Friday 30 July 2021

Balearic Shearwaters

 Dungeness - cool, showery, SSW6 - 0945-1100hrs - Joined MC and CP in the hide this morning for a seawatch with a big sea being whipped up by a fast moving low pressure weather system off the Atlantic. No surprise then that the first Balearic Shearwaters of the season were recorded moving effortlessly westwards; 17 in total (MC), including six while I was there. Also noted a steady flow of Gannets, a few Sandwich and Common Terns, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Common Scoters and my first Arctic Skua of autumn, plus several Porpoises and a Grey Seal. Thousands of Swifts were also on the move south and west across the peninsula today, along with hundreds of Sand Martins over Burrowes  and ARC pits where the strong wind forced most other birds to take shelter. However, from the access road a flock of 100 Lapwings landed on the shingle ridges with the gulls and an adult Cattle Egret flew amongst the stock on the Boulderwall fields after being flushed by a male Marsh Harrier.

                                  Gulls and terns roosting at high tide, Greatstone

Elsewhere around Lade this week Mediterranean Gulls have been much in evidence on the bay with up to 30 birds amongst hundreds of Black-headed Gulls and a few Sandwich Terns. Small parties of adult Dunlins and Sanderlings have passed through along with single figures of Ringed Plovers and Redshanks, while the Curlew flock remains at 200 plus. Yesterday morning we checked out the Dunes Road area at Greatstone where 15 Med Gulls were by the dung heap and 10 more by the dump. Also of note was a Bullfinch, plus two White-letter Hairstreaks in a sun-trap by the railway crossing amongst elm regrowth along with a collection of Red Admirals, Painted Ladies, Hedge Browns and a Comma. 

Chris Packham - The walk that made me - For someone who doesn`t watch that much telly I can honestly say that this was one of the most poignant and moving programmes I`ve ever watched, and one that will resonate with many people in these trouble times we are living through. If you`ve got a spare hour, a highly recommended watch and available on catch-up on the BBC i player. 

Sunday 25 July 2021

Gypsy Moth

 Lade - warm, dry, sunny, light airs - Another humid night that delivered good numbers of common moths in the garden trap, plus the first Box-tree Moth of summer, another battered Sussex Emerald and, new for the trap site, a male Gypsy Moth. On the bay this morning on the incoming tide a notable count of 260 Curlews and 40 Dunlins, followed by the monthly WeBS count on the lakes where Pochard topped out at 210 birds and Great Crested Grebe 28. This evening 15 Mediterranean Gulls and six Sandwich Terns on the sands amongst the usual gulls and waders.

                                  Gypsy Moth

                                  Box-tree Moth

                                 A tatty Sussex Emerald

                                  Plumed Fan-foot 

                                  Mediterranean Gulls on the bay this evening

Saturday 24 July 2021

Crash, Bang Wollop!

Lade - warm, overcast, light airs - A Friday morning tour of the bird reserve in blustery weather conditions served up very little on the passage wader front apart from a Greenshank on the hayfields and a Common Sandpiper on a gull-infested Burrowes. Around Dengemarsh the juvenile Marsh Harriers were still faring well where also three Great White Egrets noted. From Springfield bridge juv Yellow Wagtails and Corn Buntings were being fed by adults in the set aside field while Raven and Buzzard passed overhead. Several pulses of Sand Martins pushed on south. 

                                 Egyptian Goose - Now a common resident

The recent mini heat wave came to a spectacular crescendo around daybreak today with an almighty thunder and lightening show lighting up the bay and shaking the cottage at times; no surprise then that Dave B recorded 40mm in his rain gauge at Dungeness this morning. However, down here on the shingle by midday you wouldn`t have known it had rained so efficient is the drainage. Most of the bird action today was on the bay with 30 Dunlins, 10 Sanderlings and the first five Red Knots of autumn counted on the incoming tide, plus the usual Curlews, Oystercatchers and Sandwich Terns. This afternoon on a falling tide I could find no sign of the salt water sandpipers; presumably they had moved on to avoid the holidaymakers who were out in force in the hot sunshine, many of them doing their level best to stretch NHS resources even further with self inflicted third degree sunburn. Amongst the horror show of humanity a couple of Sandwich Terns allowed a close approach for a few piccies with the old Box Brownie. 

                                 Adult and juv Sandwich Terns, Lade sands

Herring Gulls - En-route to see family in Folkestone yesterday afternoon (along the coastal route with Pat driving) I made a half-hearted attempt at counting nesting Herring Gulls atop various buildings along the way. This time of year as they are just about to fledge the brown, short-tailed youngsters are obvious and during the 30 minute journey I tallied 18 such families. Bearing in mind how low down I was in a moving car I must`ve missed many more; an un-scientific survey then I know, but the HG is a very common urban breeding bird along this section of the coast and elsewhere around southern England I suspect. 

                                  The Urban Gull

It may come as something of a surprise then to some of you that the HG is Red Listed (the highest priority) on the RSPB website as a `Bird of Conservation Concern` alongside other seabirds such as Roseate Tern, Kittiwake and Arctic Skua, all three of whom certainly warrant such a status - in contrast to Leache`s Petrel which is only Amber Listed! The listing process is carried out by a governmental organisation known as the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (re:, which is where RSPB and other such organisations draw their information in which to plan future conservation work. Anyhow, in a moment of madness I drilled down into the aforementioned website paying particular attention to their survey methodology. It would seem that the main reason why the HG is afforded such a lofty status is due to a bias of surveying natural colonies (where they have declined) with little or no allowance afforded to surveying the urban population (where they have increased in number); "Dover, Folkestone and Cheriton" were actually named in the text as not having been included in the survey. So, Larus argentatus is here to stay, having shifted from cliff-top to roof-top, as well as gravel pit islands across Dungeness. As a result I can see no future for terns at Dungeness RSPB, if the gulls cannot be deterred from island nest sites. The only hope is pull the tern rafts in at the end of the breeding season, cover them over through the winter months and bring them out again in late May. By then the gulls will already be well into their breeding cycle on the islands, giving arriving Common Terns half a chance at establishing a colony large enough to deter any roving gulls. Rant over!

Wednesday 21 July 2021

Little Gull

Lade - hot, dry and sunny, E2 - The heat wave continues, and with it very little of note on the bird front over the lakes, but quite a few new moths for the year in the garden trap, including two that I don`t get very often: Small Emerald and Bordered Beauty; also last night 10 Least Carpets and two Sussex Emeralds among 32 species of macro. 

                                  Bordered Beauty

                                  Small Emerald

                                  Sussex Emerald

                                 Least Carpet

On the bay a few more Dunlins are starting to trickle through with 30 yesterday, plus 20 Sandwich Terns and, amongst the numerous Black-headed Gulls, five Mediterranean and an adult Little Gull in moult, a fairly typical post-breeding dispersal record for this time of year. On a sadder note, hundreds more boat people have pitched up on the beach these past few days between here and Dungeness; makes you realise just how fortunate most of us are living in a first world country.

Sunday 18 July 2021

Scotney waders

 Lade - warm, dry and sunny, light airs - The sea breeze of yesterday suddenly dropped overnight allowing a decent enough catch of moths in the garden trap comprising 24 species of macros but nothing unusual. Whilst emptying the trap a flyover Grey Plover called from the bay. Sitting in the garden at 0600hrs delivered a juvenile Willow Warbler and Common Whitethroat (having probably dropped in overnight) busily snapping up insects around the pond; I often wonder what I must miss passing through our garden early on... Despite the dire warnings about water pollution I had my first very enjoyable sea swim of summer this afternoon on what was the hottest day of the year so far at 26 C - and lived to tell the tale!

                                  Starlings were everywhere today

                                  Pale Buzzard, Scotney

After breakfast I checked out Scotney pits in the increasing heat haze. The front pits held all the waders: four Common Sandpipers, Greenshank, Redshank and Green Sandpiper around the margins, plus 20 Lapwings, 10 Curlews, five Oystercatchers and two Whimbrels on the sheep folds amongst scores of gulls and feral geese. Outback thousands of Starlings and Black-headed Gulls hawked flying insects over the fields, where the rape-seed and barley harvest had already begun in the searing heat. Kestrel, Common Buzzard, Yellow Wagtails, Skylarks, Little Egrets and Corn Bunting all noted, plus a pulse of 50 Sand Martins south. I called in at Springfield Bridge on the way home and spent an hour watching the Marsh Harrier family over Dengemarsh. The adult male (the one with a pale rump) was easily the most efficient hunter bringing a prey item in roughly every ten minutes (probably marsh frogs), while I only saw the adult female make one delivery. As the three juveniles are well advanced the adults are eagerly greeted by grasping talons as soon as they approach the throng. More Yellow Wagtails and Corn Buntings were present in the set aside field and a party of 30 Sand Martins hurried out to sea.

The End of the Line Restaurant, Dungeness

Saturday morning we went for a stroll around the peninsula with friends and afterwards decided to breakfast in the End of the Line Restaurant at Dungeness. Oh dear, what a big mistake. A surly member of staff informed us that a cooked breakfast was unavailable despite being widely advertised on the menu. "How about some toast then, or maybe a bacon bap?", we optimistically suggested. Nope, none of them either; infact nothing that had to be cooked or anything vegetarian/vegan, apart from a small pot of over-priced strawberries. Anyhow, we opted for something that vaguely resembled a breakfast; so, said fruit, four hot drinks (dispensed in cardboard, disposable cups), a couple of dry, pre-packed sandwiches and an inedible sausage roll, all for the princely sum of £24, of which Barney had the sausages, and the birds the bread. As someone who works locally in the hospitality business I was ashamed and embarrassed for visitors from afar having to put up with this kind of rubbish service at what is, after all, a tourist hot-spot, and I have e-mailed RH&D Railway accordingly. I also checked Tripadvisor just to see whether or not our experience was a one-off; sadly it was not, there were many shocking reviews and I shall be adding this one to them. My advice to any visiting birders seeking a full English is to drive to the Oasis cafe at Old Romney where you are assured a warm welcome and a fine value-for-money breakfast.

Friday 16 July 2021

Marsh Harriers

Lade - warm, dry and sunny, NE 4 - Once the early cloud lifted it turned into a fine summers day with temperatures pegged back to a comfortable late teens centigrade courtesy of a fresh breeze off the bay. A tour of the local patch was notable for our first returning Willow Warbler by the ponds, six Little Egrets across both waters and confirmed breeding of Green Woodpecker with an adult feeding at least two juveniles on the causeway track. Peak wildfowl counts included 205 Pochards and 42 Great Crested Grebes.

                     Two of the three recently fledged Marsh Harrier juvs, Dengemarsh

A circuit of the bird reserve delivered very little of note apart from the confirmation of a successfully fledged brood of three Marsh Harriers from a nest site at Dengemarsh. At one stage all three youngsters were perched on fence posts when the adult male flew in and food passed to the female overhead; cue mayhem, with the juveniles flying around the adults until one of them managed to grab and consume the prey item. Two Great White Egrets and two juvenile Bearded Tits were also seen from the viewing ramp at Hookers. One other item worthy of mention from the ramp is the extraordinary song of a Sedge Warbler that has been singing regularly from the willow thicket to the left as you walk up the slope. When compared to nearby `normal` Sedges this particular individual has a louder more varied song with the grating `chrirrr` note greatly extended; I guess it must be the Alpha male of Sedge Warblers!    

Thursday 15 July 2021

Birthday Barney

Lade - warm, dry and sunny, N 2 - At last the return of summer with a high pressure system moving in from the Azores delivering settled weather and welcome sunshine after a dreary first half of July. So far on the local patch butterfly transects along the old railway line track have been disappointing but I`ve got high hopes of a decent count over the weekend; already this morning a few Marbled Whites were on the wing. One benefit of the recent high rainfall though has mean`t that the wild flowers and grasses on the shingle ridges are in terrific condition with great swathes of floral colour everywhere. Two Whimbrels were heard today, one over Lade with the Curlews and another over St Mary`s Bay. Like most locals I spent a fair bit of time regularly scanning the skies this morning as a Black Stork reported flying over Dover and Folkestone may have been heading our way. 

                                  Fresh Painted Lady on bramble flower

On the bay gull numbers continue to be attracted to the gloopy mud at slack water and yesterday 10 Sandwich Terns dropped in; quite an event as they`ve been few in number this year, while at high tide fishing Grey Seals are still present. I was considering having my first sea swim of summer over the coming days, but after learning of the outrageous performance of Southern Water dumping tons of untreated sewerage into the rivers and sea along the Kent coastline I may well reconsider...

                                 Barney at 15, still enjoying his daily outings

On a brighter note my trusty birding companion Barney is 15 years old today! You may not see him out and about as often as in the past but he always accompanies us on our daily two mile tour of Lade pits. 

Tuesday 13 July 2021

Mediterranean Gulls

 Lade - warm, dry and sunny, NE 2 - A humid night with rain at times did not deter a respectable 30 species of macro moths coming to light in the garden trap. Highlights were: two male Sussex Emeralds, two Swallow-tailed Moths, 10 Buff-tips, a Privet Hawk-moth and the localised micro-moths, Cynaeda dentalis and Ethmia bipunctella. Five Silver Ys were also present in the trap, but outback on the shingle ridges this morning `hundreds` more fluttered around in the long grass amongst a host of Marbled Whites, Meadow Browns and skippers.

                                  Swallow-tailed Moth

                                  Scalloped Oak

                                  Privet Hawk-moth

                                  Black-headed Gulls on the bay

On south lake two Little Egrets were a sure sign of the changing seasons, as was a flock of 18 Ringed Plovers and five Dunlins on the bay this afternoon at slack water, plus hundreds of Black-headed Gulls. A Hobby made a couple of passes over the cottage, while an Emperor dragonfly paid a visit to the garden pond. 

                                 Sub adult Med Gull with large bill

                                  Adult Med Gull with normal size bill

                                  Mediterranean and Black-headed Gulls on the bay 

Another check of the beach this evening delivered a few more juvenile Black-headed Gulls amongst the adults, plus eight adult/sub adult Mediterranean Gulls (just beginning to moult) close to shore that also seemed to be feeding on small marines crustaceans. Smart birds, as usual, and one individual (depicted above) sporting an exceptionally large bill.

Sunday 11 July 2021

Sussex Emerald

Lade - warm, dry and sunny, light airs - The past couple of nights have been calm, cloudy and humid, ideal weather conditions then for moths coming to light at this time of year; except not here where the sum totals were 14 and eight species of macro moths respectively. I`ve been moth trapping for the past 15 years but cannot remember it being so poor, although I did note the first Sussex Emerald of the season on Friday night.

                                  Sussex Emerald

                                 Micro moth, Epiblema foenella (I reckon!)

On the bay there is already a hint of post-breeding dispersal with hundreds of Black-headed Gulls feeding at slack water on tiny marine crustaceans The only waders were 200 plus Curlews and 100 plus Oystercatchers, while at least 11 Grey Seals periscoped up and down whilst hunting flat fish at high tide. More Bhgs were on the lakes along with several Common Terns and a Common Sandpiper yesterday. A wander around the Trapping Area and Long Pits at Dungeness this morning produced very little of note apart from a few common warblers, Stonechats and a Peregrine on the power station.

Friday 9 July 2021

Great White Egrets

Lade - muggy, cloudy, SW 3 - The past few days have been much of a muchness on the local patch with breeding in full swing and plenty of Mallard ducklings and young Coots, Moorhens and Dabchicks on the water, plus a brood each of Gadwall and Great Crested Grebe. Whitethroats appeared to have had a good season with juveniles flapping about all over the place on the dry scrub. Along the main track several Marbled Whites were on the wing when the sun briefly broke through. The bay Curlew flock is now up to 220 birds, plus a Whimbrel which has been present since the spring, while the first Sand Martins of the return passage are starting to trickle through. 

                                  Marbled White
                                  Hayfields 1/2
                                 Prize bull!

                                  Great White Egret

A circuit of the bird reserve this morning was a grim experience with not a single Common Tern present on Burrowes now that the Herring Gulls have cleaned out the tern colony of 30 nests. A Common Sandpiper and two Lapwings were the only wader migrants present amongst a host of eclipse ducks, Coots, Cormorants and nesting gulls. The hayfields were empty of birds, although six Great White Egrets were noted across Dengemarsh, plus the usual Marsh Harriers, Bearded Tits, Cetti`s, Sedge and Reed Warblers. A check of ARC produced huge numbers of eclipse waterfowl (2,000 plus?), at least 10 nesting Common Terns on the raft, but no sign of the Ibis, although it was reported earlier in its favoured haunt just past the Screen hide. 

Tuesday 6 July 2021


Dungeness - 0515 - 0815hrs - low cloud, showers, mild, SSW 7 - An early morning seawatch with a big sea running and 50 mph winds rattling the seawatch hide meant that most seabirds passing up-Channel did so at a fair old rate of knots. Highlights were: 10 Manx Shearwaters (all well offshore) two Bonxies, 30 Fulmars, 200 Gannets, 20 Common Scoter, 20 Sandwich Terns, 10 Common Terns, 10 Kittiwakes, two Med Gulls, six auks and a coasting Swift; some of the Gannets and Fulmars were very close to shore.


A Whimbrel over the cottage calling on the tide change this morning was, I suspect, the one that has attached itself to the bay Curlew flock since spring.

Sunday 4 July 2021

Curlews and Cuckoos

 Lade - warm, cloudy, showery, SW 2 - A mixed weekend of weather with sunshine and showers throughout but muggy with light winds off the Atlantic; decent mothing conditions then that last night delivered four species of hawk-moths and a Toadflax Brocade as the highlights in the garden trap. We`ve spent a fair bit of time checking out the local patch for Cuckoos these past few days without success and I`m pretty confident that they have moved back south, making 30th June the last date an adult was present; the first bird was noted here on 20th April, so that makes a total of just 72 days, or 12 weeks, that the `African` Cuckoos` graced us with their presence.

                                  Curlews flying to roost

Yesterday morning four Redshanks and a Green Sandpiper were noted flying across south lake, while in the afternoon on a rising tide 178 Curlews flew to roost off the bay. This evening several Sandwich Terns and four Grey Seals fished on the high tide.

Friday 2 July 2021

Cattle Egret

 Lade - overcast, misty, light airs - A muggy day with a sea fret coming and going throughout that suppressed temperatures somewhat. A thorough look around the local patch failed to find any Cuckoos present for the second day running; although visibility was particularly poor first thing, so I`m not writing them off just yet. Pochard numbers were reduced by about a hundred with the majority on north lake amongst a few more Shoveler and Gadwall. Two female Marsh Harriers quartered the linear reedbed opposite the main track with one successfully grabbing a Mallard duckling.

                                  Distant Cattle Egret, Dengemarsh

A circuit of the bird reserve in  murky light was notable for a flighty adult Cattle Egret in full breeding plumage that went from the hayfields, to the cattle herd on Dengemarsh and then onto the Boulderwall fields. At least five Great White Egrets were also noted across the site, plus the Glossy Ibis at the western end of ARC, five Teal on the hayfields and a `bubbling` Cuckoo from the ramp.

Thursday 1 July 2021

Beautiful Hook-tip

 Lade - warm, dry and sunny, W2 - At last, summer has returned, and a welcome day without rain. The garden moth trap was yet again low in numbers but high in quality with the first Bird`s Wing and Poplar Hawk-moth of the season, plus a Beautiful Hook-tip, new for the trap site. Outback the first Marbled White of summer was on the wing along with a few skippers and browns along the main track.

                                  Poplar Hawk-moth

                                  Bird`s Wing

                                 Beautiful Hook-tip

                                  Juvenile Wheatear, Dungeness

A couple of hours at Dungeness wandering around the Desert and Trapping Area produced the usual warblers and finches, plus a juvenile Wheatear by the Polish war memorial and a few more common grassland butterflies on the wing. There was also a large Border Force presence on the beach dealing with incoming human migrants having just made the perilous Channel crossing.