12th March 2012 – North Kent Marshes & Isle of Sheppey
I picked up my client, a birder on holiday from New York, and we drove east into the rising sun to our first stop of the day, Oare Marshes in Kent. The tide was out when we arrived and the exposed mud of the estuary was being utilised by a good number of Common Redshank, Grey (Black-bellied) Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, a few Eurasian Curlew and Pied Oystercatcher and a couple of Pied Avocet, whilst the local Black-headed Gulls were starting to form pair bonds and defend their territories. On the Marsh-side of the sea- wall there were several Eurasian Skylark, a couple of which sat still for long enough to get decent views through the ‘scope, good numbers of Stock Dove and a Rock Pipit whizzed past. There were still numerous Common Teal on the marsh, but Eurasian Wigeon numbers had reduced dramatically since the trip on 28th February 2012. We walked around the west flood to begin with and had brief views of Common Buzzard across the Swale (the name given to this channel of water) and a distant but distinctive flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese also on the other side of the water. Passerines included several Reed Bunting and Meadow Pipit in addition to the Skylarks. The cottages at the south-western end of the marsh held a selection of common garden birds, including Common Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Great Tit, European Greenfinch, Common Blackbird and Dunnock. The circular walk around back to the road was however, very quiet, with only a Great Spotted Woodpecker of any note. Once back on the road, and back on the marshes, the east flood walk started to produce birds again. However, our sunny start had given way to a large fog bank, making visibility decidedly murky. The east flood held a variety of duck species including Tufted Duck, Common Pochard, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, and Gadwall in addition to those we had already seen. Sadly a small national influx of Garganey into the southern UK in the previous couple of days, had not delivered one here. Waders were also noticeably absent from the flood (possibly this was tide related, though) with only a few Northern Lapwing and Common Snipe and a solitary Black-tailed Godwit. Faversham creek held a number of wader species that we had already seen including a large flock of Pied Avocet and a few Bar-tailed Godwit and Dunlin, but the fog prevented us seeing across the Swale. A Bearded Tit was heard calling and we saw several Meadow Pipit and several more Reed Bunting and heard at least one Cetti’s Warbler singing on the way back to the car.
Following an early lunch of Fish & Chips, we walked along the shore on the north of the Isle of Sheppey from Leysdown towards Shellness Point. There were plenty of Ruddy Turnstone on the beach and a few Great Ringed Plover, including a bird which was still showing a lot of juvenile plumage and had us both consulting the field-guide just to make sure. A couple of Sanderling were also present as well as a small flock of Dunlin. The main spectacle was at the furthest point from the car where we came across a roosting flock of several hundred Pied Oystercatcher – a very impressive sight, with a couple of dozen Bar-tailed Godwit on the outside of the flock.
We then went down to the Raptor Viewpoint near Harty Ferry. On the way we had a couple a female Marsh Harrier and a flock of fifty or so European Greater White-fronted Geese flew onto the flash. Sadly they were distant, and the now annoying fog, made looking for any other geese in with them nigh on impossible. At the Raptor Watchpoint we saw a very obliging Short-eared Owl which remained sitting on the same post for the duration or out visit, while another one was chasing the various Western Marsh Harriers and one of the two female Hen (Northern) Harrier we saw, off its feeding area. There was another flock of European Greater White-fronted Geese on the field with the Greylag Geese (a little closer than the previous flock) and several Red-legged Partridge were seen.
Our final site of the day was Northward Hill RSPB Reserve. European Goldfinch were there to greet us on the feeders as were a number of Chaffinch and Dunnock. A quick walk around just the scrub area gave us plenty of flight views of Rook, whilst we witnessed the sight of several hundred Eurasian Jackdaw heading off to roost in the woods. After hearing them calling all around us, a Green Woodpecker eventually showed itself and we also had good views of a flock of 80+ Fieldfare and a few Redwing. We finished off the day with a pair of Mistle Thrush perched just by the side of the road as we left the Reserve. In total 82 species were logged for the day, with the best birds being the impressive flock of Oystercatcher and the obliging Short-eared Owl, though I personally also like looking at White-fronted Geese. It was just a shame about the fog!