Sunday, 4 March 2012

Dungeness, luck does run out eventually. (3rd March)

In order to arrive at Rye at 8:30am I had to put in the extra effort of cycling to Watford at 4:15am, which unfortunately meant I had to get up at 3:30am all for the hope of finding a Penduline Tit at Dungeness.


I was just reaching Watford and was about to cross the bridge over the canal when an Owl sp. flew over the road in line with the canal going south.  From the glimpse I had from the bike it appeared overly white/pale brown however it could have been darker as I only saw it in the headlamps of car.  It had a wavering flight with very slow relaxed wing beat but I could barely ID any other notable features.  I pulled over to the side of the road, locked up my bike and walked a short distance down the canal towpath hoping to relocate it along the bank.  I assumed it had gone into the neighbouring field (which is ideal for owls) but unfortunately getting a look over the fields was very difficult and I still had to get to Watford Junction on time.  I then heard the call of a Tawny Owl, perhaps the same bird as I walked back to collect my bike.  Note to self- check the area for Barn Owls.


I arrived at Euston with about an hour to spare before the next train left to Ashford International (the next leg of my journey) so decided to spend the early hours of the morning checking the wildfowl along the Serpentine in Ridgmont Park.  It was still in near darkness and there was no lighting in the park, all the same I still managed to see 3+ Shoveler (2,1), dozens of Tufted Ducks, Pochard, 2+ Gadwall a ♂ Red Crested Pochard and 2 EGYPTIAN GEESE (a year tick) not a bad start to the day for central London. Also of note were 2 Grey Herons and dozens of Herring Gulls beginning to congregate as they circled over the lake.


I still had a further 10 mile cycle ride ahead to get to Hanson ARC were the Penduline Tit was last seen yesterday.  c.20 Curlew were the first birds of note as they came in to land into some flooded fields as I passed on my bike.


I arrived eventually at c. 9:30am (over 4 hours journey time) at Hanson ARC Pit.  On the way to the screen the unmistakable song of several CETTI'S WARBLER came from the sides of the ditches (naturally none showed themselves).  I sat down in the screen hide and within minutes I glimpsed a large brown bird dive into the reeds, after a few seconds it re-emerged at the side of the reedbed as a stunning BITTERN, it provided amazing views and approached to within meters of the hide occasionally poking the water’s surface and adopting its unusual gate.  Within my stay a further 2-3 BITTERNS showed for brief periods of time as they flew into some of the reeds neighbouring the pit.  To the left of the hide a Pipit flew out from the side of the bank in a short loop.  It too showed well and provided a good all round view of itself including its buff/white supercilium, slate-grey head, light streaking on the back and pale yellow lower mandible which all pointed towards a winter plumaged WATER PIPIT.  As I searched the reads for the Penduline Tit the sound of Herring Gulls shrieking at something drew my attention.  I raised my bins to see initially the Herring Gull before a GREAT WHITE EGRET (a yea tick) loomed into view.  It did a short circuit before landing out of view behind the reeds.  However, 2 GREAT WHITE EGRETS soon took flight again from the same spot and flew to the line of reeds/bushes on the north side of the pit.

2 Great White Egrets

One bird still had the pale yellow mandible of a winter bird whilst the second had a predominantly darker beak, nearly fully black indicating a summer bird.  Other birds of note during my wait included 1 Little Egret, 1♂ Reed Bunting, 9 Curlew in the shallow water at the west end of the pit amongst dozens of Great Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Common Gulls and Black-headed Gulls.  Wildfowl were also numerous including 100's of Wigeon, and lesser numbers of Gadwall, Shoveler, Pochard and Shelduck.  Despite putting in considerable effort and scanning the bullrushes and reeds the Penduline decided to remain elusive.  Even covering the whole western and southern sides of the pit didn't work although a stunning ♂ Stonechat along the shingle bank and 1 Chiffchaff next to the Hanson ARC hide were nice surprises.  A local patch birder also pointed out a ♀ Marsh Harrier coming over the reedbeds and informed me of the local population of Tree Sparrows at Boulderwall Farm.


I dipped out on the Penduline Tit and decided to go and visit the reserve to try my luck with the Long-tailed Duck.  I checked the back garden of the Farm as instructed and was glad to set eyes on several Tree Sparrows (a year tick) making regular visits to the feeders.  

Tree Sparrows, near the feeders in the reserve car park

On arriving at the visitor center I was informed that the Long-tailed Duck had been sighted this morning near the southern end of the main pit overlooked by the reserve visitor centre.  My first stop of was at the Makepeace Hide were I joined several other eager observers all in hope of seeing the duck.  Despite their long efforts they were disappointed not to have seen in yet; as a result I decided to scan the pit from several different points from south to north, whilst stopping of at each hide.  The only birds of note on the way included 2 Ringed Plover (a year tick) and a flock of 20-30 Golden Plover (a year tick) and 2 Tree Sparrows at the reserve centre feeders.  At the final most northern end of the pit I was scanning from next to the Dennis's Hide when I picked out the ♀ LONG-TAILED DUCK (a life tick) amongst a small raft of Tufted Ducks, I quickly passed on the news to the staff at the visitor centre and was soon joined back at the viewing point by half a dozen more observers.  Unfortunately, during this time the bird had disappeared (again) but I was relieved to refined it once again in the same area.  It was mainly diving during the time and only intermittently showed for one or two seconds, not long enough to get it in the scope, however after a little patience it gave up diving and swam about for some time providing excellent views.

female Long-tailed Duck


I tried once again to find the Penduline at a more suitable time of day (15:00 till 16:30pm) but once again failed.  The only birds still of note included 2 Pintail (1,1), c.20 Curlew and some more explosive song from the Cetti's Warblers.


On the bike ride back my journey was once again slowed by a strong westerly head wind however, I was rather surprised to see a flock of c.20 SNOW GEESE including 2 "Blue Morphs" (most likely escapes or feral) feeding amongst Greylag Geese on the grassy verge of the lakes just north west of the road.

presumed escape Snow Geese

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