Thursday, 22 March 2018

Three Target Species at Dungeness

15th March 2018

Time for my annual visit to Dungeness with No 2 son Stuart with three target species in mind. Our first stop was the lifeboat station to try and find our first target, a Black Redstart. Nothing obvious at first but I did manage a Meadow Pipit and an early Wheatear, which characteristically perched on a chimney.

We did eventually find the male redstart but it was very flighty and covered a large area, which was similar to the three Black Redstarts we found between West Beach and The Moat. So we saw our first target, but sadly no photographs.

Next stop was the fishing boats for our second target species, the Glaucous Gull, and here we faired much better seeing one fly in almost immediately and land on the shingle ridge. I have photographed Glaucous Gulls before and find them to be very approachable and this 1st winter bird allowed me to get within just 20 yards, almost filling the frame.

It then went for a little fly around, allowing even more shots to be taken. So our second target achieved with photographic evidence.

Now it was time to try and find our third target species, the Firecrest. There had been reports of five in the lighthouse garden, but viewing there is fairly restrictive, so we opted for the gorse from the car park to The Moat. It was soon apparent that, apart from three Dunnocks, the only birds occuping the gorse were Firecrests and so it was just a matter of waiting for the opportunity.

Because Firecrests are totally fearless and are totally unconcerned by your presence they will scuttle around in the gorse just a yard or so away. However, not much good for me with a minimum focus of 12 feet, so I had to keep my distance and wait for one to break cover and sit out in the open. So now we have achieved all three target species, but no photos of the Black Redstart.

Time to move on to the RSPB reserve which was very quiet apart from this rather smart female Goldeneye. Not too surprisingly really as most of the winter visitors had already departed and the summer visitors had yet to arrive.

As we were walking back to the visitor centre a bird peered down from the tiled roof, just a head and shoulders view. The head was a totally plain pale grey and was reminiscent of a female Black Redstart. The bird disappeared as quickly as it had appeared, and it took a great deal of searching to eventually track it down, a female Black Redstart indeed showing down to just 10 yards.

Even better when it perched on the lichen-covered tiles.

So what a successful day. Three target species, and all seen and photographed at close range. I've had worse days!!!

Saturday, 17 March 2018

A Late Winter Visit to Mistley

8th March 2018

As is tradition we started at Mistley Quay on a low tide to see whether any wintering wildfowl were still lingering. Apart from the usual suspects the new kids on the block were four Black Swans which looked a little out of place.

There were a few Goldeneye but nowhere near as many as in previous years, but all looking stunning in the morning sun, and even one of the females was practicing her courtship display.

But the most staggering thing about Mistley is the large numbers of Pintail, which seem to outnumber all other sites in Essex. Where else can you go where they are the commonest duck present by far, with today's numbers approaching 50?

By now the tide was starting to creep in so time to re-locate to The Walls in the hope of some waders on the rising tide. Whilst waiting for the tide there was ample time to have a look at some of the gulls. Black-headed Gulls were represented by three distictly different plumages starting with this 1st winter bird, followed by two adults in summer and winter plumage.

The other gulls present were Common and Lesser Black-backed.

There were also good numbers of Shelduck, but today they stayed out on the main channel and did not venture on to the mud to feed, so the only shots were fly-bys.

Today the usual army of Mute Swans were on The Quay, but a few did fly in on the rising tide. Here at Mistley they are adept at landing on mud rather than water.

But scratching your pure white head with a muddy foot doesn't seem to be a good idea.

By now some of the Pintail had migrated from The Quay to The Walls to join the growing throng. Here the photo opportunies were much better as they were a lot closer and at eye-level.

Now for the waders. Normally Mistley is dominated by Black-tailed Godwits, but today a sole Bar-tailed Godwit was present, as far as I can remember the first I have seen here.

There were also a handful of Black-tailed Godwits, but far fewer than the normal 100s, and most were flying west towards Manningtree.

Redshank were fairly close today and looking replendent in the afternoon sunshine, but unfortunately the Turnstones were still in winter plumage.

So if the Black-tailed Godwits have been toppled from their top position, who has taken over? Well, on my first ever visit to Mistley on the 7th January 2015 there were 100+ Knot sitting on a muddy outcrop just off the beach which is the main reason I have been coming back every year. However since then I have only seen ones and twos, but today was a MEGA day with 1000 feeding out on the mud and flying in to just 15 yards from where we were sitting.

This allowed over an hour of non-stop photography and I am sure will go down as one of the most memorable days at Mistley and will keep me coming back to this amazing site.