Sand, shingle, and sky… and a Great White

After a solid day’s birding on the local patch on Saturday, I travelled south on Sunday as far as I could go – which is just under 80 miles to the South Kent coast and the headland of Dungeness.

Any birders or photographers in the UK will be very familiar with Dungeness, but if you are unfamiliar with it, the simplest way to describe it would be to say that it is a wonderfully strange place:


The photo above was taken in the RSPB nature reserve and you can see the nuclear power station in the distance and one hell of a lot of shingle in between. In fact, Dungeness has one the largest concentrations of shingle in Europe. So much so, that it can be seen from space:

Thanks to Google Maps

Thanks to Google Maps

Apparently, due to this geology, the Met Office classifies Dungeness as the only desert in the UK. British pub quiz fans may be furrowing their brow now as we are taught that the Tabernas desert in Spain is the only desert in Europe (I once walked for several miles through the Tabernas in midsummer wearing flip-flops – very uncomfortable – with some friends to go to a nudist beach, but… ahem… back to birding). Either way, the shingle is incredible and despite its designation as a desert, it is wonderfully rich in wildlife (as I have blogged about before).

I snapped some common birds, such as Kestrel (c.46,000 pairs in the UK):

Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)

Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)

Some less common, such as Kingfisher (c.4,000 pairs):

Common (or Eurasian) Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)

Common (or Eurasian) Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)

Some scarce, such as Smew (c.180 birds visit the UK each winter, with several at Dungeness on Sunday):

Smew (Mergus albellus)

Smew (Mergus albellus)

Another scarce bird I should have photographed was the (Eurasian/Great) Bittern, as I watched this incredibly secretive bird take off in front of me – looking at first like a Grey Heron wearing a tiger-print costume – whilst I had my camera in pieces after taking a landscape shot:

This is where the bittern was - doh!

This is where the bittern was – doh!

And finally, I also got a poor quality shot of a downright rare bird, Great White Egret (c. 35 birds visit the UK each winter and at times a significant proportion can be at Dungeness):

Great White Egret (Ardea alba)

Great White Egret (Ardea alba)

OK! I admit I shamelessly used the words ‘Great White’ in the title of this blog post to lure people into thinking it was about a large shark

Throughout the day at Dungeness and Romney Sands, I added 9 species of bird to my UK year list to take it to a total of 88).

As well as some of those above, these 9 also included one of the most exciting birding spectacles anyone can ever see: watching the fastest bird-of-prey hunt at high speeds. By the time I got the distant photo below, the Peregrine had narrowly missed a Lapwing it sent spinning in mid-air, and perched on the telegraph pole while thousands – yes, literally thousands – of Lapwing remained in the air and rightly on edge:

Peregrine (Falco peregrinus) and Northern lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)

Peregrine (Falco peregrinus) and Northern lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)

I also just managed to get this poor shot of the only stoat I have ever photographed as it bounded around in the grass under the inquisitive – but not really very threatening – eye of the kestrel above:

Stoat (Mustela erminea)

Stoat (Mustela erminea)

I then moved on to nearby Lydd-on-Sea and spent a couple of hours walking on the shingle beach…


… and then a sandy beach …


… as the sun went down over the largely empty beach at low tide. In the distance, you can see the white line as the waves break. But looking closer, you can see that the first white line is not actually the breaking waves, but instead a line of thousands of gulls and waders:


I saw Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, and Sanderling (see below)…

Sanderling (Calidris alba)

Sanderling (Calidris alba)

… as well as several hundred Oystercatcher:

Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)

Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)

Just to recap on the new birds I saw which added to my UK 2015 list:
– Bittern
– Great White Egret (UK first for me – I have also seen them in Costa Rica)
– Smew
– Bar-tailed Godwit
– Oystercatcher
– Sanderling
– Peregrine
– Red-legged Partridge
– Chiffchaff

12 thoughts on “Sand, shingle, and sky… and a Great White

  1. Earth Whisperer Conservation

    … An alluring nature reserve with a ghostly nuclear power station, in the distance; a mindboggling capture! As far as the “Great white” lure… No shame in that. The Egret is just as amazing!

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