Somehow not quite so romantic a title as “Gorillas in the Mist” but you have to pick your venues, and ours this week was the Isle of Grain in the autumnal mist of Kent.
Before we had even got out of the car Sally had spotted a bird on a nearby roof – it was a black redstart showing off it’s bright red tail brilliantly as it flicked and turned. We watched it for a few minutes, and just as I got the camera out of the boot of the car it flew off not to be seen again.
We decided to wander off towards the fort and took a route behind the nearby houses. There were many robins, blackbirds, wood pigeons, starlings and house sparrows. As we neared the more wooded area we could see thrushes but not which species. As we got nearer blue tit and great tit were spotted and then a redwing appeared. A group of fieldfare flew over, stopped off in a nearby tree for a few minutes and then continued on their way. A Cormorant headed off seaward into the mist. More Blackbirds, some with their dark bills indicating that they are migrants coming through, were feeding in the berry-laden bushes. One was seen taking rosehips which seemed far too big to swallow, but it managed them with ease. A group of at least ten goldcrests was a particular highlight, again migrants coming through – probably from countries around the North Sea and Baltic. The first indication they were there was their high-pitched contact call keeping the group together, after a few minutes we were able to track them down and watch as they fed eagerly before moving off again on their travels.
Jay, magpie and great spotted woodpecker were seen and a green woodpecker called in the distance. Several groups of brent geese flew overhead, all heading north-west. As we continued east along the sea wall we moved into meadow pipit country with large groups of the birds moving ahead of us along the short grass edging the promenade. The sea had now moved so far out that the shoreline was impossible to see, but there were waders dotted around on the mud including oystercatchers, curlew, black-tailed godwit and little egret, these were joined by herring, lesser black-backed and black-headed gull. Kestrel hovered over the rough grass hunting for a tasty morsel.
After our picnic lunch we moved to Allhallows, parking in the usual spot near the caravan park. There were heavy lorries and machinery on the sea wall and we almost changed our minds, but the sun was showing through the cloud and the odd bit of blue sky appeared so we decided to press on. Jackdaws, crows and starling had been seen on the way into the village, and there were plenty in evidence on the fields as well. In the first set of bushes we found chaffinch, greenfinch, and house sparrow. A grey heron flew across the track towards a far ditch and skylarks sang from above us, soaring high up before they plummeted to the ground to hide amongst the short dying plants. We negotiated the muddy track which had been churned up rather by the aforementioned heavy vehicles – the seawall is being reinforced with a concrete layer – and walked east away from the disturbance.
Sally and I were wandering along, admiring the scenery, looking at plants and generally putting the world to rights, when Malcolm suddenly stopped ahead of us and put out an arm to warn us to stop. He pointed down the bank of the sea wall and there was a delightful male snow bunting. The bird moved along the stony slope pecking at seeds along the way. We watched for some time, thrilled to see such a beautiful bird so close and confiding, it was a privilege to be able to get such brilliant views.
Eventually we moved off continuing along the seawall with Malcolm checking on sea aster and sea plantain for galls – unsurprisingly!
A distant marsh harrier circled in the distance. We had counted at least six little egret along the coast and a further six flew out from nearby ditches as we continued on our journey. More brent geese were flying over, whilst black-tailed godwit, oystercatcher and curlew were all feeding up before the tide turned again. Our final addition was a family of three pied wagtails feeding around the piles of sand and soil alongside the path.
With migration building there is no knowing what will turn up at this time of year.