The forecast the week preceeding this trip was not overly promising.The night before was very wet and as morning dawned it was grey but the rain had subsided. Surprisingly everybody who had booked was early so our driver, Malcolm, got us to Dungeness for just after 10am.
As usual we headed for the lighthouse next to the café by the miniature railway terminus. For most of the journey it had been grey with some drizzle but within minutes of getting off our bus the heavens opened. Many made for the café and as I headed for the observatory very little bird life was seen- some Herring Gulls, a pair of Pied Wagtails and a Magpie. Some new ringing traps had been installed but appeared devoid of anything with feathers!
The rain then eased and somebody spotted a smart male Black Redstart perched on a barbed wire fence within the power station complex. Then a ranger warned us of the police questioning people with cameras and other optical equipment looking into the nuclear plant. One member did relate how some friends were interrogated here and the security checked the images on their camera. I've never had a problem here and today was no exception.
We did stop to look at some fading Early Purple Orchids guarded by some exceedingly ugly cages-perhaps to keep ravenous Rabbits at bay. The flora here had lots of interest with Field Mouse-ear, Early Forget-me-not, showy Red Valerian, Bur Chervil, Sea Campion and one of the specialities here, Nottingham Catchfly, which is no longer extant in Nottingham. Shepherds Cress was found fruiting.
As we walked to the coast there was a wonderful display of white flowering Sea Kale and a single large patch of Thrift.
The brave or foolhardy amongst us tried to gain some shelter from the increasingly blustery south-westerly by standing on the lee side of the locked hide. Earlier in the week there had been some good seabird passage when south-easterlies dominated; some good counts of Pomarine Skua being notable.
Little movement today with three Gannets towards the horizon, a single Cormorant and Sonia saw a Great Skua. The patch was busy with over a hundred Common Terns but little variety, joined only by commoner gulls, dominated by Herring Gulls.
At midday we left for the RSPB reserve with six members jumping off the bus at the entrance to start at the ARC Pits. By now the weather had improved, being dry with some sunny spells, though the wind had increased dramatically and by the time we left it was difficult to walk in it.
From the visitor centre little was seen on the water apart from Great-crested Grebes and one pair had a weed formed nest nearby. A pair each of Oystercatchers and Common Gulls was seen on a nearby bank, while a couple of Little Egrets were seen flying out from the shore.
The small pond behind the centre held a family of Dabchicks with three well grown youngsters with one of the adults. An invisible Cetti's Warbler gave a loud burst of song. In total we heard four of these elusive birds as well as several Reed and Sedge Warblers and more conspicuous, several Whitethroats in the bramble clumps.
Despite the windy conditions several Odonata were recorded with a fresh male Hairy Dragonfly perched low down on a Blackthorn affording excellent views. A couple more were seen in flight as well as a few Common Blue Damelflies and a male Blue-tailed Damselfly.
No Lepidoptera were seen but some Altica sp leaf beetle were noted on Great Willowherb and also several 7-spot Ladybirds. As the sun warmed up several Marsh Frogs could be heard calling.
Since I've been involved with LNHS coach meetings we've virtually always had a national rarity on May trips to Dungeness and I'm pleased to say that this trip continued the fine tradition! Fortunately the whole group had excellent views of the Black-winged Stilt which was feeding on the fresh marsh along with ten Little Egrets and a Greenshank. Some people also saw two male Garganey in this area.
It's been a phenomenal spring for Black-winged Stilts in England. On April 24th ten of these elegant waders, more familiar in the Mediterranean and farther afield, turned up here at Dungeness equalling the Britsh record for the largest flock recorded. A flock of ten had also occurred earlier in the month on the Isle of Wight and also matched back in 1945 in Devon. There had also been numerous singletons and pairs in various counties this spring.
Generally wader numbers were low proabably due to high water levels, but we also recorded a couple of Whimbrel, Curlew, Redshank and Ringed Plover. About 30 Swifts passed over, probably fresh in over the pits and a handful of Swallows.
The farmhouse at the road junction is always reliable for Tree Sparrows and at least a couple were observed here.
Despite the grim start we had a productive day, with the Black-winged Stilt the highlight. Good to see several new members today as well.