Memories of 2018
It`s a traditional staple of bloggers to cast a look back over the past year. Rather than give a calendar account of events (you can get that by trawling through this year posts) I`ve selected and categorised a few treasured memories from 2018, in no particular order of importance, so here goes.
Rarity of the year - OK, lets get this category out of the way early on. There were quite a few candidates, particularly in spring with Kentish Plover on the bird reserve and a Terek Sandpiper at Rye the best of the waders. An unusually showy Great Reed Warbler in front of Hanson hide made the list, as did a flashy trio of Hoopoe, Bee-eater and Rosy Starling at Midley, Littlestone and Dungeness respectively. There were some real skulkers and `half birds` to consider such as Short-toed Treecreeper, Pallid Swift and Hume`s Warbler (and much respect to the finders) but for me it had to be those two Bluethroats that graced Dengemarsh Gully back in early spring. I know they`re not even `proper` rarities but they`re smart as peaches and they hung around for a few days, and above all showed like good `uns.
Local patch - A tricky category with plenty of choice seeing as I visit Lade pits on a near daily basis. The two wintering Long-tailed Ducks that remained into May, and attempted breeding by Black-necked Grebes featured highly on the candidates list; as did all five species of common grebes that appeared during the year with Dabchicks having a particularly good breeding season. Migrant Spotted Flycatchers and Whinchats put on a decent autumn show, along with nesting Cuckoos and Lesser Whitethroats, but it was Dartford Warbler that will remain firmly etched in the memory bank as they were omnipresent and even nested successfully.
Absentees of the year - Sadly its the predictable tale of woe concerning declining summer migrants such as Swift, Cuckoo, Swallow, Yellow Wagtail, Pied Flycatcher and Turtle Dove, plus another poor autumn for overhead passage of larks, pipits, finches and the like. As far as I can recall there were no records of Dotterel, Temminck`s Stint, Melodious or Icterine Warblers this year and only one or two of Wood Warbler, Ortolan, Red-backed Shrike and Wryneck. I managed to go through the year without encountering a Grey Partridge, while Tree Sparrows are clinging on by a tenuous thread across the Marsh.
Wader of the year - Right, lets buck ourselves up after the morose offerings of the previous category. Waders are my favourites; proper birders birds, there`s no skulking in bushes with these beauties or worrying about whether they`ve just escaped from an aviary or wildfowl collection, or splitting hairs over specification issues. I`ve already mentioned two rarities, Kentish and Terek, and the Scotney Buff-breasted was a real treat, but its not all about them. Wood Sandpipers had a good autumn and I just love the evocative flight call of the many flocks of Seven-note Whistlers that passed over the peninsula on passage; and what about those plumy adult Curlew Sandpipers that turned up in mid-summer beating a rapid retreat from the Arctic? All possibles, but for me spring Bar-tailed Godwits take some beating, particularly when they pause a while and plonk down in the Boulderwall fields only a few yards away. What truly gorgeous birds.
Conservation success of the year - A no brainer this one, it has to be the Dungeness RSPB Re-tern Project which bore instant fruits with the successful nesting of a number of Common Terns on the newly created islands and tern rafts on Burrowes. During the summer seven different types of sea swallows graced the old gravel pit including plenty of migrant Black, scarce Roseate and Arctic, prospecting Sandwich and Little and as a bonus a rare American Black Tern. Well done to all concerned.
It`s not a bird - During the course of our ramblings there was so much other natural history stuff to enjoy hereabouts. Having always been fascinated by all aspects of our flora and fauna this past year threw up many memorable encounters. New species of moths in the garden trap included a spectacular Bedstraw Hawkmoth and Orache in contrast to a diminutive Concolorous, while an Asian Hornet at Dungeness was new to me. Record breaking numbers of Porpoises off the point and up to 20 Grey Seals in the bay this summer were memorable and it was an excellent year for some of our grassland butterflies such as Grizzled Skipper and Marbled White. Small bats flitting around our garden fir trees on a summers evening were a treat and there was a decent show of Bee Orchids on the local patch.
However, it was a tiny plant that stopped me in my tracks whilst out surveying for Cetti`s Warblers this spring that won the non-bird accolade. Rounding a clump of sallows I encountered a small clearing in the shingle carpeted with Wild Strawberries. Immediately the wow factor kicked in as it reminded me of a bygone, carefree era as a kid when I used to pick these tiny fruits growing on a chalky bank in a Chiltern`s beech wood near our village. A truly magical moment.
Best birding day - Of which there were plenty around the Marsh this year, but I`m going to opt for one of our day trips to France in late May with Chris and Mark when we clocked up 120 species across the Somme area. The list of birds was incredible and included a mammoth 14 species of warblers including crippling views of Grasshopper, Marsh and Melodious Warblers, plus Bluethroats, Black-winged Stilts, Serins and White Storks along with a host of other wetland birds. Turtle Dove, Grey Partridge and Nightingale, birds that are on their last legs here were commonplace. A fantastic day in great company.
Natural event of 2018 - Not easy this one. It`s a toss up between the Super Moon in February, the `Beast from the East` or the summer heat wave, I can`t decide so just enjoy the pics.
Companion of the year - No competition, he`s always up for a trip out and never argues with my identifications, but dislikes seawatching, its - Barney!!
And finally a big thank you to all readers of this blog and the kind words I`ve received when we`ve met out in the field. The ramblings will continue in 2019!