Tuesday 23 July 2024

Ravens

New Romney - warm, dry and cloudy, W2 - Black crows are a constant feature of life here in town. We live a stones-throw from a large, mixed colony of Rooks and Jackdaws (a Rook/Jackdory, if there is such a word!) atop the high street holm oaks with birds also spilling out onto St Martin`s field park to feed their offspring. Day and night throughout the year there is a near constant cacophony, even during the winter months when the oaks are utilised by hundreds of roosting corvids, including Carrion Crows. Even the `daddy` of them all, the Raven, is regularly seen, but mostly heard, flying over the town commuting between feeding grounds. This morning whilst on our Ted walk I encountered a pair of Ravens outback hopping around on a sheep fold and then atop an old barn before flying off, `kronking` loudly and delivering what must be one of the most evocative calls in the bird world. And how times have changed, only 20 years ago it was virtually unknown across Dungeness and the Marsh.



                                 Ravens, New Romney

Yesterday, we checked out Lade in blustery weather conditions where a few Swifts over the lake were the only birds of note. At Dungeness, The Patch yielded 70 Common and two Sandwich Terns over the boil, while a brief session in the seawatch hide with MC produced a few distant Gannets and Sandwich Terns, two Fulmars and singles of Little Tern, Common Scoter and Arctic Skua.  

Sunday 21 July 2024

Green Sandpipers

Warm, dry and overcast, W2 - Humid weather conditions for a visit to Scotney sand pit where counts of 20 plus Green Sandpipers have been recorded during the week. This morning, however, I could only find 11 birds along with five Common Sandpipers, 12 Avocets, four Oystercatchers, a Greenshank and a Whimbrel over calling. Also noted, 12 Shelducks, eight Teal, 10 Yellow and 20 Pied Wagtails, two Little Egrets, 10 Black-headed Gulls and five Egyptian Geese. Sedge Warblers must`ve had a good breeding season as youngsters seemed to be everywhere either side of the footpath, while a Corn Bunting sang from a wheat field, a pristine juv Marsh Harrier flew through and several Water Rails vocalised from a reed bed. There was little else of note at the main body of the Scotney complex when viewed from the road. Around the bird reserve a steady passage of Sand Martins was underway, while three Cattle and two Great White Egrets were present at Cooks Pool.

                                 Cheyne Court wind farm



                                 Cattle and Great White Egrets, Cook`s Pool

Farmland walks with Ted this weekend have produced few highlights apart from a slight increase in butterfly sightings yesterday, comprising mainly Red Admirals on bramble, while the first Box Tree Moth of summer came to light in the garden trap. Small bats, presumably Pipistrelles, continue to be seen around the local park and gardens during the evening. 

 
                                  Stock Doves

                                  Small Skipper

Friday 19 July 2024

Wildfowl and gulls

Hot, dry and sunny, light airs -- This morning I visited the local patch at Lade and Kerton quarry to count the wildfowl, in co-ordination with John Young who had the unenviable task of counting the massed ranks on Burrowes and ARC. Lade lakes/Kerton quarry respectively: Tufted Duck - 152/48. Pochard - 73/18. Mallard - 18/10. Gadwall - 8/2. Shoveler - 8/2. Teal - 7/0. Coot - 96/28. Great Crested Grebe - 72/19. Dabchick - 10/2. Mute Swan - 2/4. Canada Goose - 0/12. Egyptian Goose - 0/6. Little Egret - 12/4. Oystercatcher - 0/187. Lapwing - 0/10. Common Sandpiper - 1/2.  A check from Hanson hide revealed that the Avocet pair and a Shoveler still had their young intact and where a brood of Gadwall ducklings were on the water. Apart from a Mediterranean Gull, several Common Terns, Common Sandpipers and Ringed Plovers the only other birds of note were a Great White Egret and an eclipse Pintail.                          

                             


                                 Mediterranean Gulls over New Romney

Yesterday, around noon, a huge emergence of flying ants over New Romney attracted hundreds of Starlings and gulls, mostly Mediterranean and a few Black-headed and Common Gulls, to feast on the easy pickings as they soared high over the town. Even the Herring Gulls got in on the act, strutting around the local park and verges snapping up the insects, but by late afternoon it was all over and normal service was resumed.

Wednesday 17 July 2024

Shoveler

Warm, dry and sunny, SW2 - A check of The Patch this morning drew a blank (predictably!) for yesterdays Rosy Tern; however, I did see my first Painted Lady of this butterfly depleted summer by the power station wall and the male Peregrine was active on A station along with two fledged juveniles. The rest of the morning was spent on a guided walk for RSPB starting at Burrowes where the only passage waders were 10 Lapwings, two Black-tailed Godwits and singles of Common Sandpiper and Little Ringed Plover. Nesting Common Terns continue to be active on the newly exposed islands in front of Dennis`s hide, while all the usual Sand Martins, wildfowl, gulls, Coots and grebes were present in good numbers. On the Boulderwall fields three Cattle and a Great White Egret were noted, a Redshank, several Little Egrets and a Greenshank and a Yellow Wagtail over. From Hanson a Shoveler (scarce here as a breeding bird - only one or two pairs annually) showed off its four ducklings close to the hide, much to the annoyance of a Dabchick that furiously attacked the female driving it and her young away from its own juvs. The Avocets still had two chicks, two each of Little Ringed Plover and Common Sandpiper were on the islands, plus ten Common Terns and hundreds of wildfowl, gulls, Cormorants, feral geese and Coots.

                                  Shoveler family,  ARC

                                  Reed Bunting, ARC

Monday 15 July 2024

Common Terns

 Warm, dry and sunny, light airs - Breeding Common Terns have had a tough time across the Dungeness wetlands this summer, mainly due to stubbornly high water levels covering suitable nesting islands and `tern rafts` already being occupied by Herring Gulls. However, although it may appear to be late-in-the-day, recently water levels have subsided enough for small numbers of terns to settle down and attempt to breed on both Burrowes and ARC lakes; also, today I noticed a pair on the new raft on Lade south, so all may well not be lost. A juvenile Marsh Harrier was also present hunting over the willow swamp, presumably from one of three breeding pairs locally. Kerton quarry harboured good numbers of wildfowl, grebes and feral geese, plus 10 Oystercatcher, 10 Lapwings and a Common Sandpiper with several each of Yellow Wagtail and Swift over heading south. Over the weekend visits to Hanson hide produced five Avocets (inc a pair with two juvs) and a few passage Little Ringed Plovers, Common and Green Sandpipers, Black-tailed Godwits and Dunlins, plus a Shoveler with juvs, a Great White Egret, 10 Common Terns (inc three sitting birds) and the usual massed ranks of wildfowl, grebes and Coots. Also over the weekend there was confirmation that a Bittern had fledged two juveniles on ARC. 

                               

                                                       Common Tern, Lade 

Friday 12 July 2024

Passage waders

Cool, wet, N4 - The poor summer weather continues with heavy overnight rain and a cold front pushing down from the north delivering a showery morning under scudding, grey skies. There was little change since our last visit to Lade with hundreds of Sand Martins over the lakes, two Common Terns and a party of 30 Black-headed Gulls through. Similarly, Kerton quarry was quiet with only a Whimbrel over of note.

                                  Bramble flowers

                                 Red Admiral

                                 Hedge Brown

                                 Marbled White

However, yesterday was a sunny, dry day that finally produced a few butterflies around the field margins north of New Romney. In the warm sunshine a host of bees and hoverflies swarmed over a bramble patch in full flower, plus several Red Admirals, Meadow and Hedge Browns and a single Marbled White by the New Cut. In the evening Chris P and I visited Scotney sand pit where passage waders included six Dunlins, seven Green and three Common Sandpipers, three Black-tailed Godwits and two Whimbrels overhead, as well as 16 Avocets, three Little Ringed Plovers, several Oystercatchers and Lapwings. Also present a variety of common ducks, feral geese and swans, Sand Martins, Yellow Wagtails, Sedge and Reed Warblers, Black-headed Gulls and a movement of over 200 black crows heading towards the ranges. Probably most noteworthy were our first sightings of recently fledged juvenile Marsh Harrier and Hobby on the wing. On the way home we called in at Hanson hide where several Common Terns, five Little Ringed Plovers, a Black-tailed Godwit and an Avocet brooding two chicks were noted, plus a Greenshank over calling and hundreds of wildfowl and Coots on the lake.

Wednesday 10 July 2024

Sand Martins

Lade - cool and cloudy, SW5 - It`s been a while since we visited the local patch where this morning a brisk wind blowing up-Channel made for difficult viewing, whipping up small white horses on south lake where c200 Sand Martins were feeding en-route to southern climes, along with a party of Swifts. My first lemon-coloured Willow Warbler of the return passage was noted in the shelter of the ponds, confirming that autumn migration was definitely underway for these two long distance travellers. Elsewhere across the wetlands it was the usual range of eclipse Pochards and Tufted Ducks, breeding Coots, Mallards, Great Crested and Little Grebes and a couple of Little Egrets. A check of Kerton Road quarry revealed a flock of 150 Black-headed Gulls, two Sandwich Terns, several Oystercatchers and a selection of immature gulls.

                                 Female Emperor, Lade ponds

                                 Roosting gulls, Kerton quarry

                                  Sandwich Terns, Kerton quarry

In past blog posts I`ve mentioned the paucity of birdlife utilising the many acres of grass fields around New Romney, mainly due to intensive management in order to keep the turf weed and worm-caste free. That said about now things do start to liven up somewhat. For example, yesterday morning one such field had about 20 Swallows skimming over the grass picking off insects, five Mistle Thrushes and a Green Woodpecker hopping about probing for invertebrates and a mixed flock of 50 Mediterranean and 20 Black-headed Gulls preening and loafing in the middle. I`ve yet to see a wader of any description using these fields, but I`m ever hopeful... Also on a local theme, a female Dabchick has somehow successfully reared two chicks to near fledging stage on a small flood relief pond beside Church Lane. I say, "somehow", as we (Chris P and I) have yet to see a pair of adult birds, and it`s a mystery how such a small body of water no more than two years old has produced enough food to sustain a family of grebes, such are the wonders of the natural world.



                                 Dabchicks, New Romney

Monday 8 July 2024

New Forest

New Forest - Yesterday we returned from our annual five day sojourn to the New Forest Folk Festival where this year the weather was to say the least `indifferent`. Past visits have been scorcheo, but this time it was mostly wet, windy and cool, particularly on Friday when parts of the site were flooded and the river Blackwater was in full spate. However, in between the downpours a couple of guided walks out across Plaitford Common and around the village delivered a few Dartford Warblers, two Redstarts, breeding Spotted Flycatcher, a Hawfinch and House Martins nesting on the farmhouse, while soaring Red Kites and Buzzards were regularly seen over the festival site and hundreds of Swifts streamed through in the cool air on Sunday morning. The variety of music on offer was as usual superb with the Saturday night headliner being our favourites, the punk/folk/rock Oysterband who we`ve followed for over 40 years since they started out as a ceilidh dance band in the late 70`s. Like us they`ve seen too many summers and have decided to call it a day and are on a `Long, Long Goodbye Tour`; which means this year will be their last on the festival circuit, finishing next year touring at indoor venues and folk clubs - so catch `em while you can!

                                  Festival Oak (in the Saturday sunshine!)

This morning before I picked up Ted I joined MC in the Hanson hide where the sitting Avocet mum briefly showed off its chick with dad nearby, and was probably the first one that we could remember here at Dungeness; although whether it makes it to the fledging stage only time will tell. Also noted on the shingle islands were several each of Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Common Sandpiper, Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers. A sitting Common Tern was joined by others hoping to nest, alongside all the usual eclipse ducks, feral geese and swans, Cormorants, egrets, grebes and Coots. On Burrowes it was good to see plenty more Common Terns attempting to nest on the islands in front of Dennis`s hide and Sand Martin activity around the wall. A Brown Hare was a surprise by Firth lookout, otherwise all the usual suspects were on the lake including at least five Ringed Plovers and a Common Sandpiper. After picking up Ted we headed for a circuit of Pirate Springs where a Kestrel family showed well hunting the grasslands and Skylarks busily fed their fledged young. Being as it was high tide there was little of note on the sea apart from a few distant Sandwich Terns and a party of southbound Swifts. 

                                  Common Tern, Burrowes

                                 Great White Egret, Burrowes

                                 Juvenile Kestrels, Littlestone golf links

                                  Adult Kestrel over the grasslands

Tuesday 2 July 2024

Wood Sandpiper

Cool and cloudy, NW 3 - The first decent 30 species haul of macros in the garden trap from last night included 12 hawk-moths, Spectacle, Delicate, Silver Y, Knot Grass and Swallowtail. It was a much fresher feel to the weather for this morning`s Ted walk out across the fields north of town. Several hundred Swifts, dodging the rain showers, passed over the farmland and New Romney during the morning while plenty more were reported along the coast. All the usual Reed Buntings, and Reed Warblers noted along the sewer margins attending to their young, plus a Yellow Wagtail over and a Marsh Harrier working the ditches. It was fascinating to watch the new robotic grass mower in action on a turf field, all fully programmed with not a farmer in sight, the changing face of the countryside. 


                                  Robotic mower

                                 Elephant Hawk-moths

                                 Delicate

With the water levels dropping and exposing various muddy/shingle islands it is now worthwhile checking the two main lakes on the bird reserve for passage waders. ARC is looking particularly tasty where the first Wood Sandpiper (thanks to DS for the pic below) of autumn was present late yesterday afternoon along with two gorgeous Black-tailed Godwits, six Ringed Plovers, four Lapwings and a Common Snipe, plus a sitting Avocet and an Oystercatcher with young. Also noted, a pair of courting Common Terns, a flyover Great White Egret, a Pintail, a Garganey and a Wigeon, plus hundreds of eclipse diving and dabbling ducks. Likewise Burrowes held a few waders, plenty of ducks, grebes and Sand Martin activity around the nesting wall, while a mobile Mandarin Duck was reportedly going between the two lakes.

                                              Wood Sandpiper, ARC (by Dave Scott)

Thursday 27 June 2024

Returning sandpipers

Warm, dry and sunny, SW 4 - This morning our Ted walk took us across the arable lands towards Belgar Farm following the line of Dengemarsh sewer. I wanted to check out a couple of pea fields along the way for calling Quail, their preferred field crop, of which there was no sound. Infact, as the wind picked up there was very little activity apart from several Skylarks overhead, a couple of Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings singing from the reed-fringed sewer and a distant Corn Bunting jangling away. Working in the garden this week has produced a trickle of high-calling Mediterranean Gulls over the town, a `kettle` of six Common Buzzards and regular Sparrowhawk sightings. Moth numbers and variety has picked these past muggy nights with a Beautiful Hook-tip the best of the bunch.

                                 Beautiful Hook-tip

In contrast yesterday evening, at Scotney sand pit, I joined Dave S where there was plenty on offer at this temporary and working industrial quarry complete with a myriad of freshwater lagoon and muddy islands, perfect then for hungry waders. Even in land-locked Bedfordshire these sites lured down a few transient waders, but nothing like the numbers dropping in at a coastal location such as this. The only thing is that these sites don`t stay wader-friendly for long; either they get infilled or flood and become a steep-sided lake, so best to enjoy them while you can. However, passage waders included at least 11 Green and one Common Sandpipers, two Common Snipes, a Black-tailed Godwit and a Greenshank (overhead), along with 27 Avocets, four Lapwings, six Oystercatchers (inc a pair with three juveniles), three Little Ringed and two Ringed Plovers. There was also a good supporting cast of 23 Shelducks, 20 Black-headed Gulls,50 Mallards, 10 Tufted Ducks, six Gadwalls, four Teal and two Shovelers. We also noted a Hobby, a Sparrowhawk with prey, two Yellow Wagtails, Sedge and Cetti`s Warblers and several Sand Martins. On the way home the regular Little Owl was on the barn at Hammonds Corner.

                                  Scotney sand pit

         


                                 Oystercatcher and juv, Kerton quarry

Elsewhere this week circuits of Dengemarsh have been fairly samey with all the expected wetland birds including the odd Avocet and Greenshank on the hayfields, along with a few Lapwings and eclipse ducks, Little Egrets, Black-headed Gulls and a Hobby. Kerton quarry has produced several pairs of Oystercatchers and Lapwings with fledged young, while gull and duck numbers are beginning to build as their breeding season comes to an end.

Sunday 23 June 2024

Garden Blackcap

Warm, dry and sunny, SW 3 - Most weekends I try to leave the car at home and engage in low-carbon outings walking out with Ted, who after all has a vast reservoir of energy to release, far more than me! However, that does mean replacing the species-rich coastal wetlands for a more mundane variety of habitats, such as arable farmland, paddocks, parks, copses, turf fields, and today, the foreshore and hinterland at Pirate Springs, Littlestone; we must`ve walked many miles this weekend. The weather having bucked up of late was fine, and apart from some light rain yesterday it was warm sunshine all the way, perfect for butterflies then, of which once again very few were noted; although this morning at the Springs we did see our first Marbled White of summer amongst a sprinkling of skippers and browns. Several Emperor dragonflies were seen patrolling the drainage sewers north of New Romney where at least two broods of recently fledged Reed Warblers were still being fed by the adults. The large acreages of turf fields hereabouts are heavily managed to ensure a uniform, weed-free sward and at first glance appear to support little wildlife. However, one such field has a marginal forage crop of phacelia complete with blue flowers that attracts bees and other flying insects, and most are bordered by hedgerows and standard trees attractive to the likes of Yellowhammer, Linnet, Whitethroat, Kestrel and the two woodpeckers. The open vista can sometimes lure down a few curious corvids and late summer gull flocks, and at this time of year Swallows skim low over the turf taking the few flying insects present with the adults occasionally settling to pick up dead grass to line their nests, while the juveniles seem to just enjoy being on terra firma, twittering away to one another. On the debit side this weekend, despite many hours in the field, there was no sign of any Cuckoo activity and Swifts were absent from the Littlestone seafront where formerly they have nested.

                                  Juvenile Swallows

                                 Phacelia

                                  Pyramidal Orchids, Littlestone

                                 Linnet, Littlestone

The natural history highlights for me this weekend have been found closer to home, in and around the garden infact, where this morning a Blackcap briefly sang from atop our birch tree; a first for the garden, but where it came from is a mystery, perhaps an early migrant on the move... Also, a pair of Goldfinches nesting in a neighbours plum tree have proved to be highly entertaining with the adults regularly coming down to drink at the bird bath and the cock bird singing loudly from various song posts around the house, including on a tv aerial. Since we moved here over two year ago we`ve cultivated a `green wall` and an `insect corner` in our back yard that has been planted out with nectar-rich plants such as lavender, foxglove, cosmos, salvias, verbena, sunflowers and honeysuckle to name but a few, and it seems to be working as this afternoon it was alive with invertebrate activity. The night shift continue to entertain with bats overhead, Hedgehogs in the borders and increasing numbers of moths coming to light including several Delicates and a Toadflax Brocade on Friday evening.


                                 Garden greenery


                                 Male Goldfinch


Wednesday 19 June 2024

Blue is the Colour

Warm, dry and sunny, NE 3 - A superb summers day with the warmth tempered by a fresh airflow coming off the North Sea. The wet spring and early June combined with the recent sunshine has resulted in a kaleidoscope of botanical colours across the shingle ridges. As the yellows and reds of broom and foxglove respectively fade, the blues of scabious and bugloss dominate the colour palate; particularly Viper`s Bugloss, an important source of nectar for bees and a wide variety of other invertebrates including moth caterpillars. At Lade yesterday great swathes of the flower were alive with insects, and again today on a walk out to the Oppen Pits behind Burrowes, where also countless damselflies were on the wing in the sun trap between the two lakes along with numerous grassland butterflies such as Common Blue, Small Heath, Small Skipper and Meadow Brown. Birdwise this can be a quiet time of year as the solstice approaches and migration takes a pause, although the breeding passerines will be onto their second clutches by now. The deep water of New Diggings was devoid of birds in contrast to Burrowes which held hundreds of moulting diving ducks, gulls, Cormorants and grebes, while it was good to see several Sand Martins exploring the wall by the visitor centre. 


                                 Viper`s Bugloss

                                  Ted cooling off

 
                                  Common Blue Damselfly

                                 Common Blue