For many years my usual Boxing Day routine has been bird watching somewhere in Kent with turkey sandwiches for lunch.
It was therefore with pleasure that I joined Malcolm and Sally for a walk around Sevenoaks KWT Reserve this year – needless to say there were turkey sandwiches for lunch! We started with a walk to the Willow hide where a bittern had been seen in the previous few days. on the way there a kingfisher flew out from the bank ahead of us and crossed the lake enabling us all to get good views of it’s blue and rufous plumage. On arrival at the hide we watched for some while seeing gadwall, teal, wigeon, coot, magpie, mute swan, mallard but no sign of the bittern. A green woodpecker fed on the trunk of a tree in a field just beyond the lake, and a jay fed on the ground amongst the canada geese.
We decided that we would be better employed walking the reserve rather than sitting watching reeds. As we walked we saw long-tailed tit, blue tit, lesser redpoll, siskin, several ring-necked parakeet, including a pair who appeared to be sizing up a hole in a tree as a prospective nest site. They were rubbing beaks and courting with one bird in the hole and the other perched on the trunk. As we continued blackbird, robin, wren and chaffinch were added to the list being kept by Sally.
Great-crested grebe, herring gull, black-headed gull, little grebe were all enjoying the lake. Lapwing were spooked and flew up in huge numbers swooping over the lake and ourselves.
After a chilly lunch taken by the reserve centre, we moved off around the lake where more water birds were seen including moorhen, egyptian geese, greylag geese, one pink-footed goose, the large lapwing flock, and at the far end of the lake I spotted a pair of mandarin duck. Four snipe were feeding in a boggy area a little way outside the hide, and as we moved on Malcolm spotted some more on a nearby island, with the telescope we counted a further 15, stoically standing on the edge of the island with their plumage giving great camouflage.
A robin sang whilst perched by the side of the path. Initially it gave the usual song so well known from our gardens, but as we stood and watched it started to give a quieter, softer call which would not have been noticed had we been further away – a delightful experience.
We decided that as the light was starting to fade we should go back to the Willow hide to give the bittern one last chance. On the way we heard a couple of song thrush and spotted one on a branch of a nearby tree, it is some time since I saw or heard one this year, although mistle thrush have been easier to find.
We sat in the hide watching and waiting, scanning the reeds with our binoculars. I scanned with the telescope, but we could see nothing. After a while Malcolm opted for the ‘scope and after several minutes he spotted the bittern, completely still but at the front of the reeds, where it had probably been all along. We all had great views of it, and I took some rather poor photos before it moved off into the reeds again.
As we sat thrilled with seeing the bittern at last, a water rail came into view – just to make our day!