A lovely day out, even though it rained a little this morning. At Conyer we saw many swallow gathering on telegraph wires ready to migrate. Hundreds of house martin were feeding up high above us, chattering away to each other (presumably keeping in contact in their family groups). Surprisingly, we also found a large number of meadow pipit feeding in a field. They were jumping up from the ground, flying in formation, feeding on insects just above the ground and then disappearing into the long grass. All these amazing views were our early indication that autumn migration is now in full swing. Green woodpecker, chiffchaff, robin and wren were all heard from deep within the scrub area which provides ideal cover for passerines.
More meadow pipit were visible near the edge of the Swale. As high tide approached we had great views of large numbers of black-tailed godwit, redshank, grey plover, shelduck, avocet and dunlin. At one stage a huge flock of godwit flew up and we are sure there were bar-tailed godwit in the flock – showing a lack of wing-bar as they reeled overhead. As we sheltered from the cooling breeze in the lea of the seawall, swallow and house martin were taking the same advantage, but their priority was to feed up on the insects sheltering low over the seaweed. This gave us a great opportunity to see these long-distance migrators close up. A sparrowhawk (spotted by Irene) shot through and off towards Sheppey.
We moved off to Oare (via a stop for lunch at the Gunpowder Works) for an excellent afternoon. With improving weather we were greeted by a delightful sight. Hundreds of waders of various species, ducks, and other water birds in large flocks – they were thrilling to see! Adding to our excitement were two little tern, one flying towards us tempted a settled bird to join it and the pair flew off westwards.
Once again migration was evident with many golden plover settled on nearby islands, they were mixed with redshank, ringed plover, ruff, snipe and black-tailed godwit. Duck were represented by mallard, teal, shoveler and gadwall. Grey heron, little egret, cormorant, coot and moorhen, little grebe and many lapwing were evident around the edge of East Flood. Our attention was mainly taken by the small islands within this flood, as more golden plover, ruff, and godwit were counted. Dunlin – some still with vestiges of their black bellies – rested with their bills tucked under their wings, teasing us as to their ID on occasions.
One island held some smaller waders, however, these were little stint. I have never been able to identify this species as easily as today – they looked minute against the flock of dunlin surrounding them [their scientific name sums them up – Calidris minuta]. Their stature, obvious “white braces” along the back, and pure white clean bellies made them stand out against their larger neighbours. We found four of them within the dense flock on the nearest island. As we moved along the road, another large group of godwit held several with colour-rings – we managed to get the full colours of two of the birds, and these will be sent off as usual to the projects concerned. Nearby, Malcolm spotted another species for our day-list and another which we were delighted to see, curlew sandpiper. This is another species which are often found along the Kent coast on autumn migration. They are the size of a dunlin, looking cleaner and paler, have a white eye-stripe and with a down- curved bill. It sounds so easy when you read the identification details, but in the cold light of a Wednesday afternoon, it can take five people a lot of discussion and debating before a decision is finally made!
In addition to the above, we had two kestrel feeding overhead – they were hovering and appeared to be catching insects in the air – something I had not noticed them do before. Huge flocks of avocet were gathering on the flood before moving off as the tide receded to be found at the entrance to Faversham Creek later.
A female marsh harrier hunted over the reedbed, mute swan preened and five brent geese flew over towards Conyer – where Malcolm thought he had seen some earlier in the day before the tide pushed them from their roost.
The sunshine also brought out some butterflies and during the day we noted red admiral and comma.
Another excellent day out.