On a blustery and damp day thirteen of us met to explore this hidden gem tucked away just north of Sevenoaks and south of the M26. The reserve is based around several large lakes, left over from gravel workings in the last century and includes areas of varied woodland and open fields. The river Darent threads its way through the lakes although today it was more of a torrent than a stream having been swollen by all the recent rain.
We set off to the ‘mound’ overlooking East lake and quickly realised the islands that are usually a good source of many waders were mostly under water! However, we did find great-crested grebe, lapwing, teal and tufted duck together with a glimpse of a snipe.
We continued back to West Lake, where a pair of tufted duck were braving the elements, and then on to North Lake. Here we had a good view of some six grey heron nests but the only visible occupant was a female mallard that looked like it might be sitting on eggs. One of our keen-eyed members saw a female sparrowhawk in a tree at the far side of the lake. We watched this spectacular bird as it preened and then moved perch a couple of times to give us excellent views of its front and rear. Whilst watching the sparrowhawk a couple of grey heron flew in and finally took up residence on nests.
A short walk took us to Willow Hide, overlooking the attractively named Snipe Bog Lake! Here we found shoveler and canada geese.
Leaving Willow Hide we continued along the north side of East Lake with excellent views of long-tailed tit, pochard and a precocious Robin (that ignored the mealworms on offer) also goldcrest and a pair of common gull.
Reaching the field at the end of East Lake we enjoyed the sight of many birds feeding including large numbers of carrion crow and more canada geese, accompanied by the raucous notes from jackdaw. In the far trees we also spotted fieldfare and one redwing. A Buzzard did a fly-past and was later spotted perched in the far trees.
It was now time for lunch so we returned along the North and West shores of East Lake to the visitor centre.
After lunch our targets were the hides situated along the southern edge of East Lake. We returned to the ‘mound’ and picked out a couple of mediterranean gull among a flock of black-headed and herring gulls. In Tyler hide a snipe was spotted as well as gadwall and wigeon. There were rumours that a caspian gull had been seen here which prompted a long debate that continued for the length of East Lake about how to tell caspian laucous from other gulls – in spite of the combined knowledge of the group and references to various guides the results were inconclusive. It was generally agreed that gulls are difficult!
We progressed to Sutton hide, where several of the group were fascinated by the antics of a rather well-built fisherman dressed in bright orange plumage (species unknown); and Slingsby hide which provided excellent views of a wren foraging in the undergrowth alongside a rabbit busily munching the long grass.
Finally it was time to return to the Visitor Centre, and on the way we had better views of goldcrest a dunnock and finally, a song thrush posed for us by the car park.
Our list for the day totalled 51 species, not bad considering the conditions, and we were serenaded by blue and great tit pretty much throughout the day, which was lovely to hear, maybe a sign of spring?
Thanks to all who attended, and to Steve for the photographs – not an easy day to get such lovely images.
Ed: Thanks to Jim and Claire for leading with such aplomb!