The main aim was to see migrating Pomarine Skuas. These charismatic seabirds head north during early May and if the wind is in the right direction the chances are they will fly east down the English Channel. When they do Dungeness is probably the best place to see them.
Last year it didn't happen, the passage of skuas almost exclusively favoured the west coast, with hardly a trickle along the southern edge of Britain. That disappointment was in complete contrast to the previous year when on May 5, 2014 more than 100 flew past many of the southern watchpoints, many very close to the shoreline, including at Dungeness.
Last Friday I began to sweat a bit as a constant stream of Poms flew along the Channel. The count got higher and higher until at Dungeness it finished at 119 for the day. I was concerned the passage of Poms might run dry before I got there!
|The Dungeness Pom watch|
Would I see any? I needn't have worried.
|Three Pomarine Skua heading east by Dungeness|
Then 10 minutes later another shout of "Poms!" This time four birds, two with distinctive spoons, and at least one dark phase bird flew low across the pond straight out in front of us in the mid-distance. By 8.56 six Pomarine Skua had flown past, and by midday 19 of these wonderful birds had been seen though the scopes, 16 by me. Utterly brilliant.
|Five Pomarine Skua heading east|
|Suitably attired, Dodge checks geiger readings off the Dungeness nuclear power station|
|Two Mediterranean Gull|
|Twenty Brent Geese heading east|
|A well-camoflauged Whimbrel comes in off the sea and lands on the beach|
|Two lone birders watch the sea and, er, look at other stuff|
During a long but rewarding day I saw 25 Pomarine Skua and three Arctic Skua, plus 20 Brent Goose, five Eider, plenty of Common Scoter, four Red-breasted Merganser, four Black-throated Diver, numerous Gannet, one Hobby that came in off the sea then flew back out again, nine Whimbrel – one of which came in directly from the sea and landed on the beach, one Knot, three Sanderling, four Mediterranean Gull, four Kittiwake, as well as a stack of Sandwich Tern and Common Tern.
A very pleasing total. I wondered what the following day would bring. As it turned out, not a lot but definitely one that got away.
As a picture postcard sun rose above the Channel on Sunday morning I arrived at the same time as another birder, Charles Trollope, who had come down from near Tenterden.
In a remarkable coincidence it transpired Charles was born in Redhill and his first birding patch was Holmethorpe Sand Pits! In those days it was still a productive quarry and a complete contrast to the Surrey Wildlife reserve it is now.
He had come to Dungeness just for a few hours in the hope of seeing his first Pomarine Skua, but alas it was not to be. The sea was like a mill pond and seawatching proved taxing.
The best birds of the morning were three Black Tern, feeding on the area known as 'the Patch', just off the headland from the nuclear power station. When the power station is being used it draws more than 100 million gallons of sea water from the sea to cool the turbines.
The waste water is then pumped back out to sea via two pipes. The mixture of waste water and sewage attracts gulls and terns by the hundreds.
|One of the three Black Tern feeding off residue from 'the Patch'|
The 'obs' was only about 400 yards away so we all scurried to our cars and in a few minutes were scouring the area for the Bee-eater. Already on site was top local birder Paul Trodd, with his trusty companion, his terrier Barney.
|Paul Trodd and Barney go in search of the Bee-eater|
I spent most of the day viewing the sea and while it wasn't the best days birding by any means I still managed to gather what, by my standards, is a reasonable list of birds.
|Oystercatchers on the move|
The highlight of the day was late on when homing in on a flock of waders that flew past my field of vision. While I was attempting (and failing) to id them through the scope they overtook a Pomarine Skua I must have missed!
So ended what was a very enjoyable couple of days, meeting up with old birding friends and making plenty of new ones.