Monday, 18 January 2016

Smew, Smew, Bittern, Glauc Too...

It was a Dungeness day and we convened in the ARC car park a little after 0800 on a very cold and breezy Monday morning. Just for once I was not first there and had already missed a Bittern flying over but I needn’t have worried as within a few minutes of getting into the Hanson Hide one of the reserve volunteers picked out one weaving in and out of the reeds below the water tower.  It was still early and she was surprised to see a hide full of birders as she engaged in her pre-work amble!

Marsh Harriers were all around with at least six birds quartering the reeds around the pit and putting the large flocks of sleepy Wigeon to flight. There were several Goldeneye out in open water but there were no scarce grebes or sawbills to be seen. It was also a tad chilly in the hide so we soon headed off to the beach to look at the gulls and the sea. 

It was bitter down there but we persevered with our beach walk and although we did not see the juvenile Glaucous Gull we did find a first-winter Caspian Gull among the Herrings and Great Black-backs on the shingle.

...and a hint of an ice halo

The sea was alive with auks with both Guillemots and Razorbills to be seen along with several Red-throated Divers, Gannets, kittiwakes and a large numbers of Cormorants. A Turnstone whizzed up the beach and a Meadow Pipit was the only small bird seen on our trudge.

I decided that the Patch was worth a look and we had not even got ten yards from the cars when I noticed the Glaucous Gull cruising above our heads. It was the only gull up there and gave superb views as it let the wind carry it back along the coast in the direction from which we had just come.  This was a real stroke of luck as it has generally only been seen a few times a day and not long in any one place. 
Glauc - Denis Tuck

Glaucous Gull - The best I could do - a huge brute of a bird

The Patch was heaving with gulls and with more time and some extra layers I suspect that a good search would have paid dividends but we were all more than content with watching both adult and first-winter Kittiwakes playing in the surf. More Red-throated Divers flew east as did 11 Dark-bellied Brent Geese. The cold really was a bit much so we abandoned the shingle and headed for the reserve where after a quick cuppa we headed out onto the trail.

Honestly there are 1000's of gulls!
Kittiwake with herring Gull - Trevor Oakley

The ‘cannot miss it’ Long-eared Owl was clearly not playing ball and the breeze blowing into the bushes had obviously pushed it further in and out of view.  This was a real pity but nevermind. Two Great White Egrets flew through back towards Boulderwall and two female Smew were soon located from the first hide along with some smart Goldeneye and Pochards.

The Ravens appeared on cue and a great pile of Cormorants were to be found resting up on the grass on Denge Marsh while Wigeon and Greylags grazed around them. Unsurprisingly another Great White Egret appeared in the reeds but of the Penduline Tits on Hookers there was no sign. We checked every Reedmace head that we could including all the way round the back of the pools where we did at least manage to locate the very smart Slavonian Grebe as it power dived for lunch. It never spent more than six seconds above water making trying to take a shot quite tricky!

The normal Slav Grebe view....

Countdown has begun...

Goldcrests and Long-tailed Tits moved through the willows and our fourth Great White Egret was stalking along a ditch edge before giving great flight views.   

Great White Egret - on their window lists!

Golden Plover and Lapwings were constantly on the move and two male Peregrines in a mid air tussle soon gave us the reason why.  An adult female was also seen and she soon plonked herself down in a field to watch the worlds go by. The return leg saw one of the males in a superb aerial chase with a very speedy and acrobatic Feral Pigeon. We think that he eventually clipped it and followed it down to the ground where two female Marsh Harriers soon appeared to opportunistically try and relive him of his quarry.  

Hookers Pit

We had a couple of Kingfisher fly bys and a nice pair of Stonechat and a good look at a Continental type Robin on the way back but the LEO was still refusing to come out despite the wind dropping.

Lunch was taken outside on the benches as is traditional and the last of the Christmas Mince Pies (still in date, I’ll have you know) did the rounds before we headed back down the track to the ARC where a short stop rewarded us with a fine drake Smew and our first two Little Egrets on the Boulderwall pools.  There were no Tree Sparrows to be seen and in fact the only bird in the garden was a Barn Owl that zoomed out and scared the life out of a learner driver before heading off to hunt the fields by the car park. 

With time moving on we headed back down to the Hanson Hide and sat out the remainder of the light and bore witness to a couple of thousand Jackdaws and Rooks heading off to the Long Pits to roost along with 18 Little Egrets making for the south end to do likewise. We only saw two Great Whites but I suspect that they went behind us over the top this time.  The Bittern came out again by the water tower and had a reasonable fly round and a male Sparrowhawk made several sorties in front of the hide where both Water Rail and Cetti’s Warbler called.  A couple of Marsh Harriers managed to severely annoy the Coots who has just all paddled out into the middle of the pit and were sent foot pattering along the surface back to the phragmites security blanket.  A female Merlin dashed through and rounded proceedings off nicely and the amazing pink after sundown glow in the sky signalled that we had once again managed to eke every drop of the birding out of the day...

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