Tuesday 30 March 2021

Summer Breeze

 Dungeness - 0630 - 0800hrs - cold, dry, misty, earlier on, light airs, warm later - With the reopening of the Estate I decided upon a first proper early morning seawatch of the year from outside the hide, even though the weather conditions were unsuitable; a flat calm sea with swirls of mist meant that most seabirds were miles out in the Channel. However, an early movement of up to 100 Sandwich Terns soon dried up while a trickle of Common Scoters, Gannets, Red-throated Divers and Brents pressed eastwards; also noted, five Dunlins, two Greylags, two Guillemots, Fulmar, Merlin and up to 12 Harbour Porpoises. A white-winged gull was amongst the gulls over the Patch.

                                  Sunrise over Dungeness

                                  Singing Willow Warblers by the ponds

                                  First Sedge Warbler, north  lake

  Back on home turf our walk around the local patch in warm sunshine with the dogs produced a Wheatear on the desert, plus the true sound of summer in the form of our first two Willow Warblers of spring singing by the ponds along with several Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap. The Black-necked Grebe was absent from south lake, but a trio of Goldeneyes remained. A Sedge Warbler singing from scrub behind north lake was also a first for the year in line with others reported across the NNR today. Driving along the coast road this afternoon I was surprised to see a cock Pheasant come off the beach and run across the road into a coastal front garden! The beach was packed out with people this afternoon enjoying the sun as our first Swallow of spring flew in off the bay. Around the cottage I couldn`t resist photographing our local Starlings (one of my favourite birds) in the course of which I spotted a Fox taking a nap in the sun atop our shed roof. The thermometer reached a heady 19C in the garden this afternoon which brought forth several Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies. Elsewhere across the peninsula today there was more of the same migrants, plus Yellow Wagtails and Red Kite (MC, DS et al).

                                 What`s not to like about a Starling

                                  Spot the Fox

                                  Caught napping!

Sunday 28 March 2021

Wheatears and an Eagle

 Lade - cold, dry and sunny, SW 5 - A windy weekend with a biting wind out of the west didn`t deter the first large scale arrival of Wheatears across the south-east, including our first two on the desert yesterday and another on the beach in the afternoon. Following our morning circuit of the local patch yesterday I was checking the garden fir trees for any overnight drop-ins when the raptor earlier warning system went into melt down. By that I mean the Herring Gulls, who screamed skywards like banshees followed by waves of `chipping` Jackdaws and Starlings, denoting that this was certainly not a Sparrowhawk warning. I wandered out into Taylor Road and scanned westwards to no avail and back along Hull Road when a phone call from RW alerted me to news of a Sea-eagle that had just soared over the water tower and was heading our way. I eventually picked it up high over the bay half way to Folkestone (thanks for the heads up Richard); presumably the same bird was reported from Dover and Stodmarsh later in the day. Also yesterday, an American Dakota airplane noted flying over the peninsula was apparently taking part in filming for "Master`s of the Air" a new series by Spielberg/Hanks due for release in 2022 (per NB).

                                  Barney`s mate


                                  Barney in spring plumage

  Today was cloudier with a stronger wind making for difficult birding conditions. We couldn`t find the Black-necked Grebe on south lake, but it could well have been lurking in the reeds sheltering from the wind; three Ravens over the cottage around midday calling loudly was noteworthy. Pat gave Barney his spring trim-up and wash in anticipation of the forthcoming heat wave forecast for next week. He`s enjoying a new companion on our morning walks as we`re exercising a black Lab for a neighbour who`s been ill. Typically, the Lab is very keen on a swim in the lake, Barney not so though! 


Thursday 25 March 2021

Little Gulls

Lade - warm, dry and sunny, SW2 - Little Gull and Stonechat may be poles apart on the evolutionary lattice, but are unlikely bed-fellows when it comes to their migratory movements as both are similarly difficult to predict and can occur at just about any time of year. An unexpected mid-week passage of over 1,000 Little Gulls was logged rounding the famous seawatching station across the Channel at Cap-Griz-Nez, while 25 were counted passing east off Dungeness on Wednesday. Two birds also briefly visited north lake late yesterday morning, when several others were seen on the bird reserve at ARC. The Lade duo were both dusky-headed adults with dark underwings moulting out of winter plumage and flying around within a flock of Black-headed Gulls. Unlike their larger congeners though the two Little Gulls had no intentions of hanging about and soon flew off high to the north-east; destination goodness knows where...

                                  Black-necked Grebe, south lake, Lade

                                 White Wagtails, Cook`s Pool

This morning we had our first Blackcap of spring singing from the willow swamp along with several Chiffchaffs and a cacophony of Great Tits, Chaffinches and Reed Buntings. The Black-necked Grebe remained on south lake along with the usual wildfowl while a pair of Oystercatchers have set up a breeding territory on one of the islands. A tour of Dengemarsh late morning paid off handsomely with a first for the year; a drake Garganey (found earlier by MC and OL) on the far bank opposite the new Dengemarsh viewpoint, roosting alongside a host of feral geese, Shoveler, Shelduck, Teal, Wigeon, Curlew, Lapwing, five Ruffs and 50 Golden Plovers. Hayfield 2 harboured a rash of waders including three Redshanks, two Blackwits, six Dunlins, two Ringed Plovers and a Snipe until flushed by a harrier. A Bittern `boomed` from Hookers reedbed along with vocalising Beardies, Water Rails and Cetti`s Warblers while at least four spanking White Wagtails busily fed along the margins of Cook`s Pool beside 10 Pied Wagtails. Several Marsh Harriers and Buzzards were also noted, plus single Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Peregrine and a flyover Great White Egret. To cap off a fine session, whilst scanning for Wheatears on the desert from the Kerton Road lay-bye I was alerted to a Red Kite drifting over the water tower being mobbed by a couple of Buzzards. Elsewhere today both Wheatear and Black Redstart were noted on the Dungeness Estate, while the first Little Ringed Plover of the year was at Scotney (MC) and an early Swallow over Lade beach this afternoon (DS).

Tuesday 23 March 2021

Spring raptors

 Lade - warm, dry and sunny, SW 3 - The past couple of days have been pretty similar on the weather front with cloudy, misty conditions first thing, followed by sunny, blue skies by mid-morning and the wind picking up during the afternoon on the incoming tide. Our daily circuit of the local patch also produced much of a muchness, including the stunning summer plum Black-necked Grebe on south lake along with three Goldeneyes and 52 Shovelers. Time spent scanning the skies from the aerial ramp paid dividends with up to six Buzzards, two Marsh Harriers and a Kestrel over the airfield today and a pair of Sparrowhawks displaying over the willow swamp yesterday. A tight flock of around 200 Golden Plovers swirling erratically high above the airfield had cause for concern due to a Peregrine tracking their progress, while a steady stream of `yowing` Mediterranean Gulls passed westwards. It was also the perfect day for a coasting Red Kite or maybe even a Sea-eagle, as there have been a number of sightings across the south-east of wanderers from the Isle of Wight re-introduction programme; but not today, so maybe tomorrow...

                                  Black-necked Grebe

                                  Ringed Plover




The late afternoon high tides combined with bright sunshine have been perfect for checking out and attempting to photograph some of the eight species of bay waders, with mixed results. 

Sunday 21 March 2021

Black-necked Grebe

 Lade  - cold, dry and cloudy, N 2 - With the passing of the vernal equinox yesterday, and a brief mid-morning outing from the sun, it certainly felt as though better times were ahead, and just to reinforce the feel-good factor the first Black-necked Grebe of spring presented itself on south lake. Set amongst its more staid relatives, its yellow ear-fans and ruby-red eyes gave a welcome splash of colour alongside its duller congeners. As is the way with any hungry migrant its first instinct was to feed and as a result it seemed to spent as much time fishing underwater as upon it; it was still present this morning. 

                                  Sanderling having finished bathing, Lade bay

                                 Black-necked Grebe, Lade south today

                                 Yesterday by Dave Scott

Friday 19 March 2021


 Lade - cold, dry and sunny, NE 4 - This week has seen a steady movement of Chaffinches passing up the coast just after daybreak; this morning from 0630 - 0700hrs I counted 55 overhead migrants from the confines of the back garden, while several thousands have been logged through the Dover headlands of late. A flock of 30 Shovelers and four Wigeons remained on south lake along with three Goldeneyes and the usual grebes, Coots and diving ducks. Despite the keen wind several Buzzards and Marsh Harriers were soaring on high by mid-morning over the airfield. This afternoon the beach was much quieter bird wise, what with the gulls having dispersed, while upwards of 50 kite-surfers were enjoying the brisk wind coming off the bay. A well-rotted Grey Seal carcass just below the boardwalk attracted a couple of Turnstones; is there nothing those little devils won`t eat!

                                 Scott viewpoint will eventually replace the hide

                                 Oil/gas platform crossing the bay

                                 Grey Seal carcass

  A circuit of the bird reserve produced fairly predictable fare, although we missed a Spoonbill that was present on Burrowes until around 1100hrs before flying off towards Lydd. Hayfields 1/2 held a scattering of Teal, Wigeon, Lapwing, Redshank, Curlew and a Water Pipit, while the fields behind Dengemarsh attracted more Lapwings, six Ruffs, 100 Wigeons, two Pintails, and five Shelducks. Also noted: plenty of singing Cetti`s Warblers and Reed Buntings, two Marsh Harriers, Sparrowhawk, Kingfisher, Buzzard, Little Egret and three Goldeneyes.   

Thursday 18 March 2021

Gulls galore

Lade - cold, cloudy, N 3 - Another cold day with a wind out of the north that seemed entirely appropriate for the polar gulls that have been attracted to the marine carrion washed up around the shingle cuspate of late. On Wednesday DS found a 2nd winter Iceland Gull on the sea opposite Derville Road, the bird that`s been in regular attendance at the Patch for a while now. Dave also located and photographed another `white-winger` on the sea that flew past me mid-afternoon en-route towards Dungeness. It was a large, very `white-winged gull` and appeared at first glance to be a Glaucous Gull, but didn`t look quite right. However, DW saw it later at the Patch and flagged up the tiny patches of brown on the outer primaries and the overall structure being wrong for Glaucous; also, the pic below shows the bill is too short for Glauc which points towards a Herring Gull of the leucistic variety, although if anyone has a differing take on it please fire away. 

                                  Brown on the outer primary tips

                                 Short, stout Herring Gull type bill

  The tons of beached shellfish has also attracted many thousands of Black-headed, Herring and Common Gulls along with hundreds of Black-backs and Mediterranean Gulls and a few Kittiwakes, Yellow-legged and Caspian Gulls, and a Glaucous Gull over last weekend opposite the lifeboat station. On the bird reserve a Kumlein`s Gull has been coming into the evening gull roost on Burrowes, where a Little Gull was also seen yesterday completing an impressive suite of gulls noted across Dungeness this past week or so.

                                  Putative leucistic Herring Gull

                                  2nd year Iceland Gull, Lade Bay (all pics by Dave Scott)

Tuesday 16 March 2021

Sandwich Terns

 Lade - mild, cloudy, drizzle, W 2 - A grim yet mild day with light rain throughout. This morning there was a noticeable overhead movement of Chaffinches with some grounded in the drizzle along with a few Reed Buntings. 

                                  A small proportion of the bay gull flock

                                  Sandwich Terns

  The main event though was on the bay this afternoon on a falling tide with an arrival of at least 30 Sandwich Terns, a sure sign of the impending spring, while it was great to hear their raucous calls once again echoing out across the sands. As for gulls, I could not begin to estimate how many thousands were scattered across the bay from Dungeness to Littlestone. The majority were Black-headed followed by in numerical order: Herring, Common, Lesser and Great Black Backs, plus 25 Mediterranean, three Kittiwakes and two Yellow-legged Gulls. 

Monday 15 March 2021

Black-headed Gulls

 Lade - mild, cloudy, showers, NW 3 - It`s not often that Black-headed Gulls make the birding headlines hereabouts, although a mass gathering on the lakes this morning coinciding with the high tide certainly made for an impressive spectacle. Across both waters (the majority on south lake) I counted  c3,200 plus 200 Common, 100 Herring, 10 Lesser-black and 10 Mediterranean Gulls. A Firecrest showed briefly by the ponds along with much insect activity (mostly bumble bees) in the mild conditions, particularly when the sun broke through. Moorhens turn into tree-climbing demons this time of year in their quest for puss-willow buds, which is comical to watch as they are not really designed for it. Elsewhere the Glaucous Gull was still present amongst thousands of gulls opposite the lifeboat station at Dungeness. 

                                  Black-headed Gulls, south lake

Arboreal Moorhens!

Sunday 14 March 2021

Glaucous Gull

Lade - cool, dry and sunny, NW 3 - After four days of relentless strong to gale force winds whipping up-Channel, accompanied by occasional heavy rain and hail showers, the wind eventually relented today. The local patch has changed little, apart from two Brent Geese that paused briefly in the week along with the first Bittern sighting of the year. On the WeBS count this morning five Goldeneyes were still on station, while passing Chiffchaffs continue to sing from the willow swamp.

                                              Washed up shellfish

                                  Shingle beach pool opposite the Pilot pub

                                  Gull melee

  Elsewhere this weekend, a second year Glaucous Gull was located amongst thousands of gulls attracted to tons of dead sea mice, starfish, slipper limpets, clams and the like washed up by the stormy seas; the strandline opposite the lifeboat station was smothered in great baulks of shellfish. On Saturday afternoon I staggered up the beach into a blasting westerly wind for distant views of the great white brute on the sea and overhead in the melee of feeding gulls.

Tuesday 9 March 2021

Garden Firecrest

 Lade - warm, dry and sunny, SW 2  - Yesterday it was a Woodcock flushed from a Littlestone garden, this morning a Firecrest flitting through our garden fir trees and dropping onto the lawn to feed; gardens, it seems, are the place to go birding! Infact, with sunshine and light airs today was a cracker to be out and about locally, particularly as the forecast for the next few days is for gale force winds and rain sweeping in off the Atlantic. The morning started off on a quiet note outback with a lone Chiffchaff singing in the willow swamp and a scattering of male Reed Buntings reclaiming breeding territories. Other hints of spring came from raptor activity with Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk all taking advantage of the thermals bouncing off the shingle behind the `mirrors` to show off their aerial  prowess. 

                                 Garden Firecrest

                                  Hayfields 1 and 2

                                  Spring of Teal

                                  Firth viewpoint

                                 New Excavations viewpoint

                                 Christmas Dell viewpoint

  As testified by the above pics RSPB staff and volunteers have been busy this winter clearing scrub, opening up viewpoints and positioning new seats around the circular walk in preparation for a return to business sometime soon (we hope). A circuit of the main trail around midday in glorious sunshine yielded a host of birds including more singing Reed Buntings, Cetti`s Warblers and Chiffchaffs, a pair of Stonechats, several Bearded Tits and vocalising Water Rails at Hookers, plus flyover Bittern and Raven and a pair of displaying Marsh Harrier. The fields at Dengemarsh were packed out with feral geese, 12 Shelducks, 110 White-fronts, two Barnacle Geese, 300 Golden Plovers, 12 Ruffs, two Dunlins, 50 Lapwings, four Pintails, Great White Egret, Glossy Ibis and plenty of Wigeon, Shoveler and Teal. The flooded hayfields looked in good nick attracting 120 Teal along with four Little Egrets, two Snipe, Curlew and a pair of Egyptian Geese. Burrowes held the usual mix of wildfowl (including four Goldeneye), loafing gulls and Cormorants. A Wheatear was reported in the sheep fold by the double bends at noon, but I could find no sign of it an hour later, although by then a bulldozer was making a fearful racket as it repaired the access road surface. We finished off this afternoon on the bay with a host of beach waders resulting in a day tally of 76 species.   

Sunday 7 March 2021

White Wagtails

Lade - cold, dry and cloudy, NE 2 - The past week on the local patch has been pretty much a case of slow birding with wildfowl numbers at their annual low point (five Goldeneyes still present though) and just the resident passerines such as Cetti`s Warbler, Dunnock, Greenfinch and Long-tailed Tit making an effort through song to hold breeding territories and remind us that spring is just around the corner; there have been no more early migrants to lift the spirits. With, at times, a brisk wind coming in off the bay and afternoon high tides I tried a couple of seawatches from the boardwalk, but without much success apart from a few distant Gannets, Cormorants, large gulls and auks crossing the bay, plus a group of 12 Brents on one occasion heading towards the White Cliffs. At low tide this morning a Sanderling proved particularly confiding.

                                 This morning`s Sanderling on the beach
                                  Cock Greenfinch in full song by the ponds

  Elsewhere, we had cracking views of a Barn Owl overflying the ARC car park this week (at 10am) en-route to hunting the fields behind Tower Pits, while around 100 Greenland White-fronts are still on the fields towards Lydd. This afternoon a check of the Boulderwall fields and wetlands revealed the usual flock of Wigeon, two Curlews, two Snipe, Shelduck, Great White Egret, two Marsh Harriers, a Black Swan and four White Wagtails around the margins of Gun Club pool. A look at Burrowes one afternoon produced hundreds of gulls, Cormorants and common wildfowl, including five Goldeneyes. The wintering Iceland Gull was also noted on Burrowes during the week, no doubt having strayed from its usual haunt at the Patch, and a Woodlark was ringed at DBO.

PS: As a rule I don`t normally watch the BBC`s Countryfile but when I saw that it was going to feature The Colne Valley Regional Park last night I made an exception. I spent my formative years growing up in the village of Maple Cross (roughly at the centre point of the Park) and knew every inch of the adjacent river valley with its water cress beds and gravel pits, and woods, orchards and scattered farms set amongst the gentle rolling hills of the Chilterns. The programme homed in on Woodoaks Farm a place I have fond memories of and where as a nipper I used to plant spuds for 15 shillings a day with 20 other kids in our Easter school holidays; the farmer, John Findlay, always insisted that we were the last children, "to plant tatters by hand in England"! That was back in 1969 and much has changed since with the M25 now bisecting the farmland and more recently the building of a secondary school rendering the farm unviable as a business. They interviewed the farmer`s wife Sally who told of the changing times; the dairy herd and pig unit are long gone to be replaced by a cafe and artisan brewery, although the remaining arable land was still contracted out for wheat and barley. It was a strange feeling to see the camera sweep around the old farmyard and past the Tudor Barn, so many memories and, perhaps, a salutary reminder that nothing lasts forever...