Dungeness – Saturday 13th April 2024

For once the weather forecast suggested we would have clear weather throughout the day and this turned out to be correct. Indeed, sun tan cream was used by some of the Group for the first time this year. The only issue was a quite stiff breeze that made the ‘scopes wobble around at times.

Nine of us were due to meet up by the old lighthouse at Dungeness. Having left messages for the other three, the first six headed down towards the beach for a sea watch, having already noted a stonechat, several linnets and a couple of pied wagtails as we left the cars. Not long after we reached the beach our seventh member joined us, while the other two decided to wander around nearer the lighthouse and RHDR station. They may have made the better decision! The sea watch comprised mainly watching the sea. There was very little in the way of bird life around. A reasonable number of great crested grebes, a few gulls and some cormorants were on the sea or flying around. Then a gannet flew east to be followed shortly afterwards by a Sandwich tern heading west. Over the next half hour or so we tripled the numbers of both of these! One of our number caught sight of a couple of swallows, one of which flew behind another of the Group, but did not reappear! The mist rolling around in the Channel didn’t help and apart from a possible auk or two and a probable scoter in the distance, nothing else was noted. Until, that is, Steve G checked his photos when he got home. He had done a ‘point and shoot’ at some birds flying past and it wasn’t until later that he realised they were Brent geese.

Brent geese by Steve Grayson

The sea watch had also produced a brief sighting of harbour porpoise.

We decided to cut our losses and, joining up with the other members, set off down beside the power station fence towards the observatory. As ever, this area was good for house sparrows.

House sparrow by Steve Grayson

A chiffchaff was playing hide and seek with us and a meadow pipit was trying to be inconspicuous on the fence. A peregrine was seen flying towards a pylon and at the same time a second was found perched up on the pylon. This area had usually produced a black redstart for us and eventually a nice male was found around the base of one of the pylons. From there we moved round to The Desert area scanning all the time in hope of a wheatear without any success. However, we did hear a skylark performing. We also discovered that the desert is not without water, finding a large pool presumably a result of all our wet weather. A couple of Mallard took from there. As we made our way back to the cars, our first whitethroat of the year was found perched up on a bush.

At this point it had been our intention to head round to the RSPB reserve. But the prospect of a hoopoe was too inviting and it would have been rude not to go a short distance up the coast to Greatstone. There, we parked up in a side road and took the nearby footpath to the dunes. As we emerged from the housing, we knew we were in the correct place with several people pointing their optics to the same spot. Within a very short time we were enjoying superb views of the said hoopoe probing the ground for food.

Hoopoe habitat by Sue Davies
Hoopoe by Steve Grayson

After a while we had flight views as well when a dog walker, seemingly oblivious of the fact that everyone was looking at something, went straight to where it was and flushed it. The bird landed in a nearby tree for a while then flew along a bit further to land on a fence. From there it flew off and we decided it was time to head off to the reserve for lunch (picking up our only collared doves of the day as we went).

Perched hoopoe by Sue Davies

Driving up the approach track, we could see our first marsh harrier of the day hunting behind Cooks Pool and there was a smart male wheatear near the road as well as our second whitethroat. As we settled down for lunch our first sedge warbler was singing away, as was a Cetti’s warbler. It was apparent from the drive in and here that wildfowl numbers were not going to be that high, with the main species being tufted duck. A pair of common gulls seemed to be around a small platform to the left of the hide, so they may be intending to nest there. As we were eating a couple of lone little egrets flew past and 7-spot ladybirds were evident.

After lunch, we headed out to do a circuit of the reserve. On leaving the visitor centre a reed bunting was singing away.

Reed bunting by Steve Grayson

From the Firth viewpoint a buzzard was drifting around and a single common tern was picked up flying around with black-headed gulls. A lone swallow flew past and a greenshank was heard calling. There was also a pair of great crested grebes drifting past (much closer than those on the sea.

Great crested grebes by Steve Grayson

From here and the next viewpoint (site of the former Makepeace Hide) we searched in vain for the long staying great northern diver; we were later told it can spend a lot of time roosting up in the reeds out of sight. It was evident that the cormorants were still able to nest on the tops of trees sticking out from the water, which was at a very high level and meant there was very little in the way of islands for birds to land on.

Cormorant nests by John Birkett

Nevertheless, a single ringed plover flew around and managed to find a small area of dry land to settle on. Near the Scott Lookout a reed warbler was singing – another first for the year. We spent time scanning the hayfields as we walked along adding redshank, Egyptian goose, lapwing, shelduck, a single black-tailed godwit and seven avocets to the day’s tally. Another visiting birder had seen a greenshank fly onto a more distant hayfield so we went to try and find it. At this point one of our members had already decided to head back to the car park. Not long after, we had another couple of early departees. Needless to say, we did not find the greenshank, but on the walk back to the main trail one of the Group heard a yellow wagtail fly over. The remaining six of us had split up slightly and some of us heard a lesser whitethroat singing on our way to the viewing ramp. From the ramp we could hear bearded tits pinging away from time to time, but no sign of a bittern. Time was running out for us (the reserve gate was supposedly closed at 5pm), but as we were about to head off to the return trail one of our early leavers sent a message to say it was closed due to flooding. That was the quicker way back to the cars, so we hastily retraced our steps, returning the (longer) way we had come. At least that gave the rest of the Group the chance to hear (and, at one point, see) the lesser whitethroats. A couple of brief stops at viewpoints again yielded no divers. The final new bird of our ‘circuit, was a little grebe on the small pond just before the visitor centre.

We got back in the cars and started to drive off at 4.59, noting that a warden was just checking out Dennis’s Hide as we left. At least the reserve gate was still open when we got there and drove across to the ARC car park. By now our number had reduced to five. As a garganey had been seen earlier on Cooks Pool (the first one on the right by the entrance track), we headed back across the road to the main reserve and the gate had indeed been closed and padlocked. Phew, we had made it out in time – just!!! Sadly, the garganey was another no show, but there was a great white egret at the back of the pool, along with a couple of teal and several stock doves were in a field further back. Going back across to ARC, we walked up to the viewing screen. Here we were again hoping for a bittern to fly around (or boom) and a purple heron had been seen flying over there in the morning. (Once again, we failed to find the birds, although the purple heron was apparent seen on the power station(!) the following day). Another couple of great white egrets were together at the far end of ARC and very poor views were had of a single pochard (again right at the far end). We had been hearing marsh frogs throughout our visit, but suddenly dozens near the viewing screen started calling in unison and stopped again equally dramatically. With the temperature now dropping we called it a day, although there was still time for a couple of us to add moorhen for the day, with one calling off to our right.

Species lists

Birds:

It had been hard going and we had missed out on some of our hoped for species, but we still managed a respectable 77 species (and one sub-species) for the day. 14 of these were new for 2024.

Brent Goose (dark bellied), Canada Goose, Greylag Goose, Mute Swan, Egyptian Goose, Shelduck, Shoveler, Gadwall, Mallard, Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Pheasant, Feral Pigeon, Stock Dove, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Moorhen, Coot, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Oystercatcher, Avocet, Lapwing, Ringed Plover, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Greenshank, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Sandwich Tern*, Common Tern*, Gannet, Cormorant (P carbo carbo), Cormorant (Continental – P carbo sinensis), Grey Heron, Great White Egret*, Little Egret, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Hoopoe*, Peregrine, Magpie, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Bearded Tit*, Skylark, Swallow*, Cetti’s Warbler, Chiffchaff, Sedge Warbler*, Reed Warbler*, Blackcap*, Lesser Whitethroat*, Whitethroat*, Wren, Starling, Blackbird, Robin, Black Redstart*, Stonechat, Wheatear*, House Sparrow, Dunnock, Yellow Wagtail*, Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Linnet, Reed Bunting

Mammals:

Rabbit, harbour porpoise

Butterflies:

Small white, brimstone, peacock

Others:

7-spot ladybird, Buff-tailed bumblebee