Friday, 6 January 2012

January bird race

Today, we met up with members of Team Helm past and present, for the regular New Year's big day along the East Sussex and Kent coast. Becca came down yesterday and stayed over so she could join us on the race. I should mention that she and I did a little birding yesterday despite scarily blowy conditions, and on a short visit to Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve in the afternoon we had nice though distant views of a Bittern, and a breathtaking close encounter with a Sparrowhawk that nearly joined us in Grebe hide. But back to today, which dawned bright, sunny, fairly still and unseasonably mild, and stayed that way all day.

We met as usual at Nigel's house and had a one-hour vigil in his back room, watching the garden and feeders while Nige provided tea and breakfast like a superstar. Besides the commoner garden birds we added Nuthatch, Marsh Tit and Great Spotted Woodpecker, but failed to find Treecreeper or Goldcrest. While waiting for Jim to show up, we walked down the lanes to have a look at the fields, and added Redwing.

Then it was on to Fairlight. An uneventful drive saw one of our three cars add Jay. We walked to the cliff and noted (with some alarm in my case) that quite a large chunk of it had fallen down since the last time we were here, though our 'viewing platform' remained intact. This is big enough to accommodate the eight of us (just about) and we scanned the sea and cliffs. It was veeeeeeeery quiet. The usual rafts of Great Crested Grebes were on the sea, with one or two Red-throated Divers, and a lone Guillemot showed briefly before diving and apparently never surfacing again. We also had some distant Fulmars, plus Oystercatchers on the beach.

It's always exciting waiting here as you never know what will appear around the corner of the cliffs. We have had good views of Peregrine and Raven here in the past, and after connecting with both just a couple of miles away on the same cliffs in Hastings, I was hopeful. But it was not to be. This male Kestrel appeared on the fallen-down bit of cliff and munched some prey, giving nice scope views but terrible photos.

On to Pett Pools, and we passed a 'herd' of Curlews on the way, before stopping just short of the first pool to examine some geese.

Sorry for the distant and badly composed photo, but it shows the four species that were present - White-front, Pinkfoot, Brent and Canada. In all there were 12 Whitefronts, four Pinkfeet, just the one Brent and plenty of Canadas. A few Greylags were feeding even further away.

A male Marsh Harrier was drifting about miles away across the fields, while this female gave us slightly closer views.

We went onto the beach, where the tide was well in and there was little to see, but further down the beach we could see what appeared to be a sizeable flock of small waders flying in anxious circles near the shore. We decided we'd try to get closer, and returned to the car to drive along to the furthest pool.

On this pool were armies of Wigeons, phalanxes of Teals, and platoons of Mallards. More unexpected were a distant quartet of Ruddy Ducks, and a Snipe (or maybe several Snipes) played hide-and-seek with us in a nearby ditch.

We went back onto the beach and to our joy found the waders, now settled and sleeping while they waited for the tide to go out. The flock was mainly of Knots and Dunlins, with a sprinkling of Grey Plovers, a Turnstone and a few Oystercatchers. We thought that was it, but looking at my pics I think the little fellow in the centre of this one looks very Sanderlingy.

On to Scotney, the massive gravel pit on the coast road through Camber. On the shore by our pull-in spot was a flock of some 50 Barnacle Geese (of feral origin), and among them one or two Emperor Geese (of very feral origin). Also a solitary male Pintail, but nothing else that was new.

We decided to stay out while the weather remained lovely, and went on to Dungeness, with a trip down the Dengemarsh road for starters. We paused en route to scrutinise the flocks of swans in the fields, but found only Mutes. However, we did score a pair of Red-legged Partridges.

Next stop was the ARC bit of the reserve, where we negotiated our way through a packed hide and found a pair of Smews, which almost immediately flew away. We tried not to take it personally. Somehow I fluked a sort-of in-focus pic of them as they left.

One photo, six species. (I think. Let me know if you can see more.) Also present in the duck department were Goldeneye and Shoveler.

From the ARC car park, on Mike's recommendation we crossed the road for a furtive look into the warden's garden, where we saw lots of Tree Sparrows in terrible light. There are four of them in this photo.

We went to the beach next, pausing on the way to pick up a distant Great White Egret on the new diggings, and had a look for the Glaucous Gull that we failed to see last time. It's been there for more than a year now, and I've looked for it several times and not seen it. Today was a repeat performance - in fact we didn't even manage to find a gull flock in which to fail to find it. We did have a few Gannets offshore though. From here we phoned through our lunch orders to the Pilot, even though it was about twenty past three.

We ate our lunch while the light slowly faded outside, and debated what, if anything, to do next. Nigel added up the list and found it was a reasonable 86, not nearly as bad as it had seemed, to be honest. But by the time we finished lunch it was getting rather dark. We went onto the beach - a bit further down than before but still no gulls. Then on to the reserve, where the board told us there was a Long-tailed Duck, but it was too dark by this point to make out much of anything. So we called it a day - but a really good day :)


Mike H said...

Hi Marianne,

I have followed your blog for some time and probably not made a comment . I don't know why but I feel that I may have met you or Rob (or both) in the Hanson hide ARC. I beleive Rob was using a Nikon with 500mm lens and borrowed someones Canon 50d with 100- 400mm lens. I was the older guy (Man City) beanie hat, who explained how to extend the lens.. let me down gently if i am mistaken.

Alan Pavey said...

Nice start to the year Marianne, the shot of the Smew is very nice, a great read to :-)

Marianne said...

Hi Mike,

Yes, that was Rob! He was with our friend Becca at that point, she's a Canon user and was interested in having a go with the 100-400, so borrowed our friend Mike's camera and lens. The rest of our group including me went on ahead, but I remember as I left the hide hearing someone explaining to Rob about the pull-push zoom of the 100-400mm - I guess that was you? Say hello if you see us again :)

Phil said...

Nice account and pictures Marianne. Sounds like a very nice way to start the new year, especially the lunch at The Pilot bit.

Marc Heath said...

A great account with some nice shots as well, very nice to read.