With Christmas fast approaching and the end of the year nigh I went with Stephen to Dungeness on the 23rd hoping to get a few extra year ticks before it was too late and despite recent rain and weather reports of cloud with showers it was a nice bright sunny day with little wind.
We started off at the ARC pit; parking up we were greeted by a small flock of Tree Sparrows, we moved on to the hide and were surprised to find it empty. There was a lot going on with Lapwing covering most of the islands, whilst plenty of Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Coot, Widgeon and Teal were in the water, among them was a single Goldeneye. Some Mute Swans flew in and amongst them was a solitary Bewick’s Swan, whilst on the far bank a Great White Egret was chased off by a Heron. It flew to our side of the lake, but disappeared into the reeds.
|Great White Egret - Canon 400D + 100-400mm Lens|
Gulls were also in abundance, mainly Great Black Backed and Herring Gulls whilst closer to us on our right a Cetti’s Warbler called and made a couple of brief appearances. A flock of Long Tailed Tits with a few Blue Tits in their midst were to our left, a Robin also made an appearance as did a Chiffchaff and a Wren.
|Chiffchaff - Canon 400D + 100-400mm Lens|
The final sighting at the ARC was a Long Tailed Duck, it was about as far from us as you could get from us and still be seen with a telescope next to the far bank, an excellent start to the day. As we left the hide Stephen showed me the short walk nearby which was fairly quiet except for a Great Spotted Woodpecker clinging to the top of a tree posing very nicely – if it wasn’t for all the twigs.
|Great Spotted Woodpecker - Canon 400D + 100-400mm Lens|
At the reserve proper we decided to walk clockwise round, taking in Firth, Makepeace and Scott hides, however the sun was to the South dazzling us for over half the lake and making it impossible to identify anything other than by silhouette. There were more Coots and Cormorants plus a fantastic amount of Shovelers to be seen here. From the last hide where the sun effects were not as bad we could also pick out some Pintails which had been hidden behind one of the islands. Pochard, Garganey, Wigeon and Tufted were also present.
Christmas Dell hide had very little on show, a Great Crested Grebe, some Greylag Geese, a couple of Tufted Duck and a pair of Mallards who were courting, not only this but after a short courtship display, they mated. Egg laying in January? According to a couple of dodgy domestic duck sites I have looked at it is unlikely, mating does go on throughout the year with fertilized egg production only occurring as a result as expected in spring. I am on the search for more learned sources.
|Robin ay ARC - Canon 400D + 100-400mm Lens|
Denge Marsh hide gave us fantastic views of Marsh Harriers. At one point there was a pair working their way southwards, whilst at the same time another single Marsh Harrier stayed over to the North, this latter eventually sat on a post opposite the hide, remaining there about 10 minutes, sadly my autofocus could not lock-on and all my photos of him came out fuzzy. I checked the pylons and wires for smaller raptors, but found only Starlings and Wood Pigeons. From the hide we saw quite a lot of Dabchicks, one of which was noticeably smaller than the others; this was also noticed by a passing Magpie which made an attempt to grab at it as it flew over. Its small size and the fact it seemed to sit lower in the water led us to believe we may have been looking at something else, but a little book searching left us with the conclusion that it was just a small dabchick. Black Headed Gulls were in the pool, a Little Egret was across hunting across the other side and we also managed to pick out a few Reed Buntings among the reeds on the far bank; then a fellow watcher in the hide with us spotted a Kingfisher sat on an ideal perch in a break in the reeds to the North.
|Coot - Canon 400D + 100-400mm Lens|
|Reed Bunting on feeder at Visitor Centre - Canon 400D + 100-400mm Lens|
We left Dungeness to go to Littlestone to see the Short Eared Owls, checking the back of the ARC as we went, the only new sighting was a Black Tailed Godwit – which Stephen missed, whilst nearer to Littlestone we saw 3 Brent Geese fly over. We arrived just before dusk, but had missed the Owls, apparently they had been out most of the day and dusk was now too late to see them. However soon after parking up a Peregrine Falcon flew past us, his mask clearly visible through the binoculars. We did see loads of Curlews on the beach with some Oystercatchers and Godwits which Stephen identified as Bar-Tailed, also a friendly Pied Wagtail paid us a visit. It was a highly successful day with 53 different species (individually 52 each), topped off with clear sightings of the Great White Egret, Great Spotted Woodpecker and the Peregrine Falcon. We had lovely weather and met some lovely people in our travels.