This week my usual Wednesday Walk was actually on Thursday and as I trawled through the various websites looking for potential sites the only area which appealed was Dungeness. Bravely I suggested it to the rest of the team – knowing that blame would be apportioned if I had made the wrong suggestion.
We started off looking for swans on the marshes near Lydd. As we drove off the main road Blackbirds and Fieldfare were flying ahead of us, a Sparrowhawk swooped in front of the car, and Redwing joined the Fieldfare feeding in the berry-laden bushes.
A Kestrel hovered, and in a field of around 68 Mute Swans, Malcolm spotted our quarry – two Whooper Swans settled in the far side of the field amongst the cabbage crops. With the wind whipping around us we stood behind the car for some shelter as we watched with binoculars and telescope shaking.
Further along the lanes we found a huge flock of Fieldfare with some Starling and Redwing mixed in. They were feeding in a field and as we watched from the shelter of the car we realised they were everywhere; in the bushes to the left and right of us, flying in across the fields behind us, and even drinking from a nearby puddle. We reckoned around 300 Fieldfare, five Redwing and 20 or so Starling. A couple of Blue Tit fed in nearby bushes. Nearer the village of Lydd we found Crow and Rook in a field with some Black-headed Gulls and another bush holding several Chaffinch.
On a roll we decided to have a quick drive past Scotney Pits. Here the wind was whipping the water up into waves which were splashing along the edge of the lakes. The heavy swell in the water made bird watching difficult, but we found Tufted Duck, Wigeon, more Mute Swan, Little Egret, Greylag Geese, Barnacle Geese, another goose which was mostly hidden behind cows but didn’t look right for a Barnacle, Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Lapwing, Redshank, Magpie, Coot, Golden Plover, Mallard, Pochard and Brent Geese.
We parked behind another couple of birdwatchers and ended up bumping into them several times throughout the day. They were scanning for Scaup which had been reported in the area. Common Crane was another hoped for species, but sadly both eluded us today.
At one point a Bar-headed Goose was seen flying with the Barnacle Geese by the other birders, we all missed it, but on reflection it was probably the goose I had spotted behind the cows earlier.
Onto the Reserve, and with an early start this morning we were already for a comfort stop and refreshment! A Kestrel shot past us as we drove into the car park. On the feeders were Blue Tit, Great Tit and Chaffinch. As we sat in the hide having our lunch (well it was 11.20 am) we watched Shoveler, Goldeneye, Cormorant and Great Crested Grebe. A Long-tailed Duck had been reported and one potential bird did fly off at one stage, but another for a later day.
On the beach Turnstone were battling against the wind on the beach, and gulls seemed to enjoy flying in the strong winds making us feel inadequate as we sheltered between the fishing boats. Great Crested Grebe were floating in the heavy swell, appearing and disappearing with every wave. It is amazing that such relatively small birds would choose to be on the sea in such rough weather, why wouldn’t they prefer more sheltered waters?
Down by the fishing boats we caught up with our old friend the Glaucous Gull (which coincidentially was Irene’s 200th species for the year). Now in its third winter it is starting to look more like the field guide. Initially it flew over our heads off the sea, it caught the attention of Malcolm and I as the wings were so white, and the size impressive. The wind forced the bird behind the boats where it appeared to join the flock of large gulls roosting on the shingle. Not be to defeated we went off in pursuit and after much checking, walking, checking again, we finally re-found it. Settled on the ground between several juvenile herring gull with its bill tucked under the wing, one beady eye appeared to be watching us. When we caught sight of the beak it was pale pink with a black mark near the end. All round a bulkier bird than the Herring Gulls around it, and with just a hint of the grey which will develop on the wings. We spent some time watching the bird, until the cold started to make it’s presence felt.
We wanted to go back to the site we visited first thing this morning but just had time to drop in at the Hanson Hide at the ARC Pits reserve. There were at least three Marsh Harriers seen from the hide, along with great views of a Great White Egret, which emerged from some reeds and then proceeded to fly across our view and away towards Denge Marsh. Lapwing stood stoically against the wind, with their crests blowing. On the water huge mixed rafts of Gadwall and Wigeon were joined by Shoveler, and Tufted Duck. Try as we may, we couldn’t make a Scaup out of any of them. There were also Mute Swan, Cormorant, Coot and several Goldeneye. Kestrel and Sparrowhawk were also seen near the water tower.
Finally we began the journey home, with a quick detour looking for swans and owls over the marshes. There were more swans (but no owls), and we also saw large flocks of Lapwings in the distance being spooked by Marsh Harriers as they flew in to roost. There were seven Marsh Harriers in the air at one time – a great end to a brilliant day.