On a cold, frosty morning 14 group members met up to see what was about. The sun shone brightly throughout our visit which contrasted with the dull weather we have been having recently and meant that the birds were very active and showed well. The reserve consists mainly of a series of flooded areas where in the past chalk had been extracted for the now defunct cement works that had been here. There are various paths that dissect the site providing a lightly wooded habitat for wildlife. Water levels in the pools varies from very deep to shallow where the pools have been used to dispose of dredgings from the river.
On Crystal Pool adjacent to the car park were great crested and little grebe, redshank and a solitary pochard plus the usual ducks and coots. (Some also saw a greenshank, but this remained elusive for me). Along the path to the Pinnacle some of the smaller birds; great and blue tits, dunnock, robin and several blackbirds and redwing feeding mainly in the ivy. The panoramic view from the Pinnacle was quite special with the whole reserve bathed in sunshine.
Radar Pool was lively with shelduck, teal, pintail, shoveler, tufted and mallard either feeding or sunning themselves. But the golden eye were special with the males displaying throwing their heads back and crying out to the females; they didn’t seem as impressed as we were! Lapwing were there in good numbers with golden plover among them. Further along the path on Flamingo Pool were large flocks of dunlin which suddenly took off swirling and twisting in a magnificent murmuration showing firstly grey and then white as the sun caught them. A stunning sight. We then saw a peregrine the reason that all the birds had taken to the skies and although it appeared to stoop it was unsuccessful. The birds were further unsettled by a marsh harrier drifting lazily by with a perched kestrel observing the scene.
There were also grey plover, avocets, little egret, redshank and possible godwit feeding in the shallows with pied wagtail and meadow pipits on the bank. A lone stonechat was nice to see; also pheasant, magpie and flocks of crows. Great black-backed gulls were standing around, they always look so menacing to me, with herring and black-headed gulls also about. The tide was well in when we got to the sea wall so little to see apart from large numbers of avocets on the Essex bank. Gulls drifted on the river, including a lesser black-backed gull, and a lone cormorant flew by.
We then retraced our steps back to the car park for lunch, observed by a heron flying by and a hovering kestrel. Although some went on to Northward Hill after lunch, (or Northfleet to see waxwing!) I went home. But for us all an excellent morning birdwatching with around 45 species seen by the group and the truly amazing murmuration of dunlin.
Happy New Year to everyone!
Thanks to Jeff for leading and the report. Thanks to Steve and Terry for the photographs.