Tuesday 3 January 2017

Some kind of Stonechat... Dungeness 2nd January 2017

Greetings 2017...

I was on the patch at RSPB Rainham Marshes (Estuarine League in the patchwork Challenge) at six on New Year’s Day and lowered the drawbridge for the first really keen regulars in the dark at seven with a good few species already under the belt. The worst of the weather held off till after lunch and a full circuit and a half netted me 82 of the 87 seen in total with, from a patch point of view, Knot, Brent Goose, Grey Plover, Caspian Gull, 18 Avocet and Ring necked Parakeet being good January 1st birds and Short-eared Owl, five Water Pipits and three tumbling Ravens being nice support... I am now not on site probably until the 19th just to give Max Hellicar a chance to catch me up!

And so this left me with yesterday off work – a strange notion indeed – and imposed on me by a considerate boss conscious of me having worked throughout the Christmas period but not understanding my desire to be on the patch on a glorious 2nd January even if it was going to be thronged with post-Christmas amblers.

So what should I do? The Blue Rock Thrush in Stow-on-the-Wold was enticing and I am not fussed one way or the other about its provenance – I would just like to see it, but the idea of a long drive did not appeal so I slung my gear in the car, scraped off the ice and headed down to Dungeness for the ‘Interesting’ Stonechat and assorted other wintering bits and bobs.

Within the hour I was parked up in the desert south of the ARC and expecting a yomp out over the shingle to search for this pale grey and white Stonechat but someone was smiling on me and it was immediately visible from where I parked and in fact came even closer.  Thanks to Stu Elsom and Ricky Blackman for their images.

Dunge Stonechat - Stu Elsom

Dunge Stonechat - Stu Elsom

Dunge Stonechat - Ricky Blackman

Dunge Stonechat - Ricky Blackman

She was keeping company with a first winter male ‘normal’ Stonechat and it was pleasing to see just how much she looked like the bird we had at Rainham that turned up at the start of October 2009 and then wintered on site.  The Rainham bird was darker on the throat but otherwise very similar.

Rainham Stonechat 2009 - Mick Southcott

Rainham Stonechat 2009 - James Lowen

Rainham Stonechat 2009 - Les Harrison

Interest in this bird only really picked up after a DNA result came back on some scavenged poo as definitive Stejneger’s Stonechat.  A female type at Languard in the autumn had also come back as Stejneger’s but the two birds seemingly looked nothing alike so what was going on?

To muddy things further a similarly grey Stonechat in Richmond Park that also arrived this autumn was still around and the race to collect a sample was on...

Richmond Stonechat - Ricky Blackman

Richmond Stonechat -Brandon Anderson

I am hoping that ‘someone’ will put together a paper to try and unravel this mystery although without a DNA sample I suspect that the Rainham bird will be going nowhere.

14th January ... and as an addendum to this the DNA has now been retested and samples had got muddled and it and the Richmond Park bird are both 'normal' British Stonechats - which to be honest is a good thing and at least gives us a chance of finding a proper Stejneger's at some stage.

Anyway, the bird soon disappeared over the bank and into the active workings and thus I decided head on down to the fishing boats with Graham Ekins to have a look for any of the numerous Caspian Gulls that had been loafing around. There were none and in fact there were not too many large gulls at all but we still made our way down to the beach by the boast and a short seawatch added a good  few species to the year list with Guillemots, Cormorants, Great Crested Grebes and Red-throated Divers by the score along with a few Gannets, Kittiwakes, an adult Med Gull and a couple of Razorbills. Turnstones grovelled on the beach among the Herring and Great Black-backs and a solitary Oystercatcher headed north.

Herring Gulls

Herring Gulls happily perched on telephone wires....  just weird

It was time to retrace our steps and with no one visible at the Stonechat I took Graham onto the reserve where the drake Ring-necked Duck was found in no time at all on the same pool at Boulderwall where I saw it in early December although this time it was sound asleep. Golden Plovers, Lapwings and Starlings speckled the short sheep cropped turf and Wigeon were adding their own lawnmowing skills. 

Pointy-headed Duck

ok - a better Ring-necked Duck from Graham Ekins

Some Tree Sparrows were flicking in and out of the farm yard brambles and a pair of Marsh Harriers were quartering the fields.

Tree Sparrow & Chaffinch - Graham Ekins

On down to the car park where, unlike on my last visit, the Long-eared Owl was quickly found on the edge of the pool willows by the visitors centre. He was actually wide awake and preened for a while, turning round that spherical head and watching us with baleful orange eyes.

Nice to see a Long-eared owl so well

A look from the first few hides produced little other than a single female Goldeneye and female Smew and a huge female Peregrine that caused all the dabblers to evacuate themselves and the islands they were sitting on!

After a quick chat with Ruth and Mark I headed back towards the ARC where there was very little to see although Great Spotted Woodpecker and Chiffchaff were new. There were no heron type birds of any sort so I made my way round towards the Denge Marsh Road as I had unbelievably not encountered a Great White Egret despite Ruth having seen 12 leave the ARC roost in the morning! Fortunately I soon picked one up in the reed edge and the now expected atmospheric GWE shot was in the bag. 

Great White Egret - already developing the breeding aigrettes

It was only 1230 but I think that my week was catching up me and I was starting to flag so after a quick look at the Barnacle Geese on Scotney I headed for home happy with a morning in the sunshine and cold fresh air.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a nice day out H, I did the same on NYE. I remember that Rainham bird, I guess we will never know though!