Thursday, 11 September 2008

Dungeness, Kent. 7th Sept 2008.

With Autumn migration well underway Roy Rose and I planned a trip to Dungeness, Kent which would hopefully give us a chance to see a few species that we had missed earlier in the year as well as seeing both Common Crane and White-winged Black Tern. As Dungeness is situated on the south east coast it offers views out across the north of the English channel and is very good for the observation of seabird passage. During Spring and Autumn migration the surrounding pits can be hive of activity as birds fuel up before continuing their migration to breeding or wintering grounds. We had both visited earlier in the year for our first time and had a fantastic days birding. Arctic, Great and Pomarine Skua had all been seen at sea, Black Redstart at the Nuclear facility and Bearded Tit and Blue-headed Wagtail at the RSPB Reserve. On our way a Ring-necked Parakeet flew over the M25 to start the day off.

Tree Sparrow
Common Crane

We arrived at Dungeness and headed straight to the Hanson ARC Hide where we hoped to find the long staying Common Cranes, entering the Hanson Hide we were greeted with the more common waterfowl and wader species on the ARC pit, an adult and juvenile Ringed Plover were scurrying frantically around on the closest island with a single Dunlin in tow, good numbers of Lapwing present and masses of Swallow, Sand and House Martin and the odd Swift as they joined in the melee feeding over the pits. There was no sign of the Common Cranes and disappointed as we were a Marsh Harrier slowly quartering over the eastern end of the pits lifted the spirits. There was plenty of Tern activity with both Common and Black Tern feeding over the ARC pit and while watching them the call went out, "Common Crane" somebody shouted and we turned to see both Cranes coming in to land in the middle of the pit. Down they came landing gently next to one of the small islands and immediately preened and ruffled their feathers, they soon started to wade through the water together stopping occasionally to probe in the water beneath them. We watched them as they continued to strut around majestically and there was often moments of bonding as both birds reared up, opened their wings and stretched their necks. I have been lucky enough to have seen them in Norfolk coming in to roost and last year a single bird gave very good views at Cropready in Oxfordshire. In the UK the Common Crane became extinct in 17th century but since the early 80's has had a small population in North Norfolk, The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) are currently aiming to re-establish a breeding population of cranes at a new wetland site in the UK, hopefully securing its future as a UK breeding species.

Common Crane

We left the Hanson site and headed over the road to the RSPB Dungeness Reserve hoping that the juvenile White-winged Black Tern would still be present on Burrowes pit, after viewing the sightings board we wandered towards Makepeace hide with the hope of getting the best views of the WWBT. Passing a family of Little grebes with 2 well grown young on the small pit between the visitor centre and Firth hide we soon heard Cetti's Warbler as it burst in to sub song from the pathway scrub, a Yellow Wagtail flew over and again large numbers of Hirundines filled the air, no doubt fuelling up before they depart for warmer climes. From Makepeace hide we soon spotted at least 6 Black Terns feeding on the far side of the Burrowes pit and amongst these was the juvenile White-winged Black Tern, a lifer for both Roy and I, I have to say worth the visit alone. It continued to feed for the 30 or so minutes we watched it, remaining on the eastern side of the pit in close attendance with the Black Terns. Taking your eyes of it for a second was a big mistake and it soon disappeared amongst the Black Terns until it could be located again by the black mantle which gives the juveniles a saddle effect. Another sighting of Marsh Harrier at the Makepeace hide and a very pale individual at the Denge Marsh hide, and a "pinging" Bearded Tit could be heard near the viewpoint near Denge Marsh.

Common Tern

We left the RSPB reserve stopping at Boulderwall Farm on the way out hoping that we might see Tree Sparrow, we had no luck and decided to head to the sea. At the Dungeness lighthouse we parked up and headed towards the beach, a Peregrine swooped round the nuclear facility and perched on the adjoining scaffolding surprising a few on looking Pigeons. At sea a steady stream of Gannets passed by in small groups and Little Gull, Black, Sandwich and Commic Terns slowly passed by both out at sea and along the shoreline. Out at sea the only movement seemed to be a number of large container ships until Roy picked up on a Skua flying west and approaching one of the buoys, as it approached we soon identified it as a Great Skua due to it's bulky appearance and large white wing flash on it's brown body, later a Turnstone flew west out at sea. On our way back to the car a Black Redstart called from the Dungeness nuclear facility but couldn't be located.

Tree Sparrow

Back at the Hanson Pits The Common Cranes appeared overhead and dropped down on to the ARC pit, their trumpeting calls alerting us to their presence. We then began our search for Tree Sparrow around the car park and viewing the path that leads to the viewing screens at the ARC pit we finally found a small group of a dozen or so birds feeding both on the floor and in the Elderberry bushes. We inched ourselves towards the gate so not to flush them and marvelled at these now scare members of the Sparrow family, gathered together on the floor in front of us they busily went about their business, squabbling over what goodies were to be found. It's sad to think that this once common species is now becoming harder to find each year. A female Common Whitethroat made it's way through the Blackberry bushes next to us until it appeared in full view before quickly flitting through the undergrowth and out of sight. We decide to walk along the path to the viewing screen and take a look at the pit watching with baited breath as a male Sparrowhawk shot across the path in front of us in chase of it's prey, difficult to say whether it was a Linnet, Meadow Pipit or Tree Sparrow but it escaped all the same and the Sparrowhawk headed off over the pit. As we entered the viewing screen everything on the pit flushed, Gulls first followed by Lapwing and then the rest of the waders, I searched unsuccessfully for a raptor and soon the birds returned to the pit with many of the waders touching down in front of the viewing screen. Firstly Wood Sandpiper landed in front of the screen followed in succession by Dunlin, Greenshank and then Little Stint. The Common and Black Terns were still airborne on the far side of the pit and a Little Egret was feeding along the waters edge next to the viewing screen. A single Black-necked Grebe on the ARC pit was still retaining some of it's summer plumage and spent most of it's time preening and diving to the left of the viewing screen. On the way back to the car a Kingfisher shot across the path and headed towards the ARC pit.

Common Whitethroat

I then learnt that an Osprey had been seen fishing at the nearby Long pits at exactly the same time as the birds flushed from the Arc pit, we we're disappointed to have missed it and both Roy and I headed to the Long pits in search of it. We meet another birder who had been watching it from the road and he led us to the best viewing places along the Long pits, a nice close up of a Chiffchaff as it fed in the bushes at the edge of the pit and later a Hobby. There was no sign of the Osprey and we trudged back to the car and drove back to the reserve to view the pits from the other side, from the RSPB visitor centre a large window views the Burrowes pit and across towards the Long pit, if anything became airborne we would have a very good chance of seeing it from here. We waited till the reserve centre shut and despite watching everything that moved our luck had run out, 2 Marsh Harriers gave good views as they drifted over the Burrowes pit avoiding a harassing Sparrowhawk as they went and our first and only Common Sandpiper of the day fed on the waters edge of the Burrowes pit along with Redshank.

Added To My Year List.

205. Common Crane
206. White-winged Black Tern
207. Tree Sparrow
208. Little Stint

Added To My Life List.

304. White-winged Black Tern

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