Trip reports

RSPB Dungeness (Leader Warren Mann)

RSPB Dungeness (Leader Warren Mann)
Water Rail [Richard Hanman]

Sunday, 1 January 2017

It was cold, rainy, windy and the morning after the night before, but no less than 13 of our Group turned up, because this was Dungeness and the first birding day of the New Year. But as we shall see, as the weather worsened not all the 13 stayed the course. Most of the group stopped off on the way down the track to the car park to find the long staying ring-necked duck, along with coots, gadwalls, shovelers, tufted and shelducks. A few of us also checked the feeders at Boulderwall farm; not the ones by the road but the pair beyond the gate furthest from the road. Here we found chaffinches, greenfinches, blue tits, great tits and, best of all, tree sparrows.

As we assembled in the car park a few saw a passing peregrine, but as the rain intensified we soon moved into the Visitor Centre. From there we added golden eye, mallard, teal and various gulls to our list, but here, as throughout the morning, we could not find the reported yellow-legged and Caspian gulls. We moved on to the dipping pond and were all pleased to get good views of the long-eared owl perched in the same area of the thicket as usual.

We made our way from hide to hide and although there were good numbers of birds present we added only a fly-by goosander to our list, but as we left the Makepeace Hide some of the stragglers picked up distant views of a female smew towards the next hide. Eventually we all got good reasonably close views of the smew from the Scott Hide. There were also many distant pochards, a couple of little grebes and a small group of long-tailed tits that flew across the front of the hide. The early arrivals at the hide had a close view of a water rail, but then, as we were about to move on, the water rail re-appeared from the bramble thicket at the side of the hide and picked its way slowly through the remains of the reed bed until it reached its favourite fishing spot. After a few moments, it pounced and it scuttled back to its hiding place as quickly as it could, with a small fish in its bill. We got terrific views, and even better it, repeated the manoeuvre three more times, once managing to catch two fish at once.

We decided to move on, but here our walk began to resemble the plot of an Agatha Christie murder mystery as seven of our number decided enough was enough and they opted to bale out. The six remaining members of our group trudged to Christmas Dell Hide, but hardly a bird was to be seen either at the hide or on the way there. The rain got heavier, but I managed to entice the group onwards by the promise of marsh harrier and great egret at the Denge Marsh Hide. When we arrived, it did not look at all promising, but we did see a great crested grebe, a common gull, mute swans and some lapwings. Then, just as there were mutinous mutterings in the ranks about us having nothing to look at but the falling rain, as promised a marsh harrier showed briefly and it was quickly followed by a great egret. This flew in and settled over the far side of the water to give distant but clear views. Three of our number took this as their cue to return to the Visitor Centre by the route we had come. The three of us remaining were rewarded by several better sightings of marsh harriers and a kestrel before we decided to move on and complete the circuit.

When we got back to the car park without seeing anything of note, my remaining two companions declined my suggestion of a visit to the ARC pit. Undeterred I decided to give it a go but there was very little to see there. I also dipped out on the Slavonian grebe seen distantly from Dennis's Hide by three of our number earlier in the day. Because of the weather, it was not particularly pleasant bird watching and we only totalled 48 species, but it was very much worth the effort as we had seen some really nice birds to start our Year Lists. For me, because we had such splendid views, the bird of the day was the water rail.

Warren Mann