Feb 182016

A large group met in the car park at Cliffe on Sunday morning.   Amazing, given the weather forecast the day before which was for rain all day.   It could not have been different; although cold, we had a bright day with sunshine and when we could get out of the wind it was mild.

Our start from the Salt Lane car park was not that encouraging, with only a few birds on the first pool.  We did, however, find coot, tufted duck, pochard, great crested grebe and greylag geese.  Sally noted a small grebe on the side of the pool, preening.  After much debate and speculation, it took to the water and revealed itself to be a little grebe.   Strange, how a bird we know and recognise immediately on the water gave such an identification problem when on land!

In the distance, towards Bretts, a huge group of lapwing were soaring and dipping.   We watched for a while trying to find a raptor which might have disturbed them, but with no luck.

The tide was almost at its lowest point, so the chance of large groups of waders on Flamingo Pool would be slim, however we walked along with dunnock, blackbird, wren and blue tit in the scrubby edges of the path.   Wood pigeon were perched high in the trees.

More lapwing were roosting on the islands in Radar pool.   Marsh harrier and common buzzard were hunting near the Black Barn.    Further towards the river there were several goldeneye, including handsome males which were displaying – throwing their heads back and calling to impress the ladies (very appropriate for Valentines Day!) a real highlight.

"Bewick's Swans at Cliffe" picture by Terry Robson

“Bewick’s Swans at Cliffe” picture by Terry Robson

Another great sighting was of Bewick’s swan, a group of seven at the far end of Flamingo pool – thanks to Ian for picking them up so quickly.   Behind the swan there was a little egret and a greenshank – it had colour rings of Green/Orange on the left leg and White/Orange on right leg – this is a regular bird at Cliffe so much so, it has been given the nickname of “Billy Boy” after Bill Jones who ringed the bird at Kingsnorth.   I have sent the details off and will report back when I get more information.

"Watching the Bewick's Swans and the Goldeneye" picture by Terry Robson

“Watching the Bewick’s Swans and the Goldeneye” picture by Terry Robson

As we proceeded towards Cliffe Creek and the River we had closer views of the swans – until they were spooked and flew off, giving us a great flypast.   A pair of stonechat were perched in a bramble clump, chasing each other around and a snipe flushed from the edge of the pool as the group moved along the path.

Although the tide had started to turn when we arrived at the seawall, there was still a lot of mud, and bird-less mud at that!    A few black-headed gulls were washing and bobbing about, and then Chas spotted the one and only avocet of the day.   A few teal were also to be found by Bretts’ jetty.   On the creek there were redshank and curlew, with more black-headed gull.

"Avocet at Cliffe" picture by Terry Robson

“Avocet at Cliffe” picture by Terry Robson

After viewing for a while, we returned to the car park.   On the way, Jackie was asking Sally what creature lived in the large holes along the bank of a nearby pool.   With a telescope Malcolm was able to find a water vole latrine outside one of the holes – a great example of good wildlife detective work.

Some people left us at this point and the rest of us moved to Northward Hill where a second group were waiting.   After a quick lunch we were off again, this time to look for siskin, which had been spotted from the car park.   As we scanned the trees we found a mixed flock around a feeder with chaffinch, blue tit, great tit, goldfinch, greenfinch and long-tailed tit.   As we moved to get a closer look, Sally spotted a siskin flying over.   We scanned the Alders and found another siskin, and then – just as Malcolm said “look out for redpoll” – redpoll were seen.   In the end, we seemed to be looking at a group of redpoll with a couple of siskin, but as they were moving continuously, it was hard to count.

As we approached Gordon’s hide we saw marsh harrier over the reedbeds, from the hide there were teal, pochard, wigeon, three pied wagtail and more great views of marsh harriers, at one stage we had two in the air and two perched on fence posts!

We just had time to take a look at the heronry, and made our way along the muddy path.   As we approached the field below the wood where the herons traditionally nest, we spotted seven grey herons standing along one of the ditches.   A couple more flew in whilst we stood watching.

Rooks were flying around and at one stage a rather strange bird appeared – it was a bird of prey but despite our watching for a long time and debating what it wasn’t, we could not make up our minds what it actually was!   Needless to say, it was not the sea-eagle reportedly escaped from Eagle Heights as it was nowhere near big enough.  So a case of the one that got away.

Thank you to Malcolm, Sally, Irene, and Alan for their help, to all those who attended on what turned out to be a lovely day and to Terry for his great photographs.

See you next time.