Seventeen of us met up at 6am on 1st May at Cliffe church car park for our ‘dawn chorus’ walk on InternationalDawnChorusDay. To be honest, dawn was a bit earlier with sunrise at 5:30am but nevertheless as we walked down on Pickles Way we were soon surrounded by bird song.
With blackbird, robin and wren putting in their bids from the car park we quickly added starling, blackcap, whitethroat, Cetti’s and reed warbler. In the distance a cuckoo was heard – we were to get good views of one later in the morning – and chiffchaff reminded us of his name.
At the radar lake, a few black-headed gulls were greeting the morning and a song thrush with his three-note phrases was calling out from beneath the radar. We continued along the side of the cliff towards the path that runs up between the pools. There were plenty of blackcaps singing with chaffinches, wood pigeon and the distant cuckoo as backing.
Looking out across the radar pool we saw black-tailed godwit, avocet, pochard, tufted ducks, little egret, teal, greenshank, greylag geese, oystercatcher and lapwings with their lovely display flights and calls. Also displaying were several pairs of great-crested grebes.
It was from the second ‘lookout’ on the radar lake that we heard our first of several nightingales singing. This one was following ‘normal nightingale protocols’ and signing from well within a hawthorn bush out of sight. But further along, a couple of birds clearly had not had the usual ‘briefing’ and were singing out in full view and all the group got good views as we listened to their virtuoso performances.
A pair of linnets popped up to watch us watching them with the male puffing out his lovely pink breast as if to say, “listen to me too”!
Out on Cliffe creek were several whimbrel and avocets feeding on the exposed mud banks. Looking back across ‘flamingo’ pool we eventually all got ‘on’ some ringed plovers skulking in the undergrowth at the edge of the water. We were to see why they had to be good at hiding, when a male sparrowhawk unsuccessfully swooped low over them and came to rest on a nearby post giving us all good views. A buzzard was also seen perching nearby looking for a meal.
The dominate bird song now moved to whitethroat, and then skylark and sedge warbler – surely the sounds of summer. And to prove the season was coming a few swallows were skimming over the pools.
As we walked back along Mead Walk (away from the Thames eventually heading towards the Black barn) we saw a lovely male Wheatear running around near the sheep and stonechats watching from nearby vantage points. Some of us had almost got to the viewing mounds when we were urgently called back along the track. A ring ouzel had been spotted! This was working a small patch of short grass behind some low scrub and we all eventually got good views, even if the intervening vegetation prevented anything more than some ‘record’ shots.
With the day’s tally was mounting up towards 70 bird species a few ‘missing’ birds were requested. And from the final viewpoint we managed to add lesser whitethroat, dabchick & ruff with further views of kestrel and an enigmatic green woodpecker call to finish the walk.
The whole trip eventually got 74 bird species, with 4 butterfly species, including some lovely orange and brown Wall butterflies, with loads of hawthorn and ‘St Mark’s’ flys. However, we had spent rather longer than expected with our walk taking 6 hours to complete leaving some of us definitely flagging/arching by the end. (My apologies for that!) This meant that our intended breakfast visit to Buckland café, (now the PurePlanet Café), became a very much deserved and overdue brunch instead!
Finally, for next year, we vowed as well as trying to make it in time for breakfast, we would get up an hour earlier to start ahead of the sunrise, so please be ready for a 5am start next year!
Thank you to all those who came today and to Steve and Sam for the photos.
Trip report by Paul Yetman