As it was a grey, overcast and rather damp morning we decided that some cover may be required. Our Wednewsday walk therefore took us to Bough Beech Reservoir and Sevenoaks KWT today.
From the causeway at Bough Beech we were surprised to see far more water than on our last visit, and a large number of birds were taking refuge here. A mixed flock of black-headed, common and herring gull gathered on the left hand side, whilst cormorants, great crested grebes, tufted duck, pochard and wigeon swam around. Large numbers of teal preened in groups along the shoreline. The greatest surprise was a group of male and female mandarin duck just visible through the murk – at least 48 were counted, but there could have been more females . I checked on their background, a rather handsome introduction from China where they are not eaten by humans (contrary to popular belief – apparently their meat tastes awful), but they have suffered habitat destruction in their original range and there are now probably more individuals in feral populations around the world than there are in China.
They are known to court in the autumn and then stay in their pairs throughout the winter, often gathering in large groups – hence our large number today. If the same partners are still alive through two breeding seasons, they typically re-form old bonds rather than establish new ones. Because of their devotion to one another, they are regarded in China and Japan as a symbol of love, happiness and marital fidelity. Aaah, sweet
Back to the walk. We moved off towards the visitor centre. Along the road a large group of fieldfares flew over and were seen again later as they fed in an orchard. Robin and greenfinch were seen by Sally and Irene along one of the garden paths whilst Malcolm and I were watching a song thrush.
The feeders were positively humming with birds; blue tits and great tits were in far too high numbers to count, constantly flitting from feeder to tree and back again. A female great-spotted woodpecker clung onto a feeder taking full advantage of her size and ability to remove peanuts. Nutchatch, marsh tit, chaffinch, goldfinch and starlings were using the seed feeders, with half a dozen female pheasants picking up the bits that fell.
Construction work is being done near the visitor centre with a new ramp to the viewing area and what appears to be a hide overlooking the pond. I look forward to seeing it when it’s open later in the year.
On to Sevenoaks and time for lunch when we arrived. As we started our afternoon wander, we bumped into Peter and David, and caught up on recent news. We decided to go off in search of goosander and bittern. In opposite directions the goosander won initially, where we also saw several snipe, moorhen, coot, lapwing, gadwall and canada geese.
At the far end of the reserve we found a robin feeding on crumbs left inside the hide (the flap had been left open to enable access) a fieldfare sat at the top of a tree and a chiffchaff fed on lichen. As we watched, Irene noticed a water rail running across a gap in the reeds.
From the Willow Hide we had rather scanty views of bittern and kingfisher, but much to Malcolm’s delight we caught up with egyptian geese! This prompted a conversation about the number of species we had seen today which were introduced – the list is surprisingly long