Sunday, 31 August 2014

More migrants

31 August 2014

Langdon Cliffs to St Margarets

Mandy was keen to get some fresh air and a coastal walk seemed ideal. We decided to start at Langdon Cliffs, just north of Dover, and to walk to St Margaret's Bay for lunch. Rather than walk straight down the cliff top path after purchasing some water from the cafe we walked up through the bushes and around the fields and through the top path under the coastguard station. A few Whitethroat flicked around in the Hawthorns and a flash of red drew our attention to a lovely male Redstart. A Hobby drifted over, pausing briefly to pluck a flying insect out of the air, and a late Swift flew over the Coastguards. 

Dover Castle
As we turned onto the path below the Station a bird flushed up onto the fence - a Wryneck, my fourth in two days! We tried to approach carefully but it was already aware of our presence and flew along the fence line, vanishing into a bush. Fortunately after a short wait it hopped up into view on a bare branch before flying over our heads onto the lower path. It was soon flushed by a dog walker talking on his mobile phone and flew back into the rough ground below the Coastguards. It soon flew again this time up and over the bushes and dropped in the private area by the buildings. A great start to our walk.

The Wryneck shows briefly along the fence line
And eventually pops out onto a branch
In the same area three Wheatears were feeding on the short turf and gave some great views as we walked by. The bushes around the top of Langdon Hole were full of birds. We watched down into the Ash trees seeing a Blackcap, 8 Whitethroat, 5 Willow Warbler, a Spotted Flycatcher and a Pied Flycatcher. A few Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Great and Blue Tits created more movement in the small copse. 

Northern Wheatear
As we walked down the bank Mandy picked out a small, pale warbler, which flicked up into a Hawthorn beside a Linnet. Its rather pallid appearance set my pulse racing and I grabbed a few distant images before moving closer. However before I could get into position it flew down into the bushes and we lost sight. A short wait and it reappeared - it was just a very worn Chiffchaff. 

Short wings and pumped tail
Black legs and pale soles to the feet bely its true identity
Buff sides to the breast looked very odd.
We walked to St Margaret's through the fields, seeing just another Wheatear, though the gull flocks spooked twice off the fields, doubtless caused by passing raptors. Careful scanning after the first 'dread' I found a Common Buzzard that flew out to sea then turned and flew back inland. The second time I found a very (too) distant bird of prey that gave a suggestion of being a Honey Buzzard, but was just too far away to be sure. It flew back inland. A second Common Buzzard went south much closer as we walked through the fields. 

Along the coastal path down to The Pines gardens we found a smart White Wagtail feeding quietly along the chalky path, before climbing back up the steps to the village. After lunch we returned to the lighthouse then along the cliff top path. A Raven flew along the cliffs, and two Lesser Whitethroat were 'pished' from the hawthorns, but disturbance meant there was little else to see until we got back to Langdon Hole. The Spotted Flycatcher was still showing, and several Whitethroat and Willow Warbler were feeding quietly in the bushes. There was no sign of the Wryneck but a Redstart was flushed as we returned to the car.

White Wagtail
White Wagtail

Three of a kind

30 August 2014


When a number of good autumn scarcities turned up in the north easterlies around the County on Wednesday I had very little hope any would still be around by the weekend. However those that had arrived at Dungeness all seemed settled on Friday and the weather overnight was not ideal for onward migration. Gary and I met up at 07:00, our first joint birding trip for several months as a result of holidays and other distractions.

I suggested we start at Galloway's, an area on the military firing ranges that can attract and hold migrants along the roadside fences. As Gary drove slowly down the road it was apparent that Whinchat had arrived in good numbers. A couple flicked down the road and landed on a fence post. As Gary stopped I lifted my binoculars to check something further down the road - a Wryneck! It flew further and disappeared to the right. After photographing the Whinchat we crept slowly along the road. I spotted the Wryneck just beside the car, but it was very flighty and flicked out onto the shingle, then over the ridge and out of view.

A distant record shot was the best I could manage of the Wryneck before it flew out of view

We continued on down the road seeing at least 15+ Whinchat, 4 Stonechat, 8+ Wheatear, 10+ Whitethroat and a Robin. A few Swallow and Sand Martin flew west into the breeze. We returned back along the road again checking for any migrants, but a couple of fishermen had driven down and the disturbance meant we added little to our tally. We found three more Wheatear, a Tree Pipit and another three Whinchat around the small sheep field at the top of the road, then checked some bushes along the edge of Bretts Pit. A juvenile Buzzard flew overhead, but there was little in the bushes so we decided to head down Dengemarsh Gulley where the Melodious Warbler had been located. A Great White Egret flew across the Dengemarsh pit as we passed and a smart Redstart flicked across the road into the Gorse. More Whitethroat in the hedges and lots of hirundines feeding over the pit were good signs. We found a rather large crowd in the Gulley and decided we would come back later when hopefully the crowd had diminished. 

As we drove toward the farm we decided to drive back to Galloways. This time we stopped by the sharp right bend where we had seen the Wryneck. Five Wheatears were now feeding on the short grass, alongside half a dozen Whinchat. Whitethroats were flicking in every bush, the odd Yellow Wagtail flew over and the Wryneck flew through my field of view. We moved further along the road and soon found the Wryneck sat in a dead bush and giving great scope views. After we put a number of other arriving birders on the Wryneck we turned around and drove back toward the Brett's Road. We were again photographing Whinchat along the fence when a larger bird flicked up onto a post - a second Wryneck. It gave brief views before turning and flying to a dead bush on the left side of the road, where it showed briefly. A wave of Whinchat, Stonechat, Wheatear and Whitethroat moved through the bushes increasing the day's tally.

With numbers of people arriving to look for the Wrynecks we decided it was a good time to return to Dengemarsh Gulley. We drove down the track and found a small crowd gathered near the dam wall. The Melodious Warbler had been showing before we arrived but had vanished. While chatting to Alan and Brenda Fossey I noticed a few birders at the far end of the Gulley looking into the Elder bushes. I walked down and found them staring at a Wryneck low down on the bush from the opposite side. Despite much effort it just wasn't visible from the track. As others realised and came down to see the bird I walked back to search for the Warbler. Just a single Whitethroat flicked out of the gorse, but there just wasn't any sign of the Warbler. After about ten minutes as the crowd departed I walked back for another look at the Wryneck, which flew out of the bush and showed briefly before disappearing into thick cover. As I waited quietly for it to reappear a photographer to my left started shooting. Gary and I could not see anything so we carefully walked around to join him. Expecting a half hidden Wryneck we were surprised to see the Melodious Warbler feeding in the top of the bushes. It moved quickly into the elder and sat motionless on a low branch for about five minutes, before gradually coming back out and feeding on Brown tail moth caterpillars, plucked from their strange web like structures or from the Elder branches.

The Melodious Warbler appears in front of us
It spots a caterpillar
It flicks to the top of an Elder

Looking around for caterpillars

Short wings but a surprising panel
Finally in the clear
The Brown tail caterpillar web tents from which it fed
As we watched the Warbler the Wryneck reappeared on the bank opposite, then flew up and appeared in the same Elder bush. Thankfully it hopped up and gave reasonable views. 

The Wryneck appeared feeding on the bank opposite
It flew into an Elder and hopped into view
Third time lucky - a decent photo of a Wryneck
We eventually dragged ourselves away, seeing the Great White Egret flying across Dengemarsh pool again, picked up some lunch in Lydd and stopped at Cockles Bridge to check for passing raptors. A Sparrowhawk and a southbound Common Buzzard were the best we could manage, before we drove the short distance to the ARC car park. After a walk out to the Screen Hide we were soon watching the juvenile Red-necked Phalarope spinning in the floating weed. Scanning the pit we located 8 Garganey, three Dunlin, a juvenile Little Stint and a juvenile Spotted Redshank. Overhead a Hobby flew among the myriad Sand Martins.

Juvenile Red-necked Phalarope feeds in the floating weed

After leaving we checked the large gull roost along the RSPB entrance track. Carefully scanning through the flock I located a Caspian Gull moulting from juvenile to first-winter plumage. It was partly obscured and right at the back of the flock, but its distinctive jizz and plumage tones confirmed the ID. Unfortunately as I texted out the news it decided to sit down behind a ridge and literally vanished. As people arrived it could not be found - very frustrating. We left and drove down to the beach. There seemed to be numbers of first-winter Mediterranean Gulls offshore with groups of four, then five seemingly flying around the point. From the fishing boats another eight were feeding with a mixed flock of Sandwich (20), Common (25), Arctic (2) and a Little Tern. About ten Arctic Skua were feeding offshore, some passing quite close and giving reasonable views. We also found a single Common Scoter, Fulmar and several Gannet. We spent fifteen minutes or so photographing some of the gulls along the beach.

A pale first-winter Lesser Black-backed Gull
A first-winter Yellow-legged Gull
We drove home across Walland Marsh finding three Turtle Doves along the wires and five Marsh Harriers over the fields near Old Cheyne Court. A great day out in Kent!

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Torrential rain

25 August 2014


Despite the predictions of downpours of biblical proportions the wind was forecast to be strong from the south, and even a hope of the odd break meant I was on the beach at Dungeness just after 07:30. The rain was falling fairly steadily but not too heavily as I walked out to the fishing boats and continued throughout the morning with only the briefest pauses. A Whinchat appeared briefly on the scant vegetation on the beach. Birds were moving mainly into the wind and six hours staring out to sea produced a reasonable tally.

Arctic Skua

Seven Arctic Skuas flew south including a group of three, with at least four more hanging around chasing terns. A single Great Skua almost got past without being detected but Andy Lawson, who had joined me, just caught sight as it rounded the point. The most surprising thing was Little Terns which moved through in several sizeable flocks and totalled 165 birds. Sandwich Terns were continually moving past with smaller numbers of Common Tern and at least six Arctic Tern including a smart juvenile. An early Black Tern was later upstaged when two flocks (17 and 9) came past quite close. Two flocks of Teal (8 and 13) and several groups of close Common Scoter, plus small numbers of waders moving down channel through the rain. About 75 Bar-tailed Godwit, 45 Grey Plover, 5 Sanderling and 6 Whimbrel which flew behind us then out to sea. The usual suspects were present in small numbers: Gannet, Fulmar and Kittiwake.

Some of the Little Terns
Arctic Tern
Black Tern
Small numbers of hirundines flew out to sea, mainly Sand Martins. In between sea watching Andy threw some bread for the gulls and managed to attract an interesting bunch of bedraggled birds.

A really streaked and scruffy 3rd winter Herring Gull
First winter Lesser Black-backed Gull
First winter Lesser Black-backed Gull
First-winter Lesser Black-backed Gull
First-winter Herring Gull
A rather leggy and long-billed Yellow-legged Gull
The Yellow-legged Gull in flight
First-winter Lesser Black-backed Gull
With the rain now falling very heavily I called it a day. I walked out to the Hanson Hide to overlook the ARC pit which was covered in about 1,500 Sand Martin, 3 Arctic Tern and 17 Black Tern. A single Garganey fed with Teal before flying around the pit and right past the hide. Six Dunlin and a smart first-winter Little Stint few on the minimal islands.

A drive down the RSPB track allowed me to study the large gull roost. Mainly Great Black-backed with a few Herring and Lesser Black-backed mixed in. I was particularly interested in looking at the variation in the mantle colour of the Lesser's, some of which were incredibly black compared to the odd graellsii type and even the Great Black backs.

A quite long-winged, long-billed and black backed individual
Another black backed bird showing very long wings
Easily as black as the Great Black-backed Gulls
A brighter legged adult bird with equally black back and small domed head