Thursday, 15 March 2012

Bits and pieces at Dunge

Today I went to Dungeness in the esteemed company of Phil Sharp (check out his blog Sharp by Nature here, it's a good'un). Mist shrouded West Malling station when we met at 9amish, but as we proceeded down the M20 the skies cleared and it turned into a beautiful sunny day, with a slightly chilly breeze (hey, that's Dungeness) but very warm in sheltered spots.

We kicked off with a look at the Tree Sparrows in the warden's garden. There must have been at least 20 of the little beauties. Phil explained that the seed mix on offer in the feeders has been changed and apparently the new stuff is magnetically attractive to Tree Sparrows. As we watched, a pair of Marsh Harriers skydanced in the hazy distance.

We continued to the visitor centre, and began to work our way around the hides. From the first was this fairly close-range Redshank.

Phil had to dash back to the car then to retrieve his forgotten phone, so I carried on alone to the next hide, where I enjoyed brief but gripping views of a magnificent... Carrion Crow. I won't dwell on this as I'm sure Phil is terribly jealous... A few Ringed Plovers decorated the shingly islands, while on the water were Tufties and Pochards but not a great deal else.

Continuing on to the last hide overlooking Burrowes Pit, I paused to photograph this Pied Wagtail, which is gazing in wonderment at the swarms of midges that have descended (or maybe ascended) upon the reserve. There were great clouds of them in many areas, making visibility rather tricky. Where's a flock of hirundines when you need them?

We stopped in a sunny corner to scan the meadows, which seem to have been freshly flooded and have been bordered with a new electric fence. We were pondering what livestock might be on its way to the meadows when a rustle close at hand alerted us to some activity among the edges of the reeds, and peering in we saw to our surprise a wriggling ball of small Grass Snakes. There were at least three of them but they were so entangled that it was difficult to be sure. Views were too obscured for photos - I was just about to put the macro lens on when they suddenly spotted us and slipped away out of sight.

Heading on towards Dengemarsh hide, we saw a flock of maybe 20 Golden Plovers swirling overhead, their wings silvery when they caught the light. No trace of summertime black bellies among them yet. From Dengemarsh hide we managed a fleeting glimpse of one of the regular Great White Egrets, and noted the interesting spectacle of more than a dozen Little Grebes proceeding in an orderly line across the lake.

We continued our walk around the reserve, seeing little of note (Marsh Harriers all over the place though) but enjoying the sunshine. We saw one more Grass Snake, and also a shrew (not IDed to species but probably Common) lurking under a piece of refugia.

There was a crowd of people distantly visible on the access track, so we went to join them but it turned out that they were all failing to see a Garganey on the small roadside pits. We spent a few minutes with them, also failing to see the Garganey, then we carried on to the beach.

We soon located a large gull flock and began to sort through them, looking for the Glaucous Gull that I've been trying to see for more than a year now. However, the flock yielded only Herrings and Great Black-backs. Then they all went up, and searching the skies Phil found the mighty predator that had so alarmed them - a dinky little male Sparrowhawk. Well, maybe the gulls were all planning to take off at that moment anyway, but it did look as though they were spooked by the Sprawk.

We went on up to the 'Obs' and walked around the moat, noting very little until we'd almost completed our lap, when a beautiful male Black Redstart materialised and posed briefly on a post before flitting away and settling rather cheekily on the Heligoland trap. Meanwhile a pair of Meadow Pipits sifted through the grass on the slopes around the Obs buildings.

Our final destination was the ARC pit. We decided to head for the viewing screen first. It was about 3pm by now and starting to get a little chilly.

From the viewscreen, there wasn't that much to see - some Shovelers, a few gulls... and some intriguing swirls and splashes close inshore. These were clearly fish, and after a few splashes Phil had seen enough of them to ID them as Pikes. They were spawning, quite vigorously. This photo shows a pair together, and if you look carefully at about 3 o'clock you can see the back fish's eye. They went right in among the reeds, ensuring a safe sheltered nursery for their eggs.

The Pikes kept us amused for a good while, while in the meantime this Little Egret arrived, hunted nearby for a bit with some amusing leg-jiggling, then left again.

We ummed and ahhed about visiting the ARC hide and finally decided that we would. It turned out to be a good move. For a start, on the way there we actually saw (well, Phil saw and I glimpsed) a Cetti's Warbler, after hearing them singing all day.

The birds closest inshore from the hide were a male and female Goldeneye, who were busily diving and occasionally giving us clear views betwen the reed stems. The water was so flat that it was possible to trace the birds' progress underwater and be ready to watch as they bobbed back up to the surface.

Here's the female at the very start of her dive.

In my last post I mentioned three-bird flights. Well, here's an eight-bird flight, and who knows which (if any) of these seven male Shovleers the lone female is paired with. By sheer good luck I've also caught a Dunlin and a Ringed Plover in this pic.

Then it really was hometime. Well, almost. We nipped back to the visitor centre to use the facilities and I took a look at the feeding station there.

We'd been seeing Reed Buntings all day, but this was the only one I managed to photograph. Unlike all his friends he wasn't horrified by the sight of a camera.


Christian said...

Very nice variety indeed. My personal favourites are the Egret over the lovely reed background and the shoveler eight.

Martin Clay said...

Some lovely shots there!

ShySongbird said...

A most interesting and varied post and lovely photos to go with it, Marianne. Love the one of the Redshank! You had some sunshine too, we had none at all yesterday.

All we need now then is the exact ingredients of that seed feeder :-)

I also enjoyed the previous very informative post. I didn't know that about the 'three-bird flight', fascinating stuff.

Warren Baker said...

I like that Golden Plover shot Marianne, set nicely in the blue sky :-)

Phil said...

Well you certainly did well with the camera Marianne! Really like the Pike shot, but then I would wouldn't I.
I haven't had a chance yet to even look at the few shots that I took. Have just got back from a walk around Grove and Stodmarsh, highlight was two Glossy Ibis.
Really enjoyed the day yesterday and thanks again for your help with spotting and ID...weren't those Grass snakes great!

Ken. said...

It is always nice having a day out with someone, as they say "Two heads are better than one".
Certainly increases the days total.
You managed to get a nice selection of of photo's. Hard to pick a favourite.