Great “highs” today when my friends and I (sans Malcolm who has man-flu) decided on Riverside Park at Gillingham. For once we managed to hit the tide absolutely right with a high tide due around 1.30 pm.
Setting out from the car park we heard chaffinch, blackbird and a skylark. On the bay to the west of Horrid Hill there was a grey heron perched on an old wreck of a boat. Lots of teal were feeding on the mud with black-headed gulls. The occasional redshank strutted about and at least a dozen curlew probed for food deep in the mud.
Two pairs of reed bunting flew in, the males almost in their full breeding plumage. As we moved out towards the headland we realised that there were huge numbers of shelduck and dunlin along the shoreline. Several turnstone were also present.
We watched as the tide came in forcing the birds towards us in what turned out to be a spectacular sight – 1,000’s of dunlin, shelduck, avocet, redshank and godwit moved ahead of the tide. Brent geese moved onto the low-lying islands. Great-crested grebe and a smaller darker bird dived for food – the second bird remained unidentified, too far out to get any features on it. We had similar issues with another pair of diver-like birds but as they swam further out into the estuary and the light hit them we could make out the distinctive markings of red-breasted merganser – always a lovely bird to see. This – in case you are in any doubt – was the “high”.
Nearer, three small waders puzzled us – looking different to the other dunlin, we were undecided. With a white supercilium and long bill we talked ourselves in and out of id, could it be a dunlin or a very early curlew sandpiper? Who know’s – another 2012 query.
Along the causeway huge flocks of dunlin moved from east to west flying directly over our heads, giving a great natural air show, their plumage catching the light as they banked.
The volume of birds drawn here come to these food-rich areas so vital for their survival. We are lucky to have this scarce habitat close by, giving us great opportunities to enjoy the spectacle.
On the way to our picnic lunch we found three long-tailed tits feeding amongst the brambles in the car park, along with several house sparrows. They appeared to be picking insects off the buds on the plants rather than pecking at the buds themselves. Great close views of some of our common birds which are often overlooked.
We decided to move on to Motney Hill. We walked onto the shore below the field and here comes the “low”. I caught my foot on a flint sticking out of the chalk and dropped like a stone – you surely could have felt the aftershock for several miles! Although I gained a couple of bruises, and a slight dent to my pride the real blow was that the telescope was damaged. Although useable it was not stable on the tripod and will very shortly be winging it’s way back to Austria for vital surgery. Thanks to Sally and Irene for scraping me up off the floor.
The good news is that although the weather was deteriorating, we were still able to get closer views of the mergansers, several curlew, a large number of shelduck and brent geese. Rock pipit and turnstone flew ahead of us along the edge of the water. The unidentified diver was spotted again, but still too far away for idenification.
As the rain started we returned to base and offered some TLC to Malcolm in his hour of need.