Tuesday 30 June 2020

Little Gulls

Lade - wet and windy, cool, sw 4 - A couple of very unseasonable days of weather to start the week with yesterday`s winds gusting to near gale force, followed by showery rain and much cooler today.
Hundreds more Swifts and martins passed over the lakes this morning, while there was a noticeable increase in Black-headed Gulls and even a few Common Terns. However, the highlight was two moulting adult Little Gulls on north lake, although by the afternoon they`d already moved on.
  An hour at the fishing boats mid-afternoon was fairly pedestrian with just a trickle of Common Terns and Gannets through. Elsewhere, the Gull-billed Tern and Black-winged Stilt were reported from ARC.

                                Swifts over the aerial mast

Sunday 28 June 2020

Weather change

Lade - cool, dry and windy, sw 5 - Mercifully the weather changed over the weekend ( I don't like it too hot, and neither does Barney) with cooling winds off the Atlantic and a couple of fronts delivering a dribble of rain to the windswept landscape. I ran the garden moth trap on Friday night before the wind picked up and it was a pretty good catch with 26 species of macro, including another Sussex Emerald, an Elephant Hawk-moth (only the 2nd this summer) and Bird`s Wing and Knot Grass new for the year.

                                    Knot Grass

                                Bird`s Wing

                                Elephant Hawk-moth

  Swifts have been the dominant bird across the weekend with a steady trickle over the local patch as they come down to hawk insects. Little Egrets have started to reappear after their spring absence with three in the shelter of the willow swamp where a Cuckoo was still active. Four different Marsh Harriers were noted outback: an adult male and female, plus two first year birds. I haven't seen any juveniles on the wing yet, although it is still a bit early with mid-July being their normal fledging period.
  Yesterday afternoon we checked out ARC where the Gull-billed Tern was still present at the south end, and attracting a steady flow of twitchers to what is a desperately dangerous viewpoint along the causeway road. I watched it through the `scope at some distance, but in safety, whilst watching the Black-winged Stilt and a Green Sandpiper from the water tower end of the lake (both the tern and the stilt were present today). An hour at the fishing boats staring out to sea delivered several passing Common and Sandwich Terns, Mediterranean Gulls, a Fulmar and a minimum of 200 coasting Swifts, plus two Harbour Porpoises.

                                Little Egret, Willow Swamp

                                Hedge Brown, the ponds
  In a `normal` year we would be preparing to go to our first music festival of summer next week at the New Forest, but of course all that has changed. So, it was good to see and hear the Glastonbury coverage across the BBC this weekend which made up for the loss in some small way. Johnnie Walker`s Sounds of the 70`s Glasto show this afternoon was superb, while we`re both looking forward to the David Bowie set from 2000 this evening. Happy listening to music fans wherever you maybe!

Friday 26 June 2020

Around the garden

Lade - warm, dry and sunny, sw 3 - Another fine day of summer weather and mercifully chav free on the beaches after yesterdays madness. We had a brief burst of thunder and lightening with rain for about 10 minutes around 5am (just as I was covering the moth trap!) followed by a still, muggy period before the wind swung round and picked up off the Atlantic, bringing a welcome fresher feel to the atmosphere.
  The local patch was notable for the curious appearance of an adult female Cuckoo along the main track where the human footfall usually deters them, although we were out early this morning due to the heat. There are plenty of Dunnocks and Whitethroats to exploit in the gorse scrub by the track so I assume that`s what it was up too. Normally, Cuckoos are most active around the willow swamp and reedbeds seeking out their main host species, Reed Warbler. A Common Tern on south lake was unusual, which is crazy when you think of the activity just across the Desert on the bird reserve lakes.

                               Common Tern, south lake

  The moth trap was a little disappointing but did contain 21 species of macros including our 4th Sussex Emerald of the season. Working around the garden this morning several Marbled Whites drifted over from the shingle ridges along with Meadow and Hedge Browns. Our local Starling and House Sparrows gave great value performing on the feeders and in the water bowls, while a washed out Blue Tit on the fat balls was good to see as it`s a bird that rarely visits our coastal garden. One of the Magpies flew in with a hunk of bread, dunked it in a water bowl and swished it around before devouring it; what a clever bird! Alarm calls by the spadgers throughout the day alerted us to two Sparrowhawks and a Hobby over.

                                Garden birds

  This afternoon we had a run out to ARC where the car park has now been reopened between 0900 -1700hrs, which should alleviate the parking problem along the Lydd/Dungeness road. Please note that the bird reserve trails and access road remain closed until further notice. Down towards the pines the Black-winged Stilt was still present alongside a smart adult male Ruff on the islands in front of Screen hide. There was no sign of the Gull-billed Tern, although was reported in the evening.
  At the fishing boats a one hour seawatch delivered little bird wise, apart from several passing Gannets, Common and Sandwich Terns and a Mediterranean Gull, but was good for morale. As we were leaving a pulse of 20 Swifts headed west along the coast.

                                A sign of the times

                                Black-winged Stilt and `black` Ruff

Thursday 25 June 2020

Green Sandpiper

Lade - hot, dry and sunny, e3 - The hottest day of the year so far attracted thousands of day-trippers to the beaches hereabouts, with the coast road from Littlestone to Dungeness being reduced to single file traffic due to irresponsible parking. An unprecedented influx of humanity in these unprecedented times; although the Bobbies and Traffic Wardens were doing a roaring trade dishing out parking tickets to vehicles on double yellow lines and the like. In the aftermath this evening, once they`d returned from whence they came, the beach and surrounding roads were full of litter and it was left to us locals to clear up the mess left by the chavs.

                                Greatstone beach

                                Looking towards Lade

  On the local patch this morning a first Green Sandpiper of the return passage was of note, plus a dead Common Shrew along the main track. A late morning visit to ARC delivered another Green Sandpiper in front of Screen hide along with a Black-winged Stilt and the usual array of gulls, wildfowl, grebes, Coots and Common Terns on the lake. There was no sign of the Gull-billed Tern, although it had been seen earlier.

                               Common Shrew

                                Riband Wave on the shed wall

Wednesday 24 June 2020

Gull-billed Tern

Lade - warm, dry and sunny, e2 - Another belter of a day down here on the coast, although the midday heat was tempered somewhat by a pleasant sea breeze. We were out early for our daily circuit of the local patch, and by 7am plenty of butterflies were already on the wing. The only birds of note were two Marsh Harriers working the reedbeds and a Hobby over the Desert.
  Early this evening we attempted to check the bay on a falling tide for waders, but it was a lost cause as kite surfers and day-trippers were still everywhere, enjoying the wind and sun respectively.
  Local news today concerned a Gull-billed Tern and Black-winged Stilt on ARC and a Honey Buzzard over the point.

                               Gull-billed Tern, ARC

   Late on Monday evening a Gull-billed Tern was located at the southern end of ARC from the causeway road that separates the lake from New Diggings. Early on Tuesday morning it was re-found elsewhere on the bird reserve (which remains closed) from a public footpath and seen to fly strongly away over the power station and disappear.
  However, on Tuesday mid-afternoon it reappeared back on the ARC patrolling the southern end where viewing is, to say the least, somewhere between dodgy and outright dangerous, particularly when the power station is chucking out; while the speed at which some vehicles cross the causeway road is scary. Parking on the road is inadvisable and you will be moved on by the power station police. The tern was seen again today, off and on, flying between ARC and the reserve.
  Should anyone feel the urge to twitch it please note that the ARC car park remains closed, making the nearest safe parking area on the verge at the north end of Long Pits, east of the entrance to the power station.

                               Gull-billed Tern (by David Scott)

Tuesday 23 June 2020

First Sand Martins

Lade - warm, dry and sunny, light airs - As the summer sunshine beats down (and its set to get even hotter by mid-week) my pessimism of earlier in the month concerning butterflies was unfounded. Walking our usual transect along the old railway line delivered a host of grassland butterflies, mostly Small and Large Skippers, Meadow Browns, Small Heaths, Marbled Whites, several Common Blues and Small Coppers and at least two Essex Skippers.

    Viper`s Bugloss in full flower

                               Common Blue and Meadow Brown

  Around the ponds two Emperor dragonflies and a Four-spotted Chaser were on the wing, while a Cuckoo called from the willow swamp. On south lake Pochard numbers were up to 55, Coot 180, Great Crested Grebe 26, and as we headed home for breakfast, two Sand Martins dropped in to hawk insects, thereby announcing the `official` start of autumn migration! This tiny hirundine is hard to come by in spring, but over the coming weeks until early October, peaking in late August, tens of thousands of Sand Martins will pass through the Dungeness wetlands to pause awhile before making the short sea crossing over the English Channel and south to Africa.
  It was a steady night around the garden moth trap with another two Sussex Emeralds.

                               Black-winged Stilt, ARC

 The Black-winged Stilt that put in a brief appearance on Solstice morning was relocated on ARC (MC) and still present this evening along with a host of Lapwings, Little Egrets and Black-headed Gulls. Hundreds of wildfowl, Coots and grebes were spread across the still waters, while Common Terns came and went with fish for hungry nestlings on the raft. Cuckoo, Green Woodpecker and Lesser Whitethroat noted at the pines.

Sunday 21 June 2020

Summer Solstice

Lade/Dengemarsh - 0400hrs - mild, cloudy, sw 2 - I`ve always tried to do `something` on mid-summers day (it must be the Druid in me!) and when our youngest, Lucy, said she wanted to join me for an early shift we set the alarm clock for 0400hrs. Actually, I awoke before that and sat in the garden, in the gloaming, with a mug of tea watching two bats hawking insects in the lee of the fir trees with a backdrop of singing Blackbirds and Robins, a marvellous start to the day.
  Anyhow, so off we went, pausing briefly on the boardwalk with a bunch of hippies looking wistfully across the bay at a blood-red sky towards Folkestone. It was then onto the bird reserve, via public footpaths, commencing at Boulderwall for a dawn chorus where a riot of bird song was on offer: Sedge and Cetti`s Warblers, Common and Lesser Whitethroats, Cuckoo, Song Thrush and Blackcap were all in fine voice, and as the sun popped up over the horizon a Barn Owl floated by the water tower, followed by a flock of egrets leaving the ARC roost - seven Little, two Great White and a Cattle Egret. Phew, some start to the day!
  Various water birds soon tumbled onto the morning list as we walked towards Dengemarsh - Curlew, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Pochard, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Swift, Linnet, Reed Bunting and loads more of the aforementioned  warblers. From the ramp, a Bittern `boomed`, Beardies `pinged` and Common Terns fished the shallows, although the hayfields were devoid of any birds apart from a few feral geese. Backtracking on the farmland, Yellow and Pied Wagtails, Corn Bunting, Skylark Swallow and Raven all showed well for Lucy. On Burrowes a Little Ringed Plover was new for the year and we finished off in fine style back at Boulderwall with a Cattle Egret amongst the stock and a flyover Black-winged Stilt that flew south towards Dengemarsh/the Ranges never to be relocated as far as I`m aware, but presumably the Rye bird.
  Lucy wanted a tally up, and it came to a respectable 64 species of birds during the four hours we were out, during which time we didn't encounter another soul around the reserve.



                                0440hrs - sunrise

                                   Pyramidal Orchid

                                Yellow Wagtails

  After breakfast a check of the garden moth trap with our nine year old grandson revealed our first Sussex Emerald of summer and Scalloped Oak, although he was far more impressed with the Privet Hawk-moths! A late morning check of the local patch, in a fine drizzle, delivered 150 Swifts over south lake and precious little else.

                                Sussex Emerald, first of the season

Thursday 18 June 2020

Pale Shoulder

Lade - mild, cloudy, wet, light airs - A steady and welcome 12mm (OL at Littlestone) of rain fell overnight and continued into mid-morning, freshening up the garden plants and veg like no amount of artificial watering ever can. However, the rain did not deter moths coming to light and when I rose at 5am to cover the trap it looked packed with goodies; although our local Robin was already on the case picking off moths that had settled outside the trap on the summerhouse wall. Sifting through the egg boxes and recording 26 species of macros (several new for the year) I was well pleased with the nights catch - and even more so when an unfamiliar moth at the bottom of the trap morphed into a Pale Shoulder, a scarce immigrant and new for the trap site. Following a consultation at the KRC it would appear to be only the third Dungeness area record.

                                                     Pale Shoulder, Acontia lucida

  Our morning circuit of the local patch was carried out in fine drizzle, but at least it was mild and perfect for Barney who skipped along like a puppy. On south lake Pochard numbers had increased to 26, while the bay Curlew flock, high-tide roosting on the Desert shingle ridges, had settled in a convenient place, affording an accurate count of 46 individuals. Several Pied Wagtails were still plundering the insect corpses around the lakeside margin and a pair of Stonechats made an appearance after a two month absence. Also of note was only our second Marbled White of summer that showed when a shard of sunlight broke through the gloom.

                                Pristine Marbled White

                               Pied Wagtail feeding on dead flies

                               Male Stonechat

Tuesday 16 June 2020

Carpets and Waves

Lade  - warm, dry and sunny, light airs - With the overnight temperature not falling much below 13C and a high humidity it was no surprise that the garden moth trap was at its best so far this season with 28 species of macros, of which seven were new for the year. Geometrids seemed to be the order of the day with plenty of carpets and waves, including Small Dusty and Riband Wave, Least and Galium Carpets, plus a couple of `spectaculars` in the shape of Peppered Moth (scarce here) and Swallow-tailed Moth.

                                Galium Carpet

                                   Light Arches

                                Peppered Moth

                                Least Carpet

                               Swallow-tailed Moth

  On the local patch there are already hints of post-breeding dispersal with loose flocks of Lapwings moving over the farmland behind the `mirrors` and increasing numbers of Pochards and Gadwalls on south lake. The Cuckoo was still calling frantically, after I thought it had departed least week, and two Marsh Harriers worked the far reedbed.
  This morning the lakeside margins were covered in the corpses of myriads of tiny flying insects that emerged yesterday in their millions (and that is no exaggeration), but nature is rarely wasteful, so a bonanza awaited Coot, Moorhen, Dabchick, Starling, House Sparrow and Pied Wagtail.
  More Sandwich Terns and Mediterranean Gulls have also continued to appear over the peninsula, some settling on the sands at low tide where this afternoon 75 Oystercatchers, 20 Curlews and two Bar-tailed Godwits were present.

                                Cruise liner crossing the bay

  An evening visit to the bird reserve in fine still weather conditions delivered the usual Marsh Harriers, Hobbies, Cuckoo, Great White Egret, Barn Owl, `booming` Bittern and much more besides.

                                Barn Owl with vole

                                Hobby surveying the scene

Sunday 14 June 2020

Plant life

Lydd - warm, dry and sunny, se 3 - This weekend we`ve been searching for orchids along the old railway line track where in past years double figures of Pyramidal Orchids and several Bee`s are normally found, but not so this year with just one of the former located, and a stunted specimen at that. I think the problem is the drought; the ground is bone hard and most of the grasses and flowering plants that have survived are in poor condition too and burnt to a crisp. The grassland butterflies have suffered likewise with hardly any noted along the transect.

                                 Pyramidal Orchid

                                White Mullein


                               Coot with young

  Typically, as we approach the summer solstice bird song is already much subdued and some of the adults are looking worse for wear as finding food for hungry broods takes its toll; one of the male Whitethroats out back has lost his tail entirely and unable to balance atop the gorse to deliver his jaunty cadence. Whether he will be able to make it back to the Sahel in such condition is unlikely.
  The Oystercatcher pair nesting on the steep-sided scaffold island are still attending to at least one well-grown juvenile. Their habit of feeding the young directly is unusual in waders, but it does mean that they can nest in all sorts of strange locations such as roof tops and the like, which in turn lessens the chance of ground predation. Once food is delivered the adult bird then flies over onto the shingle ridges for a breather, before heading out onto the bay to feed.

  A flyover Little Egret was the first for some time, as were several small parties of Sandwich Terns and Mediterranean Gulls high over the cottage calling. I eventually caught up with one of the local Red-footed Falcons this afternoon, an immature male found by SM.
  The moth trap was again disappointing with only Buff-tip and Lackey new for year.

                                Buff-tip and Lackey