Shameless, I know, but I took a drive across to Foreness, on Tuesday morning, where I was able to enjoy the spectacle of two Red-rumped Swallows. They were feeding, in the company of a couple of House Martins and several Swallows, along the cliff-top above Palm Bay. As I've already got this species on my year list, it didn't actually make any difference to my tally but, is the first "twitch" I've been on in a very long time! Arriving just after 09.00 hrs, I immediately spotted some hirundine activity and made my way across to where the birds were active. Just one other birder present, although plenty of dog-walkers using the cliff-top pathway. As I approached the spot I almost trod on a Snow Bunting, which was feeding alongside the footpath. That'll do nicely, another self-found year tick, number 176!
When I reached the spot where the other birder was positioned, camera in hand, it became very apparent that he was right on the money. What happened next was completely surreal. Introducing himself, saying "he knew me, but I didn't know him!" His name was Bernie (?), he'd travelled from Sidcup to see the swallows, but knew me because he was a regular visitor to the blog. Small world? The Red-rumps showed at fairly close range, although the gusty wind and dull light did nothing to assist my photographic attempts. I didn't stay long and, instead, took a stroll back towards Foreness Point where I dropped down onto the coastal footpath and walked back along the Palm Bay undercliff. Three Sandwich Terns put on a brief display, just off shore, whilst a number of "alba" Wagtails fed alongside three Rock Pipits along the high water mark.
I don't think I was on site for longer than ninety minutes yet, by the time I left, there was quite a sizable mob gathered watching the birds. At 05.00 hrs, this morning, the alarm sounded and I was en route to The Stour within half an hour. Despite the forecast being to the contrary, it was pissing down as I drove to my chosen section. Making no attempt to unload the kit, I put on the head torch and walked over to the river. The scene was of utter carnage, filthy muddy brown water, full of debris and absolutely piling through. Nothing for it but to resort to plan B, if only I had one? No way was I driving down to the canal, so birding had to be worth a try. Thus, at first light, 07.00 hrs, I was back on the cliff-top at Palm Bay. Still heavy grey skies and raining, I almost immediately relocated the Snow Bunting and rattled off a series of shots more in hope than anything else.
As the light intensified, so the clouds started to dissipate and I was quite hopeful when a group of seven House Martins flew west past my chosen spot. They had just passed when another, binocular wielding, guy came walking towards me. "Had I seen the Red-rumps today?" My answer was, obviously, negative yet I suggested that, given the conditions, the birds could still be roosting on the cliffs. He said he needed to get off to work but had just seen a Dartford Warbler in the cliff-top vegetation a hundred, or so, meters to the east. I'll have a bowl full of that, says I, and off I go. "It's with a male Stonechat" was a very helpful addition from this birder as we parted ways. I saw the warbler quite quickly, yet the little sod had no intention of posing for the camera. The light was getting better by the minute and, around 08.00 hrs, there they were. Two Red-rumped Swallows skimming around the cliff-top and over the adjacent grassland, two House Martins for company. Once again my camera skills were woefully lacking and, as a result, won't appear on the blog. However, the plan to get home before the school run kicked off was thrown into the bin when Barry H. came wandering along the cliff-top path. We've not crossed paths in over a decade and had so much to chat about. I really don't know how long we were chatting, but it was a fantastic encounter as we discussed getting old and our shared perception of the current birding scene. I told Baz about the Dartford Warbler. "It's been here for four weeks!" was his response. At that point it decided to perch up atop a cliff-top bush. "That's its favourite perch" says Baz. Having further gripped me off with news of a Black Redstart by the Cafe/Medical Centre area, we parted company. I walked across to the Medical Centre, whilst Barry headed over to Foreness Pumping Station.
No sign of the Black Redstart, there was an awful lot of activity around the area now that the centre was open. I slowly retraced my path back towards where I'd parked the van. The male Stonechat suddenly flicked up onto the top of an exposed stem. Immediately I spotted some movement below and there was the Dartford Warbler. I managed just a single image before it dropped back into cover, but I'll settle for that!
It was now getting on for 10.20 hrs and I decided that home was where I needed to be. I walked across towards the van as another vehicle pulled up. Bloody hell, it was Steve Ashton! Loads more gum-beating ensued before I finally got into the van and headed back home, some time approaching 11.00 hrs. A fantastic morning spent birding, in superb, like-minded, company, when I'd hoped to be Pike fishing. Shit happens - then you die!