Friday 26 November 2021

Bay Waders

 Lade Bay - At various times this week I`ve walked the strandline from St Mary`s Bay to Dungeness hoping for the likes of an elusive Snow or Lapland Bunting foraging amongst the many corvids, Feral Pigeons, Turnstones, Pied Wagtails and Starlings, plus a few Little Egrets, Meadow Pipits and Skylarks along the way. High tide wildlife on the bay included several Grey Seals, plenty of Great Crested Grebes, Cormorants, Black-headed and Common Gulls and two tardy Sandwich Terns, while further out distant Gannets and auks passed by.

                                 Sanderlings and Dunlin, Littlestone

                                 Carrion Crow, St Mary`s Bay

                                 Redshanks, Sanderlings, Dunlin and Knot, Littlestone

                                 Redshanks, Littlestone

But as always the stars of the show were the waders, 10 species in all (but still no Ringed Plover) including six Black-tailed Godwits, something of a scarcity here on the salt, and a count of 1,250 Oystercatchers, currently by far the most numerous of their tribe on the bay. Something of a magical moment occurred at high tide on Wednesday as I was hunkered down on the shingle checking through a pack of Turnstones working their way across the sea defense blocks at Littlestone outfall. A flurry of wings delivered a small mixed flock of Redshanks, Dunlins, Sanderlings and a Knot no more than ten yards away that quickly settled down to roost. After taking a few piccies I crawled back over the beach so`s not to disturb them from their slumbers, such was the privilege of being cheek-by-jowl with these stunning little shorebirds. 

Wednesday 24 November 2021

Romney Salts

New Romney - overcast, mild, light airs - Spent this afternoon slogging around the hinterland to the south (between the village and the coastal strip at Greatstone) in an area known as Romney Salts. For the most part here the landscape is arable in nature comprising the usual mix of corn and rape-seed fields, drainage sewers, stunted bushes and grass farm tracks, plus a large dung heap which is a magnet for finches, sparrows and buntings; particularly the fast declining Tree Sparrow and Corn Bunting. For the moment, at least, the majority of the cropped fields are unploughed and stubbled with plenty of spilled grain and in places full of weed-seeds making them very attractive to farmland birds. Steadily quartering the `best looking` weedy stubble fields I eventually counted c2,000 Starlings, 300 black crows, 160 Skylarks, 30 Corn Buntings, 15 Tree Sparrows, 10 Meadow Pipits, 11 Common Snipes, two Golden Plovers, a Redshank and a Pheasant, while a drilled field held 175 Curlews. Loitering around the margins were 20 Magpies, 10 Blackbirds, two song Thrushes, three Common Buzzards and a Stonechat. The Salts look spot on for Ortolan Bunting and Short-eared Owl this winter, providing the rough stuff remains, and I fully intend to return to check when the weather conditions are suitable, as they were today. Walking back along Church Lane the building site adjacent to the council tip held 35 Meadow Pipits, 10 Goldfinches and 10 Pied Wagtails, while a Siskin flew over calling. Yet again, winter thrushes were noticeable by a complete absence. 

                                  Corn Bunting and Buzzard, Romney Salts

                                 Stonechat, Romney Salts

Sunday 21 November 2021


 New Romney - Saturday - mild, overcast, drizzle, light airs - A walk around the lanes and tracks north of the village first thing delivered a pair of Ravens over (new for the one mile list), 30 Blackbirds, 20 Yellowhammers, 100 Common Gulls, three Buzzards and a Great Spotted Woodpecker; there continues to be an absence of winter thrushes and Goldcrests. At Dungeness a Red-breasted Flycatcher was ringed at the Obs and a Puffin was noted moving offshore (SP).

                            Kestrel sheltering from the wind on the old lighthouse

Dungeness - Sunday - cold, dry and sunny, N 4 - A completely different feel to the weather today with the wind picking up from the north making it decidely nippy. First stop Lade to count the wildfowl where numbers remained low and nothing much had changed since Friday. A circuit of the point, taking in the Moat, drew a predictable blank for yesterdays RBflicker and was virtually birdless apart from a Stonechat and a Sparrowhawk, plus a Kestrel hunkered down on the old lighthouse. A cursory look at the sea produced plenty of Gannets fishing offshore and a few passing auks. On the bird reserve four Black-tailed Godwits and 10 Dunlins were amongst the Lapwings and dabbling ducks on Burrowes while several Cattle and Great Egrets were on the Boulderwall fields. Walked put to the new lookout point across New Diggings where 320 Tufted Ducks and 295 Pochards were counted

Walland Marsh - Joined CP for the monthly harrier count out on the Marsh where 16 Marsh Harriers came to roost; at one stage there was 14 milling around over the reedbed in one flock searching for a suitable drop-in point. Also noted in the area: four Buzzards, 50 Golden Plovers, a Snipe, a large Starling flock, calling Water Rail and Cetti`s Warbler. However, it was depressing to see that the rough ground around Midley drying barns, so loved by finches and buntings, has all been cleared and tidied, while the nearby lane with elm regrowth and hedgerows either side, favoured by winter thrushes, has been grubbed up and the old willows cut to ribbons. Its little wonder that any farmland birds can survive in such a hostile environment.  

Friday 19 November 2021

Water Rails

Lade - mild, cloudy, light airs - Checked the bay this morning at high tide from Littlestone and the Romney Tavern on a flat calm sea where at least 300 Common Gulls were amongst 1,000 plus black-backs, Herring and Black-headed Gulls. A few Sanderlings, Dunlins, Oystercatchers, Redshanks and Turnstone noted, plus two Sandwich Terns, six Great Crested Grebes and six Grey Seals. At least 15 Pied Wagtails were feeding along the strandline, a species that seems to be particularly numerous of late. On the lakes several Water Rails vocalised around the willow swamp; where I actually managed to glimpse one, and a couple of Chiffchaffs called from cover. Otherwise the only excitement were two military type helicopters that swept overhead before landing on the airfield.

                                  Helicopters over Lade

On the birds reserve the expected Cattle Egrets and Glossy Ibises were on the Boulderwall fields, while on Burrowes the long-staying Black-necked Grebe was still present, plus 10 Dunlins, two Snipes and the usual wildfowl and gulls.

Thursday 18 November 2021

Corn Buntings

Dengemarsh - mild, dry, sunny, W3 - First off we walked the gully with mixed results. A scattering of Cetti`s Warblers, Goldfinches, Stonechats, Blackbirds and Meadow Pipits was about the best we could muster in this leanest of autumns`. The sheep folds opposite the track down to Springfield Bridge did hold a smart Corn Bunting flock of around 20 birds, plus 20 Pied Wagtails and a few Skylarks and Meadow Pipits, while the dung heap further along the lane attracted more Pied Wags, Mipits and a Grey Wagtail. Also noted across Dengemarsh this morning several Buzzards, Marsh Harriers and Kestrels and flocks of Lapwings and Starlings.

                                  Grey Heron, Dengemarsh Gully

                                 Goldfinches, Dengemarsh Road

We finished the four day bird tour for Clare and Peter on a respectable 103 species, and while rarities were at a premium the spectacle of Starlings, Golden Plovers and Gannets performing in large numbers was ample compensation and will live long in the memory. 

Wednesday 17 November 2021


 Rye Harbour - warm, dry and sunny, light airs - En-route to Rye this morning we paused at Scotney and Camber where a typical range of wildfowl and waders was noted at the former site and a redhead Goosander at the latter. Most of the day though was spent on the Beach Reserve at Rye in glorious sunshine where we were treated to a double avian spectacle: firstly, over a thousand Golden Plovers and Lapwings and hundreds of ducks swirling overhead and calling furiously whilst being tormented by an imperious female Peregrine, stooping and chasing unsuccessfully; and secondly a flock of around 50 Gannets plunge-diving for sprats in the shallows off Camber Sands. Also of note: 20 Skylarks, two Great White Egrets, two Sandwich Terns, 25 Dabchicks, four Stonechats, a Brent Goose, a Spoonbill, plus all the usual Redshanks, Curlews and a calling Spotted Redshank. Was also good to catch up with some of the Rye regulars. Afterwards we called in at Pett Level where two Ruffs and six Redshanks were within a Lapwing and Starling flock by the pools and two Red-throated Divers on the sea.

                                  Goosander, Camber
                                 Redshank, Rye Harbour

We finished the day at Appledore for Barn Owl, Buzzard, Kestrel, Red-legged Partridge, Yellowhammers, Redwings and Fieldfares.

Tuesday 16 November 2021


 Dungeness - mild, cloudy, light airs - The fine birding weather continued today at the point where we kicked off with good views of Gannets, Guillemots and Razorbills on a flat calm sea along with several Porpoises. On the land four Black Redstarts, a few Meadow Pipits, Pied Wagtails, Linnets and Goldfinches were located around the power station complex, plus a Peregrine perched on a pylon and a calling Siberian Chiffchaff in the Trapping Area along with tits and Common Chiffchaffs.

                                     Goldfinch, DBO

Moving on to Lade Bay where on a falling tide we mopped up from the Tavern viewpoint with hundreds of Curlews, Oystercatchers and gulls, 20 Grey Plovers, 10 Bar-wits, 10 Dunlins, 10 Knots, five Sanderlings and 30 Sandwich Terns. From Littlestone more waders included 110 Turnstones, six Black-wits, four Redshanks, 20 Sandwich Terns, three Little Egrets and more Pied Wagtails. There was no sign of any Ringed Plovers.

                                 Little Egrets, Littlestone

Next stop Dunes Road, Greatstone where the wood was alive with at least 20 Blackbirds, a Song and Mistle Thrush, Common Treecreeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Long-tailed Tits and at last a Goldcrest, my first of the autumn. Outback around the dung heap were 10 Pied Wagtails, 12 Tree Sparrows, three Buzzards and two each of Stonechat and Corn Bunting.

                                  Tree Sparrows, Greatstone

                                   Glossy Ibis, Cook`s Pool

Back on the bird reserve we had cracking close views of the Glossy Ibis pair by Cook`s Pool and finished off on ARC with a drake Goldeneye on the lake and 14 Cattle, nine Great White and six Little Egrets coming to roost. Job done! 

Monday 15 November 2021

Starling Murmuration

Dungeness - mild, cloudy, light airs - Spent the afternoon on the RSPB reserve guiding for Clare and Peter in gloomy, but mild autumn weather conditions. On Burrowes the highlights were a flock of 30 Brent Geese over-flying the lake, a Black-necked Grebe, 100 Golden Plovers, five Pintails, a Snipe, four Marsh Harriers and a Great White Egret. Around the trail a mixed flock of 20 Long-tailed, Great and Blue Tits and five Chiffchaffs proved noteworthy, plus several more Marsh Harriers, a Raven over calling, a flyover Bittern at Dengemarsh, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Cetti`s Warblers, nine Cattle Egrets over Boulderwall fields and three Little Egrets on New Diggings. We finished off the afternoon from the Firth Lookout watching thousands of Starlings swirling over the Oppen pits at sunset prior to roosting in willow scrub. As always a memorable spectacle.

                                  Starling murmurations over Burrowes

Friday 12 November 2021

Slim Pickings

 Dungeness - mild, cloudy, SSW 4 - Started off this morning on the beach at Lade with ten Sandwich Terns on the sands along with hundreds of gulls, Curlews and Oystercatchers. A long since dead Grey Seal corpse washed up on the strandline attracted a couple of Carrion Crows, but no Ivory Gull!

                                  Seal corpse, Lade beach

At the point a brief seawatch from the hide produced the expected Gannets, Kittiwakes and auks, plus a couple of Red-throated Divers and Sandwich Terns. The land was devoid of birds with still no sign of any Goldcrests. It wasn`t much more inspiring on the bird reserve either where the stiff breeze rendered the Firth/Makepeace end of Burrowes virtually unwatchable, although a Black-necked Grebe and four Snipe were noted. Elsewhere it was a case of the usual egrets, plus a Water Pipit on the hayfields (OL). 

Tuesday 9 November 2021

Ian Wallace

DIM Wallace - With the passing of Ian Wallace last week a generation of birders lost a titan of the British birding scene who was rarely out of the news in the second half of the 20th Century. His involvement as chairman of the British Birds Rarities Committee often saw him clash with popular opinion, but he loved the cut and thrust of a heated debate and certainly never minced his words. His numerous papers and letters in that august journal were eagerly received before the internet age, all of which were wonderfully crafted, opinionated and often controversial. He was also a brilliant artist as testified by his involvement in the epic BWP volumes, and a legendary speaker - I engaged him once to talk at a Bedfordshire Bird Conference back in the 90`s and he brought the house down with tales of rarity finding - and massively overrun his slot, but that`s another story! Charismatic, and never dull, I would often see him in the field from Norfolk to Scilly and latterly at the Rutland Bird Fair sporting his trademark tam-o-shanta (actually, a "Kilmarnock Bonnet" as he once corrected me!) and tartan garb.

For me though his greatest legacy will be two books: Birdwatching in the Seventies and Discover Birds, both of which have survived the many purges of my book shelves down the years! I can open the pages anywhere in the first book and be transported back to my formative and favourite decade when David Bowie and Queens Park Rangers were in their pomp, Willow Tits and Tree Sparrows were two a penny, but you had to go to Minsmere to see a Marsh Harrier! Discover Birds is a treasure trove of anecdotes and artwork from around Britain and simply a joy to behold; I must`ve re-read it a dozen times or more and if you`ve ever lost your birding mo-jo, then this is the book to rekindle the fire! A heartfelt thank you then to the legendary bird man behind the initials - DIMW.

Scotney - A morning visit in fine drizzle delivered thousands of feral geese, Cormorants, common ducks and gulls to the lakes and fields beside the cycle track. A Golden Plover flock held a small, greyish individual that looked `interesting` but proved elusive to pin down due to the flighty nature of the flock and poor light. Also noted on the sward: Redshank, Dunlin and Curlew, four Brent Geese, plus a Black-necked Grebe at the Sussex end, three Ravens over and several distant Marsh Harriers and Buzzards. From Cockles Bridge an adult Whooper Swan (found earlier by MC) was still present on the fields towards the airfield alongside 30 Mutes.

Monday 8 November 2021

Silent Fields

 New Romney - cold, dry and cloudy, light airs - Incredibly it has been a month since we decamped from coastal Plovers to hinterland Thurne (which apparently means `thorn bush` in old English). Anyhow, I`ve been flogging the local lanes and footpaths around `the village` on a near daily basis with limited success. The One Mile List now stands at 52 species of birds with most sightings coming from the paddocks, abandoned chicken sheds and old barns on the village periphery, including Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers, Kestrel, Buzzard, Redwing, Grey Wagtail and Chiffchaff, but still not a sniff of a Greenfinch or Song Thrush so far. 

                                 Pale Buzzard, New Romney

Once out onto the farmland tracts birds are few and far between with small numbers of everything from a scattering of Yellowhammers, Reed and Corn Buntings, Redwings, Skylarks and Med Gulls, plus a Peregrine twice and Cetti`s Warbler once. Tramping around the muddy field margins I couldn`t help but recall the lyrics of Country Life by the folk band Show of Hands: "... silent fields, empty lanes...drifting smoke... the hammer blow of size and scale as agri barons strip this green and pleasant land..." A highly relevant song and a searing indictment of the state of the British countryside today.   

Friday 5 November 2021

Lesser Redpolls

 Lade  - mild, dry and sunny, NW2 - First stop this morning was the local patch where the highlight was three Lesser Redpolls feeding in the birch tree by the ponds that showed really well in the bright sunshine for all of five minutes before flying off inland. A couple of Bramblings `wheezed` overhead along with a trickle of Skylarks and Chaffinches, plus Chiffchaff and Cetti`s Warbler in the sallows, a Marsh Harrier quartering the south lake reedbed and several Water Rails vocalising from the willow swamp. Wildfowl numbers on both lakes continue to low.

                                 Kestrel atop the VC roof

Moving on to Dungeness where a few bits and pieces were dropping in and out of the old lighthouse garden including Redwings, Blackbirds, Robins, Goldfinches, Chaffinches and a Black Redstart. A Green Sandpiper flew around calling aimlessly while a few more Skylarks and Redpolls passed overhead unseen. The sea was quiet with just the usual passing Gannets and Sandwich Terns, while a Peregrine was active by the pylons. On the way off the estate a Woodcock flew low over the beach having just arrived from across the Channel/North Sea. On the bird reserve Burrowes attracted two each of Black-necked Grebe and Goldeneye, five Pintails, 12 Grey Plovers, 20 Golden Plovers, 15 Dunlins, three Blackwits and a swimming Avocet. It was disappointing to see that the bird feeders in the car park were once again empty. From the access road at Boulderwall my first Fieldfare of autumn flew over and seven Cattle Egrets were at the top end of Cook`s Pool.

Tuesday 2 November 2021

Siberian Chiffchaff

Dungeness - mild, dry and sunny, light airs - With the wind and rain from yesterday and the past week easing off the calm weather conditions heralded the promise of a few passerines, and sure enough the quality was discovered via a mist net in the form of that tardy autumn classic, a Pallas`s Warbler; although by the time I arrived it had been released into the Trapping Area. However, a wander around in warm autumn sunshine searching for it did deliver one of two Siberian Chiffchaffs (complete with call, thankfully!), c10 Chiffchaffs, plus several Long-tailed Tits, Robins, Blackbirds, Chaffinches and a Song Thrush in the bushes. Overhead, a trickle of Skylarks, Bramblings, Siskins and Meadow Pipits was noted, but still not a sniff of a Goldcrest or a Fieldfare.

                                  Common Chiffchaff, DBO

                                  Fly Agaric, Trapping Area

Moving on to Lade where the bushes by the ponds were largely bereft of birds apart from a couple of Chiffchaffs and half a dozen Blackbirds. A Marsh Harrier quartering south lake reed bed flushed a Great White and Little Egret. On the bay from Littlestone on a receding tide, apart from the usual crop of waders the only other bird of note was a Merganser flying along the tideline close to shore.