The end to the month has been very quiet, both in terms of weather and birds, which have changed very little since the cold weather withdrew. Best of the bunch have been 2 Short-eared Owls and a Little Owl.
Storm Gertrude clattered in overnight and continued throughout the morning, bringing strong to gale force SW winds, but very little to go with it.
What a difference a day makes! Bright and calm, if a little frosty to start with, it was a lovely midwinter day. There was a noticeable upsurge in pre-breeding activity, with several pairs of Grey Partridges between HQ and the Chequers, a lone Long-tailed Tit alarm-calling close to one of their usual nest sites and 2 Song Thrushes singing lustily amid a plethora of singing Robins. There was a Woodcock on the Estate, a Chiffchaff on the shore and a solitary Siskins in alders near the gullies, while the Bewick’s was still present out on the marsh.
With a SW gale blowing light to moderate squally showers through we embarked upon a seawatch with appropriate levels of optimism, but an hour later realised the folly of our ways and retired to HQ to do something sensible, like writing last year’s Annual Report. Use of words like ‘highlights’ would be over-egging things to an extent as yet undefined by modern particle physics, though a Grey Seal – irregular around these parts – did stick its nose through the waves at one point.
A fairly benign start to the day was steadily eroded by a gathering SW wind, with the promise of a foul 24 hours to come. There was little to remark upon on land but offshore 2 Bonxies flew S again and a distant flock of at least 300 Kittiwakes headed downchannel – the largest gathering here for several years.
There isn’t much to report from the weekend, except for the 2 Goosanders that visited the scrape and 2 Ravens over New Downs on Saturday and the Bewick’s Swan that seems quite happy in its field with the local Mute Swans. This morning brought little change, although it was almost Saharan by comparison with the same time last week, with one of the Goosanders on the scrape in the half-light before dawn.
A bit warmer this morning but at the expense of approaching rain, an hour and a half looking at the sea was largely unsurprising until a stonking Great Northern Diver flew by, close enough inshore to see the colour of its bill. A good bird at the Bay, this may well have been the Ramsgate Harbour individual.
It was similarly cold overnight and calm and very frosty this morning, although it did become a little warmer than yesterday. Apart from a Blackcap that turned up in the nets the Estate was very quiet but New Downs was very productive, with Raven and 2 drake Goosanders and a Common Sandpiper at Backsand Point being the highlights.
Bright and cold after sub-zero overnight temperatures, this morning brought an obvious influx of Song Thrushes, of which there were 11 on the Estate and 8 along the beach, where the Dartford Warbler was flitting about in the buckthorn, 2 Snow Buntings flew over and 2-3 Jack Snipe were seen. Otherwise, a Woodcock that flew over the Elms may have been a new cold-weather arrival and a Firecrest was found again.
It was time to cross the vast wastes of New Downs and beyond for this month’s WeBS counts and despite a very cold start with a light but character-building SE breeze it turned out to be quite productive. Notable sightings included a Green Sandpiper, by no means annual here in winter these days, 9 Little Egrets, a Woodcock at the edge of the Sampher and a Black-tailed Godwit on the flood, together with a very high count of 147 Shelduck. Otherwise, an adult Little Gull flew along the shore and, as with Worth yesterday, wildfowl numbers remain unremarkable.
So far this winter WeBS counts on Worth have been utterly soporific but this morning’s was very productive. Top of the list was a Great White Egret that flew inland, a flock of 72 White-fronted Geese flew S over Fowlmead and then back towards Pegwell, a Bewick’s Swan was munching with the Mute Swans by the railway and other pleasantries included 300 Golden Plover and 1200 Lapwing on the fields and a Kingfisher at Roaring Gutter. However, wildfowl numbers remain very disappointing.
A bright but breezy morning brought a real taste of winter, as a raw NW wind continued from yesterday afternoon. An hour and a half looking out to sea was not the most productive session in the heady annals of SBBO seawatching history, but over 30 Brent Geese flew by in assorted directions. The eastern Chiffchaff was still showing well in the Elms.
It was a quiet morning as if everything recognised that a bright start to the day was a false dawn and the weather was going to turn stroppy, as indeed it did from around midday. Just about the only things of note on Worth were a Marsh Harrier, a Kingfisher and a party of 28 Pied Wagtails at a flooded bit of Blue Pigeons. However, one brave soul decided on a walk along the beach and re-found the Dartford Warbler, behaving very uncooperatively in buckthorn north of Prince’s, 2 Snow Buntings and a Red-legged Partridge; possibly featuring in these updates for the first time.
Suspicions of a Siberian-type Chiffchaff were confirmed by the presence and call of a grey individual in the gullies this morning, while an unringed Firecrest was proof that at least two individuals are present, but about as elusive as the aforementioned Chiffchaff. To the north, 5 pale-bellied Brent Geese were nibbling grass on New Downs and a Red-breasted Merganser was seen offshore. 6 Little Gulls were present over the fields yesterday evening, by the way.
The Little Gull flock over the fields increased to 7 yesterday evening and 2 were still present this morning, with 2 adult Med. Gulls for good measure. Otherwise, it was quiet, although 2 Coal Tits appeared on the Estate and 5 Chiffchaffs were still in the Elms and gullies.
The sea continued to be the main attraction over the weekend, producing three Bonxies and 2 Little Gulls on Saturday and 4 Little Gulls and the first Med. Gull of the year yesterday, while a very surprising 319 Common Scoter flew N and 8 more Little Gulls were cavorting over the fields surrounding the Estate. At least 4 of the Little Gulls remained on the fields this morning, with 2 more offshore, where a Bonxie and 2 Med. Gulls flew S.
Rain was supposed to clear through overnight, but it had the ill grace to arrive just before dawn. However, once it began to clear a two-hour seawatch was very productive (by Sandwich Bay standards) with totals of 31 Little Gulls and a Velvet Scoter S and 100 Wigeon N. Four Little Gulls also turned up over the scrape.
Rain finally stooped at some point overnight and apart from a couple of short, light showers the morning became increasingly sunny and warm; enough to tempt out the first butterflies of the year. A splash across Worth was notable mainly for 50 Reed Buntings, 35 Corn Buntings and 8 Yellowhammers, mostly associating with a weedy field near Blue Pigeons, though 2 Peregrines, 3 Marsh Harriers and a Lanner-type falcon were worth a mention. Back on the Estate, a Sparrowhawk and a Firecrest were in the Elms, though no Chiffchaffs were to be seen, and 3 adult Little Gulls appeared over the scrape.
Overnight rain lasted throughout the day, becoming torrential for a time in the morning. Under the circumstances, peering out to sea once the worst had cleared through was about the only option and an hour and a half in between showers was rewarded by 4 more Little Gulls that flew S just before midday.
In a heady mix of sunshine and showers , with a light SW breeze, offshore movement this morning produced 3 Avocets, 2 Little Gulls, 128 Red-throated Divers, 56 Wigeon and 44 auks, which might not sound much, but is the most here for at least two years.
Dull with a gathering SSW breeze and approaching rain, the morning was a good deal better than anticipated, thanks to a Little Egret over the Observatory, 14 Little Gulls heading S offshore and a party of 12 White-fronted Geese that flew in from the NE on to Willow Farm. Also of note, though it is not really a bird, was a Harbour Porpoise; the second record in the last week or so.
The start to the New Year was a bit of a shock to the system, as a waning moon gazed down on the first significant frost of the winter. Still, a calm, cold start was a good stimulus to get moving and good coverage of the area in the search for difficult-to-find species for the year turned up a party of Bearded Tits, calling invisibly from reeds by the river, an Eider floating offshore and a Short-eared Owl at Dickson’s Corner, while the Great Crested Grebe flock offshore had increased to 141.