14 of us joined Jeff for a day at Sandwich Bay Observatory.
We met in the car park, where there was a lot of bird activity in the willow trees nearby. Most were chiffchaff but there was one willow warbler spotted by a couple of us. Jeff also saw several house sparrow.
Jeff had arranged with the staff that we could watch them bird ringing before we went off on our walk, and as they had only just left to collect birds from the mist nets nearby, we concentrated on the birds we could see, most notably a sparrowhawk which gave us a couple of fly-pasts. Wood pigeon and crow were in the vicinity.
After a while the ringers returned with bags containing birds. We joined them in the ringing hut and watched as they put rings on the birds, measured, weighed, aged and sexed them before they were released. As there were lots of birds to deal with and it is a priority to process them as quickly as possible, four people were dealing with the birds and one person writing down all the details – a fascinating process to watch. We saw chiffchaff, blackcap, garden warbler and great spotted woodpecker – the latter being by far the noisiest!
We were about to leave the car park when a mediterranean gull was called by someone – there were three gulls flying over at the time, and only a few of us actually spotted the bird in question. We made our way down the road towards the scrape, pausing to scan through a large flock of gulls which were circling over fields in the mid-distance. It wasn’t easy to make out anything different, but a sabine’s gull had been reported earlier in the day, and we felt duty bound to spend time checking them out. Needless to say, we managed to add starling, crow and jackdaw to our day’s list.
As we approached the hide it was obvious that we wouldn’t all fit in at the same time so some of us scanned the adjacent fields whilst the rest did the hard work of identifying the birds for us. A few skittish linnet were seen on wire fences at the edge of the field, but again were only seen by a few. From the hide we saw little egret, green sandpiper, moorhen, ringed plover and teal. Evening primose flowered near the hide.
Our next habitat was Restharrow Dunes Nature Reserve, a small area of woodland and shrubs leading towards the beach. Blackbird, chiffchaff, blackcap and blue tit were seen here, along with both peacock and speckled wood butterflies. Along this stretch we saw sea-buckthorn and common storkbill. A picnic lunch was taken on the beach, watching a calm sea with very few birds to see.
On the return trip via the golf course, a meadow pipit gave a good if rather short view. Then we were into stonechat country, with several birds on the wire fences and fence posts. One of the birds looked slightly different with a white eye-stripe, and more upright stance, and we wondered if we had a whinchat. We got closer to the birds, but were none the wiser, even as we returned to the car park we were still debating the identification.
Thanks to Jeff for leading a great walk, and to the people at the observatory for the ringing demonstration.