Monday, 27 October 2014

Surfs up

Dungeness April 1984
A walk out to the Brooks takes a concerted effort. In the first instance you need to drive several miles, via Lydd, and then along a series of pot-holed tracks. Once parked off-road on a steep grassy bank you then have a good mile walk along a raised earth track, 100yards from the sea and running parallel to it. This is wild country. Either side of you is a Ministry of Defence firing range, the army frequently raising red flags to warn you not to even think about wandering out here. The area is obviously uninhabited and seldom visited. The spent shell cases and concrete bunkers are reminders of the regular khaki war games. What makes this place worth the visit is the presence of several water bodies cut off from the sea by a thin shingle bank. They are known as the Brooks.

Historical records show that they were once highly attractive to waders, together with the Midrips and Wicks that lie further west. This whole area was well watched after World War Two and has claim to a number of extreme rarities. They are no longer birded to such an extent. I’ve always thought it a wonderful place to come – you can escape the crowds, take in the moonscape and stand a good chance of some noteworthy observations. This afternoon has confirmed these convictions...

The late afternoon’s stroll had not thrown much up in the way of birds, but when Tim Toohig and I had reached the Brooks our scanning of the sea westward had revealed a sizeable flock of scoter resting on its surface. A few Eider were also present so we took the decision to carry along the beach to scan through them. We could so easily have turned back and not bothered. Five minutes later we were scooping the flock - Common Scoter and Eider as we had deduced earlier. A bird from the back of the pack broke ranks and swam out clearly into view. I was watching a spanking drake Surf Scoter, a new species not only for Dungeness but also Kent. Tim quickly got onto the bird and for the next ten minutes we animatedly took notes and revelled in our luck. I stayed to keep an eye on the scoter whilst Tim returned to the observatory to alert those present about its presence. 

At least forty minutes past before a gaggle of birders appeared on the horizon, running along the shingle, laden down by scopes and tripods, faintly reminiscent of the Dad’s Army cast in the closing credits. The bird had stayed put, coming in much closer during my solo observations, but had now drifted out somewhat. All present were the usual suspects of observatory regulars and local birders and were more than pleased to be watching this most unexpected duck.

Chance is a major component of birding. It was lucky that this particular scoter flock had decided to rest up offshore from this particular beach on the very afternoon that we decided to make our first visit of the year to the Brooks. Typically this makes me all the more aware of what we actually miss…

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