Saturday, July 17, 2010
Dungeness, Kent - 17th July 2010
It's mid-summer, and despite crack of dawn visits to the local patch (Stoke Newington Reservoirs) in the hope of a stray wader of any kind on the temporarily exposed banks of the west reservoir, there's been sweet f.a. in the shape of reward - unless one counts the increasingly improbable list of "if you don't stare too long, you could easily pass me off as a Scaup sp." Aythya hybrids of late, and a Mediterranean-free procession of Black-headed Gulls drifting through.
So, a day off with nothing to do and a hangover to shake, and with Laurence in a similar position, Dungeness beckoned. Why? Well, because there's birds there, and plenty of them; it's a place I'm increasingly fond of (and Laurence has been intimate with over many years); it's within striking distance of our urban hole in the motor; Purple Herons are breeding on Denge Marsh; and last but hardly least, a certain Asian Lapwing has been in residence there for several days.
Which, in truth, was the main reason for heading south-east along the M20 today; a filthy twitch. Being a self-righteous, pure-as-the-driven patch worker, such pursuits feel a little like being caught on the wrong kind of website; in this case, Asian porn (the breezy english seaside must be quite a change from Iranian deltas). Excluding the odd quality bird within a mile or two of the flat, I can probably count such vaguely embarrasing occasions over the last ten years on one sweaty hand.
But this particular bird inspired a little more enthusiasm for some reason; in various proportions to do with its extreme rarity in the UK, its gangly, exotic characteristics, and the fact that it had already beaten us once before. Assuming the same bird is involved in all the recent sightings in NW Europe, its visits to Lancashire, the Netherlands, Rainham, Slimbridge and now Dungeness were all over several days at each location - with the notable exception of Rainham.
Ten days ago, this freakishly-proportioned Vanellus appeared there, work preventing the option of heading out to metropolitan Essex to visit it; but the following morning, we hoped to, and dutifully rocked up at the reserve car park for 0630 - Fail. It then resurfaced at Slimbridge - a comfortably unjustifiable distance away - allowing me to go back to the more serious business of counting the increasing numbers of Coots and Tufted Ducks at the reservoirs.
But then - Dunge; and there it seemed to have settled, for a few days at least. And with other potential attractions (Purple Herons, Great White Egret, passage waders), the balance was tipped. But this particular lost soul hadn't finished punishing us just yet. It took us five hours, barely crawling along the accident-strewn M20, to reach the ARC, and I'd secretly prepared for a glib, socially-inadequate lister to announce its recent exit as we stumbled out of the car.
Not so. With a mercifully small humanoid assembly present ("it showed so much better yesterday", "I ticked the one at Grimsby in 1762" etc., yawn), there it was, wandering around on a shingle spit with a Garganey and an Oystercatcher for company; beautiful.
With a strong westerly blowing, we made our way over to Denge Marsh, where the Purple Herons are doing their pioneering colonisation thing (but being suitably secretive with such a responsibility). An hour or so here, birding from the car, easily justified the jaunt in itself; a distinctly continental vista over the marsh, with Yellow Wagtails buzzing by, a procession of Med Gulls, Hobby hunting, Marsh Harriers everywhere, Sand Martins gunning west in their hundreds, and two more star birds - a Great White Egret putting in several appearances, and, right on cue, a particularly impressive Purple Heron drifting into the nest site, glinting in the golden evening sunshine. No pain, no gain, and a reminder that a little gratuitous porn isn't always a bad thing.