Finders-in-the-Field: Crag Martin, Kingsdown, Kent

Crag Martin, Kingsdown, Kent, (© Steve Reynaert)

On Saturday afternoon, Heather Chantler and I were standing outside Kingsdown Post Office waiting to post a parcel, when I received a call from John Cantelo, who had just spoken with a friend of his Alan Cooke. Alan had been walking on the old Rifle Butts at the base of the chalk cliffs at the bottom of the village about an hour before and had seen a hirundine that he described as dark brown above, paler below, but without the breast band of a Sand Martin. He wasn’t absolutely positive but wondered if it could be a Crag Martin and wanted someone to check it out. John rang me as we live in the village.

We quickly made our way to The Rifle Butts, or undercliffe, as we generally call it and walked south along the 700 metres of the old shooting range, all the time checking for anything amongst the returning Fulmars. We got to the end of the wall and continued further along the beach as far as the incoming tide would allow. Nothing.

Crag Martin, Kingsdown, Kent, (© Mike Gould)

We turned around and headed back. We had walked almost back to the start we I saw a hirundine come out from the cliff face, circle round and disappear over the top. A few seconds later it reappeared and we were able to confirm it was a Crag Martin! The first for Kent. Panic set in as the mobile phone signal can be intermittent at best and sure enough, dead. To make matters worse, someone started to fly a drone along the cliff, exactly where the bird was. Heather ran off to a) stop the drone and b) get a signal to get the news out. Fortunately, she managed to do both.

Crag Martin, Kingsdown, Kent, (© Steve Reynaert)

I stayed to keep the bird in view, whilst trying to get some photos. Shortly afterwards, Brendan Ryan, John Cantelo, Richard Heading, Gerald Segelbacher and Jack Chantler arrived and were all soaking up the bird as it continued to feed actively in front of us, perching on the flint nodules, where it could ‘scoped. As the afternoon progressed, more birders arrived, many having been watching the Eastern Yellow Wagtail at Worth. The bird spent more time resting on the flint, obviously looking for a suitable place to roost, which it did as darkness fell.

The bird was still present the next morning to the assembled crowd and after a brief flight along the cliff, headed off south at 0730 and was lost to view. It was not relocated. Richard Heading and I walked the clifftop to St Margaret’s Bay, but with no success.

Crag Martin, Kingsdown, Kent, (© Steve Reynaert)

However, mid-morning on Monday 23 November, the bird reappeared on the same area of chalk cliff and performed well for the rest of the day.

The question is….where did it go for a day?

The bird has continued to show to Wednesday 25 November.

There was quite a lot of online chatter about it being the Orkney bird, but analysis of photos of both has shown then to be different individuals.


Nigel Jarman


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