Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Memorable days 2010

March 21st

As well as producing a nice selection of grounded migrants, the light NW winds, combined with low cloud cover and light drizzle, provided the ideal conditions to encourage a remarkable overhead passage of Chaffinch. I had been standing on the edge of the road, just to the south of the lifeboat station, watching the numbers of Wheatear steadily increase, when I became aware of the presence of large numbers of Chaffinch calling high overhead. Once located with the naked eye, the volume of birds quickly became apparent, with some flocks reaching almost 1000 birds(a closer look revealed a second layer of birds, moving even higher up) Once flocks were seen moving back north, the true number of birds became difficult to determine (were these new birds coming in from the south, or some of the earlier birds had had reached the point and turned back?) Either way, it was an an amazing sight, with a final total of at least 9000 birds. Other migrants that day included a single Woodcock, 49 Wheatear, 5 Black redstart, 63 Redwing, 21 Chiffchaff and 7 Firecrest. Starlings were also present in good numbers with 2,500 passing overhead.

April 24th

After a decent morning watch, I returned to the seawatch hide late afternoon, to find passage reduced to a light trickle, with just a couple of Great Skuas and 5 small groups of Bar tailed Godwit passing through in 2 hours of watching. Thinking that was it for the day, I returned to the Obs, where we later received at phone call from Tony Greenland, who had gone down to the fishing boats just prior to 19:30, only to find that the sea had (inexplicably) exploded into life. Abandoning Doctor Who, we made our way to the boats, where lines of Common Terns and Little Gulls were streaming past the point at close range, along with various flocks of assorted waders, and good numbers of Arctic Skuas. A pair of Black throated Divers gave excellent views, as they passed by at close range (another was seen further out), though the icing on the cake was provided by an equally close summer plumaged drake Long tailed Duck. The first time I have ever seen one in its summer dress. Though afternoon movements of Terns, Skuas, and waders, are a well known feature of spring seawatching, the late evening rush still made for an unexpected surprise, with no clear change in weather conditions (either wind strength of direction), and no obvious explanation as to why it occured!

Totals for the day were as follows: Brent Goose 225, Shelduck 27, Eider 21, Common Scoter 1,566, long tailed Duck 1, Red breasted Merganser 22, Black throated Diver 4, Slavonian Grebe
2, Grey Plover 15, Bar tailed Godwit 211, Whimbrel 160, Pomarine Skua 2, Arctic Skua 54, Great Skua 6, Mediteranean Gull 6, Little Gull 322, Sandwich Tern 485, Common Tern 2,500, Little Tern 149, Black Tern 9

August 24th

Another memorable seawatch, with strong southerly winds and showers, producing a spectacular offshore passage of waders. A flock of 600 Knot (probably the largest ever to be seen off of Dungeness) were followed by an equally large mixed flock, holding a remarkable 250 Grey Plovers, as well as Bar tailed Godwits, Whimbrels, and more knot. I may be used to seeing large numbers of waders in Norfolk, feeding on The Wash and flying together to roost, but however impressive, it cannot compare with the spectacle of migration, when flocks such as these are on the move.

Totals for the morning were as follows: Balearic Shearwater 1, Manx Shearwater 1, Ringed Plover 57, Grey Plover
440, Knot 776, Curew Sandpiper 1, Sanderling 266, Dunlin 72, Bar tailed Gadwit 190, Whimbrel 71, Redshank 1, Turnstone 113, Arctic Skua 19, Great Skua 6, Common Tern 832, Arctic tern 6, Little Tern 38, Black Tern 7

A flock of
150 Redshank were also seen on the ARC pit that same morning

August 28th

A good arrival of migrants, with the highlight being two Icterine Warblers between the Observatoy and the old lighthouse. Initially identified as a Melodious, the identification quickly became settled, once the bird started showing well in its small patch of chosen Gorse. Having missed 5 at Dungeness, including 4 whilst I was away in Canada and another in 2008 (just glimpsed in flight), as well as several in Norfolk, and the long staying bird at Bungay Suffolk (arriving the day after it went, having been present for several weeks!) I managed to double my lifetime tally of Icterine Warblers, by finding a second bird in the large area of Gorse, just yards from where everyone was standing! Three flyover Spoonbills provided a welcome distraction and a Wood Warbler made a brief appearance in the Trapping Area late afternoon, moving with the mixed feeding flock of Tits and Willow warblers.

Day totals of migrants were as follows: Yellow Wagtail
350, Redstart 3, Whinchat 10, Wheatear 73, Garden Warbler 1, Icterine Warbler 2, Willow Warbler 40, Wood Warbler 1, Pied Flycatcher 9, Spotted Flycatcher 4

September 12th

A day of excellent variety, with a decent scattering of migrants and a varied overhead passage.

Grounded migrants: Yellow Wagtail 170, Redstart 5, Whinchat 4, Wheatear 32, Willow Warbler 35, Chiffchaff 35, Spotted Flycatcher 8, Pied Flycatcher 3, Lapland Bunting 4

In addition, the Wryneck was still present, around the Gorse between the Observatory and the lighthouse, whilst an overhead passage of raptors included a single Honey Buzzard, 10 Common Buzzard and 16 Sparrowhawks. 1000 each of Meadow Pipit and Sand Martin also passed through, though it wasn't untill late into the afternoon that the day really hit its peak.

Sitting on the moat, surrounding the Observatory, I watched in amazement, as thousands of Swallows made their way south towards the point, after flying in from the direction of the RSPB reserve. We had been used to seeing large numbers of birds, congregating over the point in the evenings, but never on a scale such as this. After cycling down to the patch, with birds lining the power station fence, resting on challet roofs, and blackening the power lines, I watched from outside the hide, as birds poured through along the beach and over the sea. The final day total was estimated to be an amazing 40,000 birds.

October 4th

After a good days birding, we were in the process of writing up the daily log, when we received a call from the power station, just after 20:30, to say that they had located a "small, eared Owl" in their security cameras, sat on the power station fence. After exchanging phone numbers and cycling down towards the patch, trying our best to avoid the speed bumps in the dark, (they had agreed to call, once they picked us up in the cameras) we arrived below the hide, to find a Long eared Owl, sat on the fence in full view (it was never REALLY going to be a Scops Owl was it?) Seemingly oblivious to its passers by, just the other side of the fence, we were treated to excellent views, with the bird fully lit up by the lights of the power station. Quite what those within the complex thought we were doing, sat on the shingle, looking into the power station at nine oclock at night, was anyones guess! Overhead, the calm night sky, was broken by the soft "zit" of Song Thrushes, whilst a flock of Greenshank (probably 6+ birds) and a lone Common Sandpiper, could also be heard passing through. A unique and migical experience.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Dungeness 2010

Some of the more unusual birds seen within the Dungeness recording area over the course of the season...


Penduline Tit Three birds, seen close to the ARC Hanson hide, were relocated three days later, feeding in the stand of reedmace along the Willow trail. They remained on site till April 4th, when one of the birds could even be heard singing.

Pallid Swift Initially viewed under terrible light conditions, the bird remained on site till the following morning, when people were able to gain satisfactory views and confirm its identity.

Alpine Swift Seen on the final day of the month, as it made its way south along the point and into the power station to roost. The first Dungeness record for almost 20 years! Having failed to show itself to the small crowd, waiting at the power station for its morning departure, it was relocated over ARC, where a handful of fortunate locals managed to connect. Having dipped a bird in Folkestone, that didn't leave its roost till 10:30, I now realise that I should have given the Dungeness bird more time to wake up


Purple Heron Britain's first successful nesting pair! It soon became apparent that things were starting to happen, shortly after the arrival of the second bird. Regularly seen together as a pair, it wasn't long before the male was seen collecting nesting material and displaying over the nest site. After a summer of mixed emotions (on more than one occasion thinking that the birds had either failed or deserted the nest) it was a great relief to confirm successful hatching, when the first young bird was seen close to the nest on August 4th. By the end of the season, the birds had managed to successfully fledge two young.


Whiskered Tern Initially found feeding over the patch (where it stayed for roughly 20 minutes) the bird was relocated over the RSPB reserve, where it could be watched from the causeway feeding over New Diggings. Regularly giving good views, it lingered throughout the morning but disappeared from site late afternoon..

Red-footed Falcon A 1st summer male, which lingered on the RSPB reserve for three days at the beginning of the month.

Bee Eater An unexpected treat, whilst cycling back from the patch late afternoon. Noticing a lone bird sat on the wires I remember thinking to myself "I'm not going to jump to conclusions here, but that looks like a Bee Eater!" In typical Bee Eater fashion, the bird was present for just 15 minutes, and seen by only three birders (several locals arriving just minutes too late) This was my 2nd Dungeness Bee Eater, following a bird seen almost two weeks later (6th June 2008) on almost the same stretch of wire, at the same time of day!


Common Rosefinch A frustratingly elusive bird that I found singing in the trapping area June 16th. After hearing it 4 or 5 times I finally managed to locate its position, when it made the brief flight, crossing from one bush to another. It remained on the edge of the Willows for a few seconds (though still largely obscurred, exept for the head) before melting away, never to be seen or heard again!

Marsh Tit Never mind Bee Eaters, unusual Terns or Swifts... For the avid Dungeness lister this was one of the rarest birds of the year! (5th Dunge record) Of all the places it could have chosen, I found it sitting on the power station fence early one morning whilst strolling down to the patch! After a few seconds on the fence, it flew to the scaffolding within the power station complex, for a slightly longer view before dropping to ground and dissapearing. If only it had been a Crested....


White tailed Plover After a visit to Merseyside (27th - 28th May) and a short hop accross to the Netherlands (May 29th), this striking wader was relocated on the RSPB reserve at Rainham Marshes (July 7th) where it remained for the day, before moving to Slimbridge WWT in Glouctershire 2 days later. Following a 2 day stay at Slimbridge, it was relocated at Dungeness on the afternoon of the 11th, where it remained on the ARC pit untill July 20th. This was the first kent record, and only the 6th to be recorded in Britain, after a bird in 2007, seen in Lancashire and Dumfries and Galloway.


Cattle Egret
Now a seemingly annual visitor to Dungeness, one appeared on the reserve on the classic date of August 1st. Hard to believe now, that this used to be a major rarity!

White-winged Black Tern Another regular autumn vagrant that appeared bang on que, with a juvenile being found at the patch on August 15th.

Buff breasted Sandpiper Found the same afternoon as the Tern at the southern end of ARC, this bird lingered till the following day, and provided a welcome Dungeness grip back, having missed the previous autumn bird at Scotney.

Icterine Warbler two birds were present on the 28th, in the gorse between the Observatory and the old lighthouse

Buff breasted Sandpiper When seen in company with a juvenile Ruff (right hand bird) the striking differences in size, structure and even plumage, make it very difficult to understand how the two species can ever be confused! This bird was scarcely bigger than either the Common Sandpiper or Dunlin that accompanied it...

Red backed Shrike One of three birds seen during August, within the Observatory recording area.


Aquatic Warbler One was seen early morning, in the reeds in front of Hanson hide

Glossy Ibis In keeping with last autumns invasion, a flock of 18 birds were seen to fly in off the sea at the fishing boats. They then settled on the RSPB reserve for a couple of days, feeding in the same pools along the entrance track, that held last years birds.

Hoopoe One was present around the fishing boats September 14th

Sabines Gull Three birds flew west on the 23rd, with another individual seen offshore the following day. Seawatching at the fishing boats with Mark Hollingworth, we were both watching the Sabines feeding close inshorehore when a Sooty Shearwater flew through our field of vision, no more than 300 yards out. One of the closest birds I have ever seen off of Dungeness!

Buff breasted Sandpiper Two birds were found at Scotney Sept 28th, increasing to three on October 8th

Spotted Flycatcher An obliging bird feeding around the pines at the water tower pits

Wryneck One of at least 5 recorded during the autumn. This bird gave exceptional views, often down to a matter feet, as it fed on and around the path, between Denge Marsh hide and the viewing ramp.


Barred Warbler Found on the reserve Oct 2nd, it remained till the following day, regularly giving good views to its admirers. A rare bird in Kent, and the first Dungeness record in about 15 years!

Pallas's Warbler Three records during the autumn: One trapped and ringed (18th) One around the willow trail at ARC (27th) and a second bird in the trapping area on the 31st (self found). After completing a net round of the trapping area with Sam Bayley, we arrived back at the first net, to find a Pallas's with a flock of Long tailed Tits in the Willows surrounding the net. After a couple more brief views, and a short wait, the Pallas's was caught in the net and taken back to the obs were a good number of locals managed to see it in the hand.

Sabines Gull Another bird was watched feeding at the patch on the morning of the 7th

Penduline Tit
One on Oct 23rd (ringed) was almost certainly the same bird that had been seeen at the start of the year.

Waxwing A real Dunge rarity! Two birds seen briefly (Oct 24th) were followed the next day by a total of 14, passing through the area in small groups. A rare occurance in itself, what was even more unusual was the remarkably early timing of these arrivals. An axample of its local rarity status can be shown by the bird that I had seen with Dave in November 2008 (his first sighting of a Waxwing at Dungeness in his 20 years as Obs warden!)

Grey Phalarope One on Oct 25th was followed by a second bird (28th - 29th) that gave excellent views, as it fed off the end of the boardwalk just a few meters offshore.

Barred Warbler

"Europeaus" Long tailed Tit Three of these continental birds were present with the Long tailed Tit flock, caught in the same net as the Palas's Warbler.

Everyones favourite Sibe...

Death's-Head Hawk-moth A stunning beast, found flying around inside the power station!

Lapland Bunting One of two birds that lingered around the fishing boats, often showing down to a few feet.

Caspian Gull A very elegant bird

Penduline Tit Feeding on reedmace in front of Hanson hide