Thursday 30 May 2019

Little Gull

Lade - cool and cloudy, sw 3 - A dull start to the morning with low cloud and drizzle that forced down 50 odd Swifts and several House Martins to feed over south lake. The two Ringed Plover chicks made it into another day, while a lone drake Shelduck sat slumped on the Desert shingle. On the bay sands 10 Bar-tailed Godwits, mostly in breeding plumage, and 15 Tundra Ringed Plovers were the highlights.
  Called in at ARC late morning where a 1st summer Little Gull and a drake Garganey were present, plus a flyover Bittern from Tower Pits, two Marsh Harriers, a Cuckoo and plenty of Swifts and House Martins. From the access road two Hobbies and another Cuckoo. The Serin was still present outside the entrance to Littlestone golf course singing from its usual clump of pine trees (MC).

Wednesday 29 May 2019

Valerian defoliation

Lade  - cool and cloudy, S 3 - We`ve been away from the shingle for just under a week so it felt good to be back on the flatlands with its wide open spaces; Dorset was ok, but too hilly, while a wedding visit to Sharpthorne on the edge of the Ashdown forest (Gos, Redstart and Woodlark) had too many trees for my liking. Anyhow, spent most of the morning locally, first off clearing a frugal garden  moth trap where Treble Lines and Cream-spot Tigers were the highlights.

                                Cream-spot Tigers and Treble Lines

                                           Viper`s Bugloss and Foxglove in full flower

  On the local patch it was incredible how the vegetation had advanced in a week (well at least some it...) with Vipers Bugloss, Foxglove, Prostrate Broom, Stonecrop and the like all now in full flower. However, walking along the old railway track towards the tunnel I was confronted with a scene of Valerian defoliation on a scale previously unseen here before as RSPB had recently sprayed/gelled this prolific garden escape; it did not look pretty and the stench was appalling, so I quickly moved through as I didn`t want Barney to come into contact with any of the vegetation. It wasn't long before I was accosted by local dog walkers having a right old  moan about the situation which I found difficult to defend. While I understand that invasive species have to be controlled, Valerian is attractive to many species of insects including butterflies, such as Small Tortoiseshell and Painted Lady, so surely there must be a better way of managing it, particularly at this time of year when birds are feeding their young.  
  On a brighter note I did confirm a pair each of breeding Ringed Plover on the Desert and Oystercatcher on the scaffold island, both having two fluffy youngsters.

                                Valerian defoliation

  The weather deteriorated this afternoon with some much-needed rain. A check of the north lake delivered a few Swifts over the water and the Cuckoo calling loudly, but little else of note.

Sunday 26 May 2019

West Dorset

Maiden Newton - warm, dry and sunny - We decamped 200 miles west for a family weekend in deepest Dorset. The landscape could not be more different from the Marsh with Maiden Newton set at the confluence of the rivers Hook and Frome. The rivers had typical wildlife associated with a chalk watercourse including Grey Wagtails, Banded Demoiselles and Brown Trout, while it was good to see and hear plenty of Swifts and House Martins around the village.

                                River Hook

                                Ragged Robin

  On Saturday we visited a couple of old Iron Age hill forts which this part of the country is famous for, including the daddy of them all, Maiden Fort, the largest of its kind in Europe, about the size of 50 football pitches with the most amazing panoramic views from atop the workings; it was possible to see the Purbeck Hills in east Dorset. There was plenty of natural history on offer too with many Common Blue and Small Heath butterflies on the wing, plus two Duke of Burgundy and a Green Hairstreak. Corn Bunting and Skylark were present in good numbers, along with Whitethroat, Meadow Pipit, Linnet, Yellowhammer, Kestrel and Buzzard.       

                                Maiden Castle
                                Corn Bunting
                                Red-legged Partridge

  Driving the old Roman Road across the downs I was shocked to find field after field of plastic shrink-wrapped Maize plants, apparently as part of an experiment to encourage the planting of this highly profitable and hungry crop on unsuitable agricultural land; the thin stony, soil of the pilot fields were formerly untilled sheep pasture. The water run-off must be immense, and what on earth do they do with all that plastic once the crop is established?

                                Shrink-wrapped fields of west Dorset

Thursday 23 May 2019

Ringed Plovers

Dungeness - warm, dry and sunny, sw 2 - This spring I`ve been surveying breeding Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers for RSPB, primarily on their land where so far four pairs of Ringed have been located, plus another pair on the Desert at Lade. Along the foreshore this species has to avoid disturbance from us humans and our four-legged friends, most of it unintentional it has to be said, and so far I`ve only found one pair between Greatstone beach and The Pilot; however, wandering around between the lifeboat station and the lighthouse this morning I came across another pair. It really is quite incredible that Ringed Plovers survive here at all as a breeding species, but long may they continue to do so.

                                     Ringed Plover and Crimson Clover, Dungeness

 Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Wheatear and Skylark were all flying to and fro with food for juveniles. Also called in at the Obs to pay homage to the spectacular Crimson Clover plants in full flower.
  This afternoon on the way home from the allotment we stopped off at the Screen hide from where it was good to see a few pairs of Common Terns on the new raft, despite the presence of several Herring Gulls. Cuckoo, Marsh Harrier and a flyover Bittern also noted. Other news today concerned a Bee-eater flying over the point this morning (DB).

Wednesday 22 May 2019

Red-backed Shrike

Dungeness - mild, cloudy, light airs - An early morning Tweet from DBO necessitated a change of plan from the local patch before doing breakfasts for guests from Croydon RSPB members group. A Red-backed Shrike is not a given anymore down here on passage, so a smart male found in the moat first thing was most welcome. When we arrived a small clutch of locals already had the bird pinned down at the back of the trench as it hawked insects from old fence posts and atop thorn scrub. Also noted, Peregrine, Wheatear, Stonechat and a singing Black Redstart.

                                Red-backed Shrike in the Moat

                                Singing Black Redstart

                                Barney enjoying the sunshine

  An evening visit over the local patch and along Kerton Road pit delivered very little apart from a lone Common Sandpiper over the water, while yesterdays Whinchat had predictably moved on.
  Elsewhere today the Serin was still performing at Littlestone and a second Red-backed Shrike was found on the bird reserve along the Willow Trail (JH).

Tuesday 21 May 2019


Lade - warm, dry and sunny, N 2 - A circuit of the local patch first thing produced what I thought was a Bee-eater calling over the Desert, but I wasn't sure; however, a second visit early afternoon confirmed it was a `rainbow bird` when its distinctive rippling call was followed by a sighting high up over the shingle flying towards the water tower. There was little else of note apart from a few Mediterranean Gulls over and a distant Grey Plover.
  A good show of butterflies were on the wing in the warm sunshine along the old railway track, including several smart Common Blues, Small Heaths and Coppers and a Grizzled Skipper.
  An evening visit in still conditions to look for Bee-eater drew a blank, but was compensated by a confiding male Whinchat on the Desert fly-catching from dead plant stems. This was my first of the spring on the local patch where it is a scarce passage migrant, but slightly more numerous on the return.

                                        Whinchat, a scarce spring migrant

                                Common Blue

Dungeness - Checked out Burrowes around midday where all was quiet after yesterdays double rare tern event. A small flock of Curlews contained a Whimbrel and several Bar-tailed Godwits, while Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Redshank also noted.
  The Serin was again reported from Littlestone, singing from the clump of pines opposite the golf club entrance (SG).

Monday 20 May 2019

Whiskered Tern

Lade - cool, cloudy, N2, muggy later - On south lake a Common Sandpiper and Greenshank had managed to make landfall around the margins, plus another of the latter over calling. A Hobby sat on the shingle heap on the Desert waiting for the temperature to rise and become more suitable for hunting flying insects. Cuckoo, Marsh Harrier and Sparrowhawk were all active around the willow swamp.

                                Whiskered Tern, Burrowes

Dungeness - A late morning call from MH told of an adult Whiskered Tern on Burrowes lake flying up and down between Dennis`s and Makepeace hides. By the time I arrived on site it showed well from Firth hide hawking insects over the water and eventually settling on the islands opposite Dennis`s amongst the Common Terns. A stunning bird in full breeding plumage, particularly so at rest sporting a dark grey body and wings with contrasting white cheeks and a dark cap; a sturdy dark red bill and legs completed the ensemble. In flight the dark grey rump, tail and wing coverts contrasted with a silvery forewing, as it hawked prey in typical marsh tern fashion.
  There was also a decent showing of waders on the islands too with at least four Red Knots among a small mixed flock of Curlew, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Ringed Plover, Sanderling and Dunlin, plus Common Sandpiper and Redshank.
  This afternoon I called in at Littlestone where the Serin continues to perform like a good `un, singing from its usual pine clump. Other news today concerned a Bee-eater over the point calling this morning (DBO).

Sunday 19 May 2019

Cup Final v Eurovision

Saturday - warm, dry, cloudy, E 3 - We kicked off at the point where precious little was happening, although the early seawatchers had recorded a Pom and a few terns through. At the Patch a lone Black Tern paused awhile amongst 50 Common Terns and a host of regular gulls. Black Redstart, Wheatear, Mipit, Stonechat, Whitethroat and Linnet were all in song on the land, while the male Peregrine sat atop its usual vantage point on the power station. After tea and a natter at the Obs the sun broke through long enough to encourage a few butterflies on the wing including Small Copper, Small Heath and around the old lighthouse several Brown Argus.

                                Loafing Common Terns, the Patch

                                Fading male Brown Argus by the old lighthouse

  Following on from my recent success with Poms crossing the bay a high tide seawatch hour from the boardwalk at Lade in a freshening easterly delivered five Manx Shearwaters heading west, plus 20 Common Terns, five Black Terns and two Little Terns east. More Sandwich Terns and Gannets could be detected further out.
  It was then back home to watch the most one-sided Cup Final I can remember. Watford are my `second team` after QPR, so it was an unedifying spectacle watching them getting a thrashing from probably the best Premiership team of all time. Enough said...
  The latter part of the evening however was far more entertaining as we hosted a fun Eurovision party at Plovers, as always a bewildering spectacle of primary colours and rubbish songs with a voting system that defies logic - and from a country, Israel, that's not even in Europe! None of that matters though as you`re transported into a surreal world of Euro-trash pop complete with the most outrageous costumes and sets; the Australian act (I know...) were singing from atop a swaying pole!! Many of the acts were simply barmy, but as the evening wore on and the alcohol kicked in it certain gave us all a good laugh. We scored Sweden the winner (The Netherlands won, but who cares!) and put the UK bottom propping up the rest as is now traditional, right and proper - why is everyone so beastly to us! A cracking evening all round though that eventually finished at 1am.

Sunday - mild and overcast, NE 2 - Ran the moth trap last night, for the first time in three weeks, due to the cold nights, and had a pretty decent haul with over 100 macros of 16 species. Tawny Shears and Light Feathered Rustics were in the ascendancy, while it was good to see Mullein and Satin Waves, Buff-tip, Light Brocade and the micro-moth Ethmia bipunctella. I was ably assisted by my 8 year old grandson Albert who reminded me of some of the names I`d forgotten from last year! 
                                Ethmia bipunctella
                                Light Feathered Rustic

  Sitting in the garden this morning in warm sunshine supping tea and watching Holly Blues mating I noticed a brown butterfly settle on one of the wall flowers; it was a Speckled Wood, and rather surprisingly the first I`ve recorded in our coastal garden.
  A check of the pits this morning was notable for Cuckoo activity around the willow swamp and a Greenshank over calling, while an afternoon check of the bay on a falling tide drew a blank apart from the usual waders.

                                Speckled Wood, new for the garden

Friday 17 May 2019

Little Stint and Little Gulls

Rye Harbour NR - cool, cloudy, NE2 - Spent the day guiding for Gretchen from the USA. During the morning we did the Beach Reserve where the highlights were the waders, including 20 Red Knots, 30 Grey Plovers, 20 Bar-tailed Godwits, 50 Dunlins, 10 Tundra Plovers, 10 Turnstones, five Golden Plovers, Common Sandpiper and a Little Stint. The Sandwich Terns have this year conveniently settled down to nest on the closest island to the hide on Ternery Pool; although there were very few Common Terns, most having de-camped to Dungeness according to the warden. About 20 pairs of Mediterranean Gulls sat amongst hundreds of Black-headed Gulls, some of which already had chicks. Also noted on Flat Beach, a Brent Goose, several Wheatears, 10 Little Terns, Kestrel, Meadow Pipit, Skylark and Little Egrets.


                                Bar-tailed Godwit in summer plumage
                               Little Egret
                                Summer plumage Grey Plover

Sandwich Tern colony on Ternery Pool
                                A host of plovers and sandpipers

  The afternoon was spent at Castle Water where we walked around to the hide noting Cuckoo, Marsh Harrier, Peregrine, Green Woodpecker, Pochard, Sedge, Cetti`s and Reed Warblers, Bullfinch, Long-tailed Tit, Lapwing,  `booming` Bittern and three 1st summer Little Gulls. Hundreds of Swifts and House Martins swarmed over the wetland in the cool conditions.
  In summary, a successful outing for our guest during which time we noted 83 species of birds.

Thursday 16 May 2019

Poms and Serin

Littlestone - warm, dry and sunny, NE 3 - Another trip down the road early afternoon to see the Serin really delivered as it sat out in the open singing its head off for at least 20 minutes, after which it hurtled away, presumably to feed, but soon returned to the pine clump opposite the entrance to the golf club.

                                Serin, Littlestone

Lade bay - Following news of Poms in the Channel further west this afternoon (thanks to MH for the tip off, as my Twitter feed had gone down)  I spent an hour between 1630-1730hrs scanning from the boardwalk and was rewarded with a flock of three distant Pomarine Skuas crossing the bay just after 1700hrs; although I should`ve carried on as 12 went past Dungeness at 1741hrs! The strong easterly obviously done the trick and I also noted a steady trickle of Common and Sandwich Terns, Gannets, two Grey Plovers and a Fulmar.

Wednesday 15 May 2019


Dungeness - cool, sunny, NE 3 - A circular walk this morning in bright sunshine for five RSPB guests delivered a wide range of 58 species of birds. On Burrowes the passage wader highlights included Bar-tailed Godwit, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper and two Dunlins, plus Little Ringed Plover and the usual terns. At Dengemarsh, two Hobbies, Cuckoo and `booming` Bittern, Bearded Tits, Yellow Wagtail, Raven, Redshank, Lapwing and a host of common warblers in song, many showing like good `uns. In Dennis`s hide a Common Lizard warmed up behind the hide flap window.

                               Serin, Littlestone

Littlestone - This afternoon news of a Serin found near the entrance to the golf club prompted a couple of visits. Initially invisible, despite singing continuously from atop a clump of pine trees, it eventually moved down the road a bit and showed wellish, briefly singing from another fir tree before dropping down to feed on a garden lawn with two Goldfinches. A superb male bird that soon returned to the pines by the golf club, and on my second visit was only heard.

Tuesday 14 May 2019

Arctic Skua

Dungeness - cool, sunny, NE 3 - A nippy morning first thing for a brief seawatch from the hide that delivered a trickle of Common and Sandwich Terns east, Gannets going both ways, a Fulmar and a lone dark phase Arctic Skua up. Also noted on the sea several Porpoises and a Grey Seal, while a few Swifts and Swallows hurried north. On the land, at least three Black Redstarts in song, Linnets, Mipits, Stonechats and a single Greenland Wheatear by the Moat and the Peregrine pair on their usual spot on A station.
  Called in at Burrowes where a stint was reported yesterday, but the only waders present were Redshank, Dunlin and a Grey Plover over, plus plenty of Common Tern activity.

Sunday 12 May 2019


Lade/Dungeness - cool, sunny, NE 3 - With the main migration period pretty much over I concentrated on breeding bird surveying for RSPB this weekend. At Lade while there was a Cuckoo calling from the top end of north lake there was no activity around the willow swamp again where they usual breed, still there was some compensation in the form of a pair of Egyptian Geese... A passing Red Kite was among a flock of 10 thermalling Buzzards and four Marsh Harriers high over the airport.
  Around the bird reserve a pair each of Ringed Plover and Wheatear were located in breeding habitat. Bitterns `boomed` from reedbeds at Tower Pits and Hooker`s along with calling Cuckoos and the usual array of warblers and Bearded Tits. A drake Garganey was noted on Tanners, while Shoveler, Pochard and Wigeon all appear to be paired off. Also seen two Cattle Egrets on the Hayfields, up to six Hobbies over Dengemarsh, plus Dunlin and Barwit on Burrowes.

Friday 10 May 2019

Pomarine Skua

Lade - cool, foggy start, warmer later, W 2-3 - Once the fog burned off by mid-morning we walked the local patch checking on the breeding birds. All were still in place from the last survey, but worryingly this was my third visit without hearing a Cuckoo. The only evidence of any passage was a Whimbrel over calling and a few Swifts heading north.
  This afternoon with the bay still full of water and the tide on the turn I decided on a lazy hour scanning the foreshore and across a flat calm sea in perfect light, so good that the French coast was easily discernible. A motley collection of immature gulls were making the most of the flotsam and jetsam washed up on the tideline, while several smart Sanderling in summer plumage worked the limp waves.
  Further out in the bay I could make out a few distant Gannets and Sandwich Terns, a small flock of Great Crested Grebes on the water and a snorkelling Grey Seal. And then at 17.00hrs I caught sight of a distant skua rounding the point from Dungeness and heading my way. Fortunately it cut in slightly affording reasonable scope views of what was an adult pale phase Pomarine Skua complete with an impressive set of spoons. It seemed to dawdle for a while and at one stage I thought it was going to land on the sea, but soon angled back out towards Folkestone and beyond. This was my first ever spring Pom sighting in the bay.

Thursday 9 May 2019


Dungeness - cool, cloudy, sw 4 - Spent the day guiding for Ian and Penny from Brighton. We commenced at the point where all the usual breeding birds were located including Stonechat, Wheatear, Black Redstart, Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Whitethroat, Linnet, Kestrel and Peregrine, plus a very shy, but vocal Firecrest in the moat.

                                Small Copper in the moat

Scotney - Moving onto the farm by late morning and the wind had picked up making for difficult birding. However, we eventually had good views of Tree Sparrows, Yellow Wagtails and Corn Buntings out back, plus Avocets, Marsh Harrier, Common Terns and flyover Whimbrel and Greenshank.

                                Greenshank, Burrowes

RSPB - The afternoon was spent on the bird reserve where first off I had to replace my 20 year Manfrotto tripod that simply fell apart; many thanks to Jenny for flogging me a new `un, which was much lighter than my `old faithful`. On Burrowes 12 Dunlins, Greenshank, Ringed Plover, Redshank and Common Sandpiper was about all we could muster on the wader front, while four Brent Geese flew in from the south and straight back out to sea. On Hayfield 3 two pairs of Wigeon, three Shovelers, Lapwings and Redshanks; three perched Hobbies around Dengemarsh due to the cool wind and a `booming Bittern from the ramp. Many Swifts and three hirundine species were also noted during the day.
  We finished the day on 72 species with a decent range of breeding and migrant birds for our guests.

Wednesday 8 May 2019

Black Terns and Arctic waders

Burrowes - 0845hrs - cool, overcast, heavy rain, S 4 - It was one of those mornings when I was torn between seawatching in a blasting, wet southerly from a cramped hide (not a great experience for the guests) or checking the pits from a dry Dennis`s hide; a no brainer, then! Thankfully I made the right call for the guests` sanity and mine as we creamed it with one of the best birding sessions I can remember on Burrowes for ages.
  Up to 40 Black Terns driven down by the appalling weather conditions were batting up and down in front of the hide picking off insects emerging from the lake in typical marsh tern fashion. The variety of plumages on view was quite staggering with two individuals showing very pale upperwings, but unfortunately both sporting grey rumps and underwings. The rain eventually relented and the Blacks rested amongst the Commons on islands, raft and fencing; some of the birds were so close to the hide that you could discern their high-pitched flight call resembling a Little Tern. We watched them for around two hours, a most memorable experience of what is a beautiful species. 

                               Black Terns on Burrowes

  During the rain storm Arctic passage waders began to drop in: three Red Knots, Turnstone, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, 20 Sanderling, 20 Dunlins and two Grey Plovers were the highlights, alongside two Common Sandpipers, five Ringed Plovers, 10 Redshanks, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit and Oystercatcher. As I say terrific stuff.
  With the rain easing we moved down to Makepeace hide for better views of the Black Terns when a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers dropped in for all of ten minutes, while hundreds of Swifts and hirundines swarmed over the water. We finished the bird tour in some style with prolonged views of a Bittern as it flew from Tower pits towards Boulderwall, where a Great White Egret was present earlier.
  A grand total of 110 species were recorded over the three days for Clare and Peter with the only let down being the poor seawatching. However, this was more than compensated for by some quality waders including Wood Sandpiper, Red Knot and Grey Plover, plus Bittern, Red-breasted Merganser, Black Terns, Turtle Doves and Nightingales.

Tuesday 7 May 2019

Wood Sandpiper

Dungeness - warm, dry, cloudy, sw2 - Continuing on with our Birdwatching Break for Clare and Peter we kicked off with a very steady seawatch from the hide where a trickle of Gannets, Commic and Sandwich Terns moved east along with 20 Arctic and one Little Tern, 20 Common Scoter and 10 Brents. On the land Peregrine, four Black Redstarts, two Wheatears (one a Greenland), Stonechats, Mipits, Skylarks, Garden Warbler, Whitethroat, Blackcap, Linnet and Swallow. Plenty of Small Coppers were on the wing in the warm sunshine, plus Brimstone and Grizzled Skipper.

                                Small Coppers and Grizzled Skipper

  Moving onto the bird reserve the Boulderwall fields held 12 Whimbrels, Little and Great White Egrets; on Burrowes over 150 Common Terns on the islands attracted five Little Terns, plus two Dunlins, Ringed Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit; on Dengemarsh six Hobbies, Bearded Tit, Cuckoo, Cattle Egret, Marsh Harrier, while Hayfield 3 had two Wigeon, Shoveler, four Redshanks, Lapwings and best of all a Greenshank and a Wood Sandpiper which flew in calling and showed reasonably well through the scope.
  We called back at the fishing boats but the sea was dead so we moved onto Lade bay from the Tavern viewpoint where Curlews, Barwits, Oystercatchers and five Sanderlings noted on a falling tide.

                                Barwits on the beach

  An evening excursion to Orlestone Forest proved successful with up to four Nightingales in song and a couple of brief glimpses of birds low down in cover. Also noted, three Turtle Doves, Willow and Garden Warblers, Blackcap and Chiffchaff, plus down on the Marsh, Cuckoo, Yellowhammer, Buzzard, Kestrel and Red-legged Partridge in two locations.