Thursday 28 December 2023

Review of the year

Mild,  wet and windy  - There hasn`t been much change to the local birding scene around New Romney this past week or so, apart from a Mistle Thrush that has started singing in the town park every morning, despite the strong wind, and playing up its country name of Storm Cock. Our Ted walks have mainly taken us across the arable tracts around town and down to the Salts where farmland birds have been few and far between. The rough fields near Lade north have been the most productive for the likes of Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Redwing and Fieldfare and where several Snipes have been noted, plus a ringtail Hen Harrier yesterday. Visits to Dungeness and Walland Marsh have produced the usual wintering seabirds at the former site and small numbers of Bewick`s and Whooper Swans from the Midley wall at the latter. A wind-swept Lade has been quiet apart from up to six Goldeneyes, while 50 Knots were noted on the beach from the Tavern viewpoint his morning.

Highlights of the Birding Year

It`s that time of year when we cast a look over our shoulder at the avian events of 2023 across the Marsh. No two years are ever the same, such is the ebb and flow of birds, both migrant and resident species, when linked to our unpredictable weather, rapidly warming climate and changing land use.

                                 Bewick`s Swans, Walland Marsh

However, the first winter period was fairly predictable with decreasing numbers of Bewick`s Swans and White-fronted Geese wintering on the arable lands across Walland Marsh, in contrast to thousands of Starlings, Lapwings and Golden Plovers; while there was also a surge in Cattle Egret and Glossy Ibis sightings across the Dungeness wetlands and throughout the year. Several Dartford Warblers haunted gorse thickets on the peninsula and one or two Short-eared Owls and Hen Harriers wintered. For the first time in living memory there was a notable absence of Smew (formerly a regular visiting sawbill from northern Europe) amongst the wintering wildfowl. 

                                  Glossy Ibis, Cook`s Pool
Early March saw the arrival of the first harbingers of spring; typically, Sand Martin, Wheatear, Chiffchaff and Firecrest at Dungeness, plus a couple of early rarities in the form of an Iceland Gull offshore and a White-tailed Eagle at Boulderwall, the latter probably originating from the Isle-of-Wight re-introduction programme. Long-haul African migrants on the land were once again low in number, but the up-Channel passage of seabirds and wildfowl produced the goods along with several memorable days of divers, waders, terns and the iconic Pomarine Skua.

    Pomarine Skua, Dungeness

The Dungeness area has an enviable track record of overshooting spring rarities from the south and this year was no exception. A diminutive Short-toed Treecreeper somehow crossed the Channel and was discovered in a private garden on the estate, while transient Serin, Alpine Swift and Bee-eater sightings showed to the delight of a handful of observers. On the RSPB reserve Black-winged Stilts are now a given in spring, as is the more secretive, reed-bed loving Purple Heron, while a Penduline Tit was the first for several years. A Red-footed Falcon from the east was also noted for a few days hunting dragonflies over the desert, in contrast to an all too brief Caspian Tern on the ARC lake.

   Black-winged Stilts, Hayfields

Several pairs of Marsh Harriers bred locally this year, along with Bittern and Bearded Tit, plus Peregrine, Raven, Wheatear and Black Redstart on and around the power station complex. Avocets attempted to nest at Scotney gravel pits, while it was another blank year for Common Terns on Burrowes. Across the Marsh farmland the `purring` song of the Turtle Dove could still be heard at a handful of locations and the downward spiral of Tree Sparrows continues to show cause for concern.

    Black Redstart, Dungeness

`Autumn` migration commenced in late June with the first returning Sand Martins and Green Sandpipers and picked up through mid-summer with good numbers of Willow Warblers and the shorebird passage at Dungeness RSPB and Lade Bay. Wood Sandpipers and Little Ringed Plovers were particularly well represented this year amongst a host of common shanks and sandpipers and a one-day Marsh Sandpiper, a vagrant from the Russian steppes. However, passerine diversity on the land was yet again poor with a distinct lack of so-called `sub-rarities` such as shrikes. Seabirds migrating off Dungeness saved the autumn blues and included several scarce Sabine`s Gulls, Long-tailed Skuas and Grey Phalaropes, plenty of Balearic Shearwaters and a memorable passage of Storm and Leach`s Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters courtesy of Storm Ciaran.

    Little Ringed Plover, Firth Washout

My candidate for bird of the year though went to a superb juvenile Pallid Harrier in October that frequented the farmland around Dungeness and Lydd, and even remained for a couple of weeks so that many local and visiting birders could enjoy this eastern raptor, and a first area record. The list of autumn rarities continued apace with a Black Stork over Lydd, another Short-toed Treecreeper at Dungeness and a Dusky Warbler on the bird reserve.

              Short-toed Treecreeper, Dungeness Bird Observatory.

 As the second winter period approached three Great Northern and a Black-throated Diver took up residence on the lakes around the RSPB reserve, along with a brief Slavonian Grebe and several itinerant Goosanders. The first returning wild swans and geese and a couple of Hen Harriers were recorded at Walland Marsh in November, along with several Short-eared Owls at Littlestone and a flock of 50 plus Tree Sparrows near Hamstreet. 

    Great Northern and Black-throated Diver, Burrowes

At least 230 species of birds were recorded across the Romney Marsh during 2023, which is about average (personally I noted a poor 201). My forecast for the New Year is that we could be in for a few Waxwing encounters as this irruptive winter visitor from across the North Sea drifts south in search of food. So, keep an eye on those berry bushes in town and village parks and gardens as they can turn up just about anywhere. 

Good birding for 2024. 

Monday 18 December 2023

Great Northern Divers

Dungeness RSPB - mild, cloudy, W3 - An overcast but warm morning, ideal for a tour of the bird reserve with Ted. Our circuit of Dengemarsh produced all the expected fare such as five Marsh Harriers, three Great White and two Little Egrets, two Kestrels, plus several Chiffchaffs, Stonechats, Bearded Tits and Cetti`s Warblers. Around 500 feral geese were on the flooded fields, including at least two White-fronts at the back of Hookers along with 200 Lapwings and a flyover Snipe. I`ve always suspected there to be three Great Northern Divers on site, as confirmed today on Burrowes, together with a Black-throated Diver; in all my long years of birding I cannot recall seeing  a `flock` of GNDivers on a freshwater lake. Also noted this morning two Stoats and a Buzzard feeding on a road kill Fox on the Lydd Road.

                                 Great Northern and Black-throated Divers, Burrowes

                                 Great Northern Divers, Burrowes

Sunday 17 December 2023


Mild, dry and sunny, SW3 - A glorious winter`s day with a warm Azorean airflow making it most pleasant for the monthly WeBS and harrier counts. Firstly, at Lade where the highlights were five Goldeneyes on south lake and 180 Shovelers and 450 Teal across both waters. This afternoon I joined CP on Walland Marsh where 29 Marsh Harriers came to roost at sunset, which equalled our previous highest count at this site. Also noted: a pair of Peregrines, a Common Buzzard, four Whooper Swans, 50 Fieldfares, eight Snipes, ten Skylarks, a Raven, a Great White Egret and calling Water Rails and Cetti`s Warblers, plus hundreds of corvids and Starlings going to roost. As we walked back to the car at dusk 49 Bewick`s Swans flew overhead, calling wildly. 

Elsewhere this past week there has been little change across the peninsula with the divers still on the bird reserve at either Burrowes, New Diggings or New Excavations, while the trio of Glossy Ibises have returned after a brief sojourn away, favouring the wet fields along the Lydd Road, together with up to eight Cattle Egrets in the same area.

Tuesday 12 December 2023

Black-throated Diver

Dungeness RSPB - mild, showery, SW3 - A decent enough morning weather wise for a guided walk around the circular trail for four guests. After a brief absence the divers were back on Burrowes were we enjoyed good views of both Black-throated and Great Northern Diver from Dennis`s lookout. Elsewhere across the lake all the usual common wildfowl were noted including five Goldeneyes close to Firth washout. Passerines were in short supply around the trail but a couple of Chiffchaffs showed well, as did a flock of Long-tailed Tits by Scott lookout and half a dozen Cetti`s Warblers were heard. The hayfields were partially flooded attracting a flock of 100 Lapwings and a Great White Egret with another one on New Excavations, plus a second Great Northern Diver which was the only bird on the water. Across Dengemarsh several Marsh Harriers were noted, two Common Buzzards and a Kestrel. On the way home along the Lydd Road eight Cattle Egrets and five White-fronted Geese were in the flooded fields.

                                 Black-throated Diver, Burrowes

                                 Great White Egret, New Excavations

                                 Smooth Newt near Return Trail

Friday 8 December 2023

Sky full of Lapwings

Scotney - mild, sunny, SW2  - Perfect weather conditions then for a trek out back where there was plenty to see, particularly around the wetlands, with thousands of Lapwings (c3,000) and Golden Plovers (c1,500) swirling overhead providing a fine spectacle along with hundreds of Starlings and feral geese. The lakes were packed out with ducks with Pochard, Teal, Shoveler and Wigeon in the hundreds (I`m glad this isn`t my WeBS site!), while the wintering Black-necked Grebe was still at the Sussex end. Also on the lakeside swards were several Curlews, Redshanks, Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits. Birds were fewer and far between on the farmland section out towards the wind farm where the highlights were two flocks of Corn Buntings totalling 25 birds (several in song), 12 Tree Sparrows, 19 Brents, 23 Bewick`s Swans and a cracking grey ghost Hen Harrier. Other sundries included: two Common Buzzards, two Marsh Harriers, a Kestrel, a Merlin, a Raven, two Stonechats, 20 Stock Doves,  a Cape Shelduck and a scattering of Fieldfares, Blackbirds, Skylarks, Goldfinches and Linnets. In summary a fine morning`s birding, and one very tired Ted at the end of it all! 

                                 Corn Buntings 

                                  Brent Geese

                                  Ted - alert above, tired out with Polly below 

Tuesday 5 December 2023

Great Northern Diver

Lade - cold, cloudy, drizzle, NW 2 - After two days of near constant heavy rain it relented somewhat this morning to an intermittent drizzle, but held onto the Mordor-like gloom. Having neglected the local patch of late we spent a couple of hours checking through the numerous wildfowl where the only noteworthy duck was a lone drake Pintail on south lake. Teal topped out at 550, Pochard at 220 and Shoveler at 180; the path to the swing-bridge and `mirrors` is now passable with care. Moving onto the bird reserve we walked out to New Diggings and along the causeway track where a Jack Snipe and 20 Blackbirds broke cover, also noting a Common Buzzard, a Sparrowhawk and two Marsh Harriers. Burrowes still harboured a Great Northern Diver (that was catching tiny fish), four Goldeneyes and hundreds of common wildfowl, while there was much lorry activity on the access road with sand being transported to the Christmas Dell conservation project. On the way home along the Lydd Road, eight Cattle Egrets were in the field opposite the riding stables, plus a Great White Egret and two Grey Herons.

                                  Great Northern Diver, Burrowes

Sunday 3 December 2023

Dog Days

Cold and Wet, SW 4 - Its the fag-end of the year and difficult to get motivated to go out birding when its chucking it down; although when you`ve got a bundle of energy like Ted who has to have two walks a day, out you go, despite the weather! However, to be fair there have been some dry and sunny, frosty days this past week enabling two afternoon visits to Littlestone golf links where we had no joy with the Short-eared Owls, but plenty of wintering waders on the foreshore and an incredibly confiding Skylark (see below). Our farmland walks around New Romney have yielded a few winter thrushes and Cetti`s Warblers along Hope Lane and plenty more Song Thrushes and Blackbirds in the hedges on the Salts, plus good numbers of Meadow Pipits, Stonechats and Skylarks, a few Corn Buntings, Yellowhammers and Linnets, several Marsh Harriers and Common Buzzards and thousands of Starlings, Stock Doves, Woodpigeons, Lapwings, Golden Plovers and black crows over Belgar Farm.

                                 Corn Buntings, Romney Salts

                                  Ted rabbiting

    Skylark, Littlestone

Forays out to Walland Marsh along the Midley road over the weekend have produced hundreds more Fieldfares and a thousand plus Stock Doves, plus 33 Bewick`s and four Whooper Swans from Hook Wall. On and around the bird reserve at least one Great Northern Diver is still present on Burrowes/New Diggings, while the first Goosanders and White-fronts of winter have been reported. Elsewhere, an adult male Hen Harrier has been seen at various locations across the Marsh over the past few days.

                                 St Nicholas church, New Romney