Sunday, 30 November 2014

A late Swallow

Lade - mild, overcast, light airs  - 1030hrs - Following the excesses of last nights fancy dress (60`s hippy) and karaoke party (yes, there is photographic evidence, and no I won`t be posting any) it felt good to be out and about on the local patch this morning. The fishermen in boats were keeping the wildfowl on the move on south lake where a Red Crested Pochard was present amongst the legions of Coots and Gadwalls. I was amazed to see a Swallow hawking insects in the lee of the willows (my latest record here), but later learnt that one was also seen at Scotney (PB) and yesterday at Greatstone (MH). North lake was stacked out with waterfowl that had been disturbed off south lake. Seen or heard around the willow swamp were single figures of Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Cetti`s Warbler, Blackbird, Reed Bunting and Water Rail, while a couple of Marsh Harriers drifted over.
During the course of breakfast one of the guests commented on `our` garden House Sparrows swarming over the bird feeders, and the fact that `his` sparrows had long since disappeared from his Luton garden. I explained how fortunate we are down here and that there remains a number of thriving colonies locally and the reasons for their success, which prompted me to spend a bit more time watching the colony that haunts the caravan park along the southern boundary, as you just never know...

                                House Sparrows, Lade

Boulderwall -    A scan of the wet meadows from the access road delivered a host of distant Lapwings, Wigeons, feral geese, Curlews, Golden Plovers, gulls, Starlings, two Buzzards, Great White Egret and Marsh Harrier. Whilst there a couple of blokes pulled up and hollered "have you seen the two Pink-feet in the goose flock?" "No", said I. "Over there", pointed the driver. "Well, I can see two Grey Lags with the Canada's", I replied, diplomatically. " I think you`ll find they`re Pink-feet", retorted know-it-all.... and before I had the right of reply he was gone in a cloud of dust down the track (memo to ones self, must brush up on my goose identification...).
We then headed down to Dengemarsh where the two Cattle Egrets put on a five star show amongst a herd of cows, close to the road opposite Wraxall`s stone yard.

                               Cattle Egrets, Dengemarsh


Friday, 28 November 2014

Great Grey Shrike & Purple Sands

Chilham - 1100hrs - mild, sunny, light airs - Had to go off piste this morning to check out several sites on the North Downs for various articles. Afterwards we went over to Chilham where the Great Grey Shrike showed like a good `un in warm sunshine. I watched it hunting from a hedgerow, opposite Bagham Lane, for half an hour during which time it caught a small rodent and a Wren, but missed a Robin! Still, not a bad success rate; both of the kills were impaled on hawthorns. As always, a stunning bird and eminently watchable.

                               Great Grey Shrike, Chilham

Hythe Sea Front - After sorting out a few things in a crowded town centre I headed for some light relief along the sea front where six Purple Sandpipers were amongst the concrete sea defence blocks, three each opposite Stade Street and Hythe Imperial. At least 20 Turnstones were present, plus a long dead Porpoise on the beach

                                Purple Sandpipers, Hythe

Weekly Summary - With fine weather forecast for the weekend anyone contemplating a days birding should find the Dungeness area to their liking. The RSPB reserve has currently got at least 10 Great White Egrets scattered around the gravel pit lakes, plus a couple of Cattle Egrets coming and going between here and Rye, that are best searched for amongst the suckling herds on Dengemarsh. Back up birds on the lakes include Black-necked Grebe, Goosanders and Goldeneyes within the common wildfowl, while passerine flocks around the reserve should be checked for Firecrests and Chiffchaffs. Short-eared and Barn Owls have also been noted during the afternoon at Boulderwall, and on the Desert behind the water tower, and before dusk from Makepeace hide has delivered roosting egrets amongst the Cormorants and Caspian Gulls on what remains of the islands.
Elsewhere, the fields at Scotney have been full of plovers and wildfowl, plus a Little Stint and decent numbers of Tree Sparrows and Corn Buntings on the farmland out back. On Walland Marsh a large flock of Fieldfares can be found in the Midley area, but are mobile, while the first Bewick`s Swans have been located amongst Mutes in the Old Romney area. Lade Bay is worth a look for up to ten species of shorebirds, plus a lone male Snow Bunting on the tideline between the Varne and the Jolly Fisherman car park.
Finally, at Dungeness, although the sea has been pretty quiet this week it should still yield, with a bit of time, the likes of sea ducks, divers, auks and gulls, and the Trapping Area scrub for Firecrests and Woodcock. And of course there`s always the stuff we take for granted knocking around: Marsh Harrier, Raven, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Cetti`s Warbler, Bearded Tit, Little Owl, Peregrine, and Merlin etc...

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Snow Bunting

New Diggings/ARC/Tower Pits - 0900hrs - mild, cloudy, se 2 - Amid all the doom and gloom of declining farmland birds and summer migrants there are plenty of good news stories too. A case in point is the heron tribe with Dungeness RSPB reserve becoming egret central; within an hour I`d seen seven Great Whites, two Littles, five Grey Herons and a Bittern. A wander around the back of Tower pits delivered 30 Blackbirds and 10 Song Thrushes in the buckthorn patch and single figures elsewhere of Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Reed Bunting, Redwing, Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers, Cetti`s Warbler, calling Water Rail, three Snipe and a Jack Snipe.On the water all the usual wildfowl including ten Goldeneyes and two Goosanders. Over the road on Boulderwall fields just the expected feral geese. Lapwings, Goldies and Wigeons.

                                Snow Bunting, Greatstone Beach

Greatstone Beach - Following a call from PB who`d found a Snow Bunting on the beach between the car park and the Varne I headed that way this afternoon. A cracking male bird was all on its own feeding on the tideline and showing well between disturbance by dog-walkers.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Dull, dull, dull

Dengemarsh - 1030hrs - murky and mild - We worked a birdless gully this morning in Mordor-like gloom with a fine drizzle coming and going. Striking out across the shingle towards the switch station, in the vain hope of a late wheatear or bunting along the foreshore, also proved fruitless apart from a lone Raven sat on a pylon.
Galloways was similarly bereft of bird life.
Scotney - Much better here though with upwards of a couple of thousand birds on the grass opposite the lay-bye comprising mainly Goldies, Lapwings, Wigeons and Starlings, plus two Redshank, five Dunlin, a Grey Plover and the usual feral geese. A walk out back delivered more wildfowl and plovers, including Shelducks and Egyptian Geese, plus 80 and 50 each, respectively, of Corn Buntings and Tree Sparrows, Skylarks, Mipits, two Stonechats, three Marsh Harriers, Buzzard and Kestrel.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Tally ho!

Dungeness - 0830hrs - cold, cloudy, e 5 - Started off the day at the seawatch hide where just about nothing was moving on the sea in a biting east wind. What with all the shingle movement going on we gave the Patch a miss, but there didn`t appear to be any birds there anyway.
Lade - Pretty much as yesterday on the water, plus a flyover Bittern and minus any passerines due to the strong wind.

                                Buzzard, Walland Marsh

Walland Marsh - Criss-crossing the Marsh looking for wild swans etc drew a blank, although the large flock of up to 1,000 Fieldfares was still in the Midley area and several Buzzards and Marsh Harriers were noted along the way. And then I had a very odd encounter with a load of foxhunters...
On the lane past Wheelsgate farm, by the railway crossing, a collection of Range Rovers and onlookers with crap optics could only mean one thing - the local hunt was on the Marsh. So, I pulled up and casually walked over to a group of Barbour-clad toffs wearing Tilley hats. Ok, so I look a bit grim at the moment (or rather more so than usual...), dishevelled, unshaven and mop-haired, as I`m getting in character for a fancy dress party this coming weekend (it`s a hippy themed thing...). Anyhow, as I was saying, I ambled over to a group of hunt followers, said a cheery good morning and commented on the foxhounds working their way along the railway embankment, only to be met by stony silence. They obviously had me down as a pinko, lefty, hunt sab type; you could`ve cut the atmosphere with a knife. I felt like an atheist in a mosque, so I sidled off like Gollum and watched proceedings from the car, all the time aware of their gaze and finger pointing.
Now, while I wouldn`t want to take part in fox hunting (and they were hunting, not following a scented trail) I`ve got no axe to grind with them, but was genuinely interested in the working hounds, being a country lad and having done a bit of terrier work in a past life, ferreting, and that kind of thing. Still, I guess they`ve got good reason to be suspicious of someone with a pair of optics that are worth more than the old banger he`s driving...
Anyhow, as I sat watching the pack crashing about in the railway embankment cover the number of birds they disturbed was incredible; mostly Wrens, Dunnocks, Robins, thrushes, a couple of Pheasants, two Snipe and even a Woodcock, rocketed out, plus a dozen rabbits. I didn't hang about to see the inevitable fox ripped to shreds, but drove off glad to see the back of it all, a most uncomfortable experience indeed.

                               East Sussex & Romney Marsh Foxhounds, Walland Marsh

Burrowes - Just the usual wildfowl, Great White Egrets and Black-necked Grebe sheltering from the brisk wind. The White-fronts were reportedly in the feral goose flock on the fields at Boulderwall.
Dungeness - Finished the day walking the shingle around the sea containers looking for Snow Buntings seen earlier, but without success. As the rain swept in off the sea and the light dropped we called it a day and headed home for tea.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Raptors and shorebirds in the sunshine

Lade - 0800hrs - cold, dry, sunny, n 1 - After yesterdays gloom and rain it was good to see the sunshine once again, albeit with a light grass frost. As is often the way following a wet day, this morning birds were everywhere. The lakes were smothered in hundreds of common waterfowl, plus one or two corpses on the margins as a result of the weekends poaching. Around the willow swamp Kingfisher, Water Rail, Goldcrest, Cetti`s Warbler and Chiffchaff all noted, plus a large flock of tits including Long-tailed. But it was the raptors that were most noteworthy with several Marsh Harriers, two Buzzards, Sparrowhawk and Kestrels abroad behind the `mirrors`. Large flocks of  Woodpigeons continue to feed on the farmland beside the airport along with loads of corvids, Lapwings and gulls. Walking back along Mockmill sewer we had cracking views of a Short-eared Owl quartering the Desert towards the water tower, flushing Mipits and Skylarks in its wake.

                                Meadow Pipit, Lade

ARC - Called in at Hanson hide where there was only small numbers of wildfowl on the lake, but did include five Goldeneyes, three Shelducks and two Pintails. The obligatory Marsh Harriers and Great White Egrets present, while around the Willow Trail scrub three Chiffchaffs and a Goldcrest noted within a tit flock; Water Rail and Cetti`s Warbler also heard.

                                Grey Plovers, Littlestone

Lade Bay - Spent most of the afternoon checking the beach and tideline on a falling tide from Lade to Littlestone. Shorebird numbers were similar to last week although Knot had risen to 85, while we eventually found a few Grey and Ringed Plovers at Littlestone. The construction work is now complete on the sewage outflow pipe at the Varne boat club where the majority of Redshanks and Turnstones were found; while the large concrete blocks could in future attract Purple Sandpipers once they`ve worn in with a bit of seaweed and the like.
Finished off at last knockings scanning the golf course but there was no sign of the recently reported Short-eared Owl, just a Stonechat and a few Linnets.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Rye Harbour

Rye Harbour - 1030hrs - mild, overcast, s 2 - Together with SB from Dunstable we did the five mile circular walk around Castle Water, down towards the beach by the Mary Stanford lifeboat station and back through the beach reserve, knocking up a pretty tidy list with a decent range of wildfowl, waders and passerines. From the viewpoint at Castle Water, Bearded Tit, Cetti`s Warbler, Goldcrest and Chiffchaff noted along the edge of the reedbed, plus Stonechat. Goldfinch and Linnet on the walk around to the hide, plus a flyover Bittern and two Marsh Harriers. From the hide plenty of common wildfowl and Lapwings on the water, Snipe and Water Rail in the reedbed and a perched Peregrine in a dead tree.

                                 Lapwing and Teal, Castle Water
                                  Peregrine, Castle Water

                                Teal, Castle Water

En-route to the beach loads of Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Robins, Dunnocks and Wrens in the bushes, plus 20 Fieldfares, two Siskins over, Linnets, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, three Stonechats and a pair of Bullfinches. Passing the western end of Long Pits five Goldeneyes noted. The beach reserve was packed out with Lapwings, Golden Plovers, Curlews and the like while a Spoonbill and Spotted Redshank showed well on the pool by the caravan park.

                                Spoonbill, Beach Reserve

Hawthorn Corner - On the way home we crossed the Marsh checking the fields, but in truth there was very little of note until we turned the bend in the lane by the model flying club to be confronted by an enormous mixed flock of Fieldfares and Starlings. Approaching the junction birds were everywhere and it was quite a sight with over 1,000 birds plundering hawthorn berries.
A spectacular end to another great day in the field.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Lade shorebirds

Lade - 1100hrs - chilly, cloudy, e 2 - A late start due to a change over day. Couldn`t be bothered to drive so we worked the local patch extensively in typical murky November light. There was no change on the lakes apart from an increase in Pochard numbers and little passerine activity either, apart from a few Blackbirds, Goldfinches and Reed Buntings. However, the rough ground behind the `mirrors` and beside north lake was pretty busy, mostly with Woodpigeons (c500) and Starlings, plus a scattering of Skylarks, Mipits, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds and Robins. For some reason raptors appeared to be everywhere, but just the usual Marsh Harriers, two Buzzards and Kestrels; surely we must get a Roughie soon...

                                "This beats seawatching any day..."
                                Gannet, Greatstone tideline

                                Oystercatchers, Greatstone Beach

                                         Sanderling, Greatstone Beach

Anyhow, as the tide was falling we cut through Seaview Road to the beach and got the abacus out...
Nine out of ten shorebirds was the score (could not find a Ringed Plover) as follows: Curlew 155 (not all back from roost), Oystercatcher 825, Barwit 58, Grey Plover five, Redshank 12, Sanderling 520, Dunlin 310, Knot six  and Turnstone 18. Also present, eight Brents, three Shelducks, 50 Common Gulls, two Med Gulls, three Kittiwakes and along the tideline, two Skylarks, five Pied Wagtails, 20 Starlings and a long dead Gannet. As ever it was the Sanderlings that allowed the closest approach, smart little bundles of energy and always highly watchable.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

A influx of Wrens?

Lade - 1000hrs - mild, cloudy, e 2 - Birding on the local patch this morning resembled the weather - benign. Nothing much of note apart from a Raven tussling with a Marsh Harrier being watched by two Green Woodpeckers on the wall `mirror`. The usual Coots, grebes and ducks on the two lakes, while there seemed to be a few more Wrens about than usual in the shingle scrub.
ARC - Six Goldeneyes and a Slavonian Grebe was the best of few wildfowl on the water, plus a Great White Egret, two Marsh Harriers and a Kingfisher. Around the willow trail more Wrens and a tit flock that contained two Chiffchaffs and a Firecrest. Bumped into SM who reported a Little Stint on the grass at the Kent end of Scotney.

                                Wren, Dungeness

Dungeness - A seawatch from the fishing boats this afternoon lasted all of 20 minutes as it was obvious nothing much was on the move; the sum total being single figures of Kittiwake and Red-throated Diver. We wandered amongst the sea containers for a bit, where Barney chased a couple of brown rats, noting several Wrens, two Pied Wagtails and a Black Redstart and checking the few roosting gulls out on the shingle ridges.
I then caught sight of a Wren slumped amongst the stones, which upon closer inspection was found to be quite dead, but only recently so as it was still limp. Northern Wrens are known to migrate considerable distances and I guess this may have been one such bird, as there did seem to be more Wrens about today than usual. The fact that these tiny passerines can traverse the North Sea, and most likely during the night, still fills me full of wonder. Perhaps the journey was just too much for this little fella. Anyhow, I got all soppy looking at it and with much reverence dug a hole and buried it in the shingle out of sight of any roving gulls and crows.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A few grounded migrants

Lade - 1100hrs - mild, misty, overcast e 2 - Didn`t get much time in the field today due to guests coming and going. However, on the local patch there appeared to be an overnight drop in with a scattering of Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Mipits (35), Reed Buntings, Skylarks and four Stonechats across the shingle scrub. In the willow swamp, calling Goldcrests, Long-tailed Tits, Chiffchaffs and Robins while a couple of Kingfishers zipped over north lake.
We then had a look at the beach from the Tavern where the highlights amongst the shorebirds were 25 Knots, 30 Barwits, 10 Redshanks and six Grey Plovers, plus two Med Gulls, two Shelducks and a late Sandwich Tern.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Bits and pieces on the sea...

Dungeness - 1045hrs - mild, sunny, e 2 - After yesterdays washout it was good to have a dry day with light winds and sunshine. After fixing breakies for guests we headed out for a seawatch from the boats for an hour. The sum total was single figures of Gannets, auks and Kittiwakes, plus 150 Brents, eight Red-throated Divers, ten Med Gulls, Sandwich Tern, a drake Eider and best of all, nine Goosanders east.
Barney was made up though, as he had a mate for company, a Norfolk Terrier going by the name of Wingnut? or was it Walnut? yes, Walnut, anyhow after sniffing one another`s parts, in the customary canine way, they then went about ignoring each other. That`s dogs for you...
Afterwards we had a wander around the bushes but could only come up with a few Robins, Wrens, Blackbirds, Dunnocks and two Black Redstarts by the Britannia, although a Snow Bunting was noted this morning flying overhead.

                                Walnut & Barney, Dungness

1445hrs - Back to the boats and another hour staring at the sea, which this time yielded a few more Kittiwakes and auks, seven Brents, two Red-throated Divers, two Little Gulls, a Dunlin and a cracking Slavonian Grebe on the sea. The Sandwich Tern was again offshore, while a Bonxie had been seen just before we arrived.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

A site tick -Yellowhammer

Lade -0800hrs - mild, overcast, s 2 - With hardly any wind, and no rain, (yet) we struck out across the shingle to walk Mockmill Sewer. The large willow clump at the southern end held a couple of Goldcrests, an encouraging start, and several Blackbirds. Further along more Blackbirds and Song Thrushes followed, plus two Ring Ouzels, (which have probably been around for about a month now), three Stonechats and a few Robins, Wrens, Dunnocks and Reed Buntings. So, not a bad return for a slog over the stones, which got even better when the first Woodcock of the autumn hurtled out of a gorse patch!
The great thing about working a local patch regularly is that so called `common` birds that have not been recorded on `your patch` can be elevated to near rarity status. A case in point arose this morning, whilst idly scanning south lake, when a Yellowhammer flew over. I was so surprised that at first the flight call didn`t compute and fortunately I managed to get some detail on the bird to clinch the identity. If I`d been out on the Marsh I wouldn`t have given it a second thought (not that they`re abundant anywhere these days), but quite why Yellowhammers are virtually unknown down here on the shingle is something of a mystery.
Lydd - After pulling leaks and parsnips at the allotment this afternoon I checked the small wood over the road where untold rarities awaited; ok, so I made do with a Jay and a few Long-tailed Tits.
ARC - All the usual stuff here including two Slavonian Grebes and a redhead Smew, Great White Egret and several Marsh Harriers. We wandered down to the pines where a couple of Chiffchaffs called and a flock of five Goldeneyes on the lake included a cracking drake.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Swallows and egrets

Lade - 0900hrs - mild, wet, sw 2 - Started the day with a right good soaking when we got caught in a deluge walking back from the pits, where there was nothing much of note apart from three Kingfishers around the willow swamp and a couple of Chiffchaffs. Very mild though, with masses of midges by the ponds.
ARC - After a change of clothing, and a rub down for Barney, we headed out again. Scanning the beach from the Lade boardwalk for waders turned up five species, but all a bit distant, although a late Swallow feeding along the tideline was a bonus. From the causeway road two Slavonian Grebes, a redhead Smew and a Great White Egret on ARC, plus another GWEgret on New Diggings.
Scotney - We wandered through the farmyard, where four Corn Buntings noted amongst Chaffinches, House Sparrows and Starlings, to the pits at the back which had a flock of 23 Shelducks (never very numerous down here) amongst the Wigeon, Teal and Lapwings, plus another Great White Egret and 21 dark-bellied Brent Geese in a field. The roadside pits and grass had all the usual wildfowl and waders, including four Redshanks, five Dunlin, 10 Pintail and a Goldeneye.
Burrowes - Another three Great Whites on the pit, all the usual common ducks, including three Goldeneyes, plus several Little Egrets and Marsh Harriers, while SB reported three Cattle Egrets in association with stock on the Dengemarsh hayfields.
Lade North - A scan from the school slope this afternoon turned up another Swallow sighting over north lake, while a large mixed flock of Goldies, Lapwings and Starlings swirled over the fields at Romney Salts and a Buzzard perched on a distant straw stack.
Dungeness - Finished off with an hour at the fishing boats where nothing much was happening apart from a few distant Gannets and Kittiwakes passing down-Channel. However, a Grey Phalarope put in an all too brief appearance on the sea, but then drifted/flew back east, so we trudged down the beach and after half an hour eventually relocated it well offshore opposite the lifeboat station. Presumably, this is the same bird that`s been seen on and off over the past week or so.

Friday, 14 November 2014

From Woodpigeons to Grey Phalarope

Lade - 1300hrs - mild, overcast, sw 3 - Spent the morning painting out the bathroom, so it was with some relief that we `escaped` this afternoon for a wander. On the local patch plenty of common wildfowl on both lakes but everything was being spooked by pigeon shooting activities over by Belgar Farm. Great swathes of bird biomass were flighting over the airport fields: Woodpigeons, Stock Doves, corvids, gulls, ducks, Lapwings, Starlings and Curlews made up the bulk, along with passerines such as Skylarks, Mipits and finches also milling about. From a vantage point at the school end of north lake I could see Woodies falling foul of the gunners as they approached lures, and other birds, when winged, half tumbling from the sky, injured and carrying on with missing wing feathers to goodness knows what fate - the foxes won`t go hungry tonight, that`s for sure.
Dungeness - 1430-1545hrs - Anyhow, on a brighter note, together with TC, we pressed on to the concrete road and a seawatch, with calmer seas than of late and in good light. A steady passage of Gannets and Kittiwakes was underway and very entertaining it was too, plus singles of Red-throated Diver, Guillemot, Med and Little Gulls. DW, PB and TG left site having seen a couple of skuas over the past three hours, a few sea duck and the like, but just as we were about to pack up, at 1540hrs, a Grey Phalarope, flew along the shoreline so close we nearly missed it as it passed beneath the shingle ridge. It then settled on the sea briefly, about 20 yards out, before heading west into the setting sun. We scanned again by the coastguard lookout with CP and DG but failed to relocate it.
TC also had a single Swallow at Lydd-on-Sea this morning.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Siskins, at last

Dengemarsh - 0745hrs - mild, cloudy, s 5 - We walked the gully first thing, but there was little of note in a blustery wind apart from a few Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Goldfinches, two Siskins, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Kingfisher.
The field adjacent to Springfield Bridge held a small flock of Linnets, plus several Mipits, Skylarks and Reed Buntings. A flock of 300 Lapwings were kept mobile by passing Marsh Harriers, while the two Cattle Egrets were briefly on the flood.
Scotney - Nothing of any note here apart from the usual wildfowl and feral geese.
Back home two more Siskins flew down the coast along with 50 Goldfinches.

                                Cattle Egrets, Dengemarsh flood

Dungeness - 1430-1545hrs - A session at the fishing boats with DW, PB, MH, DG et al yielded a steady passage of Gannets and Kittiwakes, plus several auks, two Med Gulls, two Little Gulls, two Red-throated Divers and four juvenile Pomarine Skuas, two of which cut in nice and close chasing gulls. A Grey Seal was seen offshore.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Egrets, shanks and crests

Lade - mild, cloudy, sw 4 - We struck out across the shingle towards the pits into a blustery but mild wind. On south lake three Goldeneyes were new in, although they didn`t stay long before heading off towards the bird reserve. Despite the wind there was plenty of activity around the willow swamp with several Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Goldcrests and Long-tailed Tits, plus Kingfisher and Sparrowhawk. Just the usual duck on north lake.
Back home two Goldcrests were calling from the garden laylandias with others in adjacent fir trees and by early afternoon were joined by a stunning (aren`t they always) Firecrest. Goldcrests were also present in the garden of the Kerton Road Café this afternoon.

                                Great White Egrets, Burrowes

                               Great White Egret, Boulderwall

Dungeness RSPB - From the causeway road the first of at least five Great White Egrets, around the reserve today, on ARC where also Kingfisher, Goldeneye and Slavonian Grebe. Another GWEgret at Boulderwall, plus Stonechat and Tree Sparrows with more of the latter on the feeders in the car park, along with two Goldcrests and several Blackbirds.
A group visit, around the circular trail for RSPB this morning, started at Dennis`s where at least 15 Blackbirds were flushed from scrub by the hide. Three Great White and five Little Egrets were on Burrowes plus all the usual wildfowl and two Marsh Harriers. The return trail was fairly quiet due to the strong wind but we managed a few Chiffchaffs, Cetti`s Warblers, Green Woodpecker, Linnets and Mipits. At Dengemarsh the two Cattle Egrets showed well amongst stock before flying around the hayfields and dropping down amongst cattle again.
Back at Burrowes where Black-necked Grebe and Pintail were noted amongst hundreds of common wildfowl from Scott hide, and best of all from Makepeace a flock of two Spotted Redshanks and seven Greenshanks on just about the only remaining island in front of the hide.
Considering the weather conditions it turned out to be a reasonable mornings birding, the highlights being a hat trick of egrets and a smart little flock of shanks.

                                Cattle Egrets (spot the second bird!), Dengemarsh

                               Greenshanks and Spotted Redshanks, Burrowes

Dungeness - 1430hrs - A truncated 30 minute seawatch from the fishing boats, due to nothing much happening, delivered singles of Red-throated Diver, Med Gull, Kittiwake and Brent Goose.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Winter wildfowl, Poms and a Newt

Dungeness - 0815hrs - mild, sunny, se 4 - With a fabled south-easterly blow in progress we tried the point this morning, initially from the hide and then from the fishing boats, but only lasted an hour as the light was horrible and little was on the move apart from a steady flow of auks and distant Gannets, plus two skuas that given the distance and light were unidentifiable. However, the highlights were four Eiders, three Mergansers, 25 Brents and a Med Gull.
Lade - On the local patch there was an increase in Pochard and Wigeon numbers from the weekend, while Goldcrest and Chiffchaff noted in the willow swamp.
ARC - The torrential rain of late has put paid to the islands in front of Screen and Hanson with only the top of the Cormorant island showing, which did have a Blackwit hunkered down on it. There were few ducks on the water visible from the hide due to the wind direction but did included five Goldeneyes and a fly past redhead Smew, my first of the autumn. There were plenty of ducks in the south-eastern corner sheltering from the wind, plus a smart Slavonian Grebe and a Great White Egret from the causeway road.
Called in briefly at the VC where large numbers of Shovelers had moved onto Burrowes. The two Cattle Egrets were reported again from Dengemarsh and there were more Goldeneyes on the lakes; winter is a coming...

                                Little Egret at sea off Dungeness

Dungeness - 1440hrs - With cloud cover approaching it was a return to the fishing boats for another hour of seawatching, which this time was much better with a steady flow of at least 200 Kittiwakes streaming through, some of them close to the splash zone, plus six Mediterranean and five Little Gulls, 20 auks, 10 Gannets, 23 Brents, 25 Wigeon, five Common Scoters and singles of Red-throated Diver, Shelduck, Little Egret and Curlew. On the skua front five juvenile Pomarines clipped the point (including one along the beach which I nearly missed!), plus an Arctic Skua and a small, dark job at some distance that I didn`t really get much time on which was either Arctic or Long-tailed. So, all in all, a very profitable hour, and I heard later that a Leache`s Petrel was also seen just before lights out (DW).
Also on the shingle foreshore 30 Goldfinches and two Skylarks.
Plovers - Our old cottage is full of nooks and crannies and every autumn around now we find newts in our bathroom looking for somewhere to settle down for the winter. I nearly stood on the little fella below, but managed to rescue it before Mrs PT`s cat got in on the act, and relocate it to a safe area underneath one of the garden log piles. Juvenile Smooth Newts have to survive out of water for anything up to four years before they become sexually mature enough to breed back in the pond; whether or not this one will reach that stage, only time will tell, but what a smart little beast it was.

                                Smooth Newt, juvenile, Plovers bathroom

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Wildfowl & harriers

Lade - mild, cloudy, light airs - 0900hrs - WeBS count day, which we managed to do before the rain returned by late morning. Once again Coots were the most numerous with 840 counted, plus an impressive 21 Dabchicks. Also, three Stonechats and 20 Blackbirds on the shingle ridges, Marsh Harrier, Sparrowhawk and 200 Lapwings behind the `mirrors`, while Water Rail and Cetti`s Warbler called from the willow swamp. On the walk back Grey Plover and Curlew flew over calling.
Walland Marsh - 1500hrs - Accompanied Marshman on the monthly harrier roost count this afternoon, in what turned out to be perfect weather conditions, dry, still and sunny. At least four Buzzards and a Kestrel were present, plus small flocks of finches, Lapwings and Starlings over, but there were few wildfowl about due to shooting activity over by the reservoir. Around the reedbed Water Rails and Cetti`s Warblers were vocal and singles of Snipe and Jack Snipe broke cover, also Stonechat, Mipit, Skylark, Reed Bunting and Grey Heron noted. As dusk approached various flocks of corvids drifted over en-route to roost sites, and in came the Marsh Harriers for the night, all 24 of `em, mostly immatures, but also two cracking adult males, and a pretty decent count for so early on in the winter.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

From Leeds Castle to Dungeness

Leeds Castle - 1000hrs - mild, cloudy, sw 2 - Had a change of scene this morning to recce out Leeds Castle for a magazine article. Mrs PT joined us for a circular walk which took in the surrounding woodland and the castle grounds with ornamental lakes and grazing land. There were some impressive trees around the park; of particular note was an avenue of Limes and several ancient Sweet Chestnuts. Typical parkland type birds included Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Stock Dove, Green and Great peckers, Nuthatch, Bullfinch, Grey Wagtail, Mipit and Kingfisher, plus a variety of dodgy wildfowl such as Mandarin and Black Swan.
As the castle was shut we had the place to ourselves, and very pleasant it was too.

                                Black Swans, Leeds Castle

                                Leeds Castle

                               Sweet Chestnut, Leeds Castle

Dungeness - 1445-1545hrs - Anyhow, it was good to get back on the flatlands (too many trees for my liking up there on the Weald) to a proper birding area, and an hour at the fishing boats in the company of MB, NB et al. A moderate sea was still running but the light was good and we enjoyed a substantial westward passage of Kittiwakes comprising hundreds of birds, plus a steady flow of Gannets. There wasn't much else to report apart from a few distant, auks, scoters, four Bonxies and a Grey Seal, until, just as we were about to leave MB called, "diver, close to shore" and we enjoyed stunning views of a Black-throated Diver as it rounded the point, a typical `black and white` individual with a thick neck, great big paddles sticking out the rear and wings at the mid-point. The perfect way to finish any seawatch.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Longshore Drift and a Long-tailed Skua

Lade - gale force south-westerly and heavy rain - 1030hrs - Didn't get out `til late due to the torrential rain first thing. During a brief respite mid-morning we battled into the wind across the shingle to check the pits where most of the wildfowl were sheltering on north lake, including two each of Pintail and Shelduck. Despite the wind several Chiffchaffs were calling around the willow swamp, plus Long-tailed Tits, Cetti`s Warbler and Water Rail.
We then headed for the foreshore which was a sight to behold with a huge sea running into the bay on a high tide. The waves were crashing onto the first shingle ridge with the undertow shifting tonnes of shingle along the beach towards Greatstone; a fine example of longshore drift in action. The noise was incredible and photographs just cannot do justice to this awesome show of power from Mother Nature, in what after all is a sheltered bay!

                                Stormy waters, Lade Bay

Dungeness - 1445 -1545hrs - An hour at the fishing boats in the company of MH, PB and TG was memorable for a cracking juvenile Long-tailed Skua which we all got onto early on as it came across the bay flying athletically into the tempest. This is not a bird any of us see with any regularity down here but as the other three skuas are a familiar sight this bird was obviously different from the start, being much slimmer with narrow almost tern-like pointed wings and a longish rear end. As it rounded the point at its closest I eventually noted some plumage detail: a dark brown individual with lighter barring on the underparts and a small yet distinct white patch on the upper primary shafts. And then, after a couple of minutes tops, it was gone, down-Channel, into Rye Bay leaving four very chuffed seawatchers (and one dog) to ponder the finer points of skua identification.This was not your classic cold, grey-brown barred and capped individual that I`d seen before, and was thus yet another learning curve in the often vexed (for me at least) subject of skua identification.
Also noted was a steady stream of Gannets, Kittiwakes and Black-headed Gulls, plus a few auks, two Bonxies, a merganser, an adult Little Gull, two Brents and four Common Scoters.
Earlier in the day both Pomarine and Arctic Skua were recorded, to complete the quartet, plus a Grey Phalarope (PB, MH, TG).
PS: Mrs PT recorded an episode of Holiday of My Lifetime with Len Goodman this afternoon which features Bill Oddie revisiting Dungeness Bird Observatory, the location of his first holiday in 1957.
For any Dungeness aficionados out there who missed it, then its worth seeking out on the I-player, if nothing else than to look out for our local `celebrities`, including the fashionista in a yellow smock!

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Autumn meets summer

Lade - 0800hrs - cold, misty, dry and sunny - The first frost of the autumn down here on the coast heralded a cracking couple of hours on the local patch, dominated by a small drop in of thrushes in the bushes by the ponds; chiefly ten each of Blackbird and Song Thrush, plus five Fieldfares and two Ring Ouzels which were later seen on the scrub behind north lake. Whilst scanning from the causeway a Swallow flew over heading south, which is my latest record here, two Jays came in high from the north and a Kingfisher zipped over the water. Even better was to follow during a viz mig scan from the aerial mound when the first Bittern of the season put on a terrific show flying leisurely over the willow swamp and reedbed before eventually dropping in behind the wall `mirror`. A trickle of Chaffinches, Skylarks and alba wagtails passed overhead, while both Sparrowhawk and Marsh Harrier were noted over the farmland. All the usual wildfowl on the lakes including an increase in Shoveler and Teal numbers.
As it was high tide, and there were reports of large numbers of Little Auks in the North Sea, I rather optimistically checked the bay from here to Littlestone, as you never know...
A new `island` has appeared off the Varne comprising huge concrete blocks brought over on a barge from Holland, all part of construction work on a new sewer sluice and groyne project for the Environment Agency. I checked `em for Purple Sands and Turnstones, but there were none...

                                Rocky Island, Littlestone

Dungeness - 1415hrs - An hour at the fishing boats with PB, MH and SM yielded a steady flow of Gannets, auks and Kittiwakes offshore, plus 10 Med Gulls, five Little Gulls, 12 Common Scoters,  Teal, Red-throated Diver and 220 Brents in five separate groups, one of which cut the corner overland.
Called in at Lade on the way home to check for roosting birds, but the wind had picked up and in fading light there was little to see apart from a few Blackbirds and Magpies dropping in.
ps: Earlier this morning PB found a Red-rumped Swallow amongst a small flock of House Martins and Swallows by the café, but they soon moved on. There was no sign of the shrike today.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Great Grey Shrike

Dungeness - 1000hrs - wet, cloudy, cold, nw 3 - A grim old day weather wise with rain throughout and a cold nagging wind. We strolled down to the Patch scanning the sea where a steady trickle of Gannets were feeding offshore, plus a few Kittiwakes. Around the boil, on the sea and beach were around 1,000 Black-headed Gulls along with a few Meds and Common Gulls while a Raven flew along the foreshore.

                               The Patch, spot the Med Gull...

Dengemarsh - From Springfield Bridge two Cattle Egrets flew over the lake and dropped down on the hay fields. Little and Great White Egret also noted, plus two Marsh Harriers and a Buzzard. We walked the gully which was dead apart from a few Robins, Blackbirds, Mipits and two Stonechats.

                                Great Grey Shrike, Dungeness

Dungeness - 1500hrs - Just as the day was petering out news came through of a Great Grey Shrike found by DW and BC in scrub opposite the entrance to the concrete road. On arrival it was sat up on overhead wires before being hassled by Magpies. It then flew into a private garden where in next to no time it emerged with a small rodent! The Maggies were soon onto it though, driving the shrike across the road towards the sea containers where it perched briefly on a dead dock, affording an opportunity for a couple of dreadful record shots. It looked smart, as shrikes always do, through the scope and was personally a long-awaited new bird for Dungeness. The shrike then dropped onto the deck and was lost from view, and with heavy rain on the way it was time to call it a day.