Trip Report: RSPB Dungeness

We arrived at Dungeness at about 10.30 having had to take a rather unorthodox route to avoid the lorry park on the M20. We were met at the car park by one of the Dungeness Bird Observatory wardens, which Rebecca had arranged, who told us that there’d been a few good birds around in the morning, having been quite quiet for the preceding few days. Seawatching had produced arctic skua and velvet scoter, whilst they had already ringed a few willow warblers, black redstarts were about along with a few wheatear and 12 garganey had been seen on the RSPB reserve the day before. As we had limited time, we hastened to the seawatching hide, with Rebecca meeting us en route; she had arrived earlier and had enjoyed seeing some of the earlier seabird passage. As we approached the power station a peregrine was seen flying around the building and then perched up, showing well to everybody – a good start!

​On arrival at the hide one of the regulars told us that things had ‘slowed down a bit in the last hour’ which wasn’t what we wanted to hear. With his help we managed to see a flock of 15 red throated divers go past as well as groups of common scoter, a flock of seven brent geese and a trickle of Sandwich terns. A few porpoises were also seen. Over the wall of the power station there is a small water treatment area, a good site for black redstarts, but all we could see were starlings, linnets, pied wagtails and a meadow pipit. The warden had mentioned that a couple of black redstarts had been seen in the vicinity of the Bird Observatory so we made that our next port of call but there was no sign of them nor any willow warblers; just a single chiff-chff that looked to have been ringed that morning. Scouring the shingle area behind the Observatory, we couldn’t see any wheatear although distant kestrel and buzzard were noted through the heat haze.

​Deciding to cut our losses we decamped to the next site, the ARC pit, a large gravel pit opposite the RSPB reserve entrance. However, as we left the shingle area of the peninsula we kept our eyes peeled for wheatears as Diana had thought she’d seen one on the way in. Ray managed to see one silhouetted on a pile of sleepers but the minibus was unable to stop so few people managed to see it.

​At the ARC pit we headed straight to the viewing platform as the RSPB staff had warned Rebecca that the hide on site was closed, having been condemned. Singing blackcap and chiff-chaff were heard as was a loud cetti’s warbler and a couple of oystercatchers were feeding in the grass. From the platform a small group of 4 glossy ibis were seen feeding at the front of a reed bed, showing very nicely in the sunlight. A distant flock of five little egrets and several shelduck were also seen. There was little else to note from that viewpoint, however we did see somebody going into the ‘condemned’ hide opposite. As the light would be better from that angle we hot footed it there, finding that the hide had been refurbished and was far from falling apart. Unfortunately, the ibis couldn’t be seen from the hide but a male and female marsh harrier were out hunting and there were several goldeneye on the water as were teal, pochard and shoveler and an avocet was also seen.

​Following the warden’s instructions, we stopped just inside the RSPB reserve proper, overlooking two fleets. Just visible on the second, more distant, fleet were two male garganey and possibly a female as well. Our viewing position was quite difficult and not everybody could see them and they gently drifted out of sight into some reeds. However, our luck was in as, whilst we were all concentrating on the garganey, a great egret had landed in the nearer fleet about 40 metres from us and proceeded to show extremely well before heading off. Boulderwall Farm at the entrance to the reserve has historically been a very reliable site for tree sparrows but, as with the site at Beddington Sewage Works, these delightful birds are no longer seen there with any regularity. We then parked up at the Visitors Centre and scanned the pit in front of us. We added a pair of pintail to the day list and, after carefully checking that they didn’t have yellow eye rings, a pair of ringed plover. A lucky few also saw a flash of blue as a kingfisher zipped past in front of the hide. The feeding station in the clump of trees opposite the Centre was busy and we saw house sparrow, greenfinch, chaffinch and great tits.

​Proceeding around the reserve most of the hides had either been removed or blown away, however there were plenty of viewing opportunities. A loud ‘cronking’ call overhead drew our attention to a raven flying over and both willow warbler and sedge warbler were both heard and seen by some. On a flooded field there were a few teal as well as redshank, a little egret and a black tailed godwit. The next flooded field contained more duck including teal and shoveler as well as a splendid male garganey who stood sideways on the bank, as if auditioning for the next Collins ID guide! He showed extremely well for half the group but unfortunately the other half were less fortunate as only some of them saw it before it disappeared from sight. Approaching Dengemarsh a bittern ‘boomed’ a couple of times before falling silent but a few members heard a second bird booming from the reed beds a bit later. Whilst waiting in vain for the first bird to call again Rebecca picked out a very distant yellow wagtail which confounded several members by being extremely distant and disappearing from time to time behind tussocks of grass and there were several lapwings in the same field.

​The walk back to the Centre was fairly uneventful with the only surprise being a green woodpecker calling and briefly seen in flight around the trees opposite the Centre.

​A jay was spotted from the minibus on the M25 as we travelled home making it a six corvid day; around sixty species had been seen or heard during the day in total but surprisingly we hadn’t seen any hirundines or a moorhen !

by Andy Roberts