Twenty of us gathered in the car park at Sevenoaks today for Sue & Cliff’s debut as walk leaders, and what a great job they did! With all the recent rain, it was no surprise to find that access to various parts of the reserve was restricted with Carter Hide under water and much of the track to the north of the reserve closed off. Sue and Cliff had done their homework however, and planned to utilise our time to best advantage.
As always we started in the car park and had soon noted blue and great tit, goldfinch, a few magpie, and black-headed gull. The first stop on our walk was at the viewing mound at the south-west corner of East Lake. It was immediately obvious just how much higher than normal water levels are at present, with many of the smaller islands completely underwater. There were the usual greylag geese, canada geese, tufted duck, teal, and cormorant. Irene found a group of snipe sheltering in front of a small clump of sedge. Flocks of lapwing took to the air as they disturbed, only to re-settle back on the small pieces of land still visible where the males are already starting the display with heads down, tails up revealing their chestnut vents, then heading towards other males in mock charge.
Over our heads a flock of siskin fed on alder, hanging upside down as they dislodged the seeds and then moving to the next cluster of seeds. We watched them going about their day for quite a while, delighting in the beautiful lemon yellow hue of the male and the streaking of the females as they carried out their trapeze acts above us. At one stage I thought I saw a redpoll, but it was simultaneously lost and found in the binoculars! A group of long-tailed tit moved in and followed the siskin, again feeding as they went.
A great-spotted woodpecker landed on a nearby tree, then just as quickly disappeared – we did see two more later in the day. A jay was next to appear, only showing us its back and tail from a shaded branch, but when it flew the blue flash and pink body was unmistakeable. As we continued towards Willow Hide a pair of goldcrest and a treecreeper were seen – I never cease to be pleased when I see one with the beautiful clean white belly and that scimitar shaped bill. Soon after, a pair of robin virtually begged for food, following the group along the path, stopping when we stopped and sitting above us singing to attract our attention. My dried mealworms were a particular hit with them.
We viewed the birds from the hide which included a pair of grey heron, standing side by side like bookends – one looking left and the other right. More teal and greylag geese were joined here by good numbers of gadwall and some tufted duck. Two dunnock were feeding amongst the brambles near the hide and we watched as they moved along the side of the swollen River Darent. The small bridge leading to the hide showed off the flooding well as the river was about three times its usual width here and the water level was only a few inches below the bridge. We could only continue for a short way before the path was completely blocked by water – even those in wellingtons were keen to turn back.
Two Egyptian geese flew over making a distinctive noise as they did so. Along the river we found a great-crested grebe in the fast moving river, which was churned up and carrying silt. It is hard to see how it would find any food in such a situation. Further along a song thrush called, and some of the group saw wren as we returned to the visitor centre.
Lunch was shared with the local robin who seemed to particularly like the crumbly linseed and oat bread I had with me. Our afternoon session started at the Tyler Hide where we had another chance to survey the swollen lake – water was lapping ever closer to the hide, with hardly any birds on the soggy ground – most had taken either to the reduced islands or the water. More snipe were visible here, and even more lapwing were seen. A kingfisher shot through giving a brilliant view of its orange and blue plumage for those lucky enough to spot it!
Tower hide next, and here were good numbers of pochard, most of which were sleeping. Alan spotted a pair of mandarin duck at the back of the lake, but there was no sight of the reported goosander. We continued along to the Slingsby hide but added no more species to our list.
By now the weather was changing, with grey skies and an increasing breeze it was time to go home.
Thanks to all who came to support this outdoor walk, but special thanks to Sue and Cliff for leading with such aplomb. See you all at Shellness on the 16th February