Apr 072022

Fourteen of us gathered at the Old Lighthouse, Dungeness, on a very cold but sunny and clear day.  We were met by Jack, one of the Dungeness National Nature Reserve wardens, who gave us a briefing on what we may see around the area and at the RSPB reserve.

How often do you see a wren as well as this © Steve Cullum

Making our way out to the beach several birds were seen including stonechat, cormorant, magpie, crow, kestrel, house sparrow, a great black-backed gull, meadow pipit and two linnets.  At the beach we were joined by four more members of the group.  The sea was pretty calm and it was very quiet  with mostly herring gulls, a sighting of a gannet, and a porpoise.  Some were lucky enough to see a common tern flying with the gulls.   Turning our back to the sea and facing the power station we had more luck, with a black redstart and chiffchaff seen hopping around on scaffolding.

We returned to the car park and on to the area called the desert hoping to see wheatear.  No luck unfortunately, but we did see a continental robin – Jack had told us that there had been a recent influx of robins from the continent – and a starling pecking around on the ground.

A Caspian gull with a yellow leg tag had been seen several times near to the fishing boats and we set off in search of it.  Caspian gulls are very similar to herring gulls, so this was not going to be an easy task plus most of the gulls were sitting down.  We did catch a good view of a skylark with its distinctive song as it lifts vertically into the sky and then just seems to disappear.  Getting back to the Caspian gull, there was one gull sitting alone which Malcolm thought could have been a contender, but unfortunately it wouldn’t stand up so couldn’t be sure.

Tufted Duck © Steve Cullum

It was now lunchtime so we travelled to the RSPB reserve.  Blue tit, greenfinch, chaffinch and great tit were visiting the bird feeders near to the picnic table.  After lunch we started to make our way along the track starting at the Firth lookout, which following feedback concerning the lack of shelter at the Scott lookout, has a roofed section and windbreak.  Similar protection will apparently be added to the Scott lookout later in the summer.

At the lookouts and carrying on round the track towards Christmas Dell hide, we added wren, shoveler, coot, mute swan, gadwall, tufted duck, pintail, shelduck, dunlin, oystercatcher, moorhen, great-crested grebe, goldeneye, lesser black-backed gull, ringed plover, ruff, redshank, teal, little egret, avocet, black-tailed godwit, pochard, lapwing and little grebe.  A raven was spotted overhead seeing off a buzzard with some success.  Cetti’s warblers were heard on several occasions around the reserve and we had some lovely views of marsh harriers.  Greylag, Canada and Egyptian geese were added to the list.

Marsh Harrier © Steve Cullum

Jack had told us that garganey had been seen on the reserve but had been moving around having first appeared at the ARC.  One was seen from the mound, a stunning male, where also a bittern was heard booming, bearded tit pinging, and wigeon, cattle egret and a brambling flying were spotted.  At the scrape near to Boulderwood farm there were a pair of garganey easily visible from the track.

What started quietly turned out to be an incredibly productive day with in excess of 65 species which it’s thought could be a record for the group.  Thanks to everyone who came and made it a very enjoyable day.

Thanks to all those who attended and to Steve for the photographs.

Sue and Cliff

Thanks to Sue and Cliff for leading what turned out to be an excellent day out.  

It was noticeable that the majority of the cormorants that we saw were the continental sub-species of great cormorant which has been given the common name of ‘continental great cormorant’, rather than the ‘north atlantic’ sub-species which was at one time the only sub-species here.   You can tell the difference by the amount of white they have on their heads. The continental birds have extensive white feathers on their head and neck which can look like a solid white head and neck in some light, so its usually not too hard to differentiate the two.    In recent years more continental birds have been seen throughout the year in Kent – I think Malcolm first pointed them out to me in around 2008 when we used to see a handful a year.  

In addition to the changes to the viewing options at Dungeness mentioned above, there are more changes to come.   Several of the hides have been closed recently, but the latest news is that the Hanson Hide at the ARC, Dennis’ Hide, Christmas Dell Hide and Dengemarsh Hide are all now open.  A consultation on what is going to happen to Makepeace Hide is starting soon but the reserve don’t expect work to be completed before at least summer 2023.  

We would really welcome your feedback on the changes at Dungeness.    Whether you know the reserve well or are a new visitor, let us know what you think to the viewing options.  All comments are welcomed either via our comments section below, or more privately direct to us via our “contact us” link here.

Sue H.



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