27 April 2013
My first day out with Gary since we got back from Japan. He picked me up just before 06:30 and we were on our way to Dungeness. The blue skies and frost (near Ashford) suggested it would not be a classic day out, but it is late April and with Dungeness you can always hope for something unusual, or at least a half decent day out.
As we reached the causeway by the ARC a flock of hirundines was hawking beside the road. We pulled over and checked through. A good number of House Martin, a few Swallow and about 20 Sand Martin, my first this year. I remarked it would be worth keeping an eye on the flock later as there might be a chance of a Red-rumped Swallow, and we drove along the causeway. Stopping at the southern end revealed the smart Spotted Redshank that's been around a few days and a Little Egret feeding along the edge. Another birder stupidly got out of his van, seemingly unaware that he flushed everything, including the Spot Red, in the process.
We drove to Lade and checked the two pits. A smart Cuckoo was sitting in a distant Willow, 4 Marsh Harrier and a Common Buzzard were sparring over the airport and another 2 Sparrowhawk flew over. A few Swallow and House Martin fed over the pit and our first Hobby of the year dashed through. As we reached the car a text message arrived from Gill saying that a Red-rumped Swallow had just been seen on the RSPB Reserve.
Back at the ARC road a few cars had gathered, their occupants scanning the hirundine flocks. Steve Broyd had found the bird from the Visitor Centre, seen heading towards ARC in the swirling flock. Steve pulled up and said he was confident of his ID, but joked nobody would believe him as Bob could not get onto it despite being stood right next to him. They had not managed to relocate it from the ARC road, but others were still looking. There was a flock of hirundines over the New DIggings, but a bigger one over the back of Burrowes, so I suggested we got round to Hide 1 and look from there.
Within minutes we were standing behind the hide and scanning the flock of hirundines that had now moved in front of the Visitor Centre. Almost immediately I picked up the familiar shape of a Red-rumped Swallow and called the warden, Steve and Bob from inside the hide.
Fortunately it flew towards us and despite the poor light gave a good fly past. The birds moved back over towards ARC, as other birders arrived. After another 15 minutes the flock was over the back of Burrowes and I picked it up again, this time getting the gathered crowd onto it before it flew back over our heads. About 20 minutes later Bob picked it up high above the pit moving east with 2 House Martin and this proved to be our last sighting. The flock now joined by at least 8 Common Swift, began to disperse and feed over ARC, before the sun came out and they all flew north.
While scanning the skies we also picked up a male Peregrine, two Ravens, a Whimbrel, 3 Marsh Harrier, a Kestrel and another 4 Sparrowhawk. Four Common Tern flew forlornly around Burrowes looking for somewhere to nest (the very high water levels have risen above the islands that once provided them with a safe haven), and a first-winter Mediterranean Gull sat on a post. The obligatory Great-white Egret showed briefly.
After grabbing some food in Lydd we drove over to Scotney to eat our lunch. From the car I picked up an odd looking bird sat on the gravel spit. It was out of water, but appeared to be a rather odd sleeping duck. Its peach washed, white breast and grey and white patterned neck looked very odd. I mumbled something about Long-tailed Duck not really able to put a name to it. I setup the scope and zoomed in for a better view. I said to Gary 'I have absolutely no idea what this is', and he laughed thinking I was joking. When he realised I was being serious he jumped out and took a look. Very odd. He too was perplexed - its large round, white body looked so incongruous. Fortunately after about ten minutes I saw it wake briefly - it actually was a Long-tailed Duck! I've not seen one out of water before and it was moulting. We sent a few text messages and the locals seemed quite interested, many soon arriving. As we put them on it they all gave us some odd looks - 'Are you sure its a Long-tailed Duck?' they asked. Gradually each saw it awake and confirm its rather obscure identity. A very interesting experience.
Also here was a Little-ringed Plover and at least 30 Ringed Plover, a few Lapwing and 5 smart Yellow Wagtail. A flock of 8 Swallow flew north and a couple of Marsh Harrier circled distantly over the ranges. As we left we were told that the Wood Sandpiper had been seen again on the Hay Fields so we drove over and walked out to the pools. A super selection of waders was feeding on the muddy field and in the shallow ditches. Seven Dunlin, most in smart summer plumage, 4 Redshank, a Greenshank, 6 Ringed Plover and a very handsome Ruff. However there was no sign of the Wood Sandpiper, which was presumably sleeping somewhere out of sight. A Bittern boomed behind us unseen in the reedbed as we left.
A short meander across the Marsh produced a couple more Marsh Harrier and we decided to call it a day.