Birds: December 2017
Overnight rain had mostly relented by first light but the SW wind was still pretty strong. This had the effect of driving brief squalls through for most of the morning, but the only vaguely surprising addition to the usual was a Black-tailed Godwit with the Curlew flock outside HQ.
A breezy westerly meant there was little happening on the Estate except an elusive Merlin around Restharrow Scrape and a (now increasingly scarce) Corn Bunting around St George’s Bushes. Two or three Bonxies were loitering offshore and just under 1,000 Cormorants were moving in lines on the horizon.
Rain from before dawn did have the effect of elevating icy temperatures earlier in the night but lasted for much of the morning, driven by a fresh S wind. However, such conditions often provoke activity at the scrape and this was no exception, as at least 27 Dunlins poked about on the muddy fringes. The Green Sandpiper was back as well. Gazing offshore around midday saw three Bonxie’s going to and fro along the horizon.
Bright, calm and icy this morning, coverage of the Estate and the shore south to Sandown Castle (remains of) revealed a party of 5 Snow Buntings on one of the golf course greens, a Rock Pipit just outside Deal and a Firecrest in the Elms, but not a great deal else unless you include the slick of Cormorants offshore, amounting to well over 2000.
Wet overnight and again this morning after a short break around first light (which was pretty close to lunchtime) encouraged a visit to the scrape, where a Merlin was perched on a fence just inland, a Sparrowhawk flew over and, specially for you Moorhen lovers out there, a Moorhen was the first on the scrape for several months.
Monday 25th Xmas!
A Merry Christmas from all of the SBBOT team.
A stroll up to Restharrow Scrape before Xmas dinner saw the Green Sandpiper continuing it’s residency but no sign of the Dartford Warbler. The south-westerly wind was whipping through and from the beach a handful of Gannets were watched plunging offshore.
There was a clear increase in wind speed today which seemed to pick up momentum over the course of the morning. This kept a few birds hidden though the Dartford Warbler did show intermittently in it’s usual gorse bushes in Restharrow. The lack cover on Worth made it particularly brisk though still rather enjoyable. A fallow field next to Worth track continues to provide food for 140+ Linnets and ten Yellowhammers whilst singles of Water Rail, Grey Wagtail, and Redshank were discovered along the ditches and dykes on the marsh. Most thrushes seemed to have moved on but four Bullfinches were a bonus. Wigeon numbered 118 but best of all the wildfowl were the lingering group of four adult Bewick’s Swans in amongst the Mute Swan herd.
Two Firecrests and the Dartford Warbler were present on a grey and mild pre-christmas stroll around the Estate whilst at least two Bewick’s Swans could be scoped in amongst the Mute Swan herd on Worth.
After watching 3,000+ Cormorants head over just after dawn an extended trek across the wilderness of New Downs was in order. There wasn’t much new in the way of wildfowl though a drake Pochard was unusual and a female Goosander flew over (presumably the Green Wall bird kicked off the river by a passing boat). At least three Bearded Tits were heard in two separate groups though it seems likely more were actually present. Also of note were two Corn Buntings which have been thin on the ground this winter, a few Lesser Redpolls, and a Rock Pipit. Meanwhile, the Dartford Warbler put in another appearance at Restharrow.
Conditions were very similar to yesterday with visibility hampered at times from a layer of dampness in the air. The Dartford Warbler at Restharrow re-appeared in it’s favoured gorse bush (perhaps set to stay the winter?) whilst two Barn Owls were hunting on the Estate at dawn and another on Worth in the evening, where the Great White Egret still lurked.
A drizzly misty affair worthy of a jaunt around the Estate. At least it was calm. A female Marsh Harrier performed well hunting around Restharrow Scrape where the Green Sandpiper still resided and a Water Rail was new in. Otherwise it was left to three Firecrests, five Stonechats, a Brambling, and five Yellowhammers to provide interest.
Over a heavy frost the Cormorants – more than 2,000 of them – flew out to sea about 20 minutes earlier than yesterday in a long line well inland of the railway that made sea-fall somewhere over the Chequers. One Firecrest remained in the Elms, a Red Kite flew N along the railway and a female Merlin – vary scarce so far this winter – was putting the devil into the local pigeon flock, while a Common Sandpiper was strutting about near the Goosander on the river.
Following on from yesterday, when 2,700 Cormorants were seen going to roost in the Stour Valley, skeins of them flew over Worth and the Estate and out to sea in a quarter of an hour from around 0815, totalling much the same number. There were also 2 Firecrests in the Elms and the Dartford Warbler showed well in the gorse at Restharrow, but it was otherwise pretty quiet, if a nice bright winter day.
A heavy frost greeted those rising early enough to learn the latest news from the WACA, which could be worse, and probably will be. Birds included 70 Blackbirds, a Green Sandpiper and 3 Little Egrets on Worth, a first winter Glaucous Gull that was found at Sandown Castle, just outside Deal, an Iceland Gull (the Ramsgate bird, presumably) in Pegwell and a Dartford Warbler at Restharrow. It was also the Day of the Cormorant, 730 of which flew N between 1000-1040 and another 570 did the same from 1410-1440. That’s definitely more than you can shake a stick at.
The highlight of what was obviously last-minute Christmas Shopping Day was a party of 4 Bewick’s Swans on Worth.
A cold, occasionally drizzly, jaunt around the Estate saw little new with the lingering Green Sandpiper on Restharrow Scrape and 85 Red-throated Divers moving offshore the highlights. Worth scored with 2 Marsh Harriers and an immature Peregrine pestering the Lapwings but it was the winter thrush numbers that stood out with 69 Blackbirds, 113 Fieldfares, 27 Song Thrushes, 84 Redwings, and seven Mistle Thrushes present. A Treecreeper in the Great Wood was notable whilst a flock of mixed finches/buntings near Blue Pigeons contained 110+ Linnets, one Brambling and ten Corn Buntings amongst others.
In keeping with the weather’s current good cop/bad cop routine this morning was bright and cheery, bringing the best out of a couple of vocal Mistle Thrushes on the Estate. 2 Shags and the Velvet Scoter were on the sea, which was otherwise disappointing after yesterday, 2 Firecrests were in or near the Elms and the Green Sandpiper was still wiggling about on the scrape.
Dull but dry until late morning the highlight on the Estate was another Green Sandpiper, this time on the scrape, where over 360 Teal were present. Offshore, 220 auks and 117 divers flew by, one of which was a definite Black-throated, along with 3-4 Bonxies, a Goosander and the Velvet Scoter, sitting on the sea somewhat aloofly away from the Common Scoter flock.
It is salutary to note that despite two days of heavy rain that water levels at Restharrow are still about 3 feet below usual winter levels, so we need a considerable amount more to redress the balance after such a persistently dry year. Anyway, enough of such aquatic meanderings. Today was bright and calm and a window of opportunity to undertake the WeBS count of the Pegwell SPA, postponed from yesterday by us southern softies. New Downs was notable for a Green Sandpiper but more for what wasn’t there, with only one Golden Plover and 740 Lapwings – about half last week’s maximum – while wildfowl and wader numbers were generally no more than moderate. A cold wander along the beach up to the Point produced a Snow Bunting and three showy Dartford Warblers, as well as 36 Snipes and a Water Rail at the end, whilst the walk back bumped into a flock of 12 more Snow Buntings on the Estate beach. The drake Velvet Scoter was still performing offshore to boot and a Mediterranean Gull was in Pegwell.
A second day of heavy rain, driven on by a strong to gale force NE wind kept all but the temporarily insane indoors. Those who did manage a brief look at the sea were able to confirm the presence of 2 Bonxies, but viewing conditions were hideous. However, it’s an ill wind etcetera and water levels on Restharrow Scrape had risen to accommodate 264 Teal and 19 Dunlin – the latter a pretty good count whatever the conditions.
A few sharp intakes of breath and then the plunge into the sub-zero temperatures on the Estate. In truth it really wasn’t that bad. An immature drake Velvet Scoter loafing offshore with 60+ Common Scoters was just rewards though. At least 260 Golden Plovers were behind Restharrow Scrape and reasonable numbers of Blackbirds were still around with 45 on the Estate and 80 on Worth.
A cold wind kept the temperature well below recent values though it was mostly bright. Apart from 3 Chiffchaffs and a Firecrest in or around the Elms the morning was rescued from being entirely mundane by the appearance of a Red Kite over Worth, eventually drifting away to the south.
Storm Caroline rushed through this morning, bring strong SW winds, more or less constant drizzle and very poor visibility. We did try a sea watch but it was pretty much pointless. On balance Radio Caroline was a good deal more enjoyable.
Dull and calm it was mainly a day for marking time – 6 Dartford Warblers and 3 Snow Buntings were still along the beach, the scoter flock had increased to 65 and we’re still rubbish at cricket. However, a new Siberian Chiffchaff appeared in the Heligoland trap, just to prove that the fat lady is yet to sing.
Offshore, the scoter flock was up to 61 and along the Green Wall – the nearest thing we have to woodland in these parts – there were a couple of Coal Tits, 6 Goldcrests, a Treecreeper and the Goosander, still apparently very happy with its own reflection on the river.
A trek across Worth was productive for thrushes, but the beach was the place to be. No fewer than 6 Dartford Warblers remained in the buckthorn and 3 Snow Buntings and a Lapland Bunting were seen nearby. Inland, the Goosander continues its vigil on the river.
Overcast and calm but a good deal milder than a couple of days ago the Estate featured at least one Firecrest, 2 Coal Tits and a Chiffchaff in the Elms and a party of nine possible Whooper Swans flew out to sea from Worth.
Yesterday’s winds abated before dawn leaving things calm but still rather cold. All the birds on the Estate were out making use of this gap in the weather, as if lining up ready to be censused, with 70+ species recorded in total. There was decent activity offshore with wildfowl and waders re-orientating after the stormy conditions of late with highlights a splendid male Red-breasted Merganser, the (presumably lingering) Slavonian Grebe, and a Short-eared Owl ‘in off’. Inland a Great White Egret flew over the asparagus fields opposite the Field Centre and equally surprising were the 300+ Cormorants which flew over in skeins after first light. Counts of 250 Woodpigeons and 97 Blackbirds were noteworthy whilst a couple of Siskins, a Firecrest, a Brambling, and a Lesser Redpoll still remained. At least one Bearded Tit was on New Downs, as was a dubious Barnacle Goose, whilst another Great White Egret was seen on Worth marshes.
It occurred to us while peering out to sea in a strengthening and very cold NE wind with occasional rain or hail showers that a Sandwich Bay seawatch is not unlike one of those boxes of assorted chocolates that appears mysteriously in offices and homes at this time of year. Whilst each individually-wrapped ‘fun size’ item might not be particularly substantial in itself the cumulative effect is eventually quite satisfying, if at the risk of being a tad queasy. For those of you who are still reading, totals included 60 Brents, 119 Wigeon, 72 Teal, 2 Pintail, 5 Eider, 39 Common Scoter, 4 Red-breasted Mergansers, a Goosander, a Goldeneye, a Bonxie, 65 Red-throated Divers, 2 Black-throated Divers, and 13 Fulmars.