One of the good things about visiting Samphire Hoe, near Dover, is that you can get a close – up view of the White Cliffs without getting your feet wet. And one of the best places at Samphire Hoe is an “off limits” area of tumbled chalk boulders that have crashed from the cliffs above. This is the home of a pair of black redstarts – a rare breeding bird in the UK. Sometimes we can get good views of the birds on the chalk face but not this time. It was seen by some of us but was very elusive. However the area is also home to rock pipits and a few pairs do indeed breed in suitable places around the Kent coast. We had really good views of one very scruffy bird, that I thought must be young bird. But apparently it’s an adult. The other bird with it was very smart but none of the photographers amongst us could get a picture!
However the best bird, and for me the highlight of day, was the house martin colony nesting on the cliffs. There is another colony nearby on the cliffs at Kingsdown but these are the only “natural” breeding sites that I know of. And this year, they are the only nesting house martins that I have seen! I have been told of local colonies at Cobham, Cliffe and Northfleet but that’s it. Reports suggest that the birds arrived late and in lower numbers than usual. They don’t ask for much when they get here – just insects to feed on and somewhere safe to glue a nest.
Samphire Hoe is also a great place for insects. The white cliffs create a very warm microclimate that many insects need. We usually see the Rose Chafer Beetle and there they were, feeding off the flowers apparently still there, on the same plants that we saw them on our last visit two years ago! This time we also found the very special Bee Beetle. Almost everything about this beetle is amazing – not least which is the head end? It is a bee mimic. It looks like a bee, flies like a bee and feeds on the tops of flowers (like a bee)! The beetles that we saw are even more special. They are not the British Bee Beetle Trichius fasciatus (which can be found much further north and west and is not known from Kent) but rather it is Trichius gallicus. Those of you, that like me, were forced to read Caesar’s Gallic Wars in the original Latin will know where “Gaul” is and that it is divided into three parts. The rest of you will have to make do with Asterix the Gaul. Anyway, in recent years, this species has flown in from the near Continent and established a breeding colony at Samphire Hoe. It has also been found at the RSPB Reserve at Rainham.
When someone shouted that they could see three babies on a small ledge on the cliff I was naturally very concerned. But after quickly scanning the area with my binoculars all I could find were three well fed young kestrels. Panic over, we all managed to get good views of the birds through a telescope and although they were way up the cliff they looked as if they were watching us! How they get on with their near neighbours, a pair of peregrines, I don’t know. But we enjoyed watching them too.
The butterflies and dragonflies were a bit disappointing – probably not enough sunshine. In general insect numbers were low. However a super male stonechat and further along 2-3 stonechat fledglings were seen so they must have had a successful year. Song from chiffchaff, blackcap, whitethroat, meadow pipit and skylark reminded us that the breeding season is not yet over.
Thanks to everyone that joined us at Samphire Hoe. It was nice to meet up and see some new faces. Thanks to Neville and Louise for leading. Thanks to Alison, Sally, Steve and Sue for sending in photographs. We all enjoyed the day. It was nice to be out. Our programme of walks is restarting. Visit our website to see a list of upcoming events by clicking on ‘events’ in the top menu bar and sign up for email alerts. Join us when you feel safe.