Thursday 28 February 2019

Wigeon and Coot

Dungeness - mild, cloudy, drizzle, W 4 - Today the weather was much more typical for the time of year with a brisk westerly off the Atlantic, low cloud and bits and pieces of light rain. A scan of the sea from various points around the peninsula delivered a few auks, Gannets, Common Scoters, Red-throated Divers, Sandwich Terns, Kittiwakes and three flocks of Brent Geese totalling 110. A small flock of Meadow Pipits by the sewage plant contained two Reed Buntings.

                               Wigeon and Coot flock beside Cook`s pool

  The Boulderwall fields held a close mixed flock of grazing Wigeon and Coot by Cook`s pool, plus a few Lapwing, Curlew and Ruff further away. A Marsh Harrier scattered the ducks and waders, while the four wintering Cattle Egrets flew over the distant horse paddocks towards Lydd. There was nothing of note on Burrowes apart from six Goldeneyes amongst the usual ducks, Cormorants and large gulls.
  On the bay at Littlestone on a falling tide six species of waders noted including 12 Redshanks and 31 Turnstones.

Wednesday 27 February 2019

Woodpecker quest

Orlestone Forest - warm, dry and sunny - With this being the last of the settled days forecast for a while CP joined us for a morning stroll around Longrope and Faggs Wood. The habitat and weather conditions were ideal for searching for the elusive Lesser pecker (if indeed there are any here) but all we could muster was a handful of Greaters and a couple of Greens; infact the numbers of woodland birds seen or heard was depressingly low. We did, however, note a few Long-tailed and Coal Tits, Goldcrest, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, singing Chiffchaff, Jay, Goldfinch, Bullfinch, Buzzard and best of all three Crossbills and 10 Redpolls.

                                Dark morph Buzzard

                                Dead oaks, Longrope Wood

                                Longrope Wood

  There seems to have been a certain amount of mechanised undergrowth clearing in places, particularly in Longrope Wood, that has the potential to attract Woodlark, Tree Pipit and Nightjar later on in the spring. One section of dead oaks (presumably due to flooding) was also of interest. First Primroses and a single Brimstone of the year lifted the spirits in the warm sunshine, but otherwise it was a pretty grim experience; just what has happened to our woodland birds in recent years? 

                                Spring Primroses

Monday 25 February 2019

Hooded Crow

Dungeness - warm, dry and sunny, light airs - Following a light ground frost it soon warmed up  and turned into another superb day. A circuit of the bushes from the old lighthouse to the Long Pits delivered very little apart from a few common resident species and a couple of Reed Buntings. A pair of Peregrines sat atop the pylons by the power station were also enjoying the warm sunshine.

  Whilst chatting to MC and JT news came through from the ever watchful Dave Bunney concerning a Hooded Crow that had just flown over heading towards the foreshore by the fishing boats. It was briefly relocated along with a couple of Carrion Crows on the tideline before flying off north into Lade Bay and on towards Littlestone and beyond. A scarce bird in these parts.

Sunday 24 February 2019

A swarm of bees

Lade - warm, dry and sunny - Another superb day to be outside in the field. We spent most of the morning on the local patch where the only addition to yesterdays wildfowl was a rather smart drake Shelduck on south lake. Dartford and Cetti`s Warblers, singing Chiffchaff and Skylark enhanced the spring-like feel to the day, plus soaring Buzzards and Marsh Harriers enjoying the thermals and our first heat haze of the year over the Desert.

                                Sheldrake on south lake

  The sunshine has encouraged the Gorse bushes to flower more profusely of late and at one spot in a sun trap there was a loose swarm of some 50 odd Honey Bees plundering the nectar, which made for a superb sight and sound. I`m no expert on our 250 or so native species of bees, so if there are any takers for the exact identity of said bees I would be much appreciative.

                                It was only this one patch of gorse that attracted the bees

                                Honey Bees

                                7 Spot Ladybird

                                Birds-eye Speedwell

  The ponds were alive with insects; gnats, bumble bees and a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly. The south facing bank had Coltsfoot and Speedwell plants in flower, while many of the pussy willow catkins looked set to burst out. I was expecting an early Grass Snake, but then I thought, it is still February.
  Barney, on the other hand, was less than impressed with today's heat wave and took plenty of opportunities to have a drink in the lake before we headed for the beach where a Sandwich Tern was again noted amongst hundreds of gulls and the usual waders on the sands. By the time we arrived back at Plovers I was down to just a T shirt, plus trousers and boots of course!

                                " What happened to winter? "

Saturday 23 February 2019

Dartford Warblers

Lade - warm, dry and sunny, light airs - A stunning spring day at the back end of winter and a welcome relief from the fog of yesterday. Two Dartford Warblers showed well on site this morning, when not hassled by territorial Dunnocks! Eight Goldeneyes across both waters and a singing Chiffchaff in the willow swamp were the other highlights.
  Sitting in the garden lunch time in glorious warm sunshine (well, it is 23rd February after all!) two Buzzards went down the coast and set the Herring Gulls into meltdown.

                                Dartford Warbler from last year

Dengemarsh - An afternoon stroll around the hayfields delivered very little apart from a pair each of Teal and Shoveler on hayfield 3 which looked superb for forthcoming spring migrants such as Garganey and Little Ringed Plover. Four Great White Egrets and two Goldeneyes were on and around the main lake, plus vocalising Reed Buntings, Cetti`s Warblers and Bearded Tits. Also noted 12 Corn Buntings, 20 Linnets, two Buzzards and Marsh Harrier.
  On the way home the two Whooper Swans were still in the fields behind Lydd football club.

Thursday 21 February 2019

Off piste

Hothfield Common - cold, dry, cloudy, sw 2 - Together with CP and MH we headed off the Marsh this morning for a change of scene. Its a good few years since I`ve been to this wonderful site; an old valley heath surrounded by ancient woodland, and surely the Jewel-in-the-Crown of the Kent Wildlife Trust. The weather let us down somewhat though as it wasn't a bright sunny day as forecast, but cooler and more overcast. We`d come for Lesser pecker, which has been reported here this year, and although we failed to locate one the number of resident species noted was quite staggering, such is the lure of a proper old wood with mature trees and lots of fallen timber. At least 20 Great Spots were present in the area we covered including much `drumming`, along with plenty of tits, finches, thrushes, Nuthatches, Treecreepers, Goldcrests, Green Woodpecker and Mistle Thrush, plus singing Yellowhammers on the open bog and heath.

  Late morning was spent at a watch point on the North Downs where Buzzards were commonplace with nine on the wing at one point, plus a Red Kite and three Kestrels. Was also good to see several Yellowhammers and at least 20 singing Skylarks on and over nearby arable land.

Wednesday 20 February 2019

Sandwich Terns

Lade - warm, dry and sunny, light airs - The unseasonably mild, spring-like weather continues, thanks to a plume of warm air funnelling up from the Azores. With news of hirundines already in the West Country, hopes were high for an early migrant or two at our end of the country, but apart from the first Sandwich Tern of the year yesterday off Dungeness and four on the beach opposite here this morning all has been quiet. The local patch feels like spring, but birdwise appears stuck in a winter rut still.
  Visits to the point have delivered a few seabirds such as auks, Gannets, Kittiwakes and Red-throated Divers, while the wintering Black Redstart was perched briefly atop the Pilot pub when I came past yesterday. Remarkably, two Swallows were reportedly seen flying around the old water tower at Littlestone this afternoon, the first I can recall in February!

                                Stonechat, Return Trail

Dungeness RSPB - A circular walk for 22 guests this morning was more memorable for the glorious weather rather than birds seen, while it was good to see a few children in the throng. However, Marsh Harrier, Great White Egret, Stonechat, Cetti`s Warblers and 15 Mipits were noted from the Return Trail and Dengemarsh. On Burrowes the usual gulls, Cormorants, Lapwings and winter wildfowl including two Goldeneyes. I eventually tracked down what must be the most mobile drake Smew ever, initially on New Excavations, before it moved onto the ponds in front of Christmas Dell hide. Also noted four Curlews on the hayfield and a Chiffchaff by Scott hide. As I say, poor fare really, but the guests seemed happy enough with what we saw.

Tuesday 19 February 2019

Prophet of doom

The End of the End of the Earth - Jonathan Franzen (Fourth Estate £16.99) - It only took me a couple of sittings to devour this collection of essays, such was the relevance of the prose concerning  the impact us humans are having on our environment. Franzen is a passionate birder and wrestles with the double standards many of us pampered first worlders have; for example our profligate use of fossil fuels at home, or when travelling abroad and our resulting carbon footprint.
  Climate change features strongly throughout these essays which Franzen considers is already a done deal. He argues that we are not going to change our way of life sufficiently to halt the global temperature rises that will ultimately seal our fate; whatever green endeavours we conjure up to prevent climate change will be akin to King Canute trying to stop the tide coming in.
  In the short term however there are more pressing issues facing the destruction of birds as exemplified by the essay entitled May your life be ruined. Here he describes a birding trip to the Balkans and north Africa where he witnesses the wanton large scale destruction of migrant birds, singling out Albania and Egypt as the worst culprits amongst many candidates; little wonder then that so many of our summer visitors have disappeared in such a short period of time, as many of us on the `wrong` side of 50 will attest.
  "Human beings are universal killers of the natural world and coming soon, some hellish overheated tomorrow, is Judgment Day", he states.
  In the words of Private Frazer, "We`re doomed, we`re all doomed"!!!

Sunday 17 February 2019

Roosting harriers and egrets

Lade - warm, dry, sunny, sw3 - The past two days have been much of a muchness on the local patch with the same wildfowl on the lakes for the monthly WeBS count including six Goldeneyes. Marsh Harriers, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Little Egret and Chiffchaff noted across the weekend.
  Yesterday afternoon on the way back from St Mary`s Bay I watched a Short-eared Owl hunting a sheep field, probably the same bird that was seen by CT later on over the main road on Littlestone golf links. The two Whooper Swans were still in the rape-seed fields from Cockles Bridge and six Bewick`s Swans at Horses Bones Farm.
Walland Marsh - Joined CP out on the Marsh this afternoon for the harrier roost count at our usual site where six Marsh Harriers came in. However, the big surprise was a new egret roost that comprised 11 Great Whites and seven Little Egrets. A mixed flock of Greylags included 26 White-fronted Geese and two Egyptian Geese. Also noted four Buzzards, two Ravens, Kestrel, Merlin, Barn Owl, Stonechat, 50 Fieldfares, Skylark, Goldfinch and Reed Buntings, plus two Brown Hares, a rare sight of late.

Friday 15 February 2019

Fishy Friday...

Dungeness - warm, dry and sunny - Had a walk around the Trapping Area and Long Pits with CP this morning in warm, winter sunshine.Very little was noted apart from a few common tits and finches, Green Woodpecker and a Goldcrest, plus Ringed Plover, Greenfinch, Mipit and a singing Skylark overhead. The sea was much better though with a short watch from the fishing boats producing hundreds of Guillemots, Great Crested Grebes and Cormorants, plus Kittiwakes, Red-throated Divers, Gannets and singles of Mediterranean Gull and Common Scoter.
  News from the bird reserve today included the drake Smew and four Cattle Egrets still present, the Whooper Swans on the Cockles Bridge fields and the Bewick`s Swans at Horses Bones Farm, Lydd.

                                Pike on the beach, Lade

Lade - Spent some time along the foreshore this afternoon between Greatstone and the Pilot in glorious weather conditions. All ten species of waders were logged as well as several Mediterranean Gulls amongst 2,000 Common Gulls. Squid eggs were everywhere, while a dead fish about a metre long appeared to be a Pike; as confirmed by two local fisherman and several replies to pics posted on Twitter (thanks for your input to all concerned). As to why a freshwater fish was washed up on the foreshore is anyone guess; perhaps it was dumped there after having been caught in the local gravel pit, or maybe it isn't a Pike? If anyone has any offers please get in touch.

                                Squid Eggs


                                1,000 Common Gulls

Thursday 14 February 2019

Spring is in the air

Scotney - warm, dry and sunny, light airs - A cracking warm, spring-like day, ideal for a walk out back behind the farm this morning. Two flocks of 20 and 40 Corn Buntings, one around the farm, the other by the game cover dung heap, were good to see, as were two Tree Sparrows in a reed-fringed ditch, a pair of Avocets on an island and a Green Sandpiper flying along Jury`s Gut Sewer. Also noted several singing Skylarks and Reed Buntings, Great White Egret, Stonechat, Egyptian Geese, Redshank, four Buzzards, two Kestrels and a Marsh Harrier. Apart from the Barnacle Goose and Wigeon flock the front fields were relatively quiet.

                                New born lambs were everywhere this morning

                                Egyptian Geese, Scotney

  A stop off at Boulderwall on the way home yielded three Cattle Egrets in a horse paddock and a Great White Egret by Cook`s Pool along with the usual Lapwings, Wigeons, Curlews and feral geese. The drake Smew was still on site, mainly from Christmas Dell hide, though mobile at times.

Wednesday 13 February 2019

Beach waders

Littlestone - warm, dry and sunny, ssw 2 - Not the best time of day to view the bay but we had good views of hundreds of Curlews and Oystercatchers at low tide, plus Turnstones, Redshank, Ringed Plover and an adult Mediterranean Gull. Three Teal on the tideline was an unusual sight, while further out to sea hundreds of Great Crested Grebes fished the bay.
Lade - A check of the local patch revealed all the usual wildfowl including four Goldeneyes. There was no sign of the Dartford Warbler this morning in the gorse scrub, although a Chiffchaff called in the willow swamp.
  We completed the three day Birdwatching Break for Clare and Peter with 94 species that included a decent range of wintering birds with the highlight being yesterdays superb views of Barn Owls on Shirley Moor.
  I had to go to Folkestone this afternoon, so checked out Foord Road for the recently reported Waxwings, of which there was no sign. 

Tuesday 12 February 2019

Barn Owls

Dungeness - warm, dry, cloudy, NW 2 - Superb weather to be out and about around the peninsula guiding today. We kicked off at the point where the usual seabirds were offshore and at the Patch, so plenty of close Guillemots, Great Crested Grebes and gulls, plus a few Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Gannets and Red-throated Divers. Couldn't find the Black Redstart by the Lifeboat Station, although a Sparrowhawk nipped through by the entrance to the estate.

                                            Tree Sparrows back at Boulderwall

  Moving onto the bird reserve and it was good to see at least four Tree Sparrows on the Boulderwall feeders along with the usual tits and finches as well as a pair of Greenfinches, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Reed Bunting. Plenty of activity on the wet fields nearby included hundreds of Lapwings, Golden Plovers and Wigeons, 20 Curlews and a Great White Egret. A circuit of the hides produced a drake Smew, four Ruff, three Goldeneyes, a Pintail and our first Avocet of the year on Burrowes amongst loads of common wildfowl, large gulls, Lapwings and Cormorants. Also noted,  several Marsh Harriers, Kestrel, Dabchick, Shelduck, Cetti`s Warbler, Oystercatcher and a Bullfinch in the car park scrub (rare here).

                                Wildfowl and Avocet on Burrowes                               

  We finished the afternoon at Park Wood, Appledore where a few common woodland birds were logged. It was then onto Moor Lane and protracted views of three Barn Owls quartering the wildlife friendly farmland, one of which settled in a hedgerow. Tawny and Little Owls were also heard, plus several Yellowhammers seen along with Buzzard and Kestrel. A terrific end to the day.

                                Appledore Barn Owls

Monday 11 February 2019

Wild swans

Lade - mild, sunny, light airs - A bright, frosty start to the day with the prospect of a more spring-like week to follow. On south lake two drake Goldeneyes were displaying frantically to a harem of ducks and a Dartford Warbler called from gorse scrub by the main track.

                               Kenardington, RMCanal

Birdwatching Break - Picked up Clare and Peter from Ashford station this morning, who`re down from London for a three day tour. We stopped off at the RMC at Kenardington where a mixed flock of around 200 winter thrushes was the highlight, comprising mostly Fieldfares. Also seen: several Buzzards, Kestrel, Jay, Song Thrush and Great White Egret.
  Moving across the Marsh we stopped at Horses Bones Farm where the 34 Bewick`s Swans were still present, though distant and looking nervously around at the sound of shotguns, while at  Caldecote Lane a flock of 50 Corn Buntings on overhead wires and several Mipits noted.
  At Pigwell a Grey Wagtail was amongst the Pied Wagtails on the sewage works but we could find no sign of last months Woodlark. The front fields at Scotney were full of birds including hundreds of Lapwings, Golden Plovers, Wigeons and Starlings, plus 20 Redshanks, two Dunlins and, from the double bends, the Barnacle Goose flock.
  From Springfield Bridge several Marsh Harriers, Buzzard, Great White Egret, 50 Linnets, Mipits and the two wintering Whooper Swans. On the way back to Plovers, in fading light, we paused along the Lydd Road to scan three of the four `resident` Cattle Egrets.

                               Whooper Swans, Dengemarsh

Sunday 10 February 2019

Brent Geese

Lade - mild, overcast, showery - The weekend weather saw fast moving Atlantic fronts sweeping up-Channel delivering strong to gale force winds and a low scudding cloud base loaded with rain. A circuit of the local patch on Saturday morning was not a pleasant experience, despite a brief spell of sunshine, due to the buffeting wind but it did cause four Brent Geese to pause awhile on north lake, a rare sight here considering how many pass by out on the bay.

                                Brent Geese, Lade north

  Today it was less windy and largely dry. We did a sweep around the peninsula in preparation for a Birdwatching Break next week, commencing at Dungeness where the annual Dab fishing competition was just about to get underway. From the seawatch and Patch hides all the usual gulls in their hundreds, including plenty of Kittiwakes, plus Guillemots, Razorbills, Cormorants, Gannets and Red-throated Divers on the sea.

                                Ready, steady - fish!

  On the bird reserve the drake Smew was on Burrowes viewable from Makepeace hide along with four Goldeneyes and hundreds of Lapwings, Cormorants and gulls on the islands. Elsewhere: 10 Ruff, 30 Curlew and a Great White Egret at Boulderwall; a Tree Sparrow on the feeders and four Cattle Egrets from the Lydd Road opposite the stables. From Cockles Bridge, two Whooper Swans, plus a pair of Goosanders on Bretts pit from the range road and 34 Bewick`s Swans still in the distant field at Horses Bones Farm, Lydd.

                                Goosanders and Bewick`s Swans, Lydd

Friday 8 February 2019

Storm Eric

Dungeness - mild, cloudy, SSW 7 - After spending most of yesterday trapped in the car driving to and from a funeral in Slough it felt good to get out and about this morning, even in near gale force winds. The onshore wind was so strong it was an effort climbing up the sea wall to the hides; infact at one stage Barney got blown over by a strong gust when broadside on!
  From the seawatch hide hundreds of gulls streamed past, mostly Kittiwake, Black-headed, Common and Herring Gulls, plus scores of Guillemots, Cormorants, Red-throated Divers, 15 Brents and two Fulmars. We then joined MC in the Patch hide where thousands more commoner gulls swirled over the sea and settled on the beach, but apart from a couple of colour-ringed Herrings and a Mediterranean Gull nothing much else was apparent.
  A cursory look at Lade this afternoon drew a blank as most of the wildfowl were tucked in the willow swamp sheltering from the gale.

Wednesday 6 February 2019

Birding in the mist

Lade - mild, misty, light airs - A strange day dominated by the weather with thick fog coming and going throughout, plus drizzle and even a bright spell early afternoon before the murk rolled in again by dusk. The highlight on the local patch was a flock of 20 Redwings over and a Great White Egret in the main reedbed.
  This afternoon three Cattle Egrets were in the fields opposite the livery stables along the Lydd Road and the two Whooper Swans amongst the Mutes from Cockles Bridge. On the bird reserve the drake Smew seen earlier on Burrowes had moved elsewhere, while a Firecrest showed by Scott hide and a Tree Sparrow on the car park feeders. 

Tuesday 5 February 2019

Finches and tits

Denge Wood - 0900-1215hrs - mild and overcast - For a change of scene CP joined us today for a jaunt over to this under-watched and relatively remote block of woodland on the North Downs, our second homage to the trees this year after the disappointment of a largely barren Hemsted Forest last month. We started at the Bonsai Bank end and worked our way through the forest to parts we`d not been to before. The old larches held plenty of common tits and finches feeding in the canopy along with a single Brambling, Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jay and Goldcrest; Coal Tit was easily the most numerous member of the family throughout the wood. Large flocks of Fieldfares and Redwings flew over the wood calling involving up to 500 birds, while both Buzzard and Kestrel seen and Tawny Owl heard.

                                Woodland Trust section

                                Lesser Redpoll

  It was good to see several managed clearings suitable for Duke of Burgundy butterflies (mental note to revisit site in spring). A damp thicket was where we heard and eventually saw a Marsh Tit our first for quite a few years, plus Bullfinch and Long-tailed Tit. A superb section of open clearings owned by the Woodland Trust, complete with a view point across the canopy, provided a flock of 11 Lesser Redpolls and a Siskin feeding on birch catkins. We finished off amongst conifers enjoying a flock of 30 Crossbills which the pics below don't do justice too, although they looked superb through optics.

                                               Crossbills in the gloom

  So, by today's standards a pretty decent return for a morning amongst the mud and timber, despite not finding Gos, Lesser pecker or Hawfinch (we set the bar high!) We were both impressed with the mosaic of mixed woodland on offer though, some of which should be suitable for the likes of  Nightjar, Tree Pipit and Woodlark come the spring. 
  Over the road at Godmersham we paid homage to last winters Hawfinch churchyard and scanned the River Stour where three Wood Ducks looked at home amongst the Moorhens, Coots and a Little Egret.

                                Wood Duck on the Stour

  This afternoon I called in at the bird reserve where a flighty drake Smew was on the lakes around Christmas Dell and a Kingfisher on Burrowes. At Boulderwall a Great White Egret and three distant Cattle Egrets on the fields and, at last, a Tree Sparrow on the feeders was new for the year.