Birds: December 2014
Little coverage over the festive period due to a combination of celebrations and a lucky few gallivanting around Colombia. No sign of yesterday’s Long-tailed Duck in Ramsgate Harbour but a pair of Kingfishers and a Shag were some compensation. For the past week or so, up to three Short-eared Owls along the Ancient Highway have entertained those willing to brave the elements and early this morning there was an a Barn Owl. Restharrow Scrape was still half frozen by mid-afternoon and the year went out with a whimper rather than a bang. Any predictions for the New Year? Anyone care for a Little Bustard?
After yesterday’s relative abundance of seabirds, an hour in the lone company of a Common Scoter, squinting into the glaring sun rising majestically over a boiling sea churned up by a very fresh ENE breeze induced a migraine, chilled bones, 28 Wigeon, 2 Brents and ~500 Herring and Greater Black-backed Gulls either moving north or feasting on starfish thrown up by recent gales. Departing to Restharrow Scrape to find a boisterous crowd full of Christmas cheer gazing at the Teal which had increased to 630+, all jittery due to frequent attention from a Peregrine.
The weather was still in a right old stink after last night’s storm, precipitating a pretty good movement of birds offshore. Quantity was represented by over 500 Gannets, while quality came in the form of 3 Goosanders, a Bonxie, taking time to beat up a couple of the local Great Black-backs, 17 Pintail and 2 drake Pochard.
A gloomy, damp morning was notable for 2 Grey Wagtails that flew from the farm first thing and a flock of enraged birds mobbing a Sparrowhawk in the Little Elms that contained a Chiffchaff and a Firecrest. Although not in view until late morning, 2 Goosanders were asleep on the scrape again.
A fairly pedestrian morning, enlivened briefly by a Peregrine traversing the marshes, was brought to life when 2 of the recent Goosanders dropped on to the scrape for their late morning mince pies. Finding none, they went to sleep. I should say thank you for the concern shown for my non-existent plight in Belgium precipitated by the recent e-mail scam, though the offer from those who know me all too well to pay money if I was kept there was proof of the old Aussie saying that if they stop taking the mickey out of you, they don’t like you any more!
The Lapwing flock on fields close to the Observatory had increased to 1100+ the largest count for a good while . A stroll toward Roaring Gutter revealed good numbers of Redwing (150), Fieldfare (60), Blackbird (60) and Song Thrush (10) stripping the hawthorns along the Worth track and railway. A party of Skylarks (18), Reed Buntings and a lone Yellowhammer plus 3 each of Little Egret and Grey Heron with birds-of-prey represented by pairs of Marsh Harrier and Kestrel plus a Buzzard and Peregrine.
Solar panels being installed at the Observatory and lots of seasonal chores to do so only time for a quick visit to the scrape just in time to see the pair of Goosander drop in, perform their ablutions and then rest in full view on the front of the rear island (photo by Andrew Lipczynski). At the same time, a second pair were seen on the River Stour downstream of Sandwich
The overnight westerly gale had abated by dawn and invited a look on the sea. Interest focused immediately on a brief glimpse of the large dorsal fin of a Dolphin sp. very close inshore associating with a couple of Harbour Porpoises. The heavens reopened and we got drenched in the 10 metre dash to the car. Retreating to the scrape, Teal had increased slightly to 320+ with good numbers of Shoveler (44) and Gadwall (34) but no sign of the Goosander. A trip to the Chequers in search of Tree Sparrow was fruitless but rewarded by two coveys of Grey Partridge (totaling 17) and 520+ Wood Pigeon. On to Willow Farm, scanning Worth Marshes revealed a distant Marsh Harrier, Kingfisher and a pair of Peregrines spooking a large gathering of gulls on the new scrapes with 200+ each of Black-headed and Common Gulls plus a smart adult Yellow-legged Gull among the Herring and Lesser Black-Backs. Later in the afternoon, a pair of Goosander and two Short-eared Owls were seen over Worth.
A morning with the Conservation Team in the Whitehouse Paddock brush-cutting and raking some of the ranker areas. A Grey Wagtail bounced through and at least one Goosander remained on Restharrow Scrape. There were 200+ Redwing on and over the Green Wall busily feeding with other thrushes plus a Raven overhead.
The day dawned mild, overcast and drizzly after heavy overnight rain. An early morning visit to Restharrow Scrape was uneventful until three (three!) red-head Goosander flew in from left field for a quick wash and brush up before retiring gracefully to the back of the rear island for their morning nap. An adult Yellow-legged Gull dropped in briefly with Herring and a couple of graellsii Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Otherwise the estate was quiet with just pairs of Chiffchaff, Goldcrest and a single Siskin. 42 Great Crested Grebes loitered offshore with a few distant divers and Trinity House’s Multi Functional Tender (MFT) Patricia parked up this side of the Goodwins. Let’s hope it doesn’t rearrange the buoys just as we had got our sea-watching markers sorted out.
The Day of the Cormorant. Not the latest John Wyndham novel, but a reference to a slick of 145 Cormorants that were floating offshore before flying towards Deal in straggling skeins. Presumably the same birds then moved back towards Thanet, several parties heading overland towards the north coast; the eventual total of over 170 must be a Bay record. On a slightly more prosaic note, a Siskin was in an alder in the Elms and 3 Great Spotted Woodpeckers were noisily scrapping nearby.
The weekend’s highlights came almost exclusively from the scrape, where the Goosanders remain in situ and 2 Bewick’s Swans and a Jack Snipe were seen yesterday. Overnight rain cleared well before dawn and the morning wasone of wall-to-wall sunshine and little wind. 2 Chiffchaffs, 7 Goldcrests and a Brambling were on the Estate and a Sparrowhawk put on a fabulous exhibition over the meadow adjacent to the scrape, slowly quartering it like a harrier before alighting on the ground to consider its next move. Here’s a photo of the Brambling, taken by Nick Smith.
Heavy overnight rain gave up not long after first light but the accompanying wind was unhelpfully in the west, rendering the compulsory seawatch rather underwhelming, to say the least. However, the Black Redstart wiggled into view briefly before common sense took over.
The 2 Goosanders returned to the scrape yesterday afternoon and were still present this morning, though they didn’t seem particularly settled.
2 redhead Goosanders (probably those seen in Pegwell at the weekend) were on the scrape early on, departing to the reservoir at the Chequers and out to sea, a Black Redstart was jumping about near the sailing club, a Merlin was frightening the Lapwings near the Observatory and a Chiffchaff was calling in the gullies.
Heavily frosty to begin with, wintry sunshine eventually warmed ground and toes to reasonable levels. A round of the Estate was similar to yesterday, with highlights amounting to 3 Chiffchaffs, 6 Goldcrests and 42 Blackbirds – a lyrical variation on the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything.
A dull start morphed into a lovely sunny morning and although the Estate was typically December-ish 6 Chiffchaffs were noisily vocal.
WeBS count weekend brought no great surprises, though a Spotted Redshank and 16 Little Egrets were on New Downs yesterday and this morning’s jaunt across Worth produced generally low numbers of wildfowl, augmented by a Buzzard and 2 Marsh Harriers.
Yesterday was dismal and cold and this morning was equally gloomy but a tad less chilly. Offshore, an influx of at least 100 Red-throated Divers was evident and 49 Dunlin flew N, while on land the highlights were a Peregrine, a Chiffchaff, the resident Buzzard and around 40 Blackbirds.
The highlight of a grey, mostly wet morning was the sight of 4 Little Egrets standing in a field near the Observatory, while a couple of spells of seawatching produced a rag-tag assortment of bits and pieces, the best of which were 22 Red-throated Divers. When the rain ceased a Firecrest was found in the Elms again.
In a raw N wind this morning’s offshore excitements amounted, amongst other things, to a Red-breasted Merganser, 70 Teal and 58 Dunlin, all heading N towards Pegwell.
An hour and a half seawatching in a perishing NE wind got the month off to a characterful start, with singles of Great Northern Diver, Ruff and Little Gull offshore.