Friday 29 January 2021

Variation on a theme

 Lade - mild, showers, w2 - It`s that time of year within this latest lockdown that we`ve hit the birding buffers; there are only so many ways in which to work the local patch, mainly depending upon the state of the tide, and being as its winter, and a fairly benign one at that, the result is that very little has changed to the bird populations hereabouts. Not that I`m complaining as we`re very lucky down here  being able to sit out the virus in relative safety and wait for the vaccines to arrive and do their business, although when travel restrictions are lifted I`m looking forward to a change of scene such as a seawatch from the boats or maybe a wood somewhere. However, despite the wind and rain we`ve been out daily and added a few more species to the Lade lockdown list. Yesterday a pair of Egyptian Geese were new for the year, flying around over the willow swamp calling frantically, but duck numbers on the lakes remain low apart from 150 Teal.  Long-tailed Tit, Greenfinch (scarce here now), Cetti`s Warbler, Chiffchaff and Firecrest were all noted this week around the ponds and a Water Rail showed briefly one morning. One or two Stonechats have returned to the desert scrub of late where local dog-walkers are still reporting sightings of Short-eared Owls which I`ve yet to confirm. Marsh Harriers, Buzzard and Kestrel continue to hunt their respective habitats, while Sparrowhawks have nabbed Woodpigeon and Collared Dove from the back garden this week. There has been no change to the beach waders, although I did manage to note a few distant seabirds crossing the bay in the shape of Red-throated Divers, Gannets and auks at high tide the other day. This morning we walked out to the pines by the water tower at ARC where the Black-throated Diver was still on the lake along with a Great White Egret flushed from a reedbed by a Marsh Harrier. Scrub removal was underway between Screen hide and the car park.

                                  Scrub bashing, ARC/Tower Pits

  With plenty of time on our hands in these long, dark evenings I`ve had to resort to watching a bit more wildlife on telly than usual (mostly on catch up) including the latest Attenborough show, A Perfect Planet. It is, of course, up to the usual high standard we`ve come to expect from the BBC Natural History Unit and worth the license fee alone. There are many memorable moments, such as the white Wolves on Ellesmere Island, the last herd of wild Camels in the Gobi Desert and Carmine Bee-eaters nesting along the Zambezi river. The down side to the series are the expected and heart-breaking tales wrought on the animal kingdom by us selfish humans who seem intent on wrecking the planet with our unsustainable demands.  Winterwatch is also back on our screens, this time for a two week run and all the better for not having Michaela Strachan in the team (apparently she`s isolating in South Africa). I`ve only watched a few episodes but amongst the usual trials and tribulations of Blue Tits and Badgers there are plenty of other interesting items; the murmurating/roosting Starlings on Aberystwyth pier and their unusual nocturnal predator have proved particularly popular with viewers.

                                  Stonechat, Lade

  Bookwise I`m ploughing through Wildwood by Roger Deakin and Extraordinary Insects  by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson, both fascinating, well-written natural history reads. I can also highly recommend the debut historical novel by Amor Towles set in post revolutionary Russia entitled A Man in Moscow. It may sound heavy going but it is far from it - the work of a genius and guaranteed to spark joy!

Monday 25 January 2021

Bay waders

Lade - cold, icy, sunny, w2 - A light overnight dusting of snow combined with sub-zero temperatures made for hazardous walking first thing due to ice fusing the pebbles tightly together. The lakes were much of a muchness so I decided to try and count the bay waders on the outgoing tide. Numbers were disappointingly low apart from 324 Curlews and 820 Oystercatchers, plus 12 Grey Plovers, 15 Sanderlings, 25 Turnstones, 14 Barwits, six Redshanks and four Ringed Plovers. I could not find a single Dunlin or Knot, most unusual. 

                                  Barney on the snowfields!

                                  Grey Plovers among the gulls

Sunday 24 January 2021

Sunrise over the bay

 Lade - cold and frosty, followed by wind and rain, S 4 - Following a clear and frosty night without a puff of wind this morning`s sunrise over the bay was a pretty spectacular affair. However, I very nearly missed it by being ensconced in our west-facing back room tapping away on the keyboard from 6am, until Pat tipped me off to the unfolding spectacle out east around 7.20. I quickly togged up, grabbed the camera and hurried over to the beach where it appeared that the eastern horizon was on fire. As is the way with a rising sun it was all over in 20 minutes but what a fantastic sight it was while it lasted, and as the morning progressed the wind picked up from the south delivering a band of thick cloud and sleety rain that set in until early afternoon.                                        

                                  Sunrise over Lade Bay

Birdwise a circuit of the local patch proved that nothing much had changed to the wildfowl numbers on the lakes, but a steady procession of distant auks was noted crossing the bay. 

Friday 22 January 2021

White-fronted Geese

 Lade - cold, dry and sunny, light airs - For most of this week the weather has been wet and windy and while we`ve been out around the local patch daily there has been little to report. However, a cold front moved in overnight delivering more settled conditions with a widespread frost and bright sunshine much more conducive to being in the field. A circuit of the patch was notable for a Kingfisher zipping around the willow swamp, five Goldeneyes on the lakes, calling Water Rails, three Marsh Harriers working the back reedbed and two Ravens over calling. Yet again there were few waders on the bay apart from the usual hundreds of Oystercatchers and Curlews.

                                  Spring was in the air for this pair of Woodpigeons today!


I had to go into town today and on the way home jammed in on a large goose flock in a field close to the Dungeness road opposite the riding stables near Cockles Bridge. Fortunately there was a lay-bye nearby and by using the car as a hide afforded good views of the flock that comprised 210 White-fronted Geese, 150 Greylags and two Egyptian Geese, plus three Little Egrets in an adjacent field.

                                 White-fronted Geese near Cockles Bridge

Elsewhere this week local wintering birds included an Iceland Gull at the Patch; Black-throated Diver on ARC/New Diggings; Glossy Ibis, Boulderwall fields; and a Long-tailed Duck at Scotney. 

Sunday 17 January 2021

Dartford Warbler and Scaup

 Lade - dry and sunny, NW 2 - What a difference a day makes! Yesterday`s weather was a shocker, being cold and overcast with heavy rain and sleet showers throughout, in contrast to the warm sunshine of this morning and blue skies. Our daily perambulation around the local patch took us south along the beach to Kerton Road and back along the working gravel pit to Lade where the highlight was a Dartford Warbler and Stonechat in the triangle broom, but only a handful of Pochard, Shoveler and a Great Crested Grebe on the lake. En-route we bumped into one of the regular dog-walkers who spoke of an encounter he`d had with a Short-eared Owl flushed by his dog on the desert, "one day last week". 

                                  Oiled Red-throated Diver, Lade south

  Whilst out news came through from OL concerning a pair of probable Scaup (bins views only of sleeping birds) on north lake which were soon confirmed as three (two ducks and a drake) by JY and DS, and were most likely the Scotney birds. By the time I`d called in home and picked up my scope I arrived on site to find said Scaups in flight having been flushed by walkers on the airport side of the lake; DS, however, who was quicker off the mark than I managed some decent images (see below).  A Red-throated Diver on south lake was only my fourth in 15 years and like all the others before was oiled and preening furiously. At least six Goldeneyes were noted across both waters.

                                  3 Scaups, Lade north (by David Scott)

                                  Drake Scaup with Tufted Duck for comparison (by David Scott)

  Elsewhere this weekend we noted the long-staying Black-throated Diver on ARC yesterday, while our  monthly harrier roost count due to take place this afternoon on Walland Marsh was cancelled due to the current travel restrictions.

Friday 15 January 2021

Flotsam and Jetsam

 Lade - cold, cloudy NE 2 - Following a miserable wet Thursday (27mm recorded at Littlestone by OL) today was at least dry with lighter winds, if still grey and overcast. However, this allowed a full circuit of the local patch and a thorough search of all the nooks and crannies for anything remotely new blown onto the lakes. Wildfowl were again few in number with three Goldeneyes on south and another two on north lake the only ducks of note (and still no Smew so far this winter), plus a large flock of around 1,000 roosting gulls that comprised mainly Common Gulls. A Goldcrest and Chiffchaff flitted through cover by the ponds and at least three Marsh Harriers worked the main reed bed by the wall `mirror`.

                                 Common Gull

                                  Beached bladder wrack and plastic

                                  Shingle extension along Greatstone beach
                                  Crows foraging through dead cockles

  Many more Common Gulls were loafing on the beach along with distant Black-backs, Curlews and Oystercatchers. Scores of crows picked through the thousands of washed up cockles along the strandline, along with four Ringed Plovers amongst a large patch of moored seaweed peppered with plastic refuse, and an usual sight on this sandy foreshore. Looking along the sand dunes from the Tavern viewpoint I was amazed by the extension of a finger of shingle which now covers about 200 yards in front of the dunes. Three years ago you could walk down onto the bay over sand without touching a pebble; such is the relentless march of the longshore drift process. 

Sunday 10 January 2021

Winter bites

 Lade - cold and frosty, nw 2 - The coldest night of the winter so far as sub-zero temperatures delivered a spectacular hoar frost to the shingle vegetation hereabouts, fusing the pebbles together and making for slippery walking conditions on our daily circuit of the local patch. Visibility came and went  during the morning until a thick bank of freezing fog eventually rolled in from the hinterland obscuring the sun for the remainder of the day. 

                                  Jack Frost touched everything this morning

  Wildfowl continue to be low in number, along with the two species of grebes and Coot, while a maximum of five Goldeneyes were present across both waters. Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Marsh Harrier, Grey Heron, Water Rail, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Long-tailed Tit, Chiffchaff, Cetti`s Warbler and Reed Bunting were all noted across the weekend. Yesterday I went even further taking in the farmland north of Lade and out across the fields towards Romney Salts recording Golden Plover (50), Lapwing (100), Common Gull (120), Stock Dove (20), Curlew (40), Linnet (50), single figures of Pheasant, Skylark, Stonechat, Redwing, Song Thrush and Corn Bunting, plus several Buzzards and Kestrels. 

                                 Border Terriers are perfectly at home in the cold!

  On Friday morning, just before the Dungeness Estate was shut to visitors, a walk around Long Pits and the Trapping Area produced a Jack Snipe by the wigwams, Firecrest, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Long-tailed Tits in the bushes, plus a Buzzard on the Desert being mobbed by three crows. At least 800 Cormorants flew over heading to roost on Burrowes. As already stated, please note that the Estate is now closed to visitors until further notice for obvious reasons.

Wednesday 6 January 2021

Lockdown 3

 Lade - cold, cloudy, wet, ne 2 - Well, here we go again as we enter lockdown number three which will more than likely be with us til mid-February at the earliest; this lockdown appears to be more akin to the first one implemented last March than the slacker one just gone. Either way it doesn`t make a great deal of difference to me as I stay mainly local anyways. 

                                Oystercatchers flying to roost this afternoon

  Walking out from the cottage this week in the cold and wet has not been a particularly pleasant experience and on more than one occasion we`ve had a right good old soaking. However, this afternoon there was a brief glimmer of brightness whilst we were on the beach, but for the most part it has been overcast with Mordor-like light conditions. The Lade wetlands have been quiet with no real change from my last post and apart from Oystercatcher (960) and Curlew (320) wader numbers on the bay have been few and far between.                                                                                                                                         There has been little change to the birds on the Dungeness RSPB reserve where from today onwards, until further notice, the car parks, trails and toilets will be open daily for local visitors from 10am - 4pm, while all hides and the visitor centre remain closed. As far as I`m aware access to the Estate is currently still open, although the situation is being reviewed. 

                                 Barney on the beach

Sunday 3 January 2021

Great Northern Diver

 Lade - cold, overcast, light northerly - A weekend of grim, grey weather with occasional rain showers. We flogged around the local patch both mornings noting a maximum of six Goldeneyes across both waters as well as all the usual ducks, Coots and several grebes, plus Chiffchaff and Long-tailed Tits by the ponds. Yesterday evening the gull flock on north lake contained four Mediterranean Gulls. Scanning over the airport and Romney Salts produced five Marsh Harriers heading to roost, two Buzzards, a Kestrel and a flock of 20 Linnets. On Saturday afternoon at ARC the wintering Dusky Warbler showed well in lakeside scrub just north of the Screen hide alongside Chiffchaff and Firecrest, while a flock of 56 White-fronts flew overhead.

                                  Goldeneye, south lake Lade

  This afternoon a trip to Folkestone produced a Great Northern Diver on the sea off Sandgate and ten Mediterranean Gulls along the coastal park. On the way home a check of the sea defence blocks at Hythe for Purple Sandpipers drew a blank due people clambering over the rocks, some clutching small children which seemed senseless to me considering the risk of slippage and potential hospitalisation. 

Friday 1 January 2021

New Years Day

 Romney Marsh - cold, grey, light airs - It was a somewhat muted start to the New Year with our usual birding tour of local sites reduced to just two of us due to the virus restrictions. A Barn Owl was the first bird of the day at St Mary-in-the-Marsh. It was then onto Park Wood just before daybreak for at least four hooting Tawny Owls followed by a range of typical woodland birds including Woodcock, Buzzards, Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers, Coal and Long-tailed Tits, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Goldcrest, Jay and the first of many Ravens seen or heard today. We then dropped down onto the Marsh where the canal delineates the flatlands from the hill country between Warehorne and Kennardington, one of my favourite habitats. Winter thrushes were numerous along with resident Mistle and Song Thrushes, loads more Jays and plenty of common, wayside birds, including that tricky-to-find trio of Tree Sparrow, Bullfinch and Yellowhammer. Crossing Walland Marsh we logged up to ten each of Buzzard and Kestrel (what on earth do they find to feed on ?), 22 Bewick`s and two Whooper Swans.

                                  Buzzard atop a bush full of c100 Corn Buntings!

  Scotney is always a make or break site when day-listing and today proved so with a wide range of farmland and wetland species on offer in near perfect weather conditions and with farming operations suspended for the holiday. A pair of Scaup and a Long-tailed Duck on the back lake were the highlights (the former something of a rarity these days down here) and a flock of 58 White-fronted Geese heading high towards Rye calling evocatively. Also, two Green Sandpipers, two Redshanks, four Marsh Harriers, two Great White Egrets, Little Egret, Golden Plovers, 100 Corn Buntings, Sparrowhawk, Raven, Stonechat, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Reed Bunting, Linnet and a host of common wildfowl and gulls. A Red-legged Partridge on the ranges was also something of a bonus, plus another flock of 65 White-fronts over Lydd.

                                  White-fronts over Lydd heading north

   En-route to the sea we paused on the causeway road for the wintering Glossy Ibis sat on a tiny island on ARC and the Black-throated Diver on New Diggings, plus several Goldeneyes. At Dungeness we eventually located a 1st winter Iceland Gull amongst the throng at the Patch along with at least ten Mediterranean Gulls and a Razorbill, plus a Grey Wagtail on the power station sewage works. Offshore the usual auks, Gannets, Kittiwakes and Red-throated Divers on the move. Back on the bird reserve Ruff, Cetti`s Warbler, Egyptian Goose and Greenfinch went onto the day list. Our final port of call, in fading light, was Lade bay where despite disturbance from dog-walkers we managed seven of the ten regular wintering wader species, plus three Common Scoters crossing the bay and a pair of hunting Peregrines.

  A cracking, laid-back birding day in the field during which we racked up 106 species, yet still managed miss the following `expected` birds : Brent Goose, Bittern, Shelduck, Pintail, Water Rail, Dunlin, Caspian Gull, Little Owl and Chiffchaff, while the wintering Dusky Warbler was reported from the ARC car park scrub. Many thanks to Chris for driving.