Waking up at 4am is not everyone’s idea of weekend enjoyment but that was 9 of us did last Sunday to enjoy the dawn chorus at Cliffe Pools RSPB reserve.
With sunrise at 5:30am it was still a dark gloom as we listened to our first songster of the day: a mistle thrush singing from the tops of telegraph poles and gravestones in the church yard. As we left the last few houses along Pond Hill we spotted a couple of small (we guessed) pipistrelle bats still out flying around the oak trees.
It was a dank cold start to the day so this year we were not going to be treated to a glorious sunrise over the marshes. However the birds still put in a good effort. Wren was followed by a faint cuckoo then rapidly joined by song thrush, robin, blue tit, great tit, woodpigeon and chaffinch. Was that a snatch of nightingale in the distance? We made our way towards the “radar pool”; the gull colony was waking up with the calls of many black headed gulls as they flew off for a day’s foraging. However, our first “nightingale” was another song thrush which doing a good impression of a nightingale. But as we listened more we heard the richer tones of a genuine nightingale. Both were singing from the same area of shrubs and it appeared the song thrush was trying to mimic some of the phrases of the nightingale but as the latter began to warm up it showed its true singing prowess.
We moved off along the track between the pools. A scan of the black-headed gull colony eventually picked out a few Mediterranean Gulls with their jet black hoods and dark red bills. Oystercatchers were calling and further along we found Avocets feeding in the shallow waters.
Meanwhile the dawn chorus was transitioning into morning song. We heard a total of 5 nightingales singing along the pathway plus blackcap, whitethroat, goldfinch and linnet. At least two of these nightingales did not appear to have read of ‘rule book’ and were singing out in the open as Steve’s photograph shows. It was a real privilege to be able to watch this master songster performing.
Looking out over Higham creek we found a solitary black-tailed godwit in superb rusty summer plumage, plus curlew and shelduck. Further along the sea wall, resting on seaweed on the waterline was a whimbrel which afforded good views for everyone, before departing with its characteristic three whistle call.
Turning our attention back inland our eagle eyed party found red-legged partridge, and our first glimpse of the cuckoo that we had been hearing throughout the morning. We later caught up with a pair of cuckoos and got some excellent views as they rested in trees, no doubt marking where the local meadow pipits or reed warblers were nesting.
Walking back towards the ‘black barn’ we saw and heard sedge warblers, and managed to distinguish reed warbler, saw more whitethroat, caught up with wheatears and some of us even got good views of a lesser whitethroat. I also got my first swallow (or ten) of the season hunting for insects around the horses in the pasture.
From the viewing mould we added tufted duck, gadwall and teal. And after much debate we settled on identifying a pair of small waders as little ringed plovers, courtesy of their dark bill, pink legs & yellow eye ring.
We returned to our cars shortly after 10am looking forward to breakfast but with a good day’s worth of birdwatching and listening already achieved!