The August bank holiday weekend coincided with some excellent, 'drifty' weather. With the forecast looking good for some early-autumn migration several days in advance, I planned a couple of visits to the White Cliffs/Langdon Hole area – alone on the Saturday and with Rich Bonser on the Monday.
Happily the promised conditions held true and, although it was roasting hot on both visits, migration was very much in evidence and each venture proved rewarding, with two very enjoyable mornings of birding. Pied Flycatcher was, as it was across many areas, the species of the weekend, with my Saturday visit producing five and, on Monday, an impressive seven.
Bird of the weekend, though, was a pristine young Red-backed Shrike which we found early on the Monday morning. There's a really picturesque valley just north (ie inland) of Fox Hill Down, itself above the White Cliffs car park, that is dotted with hawthorn bushes, fence lines and weedy areas, and it looks excellent for migrants. I've always fancied it for a shrike, but didn't expect one on only my fifth visit to this area. First noted perched atop a bush on the far side of the valley, right at the limits for my binoculars, I could only make out a shape and assumed it might be a Northern Wheatear sitting up to take in the first rays of the morning sun. Then it sallied, quite unlike a wheatear, and a shrike seemed the most logical conclusion ... something backed up when Rich arrived with his camera, took a record shot and zoomed in (my camera screen is still well and truly broken).
Eventually we managed considerably closer views, watching this superb bird happily feeding some 15 metres away and staying loyal to the single, isolated hawthorn. Later in the morning, by which point it had attracted a small twitch, it had moved a bit further up the valley, but still remained distant from the roadside.
We were also fortunate to be underneath a couple of Dotterel that moved eastwards and out to sea over Langdon mid-morning on 26th, with Rich hearing the call and me picking up the birds in flight simultaneously. A couple had been seen in fields the previous day but soon headed off and we presume this two to have been a different pair, given that this is a traditional exit point for the species toward staging sites on the near continent and that they seemed to go straight through and out to sea towards France.
A good selection of warblers included both Common and Lesser Whitethroats in pleasing numbers. The latter especially is a great bird in autumn, with the fresh, silvery plumage always making them look rarer than they actually are! Overhead, small numbers of Yellow Wagtails were passing on both visits, with a couple of Tree Pipits also noted on the Monday. Overall, it made for a great couple of days of early-autumn birding.
Things had quietened down somewhat by the following weekend in the Langdon Cliffs environs, with the number of migrants noticeably down. Nonetheless, a few Whinchats were seen, both in the Hole and from Reach Road, as well as one or two Common Redstarts and a Pied Flycatcher.
As an aside, it was nice to find both a single flying adult and plenty of eggs of Long-tailed Blue on the Kent coast over the bank holiday weekend. Location details unfortunately cannot be revealed due to the sensitive nature of the site.