Saturday 30 September 2023

Tree Sparrows

Scotney - warm, dry and sunny, SW 2 - Suitable weather then for a change of scene for this morning`s Ted walk at a site I`ve neglected of late. We started off checking the front lakes from the cycle track which held the usual common diving and dabbling ducks, feral geese (120 Egyptians), Cormorants and gulls, four Little Egrets, two Curlews and singles of Green Sandpiper, Whimbrel and Greenshank. There were very few birds on the lakeside fields apart from ten Yellow Wagtails, 20 Meadow Pipits and 50 Linnets near the farm buildings. We then tramped out back to the new pits where 200 Lapwings, a Common Sandpiper and a Redshank were added to the meagre wader list, but little else. The highlight of the farmland birds were two small flocks of Tree Sparrows near the nest boxes along with ten more Yellow Wagtails and several Ravens ovehead cronking loudly. A field near the dung heap attracted a couple of hundred Meadow Pipits, Skylarks and Goldfinches, but no sign of any Corn Buntings, and not a single raptor was seen throughout the visit. Other sundry birds included two Wheatears, two Stonechats and a Grey Wagtail over calling. 

                                 Yellow Wagtails and Tree Sparrows, Scotney

En-route to the point we called in at the bird reserve for lunch overlooking Cooks Pool where all eight Cattle Egrets and a Glossy Ibis were noted around the suckling herd and where we bumped into Neil B and family for a catch-up. The weather conditions were most unsuitable for a seawatch but I wanted to see how Ted would react to an hour (1230-1330hrs) of static birding at the fishing boats; mind you, after walking for miles around Scotney he was probably pleased to have a rest - I know I was! I wasn`t expecting much but there was a steady down-Channel trickle of, mostly distant, Sandwich Terns, Gannets and auks (including three close Razorbills), four Arctic Skuas, two Common Scoters and my first Red-throated Diver of the autumn. And as for Ted, he was fine, until a yacht hove into view which set him off for a spot of barking!

                                 Ted seawatching

Thursday 28 September 2023

Autumn Moths

New Romney - warm, dry and cloudy, SW3 - This morning`s Ted walk around the farmland tracts to the north of town produced a similar range of birds to my last post. The hedgerows and scrub continue to attract plenty of passage Chiffchaffs and its been a pleasure to watch these tiny waifs bathing in the garden bird bath; everyone of which has to be checked for a possible Yellow-browed! Hundreds of Swallows were also on the move today, hurrying south over the turf and arable lands amongst large mixed flocks of gulls; one roughly ploughed field off Hope Lane attracted 50 Meadow Pipits, 20 Skylarks and a scattering of Reed Buntings, Linnets and Goldfinches. Sparrowhawks and Common Buzzards are being noted daily, some of which are probably continental migrants, while on Tuesday a flock of 26 westward bound Grey Herons was noteworthy. Due to the night time humidity the garden moth trap has been ticking over nicely with an increase in typical autumn species such as Lunar Underwing, Black and Autumnal Rustics; recent highlights have also included six Clancy`s Rustics and four Delicates two nights ago, and a Vestal and a Barred Sallow last night.


                                  Barred Sallow
                                  Ted on the turf

Visits to the bird reserve have yielded nothing new with the long-staying Little Stint, a few Snipes and Golden Plovers still present from Hanson hide, plus three Glossy Ibises and up to eight Cattle Egrets on the Boulderwall fields/ARC. Yesterday afternoon an hour at the fishing boats delivered a few Sandwich Terns being harried by Arctic Skuas, several passing Gannets and a flock of 12 Common Scoters, along with a steady passage of Swallows heading out across the Channel.

Sunday 24 September 2023

Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs

Littlestone - warm, dry and sunny, S4 - There was a noticeable change in the temperature today as I checked through the garden moths with the cool northerly of yesterday replaced by a pleasant and warm, southerly breeze that had set in overnight; the first Lunar Underwings in the trap confirmed that the mothing season is entering its final phase of the year. However, we had a change of scene for our Ted walk this morning; St Mary`s Bay to Littlestone, where we walked the field in front of the golf links and back along the beach. Despite the brisk wind Wheatears were much in evidence with at least 20 birds noted, including a flock of ten along the sea wall, and a similar number of Meadow Pipits. The sea was quiet apart from a dozen or so Sandwich Terns and a single Bonxie powering westwards about 100 yards offshore, and my first of the autumn. 

                                          Lunar Underwing

                                 Wheatears, Littlestone

                                  Ted on the beach

Go into any woodland across southern England in the summer months and by far and away the most numerous migrant warblers will be Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps, both normally detected by their distinctive songs, and once the canopy closes over difficult to observe. The diversity of woodland birds, both resident and migrant species, has declined dramatically in my lifetime, apart from these two which have very much bucked the trend and prospered. Population dynamics is a complex subject best left to others, but the ability of both of these birds to shift their wintering grounds in line with a rapidly changing climate is probably a major factor in this success story; lets face it, why cross the Sahara if you can survive the winter in Europe and the Mediterranean Basin. So, its no surprise then that the Chiffchaff is the most widespread and numerous passage migrant of the tribe. Currently, they can be encountered just about anywhere, but last Friday we also had a large scale arrival of Blackcaps across the Marsh with hundreds gracing the coastal scrub at Dungeness. Trying to estimate such `falls` is pretty neigh on impossible but it must`ve have run into the thousands; I certainly noted over 100 ranging from my back garden in NR to Lade and Tower Pits/ARC, while hundreds more were reported from St Marys-in-the-Marsh, the Trapping Area and across the bird reserve. Also logged on that day were a few Common and Lesser Whitethroats, an increase in Robins and my first ten Siskins of autumn overhead at the pines. A memorable autumnal spectacle then, and on a par with the House Martin movement a fortnight ago.  

                                 Chiffchaff and Blackcap

Wednesday 20 September 2023

Black Tern

Dungeness - warm, dry and cloudy, SW6 - For this morning`s guided RSPB walk for four guests I decided to abandon the circular route due to the strong winds and lack of hides around Burrowes; we walked to Firth, and as we were the first visitors of the day flushed everything in front of the lookout, from where there was no way of sheltering from the tempest. So, it was back to Dennis`s hide for shelter and a stakeout checking through the common wildfowl, Lapwings and gulls for something of interest. A steady passage of Sand and House Martins pulsed over the waters throughout while two Great White Egrets, two Marsh Harriers and four Ruff were noteworthy. Moving onto Boulderwall Fields where at least six Cattle Egrets were noted amongst the suckling herd and a Kestrel over. We then settled in at Hanson hide enjoying good views of the Glossy Ibis pair, a juvenile Little Stint and singles of Little Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Common Sandpiper, Garganey and Pintail, while a Black Tern appeared briefly over the Cormorant island before relocating to Burrowes (per SM). Needlesss to say, due to the weather, we hardly saw any passerines this morning, although Chiffchaffs could be heard calling from the willow scrub. Seawatching at the point today continued to witness an unprecedented passage of Balearic Shearwaters heading down Channel.

                                 Cattle Egrets, Boulderwall fields

Tuesday 19 September 2023

Balearic Shearwaters

Dungeness - Cloudy, showers, SW 5-6 - On a day like today, and at this time of year, there`s only one realistic birding option - a seawatch from the point, where I joined DW et al for two hours (0930-1130hrs) sheltering in the lee of the fishing boats as the wind picked up to near gale force. The early seawatchers had recorded 25 Balearics and six Sooty Shearwaters from the hide; while during my stint from the boats we had at least 18 Balearics coming down Channel, mostly a good distance out but including two flocks of seven birds together. Also noted a steady movement of Sandwich Terns and Gannets, several auks, five Arctic Skuas and a probable Long-tailed Skua, a few hirundines striking out for France, plus Harbour Porpoises and Grey Seals in the sea.

                                 Clifton Nonpareil
                                  Barred Red

The only birds of note recently on my Ted walks around the New Romney farmland have been flyovers of Great White Egret and Grey Wagtail. Chiffchaffs seem to be everywhere though, including in the garden, where a Blackcap was also noted drinking from the bird bath. The stand out moth in the trap of late was a stunning Clifden Nonpareil, a first me, yesterday morning. 

Friday 15 September 2023

A thousand Oystercatchers

Lade - warm, dry and sunny, SE2 - A stunning autumnal day of weather, but once again poor for passage migrants; infact, 10 Chiffchaffs, 20 hirundines, 10 Meadow Pipits, five Stonechats and a Wheatear was about it.  Two Great White Egrets were of interest continually flying over the site as though they were pair-bonding; surely they must breed locally soon. There was no sign of the Black-necked Grebe on south lake, where a lone Common Sandpiper briefly settled on the shingle island, and duck numbers were low. As the tide came in on the bay 35 Curlews flew to roost on the Desert. The Oystercatchers roosted at Kerton Road quarry where a rough count totalled at least 1,000 birds, plus several Sandwich Terns, 100 mixed gulls and a Black-tailed Godwit. On the shingle scrub a flock of 20 Linnets, 10 Meadow Pipits and three Stonechats were present.

                                  Wheatear, Lade

                                 Oystercatcher roost, Kerton Road quarry

With the harvest now almost complete the fields around New Romney have been turned over to the plough and drill which has attracted large numbers of highly mobile gulls, pigeons and corvids. Mediterranean Gulls are easily the most numerous of their tribe with several hundreds on the arable lands and loafing on the turf fields. A few more Sparrowhawks and Common Buzzards have been noted along with a several parties of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits over, plus singles of Grey Wagtail and Green Sandpiper yesterday morning. A couple of visits to the fishing boats at Dungeness this week produced nothing more than small groups of passing Sandwich Terns and Gannets, outbound Swallows, Guillemots on the water and Porpoises and Grey Seals.   

Wednesday 13 September 2023


Lade - warm, dry and cloudy, NE 3 - A much fresher feel to the weather this morning as a north-easterly airflow cleared away the sweaty-arm-pit heat wave of the past week. We ranged across the Desert searching for chats of which there was not a single one, so had to be content with a few hirundines, Meadow Pipits and Yellow Wagtails overhead, plus a small flock of Linnets feeding on viper`s bugloss seed. Approaching south lake the small shingle island close to shore held six Shovelers and four Teal that soon took flight, only to be replaced by a Black-tailed Godwit, a Common Sandpiper and a Ringed Plover; if only there were a few more such islands on Lade to lure down passing waders... However, a thorough check of the lake confirmed that there had been a clear-out of wildfowl now that the surface pond weed had died back, although plenty of Great Crested and Little Grebes remained with their young and ten Little and two Great White Egrets were present around the margins. The bushes along the main track and by the ponds were devoid of warblers, delivering just a few tits and Chaffinches, while a Sparrowhawk whipped over the willow swamp. Scanning from the causeway end of north lake the Herring Gulls alerted me to a raptor soaring over the caravan park that turned out to be an Osprey, my first here this year. It then swept over the lake towards Littlestone and out of view with the bully-boys in hot pursuit. I spent the next half an hour sweeping the skies from the bridge, but there was no further sign of it. 

                                 `Wader` island - spot the Common Sandpiper!

                                 Black-tailed Godwit, south lake

    Osprey over north lake, Lade

The garden moth trap has been busy this past week due to the balmy nights with ludicrous numbers of Box-tree Moths; on Sunday morning I counted 110! A few of Delicate, Light Emerald, Chinese Character, Old Lady, L-album Wainscot have come to light, plus last night a Clancy`s Rustic.

                                     Clancy`s Rustic

Since my last post we`ve been slogging around the local farmland without much success apart from noting a few common warblers, hirundines, Yellow Wagtails over and Goldfinch flocks. The beach in front of the golf links at Littlestone on the ebb tide has yielded a few Knots, Grey Plovers and Bar-tailed Godwits, Mediterranean Gulls and Sandwich Terns, plus several Wheatears along the sea wall. A visit to Galloways on Monday morning in misty, humid conditions was particularly disappointing with a couple of Whinchats and Common Whitethroats about the only birds of note - thankfully, the blackberrying was more rewarding! Nothing much has change around the bird reserve with Hanson hide on the ARC the go-to place for passage waders, egrets and ibises. While the seawatching has been generally quiet, MC logged a stunning juvenile Long-tailed Skua off the fishing boats yesterday; checkout Martin`s blog for some top class images: 

                                 Blackberries, Galloways

                                 Ted cooling off

Friday 8 September 2023

House Martins

 Dungeness - hot, dry and sunny, light airs - A day in the field guiding for Lyn and Andrew commenced at the point in some style with up to a thousand House Martins swarming on the overhead wires and above the power station complex along with several hundred Starlings. A large female Sparrowhawk came in off the sea scattering the martins and Starlings before heading out over the Desert. Grounded drift migrants were few and far between but we did manage to connect with singles of Common and Black Redstarts and a Spotted Flycatcher by West Beach; Wheatear, Stonechats and Common Whitethroat on the edge of the Trapping Area; and a Whinchat on the power station wall, plus Grey and Yellow Wagtails overhead. The sea was like a misty, mill pond and we were fortunate to log a few passing Sandwich Terns and Gannets, three Guillemots on the water, an Arctic Skua and swarms of House Martins striking out for France; we also noted up to 20 Harbour Porpoises. Moving onto the bird reserve where five Cattle Egrets showed in Boulderwall fields and another Common Redstart, two Stonechats and a Meadow Pipit by the bee-hives. Burrowes was again disappointing with just a few Lapwings, a Common Sandpiper, a Black-tailed Godwit, two Great White and ten Little Egrets, a Raven overhead and a distant Marsh Harrier of note; another harrier was present at Dengemarsh along with a flight of 16 Wigeons, a Kestrel and hundreds more hirundines on overhead wires.  

                                  House Martins, Dungeness

The ARC was in a class of its own from Hanson and Screen hides delivering (at last) the first juveniles of Little Stint and two Curlew Sandpipers of autumn. Other wader species included 100 Lapwings, 60 Golden Plovers, 10 Snipes, 10 Dunlins, five Ringed Plovers, four Ruffs and two Common Sandpipers, plus two each of Glossy Ibis and Great White Egrets, three Garganeys, a Pintail and a Dabchick. A fair days birding then for Lyn and Andrew, racking up a tidy 79 species in sweltering humidity with the undoubted highlight being the House Martin spectacle at the point this morning.

Wednesday 6 September 2023

Chats and flycatchers

Hot, dry and sunny, E2 - The heat continues to build as a high pressure system delivers settled weather over our corner of England with the thermometer nudging 30C this afternoon; ideal then for a high tide swim in Lade Bay along with parties of screeching Sandwich Terns fishing for sprats, piping Oystercatchers flying to roost, Sanderlings scurrying along the tideline and 20 Mediterranean Gulls loafing on the last of the sands.

                                  Whinchat, Trapping Area

We`ve been out early mornings this week walking the local farmland with Ted before it gets too hot and seeing not a great deal on the migrant bird front apart from a few Willow Warblers, Blackcaps and Common Whitethroats in the hedgerows and two Wheatears and a Whinchat on the fringes of a recently cut hayfield. One or two Yellow Wagtails have passed overhead along with small numbers of Swallows and House Martins, plus 50 Mediterranean Gulls on a turf field yesterday. The purple flowered, nectar-rich Phacelia crop along Ashford Road made a welcome splash of colour and was full of bees, butterflies and other flying insects; infact, some of the larger bees had obviously roosted over night on the spikey flower heads and were still lethargic. Phacelia is a bio-mass plant that is used in conjunction with turf fields as a green manure being ploughed in to improve the soil quality. Also of note today a `kettle` of six Common Buzzards and two Sparrowhawks over New Romney around noon. The garden moth trap continues to be busy with `ridiculous` numbers of Box-tree Moths and another Old Lady.

                                  Phacelia cover crop

                                  `Roosting` bee on Phacelia flower

                                 Old Lady

On Monday we visited the local patch where the summer plum Black-necked Grebe was still present on south lake, though diving regularly, plus four Whinchats and two Wheatears on the Desert, several Lesser Whitethroats and a Spotted Fly by the ponds and a Whimbrel over north lake. Dungeness was very quiet with just a couple of Whinchats at the southern end of the Trapping Area and another Spot Flit at the top end of the Long Pits; poor fare then for early September with an easterly airflow, but not unexpected. Elsewhere around the bird reserve there has been little change so far this week and while the usual common passage waders come and go on ARC we`ve yet to record a juvenile Little Stint or Curlew Sandpiper so far this autumn.

Sunday 3 September 2023

Grey Partridge

 New Romney - warm, dry and sunny, ENE 2 - With the harvest well underway the farmland scene hereabouts changes on a near daily basis. The rape-seed is now in and the fields already ploughed and drilled for next year`s crop, whatever that may be, while most of the short-stemmed spring barley has also been combined leaving a few stubble fields for the time being. Harvesting the pea fields is also underway with the linseed to follow shortly. This morning a long circular walk out past St Mary-in-the-Marsh was the first this autumn without any Reed Warbler presence in the reed-fringed sewers and ditches, so I can only assume that most, if not all, local birds have hit the airways south. Infact, apart from a few Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers, a couple of Yellow Wagtails over, two Wheatears along the New Cut, several hedgerow Blackcaps and 50 odd Swallows it was very quiet on the migrant bird front. Mediterranean Gulls continue to haunt the turf fields, which they appear to use for the sole purpose of roosting. However, one day last week whilst picking blackberries at the back of a turf field, Ted flushed a female Grey Partridge and five well-grown juveniles that promptly flew into an adjacent hayfield and out of sight; these were the first I`ve seen on the Marsh for about five years! 


                                  Portland Ribbon Wave

                                  Melanistic Box-tree Moth

                                  Large Thorn

                                            Reed Bunting

The humid nights of late have produced a decent crop of moths in the garden trap with the undoubted highlight being a first Portland RibbonWave, although apparently there has been something of an influx of this former rare migrant recently. Other goodies have included: Old Lady, Burnished Brass, Large Thorn, Delicate and a bumper catch of 20 Box-tree Moths that included two of the somewhat beautiful purple, melanistic form.