Long nights, short days and wet and windy weather have all conspired to send me stir crazy of late. Dungeness came to the rescue on Friday, not a moment too soon.
Marianne of 'Wild Side' blog fame accompanied me on what turned out to be a great day with 51 bird species and a close (ish) and unexpected encounter with one of my favourite animals. First stop was the visitor centre at the RSPB reserve. It was a bit grim weather wise but cautious optimism prevailed. Auntie Beeb had, after all, promised us a short interlude of brighter weather later on. A 'suckers gap' is the technical term I believe.
There was a Black-necked Grebe on view from the visitor centre. But at this point we clearly hadn't got our eye in because despite a search with our bins and the RSPB's scope we couldn't locate it. The shame was hard to bear, so we quickly left for the hides.
Dennis's hide (in the corner of the car park) gave us our first Smew of the day, three red heads in fact who flew low and fast from left to right. Two returned and joined a small flock of Tufties and the third carried on to the West. We caught up with this bird again (we think) from another hide later on. This is said red head above, she kept her distance though. A Chiffy in the brambles, a hunting Marsh Harrier and a couple of very distant female Goldeneyes who typically spent most of their time beneath the surface, pretty much summed it up.
We moved on to the next hide (is it Firth?) where all the usual cast entertained us including huge numbers of Shovelers. It was here that I noticed a small gull flying across the lake, initially looking almost Tern like. I pointed it out to Marianne, hoping she wouldn't tell me i'd just spotted a Black-headed Gull. I'm still very prone to schoolboy errors, especially with gulls. Anyway she had the presence of mind to fire off a couple of shots and with the wonder of digital zooming was able to confirm it as a Little Gull. I was on a roll, time to move on.
The next hide, which shall remain nameless as I can't remember it, was home to a very sleepy little group of Tufted Ducks. The one above looks particularly grumpy with us for disturbing his siesta. Let sleeping ducks lie as the old saying goes. Or was that dogs?
A Great Crested Grebe fished to the sheltered side giving a chance to get a couple of shots of this much under rated bird.
Some Gadwalls paddled by quite close too. Another duck that only really reveals its good looks when a closer look can be had. Left click on this drake to reveal the finer points of his plumage.
We were about to leave the hide when I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye. Something had just dived under from the edge of the lake. A few seconds later a superb red-head Goosander popped up and we sat back down. Here it is giving itself a round of applause. And so it should.
This is without doubt one of my very favourite birds and the chance to get some more shots in what was now a sunny afternoon (thanks Auntie Beeb) was too good to miss. I filled my boots as you can see!
Don't you just love their hairdo?
The Bad Hair day.
This Coot had the temerity to surface close by and was promptly chased. How was he to know it was a bad hair day?
And so to the ARC site across the road from the reserve. With water levels very high there was no chance of any waders. Plenty of Wigeon, Teal, more Gadwalls (above and below), and a few more Goldeneyes including two splendid males.
Several Marsh Harriers criss crossed the lake sending the startled ducks skywards each time. I tried a couple of shots as they came back down but most were consigned to the recycling bin. I did quite like the one above though, Wigeon and I think a Teal as they came in to land.
We left the car in the ARC car park and walked along to the New Diggings. It was more like a cross between jay walking and playing chicken really, jumping on and off the narrow verge as the traffic hurtled by. Our reward was a spectacularly distant view of two Black-throated Divers. It was worth it though, this was a Kent tick for me.
We got back to the car unscathed and headed off to the fishing boats in search of the Glaucous Gull. This is the third or fourth time i've tried to see one of these gulls at Dungeness. Still no luck. But I don't care, because as we trudged back over the shingle I spotted something in front of us which turned out to be a Stoat! What it was doing there I don't know. It tore past us at high speed, pausing only to stop and laugh at our squeaky attempts to fool it into thinking we were distressed Voles, before racing on and disappearing, probably under a small wooden bungalow nearby. I got half a picture but i'm happy with that. Any day which includes Stoats or Weasels is a good day for me.
And finally. With the afternoon sun beginning to start its descent to the horizon, we headed to Hythe further east along the coast in search of Purple Sandpipers. The first rocky outcrop that we explored, disppointingly held just a single Turnstone. But undeterred we headed along to the next pile of boulders where a further four Turnstones (above) were found along with four Purple Sandpipers.
At first they stayed on the dark side of the rocks where they seemed to be dozing out of the cold wind. But after a while one decided to move into the sunny western side of the boulders where we were able to finally get some photographs of these very attractive and quite obliging little birds.
The perfect end to a very nice, action packed day.