10 Mar 2014

8 March 14 - A Weak Excuse To Get Back To An Old Stomping Ground

I've been following the identification thoughts of Martin Garner et al on the Kent Pond Heron on the excellent Birding Frontiers (Chinese Pond Heron) blog. Personally, as the first photos started appearing, I didn't think that it looked like an Indian Pond Heron, given I've been seeing them in India on a number of occasions this winter.
Indian Pond Heron: Joka Marshes, Calcutta, India (19 Dec 13)
Indian Pond Heron: Salt Lake, Calcutta, India (20 Dec 13)
Indian Pond Heron: Ooty, Western Ghats, India (20 Dec 13)
However, I was less certain about ruling out Javan Pond Heron (mainly due to not having the time to read up about separation of Chinese & Javan Pond Herons. But Martin has now been poring over the more recent photos & put a convincing case for Chinese Pond Heron (which is apparently the long distant migrant of the 3 species). Personally, I'm not sure what the chances are of a vagrant Chinese Pond Heron getting to the UK. However, given some of the species that have appeared over the years, it probably not something that can immediately be ruled out. So at the end of last week, I had a ring around a couple of the locals & it turned out Marcus Lawson could get a free pass for the day on Saturday which was the better day for me (& the Pond Heron as circumstances turned out). The plan was simple, don't get out of bed so early as to be standing around from dawn, but try to get there for about 09:00 as it was generally being seen between 09:00 & 10:00 on previous days. Then push on for the rest of the day to Dungeness for some proper birding given the forecast was looking warm & sunny. If necessary, return to the Hythe area for mid afternoon, if we had missed it in the morning. What could possibly go wrong with that plan?

What did go a bit wrong, was the Chinese Pond Heron woke up early & was seen earlier than normal about 08:30, when we were still about 15 minutes away. As we drove in on the main road, we saw a few birders walking up the main road, suggesting it had flown. Stopping to check, we met my mate Dave Gibbs (companion on the Dutch Hawk Owl twitch see (Close Up Of An Owl & Double Dutch)), who confirmed it had flown, so we quickly headed round to Redbrooks Way (hoping it might be on show there). It wasn't, but a text from Dave said they had found it in a tree that was visible from the main road. A quick jog (yes I actually ran) & we joined Dave and a handful of others & watching it sitting in a tree for about 10 minutes, before it dropped down into a back garden & out of sight.
Chinese Pond Heron: Checking out the breakfast menu
Chinese Pond Heron: Perhaps also looking for cats
Chinese Pond Heron: Dropping down into the neighbouring garden in the hope of breakfast
Chinese Pond Heron: We hung around for a few minutes, in case the owners of the pond chased it off, but they didn't
So it was time to head off to Dunge for the rest of the day. This is an old stomping ground for me & I spent a number of weeks staying in the Spring & Autumn school hols before I headed off to university. I rarely get a good excuse to head back so was looking forward to some birding there. But the Chinese Pond Heron had left us with a final thought of breakfast & so the next stop was the excellent Spitfire Cafe in Hythe (next to Jewson's). This proved to be a really good stakeout from Marcus & a cafe he had been to before. Good food, reasonable prices & lots of military & war time memorabilia there. Well worth a visit if you're passing.
Hen Harrier: Male at Walland Marsh
Next stop was Walland Marsh hoping to see the flock of Bewick Swans that Marcus had seen a couple of weeks before. But looks like they might have left given the warm sunny weather we were enjoying. Certainly, we weren't the only things enjoying the weather as several Small Tortoiseshells on the wing & more were seen later at Dunge. There had been a Glossy Ibis between Lydd & the RSPB reserve entrance so that was the obvious next stop.
Glossy Ibis
That wasn't hard to see as it was close to a Greater Rhea in a field. This bird was being called an Emu by other birders, but to Marcus & me it looks like a Greater Rhea. If anybody can categorically confirm the id, then would appreciate you adding a comment to the blog, as the finer points of separating Emus from Rheas doesn't appear to have been considered as far as I can find in the literature (given the geographical separation). Surely, if the Glossy Ibis is genuine, then there is a chance the IQ40 club will be reviewing the vagrant possibilities of this bird.
Greater Rhea: Hope it's not an Emu as clearly that has little vagrant possibilities!!!
Next stop was to see the Tree Sparrows at the start of the RSPB reserve road. From here we could see a Great White Egret, so a further stop was needed before we got to the main reserve car park.
Tree Sparrow: Sadly a species that only appears on the Dorset coastline as a scarce migrant these days
House Sparrow: In the next bush
Great White Egret: A sign of climate change? A couple of decades ago, this was a very rare bird in the UK. But these days they are being seen more & more regularly (except in Poole Harbour where they remain very elusive)
Marsh Harrier: Male over the RSPB reserve
Next stop was to look for a Glaucous Gull on the way to the Obs. There were a couple of flocks of Gulls near to the lifeboat station & fishing boats and the flock with the Glaucous Gull was easily picked out by the presence of a birder with camera.
Glaucous Gull: 1st Winter. Looks like I failed to deal with the heat haze & strong sun on these photos (not normally a problem for Glaucous Gull photographers)
Glaucous Gull: Good to see one this winter as haven't had time to get down to West Dorset to see one of the birds there
Glaucous Gull: An upperwing shot
Finally, we made it to the trapping area to look for the Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler. Ran into Steve Message, Dave Walker & Gill & after nattering to them for a while, decided we really should go & have a look at the Hume's.
The trapping area: The newest lake at Dungeness
Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler: More cooperative for the camera than the Indian birds were (albeit only for about 30 seconds)
We finished the afternoon off with a couple of distant female Smews on the ARC pits. Overall, a great trip to Dungeness with a good selection of birds.
Smew: Female