I’ve been looking for Alpineswift locally since the day after the first birds in Ireland last week, desperate not to miss out on the influx as its a bird I’ve obsessed over alot! Checking the castle eveyday aswell as the whole patch, I Even ventured as far as Kingsdown looking for cliff faces out of the raging and constant SW winds we’ve had.
Today was a blessing though as I received news of an AlpineSwift seen at the neighbouring headland-Bockhill, Luckily I was well situated and climbed up the old Gun Emplacement assuming I’d probably missed it zip through. 25 Minutes later however it appeared over the trees at the top of the valley and fed along a line of leafless sycamores giving great views at times.
The bird fed for an hour and a half over the valley, occasionally venturing over the village but mostly staying fairly low and showing well in varying light. A crowd of locals arrived and all saw it, nice to see everyone. Thanks to Gerald S and Richard H for texting the Bockhill news, found there by Simon W at 10am.
Other than that its been fairly quiet, ones and twos of Whitewagtail with the cattle in the Harbour field, Chiffchaffs, Firecrests here and there, a smart 1W CaspianGull (below) along the cliffs on the 23rd, a MarshHarrier in off the sea y’day, light chaffinch movement throughout the week mostly South and nothing over 200 per morning, (I missed nearly 10,000 last sunday whilst away working) 3 Brambling and a few siskin. 2 BlackRedstarts and a Wheatear but no hirundines yet.
2 days of southerly winds and the first Wheatears have arrived along the cliffs. Both Lucy and Colin had 2 males on Lighthouse down and I had my first (and personal earliest here) near the old airfield on upper road, it flew to the fields to the East but showed well, a moment to savour.
I also saw the two males on Light house down before the fog set in. Lucy had seen a ShortEaredOwl there early morning.
Theyre great arn’t they, and mark a turning point in the year, one which myself and presumably alot of other birders have been waiting for.
The previous day had been strong southerly wind and several flocks of BrentGeese were noted moving North East, including a flock of 100+ over the harbour as I climbed the cliff path first thing. I counted 400 during the morning and most were high above the water.
The cliff path also played host to 4 Chiffchaffs, seeminly fresh in, feeding in a sheltered spot.
At least one of the 2 wintering Blackredstarts is still along our street, it hopped out of my mates cellar stairs. Another bird is currently frequenting the light house area but i havent seen good numbers yet, perhaps next week onwards.
Strong winds led to zero up the cliffs first thing but a second helping of the GlaucousGull at shakey was enjoyable mid afternoon, it seems to be feeding well enough despite its damaged bill.
A first Winter CaspianGull (below) eventually turned up in the melee and there was a first winter yellowleggedgull too.
While walking back home I scanned the harbour and was surprised to see a BrentGoose sitting alone on the water.
Face on and at a distance I could make out its complete collar and it looked to be very Black and white. It turned out to be the BlackBrant! that has been seen at a few sites in East Kent in the past couple of days.
Lovely bird and the only Brent goose Ive seen in the harbour. I wonder where it will be seen next.
After a tip-off from regular visitor Richard Berridge about a DartfordWarbler first thing this morning at Langdon hole I scurried up the cliff and watched it shadowing a pair of stonechats along the path above the harbour field, the first dartford I’ve seen here on the patch so I was happy about that.
A male MarshHarrier flew high and west and a whitewagtail was briefly on the tramway before flying west along the cliffs whilst i looked for the warbler.
Shakey beach was back in action after so long with nothing of interest, A visit after lunch produced the sub adult GlaucousGull that Russ and Mark had seen there during the week, it came to bread and performed very nicely.
Its upper mandible is damaged, but it managed to feed so perhaps will be ok.
My first CaspianGull in months came to bread at shakey too along with 2 first winter YLGs. A check of the harbour this evening produced another 2 different 1st Winter YLGs but nothing else of note.
A work trip to the Netherlands took a brilliant turn when I met up with Mars Muusse to look at Caspian Gulls on my day off. Mars met me at the Amsterdam Centraal and took me to a few sites just west of the Caspian Gull Breeding grounds in Lelystad. The first large gull of the day was a Casp and every group we looked at held many individuals, I think we saw over 100 during the day. the sound of so many long calls and casps calling in general was a sound bath of joy for me. My host was very generous driving me around and great fun to be around, thanks Mars! It was beyond my expectations and the breeding birds had only just began to return to the area.
Much like the thames sites in London the birds were moving between a few locations, back and forth, which we checked during the day. The most productive perhaps was some kind of processing/recycling plant which we gained access to by buying Donuts for the staff and just being friendly, It just wouldn’t work like that in the uk!
The weather was wet and cold and I mostly pointed the camera at 1st winters but all ages were in present in good numbers. Later We were joined by Thijs Horst and all together clocked 20+ Rings, including birds from Germany, Poland, Belarus and Czech although I didnt see a Dutch ringed Casp!
Enjoy the photo dump.
Above and below images Mars M
I missed out photographing so many birds, i just didnt know where to point the camera but also didnt want to be looking through a viewfinder all day. Hopefully this group of images gives an impression.
Im going to return at some point, id love to see the breeding colony in full swing but also to see numbers of juveniles too. The record I think is 800 Caspian gulls counted in a day in late summer, presumably the entire 108 breeding pairs plus juveniles, non breeders and migrants, mostly feeding on dead and dying fish with a few white tailed eagles here and there. Must have been a sight.
A noticeable increase in Common gulls around at the moment, especially in the evening harbour roost but also at Shakey beach. Among them a 2nd Winter heinei – A subspecies I’ve looked for for ages and have seen many lookalikes and ‘almosts’.
The bird shows one of the diagnostic primary patterns and in conjunction with limited head streaking contrasting against a nice boa of fine neck streaks and a brighter bill. Darker mantle tone along with a long winged appearance and flight style plus dark marks on the outer greater coverts, all indicative of heinei.
A bird showing a P9 mirror that extends onto the outer web must also show a black band on p4 and no white tongue tip to p7.
Im sure Russian common gulls are present in winter in larger numbers than we think and February is a good time to look at common gulls as numbers build so i will put some effort into looking at them and perhaps see another before spring.
With no work to go to at the moment I’m making the most of the Gulls, which seem to be abit hit and miss. I drew blanks at Shakey beach for almost 2 weeks only to see 5 CaspianGulls in one day on the 31st December, the same can be said for Deal which seems abit better at the moment. Perhaps a little influx of gulls is upon us.
Below are a few 1st winter from Shakey on a very windy day, hence the sea spray all over the lens!
Below: 2 caspian and 1 YLG (bottom bird), the left hand Casp is a Czech yellow ringed individual 03C:U
A couple of Casps from Deal in the past few days. Gerald S has seen a half a dozen or so recently.
Above a large 1st Winter and below a delicatly plumaged 2nd Winter. Lovely stuff
On the subject of Gulls I had a decent looking candidate for heineior RussianCommonGull fly through the harbour earlier today. Unfortunately it didn’t come close enough for better photos detailing trailing edge to the uderwing but seems to a nice clean head and bright pink bill base and neck shawl aswell and the darker primaries secondaries and reduced inner primary window not shown by most ‘heinei lookalikes ive seen in the UK. perhaps ill see it again.
If you’re interested in RussianCommonGulls check out last month’s Birdwatch Magazine, I wrote an article on how to identify them:
Just before Christmas Rob R found a Hume’sleafwarbler at Pencester Gardens along the river Dour in the middle of Dover. Ive only just today been to see it and its an excellent example of the species. My sixth in the UK and third within a few miles of home, its about time I found one!
Vocal and showing nicely low down aswell as feeding at the tops of bare sycamores. Also present were 2 Blackcaps and 2 Chiffies, obviously a decent little spot for wintering insectivorous birds.
A walk along the cliff tops and into the valley was pleasant but mostly quiet. A 1st Winter CaspianGull circled along the cliffs from st Margarets and I believe there are at least 12 Firecrest in the valley at the moment, I’ve also flushed a Woodcock out of the hollow wood twice in recent visits.
I thought I’d write up my account of the Honey Buzzards I saw here at the coast between Langdon Hole and the South Foreland Valley. Most birds seen in the same kind of weather conditions and appearing to come either directly in off the sea or along the coast and inland. The first of the year on the 22nd May (perhaps later than it could have been as I was working in Scotland early May) and the last I saw was a Juvenile on the 11th Sept. It seemed to be a good year across the UK for the species in general. I saw 8 of the 9 birds recorded here. Clink on links to see more photos of each bird.
The Next was a more distant pale phase male, the only male I saw at the coast this season, which arrived at st Margarets and moved North on the 26th May.
In between this bird and the following individuals a dark phase female was seen by both Colin J and Mark K between South Foreland and Langdon on the 15th June, I was away with work but it seems this period was very good for HBs in south Kent with multiple individuals seen at Dungeness and Samphire Hoe.
Next up here at the patch were a trio of females on the 28th June during a very hot period both on the continent and over here too. All 3 birds arrived over the space of an hour in favourable weather but quite a later date and presumably failed/non breeders. Each bird circled over the valley and moved loosely North. The first was characterised by the mostly unmarked coverts
The next bird came in nearly an hour later, a similarly intermediate female but with barred underwing coverts. Heat haze can be a real problem photographing birds out to sea on hot days.
The third and final bird of the day came in/along the cliffs just after, a darker bird than the previous two
This concludes what I consider the ‘spring birds’ for me this year. Honey Buzzards do get seen here in July occasionally but i didn’t see one until the 13th of August (below) another female which I picked up coming in off the sea over Langdon hole, the bird tracked North West and came right over head. Perhaps it had been out over the channel, having headed out earlier in the morning and came in rather than committing to the crossing.
5 days later (18th August) and this dark female flew East over the South foreland valley, right over head. Perhaps it had roosted in Top wood as it was only just above tree height. The bird continued North East along the coast towards Deal.
The final Honey Buzzard of the year for me was this dark phase juvenile on the 11th september which soared around South Foreland and headed West over the farm, the first Juvenile I’ve seen here.
Thats all for the birds I saw whist on the patch. I did however also stumble upon a female bird inland and observed it many times between the 30th June and early September, This was at a previously unknown site for birds during the summer, much interesting behaviour was observed although no confirmed breeding.
The same bird below seen sparring with a Red Kite.
Clear skies, a gentle NW breeze and bright sunshine was the setting to a peaceful walk up through the valley and along the cliffs today. 3 Firecrests were all of note among the tit flocks and Redwings were well represented with c70 between the fields and the valley . c50 Goldenplover were counted on the headland, with 20 of these on the deck in the stubble fields ear the light house, the others in off and west. The same line taken by a dozen Snipe and 22 Lapwing.
Golden Plover heading West.
Ive seen a few CaspianGulls from the cliff tops and recently 2 at st Margarets (1st W and 2nd W) but nothing coming particularly close, Nothing to be seen at Deal and nothing at Shakey beach at the moment – a reflection on the calm weather perhaps as shakey is only good on a windy days.
1st Winter Caspian Gull, Langdon cliffs.
Another 1st winter Caspian Gull, st Margarets bay.
BlackRedstarts are around and about, with at least 2 at Shakey, a single bird in the marina and one or two in the port my end. The VelvetScoter in the harbour was enjoyable but seems to have disappeared now.