I started the New Year in the good company of friends, and the walk back over the fields in the darkness was marvellous, with a Little Owl calling in the distance.
Cobwebs needed to be blown away in the late morning, so in keeping with tradition I walked the the estate, up towards St Margarets and back along the clifftop, meeting other friends and acquaintances on the way. The tick-list of birds was similar to normal (30) including pleasing sightings of Yellowhammers, a Firecrest and a flock of 28 Skylarks. There were no Divers on the sea (remember that for later).
On the 2nd January I'm allowed to venture further afield, so with a film crew (S Ray) we drove to Pett Levels in Sussex, which has had an impressive run of good birds recently.
Clearly plenty of others had the same idea and the seawall was littered with telescopes, but we stopped at the eastern end where the densest group seemed to be. It transpired that they were not at all dense, but knowledgeable locals who had the best views of a mixed flock of Barnacle and Brent Geese, including a Black Brant (a first for me) and four Pale-Bellied Brents (also a first). Excellent!
While enjoying their good conversation we gazed idly out to sea, where a motor boat was puttering towards us, flushing Red-throated Divers in front of it........ we counted over 500 in just a few minutes, our scopes showing up to 30 at a time. So that's where all our Divers have been wintering!
A scattering of waders (Curlew, Grey and Golden Plover, Dunlin and Knot) just added to the richness of the marsh but we had to move on to see what else was around - we said thanks and farewell to the locals (including the talented blogger Cliff Dean) and walked a bit of the canal path to warm up.
Our return to Kent was timed to coincide with the return to roost of a flock of Hawfinches at Denge Wood, and when we arrived they were already in the treetops, eight of them rather than the six that I saw on New Year's Eve. They may be very scarce, but at least they are faithful to a roost site and hang around for half an hour in full view before dropping into their chosen tree, giving ample time for us to watch them. They have apparently been coming to this site since November.
What bills - it's just like cost of Christmas.
In betweentimes and at a various places, we managed to watch Tree Sparrows, White-fronted Geese, a Green Sandpiper(!) and perhaps best of all a Rough-Legged Buzzard that flew into some trees near us, giving a good look at its light-coloured tail in flight. Its head was majestic, captured well by the film crew.
Now that's the way to start the Year! And the good company was the best bit.
[PS a burst of activity on the sea off Kingsdown on the day after produced 454 divers flying north - could these have been the birds seen off Pett...... a helpful Cliff Dean suggested checking for colour-rings]