Friday 31 December 2021

A Brief Look Back

It has been another strange old stop-start sort of a birding year across the Dungeness peninsula what with all the Covid restrictions, and I can`t see things being much different in 2022. Looking back the stand out event last winter was the exceptionally high numbers of White-fronted Geese on the fields around Lydd, in contrast to a rapidly declining population of Bewick`s Swans and the complete absence of Smew during either winter period. A Dusky Warbler lingered in the sallows around the ARC car park and a few Dartford Warblers wintered. One or two Glossy Ibises were present throughout the year along with fluctuating numbers of Cattle and Great White Egrets that reached double figures at times for both species. 

                                  Cattle Egret, Dengemarsh

                                 Garden Warbler, Plovers garden

The much anticipated spring migration on the land was again disappointing although at least a few classics such as Redstart, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Wood and Grasshopper Warblers could be found in the bushes from Greatstone to Dungeness, and there was another influx of Rose-coloured Starlings. Wandering Sea Eagles from the Isle of Wight reintroduction scheme came our way, as did several Black Kites and a trickle of Red Kites. Seawatching was good in parts with several days of large tern movements and an average skua passage; the highlight for many though was a showy Sooty Shearwater that lingered off the fishing boats. On Dengemarsh an unprecedented arrival of three Collared Pratincoles attracted twitchers from far and wide. 

                                 Little Stint, Lade bay

On the RSPB reserve it was a miserable breeding season for Common Tern, Lapwing and Redshank due to a combination of gull predation and wet weather. For the birdwatcher high water levels and closed hides also mean`t that the late summer wader passage was largely a non-event. Autumn too was dreadful by Dungeness standards with few common migrants (where were the Goldcrests and winter thrushes?) and hardly any rarities compounded by a lack of east winds. The highlight was probably the spectacle of several flocks of White Storks passing over the peninsula originating from the Knepp estate reintroduction programme in West Sussex.

                                 Hayfield Hobby

However, this is only a snap-shot from memory, not an exhaustive interrogation of 2021 and despite all the apparent doom and gloom there was still plenty to see during the year. My personal highlights were the large scale spring movement of terns off Dungeness, a back garden Garden Warbler, a Red-rumped Swallow and Little Stints at Lade and an autumn Honey Buzzard over Dengemarsh; this weeks Red-crested Pochard was my 205th species for the Dungeness year. I`d like to wish everyone a happy and peaceful bird-filled 2022. 

Thursday 30 December 2021

The Apprentice Birder

Mild, overcast, breezy - Wednesday afternoon I tacked on Lade north to my Romney Salts circular walk and by the time I got there across the stubble fields had worked up a right old sweat in the warm Azorean airflow that delivered 14C temperatures across the southern counties. Over the years I`ve only seen a couple of Red-crested Pochards at Lade, both on south lake and very obvious; unlike the drake that arrived on Tuesday that was hunkered down this afternoon amongst a Mallard flock along the western bank sheltering from the stiff breeze. Of more interest was a Goldcrest attached to a tit flock in the causeway scrub, plus a Cetti`s Warbler and Chiffchaff. As sunset approached I watched from the aerial mound as thousands of black crows, Woodpigeons and Starlings went to roost over towards the bird reserve.

                                  The Apprentice Birder in the field

Today I was ably assisted in the field by my Apprentice Birder; aka 11 year old grandson Albert. I say `birder` but he`s more of a `lister`, as he does love to record stuff, so the target to beat was 72 species (apparently!) recorded during our last outing in the autumn. Anyhow, there was no danger of that being attained, mainly due to the combination of a general lack of passerines and poor weather - low cloud, a steady drizzle and a muggy mid-Atlantic airstream. We were out for four hours around midday with much of the time spent birding from the mobile hide as the Apprentice efficiently logged all the species sightings and numbers in an old-school notebook supplied by yours truly. Along the Lydd Road from Hammond`s Corner a flock of 10 Corn Buntings on overhead wires was an unexpected bonus while we had good views of a Kestrel from the airport road. As is often the case Scotney pits and front fields duly delivered the bulk of the avian bio-mass today with thousands of Golden Plovers and Lapwings along with hundreds of feral geese, gulls, diving ducks, Cormorants, Wigeons and Starlings, all providing a fine spectacle for the Apprentice; in amongst the throng were five Ruffs, two Redshanks, a Curlew and a flyover Glossy Ibis. Various stopping off points along Dengemarsh Road yielded thousands more gulls, Starlings and Lapwings on the flooded fields, plus 12 Ruffs, two Great White Egrets, Marsh Harriers and a Stonechat, while the wet paddock along Lydd Road held six Cattle and two Little Egrets. Onto the bird reserve at Burrowes where the highlights were a Snipe, four Goldeneyes, 300 Shovelers and two more Great White Egrets, plus a treat for the Apprentice from the shop (an origami kit that should keep him occupied for a couple hours when we get home!). We finished the session from the seawatch hide at Dungeness with a raft of common seabirds including a Bonxie and two very close Kittiwakes making a final tally of 62 species, which wasn`t too bad considering the weather conditions, but more importantly we both had fun away from any electronic devices; no mean feat for a kid in this internet age.

Tuesday 28 December 2021


New Romney - mild, cloudy, W5 - We`ve entered that twilight zone between the two holiday periods, a sort of limbo in the calendar when you wake up wondering what day of the week it is, and whether or not you should be putting the bins out today or tomorrow. With family comings and goings I`ve managed to escape for walks around the Marsh and down to the coast at Greatstone; for the time being I`ve given up on the farmland north of the village, preferring the delights of the stinking dung heap on Romney Salts and adjacent stubble fields that have at least delivered a few Corn Buntings, Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and common raptors. Gull flocks have been checked on the industrial estate (that`s how desperate it is!) where a couple of Mediterranean Gulls loitered in amongst the riff-raff. Yesterday, with a brisk south-easterly forecast I joined MC in the sea watch hide for an hour first thing just before the rain set in. As expected there were hundreds of seabirds fizzing between the two bays, mostly gulls, Gannets, Cormorants, auks and Red-throated Divers, plus two Sanderlings, five Oystercatchers, Brent Goose and Common Scoter. I then moved onto Lade where it was similar fare to last weekend`s WeBS count, while the wet fields along Lydd Road held six Cattle and four Little Egrets. This morning en-route to Folkestone I paused at the Hythe sea defense blocks to look for Purple Sandpipers but all I could find were Turnstones clinging on for dear life in the rough sea conditions.

Friday 24 December 2021


Greatstone - warm, dry and sunny, light airs - A circular midday walk in unseasonably mild weather conditions along the beach from Littlestone to Greatstone and around Lade north to Romney Salts proved to be good on exercise but low on birds. On the incoming tide 610 Oystercatchers were counted along with 210 Great Black-backed Gulls but very little else apart from three Ringed Plovers, a species that has been in short supply this winter. On Lade north a single Mediterranean Gull was amongst the roosting Black-headed and Common Gulls while Chiffchaff and Cetti`s Warbler called from cover by the causeway. On Romney Salts, from the school viewpoint, 280 Curlews part roosted/fed on a stubble field along with a few Skylarks and Meadow Pipits, plus a host of corvids, gulls and Woodpigeons. Two Buzzards and a Kestrel also noted. 

                                 Curlews on Romney Salts

Tuesday 21 December 2021

Grey Geese

 Dengemarsh - cold, dry and sunny, light airs - Dengemarsh Road was the place to be today with a visit to the field with the dung heap by Manor Farm attracting a large flock of several hundred Greylag Geese that harboured at least 30 White-fronted, five Tundra Bean Geese and a single Pink-footed Goose. Not long after I arrived on site the flock was disturbed by a low-flying plane and moved onto the lake on the bird reserve where they were best viewed from Dengemarsh hide.

                                  Sunset over the ranges

A late afternoon visit along Dengemarsh Road for this winter`s Starling murmuration with the family was a resounding success. Thousands of birds performed an aerial ballet over the wetlands at dusk before eventually settling down to roost in Hooker`s reedbed. Four Marsh Harriers were also present, plus a Sparrowhawk which caught a Starling for supper, while a distant Short-eared Owl quartered the rough ground over the Army ranges. Several each of Little and Great White Egrets also departed as dusk approached for their roost site over the road on ARC.

Sunday 19 December 2021

Grey Ghost

Walland Marsh - cold, overcast, NE 3 - A murky afternoon out on the Marsh in the company of CP for the monthly harrier count turned into a decent session for a change. En-route we connected with 18 Bewick`s Swans and at least three Whoopers, Great White and Little Egrets, Common Buzzard and Merlin, five Golden Plovers and three Snipe, but yet again hardly any passerines were noted apart from a few Meadow Pipits and small flocks of Starlings heading to roost. However, despite the poor light the harriers put on a fine show with 17 Marsh Harriers coming to roost, plus a beautiful adult male Hen Harrier that flew around for a while being hassled by a couple of Marsh Harriers before eventually dropping down into the reedbed for the night, a magnificent sight and the first time we`ve had one here for a while. As the light faded a Barn Owl hunted over the field in front of us against a backdrop of the wild swans calling as they too headed to roost on a nearby water. 

Friday 17 December 2021

Egrets and Ibises

Dungeness - mild, overcast, NE 2 - A miserable day of weather (reflecting the national mood) with poor light throughout and occasional drizzle. I started off at Lade where a combined wildfowl count barely reached 150 birds, plus 500 high tide roosting Black-headed and Common Gulls on north lake. Around the willow swamp Chiffchaff, Cetti`s Warbler and Water Rails were in good voice and a Sparrowhawk nipped through chasing a Collared Dove.

                                 Glossy Ibis, Burrowes

On the bird reserve two Cattle Egrets and a Glossy Ibis were on the Boulderwall fields by Cook`s Pool with another Ibis on Burrowes feeding below Firth hide on an island amongst a host of Gadwalls. Thousands of Cormorants loafed on the islands along with 200 Lapwings plus a group of nine Ruffs and a Dunlin at the Makepeace end, while two Goldeneyes and Pintails were the only ducks of note. A walk out to the viewpoint overlooking New Diggings revealed a Great White Egret displaying in flight to another one and two Little Egrets on the causeway bank. Diving ducks tallied 462 Tufted Ducks and 285 Pochards. 

Wednesday 15 December 2021

Bewick`s Swans

Tues/Wed - mild, dull, light airs - I`ve spent a fair bit of time these past two days criss-crossing the Marsh farmland in search of Bewick`s Swans for the International Survey. The Romney Marsh section was pretty much devoid of birds with only a couple of small herds of Mute Swans and not a winter thrush anywhere. Crossing the Rhee Wall at Old Romney the highlight was a flock of 80 Fieldfares, plus a few Blackbirds, Kestrels and Buzzards along the lanes around Midley, while another Mute flock from Hook`s Wall also included 25 Egyptian Geese. The long walk outback at Scotney resulted in distant views of 18 Bewick`s Swans (six of which were juvs) feeding with Mutes in an oil-seed rape field; although I could find no sign of any Whoopers that were reported here earlier in the week. Other birds of note were a flock of 21 Corn Buntings, two Marsh Harriers and a Great White Egret. Once again the front fields and lakes at Scotney were teeming with similar numbers of wetland species as noted last Sunday.

                                 Bewick`s Swans, Walland Marsh, 2015

Sunday 12 December 2021

White-fronted Geese

 Saturday - New Romney - mild, light airs - Fine weather for a four mile flog around the local lanes and tracks from home out towards St Mary-in-the Marsh. As expected small birds were at a premium with just a scattering of Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Skylarks, singles of Cetti`s Warbler, Greenfinch and Song Thrush and 20 Blackbirds noted. Raptors, however, were much in evidence with at least two each of Kestrel and Sparrowhawk, plus four Buzzards. Most numerous were corvids, Woodpigeons and Magpies in the sheep fields and Common Gulls on winter wheat (what on earth do they find to eat?).

                                  Kestrel and Buzzard, St Mary-in-the-Marsh

                                 White-fronted Goose, Scotney

Sunday - Scotney - mild, overcast with drizzle, W3 - In contrast to yesterdays slim pickings the wetlands around the gravel pit lakes at Scotney were  alive with birds, particularly the front sward that attracted c1,500 Golden Plovers, c1,000 Lapwings, c1,000 Greylags along with hundreds of Starlings, Wigeons, Shovelers, Egyptian and Barnacle Geese. Amongst the throng were six White-fronts (probably laggards from last winter that stayed over, one of which had a dodgy wing), 10 Redshanks, two Curlews and 20 Linnets. The lakes held the usual common diving ducks, gulls and grebes, plus Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Buzzard, Great White and Little Egrets and two Green Sandpipers outback.

Friday 10 December 2021

Gulls and Swans

Weekly Summary - It has been a variable week of weather which has see-sawed between cold and frosty mornings and wet and windy conditions, courtesy of named Storm Barra that swept up from the south-west mid-week. The lanes around New Romney have been largely quiet and still bereft of winter thrushes, although I did hear a few Redwings passing over the village on Tuesday evening. I paid several visits to Lade this week checking the bay, foreshore and pits for any storm-blown waifs but without success. Four Black-tailed Godwits continue to winter on the sands along with hundreds of gulls and the usual ten species of waders including a few Ringed Plovers at last along the Littlestone stretch. The lakes attracted low numbers of wildfowl while Chiffchaff and Cetti`s Warbler were noted by the ponds. At Dungeness the sea produced the usual Gannets, auks, Kittiwakes and the occasional Red-throated Diver feeding offshore or fizzing around the point.

                                  Sanderlings, Littlestone

On the bird reserve both Glossy Ibises (per MC) are still present around Dengemarsh (one flew over Cook`s Pool today) and the usual array of Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls have kept the ID gurus entertained on Burrowes, where a few Shelduck, Pintail and Goldeneye can be found lurking amongst the commoner ducks. Great White Egrets and Marsh Harriers are a given and a flooded paddock field along the Lydd Road this morning attracted 100 Common and Black-headed Gulls, four Cattle and three Little Egrets. Out on Walland Marsh up to 18 Bewick`s and six Whooper Swans are present on the more remote sections of farmland during daylight hours and roosting on nearby wetlands in the evening. 

Wednesday 1 December 2021


Wessex  -Just back from a few days away visiting family at various points to the west; at Littlehampton in a roaring gale where I saw very little, and a snowy Winchester where I finally caught up with small flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares. However, inbetween I did manage to squeeze in a full day at Pagham Harbour where I spent most of the time exploring the relatively new and adjacent Medmerry RSPB reserve. Its a two mile hike from the main car park and visitor centre through low-lying farmland and fields with plenty of rough ground and hedgerows along the route; although as is the way these days passerines were in short supply with only a handful of Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, Stonechats, Goldfinches. Corn Buntings and Yellowhammers noted (and not a single winter thrush), plus several Kestrels and Common Buzzards, while a group of four and a two of Roe Deer was nice to see. A field of winter wheat by Ham Farm attracted 100 each of Brent Geese and Lapwing.

                                       Roe Deer

                                 Meadow Pipit

                                  Brent Geese, Medmerry

                                 Medmerry RSPB Reserve

The main body of the reserve is south of a series of stout clay banks with viewpoints that overlook a huge tidal bay and salt marsh with lagoons and islands formed by what is the largest flood risk management scheme of its kind in the country; the sea wall was breached as a release valve to prevent the threat of flooding to nearby housing at Selsey and Bracklesham, and in turn creating a myriad of wetland habitats for wildlife. Large numbers of waders such as Redshank, Ringed and Grey Plovers, Curlew and Oystercatcher were present, plus at least 1,000 Brent Geese swirling overhead from nearby Pagham Harbour, along with plenty of gulls, Shelducks, Wigeons, Teal, several Little Egrets and a distant Spoonbill.

                                 Selsey Bill

I finished the day with a brief seawatch from Selsey Bill where a few auks and Common Scoters passed by offshore and several tame Turnstones fed along the sea wall.