My good friend Gordon picked me up at a quarter to five in the morning, our destination being Dungeness on the south Kent coast.
An hour and a quarter later we were up on the beach near the power station for an early seawatch. A bitterly cold and brisk north-easterly wind meant watery eyes and runny noses but we positioned ourselves in front of the hide for shelter. An offshore wind wasn't ideal for seawatching but we did log a Common Scoter distantly flying west, around 10 Red-throated Divers and two Shelducks all flying east. At least 2 Porpoises were hunting close inshore.
We decided that, although it was unlikely, maybe a migrant or two may have appeared at the Moat at the Bird Observatory, but there were no birds to be seen there, apart from a Dunnock in the Heligoland trap, and it was obvious that no migrant in its right mind would have attempted to cross the Channel in this wind.
Deciding that we would be better off getting out of the elements, we headed for the Hanson-ARC Pit and the shelter of the hide, and as we pulled into the track to the ARC car park, 3 Red-legged Partridges were perched on straw bales near the road.
At the hide, 3 male and 5 female Goldeneyes were diving continuously and a male Marsh Harrier gave a close fly-by view, but not much else of note was showing, apart from large numbers of Shovelers and the nesting Cormorants on the island, so we decided to have a walk round the Willow Trail by the hide.
Suddenly Gordon shouted "Bittern!" and pointed skywards. Sure enough a Bittern was fairly low overhead being mobbed by a couple of gulls. It flew round for a few minutes, gaining height, trying to give the gulls the slip before dropping lower and disappearing out of view. Two Cetti's Warblers were shouting at us from the scrub but refusing to show themselves so we headed on to the viewing screen where 2 female Smew were showing.
Back to the car park and we noticed a Tree Sparrow amongst House Sparrows near the road, always a welcomed sight these days.
Time to get onto the main reserve and as we drove along the access track, 2 Curlews and 3 Common Snipe were flying over the fields.
On arrival at the visitors centre, we were told that the return trail on the reserve was flooded and impassable so we decided to head as far as the Dengemarsh Hide and then retrace our steps.
At Burrowes Pit it was very quiet but another 2 male and 3 female Goldeneye were present.
At the New Excavations, a splendid Slavonian Grebe was on show, but distant. A few attempts at digiscoping the bird proved a waste of time in the windy conditions so we headed for the Christmas Dell Hide. Just before reaching the hide, Gordon spotted a Peregrine heading over quite low and we watched it head towards the power station, within a few minutes another, probably a male, headed over in the same direction.
At Christmas Dell Hide, not much was on view except for another female Smew so a short stay there was followed by a walk to the Dengemarsh Hide. On the way, 2 male and a female Pintail circled above us and 2 Black-tailed Godwits were also overhead and a couple of Oystercatchers were on the fields.
At Dengemarsh Hide, a Black-necked Grebe was seen distantly and another Bittern flew in and dropped amongst some vegetation and spent a couple of minutes sky-pointing before flying across to the large reedbed and dropping out of view. Two female Marsh Harriers quartered the reedbed continuously and, in the distance, a flock of 300+ Golden Plover were wheeling round.
We retraced our steps and on arriving at the New Excavations, the Slavonian Grebe was much closer and I managed to get a much better shot of it.
Leaving the reserve, we drove to Dengemarsh, where a small flock of Wigeon were feeding near the road.
On to Scotney Gravel Pit, where huge numbers of gulls were present, but none appeared to be of the scarcer varieties. A Redshank and 6 Ringed Plovers were only the waders we could locate there.
Gordon then suggested that we might as well head for Rye Harbour reserve, but we stopped off at Jurys Gap on the way where there were about 5 Sanderling scurrying along the shoreline.
At Rye Harbour reserve, only a couple of Herring Gulls and Mallards were on a flooded Ternery Pool but there were birds visible from the new hide nearby. Around 10 Dunlin, 2 Grey Plover, 2 Redshank and about 10 Oystercatchers were present.
Neither of us had previously been to the Castle Water viewpoint at Rye Harbour, so we decided to search out this site. We found it quite easily and were surprised at what a good site it is.
A superb reedbed with a raised viewpoint to look over the area. No Bitterns on view here this time, but 2 Cetti's Warblers were announcing their presence near the ramp and 2 Marsh Harriers were seen distantly. Around 60 Snipe were seen flying into roost towards the main reserve and 30+ tree-nesting Cormorants were present.
CASTLE WATER VIEWPOINT
Heading home, we took a wrong turning at Rye and managed to add about another half an hour to our return trip, but after such a good day we weren't too upset by that.
Thanks Gordon for a superb day in such good company.