Birds: December 2016
Early fog relented to slightly more forgiving mist after an hour or so, revealing 5 Velvets and 34 Common Scoter offshore. Otherwise, a Marsh Harrier flew in high from the NE and 6 Stonechats were scattered about the Estate.
With just about every bit of open fresh water frozen after another heavy overnight frost we spent much of a bright morning peering out to sea, which was surprisingly productive, for this neck of the woods anyway. Although the scoter flock was well reduced – 16 Common and 9 Velvets today – a northward procession of 93 Brent Geese continued in dribs and drabs all morning, while around 50 Cormorants were flying about in assorted directions and, rounding off proceedings, 2 Pink-footed Geese flew south above the beach.
Well, that’s the dust settled on another Christmas and it is pleasing to report that all the dreaming of a white one was partially rewarded by the heaviest frost this winter, encrusting everything in white. Unfortunately, the effect was muted somewhat by an inability to see more than 50 metres for the first hour after dawn, though once the fog lifted it was a beautifully sunny winter day. 2 Velvets remained offshore with about 19 Common Scoter and a Buzzard put up 80 Golden Plover from fields inland, but it was otherwise pretty quiet.
As most sensible folk prepared for the forthcoming festive ordeal, it was left to Steffan and yours truly to census the estate and peer offshore respectively. The Velvets today numbered seven and were the focus of continued interest from Great Black-backed Gulls. Indeed they spent so much time underwater, Lou, John and Nico came to mind for some strange reason. Meanwhile back at Pegwell, gulls continue to demand attention, this time with a massive 2620 Greater Black-backs dominating the mud – just what the scoters need!
As conditions clearing overnight, our Pegwell correspondent reported a southerly movement of 361 divers at first light. On New Downs, the female Scaup and drake Goldeneye remained on Backsand Scrape while what was probably a Yellow-browed Warbler called thrice but could not be visually located. 10 Velvets were offshore.
A ninety minute seawatch before the drizzley fog (or foggy drizzle) called a halt to proceedings. 75 Gannet were busy feeding, a few Guillemots and Razorbills moved south, but best was a Red-necked Grebe that drifted south close inshore before being swallowed in the deepening gloom.
A bit like England’s batting, we’re getting used to the current gloom. An adult male Marsh Harrier drifted over the scrape and a ringtail Hen Harrier and Merlin were on Worth. 9 Velvet Scoters were offshore and a lone Snow Bunting was on the beach. Pegwell Bay continues to attract large numbers of larids and there were at least 3+ Yellow-legged and 3 Caspian Gulls of varying ages. A Dartford Warbler was present in the salt marsh.
Pegwell SPA WeBS count day was just as gloomy as yesterday and the birding more or less as predictable. 1,600 Lapwings were on New Downs along with 280 Golden Plovers and the female Scaup at Backsand added a bit of variety but it was otherwise pretty quiet. High tide in Pegwell was adversely affected by fog, but another Scaup was seen on the sea offshore, along with 12 Velvets.
Another gloomy but calm morning, this time coinciding with the Lydden valley WeBS count. As expected, there was little to write home about in such mild weather, though a flock of 34 Wigeon was on the reserve and 5 Egyptian Geese flew W over the railway. A Dartford Warbler, 9 Velvets, the Long-tailed Duck and 2 Lapland Buntings were still visible along the shore and 320 Cormorants had gathered at the Point or on the sea.
This morning saw a return to the gloom of two days ago. The scoter flock was spread out along a mile or more of shore and 14 Velvets were eventually visible, but the Lapland Buntings had increased to 3 and a wander across Worth was notable for around 70 Blackbirds and 80 Redwings, plus a Common Buzzard, 4 Bullfinches and 8 Yellowhammers. However, the sun poked its nose out in the afternoon and to celebrate, here’s a rather fetching portrait of a Guillemot on Prince’s beach.
A beautiful winter day was perfect for appreciating the Lapland Buntings and the offshore scoter flock, this morning holding 12 Velvets.
The day started gloomy and got even worse, with light rain adding to misty conditions by late morning. The scoter flock was again close inshore, this time containing 16 Velvets, an adult drake Red-breasted Merganser flew by and 2 rather bedraggled Lapland Buntings were found on the beach near Prince’s accommodation block.
The scoter flock (at least 110 Commons and 12 Velvets) had acquired a Long-tailed Duck this morning, while the Whimbrel was heard again on New Downs, where the Scaup and the Goldeneye were still on the scrape and a Water Pipit was feeding on the flood, which also held 2 Caspian Gulls and a Yellow-legged Gull.
Calm and cloudless after overnight rain this morning’s excitements came largely from New Downs, where 460 Golden Plover and 1,300 Lapwings were reacting to the local Peregrine and a very late Whimbrel flew upriver with a Curlew, tittering like it had just heard a good joke about the cricket. The Estate was pretty quiet, though a Brambling was trapped – the first here for a few weeks. This rather excellent shot of a female Sparrowhawk was taken at Restharrow a couple of days ago, but it seems to be a daily visitor, clearly appreciated by the birds on the scrape.
The scoter flock continues to be the main event, showing well in the shallows not far off the beach, with other bits and pieces including 2 very close Sparrowhawks and an increase to 540 Teal on the scrape.
A Dante-esque sunrise was the only bright spot in an otherwise overcast morning on which most interest was again offshore. 129 Common and 6 Velvet Scoter were floating about opposite the golf course and in an unexpected spell of phalacrocoractivity at least 48 Cormorants flew downchannel in just under an hour, with 44 Great Crested Grebes and 4 Red-throated Divers on the sea.
What a difference a day makes! Cloudy with a light SW breeze and a starting temperature ten degrees higher than yesterday, it was ideal for counting the scoter flock in the bay, which consisted of 142 Common and 13 Velvets, while over 90 Great Crested Grebes were also present. On New Downs, the female Scaup was still on Backsand and at least 2 Peregrines, 2 Marsh Harriers and a Buzzard were kicking about, putting at least 500 Golden Plovers and 1,400 Lapwings to flight for much of the time.
Another frosty start was made even more testing by fog that descended around dawn and did not clear until late morning. Nevertheless, a young male Black Redstart was found along the shore, 4 Stonechats were present and a Little Owl was provoking a bunch of Chaffinches, Blackbirds and Dunnocks in the Whitehouse.
A fairly soporific weekend was nevertheless notable for further reports of 2 Jack Snipe on the scrape and a Dartford Warbler along the beach, whose popularity will doubtless increase by leaps and bounds in just under four weeks’ time. As for this morning, a heavy frost had frozen much of the scrape, but a Water Rail and at least one Jack Snipe showed again, 2 Chiffchaffs were in the gullies and just after mid day a party of 11 White-fronted Geese flew on to the fields just south of the Chequers.
No frost this morning, just a gloomy, grey morning on which a walk over Worth turned up increased numbers of thrushes, confirming the impression that the recent cold snap induced a fresh influx. At least 450 Fieldfares were present, with 70 or so Blackbirds and around 40 Redwings, while the best of the rest were a Sparrowhawk and an adult male Marsh Harrier.
Bright and frosty again, though not as intensely so as yesterday, some bits and pieces offshore included 8 Gadwall, 41 Common Scoter and 16 Knot, while 2 Crossbills and a few Siskins flew N and a Woodcock was flushed from the gullies. Of particular note was a Tawny Owl, calling from the Elms at dusk.