Nice to get out on a proper trip after so many weeks of limited activity. Colin suggested last week that we visit Kent, and as there was not a great deal elsewhere to tempt us, that is what we ended up doing yesterday.
We aimed to visit Dungeness (it's been quite a while since we were last there) but drove through Walland Marsh on the way. Swans and Geese were the targets, as a variety of species have been seen in this vast area. We were successful in finding the herd of Bewick's Swans, with it's neck collared individual and the lone Whooper in the usual field near Horse Bones Farm, but otherwise the area was rather quiet. I thought that there would be a few bunting/finch flocks but small birds seemed hard to find apart from Skylarks and Meadow Pipits.
We eventually got to Dungeness, starting off with the two Cattle Egrets at the end of Denge Marsh Road-they were too far away from the road to photograph behind the poultry sheds, and as there were lots of signs with biohazard and disinfecting in big letters we decided not to get out and approach closer.
We spent about half an hour in the hide at the ARC pit, where the main attraction was the Great White Egret (the only one of the twelve we saw today) feeding alongside two Littles. With plenty of Grey Herons here, and a flyby Bittern we essentially cleaned up on winter herons within the space of twenty minutes. One red head Smew was pretty close to the hide, but there was not much else here.
By the time we got to the reserve it was drizzling and not very nice. Three female Goosander on the edge of Burrows pit was nice, and I found some interesting gulls a long way off in poor light. When we got to a better location, one of the gulls proved to be an adult Yellow Legged. We were told that there were Black Necked Grebes on the New Diggings but failed to find any, but a nice close red head Smew was photogenic.
Initially I had planned on a bit of a sea watch, but the wind direction was not ideal and I had put my back out and the thought of walking on shingle was a bit off putting so we left Dunge and headed up to Sheppy.
We got to Harty Marsh just after noon and joined a group watching the wildfowl. Small flocks of White Fronted Geese were nice to see, and there were huge numbers of duck on the water including a few dodgy domestic types. Chatting to the group before they left we decided to go to Shelness (they had not had much from the viewing mound down the road) and the Richard's Pipit. Found out on arrival that we had missed a male Hen Harrier and a Short Eared Owl. A big flock of Golden Plover went up several times but I could not see any raptors. Brent Geese were flying over all the time and we could see and hear various waders.
I watched a distant raptor drop down on a bank and feed. Although several Kestrels were present this looked a bit small and I suspected a Merlin, but it was a bit too far away. While scanning, and with most of the crowd gone I heard what seemed to be a Richard's Pipit flight call a couple of times. No bird was seen, and a scan of the area failed to pick anything up on the deck, but when I got home I found several recordings on Xeno-Canto that were identical so I'm confident we heard it.
We finished off at Elmley. The drive up to the farm was very productive. We found a Little Egret close to the road feeding, and this was followed up by a nice female Merlin on a gate post.
The temperature had dropped quite a bit by the time we got to the farm, and the wind had picked up as well. We walked out to the nearest bit of sea wall scanning the Swale for waders-mainly Knot, Dunlin and Curlew. The marsh itself had a lot wildfowl, as expected, some Curlew, plovers, and two Marsh Harriers, but no Hen, and unfortunately no owls of any kind.
The drive back from Colin's as the sun was setting failed to produce his regular Barn Owl, and as with the entire day there was a distinct lack of buntings finches and so on.