Thursday 31 December 2020

Farewell 2020!

 Lade - cold and sunny, nw 2 - Well what a year it has been! It started off so promising here at Plovers with a full program of wildlife tours planned for our guests throughout the spring and summer seasons, until the virus struck and the whole lot were cancelled. Along with many others in the leisure sector it has certainly been a tough year, but nowhere near as tough as those frontline workers battling the virus in hospitals and care homes across the country, heroes every one of them. So, in retrospect we have been fortunate down here throughout this crisis, along with its various lockdowns, to still have access to the Dungeness NNR with its wealth of flora and fauna; and there certainly were some memorable moments. 

                                 Spring Wheatears,  Lade beach

  On the birding front I managed to clock up 216 species of birds across the peninsula during 2020, which is about average for me with only a few seabirds missing, mainly due to the Estate being closed in the first lockdown. Notable spring raptors included Sea-eagle sightings from the Netherlands population, decent numbers of Red Kites and Ospreys on passage, a Red-footed Falcon on Dengemarsh and several Black Kites through. The heron tribe once again featured well with Great White and Cattle Egrets and Glossy Ibis throughout, while spring `overshoots` included Black-winged Stilt, Purple Heron, Bee-eater, several Short-toed Treecreepers and a Rosy Starling at Lydd, part of a nationwide influx. As over 100 pairs of Common Terns settled down to breed on Burrowes and ARC two Whiskered and a Gull-billed Tern briefly added some glamour to proceedings.

                                  Rosy Starling, Lydd

  Willow Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Redstart and Whinchat were in short supply on spring passage, in contrast to Sedge Warblers and Whitethroats that seemed to be everywhere. With restricted access to parts of the bird reserve, and the hides closed throughout, wader-watching proved difficult, although plenty of Whimbrels could be seen and heard passing overhead during spring and autumn. Migrant Woodlark and Nightingale were noted at Lade and Cuckoos bred again, where there was also good numbers of grounded Yellow Wagtails and Wheatears on the desert in late summer. 

                                 Red-flanked Bluetail, Dungeness

                                  Pallas`s Warbler, DBO

  Autumn was notable for a rash of rare warblers including Pallas`s, Hume`s, Dusky and Yellow-browed at DBO, plus a sensational Red-flanked Bluetail, which was also part of an unprecedented influx across eastern Britain. Classic `drift` migrants such as Pied Flycatchers, Ring-Ouzel, Red-backed Shrike, Wryneck and Shore Lark enlivened the season as the first of the finches and thrushes arrived from the east and a late Dusky Warbler took up residence in the scrub around the ARC car park.

                                  Summer Solstice 2020

  However, the most memorable outing of the year for me was midsummer morning spent on the bird reserve with our Lucy watching the sun come up along with a cacophony of bird song and a Barn Owl hunting close by. A couple of hours later we sat overlooking the wetlands at Dengemarsh soaking up Bittern `booming`, Marsh Harriers food-passing and a singing Savi`s Warbler, a new species for me at Dungeness, pure magic. 

  The New Year beckons and although the first couple of months could be grim, hope springs eternal as the vaccines are rolled out, so stay safe and good birding to one and all for 2021.

Tuesday 29 December 2020

Gull fest

 Lade - cold, overcast, light air - A nippy, raw bone kind of a day that was not conducive to lingering long in one place. On the local patch a most unusual sight was four Marsh Harriers sat atop the 200` wall mirror this morning. On the lakes an increase in Wigeon and Teal numbers to 30 and 50 respectively and just a pair of Goldeneyes on south lake. A Stonechat in scrub along the main track was the first one for a while and a Chiffchaff called from cover.

  At Dungeness around midday all the car parks were full of visitors (despite the Tier 4 advice on keeping local) and there wasn`t a gull anywhere on the beach due to disturbance by dog-walkers. However, hundreds of gulls were to be found at the Patch and on the flat calm sea thereabouts, including at least 20 Mediterranean Gulls and a fly-through Iceland Gull; the Glaucous Gull from earlier had disappeared, but returned during the afternoon (MC). Plenty of auks, Kittiwakes, Gannets and a few Red-throated Divers passed off shore.

Sunday 27 December 2020

Iceland Gulls

 Lade - mild, sunny, sw 3 - Storm Bella tore through the peninsula overnight delivering almost an inch of rain in its wake with damaging gusts lifting roof tiles, flattening fences and even some walls hereabouts. However, by noon it was all over bar the shouting as the wind dropped and the sun broke through making a circuit of the local patch most pleasant. Goldeneye numbers had increased to five on south lake, while raptors abroad in search of food included three Marsh Harriers, two Sparrowhawks and a Buzzard. Along the strandline this afternoon thousands of cockles had been washed up on the high tide following the gale. 

                                              Cockles on the beach

  With up to three Iceland Gulls present locally I`ve spent a fair bit of time lately checking the gull flocks loafing on the sands at low tide, but without success. However, yesterday afternoon after a trip down to the Patch and a fair bit of searching I eventually located a first winter bird amongst a large gull flock on the beach. Offshore, from the seawatching hide, a steady movement of Gannets, Cormorants, auks, Kitts and Red-throated Divers rounded the point.

                                 Spot the Iceland Gull!

Thursday 24 December 2020

Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter

 Lade - cold, cloudy, nw 5 - Following a wet and windy spell of weather off the Atlantic, overnight the wind swung round to a much cooler northerly vector, but at least it was dry. Highlights this week so far across the local patch have included two Ravens flying inland `cronking` furiously, a Dartford Warbler by the cattery scrub, three Goldeneyes and a Great White Egret on south lake and a pair of Sandwich Terns lingering on the bay at low tide amongst increasing numbers of Mediterranean Gulls (20 on Tuesday). All ten species of waders are present somewhere between Lade and Littlestone, while at high tide Great Crested Grebes and a few Red-throated Divers could be seen fishing offshore along with several Grey Seals. This evening the clouds finally lifted affording spectacular views of the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter low in the south-western skies.

                                 Jupiter and Saturn conjunction over the desert

  A couple of visits to the fishing boats this week produced spectacular numbers of Razorbills, Guillemots, Gannets, Red-throated Divers and Kittiwakes feeding/moving offshore, plus singles of Bonxie and Fulmar; earlier in the week brief sightings of Glaucous Gull (PB) and Leache`s Petrel (OL) were noted. Elsewhere, the White-fronted Geese remain faithful to the Lydd fields, despite the farmer`s efforts to deter them, and the wild swans are still amongst the Mutes on Walland. The Black-throated Diver was on ARC yesterday, although I could find no sign of the Dusky Warbler, and a 1st winter Iceland Gull was at the Patch this morning (DBO). The bird reserve is now closed over the Christmas period until Sunday 27th. 

Sunday 20 December 2020

Harrier count

 Lade - showers and sunshine, mild, w 4 - It was a grim start to the day with leaden skies and sporadic rain that aptly reflected the national mood following yesterdays announcement by the government of a Tier 4 lockdown Christmas and New Year (and probably beyond). Still, we are fortunate down here to have access to the National Nature Reserve with its wide open spaces and coastline. Once the rain relented a check of the local patch revealed three Marsh Harriers quartering the main reedbed and flushing the Coots and diving ducks hugging the margins. I was on the lookout (or listen out) for an unprecedented 16 Ravens seen earlier by CP at St Mary`s-in-the-Marsh that were headed our way, but without success.

                                  Fieldfares bathing, Midley

  This afternoon was the final harrier count of the year on Walland Marsh where five Marsh Harriers came to roost in our allotted reedbed site, along with five Great White Egrets roosting in nearby bushes. Also in the general area 22 Bewick`s Swans, three Buzzards, Teal, Lapwings and Snipe, while the spectacle was provided by hundreds of geese and swans flying to roost at sunset, and hundreds of `chacking` Fieldfares in the lanes hereabouts. 

Friday 18 December 2020

Firth Lookout

 Lade - mild, cloudy, sw 5 - A mixed bag of wet and windy weather this week, but mild throughout. A Bittern flying over the main reedbed was the first of the winter and Goldeneyes increased to three in number. The usual Marsh Harriers worked the wildfowl flocks and a Merlin was noted on the desert chasing a Meadow Pipit yesterday. On the bay this week at least three Sandwich Terns were still present on Wednesday amongst all the usual waders.

  On the RSPB reserve the newly constructed Firth Lookout was open for business affording superb, panoramic (Covid safe) views across the lake overlooking the islands, and onwards towards the power station. This afternoon when I visited it was a bit blowy around the gills, so you will need to wrap up well, but already the close islands harboured nervy dabbling ducks and gulls, seemingly already accustomed to human shapes on the bund above. Top marks to all involved in the project. A third winter Caspian Gull and two Goldeneyes were of note from the viewpoint and a Peregrine hacked through flushing the wildfowl and gulls. The Boulderwall fields were packed out with Golden Plovers, Lapwings and Wigeons, plus four Marsh Harriers, a Great White Egret and hundreds of Starlings and corvids; the Glossy Ibis was also reported here earlier. The Dusky Warbler was calling in scrub around the ARC car park, while the Black-throated Diver, having been flushed off the lake by a Marsh Harrier flew overhead towards Tower Pits.

                                 View from the new Firth Lookout

Elsewhere this week a couple of forays out onto Walland delivered 23 Bewick`s and two Whooper Swans; 100 plus White-fronted Geese on the Lydd fields; female/immature Scaup and Long-tailed Duck on Scotney front pits and a ringtail Hen Harrier at Galloways. The sea has produced plenty of common seabirds this week on a southerly airflow such as Gannets, Kittiwakes, auks and Red-throated Divers along with goodies including Bonxie, Great Northern Diver and Goosander (MC et al). Late this afternoon a 1st winter Glaucous Gull was briefly on the beach at Dungeness (DBO).

Friday 11 December 2020

Dusky Warbler

 Lade - mild, sunshine and showers, light airs - Daily visits across the local patch this week have delivered very little change apart from an increase in numbers of Teal and Shoveler and, today, a pair of Goldeneye on north lake. 

                                  Sunset over Lade this afternoon

  The main bird news today was the discovery this morning by AP/SM of a Dusky Warbler in the scrub around ARC car park (where an eastern race Lesser Whitethroat was seen on Thursday). The bird was highly active, calling and even moving through the willow canopy at times before flying over the road into the garden at Boulderwall around midday. The Black-throated Diver was still present on the lake and could be seen from the bank near Screen hide. Also noted this week across the bird reserve: the long-staying Glossy Ibis on the fields at Dengemarsh and Boulderwall, several Water Pipits on the hayfields and a Long-tailed Duck on New Diggings (presumably the Scotney bird). The White-fronted Goose flock and two Whooper Swans were faithful to the oil-seed rape fields between Cockles Bridge and Culver Lane. More White-fronts were reported on Walland Marsh along with several Tundra Geese and 14 Bewick`s Swans. From the fishing boats at Dungeness large numbers of auks, Cormorants, Gannets and Kittiwakes continued to feed offshore along with many Red-throated Divers, Mediterranean Gulls and Sandwich Terns, while an immature Iceland Gull was noted yesterday flying towards Lade bay.

Sunday 6 December 2020


Saturday - Dungeness - cold, overcast, se 4 - We started the day with our usual circuit of the local patch at Lade where there was little of note and no sign of yesterdays reported Red-crested Pochard. However, with a brisk south-easterly wind underway the sea was always going to be a better bet, even at this time of year, and so it proved to be. On the high tide a decent number of Kittiwakes even made it into the bay, but for the full impact of what was an impressive movement of Kitts throughout the day, involving many thousands of birds, you had to be at the point (the morning seawatch estimated 8-10,000 through in two hours, plus a Little Auk).

                                  Kittiwakes on the move, Dungeness

  At the fishing boats this afternoon Kittiwakes continued to pulse down-Channel, some passing close to shore, and where a ten minute count by MC tallied 588 birds; it was also good to see a number of juveniles amongst the flocks. Also noted were plenty of auks (mainly Guillemots), Cormorants, Gannets and a lone Bonxie, but it was the Kittiwakes that stole the show providing a fabulous birding spectacle throughout the day, thanks mainly to the onshore wind and the abundance of available food in the form of sprats.

Friday 4 December 2020

Wildfowl and Weird Weather

Lade - cold, cloudy, sw 3 - Started the day on the local patch under glowering skies with an icy wind and finished at dusk in a torrential hail storm, during which time we sought shelter under the aerial mound tunnel - Barney was not impressed! Apparently, on the Wealden Hills just to the north there was a sprinkling of the first snows of winter as a warm weather front off the Atlantic collided with colder air from the east. Birdwise there was little to report apart from 75 Magpies going to roost in the willow swamp this evening.

                                  Bewick`s Swans, Midley

  A late tour of Walland Marsh today delivered 14 Bewick`s Swans within a herd of 160 Mutes at Midley, four Corn Buntings and a Yellowhammer at the drying barns (which have now been `tidied up`), 1,000 plus Fieldfares at Hawthorn Corner and four Buzzards and two Kestrels along the lanes. The front pits and grass at Scotney was full of birds; mainly feral geese, Wigeon and Lapwings as well as a few Redshanks, two Ruff and a Green Sandpiper. On the lakes a female Scaup at the Sussex end amongst the Tufteds and Pochards, a Goldeneye, two Marsh Harriers and a Peregrine; the Long-tailed Duck was also present (MC). At Lydd at least 120 White-fronted Geese in the oil-seed rape fields between Cockles Bridge and Culver Lane while a Glossy Ibis flew towards the reserve. A Black-throated Diver found earlier by MC was still on ARC.   

                                  Noon over Dungeness

Tuesday 1 December 2020

White-fronted Geese

 Lade - cold and sunny, nw 4 - The first day of winter, so`s to speak, and it felt like it with a brisk wind out of the north for much of the morning, but in bright sunshine. Things have been pretty pedestrian on the local patch these past few days although a steady trickle of inbound Redwings around dawn hinted at the changing season. An hour later a skein of 30 odd high-flying grey geese off the sea were probably White-fronted in line with an unprecedented arrival of this species across coastal Kent recently; heralds of an impending cold snap no doubt. Late morning from Cockles Bridge at least 40 White-fronted Geese were busily feeding in the fields towards Lydd along with three Bewick`s Swans amongst the Mutes, that were easier to see from Robin Hood Lane. A dusk visit out back at Lade desert delivered five Marsh and one ringtail Hen Harrier heading to roost, plus hundreds of corvids, mostly Jackdaws. 

Sunset and moonrise, Lade desert