Sunday, 23 October 2016

Deportivo Wankas

Two weeks into my Dungeness stay and it is all getting a little bit desperate. There can be no disguising it, it has been disappointing. No real arrivals, a few brief bursts of visible migration and just a Yellow-browed Warbler to be placed in the 'unusual species' column. A poor return for all of the effort put in. This afternoon I ran out of steam, and for the first time in 14 days put the binoculars down and retreated to the observatory common room with a good book and a bottomless mug of tea. My batteries need recharching and tomorrow morning will hopefully see my mojo reset. I've brought with me a bottle of single malt to open when 'the goody' appears. Sod that, it's being opened this evening!

When I stayed here last autumn there was an abundance of late flowering, so much so that I started to make a list of the species still in bloom from Nov 1st - I think I got to 130+ by the time I went home. Alas, this year's show is meagre indeed, so I haven't even got that as a distracting sideshow. Instead, a few of us have awakened the school-boy within us to try and assemble a football team made up of genuine professional players with rude names. I know, how puerile... but at the same time, great fun. I won't list all of them here (we have a squad of 44!) To give you just a taste, they include David Seaman, Lars Bender, Julian Dicks, Stefan Kuntz, Igor Shitov, Juankar, Anil Koc, Wayne Wanklyn, Andre Muff, Bernt Haas, Waldo Ponce, Brian Pinas, Milan Fukal, Fabian Assman, Rod Fanni, Ralf Minge, Quim, Francisco Arce, Rafael Scheidt, Argelico Fucks, Cha Bum-Kun, Michael Gash and Lopez Ufarte. All 100% genuine. Google them if you don't believe me, but then again you'd better not, I cannot vouch for any of the websites you might be directed to. We even have a genuine team name for them to play with - Deportivo Wankas (from Peru), and of course they will play at the Wankdorf Stadium. This has been the highlight of my stay so far...

Saturday, 22 October 2016

A burst of visual warmth

Lepidoptera to the rescue! The birding was ordinary (putting a spin on it) or disappointing (to be perfectly honest). However, one of the many joys of Dungeness is that it is not just about the birds. Barry B arrived mid-morning with a Radford's Flame Shoulder, a five-star rarity of a moth that is having something of an exceptional Autumn, so those five stars may well be downgraded to four. Also, there was an helice form Clouded Yellow butterfly, found along the front of the power station, visiting flowers in an increasingly warm sunshine. The intense yellow underwing, complete with burning white orb, was a reminder of the fast fading season, a late burst of visual warmth before the Autumn fades into early winter. Sad and happy at the same time. Bittersweet butterfly watching.

Friday, 21 October 2016


They came in off the sea on a broad front, some flocks in tight balls, others strung out like stretched elastic and even more in small congregations, seemingly detached from the masses. They flew directly, with purpose and urgency. The larger flocks could be seen even at distance, dark smudges against a light grey sky, thickening and thinning as parts of the flock overtook others, an ornithological Etch-a-Sketch. They started to arrive shortly after first light, peaked between 08.00 - 10.00hrs and carried on in ever decreasing numbers until mid-afternoon. How many? At least 10,000, all heading NW to N, and now roosting many miles away, many of them for the first time in this country. Welcome!

Thursday, 20 October 2016


Today felt as if it were pregnant with expectation. The birth did not happen, and it is long overdue, so like expectant fathers we pace the waiting room, awaiting news. Grey skies and northerly winds made for a winter feel, which was matched by discrete groups of thrushes tumbling out of the sky to hurriedly find shelter in the nearest vegetation. They were mainly Blackbirds and Song Thrushes, but Fieldfares, Redwings and Ring Ouzels were also represented. A few early morning Redpolls were on the move and were joined by Chaffinches mid-morning. As the day faded, and the wind dropped, a dusk enclosed flock of 12 Song Thrushes fell into the moat, with little time to sort out a roost before dark. It left me wanting more. I have a feeling tomorrow might be quite good.

Oh, and another word to be banned from birding social media...

Plus one more...

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Cracked birders

When the whole world and his wife are knee-deep in birds, be they Autumn migrants or eastern vagrants (with a few also coming from the west) it is easy for birders based in places that are not so blessed to get a little peeved. This is especially true if every effort has been made during daylight hours to cover your patch - and particularly if there are few birds to sift through anyway.

Such scenarios break birders' spirits and, after a prolonged bout of little return, can force them elsewhere. This has happened this very week to those gathered at Dungeness. Monday saw a car load leave Kent for that most blessed of bird observatories, Spurn. Maybe it really is in God's chosen county after all. They saw 'the bird', several other 'the birds' and hundreds of viewable migrants to boot. On return to the shingle it was as much as any of them could do to muster up any enthusiasm at all, having been gorging on the ornithological feast that East Yorkshire had dished up.

Today was my turn, as I fled to Cap Gris Nez on the cliff tops of northern France, lured by the promise of NW winds and plenty of bird action. There were four other shingle-crunchers present as well, the second incidence of a mass Dungeness bunking-off in three days. These are indeed desperate times. As it happened, the wind was WNW so delivered a fraction of what we hoped, although this did involve Arctic, Pom and Great Skuas, Sooty and Manx Shearwaters, several hundred Med and Little Gulls, plus 1600 Chaffinches and 100 Skylarks coasting, so hardly an epic fail. But as far as grounded birds went, it was similar to Dungeness, windswept copses, hedges and bushes with barely a crest or warbler to bother the optics.

So tomorrow sees the resumption of flogging the peninsula. I did catch up with a Yellow-browed Warbler yesterday (which also saw 800 Linnets and 160 Alba Wagtails heading NW) so it is not a total dark hole of despair down here. We carry on.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Harry's bench and big skies

I've posted about big skies before. I once read somewhere that big skies are hot-wired into our psyche as they allow us to clearly see what's coming - but now that sabre-toothed Tigers and Wooly Mammoths no longer roam Surrey and Kent, it's the weather that 21st century man can keep an eye on. Here at Dungeness, the open and frankly inspiring big skies are never bettered. There is nothing high to the south until you reach the coast of France, nothing east til the Urals (exaggeration) and to the west and north you've got to be talking about 10-15 miles before you meet an incline of any description. You can see rain several miles off and some of the most fantastic cloud formations regularly come along and say hello. These skies make you feel very small and insignificant indeed.

On a slow day like today, I will take myself off to Harry's bench. This wooden seat looks eastward from the outer bank of the moat, and is in memory of Harry Cawkell, who was the honorary secretary of the bird observatory committee for 47 years, a position he held until he passed away in 1999. From here you can, on a clear day, see France and the white cliffs of Dover. I've also seen a Bee-eater amongst other things... Apart from being a good place to bird from, it is a place of contemplation, made all the more restful by being under these ever-changing big skies. Rest awhile here and you can put your worries to rest. It can even soothe the pain of reading about the latest crop of rarities to be dumped on Spurn.

Come on Spurn! Give the rest of us a chance. Buddy, can you spare a Bluetail?

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Hard work

Blimey, some days you can bird your backside off and come away with very little indeed - today was one of those days. A blustery SE to SW wind, with scattered squalls made observations all the more difficult. I kept to the sheltered belts of sallow (very quiet) and then moved on to the open shingle and  worked my way through the low broom, blackthorn and gorse (even quieter). The day's nadir was yet to come, as an afternoon spent on the shingle between the road and the beach produced just a single Wren! I would normally expect a few crests, pipits and the odd chat to check at this time of year.

But of course there were some birds. A 40-minute spurt on the sea provided 3 Arctic Skua, 2 Pomarine Skua, a Bonxie and a Sooty Shearwater. And of the four remaining Ring Ouzels, a smart male spent all day in the moat, allowing close approach and profitable use of the bridge camera.

Tomorrow sees an evacuation of the Dungeness great and good to Spurn. They have cracked. Am I going? Of course not....boom my arse.