Its been a tricky task selecting a stand out day from the spring season as there have been more than one or two candidates. Seawatching was good in parts, particularly for divers, and there was a decent spread of late Arctic waders on the sands. White-winged Terns and Black-winged Stilts were the obvious rarity days, but in the end I selected a classic passage migrant day on the land, something that is few and far between these days.
Spring 2015 - A fall of migrants - 13th April, Lade and Dungeness
The day dawned bright and fair as I wandered around the garden, mug of tea in hand, coming to terms with the new day. Amongst the chattering spadgers the sibilant song of a Willow Warbler wafted across from an adjacent garden, lifting the spirits and a sure sign that migrants had dropped in overnight and were on the move. As we walked down Taylor Road more were heard uttering sub-songs from ornamental bushes and trees. At cattery corner the pine tree held two Blackcaps and a Chiffchaff, while Stonechats chacked from nearby broom scrub.
Across the storm beaches towards Mockmill five Wheatears flushed from tussocks and a pulse of Swallows skidded low over the pebbles heading north. The sewer was alive with the rasping sound of Sedge Warblers song-flighting from bramble wands and Whitethroats scratching in gorse thickets. More Willow Warblers and Blackcaps emerged to bask in the warm sunshine, following their nocturnal exertions, while a Ring Ouzel clacked loudly before disappearing behind the wall `mirror`. On the walk back to Plovers a `proper` spring rarity fizzed overhead calling in the shape of a Tree Pipit, and to complete a cracking morning of migrant hunting on the local patch a Black Redstart sat atop the cottage roof as we arrived home.
Following a late second breakfast it was off to Dungeness, via the Kerton Road café to get a moth identification confirmed, and pause to admire a Red Kite soaring over the peninsula. Whilst chatting to Dorothy she commented on the numbers of Blackcaps in her garden that seemed to be arriving thick and fast along with Willow Warblers and Black Redstarts. My suspicions were confirmed that despite the unlikely weather conditions for a fall, one was certainly underway, and this was hammered home shortly after we arrived at the point. Wandering around the scrub between the old light and the Obs warblers were everywhere. By the moat a flock of 10 Blackcaps foraged bunting-like on the open shingle, with scores more in the blackthorn scrub along with Willow Warblers and Whitethroats.
Inevitably there was quality to be found: several Ring Ouzels, Lesser Whitethroats and Common Redstarts were located, plus the icing on any spring cake, a stunning cock Pied Flycatcher. Overhead more Swallows pushed inland along with a trickle of Meadow Pipits, Yellow Wagtails, another Tree Pipit and a missed Woodlark.
But the day belonged to the humble Blackcap that continued to arrive throughout the afternoon, probably in the low hundreds. It reminded me that there used to be many more days like this during the spring at Dungeness, and other coastal migration hot spots years ago, so we stuck around to soak up the experience as you just never know when the next one is going to come along.
Traditionally a quieter season for birds, the early part of summer can be memorable for a rich variety of alternative flora and fauna. As I always attempt to have at least one day a week without using motorised transport this day in June typified one of my favourite kind of summer ramblings.
Summer 2015 - Lade - 14th June - Dragons and snakes
It had been a muggy night with low cloud cover and light airs, perfect infact for moth activity, and indeed the garden mv was stuffed to the gills with a host of macros and micros, beetles and other flying insects. Sifting through the gaudy hawk-moths I came across a couple of old favourites in the form of a snowy White Ermine and the localised White Spot, plus a migrant Bordered Straw that was new for the trap, but expected as others had already turned up in moth traps across the peninsula.
By mid-morning our B&B guests had departed and with the sun breaking cover it was time for a wander out back. The storm beaches were smothered in wild flowers of every kind as the sunshine opened petals of stonecrops and dolly belles. Tall, pink foxgloves contrasted with purple bugloss and sulphur broom, while vetches and trefoils attracted a myriad of Small Heath and Common Blue butterflies.
At the ponds the humidity level was high as the sun beat down on bare pebbles luring scores of newly emerged dragons and damsels into life, including several Four-spotted Chasers and Emperors. Marsh Frogs laughed loudly, a Grass Snake basked atop matted water weed and a myriad of invertebrates burst forth taking advantage of the hot micro-climate between bund and willows. Great swathes of Valerian and thick patches of honeysuckle attracted swarms of honey bees along with Red Admirals, Painted Ladies and Small Tortoiseshells.
In the end I spent a couple of hours around the ponds immersed in this wealth of nature. On the walk back home more plants were interrogated and pondered over, and whilst sitting in the garden with a cool drink later on a Hummingbird-hawk moth inspected the patio Senetti. As the sun dipped in early evening small bats hawked insects in the lee of the garden fir trees to end a truly wonderful day of wildlife watching, and all within walking distance of home.
My final reminisce of the year concerns, for many birders, the most eagerly anticipated season - autumn, and there were plenty of superb days to choose from. Typically, days with rarities cropped up as I looked back; from Rough-legged Buzzard to Pallas`s Warbler, a Black Stork over the garden and a first for Britain in the shape of `That Flycatcher`... infact, a varitable cornucopia of avian delights. In the end I selected a classic morning of migrant hunting at Dungeness, as I`m a sucker for the spectacle of large numbers of grounded drift migrants, and nothing beats finding your own birds.Dungeness - Drift migrants - 26th October
With guests Linda and John down for a days birding the weather portents looked promising as low cloud and a warm south-easterly airflow washed over the peninsula. From the Light Railway car park finches could be heard passing overhead, mostly Goldfinches along with Siskins, Redpolls, Chaffinches and a couple of Crossbills, plus Meadow Pipits, Skylarks and several Grey Wagtails.
The bushes around the old light were alive with Goldcrests, which in many ways was the `bird of the autumn` due to the enormous numbers hereabouts in October. We paused to watch a Firecrest and a couple of Chiffchaffs picking off insects low down on a tree mallow, while every building or wall seemed to have a perched Black Redstart, including some cracking cock birds, and even one in full song!
Walking down to the Patch we disturbed several Wheatears and more grounded Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs fuelling up in the tangle of rock samphire. And then a small, brown phyllospus warbler with a bright supercilium broke cover. Over the coming hour it led us a merry dance as it moved, wren-like, between patches of samphire. Eventually it showed well enough to suggest Dusky/Radde`s before uttering a Lesser Whitethroat-like `teck` confirming its identity. The Obs was duly alerted and the troops soon arrived to confirm it as a Dusky, the first for about eight years locally.
Plenty more grounded migrants were on offer throughout the morning including Robins, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and a Ring Ouzel in the moat, and as we left the Estate a Short-eared Owl arrived off the sea by the lifeboat station. A skulking duo of Great Grey Shrike and Dartford Warbler were also located that afternoon, which left me wondering what else was lurking in the midst of the trapping area unseen...
However, there were no complaints as it had been a classic Dungeness autumnal day of grounded drift migrants.
Looking back over the past year is nearly always an overwhelming experience, as it is then that you realise just what a grand place Dungeness and the surrounding environs are. Our guests are often amazed at the wealth of flora and fauna hereabouts, which then reminds me how lucky we are, and not to take it for granted. Anyhow, rather than doing a full review of the birding year I thought I would select some special moments which lodged in the memory bank and typified each season.
Winter - A sky full of birds - 18th January
For me the highlight of any winter birding day is to join CP for the monthly harrier roost count out on Walland Marsh. We do six each year, but this one just hit the right note as the weather played its part, being calm and cool with a stunning sunset, and birds were everywhere. An added aspect of these jaunts is being abroad with a true countryman who knows every square yard of his beloved Romney Marsh; and I like to feel that just a wee bit of Chris`s passion for the place will rub off on me.
En-route to site we paused to admire the wild swan flock at Horse Bones farm; nervy Bewick`s and a Whooper amongst their tamed kin.
Further down the lane an explosion of Fieldfares and Redwings burst forth from tall hedgerows whilst plundering hawthorn berries, and at Midley a precious, but perilously low number of Corn Buntings and Trees Sparrows were enjoyed.
Approaching the harrier roost site a spectacle unfolded before our very eyes so typical of these flatlands when several thousand Golden Plovers, Lapwings and Starlings careered into the ether as one unit to escape a pair of hunting Peregrines. We stood and watched, awestruck, as this biomass of rushing wings swirled around our heads before alighting onto the wet fields to join a gaggle of Greylags and White-fronts.
Walking the roughs beside the sewer a wisp of zig-zagging Snipe included a tiny Jack, while Barney disturbed Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and Linnets from their weed-seed foraging along the way. Chiffchaff, Bearded Tit and Cetti`s Warbler called from reed and sallow and a Kestrel hovered overhead.
From our watchpoint atop the bund a distant Buzzard perched on a ruined farm building while hundreds of black crows noisily flapped inland to Wealden roosts, and as the sun dipped below the Isle of Oxney in came our quarry bird - the Marsh Harrier. Wrapped around the sunset hour a continuous stream of harriers of all ages, and both sexes, fluttered over the roost site like giant moths before eventually dropping into the safety of the reedbed for the night: 21 were counted to bed that evening, and as we headed for home in the gloaming the night shift arrived in the shape of a Barn Owl quartering the wetlands, the distant call of a Little Owl and a Badger rambling across a ley.
A truly memorable afternoon on Walland Marsh.