Tuesday, 16 February 2010

The French Invasion!

Despite the title, this was not a daring rescue mission to defeat the Nazis in WW2; unfortunately we were about 65 years too late for that! Instead, this was a birding trip (bet you didn’t see that one coming!!). Others along on this trip were Chris Lowmass (who was kind enough to use his minivan to ferry us all around, Dick Gilmore, Neil Greenaway, Chris Davis, Jon Curson, John Luck, and Sid, whose surname I sadly can’t remember!). So the Eight of us travelled to Dover in the darkness, driving along bumpy roads while attempting to get some sleep! Two Barn Owls were seen around Camber at around 05:00, but I was asleep at the time, even more annoying because one was about 20 yards inside Sussex, and would have just counted a county year-tick! The first species seen by me was a Herring Gull caught by flashlights in Dover Harbour at about 06:00. Once it was reasonably light and we were all reasonably well-fed on the full-English served on the ferry, brief sea watch was in order, where we recorded Kittiwake, Great Black-backed Gull, Common Gull, Back-headed Gull, Cormorant, Great Crested Grebe and Purple Sandpiper (on the rocks at Calais Harbour), taking the species list for the trip up to ten, of which I had seen eight, (I missed the Purplie as well as the Barn Owls.) In Calais Harbour Docks, we added Feral Pigeon and Starling, taking the total list up to twelve species. Traveling to our next stop was fairly productive, Woodpigeon, Kestrel, Coot, Fieldfare, Collared Dove, Jackdaw, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Grey Heron, Grey Partridge and Moorhen made the total 23 species by about 07:30. The Grey Partidge were an interesting note, we saw several coveys of this supposedly ‘English’ Partridge by the side of the roads throughout the day, indicating they are doing much better in France than Britain. Adding to the Irony, we did not see a single French (Red-legged) Partridge all day!! Our first stop was a Gravel Pit near Dunkirk (dunquerque if you are in France). Here we added Chaffinch, Mallard Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon, Shelduck, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Goldeneye, Lapwing, Meadow Pipit and two magnificent Whooper Swans! These two were obviously the main highlight of the stop, although it was also good to see displaying Goldeneye throwing their heads back, practising for when they left this French Gravel Pit for Scandinavia(or perhaps Scotland?) Once again we hit the road, and added Carrion Crow to the ranks before us, which now stood at 36 species. Our next stop was another pit, by the side of a motorway, which overlooked several miles of farmland. From here, Pintail, Mute Swan, Skylark, Buzzard, Robin and Curlew were added, with the final highlight a beautiful ringtail Hen Harrier quartering the fields behind the pit. Our species list now stood at 43 birds. On the road again, Lesser Blackback and Magpie were added, while at our next stop, Dunkirk Harbour, virtually the first bird we saw was a beautiful male Black Redstart. Elsewhere in the Harbour, we quickly added Oystercatcher and Turnstone, and would have done had we not already encountered Great Crested Grebes, which were very numerous here. Neil soon spotted three Slavonian Grebes, the first of at least ten we recorded in the harbour, while he followed up this shout with a Red-necked Grebe. Shag, Black-necked Grebe and Black-throated Diver then fell down in quick succession, and a walk/drive 6 miles along the spit on the side of the harbour revealed Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Snow Bunting, Red-breasted Merganser and more good views of Goldeneye and Slav and black-necked Grebes. Redwing was added in some coastal scrub near Dunkirk, while travelling a few miles along the coast to a pier, where we hoped to see Purple Sandpiper, didn’t work, but Eider, Brent Goose and Rock Pipit took our list up to 62 species. We then hit the road again for an hour or so, a period lightened up when Dick spotted a Crested Lark walking across the middle of the road. Chris wasn’t able to stop in time for everyone to see it (I only just woke up at that point!), but he hurriedly reversed until everyone had a brilliant side-on view of one of the rarest resident birds in Northern France! Our final stop was Platier D’oye, a reserve run by the Frecnh version of the RSPB, where we added Greylag, Barnacle, White-fronted and Canada Geese, Sparrowhawk, Snipe, two very pale Ruff, two very distant Smew (1 duck/1drake), one Dunlin, several Shoveler and finally a Water Rail scurrying along the back of one of the scrapes. 74 species and counting! Finally, in a last look around, we ventured onto the beach, where we saw House Sparrow and Great Tit in the dunes and a Redshank on the sandy beach. 77 species, not a bad showing. However, it became 79 soon after, with Gannet and Razorbill seen from the ferry as we left Calais, and I caught up with the Purple Sands seen by a few people as we entered France. Chris Lowmass’s record on one of these trips was 82, and we could easily have beaten that if it wasn’t for some terrible bloopers, including Blue Tit!!!!!, Goldfinch!!!!!!!, Linnet, Stock Dove, Little Egret, Pheasant, Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail, Wren!!!!, Stonechat, Mistle Thrush, Goldcrest, Long-tailed Tit, Jay, Rook, Greenfinch!!!!, Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting.

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