Our first outing of 2015 was a rather foggy affair, but that did not deter 21 people who gathered at Leysdown. As it was coming up to a high tide we decided to move down to the car park at Shellness and wander towards the high tide roost. That was not before we had seen sanderling, redshank, grey plover and turnstone though.
After a rather slow and bumpy drive we headed off towards the sea – some had time to spot stonechat on the way down the track – the bushes around the car park were providing shelter for house sparrow, robin and reed bunting, whilst a mallard of questionable background was swimming around in a pond of one of the gardens!
Birdwatching in the fog
With the blockhouse appearing out of the gloom we were rather apprehensive about our birdwatching chances but as we approached the beach the we added cormorant and dunlin.
With the tide continuing to rise we moved off towards the roost. Brent geese were just offshore and gulls flew overhead, but most things went unseen without a telescope at this stage. Those with ‘scopes peered into the gloom and reported thousands of knot, both black-tailed and bar-tailed godwit, and curlew on the roost, along with more dunlin, turnstone, redshank and grey plover. As we got closer to the roost and the fog moved around we all had reasonable views – massively enhanced when huge flocks of waders took off, swirling around and then landing again – truly a spectacle even in these conditions. Many brent geese flew overhead in search of unflooded feeding grounds on the Swale NNR. Grey seal appeared as the fog lifted on our return journey.
Video of Waders flying from the high tide roost
We decided to move on to Harty Church and see if there were any geese visible from the other end of the marshes and on the journey we passed large flocks of starling, several pied wagtail, many mute swan in nearby fields, and interestingly at least five kestrel, all preening on telegraph wires and looking rather damp in the misty air. One allowed cars to drive right underneath it and only stopped preening for a few minutes when the car actually stopped. Once we had reconvened at the car park by the barn, we moved off towards the Harty end of the Swale Marshes.
Along the treeline we found two buzzard perched high up surveying the area and causing some consternation with the mixed flock of linnet, greenfinch, chaffinch and stonechat. As Irene and followed the group of small birds she spotted a merlin chasing through the flock – no hunting luck this time, but the merlin was then seen throughout the rest of the afternoon using fence posts to watch out for unsuspecting prey.
Waders on the shore
Many lapwing were settled on the newly ploughed field and along the edges of the scrapes behind the sea wall. On the scrapes themselves there were shoveler, wigeon, curlew, and brent geese. One of the ditches held a group of little grebe. At least five marsh harriers were seen over the marshes, with three females, one juvenile and one male.
On the distant tideline there were avocet identified along with shelduck. At one stage a group of geese flew towards us and just as Ian was calling “white-fronts” they disappeared from view behind one of the mounds in the field. Sue then spotted a redwing and song thrush enjoying the weak sunlight which struggled through the fog. As we moved back to the cars Alan took one last scan of the fields and re-found the white-fronted geese, which although distant were reasonably well seen with the telescopes.
Turnstone flying past
As the light started to dim we moved off to Capel Fleet viewpoint with the hope of some harriers and owls. Before most of us had got out of the car, Ian had found a barn owl hunting over the reed beds and fields in front of the mound. We dashed up to see it and although at first it remained resolutely out of sight, it finally decided to show itself again and gave a brilliant view. Thrilled as we were with that, another delight awaited us as the barn owl spooked a short-eared owl off the ground and we had the fantastic view of two owls flying around at the same time. The short-eared owl even perched on one of the fence posts lining the road and sat perfectly perched as cars went past it. More marsh harriers and a grey heron were added here along with around 80 mute swan which were feeding in a nearby field.
Stonechat at Harty
So our first outing of 2015 was a great success with some lovely birds and great spirit in spite of the inclement weather. Here’s to Cliffe Pools on the 17th!
Thanks to Paul for leading and providing the photographs, more of which can be found on our flickr site here https://www.flickr.com/groups/2214200@N20/