Saturday, 31 January 2009
Parts of the Dungeness shingle spit are now a national nature reserve, needless to say not the bit with the nuclear power station on it but despite being an eyesore it has no doubt helped to keep away further development in the area. Having said that or rather written that, the small airport at Lydd is looking to expand which given it is right next door to parts of the NNR is not a good idea and I tend to think is the sort of barmy idea that could occur in the small isle that is the U.K. To help support the great work being done by the RSPB to stop this madness visit:
The purpose for my visit was to walk along the beach between the fishing boats and the end of Dengemarsh gulley on the look out for any washed up marine mammals as up to 3 harbour porpoise had been washed up dead in the preceding days. Now, I don't know that much about the small population of harbour porpoise off Dungeness and I doubt many people do as to be honest the marine environment is not one that many folks are interested in as it tends to be hard to study as most of the time it exists in the alien world beneath the waves. Interesting to note that the boundary of the NNR appeared to be very land locked and didn't extend out to sea!
One very real threat to harbour porpoise populations is entanglement in fishing nets known as bycatch and there is still a small commercial fishing outfit that operates from the point at Dungeness. Now I'm sure these fisherman are responsible folks and don't dump their nets at sea and are very careful to safely extract any entangled marine mammal or bird but needless to say many harbour porpoises are killed in net entanglement and populations around the Kent coast and in the English Channel are threatened especially in winter as more fishing fleets move into the area from France and Spain. Whilst heavy seas may take their toll on marine mammals it would generally only affect weak or maybe older animals. On my walk I didn't come across any dead porpoise only a small shark and a gannet which did give me the opportunity to take a close look at a gannets feet and I hadn't realised they had blue lines on them.
Not too far offshore there was a lot of bird activity especially large groups of guillemots and on the tide line were small drifting groups of kittiwakes. One of the fisherman there said that a lot of sprats were very close to the shoreline and these had attracted the feeding birds. Given the cold easterly wind and choppy sea conditions some of the birds were lying low and facing into the breeze. A couple of adult kittiwakes were amongst a group of resting black-headed gulls but took off to feed along the shoreline.
A few first winter kittiwakes were also around this one showing the characteristic black W shape on it's upperwing.
The sea looked quite rough and the waves pounding against the shore were certainly quite frothy (man).
Just behind where the waves would break against the shore a small area of calmer water had developed an interesting looking lumpy froth.
Groups of brent geese were also flying past, this particular flock was the largest I saw with around 150 geese. I took a series of shots but preferred this one with the glare from the sea and the geese in silhouette.
Also in the calmer area just back from the breaking waves were two little gulls, I saw three in all. Both birds would dip down into a trough and start paddling with its feet just on the surface of the water and then pick off whatever it had attracted to the surface, it reminded me of storm petrel behaviour.
Little gulls are beautiful dainty gulls and adults have lovely charcoal coloured underwings.
Looking back toward the shingle bank just up from the shoreline I noticed a group of turnstone trying to get as low as possible out of the wind. At the moment they are in their winter plumage but still very charismatic.
A couple of scarce white-winged gulls were also in the area, namely an adult glaucous gull and a juvenile iceland gull. Both were seen whilst I was there but I only managed to catch up with the adult glaucous and what a great looking bird it is. This bird appears to be in its summer plumage with the well defined red bill spot, it is probably just me but it also seems to be a small individual for a glaucous gull not really coming across as the large billed hulks that I remember seeing in the past. The bill ratio to primary projection is a give away though with the projection being very short compared to the bill length, iceland gulls generally have a long primary projection and shorter bill. Adult Glaucous Gull Different light conditions can have an affect on how pale the back colouration appears.
In flight the wonderful white-winged gull look.