With nothing much happening locally we decided on a trip along the coast to Dungeness. It offered a couple of year ticks and there was always the chance of something unusual turning up.
We stopped off at the Camber Ponds and Scotney Pits on the way but it was clear that the majority of ducks and geese had moved on. There were a few birds about but we could not find anything unusual.
At Dungeness we called in at the RSPB Visitors Centre to see what was about. Three birds looked interesting, a Ruff on Burrows, Black Redstarts at the lighthouse gardens, and best of all a Drake Smew on the New Excavations.
Drake Smew is a real prize. It is a bird that usually keeps its distance. I have a few good pictures of them but all taken of the captive birds at the Arundel Wetland Centre. It would be good to throw them away and put some real pictures in their place.
We had a quick look for the roosting Long-eared Owl but it wasn't showing out in the open so we didn't stop. A quick search from Makepeace gave us the Ruff. It was too far away for a picture but still a good bird to see. There haven't been many waders about this year.
On to Christmas Dell hide and the Smew was visible out in the middle of the pool. A few minutes of silent pleading from us and it turned and headed towards the hide. I couldn't believe our luck. It wasn't perfect, I could have done with the light coming from behind us, but these would be better shots than I had before.
Unfortunately he didn't stay in front of the hide for long. He ended up being pursued across the pond by an amorous redhead.
They spent a few minutes feeding together but her thought were clearly on other things. She then went into display mode giving him every encouragement - but he just wasn't interested.
We waited, hoping that they would come back towards the hide but they stayed distant and eventually something spooked him and he flew to the far side of the pool. I would have liked longer photographing him but I can't really complain.
A walk round the rest of the reserve gave us sight of a couple of Bearded Tits but we were keen to get down to the lighthouse to look for the Black Redstarts. They were easy enough to find, sitting out on the lighthouse garden wall. We counted four, possibly five, but they were all staying inside the garden wall or up on the roof. Easy to watch but just that bit too distant for a good shot.
There were reports of Wheatears on the beach but we couldn't find them and also of juvenile Iceland and Caspian Gulls on the patch. We didn't even try for these. I have enough trouble identifying them, when they are on the ground in front of me. My chances of picking them out in the swirl of birds above the patch were next to zero.
The journey home was also a bit disappointing. Still nothing on Scotney or the Camber ponds and a search of the Pett levels and a couple of brief sea watches from Camber and Pett failed to add any excitement to the day.
Overall though a good day and a couple of reasonable pictures of the Smew to remember it by.
Wednesday morning and my first Wheatear of the year, in the fields behind Goring Gap. My thanks to Nick Bond for the tweet. Rather distant but I didn't want to trample the farmers crop.