It is never easy to leave a comfortable bed at 4 o’clock in the morning to go on a dawn chorus walk, but myself and nine others stealed ourselves and were rewarded with a memorable start to the day. This year’s dawn chorus took place 3 weeks later in the season than that from last year, so the sky was already brightening with pink pastel hues by the time we left the car park at Cliffe parish church. Down Pickering Way we were greeted with a low mist and breaking sun together with cuckoo calling nearby. After a few minutes we had located them and had views of cuckoo silhouetted against an orange sky. We took our time here, gradually building up the bird songs we could hear: blackcap, whitethroat, chiffchaff, reed warbler, goldfinch, a extremely vocal song thrush, dunnock, great tit, pheasant, blackbird, chaffinch, wren, wood pigeon and possible stock dove.
By the time we reached the first viewpoint across the pools the sun as already up. From here we could see the large nesting colony of black-headed gulls. As we moved further round we saw a few Mediterranean gulls, a nesting colony of avocet, some common terns, oystercatchers, godwit, redshank, little egret, lapwing, ringed plover . There were also great swarms of midges around (note to oneself – take insect repellent). On the water we picked out shelduck, tucked duck, pochard, garganey, great-crested grebe, coot and moorhen.
As we moved up the path that bisects the pools we picked out approx 5 singing nightingales, with one surprisingly obliging and singing in full view – lovely to see. We also picked out the rattle of a lesser whitethroat.
We eventually made it to the seawall. The tide was out and large numbers of avocets were feeding on the exposed mudbanks. A Wall butterfly captured our attention – a lovely orange butterfly with brown speckles – which true to its name was using the seawall to warm up.
Here some of our party returned back the way we had come while the rest continued along the seawall, eventually turning inland to come back via the ‘black barn’. The former party saw lesser whitethroat and heard and saw turtle dove – which is fantastic news! (don’t forget our talk this Thursday will be about ‘Operation Turtle dove – saving a species on the brink’ – starting at 7:30pm).
The latter group were also no less treated. We had a close encounter with a short-eared owl and then heard the unmistakable reeling of a grasshopper warbler. This was singing from a section of long grass, close to where the owl had been previously, however we did not managed to locate it. Up again on the seawall, we saw a lonely whimbrel standing amongst the rocks and seaweed – it was surprisingly easy to lose! No water voles this time, but plenty of marsh frogs, some swallows, herons, and a pair of marsh harriers being mobbed by waders. Our day, started as it ended with further splendid views of cuckoos, now in full sunlight and a delight to watch and we picked up skylark, meadow pipit, green woodpecker and stonechat.
And then finally back home for a well deserved cup of tea and brunch!
Wish you were there? Join us for our next trip which is to Rye Harbour on 22 May.