Dungeness is always one of my favourite birdwatching sites, you never know quite what might turn up, but just occasionally it more than surprises you – it delights you, so here goes.
The omens were not too good, I had two near misses in the car before I had collected my three passengers, and then had an argument with a BMW near Ashford which almost wrote us off the road. The final omen was that we went from bright clear blue skies and sunshine into thick sea fog as we approached the lighthouse. Magically (probably the presence of our lord and master, Malcolm) the fog lifted as we prepared ourselves for an exploration around the gorse, bramble and shingle scrub.
There was one other birdwatcher watching and waiting in the gorse bushes, presumably looking for landfall migrants. He didn’t look too excited, so we decided to take a look around the old lighthouse garden.
There were plenty of meadow pipits around, calling and flying around in loose groups and several magpies strutting about. House sparrows were dust-bathing near the vehicles seemingly unaware of the presence of the owners. Three linnet flew past. We wandered slowly in the direction of the observatory, taking time to scan all the gorse and bramble bushes for movement. We could hear chiffchaff singing well just out of view and more meadow pipits took our attention as they soared above us. Pied wagtails were perched on fence posts dipping down regularly to feed on the gravel path. As we stood Malcolm spotted movement in a near gorse bush, it turned out to be a firecrest, only the third I have seen in the UK and the best views by far that I have had. Then more movement in a further bush; and although we didn’t see two birds at any one time, there were obviously two separate birds – so my fourth ever too! Needless to say I was so thrilled to watch them.
Next stop was the moat around the observatory. Dunnocks were leading the way – flying ahead of us. We bumped into a couple of birdwatchers coming in the other direction, they had seen a female black redstart trapped in the heligoland trap and got the warden to come and release it, so there was a chance it would still be around. A skylark sang which Malcolm spotted high overhead.
As we stood watching the moat area, house sparrows were gathering in the bramble bushes, then Malcolm spotted movement on a distant fence post. I got the telescope on it – a female black redstart – excellent! Although the light was not too kind to us, the red tail was evident. It moved from post to ground to feed then back onto the post, allowing us all to get good views and point it out to two others nearby.
By now it was time for lunch and “facilities” so we drove to the RSPB reserve to see what was about and enjoy our picnic lunch. Seven snow geese flew over as we got ready to move off, apparently they had been around in the area for a few days moving between the reserve and Scotney pits. After a well earned break we decided to head back to the sea. We were still hankering after wheatear which had been coming into the country over the last week or so, and the warden had explained that they migrate during the day, so generally arrived in the early afternoon.
As we drove along the road nearing the car park Malcolm shouted out “Stop!” – testing my emergency stop skills for a fourth time today. He had seen a couple of wheatear flying towards us. I saw them fly across the road just ahead of us and then over the railway fencing and disappear. So nothing else to do but ditch the car in the car park as soon as possible and go look for them. Sure enough there were at least four probably five birds on the close cropped grass, beyond the fence, picking about for food. The females were smart but the males were so handsome. Every year I am excited at the prospect of seeing them and every year they please and delight me anew. Such brilliant birds and a real joy to see. We got the telescope and all got great views, then more delights – a male stonechat, again in fabulous breeding plumage sitting high on a bramble ever watchful.
After a while the wheatears had moved further away and the stonechat had been well watched there was just time for a bit of sea watching before we headed home.
The usual gulls were present on the patch, and a kittiwake flew close in to the beach where fishermen were ever hopeful. The tide was well out and there was a pod of porpoises swimming a fair distance offshore, but they gave us a great show of their back fins.
A flock of at least 40 brent geese flew eastwards and three common scoter moved in the same direction. The usual cormorants and great-crested grebe also enjoyed bobbing on the low tide.
Happily the journey home was uneventful, perhaps the invisibility cloak had been removed from the corsa!