Tuesday 24 January 2017

Dunge and the Levels - 24th January 2017

A day of rest? It did not quite pan out like that and by just after six I was out the door and on my way to Dungeness and by just after seven I was ensconced in the ARC screen hide overlooking a grey and gloomy pit dotted with large white objects. 

I had heard nothing on the walk down but now the Bewick’s Swans started to wake up and call and the rather melancholy trumpeting carried in the still air. A quick scan revealed nearly 20 along with 14 Mute Swans but I could hear others behind the reeds to my right and slowly the number climbed closer to 30. 

As the light vaguely improved I picked up my first Great White Egret flopping towards me before veering off towards Boulderwall allowing me to go for a top drawer 'essence of' picture.

The ultimate essence of Great White Egret

Nine more were soon picked out hunched along the eastern side of the pit and then they too took flight but at the same time I noticed a skein of geese coming in high from the east and although it was still very dull they felt like Russian White-fronts and that is indeed what they were. I followed them into the pit where the facial shields positively blazed white but this flock of 17 did not linger and were soon off inland again. In the meantime I had forgotten about the approaching Great White and just got outside as seven of them purposefully headed towards Lydd. 

Essence of five more Great White Egrets

The other two dropped in with the swan flock in front and were then joined by two more making a superb 12 for the morning and I still had surprisingly not seen one Bittern!

Bewick's Swans and a Great White Egret

Bewick's Swans and a Great White Egret

Cetti’s Warblers and Bearded Tits called in the reeds and amazingly a Dartford Warbler appeared just outside and then bimbled into the brambles.

I had expected the Bewick’s to have left by now but to my surprise others were dropping in in ones and twos and by the time I got around to the Hanson Hide there were 39 just off the ice cover and becoming more vocal by the minute and before too long the word went up for departure time and the whole herd lifted off and followed the same line as the Egrets and Geese to the north. 

Reflective view with lots of white blobs

Bewick's Swans

Off they go

Two of the Common Gulls on the ice were certainly bigger and darker than other present - right hand CG in this shot and before you ask, no Danta I did not get any open wing shots!

Water Rails were vocal and Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests and Tits were in the willows but there was no sign of the hoped for Woodcock.

As I got back to the car two Egyptian Geese flew over and were certainly the first time I have ever encountered the species here and the Tree and House Sparrows were starting to awaken around Boulderwall Farm.

Time for the sea, so I drove straight to the power station expecting that there would be a few people around but there was still not a soul in sight and I had the place to myself. Rather bizarrely the two Egyptian Geese then flew past the sea watching hide and then over the Obs. I do hope that it is on their list already...

The Patch was lively so I walked down to the beach adjacent to it and spent a good while absorbed with gulls.  The usual five were augmented by several Kittiwakes, a second year Med Gull, two Yellow-legged and a 2nd winter Caspian but the prize was the Iceland Gulls with two quite different 1st winter birds seen in the throng. One was darker than the other (even on the wing tips) with a dark tipped bill while the second paler bird had a more uniformly dark bill. Both were magic as they ghosted in and out of the other birds fighting for whatever had been boiled up in the maelstrom of frothing water.

Pretty sure that these three are Iceland Gull number one

And that these three are Iceland Gull number two

The Patch

Towards the Lighthouse

A full adult drake Eider was in amongst them and caught me off guard when it first popped up and further out there were dozens of Great Crested Grebes, Red-throated Divers and both Guillemots and Razorbills. Gannets and more divers could be seen further out and a Bonxie was purposefully pursuing the former while a Fulmar almost snuck past me by flying over my head!

Adult drake Eider

Back to the RSPB reserve now where a pair of hunting Peregrines greeted me upon arrival as I stopped to check the Boulderwall pools. They spooked  vast flock of Wigeon along with Lapwing, Golden Plover, Snipe and two Ruff and the pair made a concerted effort to take out one of the plovers with a series of spectacular dives and switchbacks but somehow it escaped their attentions. 

While all this was going on two Marsh Harriers took the chance to harry the duck and the flock seemed in two minds as to what to do. 

Marsh Harrier

Down at the centre I quickly bagged a nice Slavonian Grebe and three Littles on Burrows Pit but I could not find the Ring-necked Duck amongst the Pochards and Tufties. Great Black-backed Gulls were once again the dominant loafing species. My subsequent walk round was quite productive with several more Chiffchaffs and six ‘kipping’ Water Rails and almost continuous Marsh Harrier activity with at least six different birds seen including a bit of pre-nuptial sparring

Cormorant City on Burrows Pit

Two female Smew were seen from Christmas Dell and two more were tucked over with the Greylags and Wigeon on Denge Marsh where my Dungeness Egyptian Goose tally suddenly increased when fifteen birds flew in from the fields and began a typically robust punch up in open water. I wondered where they might have come from and have now been told that there have been some around Scotney for a while.

The view from Christmas Dell

And a rather distant Smew
Denge Marsh

And new comers...

Down at Hookers there was still a dearth of Bitterns but some Bearded Tits showed nicely in the phragmites and 200 or so Stock Doves were still creating the lavender carpet that I saw on the 2nd. The first Great White since early doors headed back towards the entrance road and a Stonechat popped up on top on the walk back.

I was updating the board in the centre when a chap asked me to add the Ring-necked Duck which was still on Boulderwall after all so I decided to have lunch there and was watching it in the furthest corner where the only open water was within a few minutes but no photos this time as it was just a little distant for that.   

There is a Ring-necked Duck in the top right hand corner

The Marsh Harriers were still causing pandemonium and a Common Buzzard decided to get in on the game and even caused the Great White to take flight. The Tree Sparrows were noisy around the farm but they were skittish and tended to keep to cover..

Female Marsh Harrier

Lunch over and time to head west along the coast. I parked up at the west end of Scotney and was very quickly put onto five Pink-footed Geese on the closest edge and after a short while the Russian White-fronts with the Greylags on the far side were spooked onto the water and one of the Tundra Bean Geese was instantly seen as it landed with bright orange legs outstretched. I have a feeling that both these were also new to the Dungeness area for me.  

Pink-feet and Greylags with an annoying fence line that I could not avoid...

A flock of piebald Barnacle Geese mechanically grazed and thankfully there were none of the funny Barnie Emperor crosses amongst them to spoil the appearance of wildness!

A fluffed up sleeping Black-necked Grebe took me to four species for the day and a very slight ring-tail Hen Harrier was energetically putting up Skylarks and Starlings from the fields beyond.

And so I was now on for a Five Grebe Day and just west of Camber I soon had the Red-necked Grebe in the bag and although it was stuck over the back with Great Crested and Little Grebes due to the ice, the light was superb and the views excellent. Little Egret and Grey Heron lurked around the edges and a Kingfisher whizzed through.

The Red-necked Grebe lake
And the Red-necked Grebe taken by Andy Luckhurst earlier in the month but it looked this good in the scope!

One stop to go so I continued on through Rye and then turned off for Pett Level where I soon found the large goose flocks behind the roadside lagoons. I am not sure when the Taiga Bean Geese were last seen but I could not find them but there were three White-fronts with the Greylags and Canadas.  Marsh Harriers and Buzzards were creating the same havoc as at Dungeness and countless Curlews, Lapwings, Snipe and Starlings were enjoying the thawing grasslands in the sunshine.

Behind me the sea was flat calm with rafts of Great Crested Grebes and Red-throated Divers dotted across and 40 Common Scoter were spread out but actively feeding. One looked very wedge billed and box headed but the light was appalling but it may be worth a look if you are passing in better light.

Gannets bobbed around with the gulls in a completely disinterested sort of way and food must have been close to the surface as the Common Gulls were plunge diving. Perhaps the Gannets were replete with Sprats!

Dunlin, Grey Plover, Oystercatchers, Redshank and Curlew dotted the muddy tideline; the bubbling calls of the latter once again making me smile before I headed homeward across the rolling Kentish countryside.

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