Friday 31 January 2020

Firth Firecrest

Dungeness - mild and overcast, drizzle, sw 2 - A grim morning of weather with low cloud, mist and mizzle throughout; far from ideal conditions then for a guided walk around the circular route of the bird reserve for the three guests. Duck numbers were predictably low on Burrowes where three Goldeneyes were amongst the usual Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall and Pochard, plus a flock of 12 Black-tailed Godwits, but no sign of the drake Smew at Hookers or Tanners. Two female Marsh Harriers were the only raptors on the wing.
  However, there was a decent numbers of birds on the car park feeders including Great Spotted Woodpecker and Reed Bunting, while Tree Sparrow was again absent; infact I`ve not seen one so far this year on the reserve. On the Boulderwall fields a large flock of Golden Plovers, Lapwings, Curlews, Starlings and Wigeon still present. The highlight of the walk was superb views of a Firecrest from Firth hide along with Long-tailed Tits, Cetti`s Warbler and Chiffchaff.
  Roll on the spring!

Wednesday 29 January 2020

Harriers and swans

Lade - mild and sunny, w 3 - The mild weather continues and with it a dearth of winter visitors to wetlands across the Dungeness NNR. Wildfowl numbers are at an all time low on the local patch with only Pochard reaching treble figures; even Goldeneye are hard to come by and the only sawbill present is a lone drake Smew on the pools at Dengemarsh.
  This afternoon we had a run out onto Walland Marsh where 41 Bewick`s and two Whooper Swans were in the Midley area along with a field full of 500 Fieldfares and Starlings near Hawthorn Corner. In company with RN and NG we watched 15 Marsh Harriers coming and going over a roost site, but only eight dropping in. Also noted several hundred Starlings overhead, 50 Linnets, Water Rail, Cetti`s Warbler, Great White and Little Egrets, Merlin and Snipe. On the drive home across the Marsh a Barn Owl crossed the lane near the model flying club.

                                Bewick`s Swans and Fieldfares, Midley

  Last night I thought I`d give Winterwatch a go again on BBC 2. I know I shouldn`t have but thought, sod it I pay my licence fee and the concept of concentrating on UK wildlife with all the resources the Corporation has should be worth a look. Well, nothing has changed, I lasted about 10 minutes before switching off and returning to my book ( Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy by Tim Harford - highly recommended). Talk about dumbing down, that Michaelle Strachan really winds me up, she`d be far better off back on children`s telly. Sadly, there probably was some interesting bits and pieces I missed among the banal banter, but I`m afraid its not for me. Lord Packham would be much better off detaching himself from such tomfoolery and setting up on his own show; no wonder Simon King did the off!

Sunday 26 January 2020

Wild swans

Lade - mild, cloudy, sw 3 - No real change on the local patch across the weekend apart from the addition of a Shelduck on south lake yesterday and three Mediterranean Gulls on north lake.
Elsewhere, the Bewick`s Swan flock of 40 birds was still present in the Midley fields while the two Whoopers were relocated today by NB in an oil-seed rape field along Hook`s Wall. Around the reserve the drake Smew was on Tanner`s pool today while the usual flocks of Lapwings, Golden Plovers and ducks were on the fields nearby. Two visits to the point over the weekend to check the sea revealed the usual common seabirds.

Friday 24 January 2020

Weekly roundup

Lade  - mild, overcast, light airs - A grim sort of a day which neatly sums up the birding expectations this week with very little change from the one before. The local patch held two each of Goldeneye and Mediterranean Gull on the lakes, plus a Chiffchaff around the ponds.
  Scotney pits delivered two Long-tailed Ducks from the double bend at the Sussex end where there was little else of note apart from the usual feral geese, ducks and Lapwings. At Midley the Bewick`s Swan flock numbered 41, but yesterdays pair of Whoopers reported from Caldecote Lane were absent; five Corn Buntings noted by the dung heap at the Lydd Road end.
  On the bird reserve the Boulderwall fields attracted plenty of Goldies, Lapwings, Curlew, Wigeon, 10 Black-tailed Godwits, Little and Great White Egrets, Buzzard and Marsh Harriers, while the drake Smew commuted between the lake at the back of Hookers and Tanners Pool. Elsewhere around the reserve, Firecrest, Chiffchaff, Raven, Goldeneye and two fly-over Goosanders were also reported.

Wednesday 22 January 2020

French lament

Pas-de-Calais - cold, overcast, light airs - A change of scene and a day out in coastal France with CP, TG and MC was as ever entertaining, with some decent birds and plenty of craic along the way; plus the added `bonus` of a bomb scare at Oye-plage where we were promptly evicted from the hide overlooking the beach lagoon!
  We started at industrial Dunkirk on the harbour arm where up to 15 Red-breasted Mergansers and four Slavonian Grebes were the highlight along with Great Crested and Little Grebes, Oystercatchers, Ringed Plover and Sanderling on the beach and a nervous flock of four Snow Buntings in and around the sand dunes that were uncharacteristically difficult to pin down; also a few Meadow Pipit, Greenfinch and Reed Bunting and at the harbour entrance four Common Seals hauled out on the sands.

                                Dunkirk harbour

                                Common Seals

                                Two Snow Buntings in the dunes

  Moving slightly inland to a municipal nature reserve with a series of fresh water lagoons surrounded by hides we came across an impressive white-fronted Common Buzzard, a drake Goldeneye, two Chiffchaffs, 15 Grey Herons and a selection of common wildfowl.

                               White-fronted Common Buzzard

  Further along the coast road and the pools at Oye-Plage delivered more wildfowl including plenty of Shelduck, Wigeon, Teal and a Pintail, plus Common Buzzard, several Little Egret, Little Grebe, Redshank and Curlew, two Snipe, a White Wagtail, and two Spotted Redshanks. Best of all here though was a mixed pipit flock that contained 12 Rock and at least two Water Pipits along with several Meadow Pipits. As already stated we were not in the main hide for long before being ordered out by the Gendarmes, but did managed to see a large flock of Lapwing and Golden Plover on the wet fields.
  Our final port of call was the vast open beach to the east of Calais where a flock of nine Shore Larks had recently been reported; walking out onto the foreshore we picked up what was probably the nine larks flying away into the distance. A thousand plus Sanderlings scurried across the sands along with scores of Dunlin and Grey Plover, while up to 30 Little Egrets fed amongst the eel-grass.
  Our last birding day out then in northern France as fully paid up members of the EU club before the madness at the end of the month. Thanks to Chris for organising the tickets and driving, together with plenty of stories along the way from Martin and Tony.    

Tuesday 21 January 2020

Scotney raptors

Scotney - warm, dry and sunny, light airs - After a frosty night it soon warmed up by mid-morning. Passing the Kerton Road pit I noticed two foxes close to the road that had just `uncoupled`, so I slowed down as the dog fox crept atop a bund, sat down and `got himself together` to recuperate in the warm sunshine.

  At Scotney we walked the cycle track from Pigwell to the double bends checking the roadside pools where three of the five Long-tailed Ducks were on the water at the Sussex end, though keeping to the far side of the lake. The stockman had been through to the sheep feeders on the main field so there were few birds present apart from several Redshanks and two Ruffs, plus small numbers of Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler. As usual few passerines were noted.
  However, there was a good showing of raptors with five Marsh Harriers on the hunt, including a cracking adult male and an immature female eating prey on the edge of a reedbed. A Peregrine flashed over and settled atop a pylon, a Kestrel hovered outback and a male Merlin sat on a concrete block on the far side of the main lake.
  On the Boulderwall fields at Dungeness around midday there was the usual assemblage of Wigeon, Golden Plovers, Curlews, Coots and egrets, while a magnificent looking fox burst from cover to chase (unsuccessfully) a Coot that had strayed too far from the safety of Cook`s pool.

                                Yesterdays dramatic cloud formation over Lade at sunset

Sunday 19 January 2020

Hen Harrier

Saturday - Lade - cold, dry and sunny - Weather wise the perfect winters day with light airs and warm sunshine. The morning was spent on the local patch where five Goldeneyes, 80 Shovelers and 130 Teal were the highlights on south lake, plus a Peregrine over and two Marsh Harriers hunting the back reedbed. There was much passerine activity in the sun trap around the ponds where up to four Chiffchaffs busily snapped up flying insects amongst the usual tits and finches, plus two Cetti`s Warblers and a Green Woodpecker on the causeway shingle.
  A late afternoon stakeout at the top end of Mockmill drew a blank for owls, but five Marsh Harriers, three Little and two Great White Egrets and hundreds of Woodpigeons, Stock Doves and black crows flew to roost towards the bird reserve.

                                Drake Tufted Duck, south lake

                               One of four Chiffchaffs by the ponds

                               Barrel Jellyfish

Sunday - cold, dry and sunny, n 3 - Another cracking day tempered somewhat by a brisk breeze out of the north. There was no change on the local patch apart from the reappearance of several Barrel Jellyfish on the beach, one almost the size of a dustbin lid, the other two more Frisbee size.
Walland Marsh  - This afternoon I joined CP out on the Marsh for the monthly harrier count at our usual watch point. En-route we paused at Midley where seven Bewick`s Swans were in their usual field with another 35 amongst a flock of 200 Mutes nearby. A male Hen Harrier located over by the Woolpack then did a tour of the Marsh before ghosting off to roost on the Lydd ranges; as always a superb bird. As for Marsh Harriers, while a dozen or so flew through only one came to roost, maybe due to disturbance from the duck shooters by the reservoir.
  Also noted a flock of 40 Corn Buntings, 10 Meadow Pipits, several Reed Buntings, a Stonechat, two Kestrels, four Common Buzzards, two Common Snipes, a Jack Snipe, Great White Egret and a large mixed flock of several hundred Golden Plovers and Lapwings.
  At sunset the usual cacophony of Water Rails struck up as two Barn Owls quartered the reedbed. In the distance hundreds of corvids and Woodpigeons flew to roost on the Low Weald, plus five Great White Egrets in scrub by the reservoir; but the best spectacle of all came as dark descended, and the duck-shooters had departed, allowing the entire mixed swan flock to evocatively fly to roost on the reservoir. A magnificent end to the day.

Friday 17 January 2020

Weekly roundup

Dungeness - mild, sunshine and showers, ssw3 - A mixed bag of weather today with drizzle this morning and a brisk wind from the south, easing and drying out this afternoon with plenty of sunshine. At the point first thing (where filming for Countryfile continues) very little to report with just a couple of hundred gulls at the Patch and a few common seabirds offshore.
  A run out to Midley produced 22 Bewick`s Swans in the oil-seed rape field at the junction of Coldharbour Lane, but little else apart from a Merlin over the lane by the model flying club. In contrast Scotney was teeming with feral geese, ducks, gulls, Cormorants, Lapwings and Golden Plovers, plus several each of Curlew, Ruff and Redshank. I could only find two Long-tailed Ducks at the Kent end, but no doubt the other three were lurking somewhere on the pit.
  At Tower pits on the bird reserve it was very quiet, while there was no change at Lade pits with just two Goldeneyes of note. The drake Smew was reported from the back lake at Hooker`s.

                                Bewick`s Swans, Midley

Wednesday 15 January 2020

Storm Brendon

Lade - mild, wet and windy, SW 6 - The past couple of days have pretty much a write off for birding as Storm Brendon trundled across the country bringing gale force winds through yesterday afternoon and during the night. The few wildfowl still on the lakes were hiding amongst the willow swamp for shelter or hunkered down in the lee of the south-westerly.
  Today a guided walk for RSPB this morning was a truncated affair due to heavy rain as we stuck to the hides around Burrowes. The expected ducks, Cormorants and gulls were present along with four redhead Goldeneyes, while two Chiffchaffs showed well in a mixed passerine flock in the bankside scrub. The fields at Boulderwall held plenty of Wigeon, Lapwing, Curlews and the like and the drake Smew was reported from Hooker`s. Five Long-tailed Ducks remained on Scotney roadside pits.

                               Chiffchaff and Robin from Makepeace hide

Sunday 12 January 2020

International Swan Census

Lade - mild and cloudy, occasional rain, sw 4 - A mild, breezy weekend of weather, dry yesterday and damp first thing this morning, although the sun broke through by mid-morning. After carrying out the monthly WeBS count around the local patch (duck and grebe numbers lower than normal) we spent most of the day searching for swans across the Marsh on this the second day of the International Wild Swan Census weekend.
  For the most part it was a pretty depressing scene with few birds managing to eke out a living in the vast acreages of intensively farmed croplands, sheep folds and turf fields. Some of the tree-lined farms and remote dwellings attracted a few finches, sparrows, pigeons, corvids and thrushes, while several each of Kestrel and Buzzard were noted along the lanes.

                               Old orchard near Snargate

  As for wild swans, all we could find were six adult Bewick`s Swans out the back of Cheyne Court wind farm and a flock of 18 adults and two juveniles at Midley; a paltry tally when you consider that a decade ago 200 plus wintered on the Marsh. A total of 456 Mute Swans were also logged; all swans were on oil-seed rape fields.

                                Herd of 20 Bewick`s Swans

                               Ruins of Midley church

  Back on the coastal plain the three Long-tailed Ducks were still present at the Sussex end of Scotney pits, while the mobile drake Smew on Dengemarsh favoured the small reed-fringed lake at the back of Hookers reedbed.

                                St Thomas a Becket church, Fairfield

Friday 10 January 2020

Water Pipit

Dungeness - cold and cloudy, nw 2 - With the wind shifting around to a more northerly vector it certainly felt more like winter this morning. A brief seawatch from the hide produced the usual procession of Gannets, Red-throated Divers, auks and a few Kittiwakes offshore, plus a Bonxie sat on the sea.
  Most of the morning was spent around the fields at Boulderwall and Dengemarsh where large flocks of Lapwings, Wigeon, Starlings, plus 50 Curlews, 10 Dunlins, Stock Doves and Woodpigeons attracted the attention of several Marsh Harriers and Common Buzzards. Scanning Tanners pool a Water Pipit seen briefly on the deck near a flash by the Corral soon flew off calling towards Gun Club pool. The wintering drake Smew showed well from the back lake at Hookers while Bearded Tits, Cetti`s Warblers and Water Rails were active from the ramp. Also noted across the site: two Brents, 20 Egyptian Geese, 200 Greylags, Little and Great White Egrets, Kestrel, Green Woodpecker, Stonechat and Long-tailed Tits.
  Elsewhere, two Long-tailed Ducks were reported from Scotney.

                               Curlews, Smew and Great White Egret

Wednesday 8 January 2020

Azorean plume

Scotney - mild and misty, sw 2 - A plume of unseasonably warm air from the mid-Atlantic sent the daytime temperature soaring into the low teens, but with it a veil of mist along the coastal plain. On the front pits at Scotney it was just about possible to view the far side this morning, where from the double bends yesterdays five Long-tailed Ducks were still present feeding amongst the Tufted Ducks and Pochards. A large mixed flock of some 1,500 Golden Plovers and Lapwings was on the front fields along with a handful of Redshank, Curlew and Ruff, plus the usual feral geese.
  Visibility was similarly limited on the flooded hayfields around Dengenmarsh where the habitat looks spot on for Water Pipit, although all I could find were several Meadow Pipits and Reed Buntings. Marsh Harrier, Little and Great White Egrets also noted flying over.

                                Dengemarsh Flood
  A late afternoon check of Lade south produced three Goldeneyes on the lake and a steady overhead movement of Cormorants and black crows going to roost towards the bird reserve.

Monday 6 January 2020

Winter warmers

Dengemarsh - mild, cloudy, sw 3 - A circuit of Dengemarsh this morning produced a decent range of birds although many of the wildfowl and waders were flighty, probably due to raptor activity as several Marsh Harriers were in constant view, plus two Buzzards, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel. Large flocks of Lapwings and Golden Plovers swirling over the fields at Boulderwall contained a few Ruff and Redshank, while six Bewick`s Swans flew through. Canada, Egyptian and Greylag Geese were everywhere and a static flock of the latter at the back of Hookers held two Tundra Bean Geese, although they soon flew off towards Cockles Bridge. A pipit flushed from the pool by the Corral was a probable Water Pipit.
  From the viewing ramp I finally got to grips with the highly mobile drake Smew that`s been present for a week or more now as it flew onto the main lake at Dengemarsh - for all of five minutes!
Also from the ramp, 10 Pintail on the lake, several hundred Wigeon and Teal, two Brent Geese in the fields, Bearded Tits and Cetti`s Warbler around the reedbed.

Sunday 5 January 2020

Aliens on the beach

Saturday - Lade - warm, dry and sunny, w 2 - Spent the morning on the local patch where the usual wildfowl on south lake included a pair of Goldeneye, while a mixed flock of tits around the ponds contained at least 20 Long-tailed Tits. A Marsh Harrier disturbed a large flock of over a thousand gulls from fields by the airport, most of whom eventually settled on north lake where an adult Caspian Gull and five Mediterranean Gulls were amongst mostly Herring and Black-headed Gulls.
  The walk back along the beach from Seaview Road to Lade boardwalk was noteworthy for millions of small crustaceans (mainly cockles and winkles) washed up on the tide line, plus 15 alien-like Barrel Jellyfish scattered across the sands, which is bit early in the year as I normally encounter them in the summer months. With so much flotsam and jetsam along the foreshore it was no surprise to come across a clutch of Goose Barnacles attached to a polystyrene float; but no sign of any Barnacle Goose goslings...

                                Barrel Jellyfish

                                            Countless crustaceans

                               Goose Barnacles

Sunday - East Sussex - cloudy, mild, sw 2 - Pat joined us for a change of scene today over the border into the Sussex badlands. The sheep folds opposite Northpoint pits were alive with waders, mostly Lapwings and Golden Plovers, plus 30 Curlews, 10 Redshanks, 10 Dunlins and five Ruffs.
At Rye Harbour the car park was almost full and people everywhere. However, the Beach Reserve wetlands were smothered in thousands of birds, mainly Wigeon, Teal, Shelduck and Shoveler, Tufted Duck, and Pochard, plus 30 Brent Geese and a single redhead Smew. Waders included plenty of Lapwings, Golden Plovers, Redshanks and Curlews alongside a few Ringed and Grey Plovers, Turnstones and Dunlins, while it was good to see that the new Discovery Centre was near completion.
  Next stop the cafĂ© at Winchelsea Beach (highly recommended) followed by a check of Pett Levels where more Lapwings, Curlews, Redshanks, Dunlins and 10 Ruffs were present on the fields, plus Wigeons, Shelducks and Dabchicks on the pools; a Glossy Ibis had been seen earlier. A scan across the fields revealed five White-fronted Geese within a mixed flock of Greylag, Canada, Egyptian and Brent Geese, also: three Marsh Harriers, two Buzzards, Kestrel, Reed Bunting, Fieldfare and Stonechat.
  A stop off at Scotney on the way home revealed more feral geese and waders on the front fields, thousands more Golden Plovers and Lapwings over by the wind farm and a single Long-tailed Duck and two Goldeneyes on the lake.
  Also reported today around Dengemarsh and Boulderwall fields, a mobile drake Smew, and two Tundra Bean Geese. 

                                New Discovery Centre, Rye Harbour

                               Lapwing, Rye Harbour

                               Brent Geese, Rye Harbour

Friday 3 January 2020

An elusive Smew

Dungeness - mild, cloudy, drizzle, sw 3 - We spent the morning around the peninsula commencing at the Patch where a couple of Mediterranean Gulls were the only gulls of note amongst a small throng over the boil. Offshore the regulation auks, divers and Gannets moved between the bays.
  The drake Smew on the bird reserve proved elusive once again, but was reported on the pools across Boulderwall fields earlier in the day where several Marsh Harriers and Great White Egrets noted. Burrowes held a flock of 12 Black-tailed Godwits and two Goldeneyes on the lake, while a large mixed passerine flock by Firth hide contained two Firecrests and a Chiffchaff amongst the many tits and finches.
  There was no change to the birds on Lade pits this afternoon.

Thursday 2 January 2020

Short-eared Owl

Lade  - mild and overcast, drizzle, sw 2 - Another dull day with occasional drizzle in the morning and the wind picking up through the afternoon. The local patch was quiet with just a pair of Goldeneyes of note on south lake.
 This afternoon I called in at Boulderwall fields and managed to miss the Smew on Tanner`s Pool by a couple of minutes. It was then onto the Ranges for a walk out to the mound from Galloways where a Short-eared Owl quartered the rough grass by the tanks. Also present two Great White and five Little Egrets around the pools, plus 10 Ringed Plovers, Redshanks, Dunlins and Grey Plovers on the seaward side. On the walk back a Little Owl was noted on one of the old buildings; MH also had a Short-eared Owl from Galloways Road, while the male Hen Harrier was seen from Springfield Bridge earlier.

Wednesday 1 January 2020

NYDay Bird Count

Dull and dank all day, light airs - Kicked off the decade in company with CP and PL for our regular, light hearted birding tour of the Marsh and near environs. At Park Wood, Appledore a Woodcock on the deck in a car park puddle was virtually the first bird of the year, followed by a second over the woodland canopy. Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Coal Tit, Goldcrest, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, at least five calling Tawny Owls and a pair of flyover Ravens were the pick of the woodland birds.
  Moving down to the canal zone and a wide range of  additions to the day list included Great White and Little Egrets, Buzzard, Jay, Stonechat, Bullfinch, Meadow Pipit, Yellowhammer and Tree Sparrow with the latter four species only seen here in single figures. Traversing the Marsh we picked up a few winter thrushes in the hedgerows and 32 Bewick`s Swans at Midley, but by and large passerines were few and far between. 

    Bewick`s Swans, Midley

  With noon approaching we headed for the coast and Lade bay where nine out ten shorebirds were eventually located including 250 Knots, 30 Barwits and 120 Turnstones, although we couldn't find a single Ringed Plover. Common Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser and large flocks of Great Crested Grebes were on the sea, plus 10 Mediterranean Gulls on the sands. At Dungeness, Gannet, Razorbill, Red-throated Diver and Kittiwake were logged along with a distant Peregrine on a pylon.
  At Scotney pits the Long-tailed Duck tally rose to four where Merlin, Golden Plovers and range of wildfowl were noted. On the bird reserve at Burrowes, Firecrest, Chiffchaff, Goldeneye, Black-tailed Godwit and Caspian Gull were all added to the list. We finished off in fine style on ARC with  protracted views of a Bittern in front of Screen hide (that sadly appeared to have a damaged left wing), calling Water Rails and Bearded Tits, 11 Little and two Great White Egrets to roost and eight Bewick`s Swans flying in to roost.
  Considering the weather conditions (a Mordor-like gloom all day) we ended up with a respectable 105 species of birds. As always NYD is a bit of a social occasion and it was good to see so many familiar faces in the field. A great days birding in fine company, and many thanks to Chris for driving and Phil for listing.