It was a dull end to the month, in more ways than one, with little offshore or on the Estate, where the highlight was a singing Coal Tit. Actually, though, the bird of the day was a Common Seal that had hauled itself on to the sailing club slipway to do banana impressions.
The forecast strong wind, sub-zero windchill, locusts and rivers of blood failed to materialise and despite some early gloom it turned out to be a pleasantly benign winter day. Offshore movement in a light SE breeze was utterly different in character to yesterday, with a good variety of wildfowl moving mainly S. Although numbers were not particularly high, totals included 23 Pintail, about 120 each of Wigeon and Teal and an adult Little Gull. The apparent influx of wildfowl was also evident on the scrape, where 8 Pintail were present early on, along with 770 Teal and 33 Gadwall. Perhaps cold weather on the near continent is moving things on at last. Whilst it is hardly as bad as the Somerset Levels, everywhere is saturated – the marker post on the scrape, 3’6” of which was visible on 17 October, is now clear of the water by only 3”.
Overnight rain stopped around 9 to allow the full benefit of a gathering ESE wind to be appreciated. Offshore movement this morning included 9 Little Gulls, 2 Red-breasted Mergansers and moderate numbers of other stuff; mainly Red-throated Divers and Kittiwakes.
Although it was quieter offshore this morning, a Bonxie, 111 Red-throated Divers and 74 auks flew S offshore as some hefty showers moved through from the west.
The weekend produced a Jack Snipe, flushed by a passing Marsh Harrier on Restharrow Scrape, and 15 White-fronted Geese that flew S over the scrape yesterday. This morning brought news of a Black-throated Diver on Stonar and there was a large amount of activity offshore, including over 350 Red-throated Divers and 1,548 auks, all moving S, and a Raven flew over HQ.
Well over 300 Great Crested Grebes were floating on a marble-calm sea, where 67 Red-throated Divers were disturbed by a passing fishing boat and an adult Little Gull flew from the south and alighted on the flooded field next to Restharrow Scrape. There was a flock of 14 Corn Buntings near Mary Bax, 2 Stonechats at Dickson’s Corner and a Chiffchaff in the Cellars.
A walk along the beach to the Point on a lovely, calm and sunny morning failed to turn up any Snow Buntings, but there was a small flock of 16 Corn Buntings at the Point, 2 Stonechats in the buckthorn and an adult Yellow-legged Gull in the estuary.
Gloomy conditions with light rain and a fresh S wind condemned us to seawatching, in visibility that was marginally better than before dawn. However, it proved to be better than expected, with over 130 auks, 16 adult Little Gulls and a Pomarine Skua flying S offshore.
Overnight fog was slow to clear, but once it did the morning was sunny, calm and warm. There were few surprises on the Estate, though lots of Blackbirds were about, many of which looked like sleek continental types, and Maggie brought in a Small White butterfly that flew into her house yesterday afternoon.
Yesterday, the Egyptian Geese were on Restharrow early on, presumably having roosted overnight, and 2 Glossy Ibis turned up briefly in the afternoon. A Raven was also kicking about and 3 Common Buzzards were seen over the Estate on what turned out to be a lovely winter day, with hardly any wind and lots of sunshine. However, WeBS coverage of Lydden Valley and the Pegwell and Sandwich SPA over the two days revealed remarkably low numbers of wildfowl, in particular, and only moderate numbers of shorebirds. Highlights were restricted more or less to 2 Common Sandpipers along the river and a flock of 81 Linnets at what remains of Backsand Scrape. Some cold weather is apparently fingering its way from the east into the Low Countries, so we can but wait ……
The Glossies remained on the scrape this morning, along with 2 Egyptian Geese that uncooperatively flew off around 8am.
The Glossy Ibises remained on the scrape this morning, where the Water Rail also showed in between some hefty showers.
It has been remarked upon before, but surley the dearth of small birds (and not just here) has become alarming. A flog along the shore to the Hundred Acre Field from Princes old clubhouse produced just 6 Chaffinches, a Stonechat, 2 Meadow Pipits and a Skylark. Fortunately, the gloom was lifted by news of 2 Glossy Ibises on Restharrow Scrape and after a yomp back to the car and on through the puddles, there they were, neither bearing a ring like the individual seen here in December ….. and here they are (photo by Justin de Villeneuve).
A grey, damp mizzly (is that a word?) day was notable for a female Merlin and a ringtail Hen Harrier that were seen in the Restharrow area, but there was precious little offshore or otherwise on land.
Sloshing around the Estate after more persistent overnight rain we encountered the Whitefront flock, still on the field next to the scrape with their guest Brent, an influx of 11 Song Thrushes and 3 Redwings that departed into a rather chilly NW breeze early on. Otherwise, a Coal Tit was singing near the Elms, where the Ring-necked Parakeets have returned to last year’s nest site, and a very impressive female Sparrowhawk spent much of the morning perched in a willow at the edge of the scrape.
A party of 18 White-fronted Geese that appeared on the field next to Restharrow Scrape yesterday was still there this morning, with a Brent Goose, and a Red Kite was seen flying across fields towards Royal St.George’s at breakfast time (for those lucky enough to see it and, for that matter, to have breakfast).
Sunny and calm, with a light frost, it was the most pleasant day of the year so far. At least 455 Great Crested Grebes were floating offshore, a Jack Snipe was found near the Point and 3 Siskins dropped into the alders in Waldershare Gully.
The wind was back again, but little was moving offshore, so the appearance of a Great Northern Diver, flying S not far off the beach was very much against the run of play. A scarce species at the Bay, it seems likely that it was the same individual that has been hanging around since November.
It was sheer delight to be able to walk around without being turned inside out by the wind and although it was briefly blustery around mid morning the wind was light enough for small birds to be poking their heads above the parapet at last. A walk along Worth track to Roaring Gutter turned up 5 Bullfinches, 4 Yellowhammers, a Redpoll – a scarce species locally in the first half of the year – 2 Marsh Harriers, 2 Sparrowhawks and a Water Pipit on the North Stream. On the Estate, a Chiffchaff was in the Elms and another Sparrowhawk was sneaking about Restharrow.
Another day of gale force winds, although the rain had the decency to hold off until after mid day. Although seawatching for an hour and a half was more than the conditions deserved, 3 Little Gulls struggled S into the wind, but little else was moving.
On yet another day with a gale force SW wind 2 Red-breasted Mergansers flew S offshore and a Peregrine was roughing up a Lapwing along the shore and out to sea, though unsuccessfully as its quarry escaped to the north. The most interesting development, first evident yesterday, was that 9 Common Seals were hauled out on a new sand bar that has emerged between the shore and the Goodwins; possibly as a result of the recent stormy weather that has extensively re-profiled the beach, as well as flooding the fields as extensively as most of us can recall.
The Great Crested Grebe flock offshore has increased to 265 (perhaps they should be playing cricket for England with a score like that?) and news filtered through from yesterday of a first winter Glaucous Gull on the beach opposite the Chequers.
A seawatch in a roaring SW wind with intense showers produced 180 Wigeon N towards Pegwell, a male Merlin chasing some unfortunate passerine over the sea and small numbers of the usual bits and bobs.
Rain lasted until around 3 in the morning and the landscape is showing the effects, with several low-lying bits of the Estate impassable, even with the assistance of brand new wellies. However, it was a bright day, probably the calm before the storm, and some half decent birds included a Bonxie that flew along the beach, 340 Wigeon N into Pegwell, Marsh Harrier, 3 Buzzards, Peregrine and Merlin over Worth and a Woodcock on the Estate, though despite 2 Snow Buntings along the shore passerines remain like hen’s teeth.
It remains very mild and, from late morning, very wet as heavy rain blustered in on a fractious SW wind. Birding was suitably soporific, though a Manx Shearwater was seen offshore and 2 Chiffchaffs were calling from brambles near the polytunnels on New Downs.