October 2018

Wednesday 31st

After yesterday’s rain this morning brought the first frost-scraping session of the autumn, but lingering showers died away by dawn, by which time both Sparrowhawk and Merlin were hunting in the valley and a party of 34 Cormorants flew out to the cliffs from inland. 8 Chiffchaffs were still present at the top of the valley, 21 Crossbills flew S, thrushes were represented by 40 Blackbirds and 19 Song Thrushes and the bird of prey collection was completed by a ringtail Hen Harrier that drifted N along Reach Road. The Emperor Dragonfly was seen again on the farm.

Monday 29th

The NE wind had thankfully moderated from yesterday’s gales, bringing an influx of 70 Blackbirds, while 43 Crossbills flew NE, Ring Ouzels were found in Fan Bay and Langdon Hole and singles of Snow and Lapland Bunting were on the fields near Fan Bay. 49 Lapwings flew NE, 40 Siskins, 25 Redpolls and 5 Bramblings flew over, a Woodcock was in the top wood and rarity value was provided by 3 Greylags that flew NE over Fox Hill Down.

Saturday 27th

A cold, brisk NW wind stimulated an influx of 148 Redwings, 43 Fieldfares, 14 Blackbirds, a Ring Ouzel and 7 Bramblings, while 13 Crossbills flew NE and 7 Lapwings and a Snipe flew in off the sea. At least 90 Chaffinches also flew NW and a total of 37 Yellowhammers is testimony to the much improved state of the farm fields under NT stewardship.

Friday 26th

It was a morning that got better as it aged, a bit like a peppermint flavoured burgundy. Apart from the obligatory Sparrowhawk hunting before it became light and 6 Fieldfares departing the valley, it was fairly quiet until the W breeze started to sneak more towards NW, at which point the first of 32 Redwings appeared and a party of 12 Goldcrests materialised at the top of the valley. Woodpigeons were more numerous than so far this autumn and other bits and pieces included 3 Bramblings and 5 Redpolls.

Wednesday 24th

What a difference a day makes, as Dinah Washington pertinently observed, though she may have talking about something other than vis. mig. A brisk NW wind brought plenty of movement, with birds flying upchannel including 348 Goldfinches, 26 Redpolls, a Brambling and 18 Siskins, while 150 Chaffinches, 56 Skylarks and 11 Meadow Pipits flew in off the sea. 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers flew NW over the farm and a Snipe got up from the gun emplacements, while a remarkably late Emperor Dragonfly was sunning itself nearby.

Tuesday 23rd

In a morning that did much to highlight the lack of correlation between sites close to each other on the coast, while Sandwich had a rollicking morning it had a real end of term feel about here. The only things worth mentioning were a Sparrowhawk hunting before dawn and a late Lesser Whitethroat.

Monday 22nd

The weather forecast for the weekend to come contains the words ‘shock to the system’. Well, frankly, this morning was enough to be going on with, with a brisk and cold NW wind blowing across the valley. Movement slowed considerably after early cloud cleared but included 14 Redpolls, 4 Bramblings, a Lapland Bunting and 89 alba wagtails and 19 Crossbills over Langdon Cliffs. Other bits and pieces included a Wheatear but the event of the morning was something I have never seen before, in this country anyway. The field on the Dover side of the top wood is attracting large numbers of pipits, finches and Skylarks and for about ten minutes 3 Sparrowhawks were hunting together over the field, occasionally sparring with each other but certainly intent on prey. Their versatility, particularly when hunting in autumn, never ceases to amaze.

Sunday 21st

Slightly overcast to begin with but with the light breeze back in the SW early movement consisted mainly of 86 Chaffinches, 3 Bramblings and a late-ish flurry of 72 Meadow Pipits. Most of the excitement was on the farm where a Merlin zipped across the fields, a Short-eared Owl was hunting at dawn and a Water Rail scuttled across one of the paths.

A Painted Lady was seen at the top of the valley.

Phil Smith
Painted Lady by Phil Smith

Saturday 20th

Clear and cold with a gentle NW wind, thrushes were the main feature of the morning, with totals of 24 Blackbirds and 27 Song Thrushes, 3 Redwings and a Fieldfare. Only 11 Goldcrests were recorded but a Lesser Whitethroat and a Wheatear were seen again, while 84 Siskins, 104 Goldfinches and 6 Redpolls flew NE.

Friday 19th

Cloudy with a chilly NW wind 60 Goldcrests represented the first decent arrival of crests this autumn. 68 Siskins and 57 Goldfinches flew NE and 5 Bramblings headed in the opposite direction but aside from a dribble of 26 Skylarks and 30 Meadow Pipits off the sea, a lone Redpoll and a tardy Wheatear it failed to live up to early promise, unlike a bar of Turkish Delight.

Thursday 18th

In a gathering NE breeze and overcast conditions movement in the first hour included 125 Siskins flying NE and a Ring Ouzel and 25 Skylarks dispersing inland, with several more flying in off the sea. However, at this point it abruptly stopped and the remainder of the morning was a case of picking up bits and pieces, which included another Ring Ouzel, 5 Sparrowhawks, a Brambling and a Snow Bunting, while 8 Stonechats was the first count of more than three for nearly two weeks and 60 Starlings flew in off the sea.

Wednesday 17th

96 Chaffinches departed the valley from first light, while 37 Siskins flew SW, as did 3 Redpolls, which have been as scarce as hen’s teeth so far this autumn. 3 Yellow-browed Warblers were found and thrushes included 7 Redwings, 25 Song Thrushes and a Fieldfare and a Ring Ouzel, both flying inland. Single of Lesser Whitethroat, Brambling, Firecrest and Coal Tit were in the top wood and a couple of noisy parties of Great Tits on the farm suggested that they might be on the move. Otherwise, 16 Reed Buntings were scattered about, mainly along the cliff.

Steve Ray
Reed Bunting by Steve Ray

Tuesday 16th

Yellow-browed Warbler called once at the top of the valley at dawn then kept its counsel for the rest of the morning, leaving a near carbon copy of yesterday to play itself out. However, some differences included 8 Sparrowhawks, at least one of which flew in off the sea, and 17 Song Thrushes, while 4 Red Admirals made their way SW along the cliff.

 Monday 15th

Another near-Mediterranean start was calm and initially cloudy, soon clearing to reveal a lovely autumn morning. After 9 Redwings materialised over the valley a distant flock of around a hundred thrushes could be seen heading inland and 16 more, presumably Redwings, flew in over the bay. Otherwise it was pretty pedestrian, with 11 Chiffchaffs in the valley, 3 Bramblings over and a gentle procession of Skylarks and Chaffinches, although a Marsh Harrier was seen flying along Reach Road at 1030 and a Ring Ouzel was discovered at Langdon Hole.

Sunday 14th

In complete contrast to the last couple of days it was calm, clear and remarkably warm. The most obvious overnight arrivals were 36 Song Thrushes and 2 Yellow-browed Warblers, the first for five days. 27 Jays included 16 flying in from the NE, Reed Buntings were more obvious, with 4 trapped on the farm, and a Short-eared Owl flew in off the sea in the afternoon.

Friday 12th

An overcast start with a spectacular sunrise beneath the clouds soon gave way to a clear and windy morning with the S wind at 5-6 with stronger gusts. The resulting migratory chaos was not helped by flocks of Goldfinches and Siskins mingling together, but movement was more or less SW up the valley and totals amounted to 514 Goldfinches and 385 Siskins, garnished with a Brambling, a Grey Wagtail and a party of 11 Crossbills.

Thursday 11th

Plentiful white horses offshore suggested that it would be windier than the forecast 17 mph and for the most part the SE wind rattled along at force 5-6 before moderating a bit and turning more S. This had the effect of encouraging movement along the shallow valley from Wanstone Farm and in a couple of hours before the subtle change in wind direction 540 Siskins flew mostly NE, along with 166 Goldfinches, while 88 Linnets headed in the opposite direction. Other bits and pieces included 2 Bramblings, 4 Song Thrushes and 8 alba wagtails, but the bushes were too wind-blown to deliver much.

Wednesday 10th

With a cloudless sky and gathering E breeze movement was typically haphazard, though 117 Goldfinches and 39 Siskins flew mostly N. Thrushes were slightly more evident, including 11 Song Thrushes, but the bird of the morning was a delightful Little Owl that was trapped on the farm.

A Convolvulus Hawk-moth was the highlight in Mark’s moth trap.

Ian Hodgson
Convolvulus Hawk-moth by Ian Hodgson

Tuesday 9th

A warm but brisk S/SW breeze encouraged some early movement which included a real rarity in a Tree Sparrow, 2 more Great White Egrets that flew SW behind the valley, 119 Goldfinches, 51 Siskins and around 100 mixed Swallows and House Martins. Trekking around the farm produced very little, but on returning to the valley 3 Yellow-browed Warblers were found on the access track and by the top wood. Given their obvious determination to move up the valley and on inland it seems likely that they were new arrivals.

A Clouded Yellow was seen again at Fan Bay.

Monday 8th

Back to calm, gin-clear mornings this one was hardly the equal of yesterday, but still 4 Yellow-browed Warblers is not to be sniffed at (not that would be any point, since they don’t smell of anything). The supporting cast included 3 Firecrests, 10 Song Thrushes, at least 7 Great Spotted Woodpeckers, 2 Crossbills, 7 Bramblings, 56 Siskins and around 45 Chiffchaffs, plus 4 Ring Ouzels in Fan Bay in the afternoon.

Sunday 7th

With a stiff NE wind blowing, most of the morning was spent in the top wood, where 3 Yellow-browed Warblers were present, along with a Firecrest, while 20 Redwings flew over. 3 more Yellow-browed Warblers were discovered at the bottom of the valley in the afternoon, making a remarkable total of six for the day, not surprisingly a record for a single day at the South Foreland.

Saturday 6th

Movement early on consisted mainly of 186 Linnets, 48 Siskins, 44 Meadow Pipits, 39 Goldfinches, 37 Chaffinches, 5 Reed Buntings, 5 Jays and 5 alba wagtails. Not much, but better than yesterday. However, another clear and calm start was overcome by mist that rolled in around 9.30, ahead of which a Firecrest was trapped and 8 Stonechats were scattered about. Just to prove it is indeed a game of two halves, a Yellow-browed Warbler was calling in a clifftop garden just before rain set in early in the afternoon.

Mark’s moth trap held a notable 7 Delicates, a Clancy’s Rustic and the first Green-brindled Crescent we’ve seen this autumn. There was almost certainly also a Porter’s Rustic.

Friday 5th

Some early movement on another bright, calm morning, consisting mainly of 128 Linnets, was blurred by the presence of several large flocks in the area and the eventual estimate of 650 speaks volumes for the nice weedy state of the fields. However, it was very much a case of an early October clear-out, with little more than a handful of warblers and generally low numbers, although the sight of 600 House Martins milling around the dip of Fan Bay was pretty impressive.

Thursday 4th

While it may not have had the cachet of Frederick Forsyth’s novel, this morning was without doubt The Day of the Dunnock, 18 of which flew SW along the cliff or through the lighthouse garden in a total of at least 40 for the day. Otherwise, apart from a trickle of Meadow Pipits and Skylarks and around 30 Chiffchaffs it was fairly quiet until a flurry of activity around Fan Bay in which a Brambling dropped into the hawthorns, a Sparrowhawk was annoying the local Peregrines and a Clouded Yellow fluttered by.

Steve Ray
Dunnock by Steve Ray

Wednesday 3rd

Another crystal-clear morning brought some movement along the cliffs, principally 41 Meadow Pipits and 24 Skylarks flying in off the sea or heading mainly N. Siskins were also audible throughout the morning but the total of 28 undoubtedly underscored reality as many were just too high to be seen without a bit of luck. Small numbers of Linnets and Goldfinches were moving over Lighthouse Down around mid morning, hopefully a taste of things to come, and about 40 Chiffchaffs were flitting about.

Tuesday 2nd

It was raining lightly as I drove in and the car headlights illuminated 3 Song Thrushes on the access track to the lighthouse – my first of the autumn. About 60 Chiffchaffs and 14 Blackcaps were flitting about, 24 Siskins and a Yellow Wagtail flew SW, a Whinchat was with the Stonechats on the top field and around 40 Blue Tits and 20 Great Tits were noisily moving through the bushes. However, the bird of the morning was a Great White Egret that flew NE along the cliff and although this wasn’t particularly surprising in view of the numbers in Kent at the moment it was the first South Foreland record since one in May 1977, although others have been seen along the cliffs either side of Dover, particularly since 2014.

Monday 1st

The new month opened with a clear sky and a fresh, rather cold NW wind. We tend to take Buzzards for granted these days but 3 had flown N over the valley by 0730, presumably having roosted locally overnight, and at 1030 another 5 were floating about over the bottom of the valley. A steady trickle of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits from off the sea was accompanied by 2 Bramblings, 22 Siskins, a Redpoll and 4 Blackbirds that dropped in from the ether during the course of the morning, a Coal Tit was calling on the farm and 9 Stonechats were still present.

Highlights in Mark’s moth trap were a Convolvulus Hawk-moth and a Brown-spot Pinion.

Steve Ray
Stonechat on Lighthouse Down by Steve Ray

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