Saturday 30 May 2020


Lade - warm, dry and sunny, ne 4 - More of the same weather wise with a fresh wind off the bay attracting around 100 kite-surfers to enjoy a near perfect sea state. Infact, the beaches around the bay and Dungeness estate were packed out with tourists today like it was a Bank Holiday. There was no change on the local patch apart from a lone drake Pochard, the first of many to come no doubt, while the Cuckoos were busy around the willow swamp.

                                Hayfield 3

  A three hour tramp around Dengemarsh produced all the usual birds such as Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Bearded Tit, Great White and Little Egrets, Common Tern, Redshank, Lapwing, Shelduck, Shoveler, Pochard, Cuckoo, Raven, plus a drake Garganey, Snipe and Black-tailed Godwit. I was a bit surprised to see a suckling herd on hayfield 3 where the waders were nesting and a dance tent set up by Springfield bridge! There was no sign of any Hobbies though. On the farmland section, Yellow Wagtail, Corn Bunting and Skylark. Small Heath, Small Tortoiseshell and Emperor dragonfly also noted.

                               Busy on the beach this afternoon


Thursday 28 May 2020

Grass Snakes

Lade - warm, dry and sunny, ne 4 - Another cloudless, sunny day with the shingle ridges outback on the desert burnt to a crisp as though its high summer; infact, I cannot remember such dry weather conditions this early on in the season since living here. The garden moth trap held 20 species of macros with six commoners new for the year, such as Light Brocade, Dark Arches and Willow Beauty; meanwhile, though, at the Kerton Road cafĂ© (which is currently closed as per governmental guidelines) Beautiful Marbled and Spurge Hawk-moth came to light.

                               Beautiful Marbled and Spurge Hawk-moth, KRC

  This morning outback the keen wind kept many passerines out of sight and into cover, while a trickle of Swifts and House Martins passed over south lake early on. Also of note were three separate Grass Snake sightings across the site.
  Depressingly, but unsurprising perhaps, amongst the day-tripper detritus on the beach this evening were, several nappies (used, tied up and ready to go), a throwaway barbeque and, a face mask, the first of many, no doubt, that will litter the countryside over the summer months. Its times like these that I loath some members of the human race.

                               Grass Snake, Lade

However, now for some good news! Yes folks, for once this blogger is not about to torpedo BBC 2`s
annual showpiece jamboree exhibiting the very best of British wildlife; having watched the first two episodes I`m pleased to report that it is a case of plaudits all round.
  Due to lockdown, and all that, the regular team, bar one (more of which anon), are self isolating  around the country in their native haunts, and reporting on the natural world from a personal perspective. So, we`ve got Chris Oak-Tree Packham in the New Forest, Iolo Sing-Song Williams in the Welsh Marches, Gillian Beaver-Burke in Cornwall and Steve Short-Straw Backshall on the River Thames, all doing sterling work live to-camera, which so far has worked well. It`s certainly a big improvement on when they`re all herded around a fire-pit somewhere `up north`, mucking around and trying to keep the midges at bay.
  Anyhow, as always, Lord Packham is the lynch-pin and has kept the gang in good order, with little of the frippery that has so ruined this programme for me, and many others, in the past. There has been the usual pre-recorded interjections throughout the hour from other self-isolating naturalists, whilst a site in the Medip Hills has been given the old camera trap treatment for nesting birds; well, it just wouldn't be Springwatch without a Blue Tit nesting calamity, would it! Also, I was most impressed with Chris Packham`s stepdaughter Megan, herself a professional zoologist, and a knowledgeable and natural to-camera presenter.
  It might sound a bit of a make-do-and-mend-kind-of-a-show, but it worked for me, although it was such a shame that poor old Michaela Strachan was stranded and locked down at home in South Africa! Never mind, we can look forward to her return next year, sometime, perhaps...

Wednesday 27 May 2020

Ring-necked Parakeet

Lade - warm, dry and sunny, ne 3 - A brisk wind off the bay tempered the heat of yesterday and continued to increase throughout the afternoon. The morning round of the local patch was predictably quiet, although the first Dabchick young of spring were on the water around the willow swamp, where there was no sign of yesterdays Turtle Dove. Scanning from the aerial mound delivered several Marsh Harriers and Buzzards over the airfield.
  Last nights moth trap catch was a little disappointing with only the Shears new for the year.

  This afternoon, en-route to Hythe, a Red Kite upset the Herring Gulls in the airspace above the Academy, while from Aldi car park in Hythe the sound and glimpse of a Rose-ringed Parakeet from the housing estate over the road was a first for me.
  An evening visit to the bay yielded the usual waders and gulls on a falling tide, but not a single Sandwich Tern, what has happened to them this spring?

Tuesday 26 May 2020

Turtle Dove

Lade - warm, dry and sunny, se 1 - Another belter of a day with a packed moth trap including 30 Cinnabars, but only Grass Emerald new for the year. The only bird of note outback was a Turtle Dove `purring` from cover in the willow swamp, a wondrous sound of summer and the first I`ve heard here for three years.

                                Grass Emerald

  Despite the beach being busy with day-trippers yesterdays confiding Bar-tailed Godwit defied my pessimistic prognosis and continued to feed actively along the strandline, completely ignoring any passing humans. I couldn't resist half an hour this evening watching it from the shingle bank as it probed about in the soft sand pulling out small marine snails, shrimps and the like.

                               Adult Bar-tailed  Godwit

Monday 25 May 2020

Bar-tailed Godwit

Lade - warm, dry and sunny, e2 - A pretty decent catch in the garden moth trap last night with Brimstone and Small Elephant Hawk-moth new for the year amongst numerous Cinnabars, Heart and Darts and Light Feathered Rustics.

                                Small Elephant Hawk-moth

  Warm sunshine coupled with light winds attracted crowds of people to the coast on what was Bank Holiday Monday, although to be fair, one day is just like another in this New World Order. Even though we were out early for our circuit of the pits there was still a lot more visitors wandering over towards the `Sound Mirrors` throughout the day. Bird wise it was very quiet, so we spent some time checking the plants along the old railway line track.

                                View across the desert towards the water tower

 I wasn't expecting much on the sands this evening as day-trippers were everywhere enjoying the last of the sunshine. Scanning down towards Greatstone beach it was still packed out with bodies so I elected to walk towards Dungeness where it was quieter. We`d only got a couple of hundred yards from the boardwalk when I noticed a wader close up on the high tide mark and seemingly oblivious to people walking along the beach only a few feet away.
  Bar-tailed Godwits are one of my favourite bay waders and are present here throughout the year in variable numbers, mostly during the winter and on spring and autumn passage; early summer is when numbers are lowest, or birds are absent altogether. While some of the Arctic waders can be quite tolerant of us humans, Sanderlings particularly so, Bar-wits tend to keep out on the mud amongst their kin or within the Curlew flocks.
  This particular individual, however, had either not read the manual, or more likely was unwell, as it allowed me (with Barney to heal) to get within 10 yards. It was feeding quiet happily at that range so there was no need to approach any closer; infact whilst I was watching it intently through the bins a couple walked between us and it didn`t even budge!
  As I say, odd behaviour, but it afforded me some of the best views of this long-distance traveller I`ve ever had, and all in gorgeous evening light -  sensational.

                       Bar-tailed Godwit, Lade bay - adult male almost in full breeding plumage

Sunday 24 May 2020

Honey Buzzard

Lade - warm, dry and cloudy, sw 3 - Another breezy day, although not as brisk as yesterday. Over the weekend the first broods of Starling fledglings were abroad and away from the safety of their nests. Around the garden they were getting into all sorts of trouble from flying into windows and nearly drowning in the pond; while at least one ended up as breakfast for a Sparrowhawk. It was the same out back with large, noisy family flocks feeding on grubs and emerging insects from the turf-clad shingle ridges.
  A steady passage of Swifts was underway this morning high over the lakes along with lesser numbers of House Martins. Just after 1000hrs a Honey Buzzard flew over the site heading north, which sent the local Herring Gulls into a lather; infact, I probably wouldn't have seen the HB if it hadn`t been for the heads-up from the gulls.
  Around the ponds several Four-spotted Chasers and Hairy Hawkers were on the wing amongst hundreds of common damselflies. A Mullein rosette near the ramp was festooned with caterpillars and looked very worse for wear.

                                Four-spotted Chaser

                               Mullein moth caterpillars munching through a rosette

Friday 22 May 2020

Grey Plover

Lade - warm, dry and sunny, sw 5-6 - A sultry night delivered another decent haul of moths in the garden trap with both Buff-tip and Foxglove Pug new for the year. There was a much cooler feel to the weather for our morning circuit of the local patch as a fresh wind off the Atlantic picked up throughout the day.
  Predictably, a large mixed flock of House Martins, Swallows and a few Swifts came and went over south lake, otherwise it was slim pickings due to the buffeting wind with many passerines seeking shelter.
  This afternoon, on a falling tide, we checked the shorebirds on the bay. Apart from the usual non-breeding Curlews and Oystercatchers few others were noted apart from five Ringed Plovers, 10 Sanderlings, 10 Barwits and two splendid Grey Plovers in full breeding plumage.

                                Grey Plover on the bay

Thursday 21 May 2020

Corn Bunting

Lade - hot, dry and sunny, s2 - A couple of mid-summer like days, and balmy nights, improved the moth catch nicely with 15 species last night and five new for the year, although there was nothing particularly exciting apart from a Shark which I don't get very often. Also of note were several parties of high-flying, raucous Common Terns over the cottage this morning.
  It was heartening to hear and see the first Romney Hythe and Dymchurch train for over two months chugging along the track today on a test run; infact when I heard the whistle I rushed outside like a tourist to catch a glimpse of it, even though it was only JB Snell the diesel locomotive. While the service is not back up and running yet, it somehow gave a sense of hope that normality will return one day soon.

The 200` wall mirror at Lade is often used by birds as a perch, particularly when there is little wind as this morning with a pair of Oystercatchers asleep at one end and a preening Grey Heron at the other.  
                               Cruise ship anchored in the bay

  On the local patch a flyover Corn Bunting heading towards the Kerton Rd pit calling was a bit unusual as they tend to avoid the shingle, but just inland on Romney Salts they still breed in small numbers. The warmth had the desired effect around the ponds with plenty of emerging damselflies and at least one Hairy Hawker, while several monster Common Carp thrashed around  spawning by the willow swamp.
  A visit to a sultry Dengemarsh this afternoon was largely uneventful with only two Hobbies on show above Hookers reedbed, plus the usual array of waders, wildfowl and raptors across the wetlands.

                               Egyptian Geese are now a common sight on the wetlands

Tuesday 19 May 2020

Little change

Lade - warm, dry and sunny, nw 2 - The past few days have been much of a muchness with little change on the local patch bird wise. However, the shingle flora is really beginning to pick up about now and will peak around early June. A couple of Southern Marsh Orchid spikes have emerged from the usual area by south lake, while a Grass Snake was seen slipping into the water by the ponds where dragon and damselflies continue to be conspicuous by their absence.
 Cream-spot Tiger and Poplar Hawk-moth were both new for the year in the garden trap and a Hobby fizzed over the cottage sending the local Starlings into panic mode.

                                Egyptian Geese - no young as yet

                               Southern Marsh Orchid, Foxglove and Silverweed

                               Poplar Hawk-moth

                                Cream-spot Tiger

  Had a brief look at Dengemarsh this afternoon in blustery weather conditions. The field by Springfield bridge attracted 320 feral geese, many with goslings, while there was plenty of activity on hayfield 3 from Lapwings and Redshanks defending their young from Carrion Crow and Magpie. Also noted: Bittern `booming`, Little Egret, Marsh Harrier, Whimbrel, Shoveler, Bearded Tit and Yellow Wagtail; plus, from the range road, Little Owl and Wheatear.

                                Feral geese and Redshank, Dengemarsh

                                Little Owl and Wheatear from the range road

Saturday 16 May 2020

Wood Sandpiper

Lade - cool, dry and cloudy, light airs - At last a day without a blasting Arctic wind, but still a frigid  early morning atmosphere with only five common moths in the garden trap. There was nothing new on the lakes apart from a drake Shelduck on the willow swamp pool, while a steady passage of Swifts moved high overhead. When the sun eventually broke through a few butterflies ventured onto the wing, including Common Blue and Small Copper along the old railway track.

                                Sunbathing Small Copper

  This afternoon at Dengemarsh a Wood Sandpiper flew in from the hayfields and settled on a mat of floating weed on one of the arms of the main lake along with a couple of Redshanks, although it didn`t show for long before moving into a reed bed to feed. A Great White Egret flew over while three Hobbies hawked insects over Hookers where Marsh Harrier and a `booming` Bittern present.  
  Whilst scanning hayfield 3 a male Peregrine put on a fine show swooping low over the wetland,  sending 20 Lapwings, eight Redshanks and two Oystercatchers into the sky to `sort it out`; the prince of raptors was in imperious form and as always a treat to watch as it commanded the skies. Also noted: five Little Egrets, two Whimbrels, a Buzzard, Yellow Wagtail, Shovelers, Shelducks and four Ravens and two Mediterranean Gulls overhead. Two Brown Hares were also good to see gambolling across the shingle.

Thursday 14 May 2020


Lade - cold, dry and sunny, ne 5 - Following another cold, moth-free night the day continued likewise with a blasting north-easterly off the bay and the temperature barely creeping into double figures. Our morning walk outback was notable for the hundreds of Swifts, Swallows and House Martins forced down to feed over south lake, although few remained for long before spiralling up and heading north into the wind. A first year Marsh Harrier patrolled the main reed bed and a pair of Egyptian Geese flew towards the Kerton Road pit.

                               Hobbies over Dengemarsh

                          Barney can always find a sheltered spot for sunbathing!

  This afternoon a check of the front pits at Scotney yielded very little apart from a couple of Ringed Plovers and a Whimbrel on the bone-dry fields, plus the usual gulls, Cormorants and common  wildfowl on the lakes.
 Moving onto Dengemarsh, a Bittern `boomed` occasionally from Hookers reed bed where Marsh Harriers, Buzzard and at least three Hobbies noted; the latter raptor somehow finding flying insects (presumably Mayflies) to snatch and eat on the wing in the bitter, cold wind. Hobby numbers usually move into double figures as the month progresses here at Dengemarsh and with the weather forecast set to improve I would expect more migrant birds hawking the wetlands next week. Flight photography with a cheapo bridge camera is always a challenge, but one Hobby feeding over the hayfield did come low enough and into range for a few piccies. Also noted: Yellow Wagtail, two Whimbrels, Redshank and Lapwing with juvs, Little Egret, Shelducks and Shovelers.

Wednesday 13 May 2020

Netted Pug

Lade - cold, cloudy, ne 4 - A cold night produced only four species of moths in the garden trap; however, one was new for the site, a cracking Netted Pug, a moth I`ve been expecting for a while now as one of its host plants is Sea Campion, which is in abundance hereabouts on the shingle ridges.

                                Netted Pug, first for the trap site

   A steady passage of Swifts, Swallows and House Martins was underway out back as birds swept low over the desert and across the lakes feeding en-route. Wild flowers such as Foxglove and Bloom are now in full flower and we found a patch of Salsify by the Taylor Road entrance to the NNR.

  This afternoon, in line with the easing of lockdown restrictions, I paid a visit to Dengemarsh for the first time in two months, and what a joy it was to be in a different habitat. I have very much missed the waders, so it was great to reconnect with breeding Lapwings and Redshanks on the hayfields, along with migrant Whimbrels and a Greenshank, two Little Egrets, Shelducks, Shovelers and a Teal. Swifts and hirundines were everywhere, plus three Hobbies hawking insects in the brisk wind. Also noted: several Marsh Harriers, Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Common Terns, Yellow Wagtails, Bearded Tits, Raven and much more besides.

                               Redshank and Whimbrels on hayfield 3

Tuesday 12 May 2020

Lockdown review

Lade - Lockdown Day 50 - cool, cloudy, n2  - A much better day weather wise as the northerly airflow relented somewhat, but still chilly out of the sun. And so after 50 days the first governmental lockdown of our lifetime is over. From tomorrow we`re permitted unlimited daily exercise and being able to travel further afield to take said exercise; although down here the Dungeness Estate and RSPB reserve will remain closed until further notice pending reviews. While the beach car parks from Lade to Littlestone are accessible the toilets maintained by Folkestone and Hythe District Council remain closed, which from a public health angle is not great.
  This afternoon over south lake we had our first Hobby of spring charging about amongst a couple of hundred hirundines and Swifts that had been forced down to feed on emerging insects. It was our 109th and final species of the lockdown period.  A Grass Snake basking by the ponds was also a belated first for the year.
  When this lockdown started 50 days ago I genuinely thought that spending the entire spring period birding just the local patch would deliver the goods - how wrong I was. In 15 years of birding Lade this spring has been, without doubt, the most disappointing for both variety and numbers of almost all summer migrants.  
  The following migrants have all been recorded in lower than usual numbers: Hobby, Common Sandpiper, Common and Sandwich Terns, Swift, Sand and House Martins, Swallow, Yellow Wagtail, Reed, Sedge and Willow Warblers.
  Migrants that have held steady in number include: Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Greenshank, Grey Plover, Cuckoo (2/3 birds only),Wheatear, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Lesser Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler and Firecrest, while only Red Kite and Common Whitethroat have been more numerous than usual. The stand out oddities during the period were: White-tailed Eagle, Short-eared Owl and Woodlark.
  Notable by their absence (all of which have been recorded during previous springs here) include: Black-necked Grebe, Garganey, Little Ringed Plover, Turtle Dove (not seen for 3 years), Bee-eater (almost annual), Tree Pipit, Whinchat, Ring Ouzel and Spotted Flycatcher.
  So, a pretty depressing, but unsurprising picture of the status of our spring migrants, and one that I`m sure will be replicated elsewhere across the country. Some of it could be put down to the clear, dry weather throughout most of April encouraging nocturnal migrants to continue their journeys, and the unsuitably high water levels on the lakes for waders, but not all.

    Common Whitethroat - the most numerous spring migrant at Lade

Monday 11 May 2020

Winter returns

Lade - Lockdown Day 49 - cold, cloudy, ne 7 -  What a difference a day makes as the much heralded cold front from the Arctic eventually swept down south delivering a blasting north-easterly wind off the sea and plummeting temperatures. Needless to say I didn`t bother with the moth trap last night.

  This mornings walk out back around the lakes was a non-event bird wise due to the wind strength, although a mixed party of 50 Swifts and House Martins did move quickly through. The bay was a complete waste of time at high tide with a big sea running and virtually birdless.
  Spent most of the day renewing a raised bed in the garden with a Robin for company that is nesting in the greenhouse. The nest is out of view, safely tucked in behind some boxes, but judging from the number of visits by the adults they must feeding hungry nestlings by now.

     My 30 year old rigger boots, courtesy of Transco, finally went to their grave today!

Sunday 10 May 2020

White Spot

Lade - Lockdown Day 48 - overcast, humid, light airs - Perfect overnight weather conditions for moth trapping then, and so it proved with nine species of macros including a pristine White Spot, new for the year. Looking at the forecast though, the next few nights might not be so favourable.

                                White Spot

  On the local patch this morning a few Swifts and Swallows above south lake, a Yellow Wagtail over the desert and a late Whimbrel through was the only evidence of any migration. Bird song was much supressed now that the breeding season is in full swing, while the first Blue and Great Tit fledglings were out and about in the bushes around the ponds. By the time we got home, just before noon, the wind had begun to pick up from the north-east, although it remained mild.
  A high tide scan of the bay for half an hour this afternoon, from the shelter of the toilet block, yielded several each of Gannet and Sandwich Tern, plus two Grey Seals. Visibility was poor and by late afternoon the wind had picked up considerably, gusting to near gale force.

Saturday 9 May 2020

Red Kite passage

Lade - Lockdown Day 47 - warm, dry and sunny, ne 2 - A decent catch this morning with 33 macros of eight species in the garden trap, including Cinnabar and White Ermine new for the year.

                                White Ermine and Cinnabar

  Our early morning circuit of the local patch delivered an increase in Common Sandpipers to four around the margins of south lake where they struggled to find somewhere to land due to the high water levels. A check of the bay at high tide for seabirds drew a blank, but there was plenty of activity again by the emergency services dealing with incoming human migrants, including the Dover and Dungeness lifeboats.

                               Confiding Carrion Crow on the Desert


                                Dover and Dungeness lifeboats in the bay

  This morning there was a notable movement of Red Kites across the peninsula with upwards of 25 birds reported by midday from local birders, plus a Black Kite (MC et al). I saw four birds from the end of Hull Road soaring over the airport, while several more were reported from Greatstone and Romney Marsh, but always drifting inland; indeed, Chris P at hinterland St Mary-in-the-Marsh, during a 1045 -1145 sky-watch from his garden reported an astonishing, 18 Red Kites, 12 Common Buzzards, four Kestrels, two Sparrowhawks and a Black Kite! 
  The general consensus on the Red Kite movement is that they are probably migrants en-route to Scandinavian breeding grounds having drifted across the Channel. Some appear to be in wing-moult, so are probably non-breeding immatures.