Sunday 28 February 2021

Woodland Lament

 Lade - cool, sunny, E 3 - This weekend the weather changed subtly with cooler air wafting in from the east as a high pressure system built, making it feel warm in the sun and chilly in the shade. As a result my attempts at moth trapping (nil return) in the garden trap have been shelved. Chiffchaffs continue to be in good voice around the willow swamp with two singers yesterday and five Goldeneyes remain on the lakes, while displaying Skylark, Meadow Pipit and Stonechat were all on show around the Kerton Road quarry. An afternoon wader count on the bay recorded the following: Oystercatcher 723, Curlew 326, Sanderling 125, Dunlin 24, Barwit 18, Grey Plover 21, Ringed Plover 15, Knot 13 (still low numbers of sandpipers). A Friday evening walk onto the desert shingle produced not only a magnificent sunset but also the distant spectacle of thousands of swirling Starlings in pre-roost murmurations over the bird reserve.

                                  Mipit and Stonechat back on territory
                                  Cackling Starling on cottage roof

  This morning we decided on an early start and a short drive to our nearest woodland for our daily exercise walk. While our fragmented woods here in England are a pale shadow of the wildwood of yesteryear I still have a primeval urge to wander amongst trees imagining what it must have been like before our Neolithic ancestors set about them with the axe and plough. The weather was perfect and it was a treat to potter about under the oak, ash and hornbeam canopy along with a sprinkling of gean and beech and an under storey of hazel, birch, blackthorn and hawthorn. Here and there patches of wild arum, wood violets and primrose rose from the bare earth to greet the sun, and without any leaf cover we soon clocked up all the expected resident bird species including `drumming` Great spots, Nuthatch and Treecreeper. Less than a generation ago Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Willow and Marsh Tits, Hawfinch, Redpoll and Tree Sparrow may well have been on the cards, but not any more; just what has happened to species diversity in our woodlands? Almost as depressing was the drive home across Walland where it was noticeable that many more corners of the Marsh have been `tidied up` this winter, including the rough ground around Midley drying barns. There was no sign of the wild swans on the Midley fields (I presume they`ve departed) or any winter thrushes; infact it was pretty much devoid of any wildlife of any kind.

                                  Another grubbed-up hedgerow on Walland

                                  Primrose and Robin 

                                  Desert sunset

Thursday 25 February 2021

Red Kite

 Lade - mild, cloudy, light airs - It was good to hear three cock Greenfinches singing off one another around the ponds this morning during a brief spell of warm sunshine, a location that I still regularly encounter this gorgeous finch. When I moved down here 15 years ago they nested in our garden fir trees and were numerous around the bird feeders, while there was still a regular three figure wintering flock on Dungeness. Not so today though as numbers have significantly decreased, mainly due to the highly infectious disease trichomonosis that has jumped from pigeons and doves to finches in general, and the Greenfinch in particular. The disease is spread via saliva so it is important to regularly clean out and sterilize seed hoppers.

                                  Greenfinches by the ponds

                                 Small Tortoiseshell released from the garden shed 

  Whilst scanning from the aerial ramp I noticed a raptor coasting in from the north low over the caravan park, jinking this way and that and sporting a deeply forked tail. As it passed along Leonard Road it caused a ripple of Jackdaws, Starlings and Feral Pigeons to flee from their rooftop sanctuaries, and the Herring Gulls to `greet` the intruder in their inimitable style! It was, of course, a Red Kite, a typical early spring migrant (but still a pretty big deal in these parts) that continued south onto the Dungeness peninsula where it was logged by several more local birders.  

                                 Porpoise corpse, Greatstone beach

  On a falling tide around noon a wader count included 425 Curlews, 610 Oystercatchers, 32 Grey Plovers, 15 Barwits, 10 Dunlins, 10 Sanderlings, 12 Knots and five Ringed Plovers. Sadly, two dead Harbour Porpoises were washed up on the beach.  

Wednesday 24 February 2021

Spring Signatures

 Lade - mild, sunny, S 3 - The spring-like weather continues apace with the southerly airflow delivering Saharan dust to coat cars and slick windows hereabouts along with orange sunrises and daytime temperatures peaking at 14C. Yesterday evening two small bats were hawking insects around the tops of the garden fir trees, so I fired up the moth trap full of optimism only to have a blank canvas this morning; but with the next few nights looking to stay mildish I will persevere, despite not having much luck in the past catching `early moths`. On the local patch three singing Chiffchaffs in the willow swamp were the first of the year, as was a high-flying Sandwich Tern off the bay that only betrayed its presence by its rasping call before heading towards the bird reserve. At least ten more Great Crested Grebes had moved onto south lake, hopefully to pair off and breed, while Dabchicks trilled energetically from reedbeds across the site. Marsh Harriers were much in evidence taking advantage of thermals bouncing off the shingle to soar way up towards the cloud base alongside a couple of Buzzards. Early flowering spurges, snowdrops, daffodils and coltsfoot were a sure sign that better times are ahead. 

  An afternoon visit to the bird reserve produced the usual stuff on the Boulderwall fields including plenty of Wigeon, Shoveler, Teal and feral geese, plus two Shelducks, five Curlews, two Redshanks, several Marsh Harriers, a swirling mass of Starlings, Great White and Little Egrets and the wintering Glossy Ibis. Burrowes held hundreds of Cormorants, gulls, grebes, Coots and common wildfowl along with five Goldeneyes, while there was more of the same over the road on ARC. 

Sunday 21 February 2021

Saharan Plume

 Lade - mild, cloudy, S3 - What a difference a week makes weather wise. Last weekend the temperature barely rose above freezing with a howling easterly, in contrast to this weekend as a Saharan plume of warm air delivered a high of 13C on Sunday and a low of only 8C overnight (should`ve run the moth trap!). Yesterday morning a light passage of Skylarks trickled over the desert heading into the southerly airflow along with a single Woodlark that conveniently called. Two Marsh Harriers and a Sparrowhawk hunted the willow swamp and ponds respectively where several Reed Buntings were fresh arrivals. The usual Cetti`s Warblers, Dunnocks and Chaffinches were all in song. Moving up to the Kerton Road triangle a few more Skylarks were noted along with a smart Dartford Warbler and a Stonechat. Two Snipe burst from cover beside Long Pits and Great Tits were in good voice around the Trapping Area. Continuing on foot to the point where the wintering 2nd year Iceland Gull was still present at the Patch amongst a melee of gulls that also included several Mediterranean Gulls. The brisk onshore wind revealed plenty of passing Gannets, Cormorants, Kittiwakes and auks plus a few Red-throated Divers and a flock of eight Common Scoters.

                                 Dungeness views from yesterdays

   Today a circuit of the local patch produced a Little Egret and two Shelducks on south lake, but otherwise it was similar fare to yesterday. If anything it felt warmer today as the wind eased off and it was no surprise to see a Peacock butterfly on the wing in the garden, and also hear of the first Wheatear of `spring` at Galloways (GP) which is the earliest record in my 15 years living here.

Friday 19 February 2021

Ruff and Firecrest

Dengemarsh - cool, cloudy, S 4 - For a change of scene this morning we walked the bridle path from the ARC car park to the hayfields and back in blustery, dry weather conditions. Scrub clearance across the reserve continues apace as shown by the picture below taken from the track down to the pines. The wet fields at Boulderwall and behind Hookers held the bulk of birds with 500 Lapwings, 200 Starlings and 200 Wigeons, plus 12 Golden Plovers, 10 Curlews, four Ruffs, a Redshank and a mix of corvids, feral geese, Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall, and four Shelducks. Singles of Kestrel, Buzzard and Marsh Harrier also noted. Due to the brisk wind passerines were in short supply with just a few Reed Buntings, Cetti`s Warblers, Stonechat and Chiffchaff present. The flooded hayfields looked inviting but a spring of Teal was the only bird activity. A flock of around 300 White-fronts were reported from the fields opposite Cockles Bridge (MC).

                                 Scrub clearance, ARC

  This afternoon a Firecrest was calling from the fir trees opposite the cottage where it showed briefly before being chased off by a Magpie. There has been no change to the birds on the local patch at both the Lade wetlands and on the bay since my last post. The forecasters have promised a plume of warm air sweeping up from north Africa this weekend, and I did consider rigging the moth trap up, until that is I saw the predicted wind speeds... Still, the wind might deliver an early Wheatear or Sand Martin and we can always dream of an Alpine Swift or a Great Spotted Cuckoo! 

Monday 15 February 2021

Plover Lover

 Lade - cloudy, drizzle, mild, S 4 - Our morning walkout was blighted by a fine drizzle and a blustery wind but at least it was milder than of late. There was plenty of interest around the ponds where Barney flushed yet another Woodcock from the now unfrozen margins. Star bird though was a Redwing a species that rarely grounds hereabouts; it must`ve been desperate as there is nothing much for them to feed on. Also noted: Cetti`s Warbler, Chiffchaff, 15 Long-tailed Tits, Goldcrest, Greenfinch, five Chaffinches, two Blackbirds and a Green Woodpecker. There was no change to the low numbers of wildfowl on the lakes where the slack water around the willow swamp remained frozen.

                                  Redwing by the ponds

                                 Tufted Duck and Pochard in their normal repose

This afternoon a strandline survey along the beach from Lade boardwalk to the Tavern (under a mile) produced the following death toll: Black-headed Gull 5, Common Gull 3, Woodcock 2 and singles of Dunlin and Curlew. The beach in front of the Tavern still had an impressive ice-shelf by the tideline. As the tide receded 520 Oystercatchers reclaimed their feeding grounds along with 23 Grey Plovers, 18 Ringed Plovers, 12 Sanderlings, 21 Dunlins, two Knot (at last!), four Barwits and two Turnstones.

                                  Ice-shelf, Greatstone beach

                                           Medley of Lade beach waders

Sunday 14 February 2021

Woodcocks - dead and alive!

 Lade - cold, dry, SE 5 - A bitterly cold weekend of weather with a nasty wind made for uncomfortable birding conditions, while the clear blue sky of yesterday was replaced by cloud cover today making it feel even colder. Despite the overnight sub-zero temperatures most of the water on both lakes remained open due to the wind, apart from a few sheltered areas around the willow swamp and in front of the wall `mirror` where thin sheets of ice had formed, thick enough in places to support a few roosting birds.  

                                 Frozen images from around Lade

  While there was little change to the duck numbers these past two days there appeared to be a few more Coots present than usual, which may have been birds forced off the continent where the temperatures are even lower than here. Whatever their origins they did not go un-noticed by the local Marsh Harriers with the larger females regularly patrolling groups of Coot along the reedbed margins seeking out weaklings; on one occasion I saw a harrier drop onto one that just managed to escape by diving underwater leaving the bedraggled raptor to emerge from the lake like an Osprey! Elsewhere across the site this weekend we had five sightings of Woodcocks which is inline with the current widespread influx of these serial fleers from a frozen northern Europe. All but one were of the disturbed-from-cover variety as they took flight and dropped down again well away and out of view; two from the ponds and two on the shingle ridges, but one late yesterday afternoon out in the open sat on a path. I had a ten second view of its cryptically camouflaged plumage just before a cat pounced flushing the bemused Woodcock into an adjacent back garden and out of sight! It seems incredible to me that such a fantastically mystical and beautiful bird should be a popular quarry species for the game shooting fraternity, and all for a sliver of breast meat and a pin-feather; indeed, many thousands are shot each winter here (many at specific Woodcock shoots in western Britain) and on the continent, so its little wonder that during my lifetime there has been a significant decline in their numbers. The Woodcocks` saving grace is that it continues to breed in good numbers across the vast, and largely undisturbed, taiga forest that straddles northern Eurasia, and long may it continue to do so.  


                                  Common Gull
                                  Bag of garlic!

                                       Goose Barnacles

This afternoon we braved the stiff south-easterly for a tideline search from the Lade boardwalk to the Pilot pub (about one mile). There was the usual array of dunnage, netting and plastics originating from passing ships and fishing boats, plus tree branches, pine cones and other vegetation washed down from rivers (probably the Rother). Countless dead sea creatures such as cuttlefish, crabs, cockles, whelks, slipper limpets and the like were everywhere amongst swathes of bladder wrack seaweed and two fish boxes covered in goose barnacles. More macabre were 11 Woodcock corpses along with four Guillemots, four Common Gulls, a Curlew and a small wader, probably a Sanderling. On the walk back I couldn`t help but reflect that what I found was most likely a tiny proportion of the birds that had died in this recent cold snap from exhaustion and starvation; how many more were claimed by the sea we  shall never know...

Woodcock remains            

Friday 12 February 2021


 Lade  - cold, dry and sunny, e 5 - The past couple of days have been pretty similar weather wise with a dominant high pressure system over Scandinavia delivering a fiercely biting east wind off the continent and sub-zero daytime temperatures. The frost has hardened the ground and even the garden pond has frozen over for the first time in many a winter. The garden bird table and seed hangers have been busy with the usual House Sparrows, Collared Doves, Woodpigeons and Starlings while the ground feeders have appreciated me raking over the ground underneath the pine trees, attracting Robin, Blackbird, Dunnock and Wren to forage on invertebrates. 

                                  Marsh Harrier checking out the Coots

  A raw-bone wind has desiccated the gorse and broom outback on the shingle making it tinder-dry and devoid of any obvious life; although there are probably one or two tardigrades lurking amongst the mosses and lichens somewhere. The badger family from the large sett beside south lake must be having a tough time as I noticed one heading down the road towards the beach last night, no doubt to forage the strandline for food a common practice hereabouts. Yesterday two Goosanders on north lake were flushed by a passing Marsh Harrier and flew towards the reserve where they were reported a while later, otherwise it`s just the same five Goldeneyes of note along with 200 Teal, although the Wigeon flock from earlier in the week has moved on. The beach has been very difficult to watch due to the eye-watering wind, but it was good to see up to 20 Ringed Plovers still present between the Tavern and the boardwalk today.    

Wednesday 10 February 2021

Bay waders

 Lade - cold, cloudy, snow flurries, ne 3 - Yesterday and this morning the weather was dominated by a rasping wind off the sea when at times it was painful to be out in the open, although I still managed to check the lakes where five flyover Snipe were the only newbies. As a result our usual circular walk back along the beach was out of the question, until this afternoon when the wind finally relented. Once again small waders were in short supply with only Ringed Plover at 25 of any note and the rest in single figures (still no sign of any Knot) but hundreds of Curlews and Oystercatchers which is great. The east wind and tides had washed up large numbers of cockles along the strandline for the crows and Turnstones to forage through, as well as lots of detritus from the hugely wasteful fishing industry in the shape of netting, fish boxes and other man-made litter.

                                  Barney seems immune to the cold!

                                  Barwit, Ringed Plover and Sanderling on the bay


Monday 8 February 2021

Wigeon influx

 Lade - cold, grey, wintry showers, ne 4 - The widely predicted weather change arrived yesterday along with a rasping polar wind off the bay accompanied by occasional wet snow flurries, but it was nowhere near as cold as the so-called `Beast from the East` of three years ago. Still, it might shift something of interest off the near continent this coming week; Smew were reported from Hythe and Sandwich today. A check of the lakes on the local patch revealed a large flock of 220 Wigeon, while more were reportedly on the move off the point this morning. A lone Chiffchaff was noted in the garden.