursday 24 March 2016

A fall of Firecrests

Dungeness - mild, cloudy, sw 3 - An overnight change in the wind direction, coupled with low cloud, seemed to do the trick this morning as a number of migrants had dropped into the scrub around the point. In the vanguard was at least 10 Firecrests between the lighthouse garden and Lloyds, cracking little sprites calling away and feeding low down in cover. Small groups of newly arrived Chiffchaffs were busily fuelling up in the garden, hovering around the tops of yellow-flowered euphorbias and picking off small insects. By the light railway café a Coal Tit of the grey continental race (with leg iron) flitted through the gorse, plus 2 more Firecrests, 3 Blackbirds, a Goldcrest and 3 Woodcocks flushed from cover (thanks to Barney) that flew towards the trapping area. By the Britannia several more Chiffchaffs, 2 Black Redstarts and 5 Blackbirds completed a classic late March fall of migrants.

                                Chiffchaffs and Firecrest, Dungeness

  Along the foreshore there was still no sign of a Wheatear although one was reported from Dengemarsh gully this morning. All the expected Skylarks, Mipits, Pied Wagtails and Stock Doves noted, plus a flock of 200 Brents cutting across the peninsula. We briefly joined the seawatchers in the hide where more Brents, Common Scoters and a few Red-throated Divers were on the move.
Lade - In the early hours this morning large numbers of east bound Redwings could be heard streaming over the cottage in the darkness. No surprise to hear a Firecrest in the garden fir trees today, but an afternoon check of the pits for a hirundine drew a blank.

                                Barney in summer plumage

  News came through of a late Wheatear at Dungeness, opposite Spion Kop, but despite a thorough search all we could find was a Stonechat as the wind and rain picked up. A Spoonbill was on the wet fields at Boulderwall though distant.

Tuesday 22 March 2016


Warm, dry, sunny, light airs - At 0300hrs, with a full moon dipping down in a star-studded sky, a steady trickle of Redwings passed over the cottage heading east. However, this morning together with CP, MH and PB we caught the 0545hr shuttle for a days birding in northern France.
Cap Griz-Nez - A two hour seawatch from the viewpoint in flat calm weather proved most worthwhile with a steady passage of seabirds up-Channel. The highlight was just over 200 Red-throated Divers, followed by as least as many Gannets, Brents, Kittiwakes and Common Scoters, plus 30 Fulmars, a Garganey, 6 Mergansers, 6 Curlews, 50 Little Gulls, 2 Med Gulls, 20 Sandwich Terns and a Razorbill. On the sea there were plenty of Great Crested Grebes and Cormorants and a Grey Seal offshore.
  On the scrub land around the headland Yellowhammers and Mipits were plentiful, plus a scattering of Skylarks, alba wagtails, Rock Pipit, Wrens, Dunnocks, Robins, Stonechats, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, corvids, Chaffinches, Linnets, Greenfinch and Goldfinch.
   En-route to Guines Grey Partridge, displaying Lapwings and 4 Corn Buntings noted.
Guines - A mid-morning session in the forest delivered the following combined highlights: singing Chiffchaffs and Short-toed Treecreepers along with 3 Marsh Tits, 2 Hawfinches and a Siskin, plus Buzzards, Long-tailed and Coal Tits, Goldcrests, Jay, Mistle Thrush, Yellowhammer and Green Woodpecker. The rides were full of early woodland flowers such as celandines, plus a number of brimstone butterflies.
  Moving onto the nearby marsh a circuit of the boardwalk produced Kingfisher, Water Rail, Cetti`s Warbler, Short-toed Treecreeper, Great White Egret, Egyptian Goose, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard and White Wagtail.






Oye-Plage - The afternoon was spent on the coast to the east of Calais birding the coastal lagoons. From the double-decker hide the main lagoon was awash with water and packed out with hundreds of wildfowl. Five Garganeys were the undoubted highlights, followed by 30 Pintails and plenty of Teal, Wigeon, Shelducks, Shovelers, Mallards and Gadwalls: infact a feast of dabbling ducks. Also of note 50 Golden Plovers, 20 Snipe, Redshank, Little Egret and Kestrel. Further along the lane 2 Spoobills, 2 Black-necked Grebes and 70 Avocets were additions to more of the above dabbling ducks.
We finished off on the beach where Dunlin, Sanderling, Ringed Plover and Reed Bunting were added to a combined day list of 100 species.
  In summary a cracking birding day, in a sunny Pas-de Calais, in fine company with plenty of jokes and anecdotes along the way, and special thanks to CP for driving.

Sunday 20 March 2016

Harriers, again...

Lade - cold, grey, drizzle, ne 2 - These past few days have seen no change to the birding scene locally and mostly with the dreaded north-easterly nagging away and keeping temperatures low.
On the local patch there has been a slight increase in Mipits and Reed Buntings, plus a trickle of Chaffinches over and on Friday a Siskin. All the usual waders were on the beach, including an increase in Knot to 160 and most days Med Gulls have been seen or heard.

                                Black-necked Grebes, New Diggings

  On the bird reserve the Black-necked and Slavonian Grebes remain faithful to New Diggings and yesterday there was still a redhead Smew at the back of ARC from the pines. Good numbers of Great White and Little Egrets are using the ARC roost, a Bittern was heard `booming` and Marsh Harriers are displaying over Dengemarsh.


Dungeness - A circuit of the point this morning proved to be very quiet with just a few Mipits, Skylarks and Pied Wagtails along the beach and a couple of Chiffchaffs in the bushes. From the seawatch hide a 30 minute scan delivered a trickle of Gannets and a couple of Red-throated Divers.
Scotney - It wasn't much better here with a Black-necked Grebe and Med Gull on the lake, plus 4 Dunlins, 2 Curlews and Redshank on the grass.
Dengemarsh - A small flock of Rock Pipits found earlier by PB near Hayfield 3 were relocated in the stony field by Springfield Bridge. At least two exhibited plumage details of the Scandinavian race littoralis. Also in the field a scattering of Pied Wagtails, Reed Buntings and Mipits. Elsewhere, a Great White Egret, 4 Dunlin, 10 Lapwing , 6 Shelduck, 2 Marsh Harriers and a Raven.
Boulderwall - Still plenty of Wigeon, Lapwings, Curlews, corvids, feral geese, egrets, Marsh Harriers, Grey Herons and the like on the pools and fields from the access road at the reserve entrance.
Walland Marsh - For reasons best known to the organisers last Sunday`s harrier count was deemed null and void, so out we went again this afternoon onto the flatlands with CP. This week only 4 Marsh Harriers came to roost in the reed bed with a supporting cast of 6 Buzzards, a Merlin and one or two Barn Owls in near constant view. Also noted a Great White Egret, 2 Shelducks, Golden Plovers, 20 Snipe, Cetti`s Warbler, Water Rail, Mipits, 10 Reed and 4 Corn Buntings.

Thursday 17 March 2016


Dungeness - cold, dry and sunny, ne 3 - A wander along the beach from the lifeboat station to the old light, and back across the Desert, yet again failed to deliver a Wheatear. Instead we had to make do with a handful of Mipits, Skylarks, Dunnocks, 2 Stock Doves, a flyover Barwit and Grey Plover, a Firecrest in the lighthouse garden and a Black Redstart by the Pilot pub on the way off the Estate.
We paused for a breather in the seawatch hide, joining DC, where 80 Brents, 20 Gannets, 10 Red-throated Divers, 2 Fulmars and a few Kittiwakes passed up-Channel within an hour, plus an inbound Jackdaw and 2 Harbour Porpoises offshore.

                               Barney in need of a spring haircut

                               Singing Dunnock, Dungeness

Lade - All quiet on the local patch this morning, but a return visit this afternoon was notable for a movement of some 500 Woodpigeons east bound, which briefly attracted the attention of a Peregrine.
`Our` garden Goldcrest was in full song throughout this sunny spring day and I`ve high hopes that it will remain to breed.

Wednesday 16 March 2016

Between the seasons

Lade - cold, dry, cloudy, ne 5 - Technically its spring, but you wouldn't think so what with the blasting north-easterly continuing to rasp the shingle hinterland. Mid-March is one of the quieter periods of the birding year, an between-the-season time when most of the winter visitors have departed and before the spring migration really gets going. These past three mornings the local patch has been hard going with few passerines noted due to the strong wind and the only new additions on north lake being a pair of Shelducks. 
  Monday`s excitement came when a Badger ambling beside south lake, unusually in broad daylight, attracted the attention of a dog-walker`s Jack Russell which then promptly went to ground in hot pursuit. Despite the owners protestations Jack was not going to come out. Anyhow, being as the sett was in shingle I soon excavated a large hole at one of the entrances and managed to drag Jack out by the tail. He wasn't best pleased though and after having a go at me, then set about Barney before the owner eventually dragged him clear with Barney attached to his flanks!
RSPB - Having spent the morning in the kitchen making pies for forthcoming bird tours we were due a walk out, so spent the afternoon on a wind-blown bird reserve. From the causeway road the two species of scarce grebes were still on New Diggings, while 6 Shelducks, 5 Goldeneyes and a Smew were present on ARC.
  A walk from Boulderwall to Dengemarsh produced 100 Wigeon, 10 Shelducks, 2 Great White Egrets and 3 Marsh Harriers amongst the usual common wildfowl, but I couldn`t find any sign of yesterdays Garganey. On Burrowes a Med Gull and Smew were on the lake and whilst nattering in the visitors centre we had cracking views of a male Peregrine flying low over the water.

Sunday 13 March 2016

Wild Boar!

Lade - cold and sunny, e 4 - A bright morning was tempered somewhat by a nippy wind coming in off the sea. The WeBS count on the lakes was predictably low as the majority of ducks and Coots had returned to their breeding grounds. Two Marsh Harriers hunted the rough ground behind the `mirrors`, plus 2 Stonechats in the scrub. There was a noticeable influx of Chaffinches with at least 20 around the site and more drifting over eastwards. The return walk along the beach was largely fruitless due to the low tide and an abundance of kite surfers and land yachts, although at the Lade end 12 Ringed Plovers were noted.

Walland Marsh - These past couple or three days I`ve been moping around with a touch of highly debilitating man-flu, so very nearly declined to join CP for the final harrier count of the winter, what with a rasping north-easterly sweeping the flatlands and all. However, thankfully I rallied and what a memorable afternoon it turned out to be.
  The walk out to the roost site delivered 2 Buzzards, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, several Marsh Harriers and a sprinkling of winter thrushes, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Lapwings and Golden Plovers, plus 15 Bewick`s Swans flying towards Fairfield. A decent enough start then.
  From the roost site over the coming 90 minutes we were treated to a raptor fest with Marsh Harriers continually circling over the reedbed, where eventually 22 birds settled in for the night, our highest count of the winter. While all this was happening 2 Barn Owls hunted along the main bund, a Merlin zipped through, another Buzzard put in an appearance and, the icing on cake, a stunning grey ghost Hen Harrier headed to roost on the ranges. Two Great Whites and a Little Egret also flew out to roost, presumably destined for the ARC pit on the coast. A Green Sandpiper, several Snipe, Tree Sparrow, Reed Bunting, Cetti`s Warbler and Water Rail were also noted.
  And then, just as we were packing up, Chris spotted a Wild Boar on the edge of the reedbed which we watched for a brief minute before it retreated back into cover. A sandy coloured animal, it looked straight at us with its ears twitching and as the wind was blowing its way we reckoned it probably detected our scent. Having seen plenty of boar tracks and diggings before, this is the first time either of us have seen this impressive animal on the Marsh.
  On the way home Little Owl, Fox and Hare were noted. A memorable afternoon indeed.

Friday 11 March 2016

Spring is in the air

Dungeness - mild, dry, misty, light airs - A very pleasant morning, once the fog had cleared, for a wander along the beach and across the Desert. Most of the bird activity was between the lifeboat station and lighthouse where three each of singing Skylark, Mipit and Pied Wagtail noted, plus a pair of Stock Doves and, unusually, a grounded Lapwing and 2 Ringed Plovers. The only overhead movement was 5 Chaffinches heading east. The hinterland scrub and Desert was largely birdless apart from the ubiquitous Magpies, Dunnocks and Wrens.
  Green Goddess and Hurricane made for a fine spectacle as they steamed past with the power station in the background.

                                Lapwing in the mist, Dungeness

                               Hurricane and Green Goddess, Dungeness                              

ARC/New Diggings - At the allotment this afternoon 2 Buzzards drifted overhead `mewing`. On the way home the usual wildfowl on ARC, including Goldeneye, Smew and Shelduck from Screen hide and both Slavonian and Black-necked Grebes still on New Diggings. Great White Egret, Marsh Harrier, Cetti`s Warbler and Chiffchaff also noted.

Thursday 10 March 2016

A Red Letter Day

Lade - mild, overcast, light airs - Perfect weather for a wander across the Desert to Mockmill searching for Dartford Warblers on the gorse ridges. Two Stonechats, a Snipe, singing Cetti`s Warblers and Reed Buntings were logged, plus distant Marsh Harriers over Airport pits, but no sign of the elusive scrub warbler. On south lake 200 Teal was a noteworthy count for the time of year amongst lesser numbers of the usual Coots, grebes and diving ducks. Around the ponds myriads of midges dancing over the willows attracted a couple of Chiffchaffs, and even the Blue and Great Tits were drawn to the feast, snapping up insects with great aplomb. A Med Gull and Goldeneye were present on north lake.
  Walking back beside south lake the local Herring Gulls kicked off big style along the coastal housing strip. I expected to see a pond-dipping Grey Heron getting a ritual hammering as it flapped back towards the lakes, or maybe a Sparrowhawk hunting the garden bird feeders, but neither hove into view.
  And then way up in the ether I spotted a distant bird with a stiff-winged flight action coming in off the bay. My first thought was Peregrine as they can appear to be `flappy` in the absence of wind; however, as it came closer and lower I was astonished to see that it was a Fulmar! Now, you expect Fulmars on a day like yesterday at Dungeness with a raging southerly blow, but not heading inland in flat calm conditions. Anyhow, the said bird must`ve got wind of the welcome party below as it quickly gained height, circled over north lake and then headed back out to sea where it belonged. I`m assuming the gulls thought the Fulmar to be a threat as they soon stopped yelping when it disappeared.  
  This is my first record of Fulmar on the local patch (I`ve not even seen one in the bay before) thanks to those adorable Herring Gulls... 

                                Black Swan, Greatstone Beach

                               Sandwich Tern, Lade

  This afternoon we walked down to the Tavern to scan the beach on a falling tide. The most obvious bird was a Black Swan sat on the sands by the tideline, having already been seen at Dungeness earlier; this long-distance migrant was yet another new bird for the local patch, well kind of...
A Sandwich Tern flew in and settled amongst the gulls on the sands at the Lade end and would have been new for year, if only I was keeping such a list, while at least 10 Med Gulls were present with others calling overhead.
  The wader count was as follows: Oystercatcher - 480, Ringed Plover 25, Grey Plover 2, Knot 75, Sanderling 350, Dunlin 150, Barwit 15, Curlew 260, Redshank 5, Turnstone 18. All 10 species present and correct, but no doubt I missed a few more at the Littlestone end of the beach.

Wednesday 9 March 2016


Dungeness - cold, wet, s 5 - 0900-1100hrs - A rapidly developing low pressure system out in the Western Approaches during the early hours peaked this morning resulting in strong onshore winds forcing a variety of seabirds close to land. Comprising primarily several hundred Fulmars, also in their midst was a small but unprecedented number of dark phase birds, or so called Blue Fulmars, a type more associated with Atlantic waters further north. We joined PB, MH and the new DBO Assistant Warden, David Campbell, in a wet seawatch hide with the rain and spume lashing in through the flaps as a big sea pounded away just in front; infact, at one stage the sea got a bit too close for comfort, if I`m honest, as the waves appeared to undercut what remained of the shingle bank! 

                                Big sea pounding Dungeness

                                          Dungeness Seawatch hide, on the cusp

  However, by the time we arrived the movement had already slowed to a trickle, but there was still plenty on offer with Gannets, Kittiwakes, Red-throated Divers and parties of Brents moving up-Channel, plus single figures of Shoveler, Eider, Common Scoter, Curlew, Oystercatchers, Med Gull and Bonxie. Inevitably, given the sea state, many of the gulls, including a few Kittiwakes, foraged along the shoreline where the rollers crashed onto the beach, while just offshore both Grey Seal and Harbour Porpoise were noted. An interesting seawatch; welcome to Dungeness, David - a host of Blue Fulmars is a good start!
  We gave the sea another hour this afternoon from the fishing boats, but it was a dead loss with only a few auks, Red-throated Divers, Gannets and a Med Gull noted. The only passerines along the foreshore were 2 Mipits and a flock of 30 Starlings.

Tuesday 8 March 2016

Merlin v Mipit

Dungeness  - cold, dry, sunny, light airs - Perfect weather for wandering around the peninsula looking for that elusive first Wheatear - well, maybe tomorrow..., although looking at the weather forecast probably not. However, a Black Redstart on the beach and a Firecrest in the Trapping area was some compensation amongst the commoner passerines, which did include a not-so-common singing Song Thrush. Two Ravens, a Green Woodpecker and a Kestrel also noted during the walk.

                                Black Redstart, Dungeness

Lade - The main spectacle here was a life and death struggle between a brown Merlin and a Mipit which played out in the sky over the Desert, before eventually favouring the pipit as it dived for cover in a gorse thicket out near Mockmill. Around the pits the usual Cetti`s Warblers and Reed Buntings in song, two soaring Marsh Harriers and a Great White Egret on north lake. 
RSPB - From the causeway road on New Diggings two each of Slavonian and Black-necked Grebes plus 2 Smew on ARC. A drake Smew was also on Burrowes, but there was no sign of the owls by the pond.

Sunday 6 March 2016


Dunstable - We spent a cold and, at times, snowy weekend with friends at Dunstable our former home town for nigh on 30 years. On Saturday morning I met my old birding pal Rob Dazley, and current warden, at Dunstable sewage works nature reserve to see how things were progressing on the management front. Rob and the team had obviously been very busy through the winter clearing islands and the wader scrape and making new tern rafts for the forthcoming breeding season. The site looked in great shape, and there were plenty of birds on and around the lagoons including dabbling ducks, gulls and grebes on the lagoons, plus 2 Little Egrets and several Grey Wagtails.
A very enjoyable weekend, apart from Saturday afternoon when I went to see MKDons v QPR at their new Milton Keynes stadium - least said the better, I feel...

                                Dunstable sewage works wader scrape

                                Number 4 lagoon and island

                                RD testing out a new tern raft

Thursday 3 March 2016

Hen Harrier

Lade - cold, dry, sunny, nw 4 - Another nippy old morning with a chill nor-wester raking the flatlands. As we struck out across the shingle towards south lake almost the first bird on offer was a spanking ringtail Hen Harrier working its way low over the Desert into the breeze. I slumped down in the lee of a gorse thicket and watched as she slowly worked her way up the side of Mockmill sewer flushing a few Mipits and Reed Buntings along the way, twisting, turning and banking, before eventually disappearing behind the `mirrors`.
  She must`ve been in view for a full three minutes with the sun behind me showing every plumage detail, including her yellow cere. Although essentially a brown and white raptor the upper wing comprised three tones from an almost yellowish-brown forewing patch to contrasting darker bands running along the wing and the wing tips, with paler feather shafts. The bright, white rump shone like a beacon in the sunshine, while the underparts were noticeably white with heavy brown streaking. Size is always difficult to judge on a lone bird but as I see harriers on a daily basis I reckoned it was a biggish adult female.
  This winter there appears to be two Hen Harriers on the Marsh; a beautiful `grey ghost` adult male, which seems to stick mainly to Walland Marsh (see PB`s recent post for stunning pics: ) and this female that I`ve now seen at Midley, Scotney, Dengemarsh and Lade over the past couple of months. Both birds have been seen going to roost on the ranges.
  In Britain Hen Harriers tend breed in the uplands, and not very successfully, due to persecution on grouse moors, whereas just over the Channel into north France we`ve found them nesting in young plantations in Crecy forest where they appear to go unmolested. Quite why they don't adopt a similar breeding strategy in southern England is something of a mystery.

                               Barrel Jellyfish and shellfish, Lade
 The walk back along the beach was interesting for the thousands of shellfish washed up along the tideline following the recent north-easterly gales. Mostly cockles, but also many razors, scallops, whelks, plus more Barrel Jellyfish. Inevitably there was several parties of Turnstones scavenging the flotsam and jetsam.

                                "When is he going to stop mucking about with that new camera..."

                                Turnstone, Lade

                                Starling, Plovers

  This afternoon the wind dropped and it felt almost spring-like. In the warm sunshine I gave the front of the cottage a lick of paint to the accompaniment of cackling Starlings, cooing Collared Doves and a singing Goldcrest in the fir trees.

Wednesday 2 March 2016

Rain, hail and snow!

Dungeness - cold, sunny followed by showers, sw 5 - A bitterly cold morning, unusually so  considering the wind was from a south-westerly vector. We joined PB in the hide for a token seawatch which produced two each of Common Scoter and Red-throated Diver in half an hour, followed by a circuit of the bushes where very little was noted apart from a few Dunnocks, Blackbirds, Reed Buntings, Mipits and a Chiffchaff in the lighthouse garden.
  Back at the Light Railway Café I got chatting to one of the builders working on the refurb who reckoned that it was running well late and wouldn't be finished much before May; worth bearing in mind if you`re visiting and need a brew, or are desperate for the loo this coming spring.
  Whilst scanning the beach from the lifeboat station 4 Ravens came in off the sea cronking loudly before drifting down the coast towards Lade.

                               Light Railway Café, Dungeness

                                Smews, Burrowes                                

                               Long-eared Owl, Discovery Pond

RSPB - A guided walk for a group this morning was more memorable for the weather. We commenced in sunshine, still with a brisk wind, and then a near cloud blackout ensued shrouding the peninsula in mist and murk, luckily whilst we were in Scott hide, followed by torrential rain, sleet and then snow before it returned to hail. The temperature drop was also dramatic, but by the time we got back to the VC the wind had relented and it was blue skies again!
  All the expected wildfowl were noted around Burrowes, including 2 redhead Smews that briefly dropped in front of Scott hide, where Goldcrest and 12 Long-tailed Tits also noted. We finished off back at the Discovery pond where one of the wintering Long-eared Owls showed like a good `un, much to the delight of the guests.