Thursday 30 November 2017

First snow of winter

Lade - cold, frosty, nw 2 - A proper nippy winter`s morning for our circuit of the local patch where the expected egrets and herons were working the reed bed on south lake. The highlight though was a flock of 20 Fieldfares flying in off the bay - in a snow flurry!
Littlestone - St. Mary`s Bay - The snow didn't last long though, so in  bright sunshine, and an increasing northerly wind, we walked the foreshore from the beach huts at Littlestone down to the sea defence blocks at St Mary`s Bay checking for buntings and the like, of which there wasn't a sniff. A mixed flock of 20 roosting Grey Plovers, Dunlins and Turnstones were the only birds of note, while a few Gannets and Kittiwakes drifted past way offshore. The golf course was deserted apart from a flyover Great Spotted Woodpecker and a couple of Linnets.
  This afternoon we checked north lake at Lade in bitterly cold conditions, but could only muster two Goldeneyes of note before heading home to the fireside. Not a great afternoon to be out and about.

Tuesday 28 November 2017

Song Thrushes

Lade - cold, cloudy, light airs - One of the pleasures of watching a local patch on a regular basis is finding something different from the norm, and it need not be a rarity; indeed, what may be rare here could be common elsewhere. Take this morning for example, we were tramping around the circuit by south lake, when up popped a Song Thrush, then another and another, until 11 nervy, flighty birds were counted in scrub by the lake. They weren't here yesterday, so where had they come from? Probably Scandinavia, but who knows for sure, and I`ll bet they won`t be here tomorrow.
  The Slavonian Grebe was still on south lake along with the resident Great White Egrets, two Goldeneyes and a host of grebes, Shoveler, Gadwall, Teal and diving ducks. Also around the site Goldcrest,  Mipit, Stonechat, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Chiffchaff, and Cetti`s Warbler.
Dungeness - On the bird reserve Burrowes was packed out with the usual ducks, Cormorants, grebes and gulls. Of note were two Dunlins, two Goldeneyes, a 1st winter Caspian and an adult Yellow-legged Gull. The fields at Boulderwall were full of Wigeons, Golden Plovers and Lapwings, many of which were from ARC where conservation work was underway to install a fish reef. One of the  Cattle Egrets put in a flight view over Tanner`s Pool, while Marsh Harrier and Buzzard were active nearby. 

Sunday 26 November 2017

A clutch of mini-eggs...

Scotney - cold, dry, sunny, nw 2 - For a change of scene we spent the morning flogging around the Scotney/Pigwell area in glorious winter sunshine, and with some success. The road side fields were largely quiet apart from the usual feral Barnacle Goose flock with their attendant Snow/Emperor hybrids, plus several each of Redshank, Curlew, Lapwing and a Ruff scattered across the grass. We walked along the cycle track to the copse where Barney flushed a Woodcock and whilst scanning the back fields a trio of Bewick`s Swans flew towards the wind farm, our first of the season. Wildfowl on the main lake included 92 Shelducks, 50 Wigeons and 30 Shovelers, plus two Great White and five Little Egrets.
  In the farm complex a Little Owl sunbathed from a barn gutter and two quarrelling Buzzards attracted the attentions of a group of Crows. A Green Sandpiper flew along the main sewer by the conveyor belt, while the first lake through the farmyard was packed out with wildfowl including 300 Grey Lags, 35 Egyptian Geese, 100 Wigeon, two Great White Egrets and a couple of hundred assorted Cormorants, diving ducks and grebes.
  At Pigwell six Bewick`s Swans sat nervously in a rape-seed field, presumably having not long arrived from across the sea. Shortly after a farm vehicle inadvertently flushed them towards Cheyne Court. A couple of Snipe scattered from a damp field near the sewage works where several Stonechat, Mipits, Pied Wagtails and a Grey Wagtail were noted.
  We then backtracked to the old dung heap and game cover strip at Scotney which last winter attracted a couple of Lapland Buntings. I couldn't find any of the latter but could easily have missed one amongst the kale and weed seeds which harboured at least 150 Reed Buntings, 50 Skylarks, 10 Corn Buntings, 10 Meadow Pipits, 10 Goldfinches, five Stonechats, three Wrens and another Woodcock, flushed by, guess who...
  Plenty of raptors were noted during the four hours on site: Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Peregrine and a Merlin, along with a couple of interesting observations. Firstly, a female Kestrel  caught a Stonechat after hovering in typical fashion and dropping like a stone onto the unfortunate chat. Secondly, on a turf field a female Peregrine had killed a Curlew and was tucking in until a male (presumably its mate) gate crashed the feast and got stuck in itself! The female then moved a few yards away and through the scope I could clearly see a bulging crop full of Curlew flesh. After ten minutes both falcons flew off and the Crows moved in for the clean up.
  One final snippet from today's outing. In the corner of a field I noticed a Larson trap that was baited with a clutch of what appeared to be colourful eggs. On the walk back to the car the farmer stopped for a chat and I asked him about the bait.
  "What sort of eggs are they," said I. "Cadbury`s chocolate mini-eggs of course," he replied!

Saturday 25 November 2017

Slavonian Grebe and Bullfinch

Lade - cold and sunny, nw 2 - A cracking morning spent on the local patch. Firstly we checked the beach up to the Varne just in case any rare larks or buntings were lurking amongst the tideline litter, but could only find a few each of Meadow Pipit and Pied Wagtail. Out on the sands four Brents and two Shelducks were amongst the usual waders and gulls. Overhead a steady trickle of Woodpigeons came in off the bay and headed inland.
  On the pits the star bird was a pair of Bullfinches in the buddleia scrub alongside north lake, and personally new for the site. Also present in the bushes, 20 Chaffinches, five Reed Buntings, two Blackbirds, a singing Chiffchaff, 20 Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits and a Goldcrest. On south lake a newly arrived Slavonian Grebe was a sign of the changing weather, while two Great White Egrets and four Goldeneyes were also present. The 200` wall mirror had attracted a range of Grey Herons, Cormorants and corvids to enjoy the sunshine and shelter from the cool northerly airflow.
  Sparrowhawk, Marsh Harrier, Cetti`s Warbler, Water Rail, Green Woodpecker and several Stonechats all added to the variety of 63 species of birds seen within easy walking distance of the cottage this morning.

Friday 24 November 2017

Wildfowl, egrets and waders

Lade - The past few days have been much-of-a-muchness weather wise being mild and windy. However, today the wind dropped affording ideal birding conditions, and there was plenty to see across the peninsula.
  On the local patch four each of Great White Egret and Goldeneye were present on south lake with two Pintails on north lake. Several Song Thrushes were noted (rare here) in the Desert scrub along with a scattering of Mipits, Stonechats and even some Linnets.
Dungeness - Moving on to the bird reserve and it was standing room only on the shingle ridges, viewed from Hanson hide, where the bulk numbers comprised 500 Lapwing, 300 Golden Plover, 80 Shoveler, 50 Wigeon, 50 Teal, 30 Gadwall, 10 Pintail, four Shelduck and 200 gulls, mainly Black-headed. Also in the mix were four Great White Egret, six Snipe, two Dunlin and a Redshank. A Kingfisher briefly perched on its post, Water Rail and Cetti`s Warbler called from the reedbed while a flock of passerines around the car park scrub included 12 Goldcrest and two Chiffchaff.
  At Boulderwall a Cattle Egret showed well amongst the cows and several Stonechats and Marsh Harriers were noted along the access road. The islands on Burrowes were packed out with 1,000 Cormorant, 800 Lapwing and hundreds more common wildfowl and gulls, plus a few Snipe, Dunlin and Goldeneye. At least one 1st winter Caspian and an adult Yellow-legged Gull were located.
  This afternoon from the fishing boats, on a flat calm sea, yielded a few Guillemots, Gannets, Kittiwakes and a distant Bonxie.
  Smew are due on the local gravel pits about now and it shouldn't be too long before the Bewick`s Swans return to fields on Walland Marsh, perhaps this weekend...

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Black-headed Gulls

Dungeness - mild, cloudy, sw 3 - At the Patch first thing at least 1,000 Black-headed Gulls were feeding over the boil and along the scum line, plus a 1st winter Little Gull and a late Sandwich Tern heading west. Offshore a lone Bonxie passed down-Channel amongst scores of fishing Gannets. An adult Yellow-legged Gull was on the beach by the Fish Hut and a Dartford Warbler showed briefly by the Britannia scrub.
  A check of Lade pits revealed four new Goldeneyes on north lake, plus two Great White Egrets and a Marsh Harrier over. Yesterdays Goldcrests were absent, having probably moved inland.

Monday 20 November 2017


Lade - mild, cloudy, drizzle, sw 3 - A grim old day weather wise was considerably enlivened by a fall of Goldcrests. Despite the wind picking up through the day they seemed to be everywhere from the back garden, to the willow swamp at Lade pits, the scrub around the bird reserve car park and the Willow Trail where there was also a Firecrest amongst a large passerine flock.
  From Hanson hide a decent show of waders included 300 Lapwings, 30 Blackwits, 20 Dunlins, five Redshanks and two Snipe. Also seen around ARC, four Great White Egrets, 12 Pintails, two Goldeneyes, a Kingfisher, Water Rail and Cetti`s Warbler. From the access road Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Marsh Harrier, Stonechat and a flyover Cattle Egret by Boulderwall.
  A brief look at the beach this afternoon in grim light revealed all the usual waders, plus a late Sandwich Tern.

Sunday 19 November 2017

Winter`s coming...

Lade - cold and cloudy, light airs - Having run the garden moth trap this week several times and only caught a couple of Black Rustics I reckon its time to pack it away `til next spring. While we`ve had 11 new species of macro for the trap site, numbers have been down on previous years. However, there were one or two local goodies in the form of Beautiful Marbled and Mocha while we had a record number of Sussex Emeralds come to light in summer.
  With mid-November traversed it feels like the run-in to winter down here, whatever that means now as going on the past few that doesn't seem to mean any `proper` cold weather anymore. Indeed, wandering around the shingle on Friday scores of plants were still in flower, dragonflies and bees were on the wing and a Red Admiral was supping on the garden buddleia. However, a few Goldeneyes have arrived along with increasing numbers of wildfowl on the local gravel pits.
  Elsewhere around the peninsula this weekend a second Cattle Egret turned up on the bird reserve while several Dartford Warblers were still present at the point.
Walland Marsh - This afternoon I joined CP for the monthly harrier count out on the Marsh in perfect weather conditions, cold and still with a stunning sunset (phone pic above). A superb count topped out at a fantastic 26 Marsh Harriers coming to roost, but yet again no sign of any Hen Harriers. Other raptors noted in the area included three each of Buzzard and Kestrel, a Merlin and Peregrine, plus 91 Mute Swans in the oil-seed rape, 200 Lapwings, 10 Golden Plovers, 20 Linnets, 86 Fieldfares, 20 Reed Buntings, 10 Meadow Pipits, a Great White Egret, Stonechat and calling Cetti`s Warblers and Water Rails.
  Worryingly the Marsh continues to be plagued by a lack of water and as a result not a single duck was noted. The reed bed is now bone dry and we could really do with a good drop of rain this winter.

Thursday 16 November 2017

Dartford Warblers

Dungeness - mild, cloudy, light airs - A circuit of the point this morning was largely uneventful apart from the continued presence of at least three showy Dartford Warblers (if only I had the camera back) in scrub around the Britannia/Sanctuary area. A succession of mild winters has meant that this species is doing well in southern England at the moment with a post breeding dispersal of juvenile birds most likely accounting for some of our sightings. As the Dartford Warbler is also a partial migrant some birds may be from further afield on the near continent. Several others were also located in the Kerton Road triangle today (OL).
  Other land birds were, up to eight Stonechats, 10 Goldfinches, two Goldcrests and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. A flat calm sea yielded a few close Gannets, Med Gulls, Kittiwakes and Guillemots.
  This afternoon I checked out the foreshore at St Mary`s Bay for Snow Bunting without success. The usual variety of waders were on the beach, including 10 Grey Plovers.

Wednesday 15 November 2017

Cattle Egret

Dungeness - mild and cloudy, light airs - Weather conditions were ideal for a guided walk for 17 visitors to the RSPB this morning. A typical selection of late autumn birds were on offer during the two mile circular route, mainly concerning wildfowl on the lakes which did include 20 Pintails and three Goldeneyes on Burrowes; we await the first Smew of winter... Overhead, at least 500 Starlings were noted hurtling inland in various flock sizes, plus a few Goldfinches and singles of Brambling, Skylark and Siskin. A huge flock of 2,000 or more Lapwings and Golden Plovers included 30 Blackwits as they swirled over the fields at Boulderwall after being disturbed by Marsh Harriers.
  Several Stonechats were seen around the trail where we had particularly good views of Goldcrests, a Chiffchaff and Long-tailed Tits. Kingfisher, Cetti`s Warbler and Water Rail were noted at Hooker`s reedbed, two Great White Egrets and the long-staying Cattle Egret from Dengemarsh hide, plus Snipe, Kestrel, Green Woodpecker and two Dunlin.
  In summary, a pleasant enough circuit of the bird reserve during which 65 species of birds were noted, plus many flowering plants still in bloom and flying insects including a Common Darter.

Monday 13 November 2017

Winter thrushes

Lade/Dungeness - cold, sunny, nw 2 - Spent the day in the field guiding for Trevor and Janet. We kicked off at the Tavern viewpoint where the expected 10 species of waders were located on the sands, plus five Sandwich Terns.
  From the seawatch hide at the point there were plenty of Gannets, Kittiwakes and Mediterranean Gulls offshore and around the Patch, plus a few Common Scoters, auks and a Bonxie rounding the headland. On the land a Peregrine was perched on a pylon and we had reasonable views of two Dartford Warblers in scrub by the Britannia. Also noted, up to 10 Blackbirds, four Stonechats, Pied Wagtails, Mipits, Goldfinches, several small flocks of inbound Starlings and a Kestrel.
  Moving onto the bird reserve we had stunning views of a Green Woodpecker from the access road along with more Blackbirds and Stonechats. On Burrowes all the usual wildfowl, gulls, grebes and Cormorants as well as a variety of migrants overhead from Dennis`s hide that included 100 Starlings, 10 Goldfinches, five Fieldfares, Buzzard, Redwing, Brambling and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Elsewhere around the reserve Snipe, Marsh Harrier, Great White Egret, Pintail, Cetti`s Warbler, Water Rail, Long-tailed Tit and Goldcrest were all noted.
  We finished the day from Hanson hide with a glorious sunset. A superb days birding, in great company, during which time we rattled up a respectable 83 species seen or heard.

Sunday 12 November 2017


Lade - mild and damp start, bright and sunny later, NW increasing - A circuit of the local patch was notable for two Avocets that flew over south lake calling before settling down on the back island. The now `resident` four Great White Egrets were scattered around the margins while three redhead Goldeneyes remained on the lake. Kingfisher and Reed Bunting were noted around the willow swamp and a total of 500 Starlings came in off the bay.
  Checked the beach this afternoon, in a rasping wind out of the north-west, but it was a case of similar fare to yesterday.

Saturday 11 November 2017

2 Great Northern Divers, and much more...

Lade - mild and cloudy, occasional drizzle, light airs - With an old birding pal from Dunstable down for the weekend we kicked off proceedings on the local patch. The usual range of wildfowl were noted, including three Goldeneyes, plus at least four Great White Egrets.
Dungeness - After breakfast we headed for the point where the Grey Phalarope that`s been around since Wednesday was still present on the sea between the two hides, feeding along the scum line coming off the Patch. Also of note a juvenile Little Gull and several Mediterranean Gulls. A seawatch produced a steady flow of Gannets and Kittiwakes, plus two Mergansers and a few auks.
  As the rain stopped we wandered back towards the Britannia and up popped a stunning male Dartford Warbler and sat atop a bramble branch in full view for several minutes; if only I had the camera available...
  Moving onto ARC and all the usual birds from Hanson hide included Great White Egrets, Marsh Harrier, 10 Pintails, five Snipe and a Blackwit. With news from DW of two Great Northern Divers on the sea we returned to the point where the divers were drifting slowly west. This is the first time I can remember seeing two such divers together.
  After a spot of lunch we checked the beach on an incoming tide from the Romney Tavern viewpoint where we bagged all 10 species of waders plus three Brent Geese and five Sandwich Terns. Moving back to the bird reserve at Boulderwall the Tree Sparrows were noted on the feeders while the long-staying Cattle Egret showed well in the field by Cook`s pool. Burrowe`s held the usual wildfowl and gulls.
  We finished the day off back at the fishing boats checking the gulls and another scan of the sea in fading light. In summary a superb days birding for my old mate Rob during which we rattled up 85 species with the highlights being Great Northern Diver, Cattle Egret, Grey Phalarope, Little Gull and Dartford Warbler.
  Now, that would`ve been a great day in Bedfordshire!

Thursday 9 November 2017

Hume`s Yellow-browed Warbler

Dungeness - dull, drizzle, light airs - 0900hrs - We were over the back of Lade when a call came from through from PB concerning a Hume`s Yellow-browed Warbler that had been caught at the Obs. A smart about turn was in order and we just made it on site as the bird was about to be released in the Trapping Area. In the hand it looked like a dullish Yellow-browed, but the identity was confirmed by in the hand biometrics and its distinctive call in the field. The picture below was taken with a phone camera.

Wednesday 8 November 2017

Dartford Warbler and Grey Phalarope

Lade - cold and cloudy, N 2 - 0800hrs - A distinctly wintry feel to the weather this morning with the wind swinging round to a northerly vector. One or two thrushes were noted in the scrub, mostly Blackbirds, a couple of Song Thrushes, a Ring Ouzel and a few Redwings overhead. Goldcrests and Long-tailed Tits were present by the ponds and a Kingfisher arrowed over north lake. A pair of Great White Egrets were flying over the willow swamp calling to one another in what appeared to be some kind of bonding ritual, surely they must breed somewhere hereabouts next spring...
Dungeness - A circuit of the bird reserve this afternoon produced all the expected wildfowl, waders and raptors including three Goldeneyes, two Snipes and 20 Pintails on Burrowes, more Snipe, Golden Plovers and Ruff on Dengemarsh and a Bittern from Hooker`s ramp. Over the road I spent some time checking through a large passerine flock in the scrub down towards Screen hide. It comprised mostly Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits, plus a Blackcap, two Chiffchaffs and several Goldcrests. As the flock  crossed the track into the sea buckthorn, by the hide, up popped a Dartford Warbler! At least eight Great White Egrets and 30 Blackwits were present on ARC.
  Just as we were heading for home CT tweeted out news of a Grey Phalarope on the sea between the two hides at Dungeness. It was a fair way offshore, and a bit flighty, but remained faithful to a drifting scum line from the Patch and showed well enough through the scope in fading light.
  Had to drop the Nikon bridge camera off at Hythe Camera shop today for repair, so there`ll be no more piccies for a while.  

Tuesday 7 November 2017

Waders and wildfowl

Dungeness - mild, cloudy, S 4 - Joined MH and DW at the fishing boats this morning for a seawatch, being as the wind was coming up from the south. An hour produced a trickle of Gannets, Kittiwakes, Common Scoters, auks, Wigeon, Dunlin, Redshank and, unusually - a Snipe!
  There was no change on the local patch at Lade with the Goldeneyes and Pintail still present plus the now expected Great White Egrets.
  Called in at Hanson hide around noon where more Great White Egrets were on show along with 100 Lapwing, 30 Blackwits and the usual wildfowl. There was no sign of yesterdays Dotterel.
  Elsewhere today a Yellow-browed Warbler was seen in a private garden on the Dungeness Estate, plus Woodcock in the Trapping Area and a Grey Phalarope on the sea.

Monday 6 November 2017

West Sussex

We spent the weekend at our Kate`s, based at Littlehampton in West Sussex, researching for forthcoming articles in Birdwatching magazine. Climping Gap, Arundel WWT and Pulborough Brooks RSPB reserve were all visited with most attention paid to the latter site, where thanks are due to two local birders, Geoff and Dave, for providing a wealth of insider information.
  For those unfamiliar with Pulborough Brooks it is primarily an inland wetland site set in the Arun valley flood plain with extensive grazing marshes, drainage ditches and wet meadows. There are four hides and three viewpoints (one of which overlooks the South Downs) along the two mile circular route, plus a superb visitor centre and cafĂ© set in a converted barn. An adjacent heath and woodland on the High Weald complements the habitat range along with ponds, scrub, weedy fields and hedgerows. The reserve was only acquired in 1989 so all the buildings and hides still have a newish feel.

                                Pulborough Brooks

                                Wigeon and Pectoral Sandpiper

                                View from The Clump

  At this time of year the main attraction is wildfowl with good numbers of feral geese, Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall and Shoveler present, plus a sprinkling of Shelduck and Pintail. Large flocks of Lapwing were kept on the move by a couple of Perergrines, while Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard and Marsh Harrier were all noted. Other waders included 50 Black-wit, 10 Snipe, two Dunlin and a surprise Pectoral Sandpiper from West Mead hide, which was easily the best spot on the reserve for close views of wildfowl and waders. A telescope is essential here, by the way, for scanning the valley fields.
  I also noted Stonechat, Kingfisher, Little Egret, Barn Owl, a distant Red Kite and finished up on the heath overlooking a wooded valley in the vain hope of jamming in one of the many Hawfinches that have been reported across southern England of late. Needless to say I drew a blank on that one, but did have good views of a Tawny Owl gliding across a clearing.
  So, a successful weekend then, that was nicely rounded off by seeing Billy Bragg at Bexhill-on-Sea on the way home last night. The Bard of Barking was on top form ranting and railing about everything from Brexit to climate change, in between delivering a mix of old and new songs including, Pat`s favourite, `The man in the iron mask`.
  Driving past Scotney just after midnight and a Barn Owl flew over the road.
Monday - cold and sunny, light airs - Lade - Back on a frosty local patch this morning the highlights were two Goldeneyes, a Pintail and six Great White Egrets on south lake, good views of a Cetti`s Warbler by the ponds, two Marsh Harriers and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Around the garden suntraps several Red Admirals were on the wing.
  An afternoon walk around Dungeness in glorious sunshine produced a few Gannets and Sandwich Terns offshore but little else of note, while the Dotterel was again reported from Hanson hide on the bird reserve.

Thursday 2 November 2017


Wednesday - Dungeness - mild, sunny, light airs - For a change of scene we walked Dengemarsh gully first thing. It always looks as though it should be good for something or other, and does have form, but as is often the case, this morning, it was virtually birdless apart from a flock of Redpolls over and a few Great Tits in the bushes. However, the sea was much better with plenty of Gannets, Kittiwakes, auks and several Mediterranean Gulls feeding offshore, plus 20 Common Scoters and two Red-throated Divers flying into Rye bay.

                               Cattle Egret, Cook`s Pool

  Moving onto the bird reserve and it was a case of the same old cat food really, with plenty of Great White and Little Egrets on the lakes and the Cattle Egret still ensconced on the Boulderwall fields, faithfully tracking the cows. Elsewhere, a trickle of finches, Mipits, Skylarks and thrushes were noted in the bushes and overhead, a few Tree Sparrows on the feeders, the usual Marsh Harriers, a couple of Sparrowhawks, plenty of wildfowl, grebes, Lapwings and Golden Plovers. So, just a normal day at Dungeness.
  Probably the best bird of the day though was a Firecrest that spent half an hour in the garden fir trees snapping up small invertebrates.

Thursday - Lade - misty and mild - A circuit of the local patch in gorgeous sunshine delivered seven Great White Egrets amongst 12 Little Egrets on south lake and the first two redhead Goldeneyes of the autumn on north lake. Judging from their nervy reaction I reckon they`d just dropped in. Two Ring Ouzels were flushed from cover along the scrub by the ponds and a Merlin chased Skylarks over the airport fields.

                                First Goldeneyes of the autumn

                                Sanderlings and Dunlins, Greatstone beach

Dungeness - Called in at ARC Hanson hide where a Dotterel had been located within a large flock of Golden Plovers. I missed the one earlier in the autumn making this ample compensation.

                                Dotterel from Hanson hide

Hythe - En-route to Folkestone I paused at the seafront opposite the Hythe Imperial where two Purple Sandpipers were Velcroed to the sea defence blocks along with ten Turnstones.

                               Two Purple Sandpipers, Hythe seafront