Sunday 30 July 2023

Mediterranean Gulls

New Romney - warm, cloudy, WSW 5 - We met up with Chris P this morning for a wander around the farmland tracts, in an increasingly strong wind out of the west making for difficult birding in the open landscape. However, birds were on the move with a Willow Warbler calling from scrub by the old farm and a steady trickle of Sand Martins low over the corn fields, along with plenty of Swallows and a few House Martins. Yellow Wagtails were more evident than of late with at least ten birds, mostly around a pea field and flying over, while a female Wheatear feeding along a field margin was a real surprise and an obvious migrant. Also noted: three Buzzards, two Dabchicks and a few Skylarks, Linnets, Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings, and then from the New Cut we noticed a huge flock of white-winged gulls flying over a turf field along Hope Lane. As Chris had counted 80 Mediterranean Gulls overhead just before I met him we went to investigate the flock, and sure enough it comprised almost entirely of Med Gulls. We estimated about 1,100 birds, but I took a series of photographs, blew them up on the computer when I got home, counted through twice and arrived at a total of 1,050 - making us about 50 out! And certainly the largest flock I`ve seen on a field in this country.

                                   A few of the thousand plus flock of Mediterranean Gulls

Friday 28 July 2023

Great Crested Grebes

Lade - warm, dry and sunny, SW3 - After a humid night and a bit of early morning drizzle the sun soon broke through bringing forth a host of butterflies around the site, particularly on the buddleia bush in the ponds that was smothered in Red Admirals and Peacocks. Also in the reedbed and scrub two smart Willow Warblers amongst numerous fledged Common Whitethroats, Reed and a few Sedge Warblers. I spent a fair bit of time checking on the Great Crested Grebes with a minimum count of 105 adults across both waters and around the willow swamp. The mature gravel pits at Lade with its lush marginal vegetation, thick water-weed and reedbeds is the perfect breeding habitat for grebes, particularly Great Crested, and this year at least 40 pairs are present. Early clutches never seem to do well here with most being predated or flooded out, but by now with increased cover, they`re onto their second attempt and this morning I noted nine adults with stripy chicks riding piggy-back. This summer being much wetter, windier and cooler than usual has prevented eutrophication of the water resulting in higher levels of small fish, mostly of the carp family. Dabchicks are more difficult to survey as they are much more secretive during the breeding season, however I would estimate there to be at least 20 pairs with many well-fledged juveniles already on the water. Over the years of my tenure all five regular species of grebe have occurred with Black-necked occasionally breeding; I believe Pied-billed was also recorded long ago, so maybe we`re due another... 

                                  Great Crested Grebes with chicks

                                  Reed Warbler by the ponds

                                 Red Admiral


A check of the bay at low tide revealed the expected Sandwich Terns and a few Med Gulls amongst the gulls on the sand bars, plus 30 Sanderlings and the usual hundreds of Curlews and Oystercatchers. Kerton Road quarry attracted nothing of note apart from two Common Sandpipers. The turf fields around New Romney continue to lure down flocks of Mediterranean Gulls to rest a while with a top count of 80 last Wednesday down Hope Lane. Last night was busy in the garden moth trap with 34 species of macros, including four Gold Spots, eight Dark Sword-grass and a Plumed Fan-foot.

                                 Gold Spot

                                 Mediterranean Gulls, NR

                                 Buzzard, NR

Monday 24 July 2023


 Lade - mild and showery, W 3 - Plenty to see around the local patch this morning which continues to attract decent numbers of waterfowl across both lakes. Coots were most numerous at 340 followed by 280 Pochard, 120 Tufted Duck, 30 Mute Swan, 30 Mallard, 20 Gadwall, 35 Great Crested Grebe (only two juvs noted so far), 12 Little Grebe and six Moorhen. A few Common Terns drifted over and a Great White Egret stalked the main reedbed from where a Water Rail called. At least six Little Egrets and three Common Sandpipers were noted around the margins, while a male Sparrowhawk zipped over the willow swamp, the first I`ve seen here for a while. A heavy shower forced down a pulse of 150 Sand Martins and ten Swifts over south lake. Moving onto Dungeness and the male Peregrine was perched above the nest site high on B station where two youngsters are due to fledge; this is their first successful year since abandoning the old site on A station. At the Patch it was good to see around 50 Common Terns on the beach alongside ten Mediterranean Gulls and hundreds of Black-headed and Herring Gulls. The only birds seen on the land were a few Linnets, Pied Wagtails, a Whitethroat and a Kestrel.

                                              Ted with his scent training award

Elsewhere this past weekend we`ve been walking the farmland around New Romney where the barley and oil-seed rape harvest is well underway and where few birds were noted, mainly due to the strong winds; ten Mediterranean Gulls in a turf field was about it. Called in at Hanson hide yesterday where the expected Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers, Redshanks and Lapwings were joined by a few passage Dunlins, Green and Common Sandpipers, and where Glossy Ibis, Wood Sandpiper and Greenshank were also reported.   

Friday 21 July 2023

Humpback Whale

 St Mary`s Bay, warm, dry and sunny, NW 3 - A stunning morning for a walk along the foreshore from Littlestone at low tide with Ted to view the dead whale washed up on the beach yesterday. Initially thought to be a Minke, closer inspection of the long, arm-like flippers confirmed it to be a Humpback Whale. It had already been roped off, awaiting disposal by the local authority; a somewhat ignominious end for such a magnificent leviathan that even in death elicited gasps of wonder from a small group of curious onlookers. En-route at least 20 Mediterranean Gulls and ten Sandwich Terns were also noted on the sand bars.

                                 Humpback Whale, St Mary`s Bay

                                  Jersey Tiger, Lade

                                 Mallard family, Lade

Moving onto Lade where numerous Red Admirals, Hedge Browns and a couple of Jersey Tigers were basking in the lee of the cool north-westerly along the track beside the caravan park. Ten Common Terns fished over south lake along with several Mediterranean Gulls and two Common Sandpipers around the margins, otherwise there wasn`t much change from the other day. 

Wednesday 19 July 2023

Scorched Carpet

Dungeness - mild, cloudy, showery, SW 4 - Blustery weather conditions this morning for a guided walk around the circular trail for four guests. All the usual suspects were noted including, Great White Egret, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard and Hobby at Dengemarsh; Common Tern, Lapwing, Common Sandpiper, Redshank and Ringed Plover on Burrowes, plus a steady trickle of Sand Martins over; and from the return trail, Linnet, Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler feeding young. From Hanson hide the usual Little Ringed and Ringed Plovers, two Common Sandpipers, three Dunlins, a Bar-tailed Godwit and a Garganey. While the ARC remains the go-too spot for waders, the sand bars in front of Firth lookout are starting to appear and could well attract waders and terns over the coming weeks, providing the water level continues to recede, while the hayfields have now dried out and are unsuitable for waders.

                                 All Saints Lydd, Common Tern and Great White Egret

                                  Common Tern, Burrowes

                                  Scorched Carpet - new for the trap site

Last night the wind relented resulting in a decent catch in the garden moth trap. Amongst several new-for-the-year was a smart Scorched Carpet, a first for the trap site. 

Monday 17 July 2023

Common Terns

Lade -  Cool, sunshine and showers, SW5 - We spent most of the morning on the local patch trying to best avoid the blasting wind that`s been blowing off the Atlantic all weekend; on Saturday night it reached gale force along the coast with some hefty showers that brought down quite a few tree branches, even in New Romney. However, back to today, and there has been a dearth of Common Terns locally this summer, so it was a good to see at least 20 over both lakes, all of which were adults successfully fishing alongside a host of Black-headed Gulls. Now that the Canadian pond weed has flowered and died back great baulks of rotting weed washed up on the margins of north lake by the tempest lured in  two passing Common Sandpipers and a Greenshank. Several huge carp floundering around in the shallows of the willow swamp spawing attracted the attention of several Cormorants and Grey Herons feeding on smaller fry. There were still plenty of grebes, Coots, Tufted Ducks, Mallards and Pochards on the water, although the latter species had declined somewhat since my last visit to around 150 birds. As the tide flooded Lade bay, 120 Curlews and a Whimbrel flew to roost on the desert. Also noted: 50 Sand Martins over the water, 10 Swifts through, an immature Marsh Harrier and  a Common Buzzard over, while Red Admirals continue to be abundant, having a particular affinity for bramble flowers.

                                  Common Tern

                                  South lake island Cormorants

                                 Red Admiral on bramble flower

                                 Great Mullein

                                 Lade listening `mirrors`

Moving onto Dungeness, where the wind was even stronger, and a walk down to the Patch produced a couple of thousand gulls on the beach, mostly Black-headed and Herring Gulls and at least 20 Mediterranean Gulls, although viewing the flocks was difficult due to the wind direction. The gulls on the power station went into meltdown as the resident male Peregrine put in an appearance, but they needn`t have worried as he seemed to be more concerned with enjoying himself riding the air currents high above the giant monoliths. Next stop a windswept bird reserve, where more Sand Martins and Swifts trickled through Burrowes and the usual host of gulls and wildfowl were present, but little else and certainly no terns. 

Thursday 13 July 2023

Willow Warbler

 Lade - cool and cloudy, SW4 - Willow Warblers do not breed hereabouts, so a bird briefly singing from the willow swamp and one seen along the main track were almost certainly birds from elsewhere heading south. Also on the move were around 200 Sand Martins feeding low over south lake along with a handful of Swifts higher up. The first two broods of tiny black Tufted ducklings of summer were on the water amongst the water weed, plus 300 Pochards, 200 Coots, 50 Gadwalls, 20 Mallards and 35 Great Crested Grebes, several with juveniles close by; at least 12 Dabchicks with chicks and five Little Egrets were noted around the margins. Red Admirals continue to be the most numerous butterfly around the site.

                                    Willow Warbler

                                 Red Admiral

Walland Marsh - An evening visit to Cheyne Court with Chris P in blustery weather conditions delivered at least 12 Corn Buntings and lesser numbers of Yellow Wagtails, Linnets and Reed Buntings. Reed, Sedge and Cetti`s Warblers were heard along with several Bearded Tits while a flock of four distant egrets were probably Cattle Egrets. Also noted: a large number of hirundines and Swifts, Marsh Harrier, Hobby and two Brown Hares. 

Wednesday 12 July 2023

Clancy`s Rustic

Dengemarsh - mild and cloudy, SW 5 - Despite a buffeting wind around the Dengemarsh circular walk there was a welcome increase in insect activity since my last visit, particularly from Black-tailed Skimmer dragonflies and Red Admiral butterflies, both of which seemed to be everywhere. Corn Bunting, Yellow Wagtail and Skylark were all noted feeding juveniles on the farmland section, plus Reed Warbler in the reedbeds and Linnet and Common Whitethroat in the scrub. The hayfields were almost dry apart from a large muddy puddle on hayfield 2 that attracted several Little Egrets, a couple of Lapwings and a flyover Glossy Ibis. Also noted across the site several Swifts, two Marsh Harriers, a Great White Egret and 120 Gadwall on the lake by the Hookers ramp. Across the road on ARC a Little Stint joined the expected plovers and Redshanks. An afternoon seawatch from the fishing boats produced a steady trickle of gulls around the point, including 10 Mediterranean and a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, plus 10 Sandwich Terns and two Grey Seals.

                                 Yellow Wagtail, Hayfields

                                 Clancy`s Rustic

An early morning walk across farmland to the north of New Romney yesterday delivered hundreds of Swifts feeding on flying insects rising from the drainage sewers. In their midst were a few Swallows, House and Sand Martins; whether or not any of these birds were on migration was difficult to tell, but the Sand Martins most probably were. The garden moth trap continues to deliver with a 30 species haul yesterday attracting a Clancy`s Rustic, new for the trap site.     

Monday 10 July 2023

New Forest

Plaitford, Hampshire - Just back from five days at the New Forest Folk Festival where the weather varied from blazing heat on the Friday to heavy rain for much of Saturday with showers in between. Apart from lounging about listening to music, drinking beer and partaking in the usual festival shenanigans, guided walks and early morning forays across Plaitford Common into the National Park delivered decidedly mixed results. We last visited the festival in 2019 and there were some noticeable changes to the birdlife in the intervening four year period, despite the habitat seemingly remaining the same. Plaitford Common is situated in the northern section of the park and managed by the National Trust, mainly for its Bronze Age burial mounds. Typical New Forest broad-leaf wooded pasture is maintained by grazing animals such as ponies, donkeys and deer, although certain areas had been grazed to bare earth due to the high levels of stock. Heather, gorse and bracken with scattered birch scrub dominates the sandy high ground, in contrast to several bogs lower down and a large pond which appeared to be sterile due to overuse by the ponies. Several pairs of Stonechats were noted in areas where four years ago Common Whitethroat, Dartford Warbler and Woodlark were also present, but absent this year, while Tree Pipit and Common Redstart were down to single pairs from three and I failed to locate a Spotted Flycatcher at two former haunts. Birds of prey were much in evidence with Common Buzzard and Red Kite regularly noted, along with singles of Hobby, Peregrine and Kestrel, plus several Ravens. A couple of Golden-ringed Dragonflies were seen on the heath and plenty of Beautiful Demoiselles along the River Blackwater beside the camping field.

                                  Plaitford Common

                                 Beautiful Demoiselles

This morning I called in the Hanson hide where a selection of waders included several each of Redshanks, Little Ringed and Ringed Plovers, 100 Lapwings and a Common Sandpiper. Also present the usual suite of eclipse ducks, gulls and grebes, a couple of Common Terns, a pulse of 20 Sand Martins over and a Grass Snake swimming between the islands. 

Tuesday 4 July 2023

Farmland buntings

New Romney - cool and cloudy, WSW 4 - The past few days has seen a welcome change from the heat of a week ago to much cooler and windier weather but still dry; infact, yesterday the wind was bordering on gale force bringing down several large branches off the oak trees in our local park and damaging Rook nest`s along the high street. Walking out and about with Ted across the Marsh farmland there has already been a noticeable drop-off in bird song as the breeding season takes its toll on hard-pressed adult birds, although the bunting family remains in good voice, particularly Yellowhammers. Across Romney Salts and to the north of town I`ve encountered at least ten singers; while a slow drive out and back to Aldington via Newchurch the other day delivered another 14 songsters (and I must have missed many more...). Yellowhammers particularly favour thick hedgerows, such as found along Hope Lane, and isolated clumps of scrubby trees on the Salts and appear to be being faring rather well in what is a pretty hostile environment. Reed Buntings are fewer in numbers and haunt the reed-fringed sewers and ditches and weedy fields of oil-seed rape and linseed. Corn Buntings are the scarcest of the tribe with only one singer favouring a pea field near the New Cut to the north and at least six singers across the Salts with a few more on power lines around the Hammonds Corner junction. On our wanderings, Skylark, Linnet, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Reed, Cetti`s and Sedge Warblers, Whitethroat, Blackcap and Chiffchaff have all bred in variable numbers along with several pairs of Yellow Wagtails around Belgar Farm. Also noted recently, and presumably breeding hereabouts: Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Swallow, House Martin, Mistle Thrush and Raven. Needless to say after countless hours in the field I have not come across any Grey Partridge, Turtle Dove or Tree Sparrow along the way.  

                                  Corn Bunting

                                 Burnished Brass

                                 Poplar Hawk-moth

                                 Swallow-tailed Moth

The garden moth trap has been ticking over nicely averaging about 25 species of macros on the calmer nights. Hedgehogs and small bats have been noted at dusk in and over the garden, but still very few butterflies apart from Red Admirals. A couple of visits to Littlestone and Lade pits over the weekend yielded the usual birds and butterflies, plus a surprise in the shape of a Barn Owl sat atop a fence post near Romney Warren last Sunday mid-morning.