Black-necked grebe, great-crested grebe, black-headed gull, Mediterranean gull, little grebe, mute swan, greylag goose, shelduck, gadwall, shoveler, teal, pochard, tufted duck, avocet, oystercatcher, greenshank, redshank, spotted redshank (6th June), little ringed plover, wood sandpiper, whimbrel, black-tailed godwit, black-headed gull, common tern, cuckoo, barn owl, short-eared owl (in May), little owl, long-eared owl, peregrine, hobby, marsh harrier, raven, stonechat, wheatear, nightingale, Cetti's warbler, swift.
Glow worm on Pickles Way (25th June).
May and June proved to be interesting months for breeding birds at Cliffe. The principal highlight was the spectacular increase in the number of breeding Black-headed Gulls and Common Terns on the various islands in the Radar/Hidden Pools and also the southern pools or Elf/Conoco Pools. The total number of gulls was about 540 pairs with at least 190 young produced and many fledging. This represents the highest number of Black-headed Gulls to have nested at Cliffe, with an additional 80 pairs (26 young) also present at the usual main breeding site on the Alpha Pool islands. Common Terns also faired well after earlier concerns about the reduced population on the Alpha Pool due to a combination of disturbance, exposure to weather and erosion of the islands. An eventual total of about 80 pairs settled on one of the Radar Pool islands during late May/early June but only 2 chicks were seen before the number of birds dwindled. The decline was probably due to avian predation, most likely gulls and Jackdaws. The latter have breeding sites close to the breeding islands in the overlooking chalk cliffs. It would seem that during June many of the Common Terns abandoned the Radar Pool and moved elsewhere: about six pairs appeared on the Elf/Conoco Pools and 60 adults (about 30 pairs) moved back to the Alpha Pool islands. At least two pairs of Mediterranean Gulls have frequented the gull and tern colony but with no suggestion of breeding this year.
Several species of duck have remained around the reserve with a mix of non-breeders and some probably attempting to breed, especially Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Pochard. A count of 12 Teal on 26th June were probably early returning birds whilst 21 Shoveler included 19 drakes moulting into eclipse plumage. A drake Garganey was seen on 12th May. The Black Barn Pools look to be in ideal condition for breeding Pochard and a maximum count of 27 on 26th June included 9 ducks, so several broods may hopefully appear. On the other hand, 61 on the Radar Pool were virtually all drakes and no doubt summering/moulting birds. A brood of 7 young Shelduck was seen on the Ski Pool on 26th June whilst the pre-moulting flock reached 271 on 1st June before declining, a lower count than often present in recent years although other observers may have recorded more.
All five species of British owl were recorded during the Spring with a late Short-eared Owl present until at least 1st May and the presence of a pair of Long-eared Owls, plus regular Barn Owl. Tawny Owls were present in the scrubby woodland and chalk cliffs between Allen’s Hill and the lorry depot with 1-2 birds heard in April whilst a Little Owl was seen perched on top of a telegraph pole at Allen’s Hill on 26th June. Other raptors have included Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Hobby and Peregrine plus Common Buzzards on Cliffe Marsh, but Sparrowhawk has been elusive.
Waders were dominated by two species over the May/June period: Avocet and Black-tailed Godwit. However, a good passage of Wood Sandpipers, often scarce in Spring, reached an impressive 7 on a flooded marshy area near the site of the old Coastguard Cottages on 12th May, where 11 Greenshank and 3 Whimbrel were also seen. One Greenshank was singled out by a Peregrine which gave chase for several minutes before the wader escaped. Avocets have settled on many of the islands and attempted breeding with limited success, several young chicks being seen but few fledged juveniles. It would seem that either predation has affected this species too, despite the aggression of parents in their protection of young, or else the chicks have not found sufficient food. About 200 were present for most of June, a mix of roosting birds and breeding birds. A summering flock of Black-tailed Godwits numbered 256 on 7th June. Other waders included the odd Greenshank and a pair of Little-ringed Plovers in addition to Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Lapwing and Redshank which have all probably bred with varied success. A Spotted Redshank was heard calling at night on 6th June and two Bar-tailed Godwits were seen on 26th June.
For the first time I can recall, no Turtle Doves have been seen at Cliffe this year with none holding territory at Allen’s Hill, their traditional site. Nightingales have been present in the usual sites with perhaps fewer than last year although no survey conducted. At least of one pair of Stonechats have hopefully bred on the reserve and at least two Cetti’s Warblers have held territory. Ravens have frequently been seen in the Cliffe area with a pair flying off Redham Meads on 12th May, which headed off south over the reserve in the direction of Higham, and a pair on Cliffe Marshes on June 14th.
At present the Black Barn Pools are full of water but hopefully some muddy edges will start to appear in time for the return wader passage which is already underway.
Bewick’s Swan 30 – flew in to roost on the Flamingo Pool at dusk
T Duck 151
Scaup 11 (6 drakes)
Goldeneye 30 (5 drakes)
Bl/T Godwit 3,500 roosting on the islands
Tawny Owl – bird hooting at Allen’s Hill at dusk
The Shoveler were mainly on the Back Barn Pools whilst the rest of the dabbling duck were on the Radar/Hidden/Ski Pools. The diving duck were mostly on the Flamingo Pool.
Shoveler 272 (mostly on Ski Pool)
Pintail 85 (mostly Radar-Ski Pools)
Wigeon 3,400 (incredible numbers on the Radar-Ski Pools)
Gadwall 112 (Ski Pool)
Goldeneye 32 (8 drakes; Flamingo Pool)
Little Egret 8
Marsh Harrier 2
Com Buzzard 2