So with the weather forecast promising some dreadful conditions what’s a girl to do at the weekend, but travel for an hour and half to Sussex and then Dungeness to stand on the shingle bank in the howling gale that is springtime in England!
There’s nothing finer than standing overlooking The Patch watching common tern just stream into the country – lots of little black heads coming towards you as you gaze into the ‘scope – absolutely magical and hypnotic (that’s my excuse for standing there so long!) Some decided to feed up straight away, whilst others felt that some preening was the order of the day.
Over 150 were lined up on the beach, many of them flicking their wings, tail and bills as they tidied themselves up after their long flight, the whole scene was one of constant movement – absolutely fantastic.
In the feeding group was at least one arctic tern, but it was difficult to keep up with it let alone get anyone else onto it [I appreciate my shortcomings!]. Large numbers of gannet were travelling west, as were auks; razorbills or guillemots – so far out it was impossible to judge. At one stage four great-crested grebe flew east close to the water, necks outstretched and trying to look like mergansers or divers, brilliant to see so much white on them, you rarely get to see them flying at full pelt on inland waters. A group of seven black-tailed godwit flew east.
After longer than we had anticipated, it seemed churlish not to go for a cup of tea to warm up before moving on to the ARC pits and the reserve.
Warmed and watered we went off to try to see a blue-headed yellow-wagtail which had been reported on the ARC pits and visible from the road. As we drove along the rain started to fall, so we had to view from the car. Even with the windows down we were both getting soaked, but at least there were some birds to watch; oystercatcher, redshank, tufted duck, over 10 pied wagtails, and then I spotted a yellow wagtail, unfortunately not the blue-headed we were seeking, but a beautiful sight in any event.
As we watched, we noticed a further two, again yellow wags. A car in front of us had a huge photographic lens poking out of it, we decided to move forward in case the photographer had the blue-headed there. A great call, because almost immediately Phil noticed the beautiful blue-headed wagtail in the stubby ground cover. I have seen the species before, but in the autumn, so I was surprised and delighted to see that this bird had a lovely blue head which caught the light well – there was no mistaking its id.
The rain continued and as we needed a comfort stop we decided to move onto the reserve and see if there was anything else of note about – it would have to be good to keep us out in the worsening weather. It would appear that both birds and birdwatchers were of the same mind and very little had been added to the board in the last day or so.
We decided that it would be greedy to expect more of the day and took ourselves off for lunch and an afternoon in front of the footie results. Forest WON! Enough said. . .
P.S. The journey back was horrendous with gale force winds, lashing rain and aquaplaning cars – amazing what we do for the love of birdwatching.