Have been planning a visit to Samphire Hoe near Dover in Kent for some time now, primarily to see the Early Spider Orchids. Having heard from the warden that the first were seen last weekend, we decided to try over the Bank Holiday. With several good birds, yesterday seemed ideal.
On the way down, we called in at Chatham to see the Iberian Chiffchaff which has been singing for a couple of days. Having not seen one since the Portland bird in 1999 I did not know how easy it would be to locate. Luckily it's classic, distinctive song and call was just about the first thing we heard when we reached the area where it had set up territory.
Over time we managed to get incredibly good views of the bird. At one time it did break into typical Chiffchaff song, though even so it did not sound quite right. The bright yellow supercillum and lemon wash to the undersides really stood out in the field-almost like a Wood Warbler.
Eventually we left, though did not have to travel far, as a Hoopoe at Lenham Heath was feeding in sheep fields adjacent to the Eurostar line. Unfortunately it was always distant. and rather worryingly standing on the railway bridge we may have given the impression of train spotters (and twitching is nothing like that is it?:). Had a chat with a birder I've known for years, reminiscing about past events. I'd bumped into him for the first time in quite a while last May Bank Holiday where the birding was even better (Collared Flycatcher and Crested Lark on the same day). I mentioned Dungeness and the Purple Herons which we would be visiting and he said that they had been seen carrying sticks, suggesting nest building. With a singing Bluethroat in Norfolk, its is starting to look more like Holland.
We eventually got to Samphire Hoe mid morning, with low cloud over the White Cliffs, though it was fine at sea level. Did not take long to locate our first Orchids.
There was a fine stand adjacent to the car park, though many more were eventually found as we walked down by the railway. Few birds were seen, apart from Stonechat and a few Swallows moving through. Eventually we made our way to the eastern edge, where under the cliffs, we knew that Black Redstarts could be found.
As usual, a male bird was found on the break water, and would not tolerate a close approach, though a stop and wait on top of the wall, as it fed among the rock resulted in one or two fairly good images.
At one point, the local Peregrine flew over at cliff top hight. The camera was not set up for flight shots so, the images were not satisfactory.
WE left Samphire, and drove through heavy rain to Dungeness, where it was windy but dry. High water levels meant the main pits did not have much to offer, but at Denge pits, the surrounding farm land was attractive to waders, where a flock of Whimbrel was seen. There were huge numbers of hirundines feeding, mainly Swallow, but with the occasional Sand and House Martin. Thoughts turned to Red Rumped Swallow, but none were seen.
The main attraction was the Purple Herons. It took a while but eventually I managed to locate one low over the reeds, but very distant. It appeared to be carrying a stick. As it dropped down, the second appeared and followed it. A short period of brief flights then ensued before one decided to move to another reed-bed to our east, unfortunately still out of camera range. We decided to head down and try to scan the reeds from a raised path to no avail before heading back to the car.
A brief sea watch at the power station outfall produced large numbers of Common terns among the gulls, but the winds were wrong for passage skuas and so on. We did however encounter another Black Redstart inside the power station.