Birds: Jan 2018
A vivid sunrise hinted at some unpleasantness to come and it was not long before the wind became blustery and drizzle moved in. The daily Bonxie was seen offshore and the Teal flock on the scrape has increased to 840, but it was otherwise dull and unproductive.
It was monthly WeBS count day on the Pegwell SPA, unlike yesterday carried out in pleasant sunshine after an initial hour and a half of greyness. Wildfowl and wader numbers were pretty average, reflecting the mild weather, but a hunting pair of obviously hungry Peregrines didn’t help keep things settled. Otherwise, single Kingfisher and Buzzard were the highlights and a flock of 43 Fieldfares in the Sampher may have indicated some early shuffling about.
Lydden Valley WeBS count day brought more wet weather, though the worst of it got here after we had finished our perambulations which, for the mild winter it has been so far, brought some interesting results. Duck numbers featured 350 Wigeon on Worth and 730 Teal on the scrape – the most so far this winter – while other bits and pieces included a female Merlin, 4 Jack Snipe and a Bearded Tit.
Oh dear, a very wet morning indeed. Perseverance through the rain brought excellent views of the usual Firecrest in the Elms but little else asides from soggy clothing.
What a difference a day makes! Calm and clear with a heavy frost – the first this month – it was a far cry from yesterday’s stroppy start. In the event it was another day of bits and pieces, mainly involving the usual suspects, but it was still nice to re-acquaint with the Firecrest in the Elms, a Brambling nearby and 7 Stonechats, scattered liberally across the Estate.
Coming into work beneath a particularly distraught weeping willow emphasised the strength of the wind overnight, which gusted to 63mph ahead of a seawatch that was better than it had a right to be in a gale force westerly, with 3 Bonxies, 114 Gannets and 370 Cormorants heading N. However, the scrape held more wildfowl than at any point in the winter so far, with 645 Teal, 20 Shoveler and 13 Gadwall the highlights.
Bright but with a face-scouring wind that gusted to near gale force at times, it was difficult to find much, though the Jack Snipe were still showing on Worth and a Green Sandpiper was flushed from one of the ditches.
Well, what a couple of days! Hard on the heels of yesterday’s biggie, a walk across New Downs produced not only a Chiffchaff – only the second here this year – but also a Pochard and what must be a world record count of 93 Coot on the ponds and reservoirs (at least for the last ten years, that is). Just like the saying about London buses and policemen, Chiffchaffs were also found in the Elms and on Worth and 3 Jack Snipe, also on Worth, appear to be the only ones present in the area this winter.
A howling SW gale with very poor visibility brought a bit of variety to the inhabitants of the scrape, but offshore it was all but impossible to see anything. However, just to prove that you can never take anything for granted in this game, a Christmas Tree passed N on the sea – very probably a first for the Observatory and only the second it has been my privilege to witness while seawatching. The previous example passed E off Foreness in January about four decades ago, with a Black-headed Gull on top, while today’s was unadorned.
It’s just as well that the background temperature is relatively mild, as the SE wind, even though it was light and some watery sun was doing its best, had a distinctly spiny feel. An overflying adult White-fronted Goose was rather unexpected and not long after the Dartford Warbler was discovered in its clump of gorse on Restharrow. Otherwise, an unringed Firecrest was in the Elms, confirming the presence of at least two individuals, 514 Teal were on the scrape and, rather unexpectedly, a Red Kite was found on Worth in the afternoon.
Although it was mostly overcast there was no wind and the sea was like the proverbial mill pond. When the sun poked through for around half an hour in late morning it was almost like spring for a while, particularly with the local tits singing and being generally friskier than usual. The Velvet Scoter showed well off the Estate, a Firecrest and a Brambling were in the Elms and the Teal flock on the scrape increased to 435, though variety continues to reflect the mild weather. A slog across the marshes on Worth brought us the first Bearded Tit of the year in one of the ditches, three Water Pipits on the flood pools, the over-wintering Treecreeper in the Great Wood, three Green Sandpipers, and two Ravens on Willow Farm.
A gloomy morning with some light rain was elevated from the utterly depressing by 2 Dartford Warblers and 6 Stonechats along the beach and, along the Green Wall, a Water Pipit, a second Lesser Redpoll of the winter and the most surprising sight of a first-winter Glaucous Gull, following the river inland at some height.
Brightness soon developed after some overnight rain and it turned out to be a very pleasant morning, even if the birding was very slow. Around 1500 Cormorants were seen offshore and a Treecreeper had the decency to show itself along the Green Wall, but it was otherwise hard work.
Sometimes you just can’t win. Save for a flock of 160 Fieldfares, the largest for some time, a walk over Worth was about as productive as an ice-cube stall at Everest base camp. However, those amongst us who chose to do the usual circuit of the Estate were rewarded with 25 White-fronted Geese N over the Elms, a Velvet Scoter on the sea and Firecrest, also in the Elms. Last, but hardly least, the only Woodcock of the winter thus far was seen on New Downs and 2 Dartford Warblers were in buckthorn along the beach.
Dull with a cold easterly breeze it was not the most hospitable morning to be out, but the sight of a Barn Owl on New Downs was well worth the trudge along the Green Wall and beyond.
Gazing into a strong north easterly gale may not be everyone’s idea of a relaxing sunday morning but that’s what today brought. To be honest though it wasn’t nearly as eventful offshore as it could have been. A Black-throated Diver took headline billing as top sighting of the day with a supporting cast of four Pintails, 21 Kittiwakes, and 45 Auks all worthy of a mention. A Brent Goose was on Restharrow Scrape and the first Lesser Redpoll of the year was in the Elms.
After such a dry 2017 this year has already gone some way to raising the water table in the area. The level on Restharrow Scrape is increasing each day in line with Teal numbers (today numbering 505). It was however pleasing to be out in the first dry morning this year to census the Estate. The over-wintering Firecrest showed well in the Elms but the only new migrants in seemed to be two Fieldfares around the Obs. Worth was reasonably productive though with a few Water Pipits and Bramblings and best of all a roosting Tawny Owl in the Great Wood.
Our morning excursions were interrupted by rain that arrived two hours earlier than forecast, which was nice. It would probably have been pretty quiet anyway, with most thrushes having cleared out from Worth where, despite much more surface water than a couple of weeks ago, it was more or less devoid of wildfowl and much else of interest apart from a Marsh Harrier and a Little Egret. Treecreeper and 4 Water Rails along the Green Wall rounded off a pretty squelchy morning.
Early rain lasted until about 9.30 then turned into drizzle, which finally gave in around 11. There was very little breeze, so conditions were not too bad and a ramble around the state turned up the obligatory Bonxie on the sea, a Raven that flew N early on and, on the scrape, 400 Teal and the first Little Grebe for around 6 months; testimony to the rising water levels, even though they remain well below where they should be in winter.
Well actually it’s not all right Lady Eleanor, as the storm of the same name brought overnight gusts of 60mph overnight. It had moderated a tad by dawn and the rain had cleared away, but was still pretty close to a westerly gale. One brave soul established that the Snow Buntings were still on Cinque Ports, while a Bonxie was seen again offshore and the Teal flock on the scrape rose to a new winter high of 386 and the Green Sandpiper was still present.
5 Snow Buntings remained on one of the golf course greens, more or less opposite the Chequers, and the Dartford Warbler was relocated after about a week of hiding, this time near Restharrow Scrape. Otherwise, 2,300 Cormorants flew S early on and 92 Great Crested Grebes were on the sea, while a Bonxie flew by and an adult Mediterranean Gull was floating about among the local Black-heads.
Happy New Year y’all! A bright-ish start soon clouded over and rain arrived just after 10, becoming heavy and persistent. In the mild conditions there was nothing surprising, though a walk across New Downs produced 2 Kingfishers, 2 Peregrines hunting in tandem along the river, a Marsh Harrier and 820 Lapwings, while Treecreeper and Coal Tit were located along the Green Wall, a Dartford Warbler was found along the beach and 2 Bewick’s Swans were seen on Worth.