Sunday, 25 May 2014

A late Spring seawatch

24 May 2014


I awoke early and brought in the moth trap to avoid too much of the rain. I decided to get up and clear my head and drove to Dungeness through some heavy downpours. It was still raining as I drove across Walland Marsh checking overhead wires and fences for something colourful (there have been seven separate sightings of Bee Eaters in the area in the last week or so), but to no avail. I drove around Bretts and down the Galloways Road finding just a couple of rubicola type Stonechats and a youngster.

I then decided the best way to clear my head was a seawatch. The wind was southerly so I called in at the Observatory to pick up the hide key. Dave said it had been a quiet morning on the sea, but I decided to give it a go. I opened the flaps and settled in. Almost the first bird was a fairly close Great Skua which beat slowly past. It was quite moulty, missing its inner primary on each wing and showing heavy wear in its greater and primary coverts, so presumably a sub-adult non breeder? 

A few small flocks of Common Scoter flew close and Fulmar were very evident. Another birder arrived and I updated him, saying I was surprised I had not seen a Manx Shearwater given the wind and time of year - the next bird I picked up was a Manx Shearwater: one of four that sheared past in the next half hour. A few auks were still moving around, mainly Guillemot but also the odd Razorbill and a handful of Kittiwake heading up channel were great to see. At 09:40 I looked into my scope to see the distinctive silhouette of a distant Pomarine Skua and called it quickly to the three others in the hide. As they started to get on the bird a second appeared behind it and both then flew together around the point. At 10:05 just as Jonny Tilbrook and Mike Cotterel arrived I found another Pomarine Skua, this one showing massive 'spoons' cutting in from the far distance. Fortunately it gave them time to get setup, just as a second much duller bird got up from the sea and joined it to pass together around the Point. I finished watching about 11:15 after the cloud cleared and the glare became too much. An enjoyable and slightly unexpected late Spring seawatch.

  • Great Skua - 1 close in 
  • Arctic Skua - 1 (dark phase)
  • Fulmar - 25E, 10W
  • Gannet - 100+ (not counted but moving mainly E)
  • Common Tern - clearly some movement with flocks of 10 and 23 passing E and others further out
  • Sandwich Tern - about 15E presumed Rye Bay birds
  • Guillemot - 7E
  • Razorbill - 2E
  • Kittiwake - 13E
  • Manx Shearwater 4E
  • Common Scoter - 82E, 3W
  • Pomarine Skua - 4E
After dropping the key back at the Obs a pair of Black Redstart showed on the Power Station fence. I drove into Lydd stopping briefly at the ARC where 2 Little Egret were feeding, then out to Springfield Bridge to eat my lunch. Scanning over the reedbed revealed about 8 Hobby hunting with the many Swifts. I carefully scanned through the birds and picked up what appeared to be a smaller, stiffer winged and dark faced/bellied falcon feeding in the distance with a Hobby. The heat haze was challenging and it just would not come close enough to be sure, but it looked interesting enough over five minutes or so. I called Martin Casemore who I had just met by the lighthouse and David Walker and said it might be worth checking from the Hookers side, where views should be better. In phoning them I lost the bird so decided to race round and try myself from Hookers. I was a little surprised to arrive to a small twitch with seemingly all the birders at Dungeness rapidly descending on the reserve - it seems Martin was chatting to several other birders and David was in the Visitor Centre when I called him - the power of modern communications. Anyway it meant we had more pairs of eyes, but despite finding a total of 13 Hobby hawking over the pools there was nothing different among them. 

After a while people drifted away, ahead of a large storm which brought some heavy rain. Thankfully Gill Hollamby kindly pulled up and offered me a lift back to my car, which save me and my camera from a soaking - thanks Gill!

Back at the car I drove to Springfield Bridge and joined a few others scanning the skies. A Bittern gave prolonged distant flight views and the local pair of Ravens circled over, but the Hobby count had significantly reduced after the storm. I scanned for about half an hour and then decided to call it a day, heading home ahead of a massive thunderstorm and driving through some torrential hail storms. 

In close up

18 May 2014


I ran my moth trap overnight and caught a reasonable haul (113 moths of 38 species ) including some more interesting species. 

Waved Umber
Pebble Hook-tip
Pale Oak Beauty
Light Brocade
Pale Tussock
Peach Blossum
Orange Footman


I returned to Westbere with Mandy on a much warmer and sunnier day, hoping to see some dragonfly activity that we missed last weekend. We met the macro master himself, Marc Heath, as he was leaving and swapped notes on the best approach he had found with his excellent new Sigma 150mm macro lens. We then wandered down the path to the river and along to Fordwich for an excellent pub lunch and a pint, before returning slowly along the same route, stopping for photos of anything interesting - of which there was much! My main target was to photograph Scarce and Broad-bodied Chaser. 

Initially I found the dragons rather flighty, perhaps it was too late and too warm? Eventually I found a couple that were much more cooperative, though some of the Scarce Chasers were slightly challenging subjects, just out of easy reach on riverside sticks and reeds....thankfully Mandy was at hand to hold onto my belt and stop me falling into the river; very trusting ;-)

Scarce Chaser (adult female) - what a stunner!
Scarce Chaser (adult female) 
Scarce Chaser (adult female) 
Scarce Chaser (adult female) 
Scarce Chaser (adult female) 
Scarce Chaser (adult male)
Scarce Chaser (adult male)
Scarce Chaser (adult male)
Scarce Chaser (adult male)
Scarce Chaser (adult male)
Our careful searching found loads of Variable Damselfly, Blue-tailed Damselfly and Azure Damselfly along the path edges and in the ditches, a few Large Red Damselfly in slightly dryer areas and a couple of Red-eyed Damselfly on their weedy perches in the ditches. The iridescent, wing bared, Banded Demoiselles were plentiful along the riverbank, often flying almost into you as you stood and admired their flickering flights.

Banded Demoiselle
Large Red Damsefly 
On the walk back we found a few more obliging Hairy Dragonflies which allowed some close ups. Note both the Large Red above and the Hairy below are eating other damsels! Nice neighbours....

Hairy Dragonfly
Hairy Dragonfly 
As we walked back I found a superb Broad-bodied Chaser that allowed a fairly close approach and the images I hoped for.

Broad-bodied Chaser (young male)
Broad-bodied Chaser (young male)

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Grove and Stodmarsh

17 May 2014

Grove Ferry and Stodmarsh

Gary picked me up early and we arrived at Grove about 07:00, hoping to find a Grasshopper Warbler reeling somewhere in the area. It was quite cool, but several Turtle Dove were purring in the paddocks, and occasionally displaying overhead. Unfortunately one bird showed signs of having been shot at, missing half its tail; at least it survived and hopefully will still attract a mate and produce some young.

Reed and Sedge Warblers were singing but not that many, perhaps a result of the temperatures? After a look from the mound I suggested we walk down to the river then along to Harrison's Drove. This proved a good idea as we found our Grasshopper Warbler singing from a low dead bush in the corner, giving reasonably, if slightly obscured views. While watching him two Turtle Dove displayed behind us.

Common Tern
We walked along the river checking the water meadows, hoping for a wader of something different. A Wigeon was the best we could muster, though four Little Egret were nice to see. After a brief chat with Martyn Wilson and Mark Chidwick we checked the main lake. We found the Common Sandpiper they mentioned sat on one of the tern rafts, and while watching five more flew in and landed on the other raft. A family group of nine Bearded Tit were great to see along the Lampen Wall. 

A female Moorhen protects her brood under her wing
We continued through the Alder Wood and back along via the Marsh Hide. 

A Coot sitting in the Irises
With little bird interest I was soon distracted by some Variable Damselfly in the ditch beside the path.

Variable Damselfy
Variable Damselfly
With the macro lens in hand I started to notice a few other bugs and beetles as well as a Blue-tailed Damselfly. Two Lesser Whitethroat were heard singing beside the path.

Blue-tailed Damselfly

As we arrived at Grove a Banded Demoiselle flicked across the path and encouraged a few more close up images.

Banded Demoiselle
We joined Mark and Martyn on the mound for a while scanning the horizons where we finally found three Hobby in the distance back over the Lampen Wall. We left Grove and drove across Chislet Marsh. Another Turtle Dove showed briefly on the overhead wires, and a couple of Yellow Wagtail called from a Wheat field.

A long walk along the Stour

11 May 2014

Stour Valley

In overcast and quite cool temperatures Mandy and I walked from Westbere along the river to Fordwich then up through Trenley Park Woods to Stodmarsh, where we enjoyed a pint at the Red Lion, before continuing through Stodmarsh via the Lampen Wall and along the river to Harrison's Drove then out through the Grove Ferry reserve. We caught a bus at the top of the hill at Upstreet back to Westbere. 

Due to the cool conditions we failed to find any dragonflies or damselflies until a Hairy Dragonfly buzzed overhead at Grove. Birds were slightly more interesting with a large mixed flock of hirundines and Swifts at Westbere that included at least 40 House Martin. Two Nightingale were singing in the scrub and a couple of singing Willow Warbler along the river were pleasing. Blackcap, Whitethroat, Garden Warbler and Chiffchaff were also heard. Marsh Harriers were seen occasionally and a Buzzard called over the woods. At Stodmarsh about 60 Common Swift were hawking over the Lampen Wall and giving great views, but the poor light made my photographic attempts rather silhouetted. 

As we watched a Hobby flew through the Swift sending the flock tight and high. The walk out to Grove was largely uneventful. A short stop in the Feast Hide produced my first Turtle Dove of the year, which flew into the Willow then off to the paddocks where it displayed; a nice end to an enjoyable day.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Bank Holiday bonanza

5 May 2014


The final seawatch of the weekend and I was up early again. I walked up to the hide and was surprised to find the padlock undone and three birders already in position. It was just after 05:00! A reasonable and quite varied movement began, including three smart Pomarine Skuas, then fizzled out just as we were thinking it might turn into something special. As several people left to try other places news came through from Sussex that Poms were moving up the coast in good numbers - they just hadn't got here yet! It was now a case of waiting....

One Pomarine Skua flies right over the Patch and along the beach!

The Pomarine Skua passage that lasts just a couple of weeks each Spring is one of the things that makes Dungeness famous. Pom Skua even features on the Dungeness Bird Observatory logo. They are not guaranteed and certainly not in any numbers, but good days can produce more than 100 birds. They often move when other seabirds aren't inclined, in easterly or even north easterly winds, usually calm conditions and often on clear sunny days. They sometimes pass in groups of 20 or more, though more usually in small groups or singles. They can come quite close, just outside the Buoy, low down, or very high in the sky. It makes for nice birding outside the hide in the warm spring sun, but there is often little else to see between the groups of skuas. Fortunately Pomarine Skua is my favourite bird and I can't get enough of them. 

Over the course of the morning, from 05:00 to 12:30 we recorded:

  • Red-throated Diver - 8E
  • Black-throatd Diver - 4E
  • Fulmar - 12E
  • Gannet - 50E
  • Brent Goose - 9E
  • Common Scoter - 1,000E
  • Tufted Duck - 4E
  • Pintail - 2E
  • Teal - 5E
  • Shoveler - 6E
  • Turnstone - 3E
  • Bar-tailed Godwit - 27E
  • Whimbrel - 9E
  • Oystercatcher - 103E
  • Dunlin - 7E
  • Sanderling - 24E
  • Great Skua - 4E
  • Arctic Skua - 12E
  • Pomarine Skua - 26E (103 were recorded by the end of the day)
  • Little Tern - 12E
  • Commic Tern - 750E
  • Sandwich Tern
  • Kittiwake - 23E
  • Razorbill - 20E
  • Guilllemot - 11E
  • Swallow - 6in

My closest Spring views off Dunge ever
The bulbous extended central tail feathers are known as 'Spoons'

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

May the fourth be with you

4 May 2013


Over the years May 4th has produced some truly outstanding birds. Hopes were high for a repeat, though the day dawned clear, very cold (iced up windscreen), and without the merest breath of wind (quite unusual at Dungeness). These were not ideal for birds dropping in and it was quickly apparent the land remained almost devoid of migrants.

I started the day at the sea. The main highlight this morning was the movement of waders up the coast, primarily Bar-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel. Only a single Pomarine Skua was seen, a small number of Arctic Tern and a Shag was found floating around offshore. While scanning for waders, which were flying behind us as well as over the sea and overhead we found a Jay circling around the point looking rather bemused as the land ran out.

  • Common Scoter - 677
  • Black-throated Diver - 5
  • Shag - 1
  • Grey Plover - 19
  • Bar-tailed Godwit - 394
  • Whimbrel - 316
  • Arctic Skua - 10
  • Pomarine Skua - 1
  • Great Skua - 3
  • Little Tern - 3
  • Arctic Tern - 19
We drove toward the Observatory finding a splendid male Black Redstart feeding on the fence line of the fishermans cottage and managed some reasonable images.

While photographing it Gary Taylor phoned to say a Crane was circling distantly over Lydd so we raced down the road and up onto the Moat where Wes let us get brief views through his scope. As it disappeared we drove out toward Lydd stopping at Cockles Bridge in the vain hope of relocating it. No sign of the Crane but several Marsh Harrier and Buzzard hinted at the direction we should be looking.

A local Pterodactyl flies over (its actually a Raven in case anyone wasn't sure)
Male Yellow Wagtail
Another super Romney Farm breakfast and we drove down to Dengemarsh where we scanned the skies. WIth still conditions and a warming sun it looked good for thermalling birds of prey. We found 8 Hobby feeding over Hookers Pit, then several Common Buzzard, Marsh Harrier and finally a Red Kite which flew out to Observatory airspace and back down the ARC road before vanishing. A flyover Great White Egret was presumably one of yesterdays birds, but there was no sign of the Ibis. A Raven made regular flights overhead and a Peregrine was generally on show. Two very high waders looks like Wood Sandpiper - perhaps they flew to the hayfields?

We returned to the Observatory for a cup of tea. We were intending to walk out to the trapping area, but David and Wes were carrying chicken wire out to the new Crow trap that Wes had designed and built on Friday/Saturday. We were soon enrolled as helpers and spent an enjoyable few hours securing the wire mesh to the excellent frame.

Fixing the first wire mesh to the crow trap - a real team effort (Photo courtesy of DBO)
After about 3 hours Wes has the honour of fixing the final nail (photo courtesy of DBO)
The finished trap - renamed the 'Wheatear Trap' as that is what it will hopefully catch

One of the great pleasures of staying at the Observatory happens when the day visitors have gone home. Gary and I headed over to the RSPB Reserve for the last hour of light and walked the loop trail. There were huge numbers of flies but not a single hirundine. Sedge and Reed Warbler, Whitethroat and a single Lesser Whitethroat were the only obvious migrants. A couple of Bearded Tit gave good views and a Little Egret fed on the Hayfields where a large Lapwing chick proved (hopefuly) successful breeding this year. As we stood on the Hookers viewing mound we vibrated with the immense 'boom' from a calling Bittern just yards away. A Great White Egret flew low overhead and vanished behind Lydd - our eighth sighting this weekend.

A sleepy Common Gull on the Visitor Centre roof surrounded by flies
Great-crested Grebe