Birds: March 2018
An abrupt change in the weather saw the Estate battered by gale force hail and snow. Sea-watching in the borderline white-out conditions was challenging but also rewarding due to the steady procession of Little Gulls heading south offshore. Over the course of two hours a total of 41 birds flew past, all winter adults, whilst 21 Pintails was notable too. There was little to see in the bushes though a Chiffchaff was forlornly calling in the Whitehouse. Another foray out in the afternoon saw 25 Barnacle and 390 Brent Geese go north offshore close in plus at least six Firecrests around the Elms, and perhaps the biggest surprise . . . a Knot on Restharrow Scrape.
Bright with a light SSW breeze there was again no movement to speak of, though six Firecrests were present and probably more representative of the situation yesterday, while six Chiffchaffs and two Siskins were seen along the Green Wall and the Great White Egret was still present on Worth.
Overcast with light rain and a SE breeze it had all the theoretical hallmarks of a good morning, which of course turned out to be the opposite of what we’d hoped for. Still, despite the near absence of any movement, 450 Starlings flew N or out to sea, 5 Firecrests were present – typical of a SE breeze in spring – and a Chiffchaff was bouncing about in trees on Restharrow Scrape.
Bright from the word go and initially with little wind it was predictably a pale shadow of yesterday. Nevertheless, 196 Chaffinches flew into the steadily gathering SE breeze, along with 700 Starlings (of which 20,000 flew out to sea over Worth at dawn, presumably having roosted overnight) and small numbers of Linnets, Meadow Pipits and a Reed Bunting, while 3 Sandwich Terns flew by offshore, 2 Great White Egrets were seen over Worth and a noisy party of 3 Ravens cronked their way over the Estate and then back again towards Deal. One Black Redstart remained along the shore.
Low cloud and light rain from dawn made for an impressive morning’s census dominated by migration. At least 2,250 Redwings flew north in the first few hours of light before Starlings suddenly took over, of which 9,000 flew south and east high out to sea. At least 111 Fieldfares were caught up in the movement though there were a lot less finches compared to yesterday with just 60 Chaffinches and 14 Greenfinches moving. A handful of Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, and Reed Buntings completed the passerine passage. Offshore a Grey Heron headed north, a Peregrine chased migrant flocks, whilst a Shag and a Black-throated Diver were sitting amongst the throng of Great Crested Grebes. Four Sandwich Terns were fresh migrants in Pegwell whilst the Great White Egret was still on Worth. On the Estate four Black Redstarts were along the shore (including one adult male), three Chiffchaffs were new in plus two Woodcocks and a Firecrest still. Lastly, at least 1,000 Black-headed Gulls drifted north over and four Mediterranean Gulls were picked out with them.
A heavily overcast start with a light SE breeze felt good for some late winter movement, but it turned out to be better than expected, as 910 Chaffinches flew into the wind, accompanied by a Brambling and a Merlin. This lasted for a couple of hours but then the wind changed as some rain came through and the movement abruptly stopped.
Overcast with rain from around 5, it eventually ceased to reveal a glass-calm sea on which 3 Slavonian Grebes were perched, along with 345 Great Crested Grebes. Although very little was moving a Woodlark flew N over Restharrow Dunes, the (?) Black Redstart was seen at the sailing club and the Firecrest was displaying to a Goldcrest in the Elms, while a Merlin was charging about in typical fashion.
Conditions were much the same as yesterday with slightly more of a southerly breeze. The clear highlight of the morning was a brief Hawfinch calling from a garden on Waldershare Avenue before flying off north over Middle Field. Presumably a returning passage bird from the large invasion into the UK last autumn. Running a close second however was a Canada Goose on the Estate beach and later seen on Restharrow Scrape. A surprisingly scarce bird here these days. The Great White Egret and male Hen Harrier were seen again on Worth in the morning.
On an overcast, calm morning 29 Redwings in the field between the road and the Haven was the first sign of some movement, complemented not long after by our first Black Redstart of spring along the shore. The Great White Egret was standing on Willow Farm and the male Hen Harrier put in a brief appearance before heading off towards Betteshanger. A decent count of 106 Red-throated Divers and 169 Great Crested Grebes were sitting offshore and in the afternoon a Chiffchaff was on New Downs (perhaps new in) as well as a female Pochard.
Pre-dawn rain cleared away to reveal a sunny but increasingly blustery morning. A Woodcock was flushed from Big Gully and there was some good news in that the Firecrest in the Elms has survived the recent cold weather, but the bird of the morning was an adult Red Kite that drifted across the road on to Restharrow Scrape meadow where it appeared to be feeding on something before taking off and flying over the Elms. There were two different Red Kites over Worth at much the same time, so some movement seems to be going on.
Dull and misty with spells of drizzle, the birding was pretty much the same, though three Woodcock were seen on the Estate and 230 Starlings flew N in small parties, with 3,000 swirling about over Worth, where a Great White Egret was seen and a drake Pochard was only our second record of the year. The Slavonian Grebe was still on Stonar Lake.
An interesting morning with more than a suggestion of spring movement began with 143 Fieldfares in the Haven and Oasis and continued with gathering numbers of Starlings, now up to around 1,000, and Lapwings, with 800 swirling about over Worth and three flocks totalling 310 heading out to sea towards the French/Belgian coast, while around 800 were recorded over New Downs. At least 26 Golden Plover also flew out to sea with the Lapwings, while one high-flying Chaffinch hinted that they might soon be on the move and 17 Buzzards and a Red Kite were seen over Worth as the morning warmed. A female Merlin and at least two Bearded Tits were on New Downs whilst two Scaups and a Caspian Gull were in Pegwell, with a Slavonian Grebe also on Stonar Lake.
222 Red-throated Divers and a Black-throated Diver were the offshore highlights on an overcast morning with a light S breeze and 3 Pintail had appeared on Willow Farm. Interestingly, after yesterday’s Corn Bunting comment, it seems that five others were seen on New Downs and two were singing on the Estate this morning. Even more interestingly, though possibly not for Corn Bunting fans, a Whimbrel was recorded flying over Stonar at 0200 this morning.
Before clouding over ahead of some afternoon rain it was really quite pleasant and almost spring-like. However, all of the Woodcock appear to have cleared out and there was little sign of anything having moved in to replace them. Still, 3 Bewick’s Swans were still on Worth and the Goosander was on the river again, with 23 Fieldfares on fields near HQ and a Corn Bunting near the farm which, sad to say, was the first for the Estate this year.
A comparatively tropical walk saw seven Woodcocks flushed from undergrowth on the Estate plus the remains of one deceased bird on the beach, 17 Fieldfares and a few Redwings dotted around, 65 Dunlins on the Estate beach, 290 Stock Doves in the asparagus fields and 40 Meadow Pipits fluttering around St George’s Golf Course.
If the current forecast is anything like correct, we only have a couple of days to go before the worst of this current weather is behind us. However, just to keep us on our toes, this morning produced a spell of freezing rain that reduced everywhere to an ice rink. It left the regulars reading rings on House Sparrows using the feeding station outside the HQ window and feeling glad we’re not lambs. Venturing out finally before lunch rewarded one observer with six more Woodcocks on the Estate, a Dunlin on the ice previously known as Restharrow Scrape, and over 400 Common Gulls along the beach. Whilst another intrepid stroll across Worth saw a further 17 Woodcocks, a Jack Snipe, and a Pintail hiding from the elements.
If there is any truth in the saying that March comes in like a lion etc. this one was particularly bad-tempered and not to be approached, even with a handful of Dreamies. The bitterly cold E wind was still up around force 6 or 7 and snow set in around 7.30, lasting for a couple of hours to give a light dusting by mid morning. However, it has had the effect of inducing some hard weather movement at last, with 13 Woodcock flushed from various places around the Estate and eight Whitefronts along the Green Wall, while two Dunlins dropped into the Oasis and Lapwings continue to wander around in strange places. A Shag and a Bonxie flew by offshore, but the scrape was almost completely frozen.