A group of 13 members turned out on a crisp, bright day at the Observatory car-park ready for a day’s birding on the beach and on the reserve. As we exited the car-park for the walk to the shingle beach, we watched a troop of House Sparrows that tend to show up on the same little bramble bush, obviously enjoying the bright day, chirruping loudly and hopping in the prickly branches. After a walk along the top of the shingle, which always gives your feet and knees a good work out, we stopped to observe the many sea birds circling the warmer water from the outflow of the power station. Malcolm quickly observed a Little Gull reeling in amongst the other gulls, showing off the darker underside of it’s wings as it did so. At first it was hard to pick out through the maelstrom of wings, but once you had it in sight, it was fairly easy to keep a track on it. What a smashing start that was! The group soon had five different species of gulls, cormorants, divers , Great Crested Grebe in their sights and a little raft of shoveler further out to sea. After a thorough scan of the birds and roosting gulls on the power station, we headed back to our cars and then decided to stop further along the beach, where a Glaucous Gull had been reported. The large mixed group of Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Great Black-backed Gull, roosting and preening on the beach, challenged our skills at deciphering out this one particular gull, but Sally observed a large pale gull amongst them which may have been the Glaucous. However, it was too distant and not showing enough of it’s features for us to confirm that it was. Our stomachs were informing us that it was nearly lunch-time, so we headed off to the main RSPB reserve to refuel and get going again.
To our delight, while we ate outside the first hide, we witnessed two Great White Egret and, in the far distance, a pair of Black-throated Divers. Then, sharp-eyed Irene spotted a Black-necked Grebe ducking under and resurfacing seconds later, further way. How lucky we were to see these species in close proximity to each other and viewable to us in one go. After we had trooped through the visitor centre, we made our way to the first hide where we saw female Smew, a huge flotilla of Shoveler and in the distance amongst the partly submerged bushes around 120 Cormorant roosting together and drying out wings in the sun. I always feel that these birds somehow look alien in trees and bushes – awkward in appearance on the delicate branches.
As we had been informed at the visitor centre that a day or so before a Penduline Tit had been seen on the reserve, we decided to hot-foot it to the area and then retrace our steps to the hides we had missed out. So we zipped along, squelching in some very muddy areas (which always makes the walk interesting) to the mound where it had been observed. On arrival, the group scanned almost in a 360 degree circle hoping to see this little bird. As we watched, Irene caught sight of two Bearded Tits, but sadly their movement was so rapid, the rest of the group couldn’t lock onto them before they disappeared. Sadly, the Penduline Tit didn’t put in an appearance but we were treated to a distant Marsh Harrier and a Cetti’s Warbler that announced itself loudly from a deep thicket nearby.
Deciding that we still had plenty to look for, we headed back along our original trail, observing the different lichens and plants that are so special to Dungeness. We trooped into Christmas Dell hide, settled into our seats and within moments of being there, Malcolm spotted a Merlin, belting along, low to the water before it flew out of sight. And then, Clifford (who I sat next to at the time) shouted out ‘Bittern’ and for about ten seconds or so we saw this enigmatic bird fly up from the reed-bed and drop down, further along only to retreat back into the reeds where its cryptic camouflage disguises it perfectly. Well done Clifford! Definitely a bird we all hope to see on a day out to Dungeness.
After the excitement caused by the bittern, we returned to the other hides on our way back, seeing oystercatcher, mute swan, grey heron, little egret, and a little flock of reed buntings which were on an embankment area. We also heard green woodpecker recognisable by it’s ‘yaffle’ and chaffinch by the little ‘pink’ sound it leaves at the end of it’s song.
We had a brilliant day, ably lead by Sally, Malcolm and Irene collectively so thanks go to them.
I happily added another 10 birds to my year list – cheers!