Thursday 27 May 1915, New Romney


By arrangement I met Austen (the other ‘Watcher’) at the Grand Hotel, Littlestone and he took me to the Kentish plovers’ breeding grounds. We saw a few of these delightful little waders feeding on the vast expanse of sand. Save that they are smaller, more ‘puffy’ and not so brightly marked, they are very like the common ringed plover. In some ways they are not so handsome as their commoner relative, but they are undeniably attractive little fellows and it gave me great pleasure to meet with them again. The last time I visited the breeding grounds of this species was in Japan!.


Austen only showed me one lot of eggs. They were two in number, rather dark in colouration and laid on the edge of one of the shingle ridges. Their owner did not seem to mind the intrusion very much, for, after flying round one or twice, the female made off and left us severely alone.


According to my companion, in hot sunny weather the various birds found nesting on the open shingle will leave their eggs for hours together, the rays of the sun and heated stones being no doubt an effective substitute for the warmth of their own bodies. In cold, particularly in wet, weather, Austen  says the birds were always much more anxious to return to their eggs and it was therefore easier to find their nests under such conditions.


Later in the afternoon, I was lucky enough to watch another ‘Kentish’ onto her eggs. Whereas the first two eggs were deposited on the bare shingle without the merest pretence of a nest, and indeed without even a decent ‘scrape’, this second lot had quite a respectable ‘cradle’; if a few bits of bent arranged in a shallow cavity can be so called. In this case the eggs were normal in colour and number, the full clutch in this species always being three.


Last year, Austen knew of 16 nests; this season, including the one I found, about 12 or 13. He considers the number of pairs to be about the same and thinks he has not yet found all the nests. He told be he had seen a fair number of ‘sooty’ (black) terns this spring. They pass only on the vernal migration.


There are immense numbers of starlings in this district and all the possible nesting sites appear to be occupied by pairs of these birds. Just now these are very busily engaged in supplying the wants of their ravenous families. To my mind there is something very ‘summery’ and comforting about the murmurous, purring clamour of these drab-coloured fledglings. Their voices are raised immediately they perceive, or perhaps hear, their glossy-coated parents returning from the marshlands with bruised, limp leatherjackets clasped in their yellow bills.


In the early morning the overworked males indulge in a little music by way of recreation. I hear the father, of the family that has so successfully white-washed the wall of the outhouse opposite my window, as soon as I wake in the morning. He sits on the chimney but three yards away, indulging in a variety of heterogeneous sounds, among which his favourite appears to be the croak of a moorhen followed by the rollicking cry of the nesting peewit – sure evidence these of the marshy character of his feeding grounds. And then there is the sturnine whistle, a sound emitted with the yellow bill widely open. The pointed throat feathers are loosely puffed out, showing purple and green reflections in the sunlight while as his musical ardour waxes stronger he flaps his wings with a forward, pawing movement.


This spring, I have twice heard song thrushes singing from the ground. In all probability this is not a very unusual circumstance. At this excitable season their song is always very vigorous and often seems to be the passionate expression of their sexual emotions. Nevertheless one is accustomed to have it uttered from rather more exalted positions.


Linnets may often be observed pecking at the crowsfoot – now in full bloom on most of the dykes. The floating network of leaves of this plant appears to be ample support for the weight of these birds. Linnets seem very fond of coastal districts and some are now nesting in the privet bushes growing in front of the houses at Littlestone, separated from the sea by a road and a narrow strip of shingle only.










 A pair of wrynecks have their nest in the trunk of a white poplar on the Littlestone Road. I saw one of the birds at the mouth of the hole, whence it was evidently calling to its mate, kee kee kee. The answer came from a neighbouring garden in much the same key, so it is safe to assume that the familiar cry is common to both sexes.



[1] The Kentish plover, a summer migrant, is extinct in Britain as a breeding bird - its last stronghold was Dungeness.

[2] Ingram studied birds in Japan in 1907.

[3] Ingram added at the foot of the page, ‘I have found this to be quite correct, July 4th 1915.’

[4] Sturnine – pertaining to a starling, in this case the starling’s own contribution to its song.

[5] The wryneck, a small summer migrant related to the woodpeckers, is now extinct or almost so in Britain as a breeding bird. The journal includes a sketch of a young wryneck, obviously taken temporarily from its hole – a practice definitely not approved of today!



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