As we drove through Skirmett on the way to the M40 a Little Owl was perched in one of it's favourite haunts starting the day off well. We made good time and after a quick coffee stop headed off to Dungeness, as we approached the sea front we could see the lighthouses in the distance and looked for a parking place.
Parking up by the old lighthouse we headed up the beach passing the nuclear power station, I commented that it might be worth having a look on our way back for Black Redstart and on we continued. At the first hide we joined a dozen or so birders that were watching the sea, we were greeted by a very friendly couple who told us what had already passed through out at sea, they regaled us with sightings of Great, Arctic & close views of Pomarine Skua passing off shore, suddenly the shouts went up "Great Skua" and we soon got views of our first Skua as it passed by in good view. With Dungeness having a large nuclear facility it didn't take long before we had a visit from the local Police on the beach, it did come as a surprise however that they were armed but after a short chat and some good humour they continued on their patrol. Over a 2 hour spell we watched Gannet, Great, Arctic & Pomarine Skua pass by with good views of rafts of Common Scoter that included Velvet Scoter flying by and later on the surface far beyond "the patch", a pair of Red-breasted Merganser & a small group of Whimbrels flew past and Common, Arctic & Sandwich Tern were all seen.
After spending 2 hours sea watching we made our way back towards the car park and soon heard a Black Redstart singing nearby, it stopped so we got in the car and slowly drove along until we located it again. we parked up and jumped out and watched a fantastic male Black Redstart singing on the perimeter fence, it soon crossed over the track and behind a nearby cottage giving only teasing glimpse's before heading back towards the facility buildings. It remained around the buildings singing from the rooftops and at one point we thought we heard perhaps two singing. Fantastic bird to see and I was delighted to have had such a good view of it as we all were.
At RSPB Dungeness we met up with the Reading Ornithological Club who were also spending the day here, we said hello to a few familiar faces and entered the visitor centre to gain entrance to the reserve. A quick read of the sightings board and a look round the shop and it was out into the reserve stopping at Firth Hide first, these pools were probably the busiest with the commoner waterfowl and the best birds being 2 Little Gulls and both Common & Arctic Tern. A Cetti's Warbler burst in to song next to the hide, Sedge Warbler & Whitethroat were also present.
We continued along the path hearing more Cetti's & Sedge Warbler and Whitethroat and after a short wait we had also seen them all with the Cetti's obviously proving much harder to see, the wait paid off as we started to continue along the path a female Marsh harrier drifted over giving excellent views as it slowly cruised over the reedbeds, passed the hide and out of sight.
Continuing along the path there was a hive of activity going on both sides of us, Common Whitethroat & Sedge Warbler being seen and heard at almost every step, plenty of Reed Buntings & Meadow Pipits, the odd Linnet here and there and again Cetti's Warblers singing. My first year sighting of Swift came near the Christmas Dell Hide as they wheeled over the freshwater pits, again the Marsh Harrier appeared over the pit and was soon chased off by Lapwing & Crows. Further along the path we stopped to view the floods seeing Whimbrel and a single Greenshank and soon saw our first Wheatears of the day, 2 cracking males which continued in their search for food very close to where we were standing.
We entered the Denge Marsh hide were a RSPB guide was hosting a group trip round the reserve, we squeezed in to a few available spots and tried not too disturb them. I unzipped my scope and looked through the lens and out on to the water, the first thing I saw was a male Garganey sat in full view, I called to Roy & Keith that I had found a male Garganey and before long the whole of the hide were watching it, as many were without scopes I offered them a chance to get a close up of it and headed to the other end of the hide where Roy had spotted a Hobby hawking over the far side of the lake, a stock dove was feeding in the fields and again the Marsh Harrier made an appearance and again it was seen off.
We had a chat to the RSPB guide who thanked us for pointing out the Garganey & Hobby and in return showed us the best place to see Bearded Tit, we waited at the viewpoint watching the reeds and listening for it's metallic "pching, pching" call. Roy got a glimpse as one flew round in front of him but it soon disappeared through the reeds and we waited in the hope it would return, moments later it flew back in to the opposite reedbed coming to rest in the front of the reeds, a fantastic view showed this bird to be a male.
Further along the path heading back towards the car park we stopped to view across the sheep fields, Roy soon found a wagtail that was standing underneath a Sheep, we knew Yellow Wagtails were present as we had already seen and heard two flying overhead earlier in the day and now perhaps we would get a better view. I have to say the moment it was in view I thought it was a Yellow Wagtail but there was some deliberation from one of the BOC members as to it being a Grey Wagtail, it certainly had the features of Yellow wagtail, yellow throat, olive-brown back, short tail and longer legs than the Grey but with a grey head and cheeks, black eye stripe and white supercilium. It wasn't till later that I realised that it was in fact a male Blue-headed Wagtail(Motacilla flava).
After returning to the car park we made our way by car back to the beach at Dungeness again with the news that an Iceland Gull had been seen at "the patch", unfortunately there was no sign of the bird but still good Skua passage out at sea. We wandered back towards the car park by the lighthouse again stopping to watch and listen to the Black Redstart. Stonechat, Wheatear and a few Meadow Pipits were also seen around the car park and nuclear facility and a quick stop off at the RSPB reserve again before we left gave us a good view of a male Cuckoo sat on a fence post.
Added To My Year List
152. Arctic Skua
153. Great Skua
154. Pomarine Skua
155. Common Scoter
156. Black Redstart
157. Marsh Harrier
161. Bearded Tit
162. Blue-headed Wagtail