Those of you who attend our regular meetings will know that Jeff has asked for contributions to the website, so here goes.
I regularly walk with friends on a Wednesday, and yesterday was a superb example of what you can see just by being in the right place at the right time. We had decided to go to Margate to try to see purple sandpiper, a species which I had not had good views of for some years. As we walked along the seafront east of Cliftonville we were delighted to see fulmar swooping and gliding in their distinctive fashion with wings straight and beady eyes which seemed to be aimed in our direction. Such great views brought back evocative memories for Paul when he had seen them in their huge colonies in Scotland.
Even though there were several dogs being walked along the beach there were turnstone, redshank, herring gull and black-headed gull and at the far end of the beach over 30 brent geese. As we re-traced our steps to walk eastwards towards Botany Bay we met up with some other members of the Gravesend group who also regularly walk on Wednesdays – friendly rivalry adds to our morning and we are soon all walking towards the ‘purple sandpiper patch’. Along the cliffs we gradually notice more fulmar, and have great telescoped views of birds on the cliff ledges starting to look for suitable nest sites. In one hole there are three birds settled. At times there were 9 fulmar in the air gliding above us and at least 6 others on the sea. Grey plover were on the beach and sanderling were whizzing along the sand like mechanical toys. Sally was the first to spot the purple sandpipers and although they were some way off, as the tide was coming in we were hopeful of better views. As we wandered along the beach they were gradually moved towards us and 5 were seen well by all of us, it was hard to tear ourselves away from them. A dog-walker wandered up and asked what we were looking at – he was delighted when Irene was able to show him the birds in her ‘scope. Peter spotted a distant red-throated diver flying over the sea which only a couple of us saw, but it was a great bit of identification at such a distance.
As we moved along the beach there were meadow pipits along the cliff base. After a rather energetic pull up off the beach we were greeted with great views of the coastline with the blue sea sparkling in the brilliant sunshine (sorry Malcolm, I’ll concentrate on the job in hand). We walked along the cliff top and the views down onto the sea and the beach coves was superb, with lots of sanderling and turnstone racing along the shore, and gulls bobbing about. Irene spotted a couple of great crested grebes offshore. We retraced our path and left Peter and David so that we could have a picnic lunch on the cliff top.
After a short break it was back along the cliff towards the car. Two lady walkers came up to see what we were looking at and Malcolm went into his usual informative style. As we wandered along a queen bee was hunting along the cliff top looking for a prospective nesting site.
Back to the car and the decision of where to go next? After much discussion and map-gazing, we decided to try Minnis Bay. It was somewhere that few of us had been to previously, and that on a group meeting when it poured down with rain, so off we went.
Walking along the sea front we watched redshank and turnstones at close quarters, and sanderling also started to gather along the shore as the tide receded.
We decided to look at the fields behind the sea wall, but as there were many dog walkers on the paths across the fields, and along the sea wall there were few birds to spot.
Having decided that we needed to make a move for home (we had an evening group meeting to get back to) we started for the car. Malcolm and Paul had got quite a way in front of the rest of us when my attention was taken by two mute swans in one of the distant fields, as I pointed them out to Sally and Irene, two more large birds flew in which were not swans or geese, as we watched with our binoculars it was apparent that they were common cranes, they landed in a distant field and the telescope was quickly called into service. With a mobile phone used to call the boys back (what did we do without them? – the phones not the boys!). Great views were had by all.
I have since found out that there were two cranes spotted at Reculver that morning, then over Sandwich Bay Observatory earlier in the afternoon, so we were really lucky to see such great birds.