Another thick frost at dawn but soon the sun came out and revealed a stunning day. New Downs was excellent and produced a total of 75 species, not bad at all for a morning’s work. A drake Garganey on the Sampher pool was the highlight and the first recorded here this year. Other birds of note were a female Pintail, an immature male Hen Harrier, two Whimbrels, a Greenshank, a Green Sandpiper, four Mediterranean Gulls, a Yellow Wagtail, and a Willow Warbler. Worth marshes was also good with a summer-plumaged Lapland Bunting very nice (though a little mobile), a Willow Warbler, and a Water Pipit. As if that wasn’t enough, whilst analysing last night’s nocmig recording the clear sound of a Spotted Crake could be heard flying over. Super!
The England Coast Path is one of the longer walks that go through the SBBOT Recording Area. It takes in most of New Downs and Prince’s Beach. The raised walkway meanders from Backsand Point, borders the Sampher at it’s northern most point, runs along the edge of Hundred Acre field and Prince’s Golf Course, and comes out onto the beach. It’s a long walk with little shelter but excellent birding. The grassland at the northern end of New Downs often holds Whimbrels, Curlews, and Yellow Wagtails and the fenceline is good for chats. The Sampher itself is a private area, with no general access, used primarily as grazing for cattle. There are lots of Hawthorn bushes dotted across the field and most of the year a large pool. It is a reliable spot for Ring Ouzel, Lesser Whitethroat, and Nightingale as well Garganey and freshwater waders. Scanning across Hundred Acre field can be productive for raptors such as Merlin, Marsh and Hen Harrier, and Short-eared Owl. It’s well worth a trip. A few maps can be found HERE, HERE, and HERE.
With a heavy frost at dawn it didn’t feel spring like at all. Singles of House Martin and Whimbrel were seen flying over the Estate though and there were a handful of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs in song, plus a few Whitethroats new in. Give it a week and the scratchy song of Whitethroat will be heard all over the place. I expect Lesser Whitethroat to make an appearance any day now too. The first records often come from the Blackthorn hedges bordering the Worth track so keep an ear out for their ‘rattling’ song as you go through. For a slightly harder quest, try finding a Nightingale this week. They’ve begun appearing at their breeding sites inland so sites such as Pegwell/Stonelees are a good shout.
A Hen Harrier toured around various sites in the morning, two Water Pipits were still on Worth, joined by eight Wheatears and 31 Golden Plovers, and a male Redstart showed well in Stonelees.
A female Blue-headed Wagtail was the highlight in a medley of spring migrants on Worth marshes which included our first Whitethroat of the year, three Little Ringed Plovers, 30 Swallows, seven Sedge Warblers, a Merlin, and a Red Kite. Lingering wildfowl on New Downs included eight Canada Geese and a Pintail, as well as a House Martin (which have been a little later coming through this spring). A long trudge up to the Point discovered two more Whitethroats, a Wheatear, a Greenshank, 124 Sanderlings, and passage of four Sand Martins, 22 Swallows, and 53 Linnets north. Across the river in Pegwell there were 160 Sandwich Terns.
A early wander around the Green Wall produced a slew of spring migrants with 13 Chiffchaffs, four Blackcaps, six Sedge Warblers, and one Swallow, plus two Siskins, four Yellowhammers, and a singing Goldcrest. Eight Water Pipits, two Ruffs, two Canada Geese, and a Siberian Chiffchaff were on Worth marshes.
A few things were new in on the Worth marshes pools including a Ruff, three Canada Geese, and a White Wagtail, whilst a Red Kite drifted over. A Merlin and 31 Golden Plovers were seen over the Estate. We’re fast approaching peak Kentish Plover time. It’s definitely worth having a brush up on Kentish Plover identification, have a read of THIS article for some tips. Pegwell Bay is now the most reliable site in the UK for this declining species, so for best results get yourself to Pegwell at dawn and scan through the migrant flocks of Ringed Plovers in the Bay during April and May. Good luck.
Still very chilly out there. There was no sign of yesterday’s Eagle but a steady passage of birds moving through in the northerly wind. At least 116 Sandwich Terns and 29 Common Terns went north offshore, two White Wagtails dropped in on the Estate, two Red Kites went over, and there was a light movement of finches along the beach, mostly Linnets, but also a few Goldfinches, Chaffinches, and Siskins.
The weather has become a lot colder and windier, there was even snow falling late morning. A few bits and pieces went past offshore, namely Brent Geese, Common Scoters, Kittiwakes, and Sandwich Terns, with a Whimbrel the best over on Worth. Late in the afternoon an immature WHITE-TAILED EAGLE flew south over Worth marshes.
Bright and sunny at times. Two Grey Herons and two Buzzards thermalled over the Obs and there was an increase in hirundines on Worth with at least 14 Sand Martins and 45 Swallows. The two Water Pipits remain and are in stunning summer plumage. Look for them on the muddy pool just before the concrete bridge at Roaring Gutter.
The two Blue-headed/’Channel’ Wagtails remained on Worth marshes. The Yellow Wagtail taxonomy is rather complex but across Europe and further east there are a number of different races; some with black heads, some with white throats, some with different calls, etc. The usual Yellow Wagtail we see in Britain is ‘British Yellow Wagtail’ M.f.flavissima and the males are completely yellow. We do regularly see Blue-headed Wagtail M.f.flava in among migrant flocks though. These birds usually breed in France and show dark blue heads with white superciliums. However, there is a small hybrid zone between the British and French populations and these birds show mixed features, these are known as ‘Channel’ Wagtails. The birds currently on Worth marshes show a number of features which do not correlate with pure Blue-headed Wagtail, such as paler and greyer head than M.f.flava with no trace of blue, a thick and (mostly) even-width supercilium – in particular in front of eye, a noticeable white sub-ocular patch, and a yellow throat with minimal white on the chin. These could be features of the rarer eastern race ‘Syke’s Wagtail’ M.f.beema or within the natural variation showed within Blue-headed or ‘Channel’ Wagtail. Several authorities state often regard these forms as inseparable.
Also of note on Worth were five Swallows, two Sand Martins, and our first House Martin in over a month, whilst on the Estate a Long-eared Owl was seen.
Two Great Crested Grebes on the Green Wall were unusual and a Lesser Redpoll flew north (we don’t get many of these in spring). There was a good flock of 24 Sand Martins and six Swallows on Worth, plus the two Blue-headed/’Channel’ Wagtails. Three Whimbrel also went past offshore. I expect numbers of these to pick up over the next few weeks. April is one of the best months for wader passage so look (and listen) out for Greenshanks, Ringed Plovers, Bar-tailed Godwits, and Common Sandpipers, as well as rarer birds such as Curlew Sandpiper and Kentish Plover.