Lade - cool, sunshine and showers, SW 4 - Apart from a walk around the Trapping Area yesterday morning (which was dead by the way) the rest of the weekend`s birding has been spent on the local patch. Swifts have been coming and going over the lakes throughout and I could happily watch them all day long, which is a good job as there has been precious little else of note on the migration front lately apart from a few laggard Whimbrels roosting on the shingle on Friday evening. It is to be expected though, and as we pass the middle of May bird migration is steadily grinding to a halt, although there is always the chance of a southern over shoot to come, even into early June. Singles of Black Kite, Red-rumped Swallow, Purple Heron, Cattle Egret and Honey Buzzard have already passed through the Dungeness peninsula this spring, but as is often the case here they don`t tarry for long, and we surely must be due a Bee-eater or Black-winged Stilt, or perhaps a Golden Oriole or Whiskered Tern. So, never mind the rarities, let`s have a quick look back at the bread-and butter migrants.
Due to a pulse of warm Saharan air in February a ridiculously early Wheatear at Galloways kicked the season off in style, although a blocking high pressure system to the north throughout much of April held things up making numbers of this classic harbinger of spring generally low and in fits and starts; particularly on my local patch where only a handful were seen. A scattering of Ring Ouzels, Whinchats, Common and Black Redstarts, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers were all well received as were a couple of Wood Warblers and a Grasshopper Warbler, but lets face it, compared to just 50 years ago when I started birding, the numbers of migrant passerines today is pitifully low. However, Willow and Garden Warblers moved through in better numbers than last year as did Lesser Whitethroat, while Chiffchaff and Blackcap were about average. Common Whitethroats, Sedge and Reed Warblers seemed to be abundant across the Dungeness NNR and plenty of Sand Martins were noted. Out on the Marsh a few Turtle Doves, Cuckoos, Nightingales and Yellow Wagtails appeared at traditional haunts, although the latter was poorly represented at Scotney when I visited last week.
Many hours were spent by local seawatchers logging the up-Channel passage of seabirds with the highlight being a couple of record-breaking days comprising thousands of Common and Arctic Terns with a supporting cast of hundreds of Little and Black Terns, Little Gulls and several Roseate Terns, but this was very much the exception to the rule. Duck numbers were lower than in previous years, probably due in part to persistent offshore winds, as was the Bar-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel passage, but did include good numbers of Velvet Scoters. There was also a record one-day passage of Manx Shearwaters linked to gale force winds while the Pomarine Skua passage was about average. The staple diet of seawatching at Dungeness such as Brents, Red-throated Divers, Common Scoters and Gannets were plentiful at times, but many passed well offshore due to the northerly airflow, and with the hides closed viewing conditions were at times difficult to say the least. In summary then, like the curate`s egg, good in parts.
Personally, my spring highlights were the flock of 18 Garganeys at Dengemarsh, a Black-necked Grebe and Pied Flycatchers at Lade, and best of all, a Garden Warbler singing in our garden, but then I am easily pleased!