Tuesday 31 December 2019

Review of the year

And so another year (and indeed decade) lurches to a close and for anyone on the `wrong` side of sixty looking back at the state of the nations wildlife is not a pretty picture. Infact, The State of Nature report in October revealed that 41% of UK species have declined since the 1970`s, much of it in the past decade. Its not difficult to see why: just drive out onto the farmland of Romney Marsh and you`re confronted with intensive agriculture and a biological wasteland -  try finding a partridge of either description, while Tree Sparrow and Corn Bunting appear to be in terminal decline with Yellowhammer and Skylark not far behind.
  This year we recorded 211 species of birds in our travels around Dungeness and the Marsh; a respectable variety then, but drill down into the detail and there were some worrying trends across the decade. The majority of our summer migrants continued to decline with birds such as Cuckoo, Turtle Dove, Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher having been reduced to a mere trickle. Considering the changing environment and increasing human population in Africa, coupled with continuing hunting of migrants around the Mediterranean Basin I can`t see the situation improving any time soon.
  For the rarity hunter 2019 was a poor year by local standards with Kentish Plover, Red-backed Shrike,Yellow-browed Warbler, Bee-eater, Serin and Whiskered Tern probably the best of the spring bunch, while a Puffin was new for me at Dungeness. Autumn delivered little apart from several Wrynecks and Roseate Terns, Sabine`s Gull, Leache`s Petrel, a confiding Shore Lark and a couple of Stone Curlews. There was an impressive fall of adult waders in July around the bird reserve, including two Temminck`s Stints, and it was a good autumn for the likes of Wood Sandpiper and Greenshank that passed through in record numbers. Sadly the late season visible migration of passerines was once again a damp squid.
  However, all is not doom and gloom, thanks mainly to conservations organisations such as RSPB  Dungeness where Marsh Harrier, Bittern, and Bearded Tit all bred, albeit in small numbers, along with over 100 pairs of Common Terns and 50 plus singing Cetti`s Warblers. Egrets of all three species continued to expand their ranges and birds of prey in general did well.
  Still, tomorrow is a new decade and I shall be out and about with the usual New Years Day crew from dawn, so watch this space for a report on our outing. Pat and myself would also like to thank our loyal clients for keeping faith with us and we look forward to our 14th year providing Birdwatching Breaks at Plovers.
  Good birding to one and all for 2020.

                                Roseate Tern

                                Shore Lark

                               Sabine`s Gull

Sunday 29 December 2019

No Change

Lade - mild and sunny, light airs - We have been out and about this past week, in between doing family stuff, but found that very little has changed hereabouts. On the local patch the Teal flock peaked at 200 yesterday, with five Goldeneyes today and a distant singing Song Thrush. A Barn Owl was noted behind the `mirrors` late afternoon a couple of days ago and another at Littlestone golf links on Wednesday evening.

  A couple of visits to Dungeness revealed the usual procession of auks, Gannets and divers between the two bays and yesterday three each of Red-breasted Merganser and Velvet Scoter, plus 120 Brent Geese up-Channel.

  Elsewhere, the two Long-tailed Ducks were still at Scotney front pits, a pair of Whooper Swans at Swamp Crossing and a flock of 12 Bewick`s Swans rotating between fields at Snargate and Midley. Stopping off on the way back from Folkestone this afternoon two Purple Sandpipers were on the sea defence blocks opposite the Hythe Imperial Hotel.

Tuesday 24 December 2019

Lonely lament

Lade - mild, dry and sunny - The past couple of days have been in marked contrast to the dull and dreary conditions of the past few weeks with bright sunshine and lighter winds; perfect weather then to get out and about away from the frenetic lunacy of this time of year (I can`t even bring myself to write the dreaded C word...). It always astonishes me, particularly when the weather is fine, how few people take advantage of the accessible countryside down here on the Marsh and simply go for a stroll in the fresh air. Surely there`s only so much telly folk can watch?

                                Leucistic Rabbit by the corral

                                Great White Egret, Hookers reedbed

  Take yesterday, for example, we did a circular walk around Dengemarsh from ARC; up the main track past Boulderwall fields, around Hookers and across the fields to Dengemarsh Road, down to Springfield Bridge and around the hayfields to the ramp, retuning via the access road.- and saw just two other birders along the way! The bird count was far more impressive however, with 50 odd species including Great White Egret, Marsh Harrier, Snipe, Pintail, Skylark, Bearded Tit and Corn Bunting.
  This morning we checked out the local patch first thing followed by a walk along the seafront from Littlestone to St Mary`s Bay searching for Snow Buntings, of which there was no sign. A few waders had pitched up on the shingle beach at high tide, while several Skylarks were noted on the golf links.

                                Turnstones on the beach

Sunday 22 December 2019

Solstice weekend

Lade - mild, dry and sunny, w 2 - After a wet start the clouds cleared to some welcome sunshine, blue skies and lighter winds than of late. Everywhere remains sodden though, which is unusual down here on the shingle as it normally drains away quickly, but on the lakes the water level has risen above the No 8 mark, whatever that means... Still, on the bright side now we`ve past the winter Solstice every day will get that little bit longer.
  We spent our field time this weekend all over the local patch, including walking the length of the beach north to Littlestone where there was nothing much to report, and south to the gravel pits at Kerton Road where three Shelduck were present. The lakes at Lade held the usual wildfowl including 160 Teal which is a good count for here, but otherwise it was the usual stuff. One noteworthy incident concerned an adult female Marsh Harrier working the southern edge of the willow swamp that suddenly jinked down and came up with which looked like a smallish, long-bodied mammal wriggling like mad - my best guess would`ve been a Weasel. A late afternoon scan from the Desert revealed the expected procession of corvids and pigeons to roost, plus four Marsh Harriers.

  Talking of the local patch, if you`ve not done so already check out Ellie Goulding`s version on www.youtube.com of the Christmas song `River` which was filmed hereabouts last month. It`s a Joni Mitchell classic, of course, from `71 that has been much covered down the years and while Ms Goulding makes a decent fist of it the original reigns supreme for me.

Friday 20 December 2019

Wet, wet, wet

Lade - mild, wet and windy, sw 3 - With more heavy and persistent rain over the past couple of days (18mm recorded at Dungeness and Littlestone overnight) it will come as no surprise to anyone that water levels across the Dungeness peninsula are the highest for this time of year since 2001, according to records held at the RSPB reserve (per CE). The islands on Burrowes are steadily diminishing and will continue to do so until March which is traditionally the month when water levels peak. New water marker posts have also recently been erected at Lade and ARC lakes.
  We had a run round around this morning and could find no change to the regular birds that had been seen this week. The Boulderwall fields were packed out with ducks, plovers, corvids and the like with attendant Marsh Harriers and Great White Egrets, while thousands of Cormorants, ducks and gulls continue to be attracted to Burrowes along with a small flock of Black-tailed Godwits and at times a showy Firecrest in the willows between Dennis`s and Makepeace hides. Two Long-tailed Ducks and a Slavonian Grebe were still on Scotney pits and six Bewick`s Swans have attached themselves to a large Mute Swan flock on Walland Marsh from Hook`s Wall.

Wednesday 18 December 2019

Brent Geese

Dungeness - mild, sunny, se 3 - With a dry, onshore wind I opted for a run down to the point this morning to see if anything was happening on the water. The seawatchers in the hide confirmed that a movement of Brent Geese was underway and whilst at the Patch for an hour at least 200 came up-Channel in several straggling groups providing, as always, a fine spectacle. Also on the move between the bays a few Red-throated Divers, auks, Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Gannets.
  There was a decent melee of mostly large gulls over the boil and a lone Great Skua sitting on the sea which eventually drifted east. At least one juvenile Yellow-legged Gull was over the boil and a 3rd winter Caspian Gull on the beach where also two Mediterranean Gulls.

                                Great Skua at the Patch

                                Brent Geese on the move

  We flogged around the local patch in warm sunshine where a couple of bees were on the wing by the ponds, but there was no change to the regular wildfowl on the lakes. At Scotney the two Long-tailed Ducks and a Slavonian Grebe were still present (DS).

Tuesday 17 December 2019

Bewick`s Swans

Mostly Walland Marsh - mild, overcast, occasional drizzle, light airs - Under leaden, Mordor-like skies we spent most of the day criss-crossing the Marsh in search of Bewick`s Swans for the National Survey. Sadly, only eight adults were located; six from Hook`s Wall and two opposite Appledore Turkey farm, all feeding in oil-seed rape fields amongst Mute Swans of which a total of 425 were counted. Hopefully, a few more may join their kin as the winter progresses.There was also no sign of the two Whooper Swans in the fields along Dengemarsh Road.
  The dull weather conditions didn't make for a very inspiring outing, but what was just as depressing as the lack of wild swans was the shortage of birds in general. Hardly surprising really with the fields being ploughed up to the margins, while the devastation caused by the turf cutting process along some of the lanes has to be seen to be believed. A few winter thrushes, Buzzards, Kestrels and finch and gull flocks, plus a Green Sandpiper at Fairfield being about the sum total.

                                Four of the Hook`s Wall Bewick`s Swans

                                The iconic Fairfield Church

  Back on the shingle there wasn't much change to the birding scene with plenty of activity on the Boulderwall fields and the usual biomass of Cormorants, ducks and gulls on Burrowes, plus 16 Blackwits and two Ruff. Elsewhere, at Scotney a single Long-tailed Duck and Slavonian Grebe were present (MC).

Monday 16 December 2019

Winter wildfowl

Lade - mild, overcast, showery, light airs - Another grey old day across the peninsula, although at least the strong winds of yesterday had abated. A handful of Redwings and Fieldfares around the ponds this morning was a most unusual sight, presumably birds that had dropped in overnight, otherwise there was no change to the wildfowl on the lakes.
  Scotney pits, however was full of birds with hundreds of common wildfowl, Lapwings and feral geese on the main lake and front fields. Two Long-tailed Ducks found earlier (OL) had drifted over to the far side of the lake and were diving regularly so difficult to see, while the Slavonian Grebe was still on the small lake by the entrance to the quarry. The pair of Whooper Swans remained in the stubble field by the dung heap along Dengemarsh Road and a Little Owl sat atop a wall by the watch tower in Lydd camp.

Sunday 15 December 2019

WeBs and harriers

Lade - cold, wet and windy - Another grim morning with a scudding wind out of the west; although we started our circular walk in sunshine by the lakes, it finished in spectacular style on the beach with a heavy shower and a totally unexpected bolt of lightening and clap of thunder out to sea! However, the WeBS count was low with just a pair of Goldeneyes, 55 Shovelers and 140 Teal the highlights amongst the usual Coots and diving ducks. Despite the strong wind several Marsh Harriers and a Kestrel were hunting the rough ground behind the `mirrors`, while a flock of 55 Curlews flew to roost on the desert.
  This afternoon I joined CP for the monthly harrier count at our usual watch point on Walland Marsh in blustery weather, but thankfully no rain. Only three Marsh Harriers came into roost, although another half a dozen birds were in the general area; they may have been put off by a party of duck shooters by the reservoir. Six Great White and two Little Egrets eventually settled into a roost once the shootists had cleared off. Also noted two Green Sandpipers, Snipe, three Common Buzzards, two Sparrowhawks, three Kestrels and several hundred Greylag Geese flying into roost at sunset.

Friday 13 December 2019

End of week summary

Lade - cool and cloudy, sw 3 - Yesterday was pretty much a write-off due to strong winds and heavy rain, although a diver flying around over the cottage when I came in about noon was most unusual; perhaps the Black-throated Diver that was seen briefly on Burrowes this afternoon (MH). On south lake three Shelducks and a pair of Goldeneye were the pick of the few ducks present.
  There was no change to the birding scene across the bird reserve with plenty of activity on Boulderwall fields including large flocks of Wigeon, Lapwings and Golden Plovers, plus Great White Egrets and several Marsh Harriers. On Burrowes the Black-tailed Godwit flock was in front of Firth hide while Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls have been noted this week on the gradually receding islands along with thousands of Cormorants.
  Elsewhere the two Whooper Swans were still amongst the swan and goose flock along Dengemarsh Road near the dung heap, while a few Bewick`s Swans have been reported from Walland Marsh this week.

Wednesday 11 December 2019

High-flying Bittern

Lade - clear, dry and sunny, light airs - After the gale force battering of yesterday today dawned still and calm for a change enabling a search for any passerines active around the site. Crossing the shingle ridges towards the lakes a pair of Stonechats sat atop the gorse and a couple of Meadow Pipits broke cover. The margins of south lake beside the main track are covered in bulrushes and with not a breath of wind I checked the full length resulting in eight Reed Buntings, two Blue Tits, Robin, Wren, Dunnock and Cetti`s Warbler. The ponds yielded more tits and Chaffinches, a few Blackbirds and a Chiffchaff.

                               Black-tailed Godwits, Burrowes

Dungeness - A guided walk around the circular route this morning for 16 RSPB guests took place in variable cloud cover with an increasing wind, although we did manage to avoid the rain. Burrowes was smothered in several thousand Cormorants and hundreds of gulls, mostly black-backs, plus the usual wildfowl including a Goldeneye and a flock of 15 Black-tailed Godwits in front of Firth hide. Just past Scott hide we picked up a high-flying Bittern which seemed to come in off the sea and eventually dropped down on Dengemarsh. It was in view for about five minutes, so everybody managed to get onto what may have been a bird arriving from the near continent for the winter. The guests also enjoyed good views of up to 10 Marsh Harriers, two Great White Egrets, hundreds of Lapwings, Golden Plovers and Wigeons, four Ravens, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel, plus vocalising Water Rails, Bearded Tits and Cetti`s Warblers.

Sunday 8 December 2019

Short-eared Owl

Lade - mild, windy, sunny, w 4 - Around the local patch this weekend there was more than a hint of winter about the place. Yesterday morning two Goldeneyes on south lake, an adult Little Gull, 10 Mediterranean and an adult Caspian Gull on north lake being the highlights, while in the afternoon two drake Goosanders (seen earlier on Burrowes) dropped in on south before being flushed by the SAR helicopter. A stake out at dusk behind the `mirrors` at last delivered a Short-eared Owl quartering the rough ground by the airport, plus hundreds of corvids and Woodpigeons to roost and five Marsh Harriers.
  Over the years I`ve noticed all sorts of beached corpses, but a sheep was new for the dead list, presumably the one seen on Friday at Dungeness, along with a deer carcass. The theory is that most of these dead `uns get washed down the river Rother and out to sea before drifting east along the coast on the prevailing winds and currents.

  This morning we called in briefly at the seawatch hide and joined the regulars where hundreds of Gannets and Red-throated Divers rounded the point into Rye bay, along with a few auks, Kittiwakes and a couple of Fulmars. Called in at the bird reserve around midday when a Glossy Ibis had just dropped onto the pools and ditches at Boulderwall where it continued to give mostly brief flights views on and off through the afternoon in a blustery wind. The wet fields were packed out with the likes of gulls, Starlings, Lapwings, Golden Plovers, Wigeons, egrets, feral geese and swans.
The two Whooper Swans remained in the field by the dung heap along Dengemarsh Road although the four Bewick`s were reported on Walland Marsh by Swamp Crossing. The Slavonian Grebe was still on the gravel pit to the west of the caravan park at Pigwell, Lydd.

Thursday 5 December 2019

Wild swans

Lade - cold, dry, frosty - Yet another stunning winters day with a hoar frost turning the shingle vegetation into a winter wonderland. A red headed Goldeneye fishing close to shore showed particularly well and kept resurfacing with tiny fish fry.

                               Goldeneye, Lade
 News came through around noon of, presumably yesterdays, two Whooper and four Bewick`s Swans from Walland Marsh having decamped to the fields along Dengemarsh Road near the well established and large dung heap. Its always nice to see the two species of wild swans together as they fed amongst a large mixed flock of Mute Swans and Egyptian Geese.

                                Whooper and Bewick`s Swans, Lydd

Wednesday 4 December 2019

Purple Sandpiper

Lade - cold, dry and sunny, light airs - The only change on the local patch was a small influx of 10 Reed Buntings in amongst the reedbed along the margins of south lake by the main track.
  I had to go to Folkestone this afternoon, so called in at Hythe seafront en-route to check the sea defence blocks for Purple Sandpipers. The blocks opposite the fish restaurant were barren, but the ones outside the Hythe Imperial held one very secretive bird that was roosting tight down on the rocks and only just visible.
  A pair of Whooper Swans were noted by CP on Walland Marsh this afternoon and were the first of the winter locally.

                                Purple Sandpiper, Hythe

Tuesday 3 December 2019

Slavonian Grebe

Scotney - cold, dry and sunny, light airs - This afternoon we decamped to Scotney to have a look at a Slavonian Grebe found by DS yesterday, on the lake to the left of the entrance into the working quarry. Surprisingly this was the first of the year as none were recorded last winter on local waters.

                               Slavonian Grebe, Scotney

Elsewhere today it was a case of as `you were`, with no change to the birds around Lade and Dungeness RSPB reserve. Late last night on the way back from a Van Morrison gig in Brighton (which was superb, by the way) we had good views of a Barn Owl at Jury`s Gap as well as umpteen foxes along the way.

Sunday 1 December 2019

Beach watch

Lade - cold, dry, cloudy, ne 5 - After a day in London yesterday it was good to get out and about around the local patch and clear the tubes of the foul air, albeit with a biting north-easterly rasping in off the sea - a proper winters day! It didn't seem to deter the kite-surfers though who were out in force, while Barney just loves this type of weather; it`s what his breed was made for in the North.

  We checked the tide line down to Greatstone and back in search of Snow Buntings and the like, but could only manage to find a few Turnstones, Starlings and a Pied Wagtail foraging in the wrack. Some of the waders were constantly on the move due to a combination of kite-surfers and some moron with an uncontrollable Staffy Terrier chasing the larger shorebirds. Two Shelducks came in high off the bay as we left the beach at the boardwalk.
  On the lakes a Goldeneye was the only duck worthy of mention, but a large mixed passerine flock roving the sallows around the ponds took some time to check through, the highlights being 21 Long-tailed Tits and two Chiffchaffs. Another late afternoon look at the farmland behind the `mirrors` for owls drew a blank, although a light drizzle had set in which didn't help.
  Elsewhere this weekend across the Dungeness peninsula there wasn't much change to the birding scene, although the Cattle Egret flock at Boulderwall had increased to four birds. For gull afficiandos high tide at Burrowes and the Patch attracted the usual assortments of Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls amongst the throng, while several Short-eared Owls have been noted in the Lydd ranges and Galloways area. The first four Bewick`s Swans of winter were reported on Walland Marsh from a field near the Woolpack, Brookland (NB).