Welcome to my birdwatching blog. This blog will contain stories about my bird watching trips, interesting bird news and other tales that may or may not be bird related. I want to make it useful to the avid birder as well as those who may only have a passing interest in bird watching. I enjoy photographing bird life, common and rare through a spotting scope, not that they always sit still long enough for me. Being on the outskirts of North East London, my reports will not only cover my local patch of Redbridge/Waltham Forest, but also dip into deepest Essex, Suffolk, Kent and Norfolk.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Small beer at Stodmarsh and dipping at Dungeness

When the first tinges of autumn touch the early morning air, the expectations of increasing my British tick list grow. September and October are always full of promise and it is with an extra energy and enthusiasm that I venture out in the dimly lit morning.

There are so many good places to go birding that the choice can sometimes be a bad thing. Do I go to Norfolk (again) for an arctic warbler or do I go to Hampshire for an Isabelline shrike? No, I thought, I’d go to sunny Kent for a Wilson’s phalarope. I suppose, I just like the word, Phalarope. It reminds me of something the Monty Python team would use to great effect, especially if it was dead.
The dead Phalarope sketch.
It may be that or it may have been because where the bird had been found is a wonderful reserve. Nestled in the Stour Valley, close to Canterbury is Stodmarsh, a wetland with a huge expanse of reed bed as well as woodland and grazing marsh. I also estimated that I could poodle over to Dungeness in the afternoon – another favourite place of mine.

I got to Grove Ferry, which is northeast to Stodmarsh but pretty much the same thing. The phalarope had been seen the evening before from a vantage point known as the viewing ramp and as I approached the ramp, I could see at least 5/6 birders already scoping the water. Was it there? I asked hopefully. Not been seen yet was the reply. Okay so it was only 7am and the bird had been seen on other parts of the reserve so all was not lost…yet.
The Grove Ferry Inn. I even dipped this.
In the meantime, there was plenty to keep people entertained. Bearded tits were in good numbers and teasing everyone with their call but only occasionally showing as they flew from one part of the reed bed to the next. On the water, little egrets and spotted redshanks fed and the odd marsh harrier quartered the area just beyond.
Spotted Redshank

After about 2 hours, I’d had enough of the waiting and decided to look around the reserve and hope that someone found the phalarope quickly.

In the first hide, I found some common snipe with a couple of green sandpipers. A pair of spotted redshanks gave close views along with a few black-tailed godwits. Around the Harrison Drove hide a few birders had found four whinchats and a wheatear all together on one bush but too far away to photograph. From the hide, there was nothing to see apart from a few lapwings in the distance.
Sedge Warbler

I headed back to the viewing ramp but the phalarope still hadn’t appeared – had no one bothered to tell it? With many people giving up and only cetti’s warbler and sedge warbler to watch as they fed on elderberry beside the ramp, I resigned myself to a serious dip. A dip is what you call it when a ‘good’ bird is either missed or just wasn’t there to see. Oh well, Dungeness would help sooth the pain. Wouldn’t it?

Funny place Kent. My satNav took my through some laughable places on the way to Dungeness. Wickhembreaux (sounds like a French cheese), Patrixbourne (sounds like a birth announcement) Breach (ditto), Bladbean (just stupid) and of course The Lyminge Forest (answers on my blog please…on second thoughts)
I could live here.
Finally the nuclear power station looms up against the tumbled down shacks that make Dungeness such a unique place. Derek Jarman, had a cottage (Prospect Cottage) here and it is still kept as it was and acts as a memorial almost, to the talented film director, writer etc…
Prospect Cottage
First stop, the beach. Just like at Cley, the beach here is made up of pebbles and can be difficult to walk any distance as you sink into the stuff like a kid’s ballpen. The sea was quiet as the wind again was going in the wrong direction for any decent seawatching. There were 20+ black terns at the outflow from the power station. This is know to birders as the ‘Patch’ Gulls and terns love it as the water is warm and attracts plankton and other such stuff that the birds love. There were sandwich terns too and a few Lapland buntings had been seen by the fishing boats so off I went to see how easily I could miss these boys.
Black Tern
Sure enough, no sign but the coast is a big place. I know, let’s try for the wryneck seen in gorse by the old lighthouse. Nope, an hour spent staring at a gorse bush rewarded me with nothing more than serious neck-ache and depression. Now what? I ambled around the Long Pits and again found a whinchat and about 20 wheatears. A few willow warblers nearly made me think they were something else but no, they were just willow warblers. Damn it.
There was a visible passage of raptors though and although I could only identify common buzzards and a sparrowhawk, I later found out that a honey buzzard had also been noted. Another bloody dip.

One final look for the Lapland buntings but I shouldn’t have bothered. They had probably left by now and so I decided to do the same.

Oh and if you want to know what this blooming phalarope looks like...
Wilson’s Phalarope

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