Dungeness - dry, sunny, mild, E 4 - Spent the day guiding for two guests from Bedfordshire commencing at the point where the highlights were a trickle of Gannets and Sandwich Terns in the Channel, an Arctic Skua, two Common Scoters and several Grey Seals and Porpoises. The land was very quiet but did deliver cracking views of a juvenile Merlin chasing Linnets by B Station, a Peregrine on A station and a Kestrel dismembering prey on the old lighthouse. Moving on to the bird reserve at Boulderwall where we mopped up with good views of the Glossy Ibis, two Cattle Egrets, a Great White Egret, two juvenile Marsh Harriers and a Hobby around Cook`s Pool, while on Burrowes, three Ruffs, a Snipe, a Black-tailed Godwit and a Garganey were the highlights. Next stop Lade bay on the incoming tide and the usual waders including 20 Knots, 10 Bar-tailed Godwits and three Shelducks, plus 10 Yellow Wagtails on the foreshore. Scotney front fields and lakes produced a notable flock of 10 Common Sandpipers along with more common waders, feral geese, 20 Yellow Wagtails and 20 Linnets. At Galloways Wheatear, Stonechat and Whinchat were all logged. We finished the day at ARC by the Screen hide with the usual wildfowl, eight Little and two Great White Egrets and a mixed passerine flock that contained Chiffchaffs, Long-tailed Tits and a Willow Warbler. Despite a nagging wind throughout the day we still gathered 86 species of birds for our guests.
Sunday, 12 September 2021
Lade - warm, dry and sunny, NW 2 - The local patch proved to be much of a muchness over the weekend with benign weather conditions producing a trickle of hirundines through, a few Chiffchaffs in the willow swamp and a handful of grounded Wheatears, Yellow Wagtails and Meadow Pipits. There was no change to wildfowl and grebe numbers from a week ago.
This morning a check of the front fields and lakes at Scotney delivered more hirundines, including several pulses of House Martins, 50 Yellow Wagtails, two Avocets, a Green Sandpiper, Curlew, Turnstone and Dunlin, plus all the usual feral wildfowl, Lapwings, gulls and Cormorants; Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard and two Kestrels, Great White and Little Egrets also noted. Galloways Road held a scattering of Wheatears and Stonechats, two Whinchats, Whitethroat, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Yellow Wagtail, Common Buzzard and Kestrel. Moving onto the bird reserve and at Boulderwall a probable Honey Buzzard went through, although I was driving at the time so didn`t get the best of views (MC saw the same bird from Lydd). Rounding the corner by the bee hives the roosting gulls went up over the shingle with a White Stork in their midst affording John Y and myself cracking views as it soared overhead (the pic above doesn`t do it justice). It had been reported down the coast earlier at Sandgate; a tatty adult bird in heavy wing moult that did not appear to be sporting any leg irons or plastic tags, so probably wild and maybe not a Knepp bird... We watched it for about 20 minutes or so until it soared up into the cloud base and drifted away to the east out of sight. From Dennis`s hide the usual array of wildfowl on Burrowes, plus a small mixed flock of Lapwings and Golden Plovers, three Black-tailed Godwits, Ruff and Common Sandpiper. A late afternoon visit to ARC and the `resident` Glossy Ibis was in situ on its favoured island, along with a Great White and Little Egret, plus two Cattle Egrets over the lake and two Black-necked Grebes on the water by Hanson hide.
White Stork flock - I`d just got in and settled down with a cuppa, around 1700hrs, when the local Whatsapp group went into melt down - David Scott had just reported, and posted a pic, of a flock of c40 White Storks kettling over Greatstone/Littlestone! Hang on, I thought, have we been transported to Gibraltar, surely not? But over the following hour said kettle of storks did the decent thing and soared over the peninsula affording good views over Lade and from the garden; (complementing the Black Stork from way back!). Most other local birders also got to grips with the spectacle at various ranges before they disappeared over towards West Hythe. The pic below by DS shows 39 birds while MC counted 46 from his pics taken from Lydd; even if it does turn out to be the Knepp flock it was still mightily impressive and a spectacle that will live long in the memory.
Chris Philpott also managed to get a couple of decent shots of the flock over the Romney Marsh, and many thanks to him for sending them through.
Thursday, 9 September 2021
Dungeness - humid, misty, sunny later, SW 2 - Last night`s weather conditions were near perfect for moth trapping with light airs, low cloud and a high humidity, so it was no surprise then that the garden trap was busy with moths this morning, including Latticed Heath and Light Emerald, both scarce here, and a Bulrush Wainscot, new for the Plovers site.
We spent the final session of our four day bird tour around the peninsula noting another Spotted Flycatcher and a few common passage warblers at the top end of Long Pits; a Great Spotted Woodpecker, three Wheatears and a Glossy Ibis at ARC; four Black-tailed Godwits, 55 Golden Plover, a Common Sandpiper and Common Tern, plus a trio of roosting Spoonbills on Burrowes. Once the sun broke through the butterflies came alive and we saw at least six Clouded Yellows on the track down to the pines. During the course of the week 110 species of birds were accumulated for Clare and Peter, the highlights being the wader tally at an impressive 20 species, including Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and Spotted Redshank.
Wednesday, 8 September 2021
Dungeness - hot, dry and sunny, E 3 - We started the day down at the Patch where a lone juvenile Yellow-legged Gull was amongst a small, mixed flock of gulls and a few Sandwich Terns over the boil and along the beach. Elsewhere around the point: Lesser and Common Whitethroats, several Wheatears, Linnets and Stonechats, two Grey Wagtails, Meadow Pipit, Whinchat, Sparrowhawk and Peregrine. On the bird reserve from Dennis`s hide, Little Stint, Knot, Ruff and Dunlin were amongst large numbers of Lapwings and Golden Plovers on Burrowes.
We then moved on to Rye Harbour to coincide with the high tide and a circuit of the Beach Reserve where the highlights were c600 Sandwich Terns, 45 Curlews, 20 Redshanks, two Grey Plovers, three Whimbrels, Common Sandpiper, Turnstone, several Wheatears and a Skylark. Whilst there news came through of three Spoonbills that had dropped onto Burrowes, so it was back to Dungeness where the trio of spoonies were, typically, still asleep on an island in front of Firth lookout. We finished the day at Boulderwall fields with three Cattle Egrets and a Yellow Wagtail amongst the stock.
Tuesday, 7 September 2021
Midrips - hot, dry and sunny, E2 - We blagged our way in to the ranges this morning where extensive work is underway to reinforce the sea wall. Wheatears and Yellow Wagtails were everywhere with a minimum of a 100 of each scattered across the wetlands, shingle ridges and foreshore; many of the former being of the Greenland race. The Midrips held a fine selection of waders including 85 Dunlins, 12 Ringed Plovers, three Black-tailed Godwits, four Little Stints, a Knot, an Avocet and a Curlew Sandpiper, while further along at the Wickes and South Brooks, two Curlews, Turnstone, Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Oystercatcher and Spotted Redshank were added to the wader list of 12 species. Also noted: 100 Sandwich Terns, four Common Terns, five Kestrels, four Shelducks, 10 Shovelers, four Teal, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Black Redstart, Rock Pipit and a Bonxie chasing the terns at sea. We also had another Clouded Yellow and a cracking view of a Weasel along the path.
A check of Scotney from the S bend produced a host of common wildfowl, four Ruffs and a Turnstone. At Galloways 20 more Wheatears were noted along with five Stonechats and a Whinchat. From Springfield bridge a Hobby put on a fine show over the reedbed, while a Spotted Flycatcher was seen at the top end of the Long Pits. On the ebb tide we checked the bay for waders where hundreds of Sanderling, Dunlins, Oystercatchers and Curlews were mixed in with a couple of thousands gulls, including 100 Mediterranean Gulls and 50 Sandwich Terns, plus eight Knots. We finished the day at the fishing boats where the highlights were several Porpoises and a juvenile Arctic Skua chasing the terns. Bird of the day, however, was the Wheatear simply by virtue of numbers, as everywhere we went we saw them and our day total was at least 150 birds.
Monday, 6 September 2021
Dungeness RSPB - humid, light airs - We commenced a bird tour for Clare and Peter this afternoon on the bird reserve in steamy weather conditions where countless flying ants were being snapped up by thousands of soaring gulls, hirundines and Starlings. Even the passerines were getting in on the act with Chaffinches acting like flycatchers and a wide range of warblers, including cracking views of Reed and Sedge Warblers from the ramp and a Pied Flycatcher behind the old Firth hide. Burrowes was busy with waders, mostly hundreds of Lapwings and Golden Plovers, six Ruffs, Little Stint, Snipe and a Ringed Plover, plus all the usual dabbling ducks, including two each of Pintail and Wigeon. More warblers, tits and Chaffinches were noted around the circular route, plus Sparrowhawk, Marsh Harrier, Green Woodpecker and Raven. On the ARC the Glossy Ibis was in its usual spot just past the Screen hide along with three Garganeys, Great White and Little Egrets, plus two Black-necked Grebes further out on the lake and a Shelduck on the tern raft. Also noted this afternoon a Clouded Yellow by the return trail and a Fox cub in the ARC car park. The police and Border Force were kept busy today rounding up incoming refugees from across the Channel.
Friday, 3 September 2021
Lade - warm, dry and sunny, NE 4 - I`ve been suffering from a touch of man-flu this week which has restricted my time in the field somewhat; the Mordor-like weather conditions hasn`t helped either, reflecting the birding mood - dull and uninspiring, at least on the local patch. Mothing has also been pretty much a waste of time due to the brisk wind off the sea and when I did run the trap only a handful of moths came to light. That said forays out around the nearby Trapping Area, Desert and Kerton triangle did produce a few Wheatears, Whinchats, Stonechats this week, and one very elusive Wryneck; although not so for some birders, including DS who also managed to get a smart shot of it in `the pear tree`.
Today the sun finally broke through the murk and I felt well enough for a tour of the bird reserve where the islands on Burrowes held about 100 roosting Lapwings, four Golden Plovers, three Ruffs and two Redshanks. There were hundreds of eclipse ducks to check through, with a big increase in Teal and Shoveler numbers since last weekend, plus five Wigeons, two Pintails and a Garganey. Sitting in Dennis`s hide just before midday musing on what perfect weather conditions, time of day and date it was for a Honey Buzzard, I could hardly believe my eyes when one came soaring in over the gantry, passing across the back of the lake (setting off the HGs) and disappearing away south over the switch station! Elsewhere around the reserve a Cattle Egret and Glossy Ibis were noted on ARC, three Great Whites and two juv Marsh Harriers on Dengemarsh and a trickle of Yellow Wagtails and Sand Martins overhead.
Sunday, 29 August 2021
Lade - warm, dry and sunny, NE 2 - With settled weather and a north-easterly airflow in charge over the Bank Holiday weekend and beyond we have the ideal recipe in place for migrants leaving northern Europe and drifting our way. Yesterday, in the cool of early morning, hundreds of Sand Martins and Swallows were forced down to feed over the lakes with at least two Hobbies in attendance; one of which was seen to chase a Blue Tit out over the shingle ridges that narrowly avoid death by plunging into ground cover. There has also been a noticeable increase in Sparrowhawk sightings of late as they too move south-west, and the two locally bred Marsh Harriers were again hunting the long reed bed this morning. Most of the Sedge Warblers appear to have now left site leaving a few Reed Warblers in the reedbeds but plenty of Whitethroats, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs around the ponds and in the dry scrub, plus small parties Yellow Wagtails along the beach. We walked the bay this evening on the outgoing tide checking the waders and gulls to the accompaniment of a large gathering of ravers and banging tunes on the beach at Greatstone. Oh, what it is to be young!
Elsewhere, Galloways has been the place for Whinchats and Wheatears, along with a Wryneck yesterday and another on Dungeness at the southern end of the Trapping Area, although the latter was never easy to pin down. A scattering of Pied and Spotted Flycatchers also made an appearance across the peninsula and at St Mary-in-the Marsh. With the islands on Burrowes pit cleared last week grounded passage waders included Little Stint, Ruff, Common Sandpiper and Black-tailed Godwit today, while over the road several Black Terns, Cattle Egrets and Black-necked Grebes have been noted on ARC lake.
Wednesday, 25 August 2021
Lade - warm, dry and sunny, NE 3 - A recent blocking anticyclone delivered a welcome period of settled weather over the British Isles with a north-easterly airflow bringing good numbers of Yellow Wagtails our way. Some of these migrants may have originated from the near continent or Scandinavia as they dispersed south-west across the North Sea or drift down this side of the English Channel en-route to their winter quarters south of the Sahara. This morning small flocks were grounded hereabouts on the beach amongst the Sea Kale and long grasses and also on the shingle ridges inland with more heard overhead. Our first Tree Pipit of autumn was also noted flying over calling along with a steady trickle of Sand Martins and Swallows. The hot weather and favourable wind attracted hoards of holiday makers and kite-surfers onto the bay today resulting in difficult viewing conditions for waders, terns and gulls.
An hour at the fishing boats this afternoon with the locals was pleasant enough in the warm sunshine. A few Gannets, terns and gulls drifted by while several Arctic Skuas were active further out harrying the terns.
Sunday, 22 August 2021
Saturday, Lade - cloudy, warm, showery, E 2 - A tour of the pits first thing revealed 235 Pochard, 48 Great Crested Grebes and 32 Little Grebes amongst c200 Coots and c150 Tufted Ducks, plus 20 Shovelers, 25 Gadwall and four Teal. On north lake 100 Med Gulls and five Little Egrets.
With high tide around 1100hrs I arrived on the bay, opposite the Market car park, just after 1230hrs with plenty of juicy sandpipers close to the shingle, mostly Dunlins in all their differing sizes and plumages along with a good sprinkling of Sanderlings and Ringed Plovers. Over the next 90 minutes I was like a kid in a sweet shop as birds feeding down by the holidaymakers on Greatstone beach came my way in wave after wave to be scrutinised. I estimated there to be c2,000 Dunlins, c500 Sanderlings and a count of 160 Ringed Plovers, one of my highest ever. Scores of Mediterranean Gulls and Sandwich Terns on a sand bar flushed by a dog flew past me towards Dungeness along with five Little and three Black Terns as a flock of seven Greenshanks circled overhead calling frantically before heading inland; I guess with high water levels on the bird reserve there are few places for passage waders to drop onto. Eventually, the big `uns arrived back en-masse from their roost sites; c1,000 Oystercatchers and c400 Curlews, for me a spectacle I never tire of witnessing. Other shorebirds in the throng included five Barwits, three Knots, two Whimbrels, two Turnstones and a Little Stint, plus 10 Common Tern amongst the returning Sandwich Terns and at least nine Grey Seals further out to sea. Lade bay at its very best!
Sunday - Lade - warm, cloudy, W2 - After a heavy thunderstorm around daybreak the weather settled down as the morning progressed with the sun occasionally poking through the clouds. Several small parties of Yellow Wagtails were grounded on the shingle ridges and a Pied Flycatcher was noted by the ponds. On the bay this afternoon I joined DS to scan the beach where the wader numbers were down on yesterday, although there was still plenty to see including many Sandwich Terns and Mediterranean Gulls. We couldn`t find the Little Stint, but agreed that there had been two birds present over the previous five days, an adult and a juvenile; and many thanks to Dave for sending through his superb pics.
A visit to Scotney produced a motley bio-mass of feral geese, eclipse ducks, large gulls. a couple of hundred Lapwings on the front fields and thousands of Starlings heading inland. At Galloways I walked the road to the car park with RW where we eventually located a smart Whinchat amongst 10 each of Wheatear and Stonechat, plus 10 more Wheatears around the security hut, Golden Plovers and Yellow Wagtails overhead. On the bird reserve a Cattle Egret showed briefly and distantly on the Boulderwall fields amongst the stock, a Common Sandpiper was on Burrowes and the Glossy Ibis and a Black-necked Grebe were on the ARC.
Friday, 20 August 2021
Lade - warm, dry and sunny, SW 2 - A thorough search around the willow swamp first thing delivered a juvenile Cuckoo on the edge of the main reed bed (hopefully one that was reared here) where plenty of Reed and Sedge Warblers were also chattering away. Juvenile Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were noted along with a trickle of Sand Martins and two Swifts south. Both Little and Great Crested Grebes have had a good breeding season locally with youngsters in tow across both waters. Ten Mediterranean Gulls landed on north lake with many more heading inland having been forced off the bay on the flood tide, probably to feed on ploughing operations. A check of the bay around noon on the ebb tide revealed the Little Stint still present, plus three Blackwits and the usual Dunlins, Oystercatchers and Curlews.
A mid-morning tour of the bird reserve produced the usual egrets, harriers, wildfowl and grebes, plus a Glossy Ibis and two Black-necked Grebes on ARC; five Wigeon on Tower Pits and a Golden Plover with 100 Lapwings on Burrowes, from where an Osprey was reported earlier; and ten Yellow Wagtails by Springfield Bridge and a Raven over.
This afternoon on the way home from Bethesden we crossed the Marsh farmland and I was staggered at the amount of land that not only had been harvested but already tilled and drilled for next years crop; little wonder then that the countryside is so devoid of wildlife. Worst of all are the heavily treated turf fields which seemed to have proliferated between Ivychurch and new Romney.
Thursday, 19 August 2021
Lade - warm, dry and sunny, W3 - The garden moth trap hasn`t been particularly busy of late but did include a migrant Gem on Tuesday night, only the second site record; Jersey Tigers continue to be numerous with eight last night. Bird wise the bay has been decent for waders; this morning I went down on the outgoing tide where the Curlew flock had just returned from roosting and was conveniently lined up not too far out and just begging to be accurately counted - all 395 of them! I reckon it`s best not to take this long-lived wader for granted as it is in serious decline as a breeding bird in Britain and Ireland, due to habitat loss, and no doubt in the not too distant future will tumble off a cliff-edge numbers wise and become something of a rarity. On a more positive note Dunlins had increased to c700 and the Little Stint was still present for its third day. Passage Yellow Wagtails continue to drop in along the beach where they appear to find plenty to feed on amongst the rotting Sea Kale.
Called in at the ARC this morning where three Great White Egrets were present along with a distant Black-necked Grebe amongst the wildfowl. The bushes were noticeably devoid of birds although the wind had started to pick up. Elsewhere today an Osprey was reported at Lade and was probably the one seen at Dengemarsh this afternoon, while the Glossy Ibis was back at its usual haunt on ARC (DS) and a Black Tern flew past the fishing boats (MC).
Tuesday, 17 August 2021
Lade - mild, cloudy, W 2 - We`ve stuck pretty much to the local patch these past few days, checking and rechecking the pits and bay for signs of autumn migration. With high water levels waders have been at a premium on the lakes with singles of Common Sandpiper and Dunlin being about it. Two Whimbrels flew over yesterday whistling away, while the bay Curlew flock continue to roost on the desert shingle. A walk outback to a known Marsh Harrier nesting site confirmed successful breeding with two fledged juvs flopping about in cover, where a Brown Hare also noted (scarce here now). Yesterday afternoon a large Starling flock feeding on blackberries and flying ants on the shingle was promptly relieved of a juvenile bird by a passing Hobby in spectacular fashion as it was taken from atop a bramble runner. Willow Warblers and Common Whitethroats have both been seen in the back garden and around the ponds, plus Reed and Sedge Warblers at the latter site.
Saturday, 14 August 2021
Lade - warm, dry and sunny, SW 3 - Its been a bit of a struggle to get motivated on the local patch these past few days as apart from a few passage Willow Warblers (including several through the garden), Whimbrels over calling and Sand Martins over the lakes there has been very little evidence of migration. On the water a brood of Tufted Ducks was the first of summer, along with several broods of Great Crested Grebes. On Thursday evening 20 Mediterranean Gulls and 50 Sandwich Terns were on the beach at high tide; whilst we returned at 2300hrs to view the Perseid meteor shower from the boardwalk, and pretty spectacular it was too against the backdrop of Jupiter and Saturn in the southern sky.
A circuit of the bird reserve on Friday morning produced a Dunlin and Garganey of note on Burrowes, plus two Pintails and Wigeon amongst the throng of ducks on ARC. Across the site there was a steady passage of Sand Martins, at least four Great White Egrets, two juvenile and an adult Marsh Harrier and a flyover Greenshank. With bird song all but over and most warblers now moulting and preparing for the long journey south the bushes were relatively quiet.
Dungeness RSPB Reserve - In pre-Covid times the staff at Dungeness RSPB would normally run regular evening meetings to update volunteers on progress across all aspects of reserve activity, including current and future developments at both Dungeness and Lydden Valley; although for obvious reasons these meetings have not been possible since March last year. Following a number of recent negative comments online and general discontent from some local birders (including me) and visitors about the situation at Dungeness I took it upon myself to speak to the reserve manager and seek out the facts as summarised below.
Hides - Probably the most contentious issue of all at the moment is the state of the hides with only Screen, Dennis`s and Christmas Dell hides currently open. Firth and Makepeace hides overlooking Burrowes pit have been condemned and will not reopen; Firth will be replaced by the Firth Lookout (which may have screening fitted to prevent it being a wind tunnel) while a new top-of-the range hide will eventually be erected in place of Makepeace; although funding will have to be applied for which may take a while. Down the line then, Burrowes should be viewable throughout from Dennis`s hide, the Visitors Centre (when it reopens without Covid restrictions), the replacement Makepeace and the two viewpoints at Firth and Scott. Dengemarsh and Hanson hides will reopen sometime in the near future once the access ramps have been replaced and overhanging trees have been cut back from the latter and when work on the replacement Willow Trail is complete.
Tern Rafts - All three tern rafts (two on Burrowes and one on ARC) are unlikely to be towed in for the winter due a combination of grounding and damage making them difficult to move, but staff are looking at covering them in situ to prevent the gulls/geese nesting before the terns arrive next May. Little can be done to deter the Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls nesting on the islands as they are Red Listed species.
Predator Control - This is a contentious subject and while it is legal to humanely control corvids the only predator control carried out on the reserve is on Foxes and Mink. The Badger is a legally protected species.
Access - There has been some comment on the reserve open hours. Until further notice the main gate will be open daily from 9am - 5pm for vehicular access to the main car park and toilets; this will be extended from 8am until sunset when interns return to site at Boulderwall farmhouse. The ARC car park will remain open throughout.
Visitor Centre - While the shop is open from 10am - 4pm Covid protocols remain in place and as such there are few activities planned for the rest of this year. However, this will be subject to an ongoing review and the hope is that things can returned to normal as soon as possible.
Tree Sparrows - Numbers have declined/crashed across southern England and the Marsh of this popular species which ceased to breed at Boulderwall and elsewhere across the site in purpose built boxes three years ago. Due to harassment from dominant House Sparrows and the fact that numbers of Tree Sparrows were so low, staff were advised by ecologists to stop artificial feeding. There is some evidence to suggest that climate change may be one of the causes contributing to its decline as it is faring better further north.
These past 18 months have certainly been a difficult time for many of us, including the RSPB who have had to comply with the Covid restrictions that has affected not only their income stream in the Visitors Centre and shop, but also a loss of volunteers and work party activity throughout. This summer has been one of the wettest on record which has resulted in high water levels and a lack of wader habitat which has been frustrating for many (myself included) and exacerbated by restricted access to parts of the reserve. However, I hope the above details have cleared up a few misconceptions and I would like to thank Gareth the site manager for taking the time to have a chat and answer all my queries. Hopefully I`ve given an accurate account of our conversation, but if there are any errors (and I`m sure I`ll be told!) then I`m at fault.
Wednesday, 11 August 2021
Lade - warm, dry and sunny, W2 - At last the strong winds of the past week or so subsided, affording the chance of finding a few passerines. Early this morning the east facing scrub line beside south lake supported a decent cast of Common and Lesser Whitethroats, Willow Warblers, tits, House Sparrows and Dunnocks soaking up the sunshine. There was no change to the wildfowl and grebe numbers on the lake, while a Common Sandpiper flew over south lake looking for somewhere to land. On the bay a few more Ringed Plovers have started to appear, while most of last weeks Mediterranean Gulls seem to have moved on.
With Dungeness RSPB reserve rendered largely unwatchable due the hide closures and high water levels we took ourselves down to Rye Harbour for a wader fix. Amongst the numerous Redshanks, Oystercatchers on the beach reserve were 10 Curlews, Six Whimbrels, four Avocets, five Ringed Plovers, two Common Sandpipers, two Dunlins, two Turnstones, a Ruff and a Greenshank. Also, there was still plenty of Common Tern breeding activity in front of Denny hide, plus four Sandwich Terns, 12 Little Egrets, Kestrel, two Swifts over and a Wheatear by Gooders hide.