Fourteen met at Oare car park for our walk. The strong breeze did make walking and hearing birds a bit of a challenge and telescopes were shaking at times, but the sun shone and we had a good day with some great birds.
We started off at the slipway – it’s always exciting to peek over the sea wall to see what’s on the other side. Today the tide was just past high tide and birds were starting to feed on the small areas that the tide had left uncovered. Our first spot was a lone knot, hunkered down with its head tucked in and seemingly oblivious to our presence but just a glimpse of its eye showed every so often, as it made sure we didn’t stray too close.
Several turnstone were feeding on the rocks at the top of the sand, finding lots to eat in the rocks at the base of the seawall.
There were large numbers of common redshank feeding whilst brent geese bobbed on the river, these later started to feed on the freshly uncovered vegetation. Curlew called as they flew in to feed on the mud and some saw a rock pipit amongst the salt marsh vegetation. Pied wagtail, greylag geese, mute swan and shelduck added to our water-bird tally, while a close encounter with a kestrel thrilled us as it soared and swooped around us, aided by the strong wind.
As we followed the sea wall path westwards, there were several pairs of stonechat moving between clumps of bramble and reeds as they chased one another. Tufted duck were among several species in a pool inside the sea wall. As we continued towards Dans Dock, large mixed flocks of goldfinch and linnet circled around us, settled in bushes nearby only to move off again and gave another spectacular display. Stock dove fed on the fields alongside a large number of curlew. As we watched more curlew flew in, finally settling along the edge of a large flooded area of pasture. This flooded area is probably providing a new feeding station to hungry birds who need wet ground and mud to feed in. Several skylark flew overhead and started to sing and display – an early spring gift from nature! On the return we added several meadow pipit to our days list.
Lunch called and we took a break in beautiful sunlight but still with that strong breeze – lunchbox lids were flying but we still had the east flood and creek to explore.
Heading east, 171 avocet (yes, we counted them) were feeding on the spit. Seals were starting to haul up on Horse Sands whilst looking to Castle Coote there were teal, wigeon, oystercatcher and redshank feeding. As the tides recede many birds come to this area – it is a vital feeding station for birds throughout the year especially when on migration.
We had great views of a black-tailed godwit feeding next to a bar-tailed godwit. They were both in their winter plumage the bar-tailed showing a superb white/grey/black scalloped and streaked back, while the black-tailed had a plainer, smooth plumage on the back. It was easy to see the differences between them and make a certain identification – confirmed when they turned and we could see both tails. Unfortunately they were just a little too far away to capture with a camera.
The east flood has had extremely high water levels this autumn and winter which has left only one reasonable island for birds to roost on. Normally we would see several hundred godwit on various islands and shallow areas, but today there were no godwit at all on the flood, presumably because the only real area of land available had already been taken by pintail, lapwing, sleeping mallard and teal, and several cormorant drying their wings. Other ducks were enjoying the higher water level, with many pintail, mallard, teal, gadwall, tufted duck and shoveler feeding and starting their courtship display. A common gull and a grey heron were also on the island. At one point a marsh harrier flew over and spooked the lapwing, we then realised how many were hidden along the side of the flood and our count doubled at least.
Moving over towards the west flood we scanned the area by the road and found blue tit, robin, collared dove and blackbird. Further west large flocks of starling, jackdaw and carrion crow were gathering over the fields before going to their evening roost. We met a photographer who had his camera set up on a tripod waiting for a barn owl to appear – at this point we realised that the path was impassable with thick mud and water so we decided to leave him to his task and return to the road, scanning regularly behind us just in case a barn owl did appear. Sadly not on this occasion.
From the road we were a lot nearer the birds on the island and were able to find a common snipe. Some of the group saw a kingfisher as it flew swiftly along one of the ditches surrounding the pool.
One of the redshank was a colour-ringed bird the group saw on our Reculver walk. This sighting has been reported, to add to the information on the individual. On our previous sighting we received a reply from the Swale ringing project which can be read here:
Below is a picture of the bird showing colour-rings and with a blue flag on the left leg. Its good to see it is moving around, feeding with other redshank, and looking healthy.
Thanks to everyone who joined our walk and to Steve for his excellent photographs. Despite the cruel wind, we definitely made the most of the day.