Wednesday 13 September 2017

Day of the Ant Licker...

A Kentish Jaunt 12th September 2017
I may spend most of life back in my home county of Essex at my beloved RSPB Rainham Marshes but the county in which I reside, Kent, probably accounts for a fair amount of my non-work related birding nowadays and this today we headed south to RSPB Dungeness in the hope of a grand autumnal day out.
The day did not start in a too auspicious way with Pat missing the A2 entirely resulting in a 20 minute delay in collecting me that cost us a visit to the Golden Arches for pre-birding calorie intake. The journey was not without recompense with a fine male Peregrine over the Medway bridge and several Buzzards perched along the roadsides.
We arrived back on time at 0730 at the ARC car park to be greeted by not only the rest of the posse for the day but a steady passage of House and then Sand Martins heading towards the coast and a winter in more African climes.  Chaffinches and Greenfinches were also moving and several Meadow Pipits and Yellow Wagtails headed over. The day felt birdy...
Down at the Hanson Hide the view was the best in many years with islands and spits but alas there was nothing among the Lapwings. A scan of the duck revealed mostly Shoveler with a few Gadwall, Mallard, Teal, a solitary Pintail and a fine Garganey that actually paddled towards us until it was the closest duck.

Greylags coming in



Polish cygnet with regular sibling and Dad...

The amble back produced a few more hirundines and a small party of Tree Sparrows while the long willow hedge was chock full of warblers and we spent an enjoyable forty minutes getting close views of at least 15 Willow Warblers and ten Chiffchaffs flycatching and gleaning from the sheltered sunny frontage.  Both species were singing well. Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcap and Reed Warblers were also present along with a good number of Long-tailed, Blue and Great Tits

Willow Warbler

Lesser Whitethroat - Denis Tuck
A Green Woodpecker was glued to the telegraph pole and a female Sparrowhawk was the first of several migrant hunters seen during the day.

Large Flowered Evening primrose

Tasty Sea Buckthorn - packed with vit c

It felt like there would be a heap more migrants down at the Obs so we headed that way – passing four Great White Egrets on the ARC for good measure. The lighthouse garden only held one Chiffchaff and a couple of Meadow Pipits in the surrounding area as we headed to the sea. The tide was right out and the view sparsely populated with birds. A few Common and a single Arctic Tern were on the Patch along with a delightful juvenile Little Gull and 1st winter Yellow-legged, Med and Common Gulls added interest. Sandwich Terns and a few Gannets were passing out to sea but it was otherwise disappointing so we retraced our steps towards the Obs.

The Patch looking west towards Fairlight

The Obs
Sparrowhawk - Denis Tuck
Again the bushes were very quiet with one Goldcrest for our troubles but there was a profusion of butterflies including Small Coppers, Brown Argus, Painted Ladies and non-stop Clouded Yellows. Two Hummingbird Hawkmoths kept us similarly photographically challenged.

Painted Lady

Small Tortoiseshell

Small Copper

Brown Argus (I reckon) & Small Copper

Hummingbird Hawkmoth
Another female Sparrowhawk erupted from cover and terrified the Moat leaving us with a few Mipits and four Wheatear so we cut across towards the Desert in the hope of finding the Wryneck. Bumping into Lee Gregory added negative news for the day but we pushed on and were delighted when the rest of the Obs team refound it grovelling at the base of some sheltered brambles when we were only fifty yards away.
The next half hour was pure Wryneck magic with a superlative views as it fed completely unphased by our presence, lapping up ants with that sticky pink tongue. Gill was particularly pleased as it was a lifer for here and I think the others had only seen one or two a piece.


Walk away views of the highest order and we left it hovering and ambled back towards the cars. It was now back to the reserve and hopefully the Cattle Egrets. Pulling up at Boulderwall revealed no close live stock and I was just scanning around when I picked up the Osprey way off over towards the Denge Marsh Pits. I was just trying to give directions when the two Cattle Egrets flew through my front vision resulting in a change of focus. They landed out of sight but by walking back down the road great views were had as they fed, more Little Egret like, along the margins of the fleet. I never did see the Osprey again!

One of these with the orange bill is a Cattle Egret
An early lunch in the now warm sunshine with several Migrant Hawkers for company and then off on the circuit that began with an amazing Common Wasp nest in a disused Fox burrow by the Dennis Hide.  Small Heath was added to the butterfly list and a large Rove beetle that I think is one of the Platydracus species.

Migrant Hawker

Fox hole with new occupants

Such an amazing piece of artistry...
Platydracus sp - I think

The new Burrows Pit islands area features are looking superb and Angela showed my some of the cool Black-headed Gull decoys that will be put out to attract them down to breed.  A couple of Little Egrets and a Common Sandpiper were seen along with a grumpy looking Great White. Three more GWE’s were on the adjacent Christmas Dell pits and yet another flew over so we reckon that we had at least six on the site and we had not seen a Grey Heron at that stage!

GWE - it had to be done

Thankfully the sticks prevented me getting a reasonable picture

Damn... an in focus, close-ish, not burnt out picture of a Great White


Actually Black-headed Black-headed Gulls
Yellow Horned Poppy


The leeward side of the brambles and willows were alive with Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters and Comma, Peacock and Red Admiral were all coming down to the late fruit. Eristalis tenax was the only hoverfly seen and a smart tachinid – Norwikia ferox eluded my camera once again.

Red Admiral

The wind was strengthening and by the time we reached Denge Marsh it was really picking up and the temperature was dropping. Two Ruff and a Golden Plover were with the Lapwing and Grey Heron finally fell. A male Marsh Harrier spooked the Coots with his persistent quartering.

Marsh Harrier
I think that this little critter is a Water Shrew - not overly black above but much bigger than your average shrew... Denis Tuck
Down at Hookers we encountered the rare sight of four sub-species of RSPB volunteer harmoniously working alongside each other. It was possible to tell the length of service of this ever evolving species by the colour of their upperpart plumage... They were doing a sterling job of clearing and burning the reedbed below the viewpoint while the fully fledged RSPB Staff member was identified by his brushcutter and brightly coloured helmet...

Communal behaviour with a mixed flock of RSPB Volunteers
The rest of the walk back added a couple of late Meadow Browns while Meadow and Mottled Grasshoppers were seen and Grey Bush Crickets heard.

Meadow Brown

Mottled Grasshopper

Oare Marshes was calling so the convoy moved north reaching the site just before high tide which is not normally the case with my generally unplanned visits! It was perfect and the next few hours were spent soaking up the atmosphere and soundscape of a wader roost. 

There were great splodges of Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank with similar patches of ‘doodling’ Golden Plovers and piebald Avocets. The Long-billed Dowitcher was quickly picked up (thanks Dom) and as hoped even came closer and performed in its usual corner. 

LBD sneaking in with the Lapwings - i did not actually realise he was in shot!

LBD showing the long plain tertials and barred tail
LBD - Denis Tuck
Ringed Plover and Dunlin formed another amorphous mass with Turnstone and 12 peach fronted juvenile Curlew Sandpipers keeping us on our toes. As is usual there were a few of each species not resting up and some were active and under our noses. Snipe probed the edges and two calling Greenshank eventually gave themselves up while there was a smattering of Bar-tailed Godwits and Knot amongst the Blackwits and Redshank. Both cold and frosty adults and cinnamon juvenile Ruff were dotted around and one juvenile Little Ringed Plover was still at the muddy end.

Golden Plovers

juvenile Curlew Sandpiper

Bar-tailed Godwit - Denis Tuck
Blackwits, Greenshank, Redshank, Dunlin, Black-headed & Common Gull

Dunlin & Ringed Plovers

This place is wader lover’s dream and an autumn afternoon is probably the best time and place in the country to come and stand in the fresh air with the sky all around and experience the sight and sound of Oare at its best.

Despite the tide being right in we still managed to add Curlew, Grey Plover and high flying lost Whimbrel to the wader list while 13 Buzzards drifted around Harty Hill with Kestrel, Peregrine and Hobby for company. There was no sign of the Osprey but Marsh Harriers were hunting the far bank and a beautiful adult female Hen Harrier snuck across the Swale and dallied with the waders on the East Flood before continuing on her way.


Decamping from the Mirosa with the seriously cross legged dog

Looking across to Harty Hill & Ferry Inn

High Whimbrel

Avocets against the changing weather

Hen Harrier about to spook everything...
With that we decided that ten hours in the field birding was probably enough for one day and so after filling up our water bottles at the spring we bid our farewells and left the still heaving mass of restless waders behind...

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