Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Dungeness Weekend

20-21 August 2011

My great friend Pete Simpson had been back in the UK from his adopted home in The Philippines for a couple of weeks. He had stayed with us early on and we met for a curry with Marcus Lawson and Gary Howard in the week. This weekend Pete joined me, Laurence Pitcher and Andy Lawson at Dungeness for a few beers and the obligatory curry. We stayed at the Observatory overnight and made the most of the time for some birding and a bit of mothing.

Saturday afternoon produced the usual fare of early autumn passage migrants. A Common Sandpiper and a juvenile Merlin at Scotney, 3 Whinchat at Bretts and Dengemarsh Gulley, 2 Wheatear, 1 Redstart and 3 Hobby were all nice to see but expected.  The Point produced an early Wryneck which proved incredibly skulking and elusive for hours, but kindly gave brief views just as Pete and Laurence arrived. 2 Arctic Skua off the fishing boats had been hanging around a few days and a Cuckoo flew past Hanson Hide on the ARC as I watched the waders feeding on the islands - Golden Plover and Lapwing predominated. A movement of Sand Martin went through the RSPB Reserve late evening with one flock of over 600 birds heading south. 

Sunday dawned early as I had to plug the moth trap. While Dave headed off to put up the nets I started to pot up my catch. I was hoping for a few migrants but was happy with some new and different local species - 2 Grass Emerald, 4 Yellow Belle, 4 Pale Grass Eggar, Oak Eggar, Tawny Shears and Marbled Green were all new for my trap. Dave returned and checked my ID's and then allowed me to check the Observatory trap. A Maiden's Blush was unusual for Dungeness. Barry Banson arrived with a bag full of moth pots from his trap including a stunning Oblique Carpet, another Marbled Green and for comparison a Tree-Lichen Beauty. 

Grass Emerald

Marbled Green

Birding was slow. Another Merlin, this time a female and a Peregrine over The Point and a Tree Pipit over the Obs. The usual waders and the resident Goosander at ARC and finally ( first time I've seen it this year) the Great-white Egret, and a family party of five Garganey at Dengemarsh before another brief look at the Glaucous Gull at the fishing boats rounded off the weekend. Great to see Pete off before his return to The Philippines and also great to see Laurence after so many years. Lets not leave it so long next time...

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Glistening iridescent emerald

14 August 2011 - With little news on the bird front I decided to have a day in the east of the county mixing some birding with an attempt to see another Emerald Damselfly. Marc Heath had seen several Willow Emerald, a recently discovered species in Kent, along the lane at Marshside, just south of Reculver. He kindly provided some directions making it a fairly easy target. I set off late  morning after checking the moth trappings. 32 moths of 19 species was surprisingly low given the mild weather and cloudy overnight skies. A new species in the form of a Yellow Tail, a smart Treble Bar and the most pristine Angle Shades I have ever seen were the pick of the catch. 

Treble Bar, Platt, 14 August 2011

Angle Shades, Platt, 14 August 2011
I drove east and spent an hour scanning the skies from a favourite vantage point. Hobby's were very evident with upto five birds performing, a single Kestrel and a brief Sparrowhawk provided initial interest. A family of Common Buzzard were teaching the youngsters to ride the updraft over a small ridge and a brief wing clapping display confirmed a very distant Honey Buzzard in the heat haze. With only distant views I decided to head on to Marshside where I soon located some stunning Willow Emeralds. The first ones were over the ditch and difficult to approach, but three were soon found in the hedge and allowed incredibly close views. In fact one even sat on the hand of another guy who was trying to photograph it, while another warmed up on his son's hat! Really beautiful little damsels, iridescent green, yellow and copper in the changeable beams of sunlight.

Willow Emerald, Marshside, 14 August 2011
Willow Emerald, Marshside, 14 August 2011
I decided to return via Oare Marshes - one of my all time favourite places. Unfortunately the usual array of waders was largely obscured due to the ridiculously high water levels. The island and muddy fringes which normally allow the waders to feed up over high tide are not available and only one Dunlin could be found up to its belly in water. Eleven Greenshank and 100 Golden Plover were nice to see, and 300 Black-tailed Godwit included half a dozen juveniles freshly arrived from Iceland. I really hope the KWT decide to lower the water levels soon...

This evening while sitting on the sofa in the living room just after sunset I heard a faint tap on the window and turned to see the outline of a stunning Brown Long-eared Bat. It was attempting to glean a couple of moths, that had been attracted by the light, from the window. Four attempts and it had taken them both, giving breathtaking views in the process - what a treat! 

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The end of summer - nearly

With the temperature increasing steadily, clear skies and light winds forecast off the continent I decided to visit Dungeness - not for the birds as the bright skies and clear conditions would ensure any early migrants didn't stop, but for immigrant moths and dragonflies.  A quick stop at the ARC Hanson Hide revealed only a few waders, though it was nice to see three tiny chick Little-ringed Plovers, which managed to hatch successfully on the small islands. A couple of Common Sandpiper and five Green Sandpiper were the best, though a stop on the way home revealed some additional birds roosting over high tide. These included 35 Golden Plover and a Bar-tailed Godwit. There were signs of migration though with four Willow Warblers singing around the Willow Trail. The female Goosander remains in residence and three Little Gulls were sleeping on the islands. 

I was soon walking out to the Long Pits hoping to see a couple of new Dragonflies.  Emperors  were much in evidence patrolling along sections of the reed-fringed banks. These provided a tempting photo opportunity and I spent some time trying different techniques to capture an image. Boy these are difficult things to photograph in flight, but with persistence I developed a technique using manual focus, which seemed to work ok.
Emperor Dragonfly, Long Pits, Dungeness, 31 July 2011
I then made my way around the edge of the southern pit trying to avoid a rather aggressive labrador whose owner typically ignored its ferocious attack - not great when you are standing at the bottom of the bank with the snarling canine at head height! Scanning the floating vegetation and weed eventually located about ten Small Red-eyed Damselflies, but they were largely too distant. Just as I was giving up one flew in with a small insect it had caught and landed on the nearest weeds, allowing a couple of quick images.
Small Red-eyed Damselfly, Long Pits, Dungeness, 31 July 2011
As I walked north I reached the causeway, where for the last few days a Lesser Emperor, a vagrant Continental European species, had been regularly seen. Luckily Dave Walker was looking and soon he found and pointed out the prize. Unfortunately every time it appeared the two Emperors chased it away and I never managed a prolonged view or even attempted a photo. It was smaller and generally dark in colour with a distinct blue band a at the base of its tail. I have seen many hundreds of these in Spain previously, but not encountered one in the UK. They have become annual at Dungeness and Dave has even seen them ovipositing in the Long Pits, so I guess they may become a more regular feature.

Next stop was the Bird Observatory - to look in the fridge - not to pinch some milk, but to see what moths had been caught over the last few days. Dave had said he still had a Scarce Chocolate-tip, my third this year. There was also a smart male Oak Eggar, a Pale Grass Eggar, and a lovely and very local Sussex Emerald.

Scarce Chocolate-tip, Dungeness, 31 July 2011

Pale Grass Eggar, Dungeness, 31 July 2011

Oak Eggar, Dungeness, 31 July 2011

Sussex Emerald, Dungeness, 31 July 2011

I was hoping to do a short sea watch but Dave had suggested it was very quiet and there were so many grockles along the beach road and down the boardwalk that I decided against it. A quick and unsuccessful look for the resident Glaucous Gull, and a return to the ARC pit before I headed for home. On arrival a check of the moth trap revealed a Nationally Scarce and local Mullein Wave, the first I've recorded.

Mullein Wave, Platt, 31 July 2011