Friday, 7 February 2014

A sunny interval at Dunge (and Hythe)

After much scrutiny of weather forecasts, Phil (check his fab blog here) and I decided to hang on til today for a trip to Dungeness, trusting the BBC with their promise of afternoon sunshine. We drove past numerous flooded fields and rolled into the reserve entrance at just gone 10am, noting a Buzzard wheeling overhead at the start of the track.

I include this horrid photo of a Curlew to a) show how grey and gloomy it was when we arrived and b) because it was the only wader we saw in our whole time at Dunge. Not even a Lapwing to be seen.

After a failed search for a Black-necked Grebe from the visitor centre, we visted all the hides along Burrows Pit in turn. From the first, we found three redhead Smews, which did some flypasts before settling among some (sadly distant) Tufted Ducks for a short while. There were also a couple of female Goldeneyes, again miles away.

Much closer at hand, something was fossicking about in a bramble patch directly in front of the hide. It proved to be a Chiffchaff and came out briefly into full view, before deciding it was too cold and windy for all that, and diving back into the brambles.

On to the next hide, from where we could see a huge number of Shovelers, ducks and drakes, and more Tufties, plenty of Coots and not much else.

Phil then called my attention to a small gull flying over the water, and although I thought it was going to be a Black-headed I took a few shots anyway, and examination of these (on max zoom) revealed that it was in fact a Little Gull.

In the scrub below the hide window, a couple of Long-tailed Tits were bouncing around, but not really coming out and giving us the chance of a clear shot - too windy for such little and unwieldy-tailed birds.

We moved on to the Frith hide, and found a large flock of dozing Tufties close to the windows on the nearside. As you can see, the sun had started to come out at this point, although the wind was brisk and played havoc with the Tufties' headgear.

A Smew came closeish to feed near the shore, as did a Great Crested Grebe. Right over on the other side was a huge flock of what, going by the noises they were making, had to be Wigeons and Teals.

We had just got up to leave when a female-type Goosander popped up close inshore, right in front of us. We rehooked the windows open and took a stack of shots of this beautiful bird.

In between its fishing dives it had an argument with a Coot, and revealed that it was carrying no weapons (apart from its fearsome double saw of a bill).

We did take a look at the last hide but saw nothing much from it apart from Cormorants, many of them perched in the row of stunted trees where they nest (I think). Back to the visitor centre, noting a Little Grebe on the pathside pond on the way, and then over the road to the ARC, stopping for a moment at the warden's cottage for the compulsory Tree Sparrow check (several showing in the garden bushes).

Arriving at the ARC car park, we found this Kestrel adding a touch of nature to a very complicated-looking telegraph pole.

The ARC hide was empty, allowing us to grab the coveted corner spot and enjoy great views of a hundred sleepy Wigeons close to the hide.

These four drake Gadwalls and their lady friend were engaged in a spot of communal courtship, and there was much chasing around on the water and frantic flights, the whole time we were there.

 Pair o'Mallards. The drake looked very shiny in the sunlight.

A Marsh Harrier that had been exploring the far shore struck out towards the middle of the water, causing the nearby ducks to flee in a rather half-hearted manner.

The flushed ducks joined those close to the hide. The Coots seemed impressed with this Wigeon's belly-flop landing.

We walked from the ARC pit down the road to take a look at the New Diggings, in hope of seeing the Black-throated Divers (two of them) rumoured to be there. The walk is a little hair-raising, as traffic hurtles along this road very fast indeed and the verges are rather narrow most of the way along, but we got there unscathed.

 A scan across the New Diggings revealed only two birds. Happily, they were both Black-throated Divers. Sorry about the photo, they were a really long way out.

Having survived the walk back to the car, we went on to the beach, hoping to find the Glaucous Gull. To cut a short story shorter, we didn't. And our presence upset some of the gulls that were loafing near the boats, causing them to take off and also to release several lengths of silly string-like gull poo.

Disappointingly, there wasn't too much moving offshore, at least not at close range. One thing that was moving was this Guillemot, powering along on its penguin-flipper wings.

On the walk back, Phil stopped in his tracks and drew my attention to something on the shingle to our left. When I saw what it was I said something delightedly inarticulate and began to take photos. The Stoat, for that was what it was, came scampering in its curious gait across the shingle, paused briefly to eyeball us and then vanished behind one of the tiny beach houses.

We decided to try the patch, but again drew a blank, seeing just more of the commoner gull species over the water and not a sniff of a Glonk. The only pics I took on this bit were of House Sparrows by the car-parking area at the power station.

For the last stop of the day, it was off to Hythe to look for Purple Sandpipers. On the way we managed to bring the raptor day-count to four, with a Sparrowhawk from the car. At Hythe the first breakwater we tried held a solitary, worried-looking Turnstone, but we had more luck at the second.

Four smart Turnstones were showing very well on top of the sunlit rocks. A careful check of the shady side revealed a few Purple Sandpipers as well, and after a short wait, one of these (clearly not wanting to disappoint its fans) wandered onto the sunny side.

Oi, wake up sandpiper! It may not be the most action-packed shot ever, but I like it because you can see a hint of actual purple on the scapular area. After sitting on this rock for a while, it woke up and walked back to the shady side.

An interesting find on the beach. This is a Sea Mouse (Aphrodita aculeata), which is a kind of marine worm. There were lots of these in the tideline. They are about 10cm long and their hairy bits are startlingly iridescent when caught in the light.

While Phil clambered over the breakwater rocks looking for a view onto the resting sandpipers, I stuck to the sunny side and photographed passing gulls. I didn't realise at the time that one of them was a Mediterranean Gull.

And finally a Common Gull, inviting us all to admire the magnificence of Hythe's seafront. The sun was about to disappear behind a wall of low cloud, so we decided it was time for us to disappear too.


Warren Baker said...

Cracking day out Marianne :-)

I'd like to try out a few flight shots, but nothing much flies low enough here, I'll have to try and get out to the coast again :-)

Just read your Dragonfly book, but cant remember the title of it!!!

Imagine how surprised I was to see my name mentioned !!

Phil said...

Some cracking shots there Marianne. Very jealous of your Stoats in particular.
The Med Gull was a nice surprise. A good way to end a very nice day.

Greenie said...

Marianne ,
Nice variety of species on your trip . Really like the in flight shots , and those Stoat shots are to die for .

Lou Mary said...

Fantastic images Marianne! The sea mouse is most intriguing! Lovely duck images - showing off the mallards beautiful colours. I think the tufties hair do is fab!