A planned trip to Minsmere with a friend and his son to see the Lesser Kestrel was hastily re-arranged as the bird did a disappearing act and instead plans were made to visit Dungeness. The weather reports gave indication that it wasn't going to be too good but the decision was made to go anyway. As I wandered through the early morning mist and along the Estate lane to the pick-up point the chattering of Rooks from the nearby Rookery could already be heard, the odd 'Kaar' rang out across the open fields as if to assemble the troops for the days foraging in the fields and further up the lane a lone Robin sang with vigour from one of the tree tops.
The journey was fairly uneventful with a few Common Buzzards being spotted on the way, the weather on the other hand was looking ominous and the further we travelled the darker the skies got until the rain began. Remarkably as we reached Old Romney the rain stopped, the clouds started to break and small patches of blue sky began to appear.
Arriving at the Dungeness lighthouse we were greeted by blue skies with and the odd wispy white cloud, it was brisk but the morning sun brought with it a typical bright spring morning. I turned my attention to trying to find a Black Redstart before we made our way to the beach, despite searching and listening I couldn't find any and we made our way towards the sea. At the top of the beach the strong sea breeze hit us forcing us to lean in to the wind to steady ourselves. Even through my scope it was difficult to see anything, the sea was choppy and anything seen soon disappeared behind a wave. We walked along to the hide at 'The Patch' and from inside the hide managed to pick out a flock of Common Scoter drifting west, also present were a few Great Crested Grebes, Cormorant and plenty of the usual Gulls. Deciding to try for the Penduline Tits at the Hanson ARC pit we headed back to the car finding 2 Wheatear on the approach road before we left.
Parking at the Hanson ARC car park we headed east along the footpath passing departing birders as we went, the news was that all 3 Penduline Tits were showing well. Continuing along the path we reached our destination, a small mound at the end of the path which had now become the watchpoint for the Pendulines. Here a small group of people stood looking in to the reedbeds, immediately the birds showed in the Willows behind the reedbeds but all to brief to get a good view as they dropped out of sight. A male Reed Bunting kept everybody on their toes as it appeared and disappeared amongst the Willows, with the sun facing us it became difficult to identify quickly and every time it appeared everybody swung round to see if it was a Penduline which brought a few laughs, Cetti's Warblers were in good voice and bursting in to song and the occasional Chiffchaff were singing. The Pendulines then reappeared at the top of the Bulrushes where they started to feed giving good views once you could find them through the plant stems, it wasn't easy at first but once you had your eye-in the views became better until they moved to where the sun was directly facing you. They stayed feeding for a couple of minutes until they flew off together. As most had now seen the birds they left leaving just the three of us which meant I could try for a couple of photos if the birds returned, they did return and after we had looked at the birds through my scope I tried for a couple of photos. It was nigh on impossible to say the least, the sun and the reed stems obscuring the birds made it very difficult but I did manage a couple of "record shots". We watched the Penduline Tits for another ten minutes until they flew off and we then headed off to the Hanson ARC hide.
The skies were just starting to cloud over as we reached the hide, a faint calling Wagtail caught our eye as it flew over but it was too quick to see and i didn't hear the call until it had passed over, our thoughts led us to Yellow Wagtail. From the hide the water seemed quiet with the usual wildfowl present, a few Goldeneye, good numbers of Swallow, Sand & House Martin were flying low over the waters surface feeding and a Marsh Harrier put in a brief appearance before being lost to sight. Leaving the hide we found the Yellow Wagtail and again the Marsh Harrier could be seen quartering the pits north of the hide. As we neared the car park we stopped to view the hedges hoping that a Tree Sparrow might be lurking somewhere in the undergrowth, almost immediately we noticed two sat in hedge with one remaining in view long enough for us to get some really nice views.
After a quick look in the visitor centre we made our way out in to the reserve, the weather was starting to worsen rapidly and we knew it was only a matter of time before the heavens opened. Zach had taken on a childrens RSPB competition that would win him a piece of chocolate for Easter if he answered all the questions that were hidden in the hides around the reserve correctly, this certainly gave him added incentive to drag his little legs for a little while longer. Views from both Firth and Makepeace hide brought the usual wildfowl with a couple of unmentionables and a few Cetti's again were in full song. We headed towards Scott hide just as a light rain shower started, the skies were now blanketed grey as far as the eye could see and the decision was made that we would turn back after Scott hide. The small pit north of Scott hide held a welcome sight that appeared through the rain, a Slavonian Grebe which slowly headed towards us from the far bank. We stood watching as it preened whilst floating towards our direction, the rain had now stopped giving me a chance for a couple of photos which were dependant on whether the Grebe would start feeding again, it didn't and I snapped away before suddenly noticing a Black-necked grebe some 50yrds away and getting closer. I'd been so focused on watching the Slavionain Grebe I hadn't even seen the Black-necked until now, unlike the Slavionain Grebe which was just starting to moult in to summer plumage the Black-necked Grebe was still in winter plumage and of course it was an exceptional field lesson in shape and profile. The Black-necked Grebe turned away from us and headed back along the eastern edge of the pit and out of sight just as the rain returned. Zach had now answered all of his quiz questions and completed the anagram(Swallow was the answer if you really want to know)so we decided to make our way back to the visitor centre getting a another view of the Black-necked Grebe before we left.
Back at the visitor centre Zach collected his winnings and managed to convince his dad that a new bird book was called for(he has also convinced him to buy the Collins Bird Guide 2nd Edition, good going Zach you're leaning fast). We had a quick look around the shop and then headed to the Britannia for something to eat before heading for home. A good day before the rain arrived and especially pleasing to see both Slavonian and Black-necked Grebe together and the Penduline Tits which were a lifer for me.