Trip reports

RSPB Dungeness (Leader Warren Mann)

RSPB Dungeness (Leader Warren Mann)
Great-white & Little egret [Richard Brooks]

Sunday, 17 September 2017

On the drive down it did not look too promising, overcast skies where it wasn't thick mist and the temperature never above 9 degrees. We had dispensed with tradition, and rather than a 10.00 start at the visitor centre Sue had opted for a 9.00 start at the ARC side of the reserve. This proved to be an inspired choice as we had a really enjoyable day, but with the ARC pit being particularly rewarding.

While our group of 12 was assembling in the car park we heard, then saw, a Cetti's warbler and a couple of us got onto a willow warbler. The early arrivals made their way to the hide and were rewarded by their own view of a Cetti's and a great egret.

Both of these had moved on by the time the rest of us arrived, but there was still plenty to occupy us over the next hour and a half or so as there were masses of birds on the islands. There were teals, mallards, pochards, gadwalls, shovelers and greylags present, together with ringed plovers, lapwings, little egrets, golden plovers and dunlins also cormorants, coots, gulls and various hirundines. Then a water rail was seen just in front of the hide by a few and, some minutes later, when a vague shape was noted in the same patch of reeds we all crowded round to get a glimpse. Disappointingly, when it came out into the open it turned out to be a moorhen.

But we weren't disappointed for long because two spoonbills were spotted flying overhead. Then, for those who missed it earlier, a great egret turned up on the islands and it was not too long before it was joined by another. A third bird appeared and as it busied itself in the reed bed it was joined by two more. For those of you who have lost track that makes five great egrets on display all at once. A couple of them approached the channel in the reeds right in front of the hide to give us all excellent close views. We then had a sighting of a somewhat smaller wader as a little stint was seen amongst the dunlin. As we tried to get everyone a sighting it became obvious there were at least three present. We also had brief distant views of a marsh harrier, peregrine and kestrel, and we added a single little grebe to the number of great crested seen earlier.

We then decided to move on to the main part of the reserve and as we slowly drove down the entrance track different people saw different birds including hobby, grey heron, reed bunting, wheatear and whinchat. After getting our entrance tickets we went to Dennis's Hide to try and find the red-necked grebe seen a day or so before, but we were unsuccessful. We then made our way slowly around the rest of the reserve.

From the first hides we saw the recently improved and enlarged islands in Burrowes Pit, promising even better birding in the future. We steadily added birds such as dunnocks, whitethroats, common tits, stonechats, sand martins, wrens, buzzard and stock doves to our list and we got better sightings of some seen previously, such as a marsh harrier and great egrets, several of the latter were seen in flight. The star bird of this part of the walk was a spotted flycatcher, even though most of us did not see it as we were still slowly exiting the Christmas Dell Hide.

We spent a while in the Denge Marsh hide where plenty of birds could be seen and we all got onto the single ruff and the couple of snipe. There was another sighting of a great egret, conveniently standing next to a little egret giving us a size comparison. Instead of his usual distant raptors Steve's sharp eyes found a distant flock of linnets, a couple of yellow wagtails, a fast flying kingfisher, and a monster eruption of swallows and martins (but we could not find what had put them up).

We then returned in pleasant sunshine to the visitor centre via the track past the viewing mound. There, for the first time ever in our joint experience, we saw a bearded tit using the grit tray. We also got several better views of grey herons, lesser and great black-backed gulls and a hobby and, as throughout the reserve, there were many house martins and swallows to be seen.

We were pleased with our day, as although we had not seen any rarities, we had enjoyed some really nice birds amongst the 66 species seen in total. My bird of the day has to be great egret, which seems to be following its close relative the little egret in establishing itself in the UK.

Warren Mann