Thursday, 31 March 2011

A Trip to Lower Kent

Today the Kingsdown Ornithological Club (KOC) went on it’s spring trip to one of the more distant parts of Greater Kent  -we went to Lower Kent (or Kent “Est” if you prefer); most of you know it as France.
This intrepid team consisted of Steve Coates (“Kingsdowner”), Pete Pearson-wood who seemed to spend most of the morning claiming he could see blue sky when us more vertically challenged could only see cloud and mist, and myself.
In today’s trip we took in Le Clipon – the outer breakwater and pier at Dunkerque, Oye and Calais. These sites are actually only 35, 28 and 24 miles respectively from Kingsdown (as the crow flies) so we are not talking long distant birding here. Indeed on a fine day you can see all three destinations from Kingsdown.
We always use the ferry to get to France that way we enjoy a pelagic. So after a quick cup of coffee it was all on deck to watch hoards of wonderful birds as they make their way north…….not.
It was dead out there. For 80% of the journey we only saw a few herring/BB gulls and a couple of gannets though as we approached the French coast a couple of dozen kittiwakes started following the boat and we steamed past a lone razor bill but that was about it. No med gulls, no little gulls, no terns, no ducks. Not a good start.

Undeterred we set off the Dunkerque.
The outer breakwater at Dunkerque is nothing like the one at Dover – this one is ~ 7 miles long and is flanked by a huge expanse of sand dunes and scrub – mainly sea buckthorn – that looks brilliant for migrants.
The easiest way to get to it is via the bridge at Mardyke. Once on the breakwater we drove west a couple of miles then turned right to get to Le Clipon – the very lengthy pier.
As we drove (slowly) along the breakwater the dunes and scrub looked really good but we saw very little – a small flock of linnet, a stonechat plus mippit and skylark in decent numbers. At minimum we had expected a few wheatears and possible a crested lark but we saw none of either.
Toward the end of the breakwater we turned right towards Le Clipon and we spotted something on the sea - a group of 5 red-breasted mergansers. A few clicks of the camera later then we continued.
Red-breasted Merganser
Eventually we parked up and had a look at the beach of the “Basin de l’Atalantique”. Here we found decent numbers of ringed plover, a few dunlin plus oyster catcher and in the basin itself several gt crested grebes and an eider.
Overhead there was a constant movement of sandwich terns and sometime later we found a flock of ~ 400 on the beach - these were constantly flying back and forth. I assume they breed out there.
We then walked out on the Le Clipon itself.
Pete and Steve on Le Clipon
A little way along we heard a faint calling squeak and searched for the source – a goldcrest!!!!!! Then a wren turned up, then a black redstart. In total we had 3 goldcrests, 2 wrens and the black redstart actually on the pier. Most of the time they were in amongst the big blocks you can see in the picture above but they did come out to feed at times.
Concrete loving Goldcrest
Also as we walked out we had 2 more eider.
From a sea watching perspective though there was nothing going on at all so we didn’t linger.
On returning to the car we had another look at the shore line of the basin de l’Atalantique  and searched the beach and the dunes of the breakwater close to the pier and added sandling (~50) to the day list but there was nothing else. The lack of wheatears was a real surprise; in fact we didn’t see one anywhere during the whole trip – obviously Sandwich is not the only place suffering from a wheatear famine.

Next stop was Oye which we approached via Grande-Fort-Phillipe. The Reserve Naturelle du Platier d’Oye stretches quite a long way along the beach at Oye with some of the east-most pools being best viewed from the road as you appraoch. At the first stopping point we had all the ducks and geese you would have expected plus a bar headed goose. There is a duck/goose pond in the reserve so the suggestion was it was a domesticated one (kill joys).
Bar-headed Goose

Also we found grey heron, avocet, curlew, kestrel, a pair of marsh harriers and a buzzard that dwarfed the male marsh harrier as they had a little set to.
Marsh Harrier
Eventually we also spotted a spoonbill but it was always distant so no pictures I’m afraid.

We moved on to the main car park from which we had several chiffchaffs  and 2 more goldcrests and from the main hide it was more of the same with respect to ducks and geese though the main pool did hold a number of pintail and a couple of  redshank. Sandwich terns were constantly moving back and forth overhead and we had 5 swallows high over the main pool.
We started to walk the dunes/scrub inland of the beach and towards the pools where we had seen the spoonbill but it started raining and we scurried back to the car – we’re not very hard core!
Given the rain the decision was to go to Calais and watch the main ferry basin for gull from the safety of the car but on the way we found another lake/pit where there was a thriving colony of black headed and Mediterranean gulls – it was raining quite hard by now and I couldn’t be bothered to get some photos.
On the way to Calais we did stop at the hover port but no sign of any crested larks.
At the main ferry basin it was pretty slow and for a long time a lone, partially moulted, drake eider was by far and away the main attraction but then Steve spotted a tern. There then followed a long debate as to just what it was. It was incredibly dark underneath from some angles but had a very white tail. Personally I’ve opted for a common tern that looked very dark underneath due to the poor light though it might have been an arctic. I tried to get some images but they were near useless at helping with the id (other than ruling out some of the more exotic suggestions).

We still had a little time before check in at the ferry so we decided to drive along the prom – a few years back we had seen what might have been a crested lark along there but it had flown before we got onto it. Anyway within a few yards we got all excited but it was a sky lark but a little way further along there was one!!!!

Crested Lark
We actually found 3 and although they gave me the slip on the crazy golf course I managed to get close to one on the kiddies playground – no kids around so I wasn’t arrested for possessing a big camera in the presence of children.

A beer and something to eat on the ferry and that was that. Another enjoyable day came to an end.

1 comment:

  1. Sandwich terns were constantly moving back and forth overhead and we had 5 swallows high over the main pool. click