Friday 28 February 2020

Whooper Swans

Lade - wet and windy, S5 - The morning started dry enough but the rain soon swept up from the south and set in for the day. A surprise find was a flock of five Whooper Swans on north lake, alongside three Mutes, although they didn`t stay put for long and soon flew off towards Lydd, calling wildly. They were only my second record at Lade in just over 14 years and were most likely the birds seen at Scotney in mid-week. A Great White Egret hunkered down in the main reedbed on south lake was the first for some time, while most of the ducks and grebes were sheltering from the strengthening wind around the willow swamp where several Water Rails were heard.
  Moving onto a windswept bird reserve where we eventually located the Red-necked Grebe hugging the reedbed in front of Screen hide on ARC and still eluding the camera. Burrowes was quiet with just the usual waterfowl taking shelter from the tempest, while there was negative news on the wintering Smew. At Dungeness an immature Iceland Gull was seen between the seawatch hide and the fishing boats this morning amongst thousands of gulls.

Wednesday 26 February 2020

Red-necked Grebe

Lade - cold, sunny, nw 3 - A nippy morning with a scudding wind out of the north-west, but at least it was dry. A circuit of the local patch delivered five Goldeneyes on the lakes and a Marsh Harrier over. A Redpoll perched briefly atop a birch tree by the ponds, before flying off inland calling, was something of a surprise and a scarce bird here. Yesterdays work party had done a fine job of clearing the last of the willow scrub from the ponds.

                               Greenfinch, Lade ponds

  This afternoon, whilst at the point checking the gulls, news filtered through regarding a Red-necked Grebe found on ARC earlier in the day. We were soon on site along with a small group of locals enjoying obscured views of the grebe within a flock of diving ducks, on the edge of a reedbed seen from the track to Hanson hide looking towards the tower. AP et al also told of a flock of 17 Water Pipits that they`d not long seen on the hayfields and, sure enough, the pipits were still present as dusk approached on hayfield 2, although flighty. 
  At Scotney four Long-tailed Ducks were still on the western pit outback, plus five Whooper Swans on the roadside pit to the east of the farm track (AP.)

Saturday 22 February 2020

Longshore Drift

Lade - mild, cloudy, drizzle, wsw 5 - The seemingly endless wet and windy weather systems originating from the mid-Atlantic continue to sweep up-Channel battering the coastline, though fortunately its not cold.
  We always try and have at least one or two days a week (normally at the weekend) without using the car, which is not a problem for me living as I do within easy walking distance of bird-rich habitats across the peninsula. Anyhow, this morning we did a long, loop walk up to Kerton Road, down on the beach, back north to Greatstone beach, up Seaview Road and back home via Lade pits.

                                Gull fest continues

                               Waders on the beach

  The gull fest continues with thousands of birds still feeding by the Pilot, including several Mediterranean Gulls and at least two Yellow-legged Gulls (OL reported Caspian Gull this morning). Walking down the beach on an incoming tide at least 20 Ringed Plovers were noted, a sure sign that spring isn't far away, plus a mixed flock of Bar-tailed Godwits, Knots and Dunlins, 20 Sanderlings and 350 Oystercatchers, but gull numbers were low. The open, wind-blown lakes were virtually devoid of wildfowl as they sheltered from the gale, although there was plenty of passerine activity around the ponds from tits, finches, Cetti`s Warbler, Chiffchaff and Goldcrest.

                                Shingle creep on Greatstone beach

                               New shingle bar, Romney Tavern

                               Spring tide damage to dune system

Longshore Drift -  Just a quick observation and comment on the shingle movement along the local foreshore. The geological phenomenon known as longshore drift, whereby flints are dragged out of the chalk seabed in Sussex and rolled eastwards, up-Channel, by tides and wave action to form the Dungeness cuspate has been ongoing for some 5-6,000 years. But you don`t have to be as old as Methuselah to witness this dynamic process; just wander along the beach opposite the lifeboat station to the area known as the `dustbin` after a spring tide and you`ll see the latest shingle deposits thrown up by the sea. As for where the scouring action on the ever-shifting shingle bank is currently occurring, you need look no further than the mechanical diggers working frantically away in front of the power stations and Jury`s Gap.
  And so to the famous sandy beach at Greatstone, which is becoming, well, not so sandy as this winter a 200yd finger ridge of shingle has been extended by the storms from the Romney Tavern along the front of the sand dunes, with more pebbles scattered over a much wide area further down towards Littlestone. Mother Nature it seems is always evolving and where this section of the coastline is concerned, pretty much unstoppable.

Thursday 20 February 2020

Counting gulls

Lade - cold, cloudy, sw 5 - Another nippy old morning with a scudding wind out of the west; not ideal for counting gulls, but nothing ventured nothing gained, so`s to speak. With short tides I counted on the ebb from opposite Lade boardwalk, around the bay to Littlestone using a combination of counting blocks of 100 and multiplying, and photographing distant sections that I then magnified on the laptop and added to the tally. The result: 13,000 gulls, give or take 500 each way. However, there were, perhaps, a thousand more birds along the foreshore from the boardwalk towards the Pilot, and no doubt many more were lurking out of sight around the Dungeness cuspate, so the true figure could easily be in excess of 20,000 gulls.

                                Some of the thousands of bay gulls

                               And more towards Dungeness

                                Assistant gull counter!

  As for the species balance I would say that 75% were Black-headed and Common Gulls with 20% Herring Gulls, and the remainder a mix of the two Black-backs and Mediterranean Gulls. A lone Brent Goose was also noted and a small flock of Sanderlings. The predominant shellfish on the strandline was Cockle, while a few Lesser-spotted Dogfish and Barrel Jellyfish were also washed up.

                               What`s not to like about Sanderlings!

                                Lesser-spotted Dogfish

                                Barrel Jellyfish

Wednesday 19 February 2020

Black Redstart

Dungeness - cold, sunny, w 3 - A morning session with the guests checking the gulls around the point for white-wingers drew another blank, although an Iceland Gull was seen earlier by TG and SO at the Patch. From the beach near the lifeboat station thousands of gulls could be seen across Lade bay feeding on bivalve molluscs and other crustaceans providing an impressive spectacle, and a Peregrine sat atop the power station structure basking in the sunshine. The foreshore opposite Jarman`s attracted several Meadow Pipits and a couple of pairs of Skylarks into song and we had good views of a male Black Redstart and four Stonechats in a private garden.

                               Black Redstart, Dungeness

  Moving onto Scotney and the roadside pits held the usual feral Barnacle Goose and Wigeon flock, plus a few Redshanks, two Shelducks, a distant Marsh Harrier and flocks of Golden Plovers and Lapwings. A couple of hours driving the lanes of Walland Marsh was a largely fruitless affair apart from 10 each of Kestrel and Buzzard, 200 Fieldfares at Midley and 10 Corn Buntings off Caldecote Lane.
  We finished the Birdwatching Break for Clare and Peter on 94 species birds.

Tuesday 18 February 2020


Dungeness - cold sunny morning, cloudy afternoon, sw 4 - We started the day with a brief seawatch at the hide where very little was moving offshore apart from a few Gannets and a couple of Red-throated Divers and auks, plus the usual gulls foraging along the foreshore. A scout around on the land produced a few Meadow Pipits, Dunnocks, Kestrel and Stonechat.

                                Firecrest from Firth hide

  Moving onto the bird reserve where a circuit produced the drake Smew on Tanner`s pool, two Water Pipits on the hayfields, a flyover Bittern at Dengemarsh and, bird of the day, stunning views of a Firecrest in front of Firth hide. There was a good supporting cast of Goldeneyes, Marsh Harriers Great White and Little Egrets, Black-tailed Godwits, nine Ruff, Golden Plovers, Cetti`s Warbler, Reed Bunting, Chiffchaff, Long-tailed Tit and all the expected wintering wildfowl, gulls, grebes and Cormorants. Over on ARC several hundred Shoveler and three Goldeneyes on the lake, plus Sparrowhawk and calling Water Rail and Chiffchaff around the hide.
  We finished off the afternoon at the fishing boats where a flock of 58 Brents moved up-Channel and managed to miss the Glaucous Gull by five minutes - for the second time today!

Monday 17 February 2020

Green Woodpeckers

Hythe - cold, cloudy, showery, sw 4 - We started a Birdwatching Break for Clare and Peter from London this afternoon, commencing at the sea defence blocks where there was no sign of the Purple Sandpipers, just two Turnstones and plenty of gulls foraging the strandline for molluscs.

                               Lympne Castle

  Moving onto West Hythe where a circuit down to the dam and back delivered at least four Green Woodpeckers, two Common Buzzards, Kestrel, Jays, Long-tailed Tits, Goldcrest, Song Thrush, Goldcrests and a calling Kingfisher along the canal. Crossing Romney Marsh via Newchurch was a pretty grim experience and largely devoid of birds apart from a few Starling, crow and gull flocks, plus 10 Linnets.
Lade Bay - Much better fare here on the incoming tide and in good light with thousands of gulls on the sands, including Kittiwake and Mediterranean Gull. The wader count was low apart from 500 plus Oystercatchers, 20 Curlews, 10 Knots, 20 Dunlins, 15 Sanderlings and six Redshanks.

Saturday 15 February 2020

Brent Geese

Dungeness - mild, cloudy, sw 4 - With Storm Dennis forecast to reach a full head of steam tomorrow we spent the morning on the peninsula. Offshore, however, the wind was already picking up, although the temperatures remain well into double figures due to the airflow originating from the Caribbean. Apart from several small flocks of Brent Geese passing east and distant Gannets there wasn't a great deal of movement, while large numbers of gulls continue to forage the strandline for remnant bivalve molluscs washed up from last weekend`s storm.
  The wooden seawatch hide has now been bolted securely onto its concrete pad and, fingers crossed, it should survive tomorrows blow even though its on the edge of the shingle bank, as thankfully the tides aren't as high as earlier in the week. The Patch hide is faring slightly better as the diggers have ramped up more shingle in front of it.

                                Seawatch hide

                                Patch hide

                                Moorhen under the feeders

  The bird reserve was looking pretty windswept by midday, but the Boulderwall fields still attracted the regular winter visitors including the drake Smew on Tanner`s pool and at least two Ruffs amongst the plover flock. The bird feeders at the car park were busy with tits and finches, but no sign of any Tree Sparrows. Two Water Pipits were noted on the hayfield behind Christmas Dell hide this morning (PB).
  An afternoon visit to Lade pits yielded very little as most of the wildfowl and grebes were taking shelter in the willow swamp out of the wind and rain.

Friday 14 February 2020

Calm before the storm

Lade - mild, dry, sunny, light airs - A superb morning with a spectacular sunrise over the bay and little wind, perfect conditions for birding. On the local pits several Great Crested Grebes had moved in to establish breeding territories and begin pair bonding with much head shaking and bill rubbing, while five Goldeneyes were on the lakes and several Chiffchaffs around the ponds.
  We then walked Mockmill flushing two Snipe and six Meadow Pipits before flogging out back of the `mirrors` and north lake where a singing Skylark was a first for the year. Also noted a few more Mipits, Linnets, two Stonechats, four Corn Buntings, Kestrel and Buzzard, but little else.
 Given the weather the bird reserve was predictably busy with birdwatchers enjoying some field time before Storm Dennis rushes in at the weekend. The elusive drake Smew was playing hide and seek on Tanner`s Pool beside the usual crowd of feral geese, Wigeons, Curlews, Golden Plovers and Lapwings on Boulderwall fields. Elsewhere around the reserve it was the same winter fare.
  There were no reports of any wild swans on Walland Marsh today, although the five Long-tailed Ducks were noted on the western pit outback of Scotney (PB).

                               Sunrise over Lade bay

Wednesday 12 February 2020


Dungeness - cold, sunny, w3 - A guided walk for eight guests this morning centred on Burrowes where we had particularly good views of several Chiffchaffs by the Dipping Pond and in front of Firth hide and a male Marsh Harrier from Dunnis`s hide. All the usual gulls, Cormorants and ducks were noted including five Goldeneyes, five Wigeons and a pair of Pintail, plus 12 Black-tailed Godwits from Makepeace hide and three Great White Egrets at the back of New Excavations. The Boulderwall fields held good numbers of Lapwings, Golden Plovers and Wigeons, while the drake Smew was reported from Tanner`s pool late morning.
  The beach continues to attract many thousands of gulls to feed on the bivalve molluscs from Lade around to Dungeness where the 2nd year Iceland Gull was seen coming and going this afternoon (PB).

Tuesday 11 February 2020

Feeding frenzy

Lade  - cold, sunny, w 5 - The aftermath of Storm Ciara continues to dominate our weather down here on the south coast with another day of rasping westerly winds blowing up-Channel. With negative news on yesterdays Iceland Gull from Dungeness I decided to check the beach this afternoon on a falling spring tide with a heavy sea pounding away out in the bay.
  Its not often that I`m overwhelmed by nature on my local patch, but today was certainly one such occasion as a combination of a high tide and wave action had washed up gargantuan numbers of  bivalve molluscs (mostly clams or scallops) along the sandy foreshore below the shingle bank. Looking north towards Greatstone and back south to Dungeness the shoreline was covered; there must have been literally millions of them, and countless more in the slack water which, unsurprisingly, had attracted thousands of gulls (probably c5,000) to feast on the easy pickings. The majority were Herring, Black-headed, Common and Great Black-backed with lesser numbers of Lesser Blacks, Mediterranean and a few Kittiwakes. Even the Carrion Crows were getting in on the act!
  I didn't manage to locate the Iceland Gull, but it mattered not a jot as the spectacle of all this activity was a wonder in itself.

                                Bivalve feeding frenzy, Lade bay

Monday 10 February 2020

Red Kites

Speen - We`re just back from having spent the weekend with friends in the Chilterns, at the village of Speen near Princes Risborough to be precise. The weather was sunny and dry on Saturday, but dreadful on Sunday as named Storm Ciara rampaged across the country delivering heavy rain squalls and wind gusts of 70mph; we almost got clobbered by a lamp column that came down on the M20 yesterday afternoon on the way home!
 However, walking around the village before the storm on Saturday morning and driving across to Tring museum in the afternoon to visit the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition, Red Kites were in view everywhere. In Speen I counted 23 birds soaring over the village gardens waiting for scraps to be put out by the residents, while a field near Wendover attracted six kites following a tractor and plough along with a hundred Black-headed gulls. More kites were seen from the roads and over Tring during the day, plus a kettle of 20 or more over Princes Risborough.

  As a native of the Chilterns and living in Dunstable at the time I well remember the Red Kite reintroduction programme when 93 birds were released between 1989 and 1994 on the rolling downland around Christmas Common. The majority of kites came from Spanish stock (with the remainder from Sweden and Wales) and were taken as nestlings, flown to England and after a 35 day quarantine period released into aviaries where they were cared for with minimal human contact.
  The first successful breeding of Red Kites on the Chilterns soon followed in 1994 and I remember writing an article at the time on the subject for Birdwatching magazine, having spent a day at the release site with Steve Carter who headed up the project. Today the Red Kite is a common sight across the Chilterns and Thames Valley with several hundred breeding pairs, but I don't think that back then anyone could have predicted how successful this reintroduction programme would have been.

Dungeness - cold, sunny, W 4 - A trip down the point this morning was a predictably quiet affair with a big sea running and not much on view, although OL had a Bonxie and Velvet Scoter through earlier. Due to the severe weather the interior of the seawatch hide had been temporarily shored up with two Acrows to prevent it disappearing into the power station car park!
  This afternoon the wind continued to increase to near gale force as an immature Iceland Gull was found at the fishing boats amongst hundreds of gulls.


Thursday 6 February 2020

Water Pipit

Dungeness - warm, dry and sunny, light airs - Once the early morning frost had melted it turned into a fine spring-like day with warm sunshine bringing forth legions of flying insects in the still air. Spent some time scanning the wet fields and pools at Boulderwall, that paid dividends with scope views of a highly mobile Water Pipit on the edge of Tanner`s pool alongside three Meadow Pipits. Several Cetti`s Warbler were in song and a party of Bearded Tits called from the reedbed in Cook`s Pool.  At least four Great White and two Little Egrets were on the wetlands, plus 500 Golden Plovers, 500 Lapwings, 35 Curlews, 200 Wigeons, 200 Starlings, 20 Stock Doves, two Snipe, two Black-tailed Godwits and various Coot, Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall and Tufted Duck. Raptors included three Marsh Harriers, two Buzzards and a Kestrel, while the drake Smew had relocated to Burrowes.
  On Walland Marsh 41 Bewick`s and two Whooper Swans at Midley and all five Long-tailed Ducks were confirmed on the back lakes at Scotney (OL).  A check of the bay from Littlestone revealed 12 Redshanks and 14 Ringed Plovers amongst hundreds of Dunlin, Sanderling, Curlew, Knot and Oystercatcher.  There was no change to the wildfowl on Lade pits from yesterday.

                                Egrets on Boulderwall fields

Wednesday 5 February 2020

Purple Sandpipers

Lade - mild, dry, cloudy, light airs - A spring-like morning on the local patch with plenty of resident species in song. Around the ponds three each of Chiffchaff and Cetti`s Warbler, plus five Goldeneyes on the lakes and two Marsh Harriers over.

                                Goldeneye, Lade north

  This afternoon en-route to Folkestone on the school pick-up run we called in at Hythe seafront where two Purple Sandpipers were on the sea defence blocks opposite the Hythe Imperial hotel. As the tide was out the Velcro birds were constantly picking over the jumble of exposed, weed-covered rocks in their constant quest for food before the incoming tide.
  Whilst there a lady sea swimmer was partaking in her daily dip!

                                Purple Sandpipers, Hythe

                                Distant Dungeness