Tuesday, 31 January 2017

January roundup

Lade - mild, grey, drizzle, e 2 - These past couple of days have been pretty much of a muchness with singles of Slavonian Grebe and Smew still on station on the local patch, along with the odd Goosander coming and going.
Dungeness - Amongst the blizzard of gulls on the Patch this morning were the two long-staying 1st winter Iceland Gulls, the drake Eider and a Mediterranean Gull. The visibility was too poor for a seawatch. On the bird reserve the usual Smew and Slavonian Grebe on New Diggings, Ring-necked Duck at Boulderwall but little else of note, although I did count 820 Cormorants on Burrowes.
  And so January ends with 120 species of birds accumulated within the borders of the Romney Marsh. Looking through the list (not that I`m much of a lister...) its interesting to see the birds we`ve missed this month. Barn Owl, Bittern and Hen Harrier have somehow eluded us and, unsurprisingly, not a single partridge was noted. Sea duck have been few and far between, while Black Redstart and finches such as Redpoll, Siskin and Brambling were absent.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Tree Sparrow in the garden!

Lade - mild, showery, sw 3 - We spent the weekend hosting our Kate`s 40th (now I really do feel old...) birthday gathering, but still managed to get around the local patch both days, and where Smew and Slavonian Grebe were present, plus 11 Goldeneyes.
  Today an influx of 300 Teal on south lake and a pair of displaying Sparrowhawks over the willow swamp was noteworthy. There was also a strange encounter with a pair of Foxes that have taken over the old Badger sett by south lake. The vixen was whining like a baby and the much larger dog was still fussing around her, so I reckon they`d just finished copulating.

                                Vixen left, dog right

  Most surprising of all though was an hour spent surveying the Plovers garden for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch (ably assisted by our six year old grandson), where amongst the meagre tally of 12 species was a Tree Sparrow! I really must pay more attention to the garden in future.

Friday, 27 January 2017


A recent visit to the Marlowes theatre in Canterbury proved that it doesn't matter where you go there`s always a chance encounter with the natural world. It was a matinee performance and during the break I took a stroll along the top-deck walkway complete with plate-glass windows offering panoramic views over the city centre.
  The cold, still winters day had delivered a blood-red sunset and in the western sky the planet Venus twinkled brightly as a precursor to the star show that would surely follow. And then, on the edge of my vision, I caught sight of a black, swirling mass of what at first appeared to be a `swarm of insects` moving as one over the city scape of juxtaposed modern office blocks and ancient cathedral spires.
  Closer and closer they came in the darkening skies, like smoke in a gale, the flock pushed this way and that, bulging and shrinking, rotating at great speed in an apparent random fashion. Or maybe it was a carefully choreographed unit - if so, who was in the ever-changing vanguard?
  As a thousand Starlings passed over the theatre roof I imagined I could hear the rush and twitter of the murmuration,  a sight and sound I had witnessed many times before in the field. A few other theatre goers had also noticed the impromptu performance. Soon a small throng had assembled, ice-cream pots in hand, pointing skywards and marvelling at the intricacies of the plasma cloud as it careered across the heavens before plunging down to roost for the night on window ledges and buttresses.
  These avian theatrics are not, of course, for our pleasure but a distraction technique against predators such as Peregrine and Sparrowhawk; a classic example of safety in numbers. Other benefits of mob roosting in town centres, where the overnight temperature is often a degree or two higher than in the countryside, are that sheltered and sturdy roosting platforms are ideal for tightly packed individuals to share body warmth and communication.
  By past standards this gathering wasn`t particularly large and formerly would have involved tens of thousands of birds, such has been the decline in Starling numbers during the past quarter of a century, for reasons not yet fully understood.
  On the way back to my seat I pondered on this crepuscular aerial ballet - were the Starlings local birds or migrants from further afield, and how far had they flown from their feeding grounds to roost on the `cliffs and crags` of Canterbury`s buildings? But in the end, with queries unanswered, I simply marvelled at an unexpected fifteen minute interlude with one of winters great acts of natural theatre; a Starling murmuration in full flow.

                                Folkestone Starling murmuration (Dave Featherbe)

  Since bumping into the Canterbury murmuration there has been a similar size gathering over Folkestone town centre. Thanks to Dave Featherbe for sending through the above pic.
For further updates and pics refer to the superb, and recently redesigned website, Folkestone and Hythe Birds and other Natural History.  www.freewebs.com/folkestonebirds

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Red-throated Divers

Dungeness - overcast and very cold, se 4 - An hour in the draughty old hide, overlooking a grey and choppy Channel was just the ticket to introduce the guests to the delights of seawatching at Dungeness! And boy was it cold, even I resorted to woolly hat and gloves, must be going soft... Anyhow, over 250 Red-throated Divers put on a marvellous show passing from Rye Bay to Lade Bay, with a supporting cast of Gannets, auks, a few Kittiwakes, the drake Eider on the sea and a 1st winter Little Gull that flew close to shore.

                                Red-throated Divers, Dungeness

Lade  -  From the Tavern viewpoint we scanned the foreshore where a mixed flock of Sanderlings and Dunlins scuttled along the receding tideline along with a few Turnstones and Oystercatchers. Further down the beach we could just about discern a small flock of Knots.

                               Goosander, Lade south

  On the gravel pits a drake Goosander was the highlight, while on the way back to Ashford station we diverted via Hythe where two Purple Sandpipers were velcroed to the sea defence blocks opposite the Imperial hotel.
  We finished the Birdwatching Break for Clare and Peter on exactly 100 species, but more importantly a fairly typical range of wintering wildfowl, raptors, waders and farmland birds were noted. 

                               Purple Sandpiper and Turnstone, Hythe

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Grebes and harriers

Dungeness - cold, grey and grim, light airs - We kicked off at the Patch where the two 1st winter Iceland Gulls were located over the boil and on the beach. The drake Eider also obliged amongst a host of Black-headed, Common and Herring Gulls. Offshore a few Red-throated Divers and Gannets moved east into the bay in the murk.
  Moving onto the bird reserve a scan of New Diggings revealed two Slavonian Grebes amongst the diving ducks, Great Crested Grebes and gulls, 20 Tree Sparrows at Boulderwall and the wintering Ring-necked Duck. Burrowes was quiet with just the usual wildfowl, Cormorants and gulls, but no sign of the Long-eared Owls by the Dipping Pool. From Springfield Bridge more Marsh Harriers, egrets, Linnets and a Raven.
Camber/Scotney - The lake to the west of the village still held the Red-necked Grebe and on the way back we located the Black-necked Grebe from the double bends to complete the full suite of grebes.
Walland Marsh - Several Common Buzzards were noted on the drive across the Marsh along with 20 Golden Plovers. At Cheyne Ct at least 50 Bewick`s Swans were tracked down in a field amongst 100 Mute Swans with five Tundra Bean Geese nearby. More Common Buzzards were noted here, plus 20 Song Thrushes. We finished the afternoon at the Woolpack reedbed where five Marsh Harriers came to roost.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Winter geese

Lade - cold, dry, sunny - Following the freezing fog of yesterday, and resultant birding inertia, it was good to see the eventual return of blue skies and sunshine this morning. Walking across the shingle in the stillness I could hear the magical sound of Bewick`s Swans leaving their roost on ARC and flying out to feed on the Marsh. The lakes hereabouts remain frozen and as a result were largely free of wildfowl, although a couple of thousand gulls were roosting on the frozen surface of south lake.
Walland Marsh - After picking up Clare and Peter from Ashford station (down from London for a three day bird watching break) we headed out across the Marsh pausing first at Warehorne village where the bird feeders were alive with finches, tits and `chupping` Tree Sparrows in the bushes. From the bridge we scanned the canal noting a Green Sandpiper and six Little Egrets, plus winter thrushes in the fields, a single Yellowhammer and several Common Buzzards.
  At Scotney our targets were geese and farmland birds. From the double bends three Pink-feet, two Tundra Bean and a flock of 30 White-fronted Geese were all logged along with the usual feral Greylags, Barnacles and the like, plus Redshank, Turnstone and Lapwings while a stunning drake Goosander was on the pit near Brett`s workings. Out back more wildfowl included 50 Shelducks, six Pintails and eight Egyptian Geese, several Curlews, a male Peregrine sat on a pylon, two Marsh Harriers, two Stonechats, 15 Pied Wagtails, 20 Corn Buntings, five Reed Buntings, Skylark, Mipit and a single Lapland Bunting near the dung heap.
ARC - We finished the afternoon from Hanson hide where there was still much ice on the lake. All the usual ducks and grebes were present plus a `white nun` Smew, several Great White Egrets going to roost, two Marsh Harriers, a Chiffchaff and vocalising Cetti`s Warbler and Water Rail.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Ice patrol

Lade - cold, misty, sunshine by noon - With clear skies and light airs overnight the thermometer quickly plummeted and for the first time in three years the garden pond froze over. Sub-zero temperatures transformed the landscape hereabouts into a winter wonderland with a hoar frost forming magical patterns on the vegetation in the foggy atmosphere. The surface of both lakes was almost completely covered in a rime of dust on a thin layer of ice with only two penalty area size patches open which were packed out with wildfowl, including a redhead Smew and a dozen Goldeneyes.

                                South lake, Lade

  But it was the beach that provided the main spectacle with frozen sea water on the bay and layers of ice along the tideline, in places forming shards of long flat icicles in the sand, an amazing sight.

                                 Frozen sea-ice, Lade bay

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Grebes galore

Lade - cold, dry and sunny, e 2 - Another cracking winters day with blue skies and sunshine throughout, although the temperature only peaked at 4C, so for the most part it remained nippy. A Slavonian Grebe was back on south lake and there was a good show of Goldeneyes across both waters with at least eight spanking drakes. Two Goosanders put in a brief early afternoon appearance and a female Marsh Harrier was delivering the coup de gras on an unfortunate Coot by the main reed bed.

                                Goldeneye and Slavonian Grebe, Lade

  En-route to Rye this morning from the causeway road, between ARC and New Diggings, another Slavonian Grebe and several more Goosanders were noted, while the Red-necked Grebe had returned to the small, partially frozen, lake west of Camber. On the way back a small collection of Tundra Bean and Pink-footed Geese were viewable from the double bends and a Black-necked Grebe made it another five species day.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Dungeness weekly roundup

Lade cold, dry and sunny, e 3 - Another superb bright winters day, although tempered somewhat by the `beast from the east`. A circuit of the local patch failed to produce anything new.
  For anyone contemplating a visit to Dungeness this weekend for wintering birds the weather looks set fair and you should be assured of a wide range of species across the peninsula. At the point two Iceland Gulls have remained faithful to the Patch for several days amongst a blizzard of gulls (including Meds, a Little and Caspian) along with a drake Eider. Offshore there`s the usual auks, divers, Gannets, Kittiwakes and one or two Bonxies to contend with, although sea duck remain scarce.
  On the RSPB reserve the wintering Ring-necked Duck is still on the pool at Boulderwall along with the usual Tree Sparrows on the feeders in the old farmhouse garden. Slavonian Grebes have been noted on New Diggings and Lade, but are mobile, as have one or two redhead Smews (first `white nun` of the winter on New Excavations today) and Goosanders. Around the bird reserve Great White Egret, Marsh Harrier, Bearded Tit (viewing ramp), Water Rail (Scott and Hanson hides), Bittern and Kingfisher (Dengemarsh and Hanson hides) are all present along with good numbers of ducks, gulls and Lapwings.

  Scotney continues to be the place for geese with a few Tundra Bean and Pink-footed Geese amongst larger flocks of White-fronts and Greylags, either on the roadside fields or out back behind the farm. The back pits have more wildfowl and a Black-necked Grebe, plus a large Corn Bunting flock and a couple of Lapland Buntings in a stubble field and the chance of a Peregrine or a ringtail Hen Harrier. 
  Elsewhere, around 50 or so Bewick`s Swans have been feeding on fields near Horses Bones Farm, Lydd and sometimes come to roost on the ARC lake, while down at Hythe several Purple Sandpipers remain faithful to the sea defence blocks at either Stade Street or opposite the Hythe Imperial.
  And finally I`ve had a few birders asking after Barney of late. Well, I`m pleased to report that he is fit and healthy and enjoying these crisp mornings.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

The lonely Stonechat

Lade  - cold, dry, sunny, e2 - On the strength of reports concerning a "funny looking duck" at `my` end of the Kerton Road quarry we wandered down to inspect the lake but without any success, although the first Shelduck of the year was of note. Not much further down the track, in the broom scrub beside the workings, was our old friend the grey Stonechat. It looked so lonely without an attendant band of twitchers in pursuit that I felt it only right and proper to pay personal homage; if only it realised all the kerfuffle it had caused...
  However, we headed back north to Lade and continued our usual circuit where a redhead Smew remained on south lake along with two Great White Egrets in the reedbed. A Kingfisher showed well around the willow swamp, while two Marsh Harriers quartered the fields behind north lake. A drake Goldeneye displaying to his harem and a pair of head-shaking Great Crested Grebes hinted at things to  come as the days lengthen. All was quiet along the foreshore where huge quantities of cockles had been washed up near the Romney Tavern.
RSPB - A scan from Boulderwall revealed the Tree Sparrow flock merrily `chupping` away by the old farmhouse and the wintering Ring-necked Duck on Cook`s Pool. Further out on the wet fields large flocks of Wigeon, Lapwings, pigeons and corvids were repeatedly flushed by hunting Marsh Harriers and a Common Buzzard. There was nothing much to report on Burrowes apart from a single Smew and a Great White Egret amongst hundreds of common ducks, feral geese, Lapwings, Cormorants and gulls.
                                Sunset over Lade Desert

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Common Buzzards

Old Romney - cold, sunny, ne 2 - With a bone hard frost on the ground it was the perfect morning for a wander along the old green lane behind the church. The trees around the farmhouse were alive with thrushes, finches, tits and two each of Great Spotted Woodpecker and Jay, while the pastures further down the lane attracted hundreds of Fieldfares, Common Gulls and Lapwings, plus a few Curlews, Golden Plovers, Green Woodpeckers and 20 Tree Sparrows feeding around a dung heap. A Little Owl had positioned itself in the crack of an old willow soaking up the weak winter sunshine as a couple of Moorhens slithered across a nearby frozen sewer.

                                Old Romney

                                Sunbathing Little Owl

  When we first moved down here eleven years ago a buzzard was a rare sight: infact, there was almost as much chance of a winter bird being a Roughie as a Common. How times have changed. Today a drive around the Marsh lanes will yield a number of these magnificent raptors, which over the past decade have become the most numerous bird of prey in the country, outstripping the Kestrel. This morning was no different as I noted three Common Buzzards here and another two en-route to Lydd, which is probably one of the contributory factors in the disappearance of partridges locally.

                              Common Buzzard and Fieldfare, Old Romney

Scotney - At least nine Bewick`s Swans were in a field behind the sewage works at Pigwell, plus 20 White-fronts nearby along with a 10 Corn Buntings, two Stonechats, a Grey Wagtail and four flushed Snipe. The front fields at Scotney attracted the usual feral Barnacles and Wigeons plus a scattering of Shelducks, Redshanks, Curlews and a Ruff. A group of Sussex birders who`d walked out back reported 120 Corn Buntings and 30 Tree Sparrows along with more White-fronts.
Dungeness - An afternoon walk along the foreshore by the fishing boats resulted in very little of note in the biting east wind.The two Iceland Gulls were again seen at the Patch along with the drake Eider.

Monday, 16 January 2017

The Patch

Dungeness - cold, cloudy, light airs - With improved weather conditions we returned to the point this morning for seconds on the 1st winter Iceland Gulls at The Patch. One was feeding around the boil while the other was sat on the beach amongst a host of Black-headed, Common and Herring Gulls, so once again not much chance of a piccie. The splendid drake Eider was also present amongst the gulls on the water.

                               Iceland Gull and Eider, The Patch

  An hour seawatching between the two hides was most productive with hundreds of auks, Gannets, Kittiwakes, Cormorants, gulls, Red-throated Divers and Great Crested Grebes on the sea, or coming and going, plus a party of 20 Brents heading up-Channel and a Bonxie going down.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Iceland Gulls and `that Stonechat`

Lade - cold and wet, w 2 - After a day in London yesterday it felt good to be out and about around the local patch this morning, and despite the grim weather it proved to be a decent wildfowl count with plenty of variety. A Slavonian Grebe was back on south lake, plus a duck Smew, while a drake Goosander dropped in on north lake and Goldeneyes tallied 14 across both waters. Other birds of note included a Great White Egret, two miserable rain-soaked Marsh Harriers, a Chiffchaff and Cetti`s Warbler.

                               Goldeneyes, Slavonian Grebe and Goosander, Lade pits

  The walk back along the beach was more to inspect the damage caused by Friday`s storm surge, and indeed the sand dunes by the Romney Tavern had taken a bit of a battering with marram grass roots strewn along the tideline. However, the Turnstones were taking full advantage of this `new habitat`, foraging amongst the detritus delivered from both land and sea.
  Further south along the shingle beach the spring tides had dragged up huge quantities of pebbles with the ebb causing a long reach of stones back to the muddy bay. Every so often the steeper part of the shingle beach that had absorbed the sea was still spewing out streams of water forming intricate patterns in the sand like varicose veins. 

                               Storm damaged sand dunes, Romney Tavern

                                Flood water in the shingle bank

Dungeness and Walland Marsh - Joined CP for the monthly harrier count this afternoon. En-route we diverted to The Patch where two 1st winter Iceland Gulls were feeding around the boil. The light was dreadful, so no chance of any piccies. Also present amongst the throng were several Mediterranean Gulls and Kittiwakes. Around the sewage plant on `A` station two Grey Wagtails were noted alongside a few Pied Wagtails and Mipits.
  With the rising temperatures and light airs came mist, plus a persistent drizzle, making for difficult viewing conditions out on the Marsh. On the walk out to site we noted 42 Bewick`s Swans and a couple of perched Marsh Harriers, but not a single harrier came to roost in the reedbed.
The Lydd-on-Sea Stonechat -  Oh dear! There seems to have been a bit of an admin problem at the DNA lab where the sample from the grey chat was processed. Apparently, there was a mix up between two sets of poo and following a retest it now transpires that `our bird` is nothing more than a common or garden Stonechat, and not a Stejneger`s type as first thought.
  And to think that Shepway District Council went to all the trouble of erecting that smart new Kerton Road sign so the twitchers could find the site...

Friday, 13 January 2017

CSI: Birding

Lade - cold, grey, wintry showers, nw 5 - Following on from yesterdays rain deluge, and a crunching overnight frost, sleet and snow showers prevailed throughout the day making it feel properly like winter. A circuit of the local patch delivered a redhead Smew on north lake and a Great White Egret tucked into the main reed bed. In the biting wind it was no surprise few passerines were on show.
   We walked back along the beach at midday, more to check on how much the spring tide and North Sea tidal surge would effect the height of the sea, but there was nothing to worry about; infact, it was much higher on the previous surge in 2015.
   Some local news concerned a small flock of Waxwings frequenting Hythe town centre, anywhere between the old Red Lion and Waitrose, and adjacent streets with berry-bearing trees and bushes.

                            Acadian Flycatcher, Empidonax virescens, Dungeness

CSI: Birding - DNA-based identification of birds - An article by J Martin Collinson in the January edition of British Birds was of particular interest in light of the recent Stejneger`s Stonechat conundrum at Lydd-on-Sea. The author maps out not only the science and techniques behind DNA-based bird identification, but also proffers practical information useful for both birders and ringers. For Dungeness aficionados the detective work behind the 2015 Acadian Flycatcher is featured.
A fascinating read and worthwhile seeking out the latest copy of BB. 
PS: En-route to Canterbury this afternoon at least three Waxwings were noted in back garden trees of High Knocke Estate from the main A259 Dymchurch Road, St Mary`s Bay.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

White-fronted Geese

Lade - mild, dry sunny, sw 2 - 0800hrs - Nothing much to report on the local patch apart from two Great White Egrets and Goldeneyes up to 12 in number, including three drakes, plus the usual wildfowl and Marsh Harriers.

                                White-fronted Geese, Burrowes

RSPB - 1000hrs - On the way up the access road the expected Tree Sparrows were active on the Boulderwall feeders while the drake Ring-necked Duck was asleep on Cook`s Pool amongst the Tufted Ducks and Coots. Opposite the Dipping Pond the two Long-eared Owls showed well roosting close together in the willows. On Burrowes the surprise package was a flock of 43 White-fronted Geese on the islands in front of Makepeace hide, before they eventually flew off in the direction of Lydd. I could find no sawbills on the lake, or elsewhere around the reserve, but did count 10 Goldeneyes, two Pintails, 500 Lapwings, two Snipe and a Water Rail from Scott hide. A male Peregrine flushed the Lapwings and gulls, while Chiffchaff, Cetti`s Warbler, Bearded Tits, Great White Egret, Raven, Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Stonechat and Green Woodpecker were all noted around the trail. There were few birds on ARC.
  At Kerton Road the Eastern Stonechat was still frequenting the broom scrub on the western side of the quarry about 200yds from the entrance. Elsewhere today, the Taiga Bean Geese remained at Pett Level, 55 Bewick`s Swans were at Horses Bones Farm near Lydd, but there was negative news on the Camber Red-necked Grebe.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Drake Eider

Dungeness - mild, cloudy, sw 2 - Our first visit of the year to the Patch was enlivened by a cracking drake Eider swimming amongst a couple of hundred gulls in front of the boil. Eiders are normally noted down here on passage off the Point so it made a change to see one sat on the sea. A few Gannets and auks were fishing offshore while 100 Brents and two Mergansers passed up-Channel. All was quiet on the land with just a few Mipits and Pied Wagtails around the power station, a Kestrel and a 1st winter Caspian Gull by the Fish Hut.

                                Drake Eider, The Patch

  On the RSPB reserve two Long-eared Owls showed well at roost behind the Dipping Pond, while the Ring-necked Duck and Slavonian Grebe were on, ARC and New Diggings respectively. Elsewhere, the usual egrets, harriers and wildfowl were present around the reserve. As the afternoon wore on heavy rain set in making for a wet end to the day.

                                Long-eared Owls, Dipping Pond

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Displaying Marsh Harriers

Dengemarsh - grey and grim, mild - A circular walk around Dengemarsh was notable for a pair of Marsh Harriers whistling to one another and displaying over the main reedbed. In the stillness and fine drizzle, Cetti`s Warbler, Bearded Tit and Chiffchaff were all noted around the reedbed, plus the usual egrets and ducks on the lake with Snipe and Redshank elsewhere. The weedy field by Springfield Bridge attracted a small number of Linnets, Reed Buntings, Mipits and a hunting Sparrowhawk, but the hayfields and flood were devoid of bird life. The farmland was similarly lifeless apart from a couple of Skylarks and flocks of 60 Mute Swans and 50 Canada Geese. We also had good views of a Brown Hare on the shingle by the return trail.
  Chatting to a couple of birders along the way they reported the Stejneger`s Stonechat at Kerton Road, the Ring-necked Duck on ARC, Slavonian Grebe on New Diggings, Long-eared Owl at roost behind the Dipping Pool and 55 Bewicks Swans at Horses Bones Farm behind Lydd.
  Driving back across the causeway road I noticed several birders being asked to move their cars by the police on the basis that they`re "causing an obstruction". This has become standard practice by the peelers of late, and I`ve given up stopping along this stretch of road for that very reason. If you have to view the lakes from the causeway road your best bet is to park in the ARC car park or by Long Pits and walk, but take care as speeding traffic can make it hazardous.

Friday, 6 January 2017

The Risky Twitcher

This past week we`ve been inundated with twitchers down here travelling from afar to tick off the grey Stonechat (aka Stejneger`s) at Lydd-on-Sea, and probably adding a wintering Ring-necked Duck to their year lists along the way as well. Some of my more sane (non-birding) friends have commented on the number of "old blokes" they`ve noticed recently loitering by the roadsides hereabouts, peering through paparazzi style camera lens: "Is it someone famous on a film shoot, or perhaps the Orient Express is coming down the power station railway line", they enquire, to which I reply, "nope, they`ve come to see a small grey bird." You`re kidding me", said one local, "I could`ve sworn one of `em said he`d come all the way from Newcastle!...surely not...must be mad..blah, blah, blah...
  Now, I`m not about to launch into an anti twitcher post, as I`ve done a limited amount myself in the past, and it`s a free world, so whatever floats your boat and all that, but I am fascinated by the psychology behind the pursuit, all of which has been ably covered in Tales of a Tribe by Mark Cocker.
  However, there was an encounter the other day that left me somewhat bemused at the risks people take for their tick. I was birding Lade pits (only one mile from the pale Stonechat) when a heavily sweating fella rushed up to me and said, "have you got it?" Being a wind-up merchant I thought I`d have a bit of fun, so replied, "yep, over there by the reedbed, been here a week or more now, smart bird a Slav Grebe". He was, of course less than impressed, being as he was looking for the chat, and after a brief conversation it transpired he was on a flyer from work, and only had limited time, and did I know where the said bird was likely to be.
  Looking to the south I could see a huddle of twitchers already gathered around what I presumed to be the Stonechat, so switching to tour guide mode redirected him. I was about to point out a Great White Egret and a perched Kingfisher when he was off and sprinting like Usain Bolt towards the quarry without so much as a thank you very much or kiss my arse! As he disappeared towards the throng I stood and mused what a funny old world it is. He`d probably driven like the hammers of hell to get here, when he should`ve been at work, and spent five minutes on the bird before hurtling back to wherever. A very risky business indeed.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Five species of grebes

Lade - cold and sunny, light airs - We wandered south across the Desert first thing on a beautiful crisp morning to check the broom scrub for Dartford Warbler, but drew a blank. In the distance I could see the grey Stonechat perched on the boundary fence on the margins of Kerton Road pit as the first of the days twitchers slithered across the welded shingle to pay homage. On south lake two Great White Egrets were being hassled by a Grey Heron in the far reedbed and the Goldeneye count reached eight, while two Marsh Harriers checked out the fitness of the Coots and ducks, scattering them across the mill-pond like lake.

                               Dabchick, ARC

Rye Harbour - Pat joined us for a trip down to Rye this morning in glorious sunshine. En-route we noted two Goosanders and a Slavonian Grebe on New Diggings and the Red-necked Grebe on the fishing lake west of Camber. A circuit of the beach reserve delivered a fine spectacle of common waders and wildfowl on the salt marsh and pools, including two Pintail, a Ruff, three Snipe, 28 Dabchicks and a flock of 100 Skylarks. 
  We lunched in the recently renovated William the Conqueror pub by the quay (3 real ales, good grub, log fire and dog-friendly) and comes highly recommended; Barney was made up with the fire and milked it for all it was worth.
  Another visit to Scotney this afternoon delivered a Pink-footed Goose, 3 Tundra Bean Geese and a Black-necked Grebe, our fifth species of grebe today. Finally, from Hanson hide eight Bewick`s Swans flying in to roost on the lake was a fitting end to fine day in the field. 

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Red-necked Grebe

Scotney - mild, cloudy, drizzle - 0900hrs - The usual Barnacle/hybrid Emperor Goose flock was grazing the front fields along with 100 Wigeon, two Redshank, Curlew and Ruff. Outback, stacks of Shelducks, feral Greylags, Canada and Egyptian Geese, plus 15 White-fronts, 3 Tundra Bean Geese and a Brent Goose. Marsh Harrier, Kestrel and Buzzard all noted, but we missed a ringtail harrier seen by a couple of visiting birders earlier. Passerines were again largely absent apart from several Corn and Reed Buntings, Mipits and House Sparrows.
Camber - The small fishing lake to the west of the village had a variety of ducks, grebes, Cormorants, egrets and herons on or around the water, but the main attraction was a splendid Red-necked Grebe, a rare beast in these parts, which eventually approached close to the cycle path and posed for a few piccies.

                               Red-necked Grebe, Camber

  On the way back east I stopped to check a flock of swans and Lapwings from the wind surfer`s car park, and to admire the marvellous civil engineering project that is the Broomhill Sands sea defences. The 1.3 mile construction of concrete, timber, steel and rocks runs between Camber and the Lydd army ranges and was finished last year to prevent the scouring action of the sea flooding this part of the Marsh. The project cost £30 million to complete and included shipping in huge boulders from Norway to take the brunt of the wave action. Money well spent methinks.  

                                Broomhill Sands

  Judging from the numbers of cars on site, the Ring-necked Duck and grey Stonechat were still present at Boulderwall and Kerton Road quarry respectively when I drove by around midday.
Littlestone Golf Links - 1500hrs - There was no sign of the reported Short-eared Owl this afternoon, although a Great White Egret flying across the fairways was a bit of a surprise, unlike several Stonechats perched atop vegetation. Hundreds of corvids, mainly Jackdaws, streamed along the coast towards St Mary`s Bay roost sites and beyond.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017


Lade - cold, dry, sunny, sw 2 - A crisp morning with an overnight frost welding the shingle together making it treacherous underfoot. Despite a thorough search I could find no sign of the recent Slavonian Grebe, although it may have  moved to New Diggings on the bird reserve as one was  reported there today. A Merlin sat atop the wall `mirror` was later noted chasing a Mipit across the Desert. On south lake up six Goldeneyes and a Great White Egret, while Kingfisher, Chiffchaff, Water Rail and Long-tailed Tits were noted around the willow swamp.
  Called in at Kerton Road quarry this afternoon where the Stejneger`s Stonechat continued to attract twitchers from far and wide, including several familiar faces from Bedfordshire and past guests. The Stonechat was feeding in scrub on the western side of the quarry and for the most part obliged visiting birders by perching out in the open in typical chat-like fashion.
  At last knockings we scanned from Mockmill where four Marsh Harriers, two Great White and five Little Egrets headed towards the bird reserve to roost. 

Monday, 2 January 2017

NYD (+1) Birding

News Day (+1) Bird Count - 0700hrs - dry, bright and sunny, cold n 3 - With CP at the helm I joined MH and PL for our annual, leisurely jaunt around the Marsh, commencing off-piste in the Orlestone Forest at Appledore. With the overnight rain clearing just in time for the dawn chorus, we cleaned up on the woodland birds without moving from the car park! Several Tawny Owls were vocalising in the half light and a Woodcock flew through as Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Coal and Long-tailed Tits, Goldcrest, two woodpeckers, Jay and Bullfinch were all added to the day list.
  Back on the flatlands (phew, I got altitude sickness up on the Weald!) we paused along the canal at Warehorne bridge where the muddy margins attracted a bonus bird in the shape of a Green Sandpiper, plus a Kingfisher, Little Egret and plenty of winter thrushes in the fields. Driving across Walland, Yellowhammer, Tree Sparrow, Golden Plover, Peregrine and 29 Bewick`s Swans were all noted, but passerines were few and far between and partridges absent.
  At Scotney we walked outback in bright sunshine and located a range of wildfowl including 10 White-fronted Geese, a Brent and 30 Shelducks, 10 Corn Buntings, two Stonechats, another Peregrine and several Redshanks on the front fields. Galloways and Dengemarsh delivered a flock of Linnets, Mipits, Curlew and Ruff, a scarce bird in these parts nowadays.
  En-route to Lade Bay we passed a straggle of twitchers on the Desert searching for the grey stonechat. On the beach with the tide flooding in we eventually located eight species of waders.
Moving on to Dungeness the expected seabirds were noted offshore and a Caspian Gull on the shingle opposite the Fish Hut.

                                1st winter Caspian Gull

The bird reserve was packed out with visitors enjoying the fine weather;  I often wonder where most of them disappear to for the rest of the year! Anyhow, around the circuit we logged the wintering  Ring-necked Duck and Long-eared Owl, Smew, Pintail, Great White Egret, Raven, Bearded Tit and, best of all the magical sight and sound of the Bewicks Swan flock from Walland flying in to roost on ARC.
  We finished the day at the Woolpack reedbed where eight Marsh Harriers came to roost with several more birds in the area, plus Buzzards. On the way home we jammed a Little Owl near Old Romney bringing our combined day total to 108 species. A great days birding was enjoyed by all and many thanks to Chris for driving.

                                Ring-necked Duck, Boulderwall

Sunday, 1 January 2017

White-fronted Geese

Lade - mild, wet and windy - As we bid our guests farewell at 2am this morning, roosting Starlings cackling away in the leylandii became our first bird of the year. With our New Year jaunt deferred until tomorrow we spent some time on the local patch where it was pretty much the same birds as yesterday, apart from a surprise in the form of five White-fronted Geese that flew in from the bay and headed inland. The Slavonian Grebe took a bit of finding as it hugged the main reed bed by the willow swamp, while the regular five Goldeneyes were amongst the common ducks on the lake. A Great White Egret lurked amongst the reeds and two Marsh Harriers battled into the wind behind the `mirrors`. The shorebird count was similar to yesterday.