Leaving Gravesend in the fog we wondered if birdwatching was a sensible idea. We headed for the Isle of Grain. The fog gave a rather eerie atmosphere and sounds were muted – although the fog horn gave the day a rather Dickensian quality.
As we got out of the car a green woodpecker called, but was not seen. A curlew called but we had to concentrate hard to see anything through the mist. Gradually we made out the curlew and a redshank. This was going to be a day to test our hearing and identification of bird vocalisations! A couple of meadow pipit were heard before we could see them, then a group of gulls appeared out of the fog, several black-headed with one common gull (we later saw several more). A herring gull gave us the traditional sound of the seaside and flew overhead. As we continued along the path we realised that the fog was gradually lifting and more curlew, redshank, a little egret, and several brent geese appeared on the mud. Some oystercatchers and several ringed plover were also feeding on the mud. Gradually the sun was burning off the mist and within 20 minutes we had clear blue skies and weak winter sunshine, lovely after such a murky morning.
In the scrub at the top of the bank behind us were great tit, blue tit, many woodpigeons, a couple of magpie. We carried on to the sluice to see if there was any sight of purple sandpiper or snow bunting.
We did find a mallard and coot on the pond behind the sluice, and also had great views of a couple of singing robins. In the warmth of the winter sun a green lacewing flew towards us and landed on my coat – these are supposed to fly between April and October, so a little early or late! Perhaps the warmth of the water here helps to create a local eco-climate which encourages insects to fly out of season, as we also saw a fly and bee during the morning. We continued a little further along the path towards Kingsnorth Power Station. More curlew, redshank, oystercatchers, and brent geese were feeding here. We also had several large flocks of waders flying up the River Swale, very low over the water and at a fast pace, but the light prevented our identifying them – possibly knot or dunlin? As we crossed the small beach we had very close views of a dunnock as it perched on top of one of the large rocks.
On the way back, as we got to the sluice we met another bird watcher, who kindly pointed out a lone snow bunting feeding on seeds along the concrete sea defence wall. We watched for quite a while as the individual fed completely at ease in our presence. Sally and I took some video, and a few photographs before we moved on back towards the car park and lunch.
Near the fort we had good views of great tit, robin, magpie, crow, chaffinch, blackbird, collared dove and almost the highlight of the day – we heard song thrush, the beautiful repeating song a real delight on a winters day, and just to top the morning off nicely, a Cetti’s warbler was also heard as we neared the car park.
Lunch over, we needed a quick afternoon venue to while away a couple of hours and decided on Allhallows and Yantlet Creek – Malcolm wanted to see if there was still a sizeable wader roost there.
We parked outside the British Pilot Pub, where bird activity was high. Several flocks of starling, woodpigeon, house sparrow, a male blackbird, and some collared dove were counted before we got onto the footpath towards the sea. A mute swan defended its ditch as a free-running dog shot past, and gave Sally more photographic opportunities. A cormorant was perched on one of the navigation buoys looking almost to be part of the structure with its bill tilted skywards. Nine turnstone fed along the waterline in the shadow of the sea wall. More mute swan, several coot and a couple of little egret fed along the ditches or in the marshes.
As we neared Yantlet Creek it was obvious that there was no wader roost here. Around 15 shelduck and 16 brent geese swam in the creek and 9 redshank pecked about on the far side of the creek, but there was very little other birdlife to be found. A kestrel was perched on the top of the seawall, but as we approached it moved off to hunt over the marshes.
As the sun set the temperature dropped and we made haste back to the car and home.