Jan 172011

Dungeness beach

Dungeness always has the power to excite – with its differing habitats and the lure of the sea there could hardly be a finer spot for a winter Sunday’s birding.   It was therefore an expectant group of around 18 that gathered at the lighthouse car park for a days walk with Roy yesterday.

Although a force 6/7 “breeze” blew in off the sea it was blustery rather than cold and the sun shone giving us brilliant conditions for some sea watching (as long as you could wedge yourself behind a suitable boat/hut/person for some shelter).   There was no surprise when we found watching the “patch” impossible with either binoculars or telescope, and Roy made the decision to move on down to the more sheltered fishing boat area where there had been a glaucous gull reported in previous days.

As the wind whipped across the shingle all the roosting gulls were doing their best to hunker down as close to the ground as possible and despite our efforts we could not confirm that particular gull’s presence.   However there were a good many herring, black-headed and greater black-backed gulls there.   Moving on towards to sea we were soon watching rafts of auks which proved to be a mix of both razorbill and guillemot, and we got surprisingly good views with a little patience.   Kittiwake were mixed in with more black-headed gulls and gannets were scything their way across the horizon with one couple coming in particularly close giving us all great views.
There’s nothing quite like watching birds through binoculars or telescope in a large swell to test your stomach’s seaworthiness!
After spending time enjoying the bracing coast it was time to move on to the RSPB reserve – several members of the group stopped en route to watch smew and goosander on the arc pit and there were mute swan, several duck species and cormorant reported too.   A short unplanned stop was immediately on turning into the reserve entrance where a group of birders were set up watching a glossy ibis feeding alongside one of the pools easily visible from the track.   This bird has really lost his way; winters are spent in Africa and the nearest north they would normally be seen is around the Mediterranean – perhaps he heard how good Kent is from the purple herons last summer.
Male Smew and females

Male Smew and three females

We all split up for lunch but were soon gathered for a walk around the reserve.   On the first pools we spotted cormorant, some with a significant amount of white around the face and head.   These are the more southern sub species “sinensis” and musing on the number of birds with more white than some of us remember seeing previously Malcolm was speculating that they probably breed at Dungeness and along the south coast as it is so close to France.   I have since checked and apparently they have bred at Rye Harbour – with DNA evidence confirming the sub species so (as usual) I’m sure Malcolm is right.

On this pool duck were the order of the day with tufted duck, teal, shoveler, pintail and wigeon joined by a couple of female smew who delighted in playing cat and mouse with us – only surfacing for a quick gulp of air before diving again only to re-appear some yards away – a real test of our spotting skills.   Great crested and little grebe, and the usual rather large helping of coot added to the scene.   The firm favourite here though was goldeneye, a most handsome bird,
We then moved on around towards the Denge Marsh Hide where greylag geese, gadwall, moorhen and mute swan could be seen.   We all tried in vain to find either bewick’s or whooper but it was not to be.   A kestrel appeared across the fields being mobbed by lapwing.
A superb male marsh harrier gave a great show hunting over the low marshy fields and ditches the light really gave us an excellent opportunity to appreciate his markings.
With the weather being so windy it wasn’t really surprising that few small birds were in evidence, a few house sparrows were around and on the feeders in the car park we saw chaffinch, great tit and rather surprisingly reed bunting – there were about seven of them some taking seed and feeding on fat balls – great opportunists taking advantage of the easy food supply available.
As the light was still good we decided to move over to the A.R.C. pit hide for a final chance at some more birds, and what a great decision that was  . . . .  Within seconds of arrival in the hide we were watching a bittern right in front of the hide, despite it’s size and proximity it was amazingly well camouflaged in the reeds (well that’s my excuse for the rather poor photographs).   Every time the bird moved there was a murmur of excitement and the clicking of camera shutters, but the bird remained totally unmoved by our presence being far too busy with the task of feeding and it put on a most spectacular show, eventually skirting around the front of the hide giving everyone superb views and great photo opportunities.   (There are some great shots of it on the KOS website and if anyone has photos please submit them  – we’d love to have them in our gallery.)

Bittern at ARC, Dungeness

A great end to a brilliant day I’m sure you are thinking . . . . but whilst the bittern was attention seeking right in front of us, there was a male smew with his harem of 6 females parading up and down the pool in front of us and not satisfied with that, further out again, a couple of goosander were swimming along.

Yes, Dungeness always has the power to excite
Thanks to Roy for leading a great walk, to Jeff, Malcolm and Sally for ensuring we all got to see so many birds and to Bob for pointing us in the right direction on more than one occasion!
Species seen today 40, YTD Group total 64
I’ve since heard that several people spotted both bewick’s and whooper swan in fields around Lydd and Romney on the way back – so if you’re in the area it’s well worth stopping for a quick scan.
 Posted by on 17 January 2011 at 5:54 pm