Saturday, 25 February 2012

Dungeness - Grebes and Gulls

At 6.15 this morning, looking out my window at the drizzle and facing a five hour round trip, Dungeness seemed very unappealing indeed; however, as any intrepid birder should, i togged up and headed out into the gloom! And boy, was it worth it.

Arriving at half past nine and greeted by some Reed Buntings and House Sparrows on the feeders, the rain had stopped but it was still pretty gloomy. The visitor centre didn't open until 10, so we headed to the hide by the car park, and were instantly rewarded. Through the gloom, we picked out another lifer for me, a Long-Tailed Duck, of which a poor record shot is attached. Keeping company with it were six Goldeneye, including a drake, two redhead Smew and good numbers of Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Teal and Gadwall.

Long Tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis)

Once the centre had opened, and everyone had stocked up on coffee and flapjacks, we headed out onto the reserve, making our first stop at the Makepeace Hide. From here the first unusual gull of the day was pointed out by another birder, a Yellow-Legged Gull. Also out on the lake with the usual ducks was another red head Smew, good numbers of Golden Plover, Lapwing and six Pintail. We were also treated to a fly past by a single Avocet.

Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)

European Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria), Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) and Gadwall (Anas strepera)

The Christmas Dell Hide was virtually silent, with only a few Tufted Duck on the water, but this was countered by the fact the sun was starting to come out, just in time for some more cracking birds from the Denge Marsh Hide. From here, another new species of duck was added to the list, Pochard. There was also a wonderful display from a female Marsh Harrier, before these two Great-Crested Grebes began courting. Unfortunately, the female wasn't very impressed by the weed that this male offered up! With the sun fully shining now, we were also treated to a very fleeting glimpse of a Bearded Tit, and just as we were retreating to the visitor centre for lunch, 14 Greylags flew onto the lake and four Little Grebe arrived.

After soaking up some sun over lunch, with the company of a Goldcrest, it was time to head to the coast to see what was around. On the way out, we stopped at the house to watch the beautiful Tree Sparrows for a minute, my personal highlight of the day.

Tree Sparrows (Passer montanus)

Once at the coast and with the sun at full power, we almost immediately caught sight of another unusual gull sleeping on the beach, and after a short period of waiting it stood up and revealed itself to be the overwintering second winter Galucous Gull!

Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus)

With time pressing, we decided a quick seawatch was in order, but it proved to be a very successful fifteen minutes. The first and most obvious presence was that of the Great-Crested Grebe, not one but well over a hundred drifting by just offshore, by far and away the most I've ever seen in one place and probably doubling my life tally! Amongst the Grebes were two Guillemot and four Red-Throated Divers flew by us, before this Kittiwake came and settled not ten foot away and enjoyed some fish.

Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)

Our final stop of the day was the ARC pit, and we were rewarded with the first drake Smew of the day. From here, along with all the other ducks already on the list, were more Golden Plover, two Black-Tailed Godwit, a Little Egret and a single Snipe. Another Marsh Harrier gave an acrobatic display before our parting gift; this drake Goldeneye, which came very close giving great views. Looking back, braving the drizzle and the long journey was well worth it, a wonderful days birding!

Common  Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)

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