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Plovers - Dungeness and Romney Marsh Bird Tours and B&B

Review of 2009

I am fortunate enough to have spent a great deal of time in 2009 out and about around Romney Marsh in search of wildlife and showing visitors what the Marsh has to offer through the changing seasons. From Pett Level in the west to Hythe in the east, and many places in between, this 100 square miles of reclaimed marshland and its ever shifting coastline continues to surprise and delight even the most seasoned observer. Looking back over the year there have been many highlights, mainly from around 220 species of birds, plus encounters with marine life such as porpoises and seals, a wide variety of moths in the garden trap and much more besides. This is just a brief summary of the year, as seen on our Birdwatching Breaks holidays, from  Plovers, Lydd-on-Sea.

Back on New Years Day a full day in the field with three other local birders yielded 115 species including a rare Night Heron that remained on the Royal Military Canal at West Hythe from 2008. The still waters around Lydd and Dungeness played host to large numbers of wildfowl such as Smew, Goosander, Slavonian and Black-necked Grebes, plus a wide selection of geese from White-fronts, Pink-feet and Bean Geese to both species of wild swans. A reed bed roost site on Walland Marsh afforded superb views of Hen and Marsh Harriers, Merlin, Buzzard and Peregrine.            

During the first winter period polar winds delivered Arctic birds in the form of a   gorgeous drake King Eider to Rye Bay plus Iceland and Glaucous Gulls to Dungeness. Another bonus of the sub-zero temperatures for the birdwatcher was to force out into the open normally shy and retiring Water Rails and Bitterns from their reed bed sanctuaries in search of food, giving unprecedented views. Even the elusive Cetti`s Warbler deserted cover and some were noted inside bird hides picking off spiders, oblivious to people sitting just a few feet away.

Rye Harbour was visited for sea duck in the bay, divers and grebes on the pits and a  roost of Long-eared Owls. A wintering Great Grey Shrike in Pannel Valley performed to order, as did a very showy Barn Owl that regularly hunted in early afternoon and Buzzards on the adjacent hillside.

As spring approached attention was drawn to the seabird passage off Dungeness which commenced in earnest with several large movements of Brent Geese, scoter and divers, including Black-throated and Great Northern. Although skua numbers were generally down on last year most visitors got to grips with the much sought after Pomarine Skua amongst the commoner Arctic and Great Skuas. Also noted moving up-Channel were several flocks of Garganey amongst the wildfowl and decent numbers of Whimbrel.

On the land grounded migrants such as Ring Ouzel, Pied Flycatcher and Redstart showed well to visitors, while a Hoopoe and  Red-breasted Flycatcher proved a little more difficult. The star birds of the spring were a Crested Lark at South View, that attracted twitchers from across the country, followed by a Red-rumped Swallow on the RSPB reserve and an Oriental Pratincole at Denge Marsh in early June.

However, the bird day of the spring occurred at Dungeness, on the 13th May, and fortunately  coincided with a group of birders down for a week from the West Midlands. As if the discovery of a Sub-alpine Warbler near the old lighthouse wasn’t enough, both singing Icterine and Melodious Warblers, in garden shrubbery, afforded a unique opportunity to get to grips with the finer points of field identification of this tricky duo. On the same day a variety of common waders surged through the bird reserve in large numbers, including a large flock of Tundra Plovers, Little Stint, Wood Sandpiper and a scarce Pectoral Sandpiper.

But, the wildlife event of the year commenced over the late May Bank Holiday weekend with the arrival of unprecedented numbers of painted lady butterflies from the south. Every so often weather conditions in the Atlas mountains of north Africa. allow this beautiful butterfly to multiply in enormous numbers triggering a northward migration in search of new feeding areas. Thousands were seen fluttering in off the Channel and crossing the Dungeness Peninsula where they smothered banks of red valerian and vipers bugloss. We shall never know the full extent of this one off event, but it probably involved millions of insects invading the British Isles, where they were recorded as far north as Caithness in Scotland.

One of the most popular spring and early summer venues for visitors was, as always, the seabird colony at Rye Harbour. Ternery pool provided superb entertainment as hundreds of Sandwich and Common Terns noisily nested amongst the Black-headed and Mediterranean Gulls. Although Little Terns were present they failed to breed again despite every possible effort from the reserve staff to encourage them. The wader pools also delivered superb views of passage shorebirds in spangled nuptial plumage heading for the Arctic tundra, such as Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit and Sanderling, alongside locally breeding Avocets and Oystercatchers.

Having access to private land at Scotney proved popular for many visiting birders as it allowed us an opportunity to see at close hand declining farmland species such as Corn Bunting, Grey Partridge and a colony of Tree Sparrows. Good numbers of Yellow Wagtails also breed here amongst the potato fields.

Sorties onto the Low Weald near Appledore for Nightingales proved beneficial and added typical woodland birds like Garden Warbler, Nuthatch and Treecreeper to bird lists, while the nearby Royal Military Canal hosted Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail, Lesser Whitethroat, Cuckoo and Turtle Dove.

As the summer progressed the first of the returning waders were noted on the RSPB reserve including Greenshank, Curlew Sandpiper, another Pectoral Sandpiper and good numbers of Little Ringed Plovers. Several Roseate Terns joined the throng of terns and gulls at The Patch while across the gravel pits of Dungeness and Lydd thousands of  Sand Martins began to assemble. This was one of the bird events of the year; it seemed during August as though the entire British population of this delightful little martin was on the Marsh.

The late summer period is often neglected by birdwatchers but can be the optimum time for large numbers of common migrants moving down the peninsula; typically, warblers, flycatchers, hirundines, chats and starts. This year was no different and was  enhanced by sightings of Wyrneck and a particularly obliging Red-backed Shrike on the bird reserve. Passing raptors too showed well with regular records of Honey Buzzards and Ospreys, plus a moulting Black Kite that posed more than a few initial identification problems. Spotted Crake and Buff-breasted Sandpiper kept the rarity momentum ticking over, while September seawatches   produced decent returns for Pomarine Skua, Little Gull and Black Tern amongst the passage divers, auks and sea duck.

  For many birdwatchers their lasting memories of 2009 will inevitably be drawn towards the autumn arrival of a number of large wading birds, some of which remained in the Dungeness and Lydd area for many weeks. Glossy Ibises were the stars of the show with a flock of five and then two birds staying until mid December.  Cattle and Great White Egrets were also on site for extended periods, while in October Stone Curlew, Dusky Warbler and Penduline Tits were also added to the RSPB reserves impressive list of rarities during the year.

As the year came to a close winter fare such as Snow Buntings and Glaucous Gull returned to the foreshore, Bean Geese and Bewick`s Swan to Walland Marsh, with sawbills and scarce grebes on the gravel pits.

With so much to consider during the past 12 months it is difficult to pick out a golden moment, but for a group of visiting birders from London their treasured memory of the year was one perfect summers evening from the ramp overlooking  Hookers Pit and Denge Marsh.

Whilst a Marsh Harrier dropped into the reeds with food for young a group of Hobbies hawked dragonflies overhead. A Barn Owl drifted across the edge of the reed bed disturbing a drake Garganey and a Cuckoo, while the evening bird chorus was underway. Warblers were chattering everywhere and Bearded Tits gave their distinctive `pinging` call from deep within the reed bed, alongside the resonant `booming` sound of a Bittern. And then just before sunset a thousand Sand Martins swirled from above and dropped into the reed bed to roost for the night. Sheer magic.


Contact Information
Pat and Paul Trodd
Plovers, 1 Toby Road, Lydd-on-Sea
Romney Marsh, Kent TN29 9PG
Phone  01797 366935  &  07920 197535

Email troddy@plovers.co.uk





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