Birds: December 2020
The last day of the year was equal parts frosty, cold, sunny, and pleasant. There were singles of Firecrest, Goldcrest, Chiffchaff, and Grey Wagtail on the Estate, plus 500 Lapwings, 180 Golden Plovers, and 400 Stock Doves being harassed by the regular immature male Hen Harrier behind Restharrow Scrape and the nearby asparagus fields. At least 20 Tree Sparrows were in the Mary Bax area and 250 White-fronted Geese could be seen distantly on Willow Farm. Over the other side of the railway there was a Merlin, a Water Pipit, and five Ravens.
A calm but cold day saw 450 Stock Doves and 120 Skylarks along the track behind the asparagus fields, plus around 300 White-fronted Geese visible between the path and the railway. Two Cattle Egrets, were on Worth marshes, 47 Tree Sparrows were at Dickson’s Corner/Mary Bax, and two Goosanders were offshore.
Unfortunately today also saw the second visit in three days from Hare coursers on Worth marshes/Lydden Valley. If you find yourself in the area please remain vigilant and if you do come across Hare Coursers do not approach them but contact the East Kent Rural Crime Team HERE, or ring 999 if you see a crime in progress.
Heavy rain overnight added to already high water levels. There’s now a lot of standing water so you may need wellies in a few places. A little wander around to burn off the Christmas turkey produced the usual three Cattle Egrets and 250 White-fronted Geese on Worth marshes.
The bread-and butter of our work here is the daily monitoring of the bird species in the Recording Area. This allows us to analyse and report back on trends in our common British birds. But we do come across our fair share of rarities and scarcities over the course of a year. This year has been extraordinary in the number of these oddities which have turned up, with the following contributing to one of the highest year lists in SBBOT history:
Three Siberian Chiffchaffs, many Cattle Egrets, four White-tailed Eagles, two Stone-curlews, two Hawfinches, three Kentish Plovers, Night-heron, seven Honey-buzzards, Black Kite, Montagu’s Harrier, three White Storks, two Temminck’s Stints, five Red-footed Falcons, Golden Oriole, Purple Heron, Bee-eater, two Quails, two Ortolan Buntings, Icterine Warbler, Long-tailed Skua, two Red-backed Shrikes, two Pectoral Sandpipers, Corncrake, American Golden Plover, Barred Warbler, Red-throated Pipit, Wryneck, Radde’s Warbler, three Pallas’s Warblers, two Richard’s Pipits, two Dusky Warblers, three Great Grey Shrikes, five Glossy Ibises, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Goshawk, Sabine’s Gull, Little Auk, Woodlark, Waxwing, and Kumlien’s Gull.
Thank you to everyone who has contributed records this year.
After a brief Christmas break people were back at it again. Storm Bella rattled through overnight and so there was some anticipation of what seabirds could be moving offshore at dawn. The bulk of which were Cormorants, with almost 1,000, but also 135 Auks, 220 Red-throated Divers, 26 Common Scoters, two Velvet Scoters, and a Red-breasted Merganser. The Velvet Scoters were the first to be recorded at Sandwich Bay this year. The mobile group of 350 White-fronted Geese flew over the Green Wall and Worth marshes, with three Cattle Egrets and two Water Pipits still at the latter, and at least two Bearded Tits on the Green Wall.
It was bitterly cold on the sea front. Despite the northerly gale there was surprising little moving though. Amongst a procession of Gulls along the shore a 2cy Yellow-legged Gull went north close in. Otherwise a few Scoters and Auks were the best on offer. The White-fronted Goose flock has returned from their foray south of the Chequers and are now viewable from the Drove. At least 355 birds and two Brent Geese were seen. There was no sign of the geese on New Downs a few days ago so maybe the two flocks have rejoined?
And finally, a Merry Christmas from the SBBOT team. Most of us may be stuck in Tier 4 and our Christmas plans have changed somewhat, but i’m sure all will be fine and a good time will be had regardless. And we can all be safe in the knowledge that the wildlife of Sandwich Bay will continue on regardless of what’s going happening in ‘our world’.
Three Goldeneyes were the best of a rather wet sea watch. There were plenty of Red-throated Divers to scrutinise and a handful of Auks. Most Auks tend to be too far out to be sure of identification but those which do stray closer to the shore have mostly been Razorbills. A 1cy Caspian Gull was on the fields near Restharrow Scrape, two Firecrests were at the top of King’s Avenue, and a Brent Goose flew over the Estate.
As the end of the year approaches there is still some excellent birding to be had. A loop around New Downs saw six Barnacle Geese, 121 Teals, 77 Shovelers, 31 Wigeons, three Water Rails, two Green Sandpipers, 34 Fieldfares, six Rock Pipits, and an impressive 69 Corn Buntings. Visibility was excellent offshore and flat calm at dawn, allowing a Great Northern Diver, two Black-throated Divers, 90 Red-throated Divers, a Shag, and 570 Cormorants to be logged. Meanwhile 230 White-fronted Geese flew over Willow Farm before dropping in south of the Chequers. Three Cattle Egrets, three Water Rails, two Green Sandpipers, a Water Pipit, a Rock Pipit, and over 400 Fieldfares were also seen.
Really appalling weather and visibility this morning. Sticking it out on the seafront proved a success though as a Red-necked Grebe went north close along the shore.
Singles of Yellow-legged and Caspian Gull were in Pegwell (but not the Kumlien’s). A female Goldeneye sat on the sea, a Lapland Bunting was seen along the footpath behind the asparagus fields, and the immature male Hen Harrier was hunting across Willow Farm. Wildfowl continue to increase on Worth marshes as they utilise all the new pools and scrapes created by the RSPB.
Bird of the day was the immature Kumlien’s Gull seen in Pegwell Bay in the afternoon with only four previous Kent records (1991 Dungeness, 1998 Cliffe, 2006 Dungeness, 2012 Dover). This would constitute the first record for the SBBOT Recording Area. Kumlien’s Gull is currently regarded as a subspecies of Iceland Gull that typically exhibits a dark wash to the primary, tertial, and tail feathers. As with most of the ‘white-winged gulls’, it is more regularly found in the north of the UK (hence the paucity of Kent records). The variability within the taxon clouds the identification, particularly in relation to the darker, and even rarer, Thayer’s Gull. The Pegwell bird does seem to be at the darker end of the scale. Hopefully the bird sticks around for the winter to enable a comprehensive series of photos to be taken and analysed.
Also seen in Pegwell were three Caspian Gulls, two Yellow-legged Gulls, adult male Merlin, and a ringtail Hen Harrier. One Great Skua, two Red-breasted Mergansers, and a Black-throated Diver were seen offshore and three Cattle Egrets and a Water Pipit remained on Worth marshes.
The usual three Cattle Egrets were reported on Worth marshes and a spell seawatching between squalls produced a mix of Red-throated Divers, Great Crested Grebes, Gannets, and Cormorants, plus the unusual sight of a male Tufted Duck south just offshore.
With one week to go before Christmas there’s still a chance to pick up a few things from the Observatory as gifts, be it a copy of our Annual Report, Christmas cards, or to gift a membership.
A mostly calm and sunny morning produced singles of Great Northern Diver and Red-breasted Merganser offshore with 210 White-fronted Geese and a Water Pipit on Worth marshes still. A separate flock of 126 White-fronted Geese and nine Barnacle Geese were on New Downs with six Tree Sparrows, 350 Stock Doves, a Lapland Bunting, and a Hen Harrier around the asparagus fields on the Estate.
The sea had a steady passage of birds going south with Razorbills and Red-throated Divers predominantly, but also over 80 Sanderlings and a Great Skua. The White-fronted Geese were mobile but at least 310 were seen moving around Worth marshes.
It was a nice, bright, calm start to the day and perfect for walking the Green Wall. There was lots of activity with at least two Bearded Tits and three Water Rails calling from the reedbed along the river and a ringtail Hen Harrier flew through. A Cetti’s Warbler in the Haven was one of few recorded on the Estate this year.
There were 220 White-fronted Geese the usual lone Barnacle Goose together in the fields between Restharrow Scrape and the railway. The Hen Harrier put in an appearance.
Today’s WeBS count at the other end of the Recording Area had us positioned at Pegwell, New Downs, and the Point. Three Yellow-legged Gulls and a female Red-breasted Merganser were the highlights in Pegwell Bay, with a mobile ringtail Hen Harrier commuting between there and Hundred Acre field. The tail pattern confirms it to be different to the bird present around the Estate and Worth recently. Over on New Downs and 108 White-fronted Geese and nine Barnacle Geese were found and four Common Sandpipers were on the river. A separate flock of 242 White-fronted Geese and one Barnacle Goose were in the fields west of the Estate asparagus fields (between Restharrow Scrape and the railway line), with the other Hen Harrier and four Cattle Egrets also seen on Worth marshes. Sea passage was good again with a Black-necked Grebe and nine Little Gulls the picks of the bunch.
Today was spent covering both sides of Worth marshes for the monthly WeBS counts. The White-fronted Goose flock numbered 287 with a single Barnacle Goose in tow. There were no Bean or Pink-feet on show, but a lone Egyptian Goose, whilst a juvenile Peregrine was hunting the Greylag Geese (yes, Greylags!). There were at least 650 Wigeons, 53 Snipes, and 366 Fieldfares adding to the mix plus four Cattle Egrets, a Water Pipit, and a mobile Hen Harrier.
A rewarding seawatch this morning with plenty moving south. Highlights were a single Black-throated Diver, 215 Red-throated Divers, a Shag, 182 ‘Auks’, a Little Auk, seven Little Gulls, and 329 Kittiwakes. A Woodlark flew over Worth marshes and three Cattle Egrets were still present. Both the Woodlark and Little Auk were new for the year.
A Woodcock was flushed from the Gullies and 220 Stock Doves were on the fields by the Observatory. We’ve been wondering for a while whether the lingering Hen Harrier could in fact be more than one bird. Today’s bird showed well on the Estate with distinctive replaced central tail feathers (confirming it as young male) that should allow us to compare and see if other birds are present. Offshore there was a regular passage of Divers and Auks, mostly Red-throated and Razorbills, plus a few Kittiwakes. The four Cattle Egrets were seen on Worth marshes along with 255 White-fronted Geese, one Tundra Bean Goose, two Pink-footed Geese, and one Barnacle Goose. Another 119 White-fronted and 12 Barnacle Geese were on New Downs.
A few spots of rain today. A Razorbill was the only bird of note offshore whilst on the Estate a Bullfinch was in the Gullies, a Siskin flew over, and 190 Stock Doves were in the recently-cut asparagus fields. The four Cattle Egrets remained on Worth marshes along with 130 White-fronted Geese, 350 Greylag Geese, and one Barnacle Goose. There were singles of Dunlin, Green Sandpiper, and Redshank, plus three Water Pipits, nine Stonechats, and a good sized flock of 95 Skylarks.
I’d like to draw attention to Thanet District Council’s consultation on its Pegwell Bay ‘PSPO’ (Public Space Protection Order). The current consultation is proposing that dogs not be allowed on the chalk area that runs from the Western undercliff along to the sandy beach. This change would particularly help the wintering Turnstones and Brent Geese that feed along this stretch of Pegwell Bay.
Please have your say and fill in this very simple form: https://docs.google.com/forms/
Another calm day with some very beautiful afternoon sunlight. In early morning around 360 Cormorants flew into the Bay and another Black-throated Diver was seen offshore. There were 29 Tree Sparrows and a Lapland Bunting by Dickson’s Corner. If you want to brighten up your evenings we still have some great events happening this week, including a Christmas Quiz on Friday evening! In classic pub quiz style, grab a drink and join us on Zoom. Book by clicking here.
Three Cattle Egrets showed up on Worth, perhaps those from New Downs previously? The geese haven’t disappeared completely as there are still over 160 White-fronted Geese on Worth, and one Barnacle kicking around with them. It was a calm day for a sea watch which produced two-three Black-throated Divers, a Goldeneye, and a Razorbill.
Today was interesting with four Bearded Tits still on the Green Wall along with a Firecrest and a large number of House Sparrows. These are always nice to record as although it may appear common the House Sparrow is actually a Red Listed bird, following sharp declines in number in recent decades. A sea watch relay produced 187 Red-throated Divers, two Great Northern Divers, and a Great Skua. Around lunch time, something seemed to spook the geese, sending flocks flying in all directions. At least 133 Pink-footed, 30 Barnacle, and 330 White-fronted Geese were recorded.
In a break from Goose News there were six Bearded Tits on the Green Wall along with a Water Rail and a fair few Redwings.
The day started off grey, rather cold, and looking like the heavens would open, however it cleared up and became quite sunny. Of course by that point I was tucked up in the office. A total of 333 White-fronted Geese were still present in the fields between the asparagus and the railway tracks. If you enjoy counting get yourself to Worth and count the Wigeon, Fieldfares, and Black-headed Gulls (1,500 of the latter!).
A “wild goose chase” was carried out today (a.k.a a coordinated counting effort) between Worth, New Downs and the Estate yielding 487 White-fronted Geese, 30 Barnacle, two Pink-footed, and 141 Greylag Geese. A great effort and thanks to those involved! Numbers of overwintering birds are definitely building elsewhere with 800 Lapwing on New Downs and around 650 Wigeon on Worth.
Two Siskins zipped over the Green Wall, while thrush numbers are definitely picking up due to cold weather pushing them South, exemplified by 115 Fieldfare on Worth. In Goose News today there were 170 Pink-footed Geese which landed in the field near the concrete bridge in Worth in two groups, but both moved on soon after. Similarly a flock of 247 White-fronted Geese were in the same field, and another 300 were flying around the ponds – giving a minimum total of 547!! These large flocks were accompanied by 150 Greylag, 32 Barnacle, and one Brent Goose. If you’re not interested in Geese a Snow Bunting was still present on Prince’s Beach and four Waxwings were seen in Stonelees.
It’s a clear, sunny start to December! This strange year is almost over. The White-fronted Geese are still the talk of the town with a whopping 425 now present on Worth marshes! This is an incredible number, especially when compared to this time last year, when there was only one in December until a flock of 17 on the last day of the year. There were also 20 Barnacle Geese hanging around too, along with over 100 Greylags.