Thursday 31 January 2019


Lade - cold and sunny morning, cloudy, SE 2-4 afternoon - A mixed day of weather with clear skies last night delivering a hard frost this morning and - 6C being recorded at Lydd Airport just before daybreak. Whilst out birding around the local patch I`ve had many comments from residents and dog-walkers of late regarding the large squadrons of Cormorants passing over the peninsula each  morning and late afternoon.
  The spectacle is unavoidable as they leave roost sites on the bird reserve islands of Burrowes and ARC and fly out to sea to fish alongside thousands of grebes and auks. The majority of the Cormorant flocks round the point and head into Lade bay, while others simply cut the corner and fly out to sea towards Folkestone and beyond. From mid-afternoon onwards until dusk the reverse route is taken back to Dungeness RSPB involving upwards of 10,000 birds, which must be something of a national record.
  It is only a recent phenomenon which seems to have happened since the island creation on Burrowes has provided safe roosting sites. One thing is for sure though, Cormorants in these kind of numbers certainly make for a truly impressive spectacle.
  A check of a local reedbed this afternoon delivered five Marsh Harriers to roost in deteriorating weather as a cold wind increased from the south-east with the prospect of overnight snowfall to come, maybe...

Wednesday 30 January 2019

Tree Sparrow alert

Dungeness - cold, dry, sunny, light airs - A superb day of weather to be out and about birding. We started at the point where after yesterdays gull-fest the only interest offshore were good numbers of auks and a few passing divers and Gannets. At the Patch a 2nd winter Caspian Gull and an adult Mediterranean Gull were the only birds of note and there was no sign of yesterdays Glaucous Gull.
  A tour of the bird reserve yielded the first Black-necked Grebe of the year on ARC, two Goosanders on Burrowes, a Great White Egret on Dengemarsh and a Ruff on the Boulderwall fields. I spent some time searching for Tree Sparrows at their usual haunts without success; infact the last time I saw one at Boulderwall was back in November. The Midley birds have also eluded me on two visits this month. Hopefully they`re out there somewhere on the farmland and will return as spring approaches to breed, although I think this species is teetering on the edge of extinction down here.

                                Buzzard, Cockles Bridge

  On a brighter note from Cockles Bridge the two Whooper Swans were still amongst the Mutes in the rape-seed field, while the three Cattle Egrets had moved over the road in the sheep field near the allotments. Also noted: four Buzzards, two Marsh Harriers, a Merlin, two Stonechats, plus a Blackwit amongst the Lapwings on the horse paddocks.
  Spent the late afternoon at Lade checking for owls on the fields between the lakes and the airfield. The habitat looked perfect but all I could manage to find were Buzzards and Kestrels. As dusk descended a Bittern flew across the reedbed, Water Rails started calling and hundreds of Woodpigeons and Jackdaws flew to roost in the setting sun.

                                Lights out over Lade

Tuesday 29 January 2019

Glaucous Gull

Dungeness - cold, overcast, showery, SSE 4 - With news of a juvenile Glaucous Gull at the Patch  this morning (found by PB) we headed down to the point. From the seawatch hide there was no sign of the Glaucous over the boil although it had been seen just before we arrived opposite the old coastguard lookout. Everywhere you looked along the foreshore were thousands upon thousands of gulls feeding on shoals of sprats in a brisk onshore wind. Mostly Herring, Common and Black-headed Gulls, plus plenty of Kittiwakes, Black-backs, a few Mediterranean and at least one juvenile Yellow-legged Gull; a proper gull-fest.

                                Some of the many gulls along the foreshore

                                Juvenile Kittiwakes

   Scanning from the Lade boardwalk just after midday a juvenile Glaucous Gull flew along the distant tideline towards the Pilot and may even have been a different bird to the one at Dungeness. A return visit to the Patch hide this afternoon delivered further distant views of a juv Glaucous Gull at Penn Bars amongst hundreds of large gulls and a 1st winter Little Gull.
  Finishing off at the fishing boats where two more Little Gulls were noted along with 10 Mediterranean Gulls and hundreds of Kittiwakes and Common Gulls. Throughout the day plenty of Gannets, Red-throated Divers, Guillemots, Razorbills and a Bar-tailed Godwit also noted, plus a Grey Seal.

                                Dungeness Lifeboat, The Morrell

Sunday 27 January 2019

Bird recording

Lade - cold, cloudy, NW 5 - The only difference in our two circuits of the local patch this weekend has been the weather: relatively mild and benign yesterday, in contrast to a drop in temperature overnight and a rasping wind out of the north today. A Shelduck was the only addition to six Goldeneyes and the usual wintering ducks on south lake.

  This morning I spent the regulation hour counting our garden birds for the RSPB`s annual Big Garden Birdwatch, now in its 40th season. Its pretty much idiot proof as surveys go, or so I thought! You just count the birds that land in the garden and record the highest numbers of each species present at any one time; in my case nine, with 23 House Sparrows the top count. The problem arose when a male Sparrowhawk glided through the garden, took a feint at a sparrow, missed and carried on to the next garden take-away, so technically ineligible for the tally as it hadn't landed ... Mmm, I thought, "I`m sure it brushed the fir trees on the way out". Anyhow, on the list it went rounding things up to a neat and tidy 10 species!
  Whilst on the subject of recording now is the best time of year, during these long dark evenings trapped indoors, to dig out last years bird records and forward them on to the county recorder. It used to be a bit of chore in the old days of paper and record cards before the Internet, but not so now as even someone as digitally inept as myself can set up a basic system of recording which can be  updated through the year and then submitted when ready at the click of a mouse.
  Bird recorders always welcome records away from well-watched sites, and don't ignore those so-called common species as change can be rapid; eg. when I first moved down here 13 years ago Marsh Tits were a given in the woods of the Orlestone Forest, and now they're finished. Try to summarise your records as some poor soul has to make sense of them and write up a species account for a Bird Report. First and last dates of migrants are always welcome, as are breeding records and rarities, some of which may require a written report.
  And don't forget the many other natural history disciplines out there such as butterflies, moths, dragonflies, plants etc, all of which will have county or regional recorders eager to have your records.  

Friday 25 January 2019

Weekly Summary

Lade - mild, cloudy with drizzle, W2 - Much milder than of late with rain throughout the morning. We drew a predictable blank on the local patch, while all was quiet at Dungeness and around Tower Pits. However, three Cattle Egrets were in the horse paddocks between Boulderwall and Cockles Bridge. A local harrier roost proved productive this evening with 11 Marsh Harriers dropping in.
  Its been a bit samey this week across the peninsula and there have still been no Smew, white-winged gulls or scarce grebe sightings on the gravel pits, and just a few Goldeneyes and the occasional Goosander. However, on the bird reserve typical winter fare such as Marsh Harrier, Bittern, Water Rail, Bearded Tit, Firecrest and Great White Egret are present.
  Elsewhere, the Army ranges, when open, has delivered late afternoon Short-eared and Barn Owls, Hen and Marsh Harriers and Merlin, while the two wintering Whooper Swans have been seen in the fields from Cockles Bridge. Also, the Bewick`s Swan flock has remained faithful to fields by Horse`s Bones Farm on the back road from Lydd to Midley.

Thursday 24 January 2019

Winter bites

Lade - cold, cloudy, light airs - Last night was easily the coldest night of the winter so far with the temperature down here on the coast dropping to -3C, fusing the pebbles together which made for treacherous walking across the shingle ridges. The result was also the first frozen margins on parts of south lake and around the willow swamp forcing a couple of Water Rails to forage out of the reedbeds. Two Goldcrests fed in scrub by the ponds along with a few tits and a Cetti`s Warbler, both woodpeckers were noted and a Buzzard sat atop the 30` mirror. Oddest sight of the day went to a cock Pheasant sitting incongruously in the crown of a hawthorn bush on the opposite side of north lake. There was no change to the wildfowl numbers.

Dungeness - We walked down to The Patch where a low boil attracted a blizzard of gulls, but there was nothing of any note within their midst and along the beach. Apart from a few flocks of Cormorants and the odd grebe all was deadly dull on the sea too. The Trapping Area was likewise desolate. Roll on the spring...

Wednesday 23 January 2019


Hemsted Forest - cold, dry, overcast start, sunny later, NW 3 - For a change of scene (together with CP) we left the flat lands for the trees on a proper winters day with the temperature just above freezing, patchy snow on the ground and a nippy wind out of the north, perfect for a morning in the forest looking for Crossbills. Indeed, only a short walk north from the car park we encountered around 30 chunky, orange and green finches with overlapping bill tips flying over the pines calling and settling down to sing and feed. The light was poor but they showed well enough through optics, especially the stunning adult males.
  Also noted nearby were hundreds of Fieldfares and Redwings leaving roost sites, three Siskins, Coal Tit, Jay and Treecreeper, plus soaring Sparrowhawks later in the morning. However, an hour spent wandering through other sections of the wood proved to be largely devoid of bird life apart from a few tits, Goldcrests and a lone Nuthatch.   

                                Hemsted Forest and Crossbills

Shirley Moor - On the way home we drove along Moor Lane checking the bushes to see whether the shrike was still around, but without success. A smart Barn Owl roosting in a hedgerow was ample compensation, while five species of thrushes, several Yellowhammers and Reed Buntings, six Buzzards and four Kestrels also noted.

Tuesday 22 January 2019

Purple Sandpipers

Hythe - warm, dry and sunny - Had to go to the cash-n-carry at Folkestone this morning so on the way home, as it was high tide, checked out the sea defence blocks along the sea front at Sandgate and Hythe. The first two sets of granite blocks were barren but at Stade Street two Purple Sandpipers were present enjoying the warm sunshine and ignoring the waves crashing over the rocks below. There was no sign of any Turnstones though.

                               Purple Sandpipers, Hythe seafront

Walland Marsh - A check on the local wild swans for the WWT survey revealed 38 Bewick`s out the back of Lydd by Horse`s Bones Farm and two Whoopers amongst the Mutes at Cockles Bridge, where also Marsh Harrier, Buzzard and Stonechat.

Sunday 20 January 2019

From Scilly to Dungeness

Lade - cold, sunny, NE 2 - There was no change to the wildfowl on the local patch this weekend with six Goldeneyes the highlight on south lake for the WeBS count. Marsh Harrier and Buzzard continue to be omnipresent and yesterday I checked the reed bed at dusk just in case any harriers went to roost, but none did.
Today a mid-morning visit to the ponds in bright sunshine attracted a decent crop of passerines to feed on emerging insects roused by the warmth; chiefly a flock of Long-tailed, Great and Blue Tits with a supporting cast of two Cetti`s Warblers, a Firecrest and surprisingly a Dartford Warbler in a bramble thicket by the main track. Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird, Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Great Spotted Woodpecker also noted around the ponds.
  Back at Plovers we got in training for next weekends RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch where the House Sparrow count around the feeders hit 32. That was about the only highpoint though as few other species were noted: Herring Gull, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Wren, Robin, Blackbird, Starling and Chaffinch being about it.
  Last autumn I planted out some bulbs that our Kate had brought back from her trip to the Isles of Scilly. The first bloom emerged today; a splash of yellow narcissi in a shingle garden on the Dungeness cuspate, all the way from Churchtown Farm, St Martins`s on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, my favourite island of all the British Isles and a reminder of our first holiday there with the kids in 1982.
  It was in May and we stayed in an old farm cottage by the church just before the island had mains electricity; so, once the diesel generator packed up at about 6pm it was onto Tilley lamps for light. The kids loved having their bedtime story read to the backdrop of the hissing lamp light. One evening we walked up to the Daymark, a high point at the north-east corner of the island, and had Storm Petrels fluttering around our heads as they returned to nest sites amongst the boulder scree. The next day we found a Hoopoe probing the turf in front of the tiny school house. Happy days indeed.

                                      Scent from the Isles of Scilly

Walland Marsh - More counting this afternoon in the company of CP at our usual harrier roost site out on the Marsh. En-route we paused at Cockles Bridge to view the two Whooper Swans seen earlier, but without success. At Horse`s Bones farm 34 distant Bewick`s Swans could still be seen from the lane. At the harrier roost site 10 Marsh Harriers were in the general area, but only two came in to roost. Also noted: four Buzzards, Peregrine, Kestrel, three Ravens, 10 Snipe, six Great White Egrets and on the drive home two Barn Owls at Midley.

Friday 18 January 2019


Dungeness - cold, sunny, NW 2 - Joined DW at the fishing boats this morning for a short seawatch where plenty of Razorbills were offshore amongst the Guillemots and rounding the point. Also our first Fulmar of the year, plus a Bonxie a steady flow of Red-throated Divers, Gannets and Kittiwakes and a Common Seal. A Black Redstart was perched on the lifeboat station roof as we drove onto the estate.
  At Lade a Buzzard perched on the 30` foot, two Marsh Harriers outback and six Goldeneyes on the water was about it.

                               HMS Mersey, River-class Patrol Boat, off Dungeness

Thursday 17 January 2019


Lade - cold and wet, NW 2 - Bit of a shocker this morning with low temperatures and sleety showers out of the north, so it was a surprise when up popped a Dartford Warbler in the gorse scrub by the badger sett, where also a Stonechat. A Bittern flying over the main reedbed was our first sighting of the year, while there was no change to the wildfowl on south lake.
Lydd - Had to go to the garage this morning so called in at Pigwell just as a heavy shower cleared through leaving bright blue skies. From the cycle path a small herd of cattle huddled together in the weedy field had a mixed flock of passerines nearby comprising mostly Chaffinches along with a few Goldfinches, Linnets and Mipits. A Kestrel then flew over flushing the 100 strong flock which included the distinctive bat-winged, short-tailed profile of a Woodlark. Eventually they settled back down when the lark showed briefly on the deck. Also noted three Marsh Harriers, two Buzzards, Song Thrush, Little Egret and Stonechat.
Littlestone - A scan of the foreshore this afternoon revealed the usual waders, plus three Black-tailed Godwits and a colour-ringed Curlew (left leg red, right leg yellow). 

Wednesday 16 January 2019


Dungeness - mild, overcast, W5 - A guided walk for 12 birders this morning concentrated on the circular walk around the pits taking in the hides. The blustery wind kept any passerines hunkered down and even most of the ducks took shelter behind banks and willow scrub; however we did manage to find a Firecrest in the willows on the approach to Scott hide. On Burrowes it was a struggle to a find a single Goldeneye and Shelduck amongst a host of common wildfowl, while the islands were smothered in hundreds of Lapwings, Cormorants and large gulls. On Dengemarsh another Goldeneye, a Great White Egret, 100 Wigeon, 100 Linnets, several Marsh Harriers and two Kestrels.
  So, no problem with quantity then, but where`s the variety in the form of sawbills, a scarce grebe and maybe a diver or even a white-winged gull? Perhaps the much forecast cold snap at the end of the week will shake things up a bit.

An hour at the fishing boats this afternoon delivered close views of hundreds of passing Cormorants, Gannets, Kittiwakes and auks, including several Razorbills, plus a few Red-throated Divers and a distant Bonxie.
  A late check of Lade produced six Goldeneyes on south lake, and as the wind and rain increased we headed for home and a cuppa in front of the fire.

Monday 14 January 2019


Dungeness - mild, sunny, light airs - Another unseasonably warm winter`s morning found us rummaging around Tower Pits in search of birds, of which were few and far between. Several thrushes, a tit flock, a few common ducks and a Marsh Harrier was about it, and still no Tree Sparrows at Boulderwall. On Burrowes a single redhead Goosander was the highlight, in a winter that so far has been poor for sawbills with few Goldeneye and Goosander and an unprecedented absence of Smew. En-route to the allotment four Cattle Egrets had moved into a sheep field opposite the livery stables on the Lydd road. From Cockles Bridge a Buzzard and Stonechat.
  I blame the shortage of birds on Brexit; might as well, its getting the blame for everything else!

Sunday 13 January 2019


Rye Harbour - overcast, mild, W 3 - Yesterday Pat joined us for a circuit of the Beach Reserve on a dry and grey, yet mild morning. All the usual waders were noted including a flock of 200 Golden Plovers and a party of 20 Grey Plovers that flew in from the bay, plus plenty of Redshanks, Lapwings and a few Dunlin, Curlew and Ringed Plover. Hundreds of Wigeon, Shoveler were scattered across the lagoons, while Long Pits was very quiet with only a few common diving ducks and a Kingfisher of note.  Unsurprisingly for a Saturday the place was packed with people and it took a while to locate the three Twite which had been seen around the John Gooder`s hide, but by the time we arrive had moved out onto Flat Beach in the corner towards the sea. We had poor views, but they were my first for the region since moving down here almost thirteen years ago.
  On a positive note we can highly recommend the William the Conqueror pub for lunch, and its dog-friendly too which pleased Barney.

Sandgate - The weather was more of the same today and if anything even milder with temperatures reaching 12C by noon. After walking the local patch, where nothing had changed, we headed down to Folkestone to check out the Lower Leas Country Park for a magazine article. Scanning the sea at various places between Mill and Battery Points produced hundreds of Cormorants, Gannets and auks, mostly distant, plus a single Shag; I couldn't find any sign of the Great Northern Diver offshore, or Purple Sandpipers on the Hythe sea defence rocks, probably due to disturbance by clambering self obsessed people taking selfies on their phones.
  Back on the Marsh a tour of the lanes via Newchurch was a dismal affair. On the bird reserve Burrowes was packed out with thousands of Cormorants and large gulls, Lapwings and common wildfowl, plus a drake Pintail. Dengemarsh had a Great White Egret and Marsh Harrier of interest, plus 10 Curlews on the Boulderwall fields, although yet again I couldn't find any Tree Sparrows around the feeders.
  We finished the day at Dungeness with a sea watch from the fishing boats that delivered the expected Gannets, auks, divers and Kittiwakes.

Friday 11 January 2019


Lade - mild, cloudy, NW 2 - Milder weather today with bits and pieces of drizzle. Back on the local patch this morning nothing had changed with the same low numbers of wildfowl, although a Grey Wagtail was of note on the margin of south lake. A smart juvenile Marsh Harrier flew over scattering the Coots while a Buzzard watched on from the wall mirror.
  As it was low tide we had a drive down to Littlestone to check on the shorebirds feeding on the mud opposite the caisson. All ten species were located including 30 Knot, while hundreds of grebes bobbed about on the bay.
  A walk out onto Romney Salts from the end of Dunes Road was a bleak affair with few farmland birds apart from a flock of 50 Linnets, two Skylarks, two Kestrels and a distant Buzzard.

Thursday 10 January 2019

Cross-Channel Birding

                                Dunkirk harbour

                                Common Seals

Dunkirk/Calais - cold, cloudy, NW 3 - For a change of scene I joined CP and MH for a day out in northern France in overcast weather conditions with occasional drizzle. We drove to the industrial coastal complex of Dunkirk where we checked out the various canals and waterways around the port. Two smart Slavonian Grebes amongst a small flock of Great Crested and Little Grebes on Bassin Maritime was a good start. Further east, from the lookout at Avant-Port Quest 12 Red-breasted Mergansers showed well in the harbour mouth along with two Brown Seals hauled out on the sands. Also noted, Redshank, Turnstone, Oystercatcher, Kingfisher, Little Egret and small numbers of Mipits, Greenfinches and Reed Buntings in the sand dunes, plus three possible Snow Buntings that flew off high to the east. There was plenty of action on the sea with hundreds of Gannets, auks, divers, Kittiwakes, scoters, Brents and three Eiders. Stonechat, Skylark, Blackbird, Kestrel and Goldfinch noted elsewhere around the complex.

                                Slavonian Grebes


We then moved down the coast to Grand Fort Philippe where we soon located seven Shore Larks on the saltings, characteristically hugging the sands and feeding on weed-seeds. Super little birds and a species we don't see very often back home. They showed like good `uns right in front of the car park, including flying around calling, in company with 50 Chaffinches and 10 Linnets.

                                Shore Larks

Onto Oye-Plage and good numbers of common wildfowl were on the nature reserve pools, sensibly avoiding the hunters who lay in wait with their decoys and guns on the inland side of the coast road; this is only down side to coming here during the shooting season, gunners are everywhere. We finished off on the beach searching for Snow Buntings which we failed to find. However, a Cattle Egret was unusual to see on the salt marsh in company with three Little Egrets. Hundreds of distant gulls and shorebirds were on the foreshore of this vast beach stretching westwards to Calais.
   Another great day birding in northern France in fine company. As always many thanks to Chris for driving and Mark for a steady flow of jokes and anecdotes.

                                Shooting Butts and lures

                                Cattle Egret


Wednesday 9 January 2019

Sunbathing birds

Lade - cold, dry and sunny, NW 3 - A fresh wind out of the north made it seem colder than it actually was, but in the shelter of the willow swamp many birds were enjoying the warm sunshine including Grey Heron, Woodpigeon, Magpie, Blackbird, a female Sparrowhawk, plus a Moorhen that had climbed into the bushes to receive the full rays. Some of the ducks had also retreated into sunny corners of reedbeds out of the wind, while two Green Woodpeckers preferred to warm up on the concrete bowl of the 30` listening mirror.

                                Spot the Green Woodpeckers!

                                Sparrowhawk sunbathing

                                Shoveler and Wigeon

  On the beach all the usual waders and gulls were noted on the incoming tide. There was still a police presence on site this morning searching for a Greatstone man who went missing yesterday evening.

Common Gull on the beach

Monday 7 January 2019


Dungeness - mild, cloudy, W2 - A circuit of the point first thing produced the usual mass of auks, Gannets, Great Crested Grebes, Kittiwakes and Gannets offshore, plus a flock of 50 eastbound Wigeon. A tit flock in the Trapping Area contained a Chiffchaff and two cracking Firecrests, our first of the year, not that I`m keeping much of a year list... Also noted Stonechat, Green Woodpecker, and a Peregrine over towards the power station.

  Back at the car, by the boardwalk, I noticed the Border Force cutter patrolling close to shore, apparently searching for migrants and then a police wagon stopped and asked me whether I`d seen anything, which I hadn't. An hour later whilst crossing the causeway road to Lydd I noticed the authorities had intercepted and detained some poor bedraggled souls, presumably who`d landed at Dungeness earlier.
  There was no change to the wildfowl on Lade pits this afternoon.

Sunday 6 January 2019

Bay waders

Lade - cold, cloudy, NW2 - Spent some time over the weekend checking the foreshore for waders and any passerines feeding along the tideline between the Jolly at Greatstone and the Pilot at Dungeness. Pied Wagtail, House Sparrow, Meadow Pipit, Wren, Reed Bunting and Starling is all I could muster, plus around 50 Turnstones. There was much human and dog disturbance at the Greatstone beach end.
  All ten species of waders were present including the following high tide counts: Oystercatcher 320, Sanderling 210, Dunlin 180, Knot 80 and Grey Plover 25.

                               Lade bay looking towards Dungeness


                                Knot and Grey Plover

                                Oystercatcher and Sanderling


                               Roosting Oystercatcher, Sanderling and Dunlin

As for the old gravel pit lakes, there was no change to the wildfowl with eight Goldeneyes still present the highlight. An afternoon check of south lake just before lights out revealed skein after skein of Cormorants coming in from the east and heading towards the bird reserve, at least 1,300 in total.