So, if you were going out bird watching and left Gravesend at 6.:30 am to catch a train, where would you be going? Bearing in mind Sally had to get Malcolm out of bed, fed and dressed by then it would have to be special . . . . . . . . . . and this week’s special destination was Platier D’Oye Nature Reserve in northern France.
Our intrepid driver, Irene, had made all the necessary arrangements, and with her at the wheel we had a faultless trip. The sun shone and skies were blue and I almost feel like bursting into song. However, some semblance of good taste has to be maintained, and I am sure you would be far more interested in hearing about our day.
I had never been to this part of France before, and new sites are always exciting. With the prospect of kentish plover and some continental birds, a great day was promised. The train was on time and we were soon enjoying Pain au Raisin and Pain au Chocolat with coffee or tea in the local services in Calais.
Thirty minutes later we had arrived at the reserve and were soon off towards the first hide. Around the car park we saw and heard familiar birds; chiffchaff, great tit, house sparrow, jackdaw, magpie and herring gull. A huge flock of house martin flew overhead feeding noisily as they circled around. From the hide we overlooked a large scrape which was a hive of activity. Six greylag geese flew over, whilst herring gull, black-headed gull, mute swan, shelduck and three grey heron were initially found. Irene spotted some very pale mistle thrush and as Malcolm watched them he noticed some wheatear in the same area. A cuckoo called nearby and blackcap could also be heard.
Little egret were the next addition to our list. Until the 1980’s many bird watchers would have travelled to France to see little egret, now they are breeding in large numbers in the UK, and we often see them on days out in Kent. More familiar birds entered the list with mallard, shelduck, shoveler, coot, little grebe, starling, cormorant, and canada geese all present in good numbers. I saw two male garganey, but apparently a third eluded me. Barnacle and bar-headed geese were also seen, but we pondered on their antecedence.
We moved off and started to walk along a new boardwalk through the scrub of the dunes. Cetti’s warbler sang its exuberant song from a nearby bush, lesser whitethroat, whitethroat, more blackcap, nightingale, and skylark sang well in this area. Malcolm spotted turtle dove, and in fact when I checked the book later I realised I had too! My naivety mistaking a disappearing white-edged tail as collared dove, but the shape was completely wrong on reflection. In this area we started to find some non-avian species, with green-veined white butterfly, peacock, speckled wood and some very small ‘blues’. Several caterpillars were also found in this habitat including lakey, garden tiger, and others which will need more investigation.
As we headed towards the beach area Malcolm found an unfamiliar warbler calling. We had listened to several calls on the way down in preparation (remarkably organised for once!) and he asked me to play marsh warbler quietly so that we could confirm whether this was the bird. He was absolutely spot on and as we all stood quietly on the path the bird sang out continuously from a very near tree, remaining completely unperturbed by our presence. Willow warbler was also calling well.
On reaching the edge of the dunes we decided to head for the path near the sea. We soon had to stop as Sally and Malcolm called almost in stereo – they had seen plovers – one a ringed and the other a kentish! Sadly I have to admit that the ringed plover held slightly less attention and we concentrated on the kentish. We were slightly concerned that we had disturbed the bird even though we were on a relatively well walked path through the sand, so we moved back away from the bird and it came towards us. We backtracked some way more and it settled back to standing near where we first saw it. We spent some time watching the bird and just enjoying being near such a lovely individual, until eventually, as lunch called we re-traced our steps back towards the main dunes. On the way we noticed a second bird, using distraction techniques to move us along – we moved on away from it and when we had continued sufficiently away the bird settled back down onto what we now realised was it’s nest. More ooo-ing and ahhh-ing (not from Malcolm of course) before we finally settled down for our picnic lunch.
We walked back through the dunes after lunch and had sandwich tern and mediterranean gull overhead. A pair of linnet were displaying and pair-bonding, flying around together. A final stop at the hide added lesser black-backed gull, little ringed plover, tufted duck, redshank and a female white wagtail.
Next stop was further along the coast at another reserve which had a small nature trail and a hide. A male white wagtail this time, along with some rather odd farmland mixes of ducks and geese which had best remain nameless. Avocet flew over and then we heard another garden warbler, which stayed hidden from us, but rivalled blackcap well in the song contest – great to compare. From this hide we did not add any new species, but did find a large roost of cormorants, more lapwing, grey heron and mute swan. Swallows were feeding up over the scrub behind the dunes, and more willow warbler, whitethroat and blackbirds were seen and heard.
Back near the car park, visitors were feeding the birds and this attracted many gulls including black-headed, herring and mediterranean. Finally, it was time to make our way back to the Channel Tunnel, where our train was ready to go early and we had a speedy passage home.
Thanks to Malcolm Sally and especially Irene (for driving), for a great day out. Not to mention one of my favourite species and the star of the day – kentish plover.
Oh, and a big apology to Malcolm for the Title – couldn’t resist a little bit of alliteration, just to wind him up.