I headed down to Dover with Rich Bonser early on Saturday morning. Rich has adopted Langdon Cliffs as a patch and is trying to get down there as often as time allows, but productivity this September has been severely hampered by the uninspiring westerly weather conditions that have dominated throughout. As such, the breath of an easterly overnight Friday into Saturday was not something to be sniffed at and we arrived at the National Trust car park at Langdon a little after 7.30 am.
Although the wind was in the right direction, the sky was cloudless and a fall was hardly on the cards. That said, Chiffchaffs seemed to be vocal around the car park area and a handful of Meadow Pipits were moving overhead. Annoyingly a Coal Tit refused to show itself well enough to establish whether it had come from the continent – it was calling a lot and flying around restlessly yet never alighted long enough to judge plumage tones. Perhaps telling was that it was the first Coal Tit of any variety that Rich had seen here since he saw two continental birds here in October 2015. Thankfully, however, a couple of Black Redstarts proved a little more obliging ...
Curiously, one of the Black Reds was obsessively harassing another unusual visitor to the Hole – a Little Owl – which was getting a hard time from just about every other small bird in the vicinity, including several Yellowhammers and Chaffinches. Other 'oddities' included a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Merlin flying over, plus four Jays. Rich scored singles of Firecrest and Common Whitethroat, while I had a couple of Siskins and a Swallow over, plus up to five Stonechats scattered as far as Fan Bay – although that site was otherwise disappointingly quiet.
By 11:00 the area was getting increasingly busy with grockles filing through on their way for a glimpse of Dover's famous white cliffs. With bird activity on the wane as the day became increasingly warm and sunny, we decided to leave the Hole behind for another weekend.
With very little happening anywhere in Kent, there was only one way to turn: London's gulls. We headed for Crayford, where a pleasantly gull-filled Jolly Farmers greeted us on arrival. I picked up a nice first-winter Caspian Gull almost straight away, while a presumed hybrid Caspian x Herring announced itself shortly afterwards. The latter was asleep with head tucked in when I picked it up. On the covert and tertial pattern, I called it a Casp. Then it woke up and stood up ... head/face is extremely Herring-like and, to me, it looks a middle-ground bird showing features of both species, as you'd expect a hybrid to.
Regular bouts of disturbance (travellers, fireworks, sirens and so on) made the gulls quite restless as they commuted between Jolly Farmers and the nearby lake at Bob Dunn Way. Numbers soon began to disperse as the warm afternoon allowed them to thermal up high and disappear in all directions. And so with that we decided enough was enough. A Grey Seal was seen on the river at Thamesmead during a brief stop, but that was otherwise it for notable sightings. I eventually got home about 6 pm, a full three hours after leaving Crayford ... driving in London can be utterly infuriating at times!
The musings of a wildlife enthusiast, usually armed with his camera.