|My beloved Dungeness - but is it as good as Cap Griz Nez?|
This winter has seen a steady trickle of birders crossing the channel to take advantage of nailed-down Dutch owls, followed by a spot of wildfowl overkill. I know that the crusty old shingle-bashers of Dungeness regularly visit France for a fix of l'oiseau. A rare bird on the European mainland within striking distance of a ferry terminal has become fair game to an increasing number of birders. How many of us Brits went to look at that Wallcreeper that turned up on the north French coast a few years ago? This nipping over to the continent for a day isn't new, but it is certainly becoming more common place. Why? Is it because birding in the UK isn't nearly as good as that enjoyed just over the sea? I've got to say that the answer to my last question is probably yes.
Let's take Cap Gris Nez as an example. This headland in France is easily seen from the south Kent coast. I've been there on just a few occasions, but each time I've seen loads of birds. I've been there on days when the weather conditions were far from ideal and yet the birds still came. The same day that I watched 60,000 Chaffinch and 1,500 Brambling coast by the headland, Dungeness recorded totals of 200 and 5 respectively - and I could see Dungeness Power Station as I was watching this rush of finches!
I don't know northern France like the Dungeness boys do. They go over for the day and come back with a list that reads like a Mediterranean vagrant over-shoot wet dream. And there seems to be good birding habitat to burn. Holland is no different, with vast flocks of geese and waterfowl that make our spectacles in Norfolk seem like a park pond get together.
My only winter trip into mid-France (to visit the lakes south of Paris) was one of wonder - only five hours drive from Calais we were watching a large flock of Cranes, Hawfinches all over the place, Black and Middle-spotted Woodpeckers, plenty of raptors, rafts of wildfowl, wild boar and, had we been luckier, White-tailed Eagles. In summer the woods are full of Golden Orioles and Bonelli's Warblers. Beats Bough Beech...
Of course we do get ornithological spectacle over here, but you can't but help feel as if we are experiencing a form of 'birding-lite'. I know where I'd rather be birding, but it would involve crossing over (or under) the sea to get there.