On Saturday we went to Cliffe Pools. 15 people braved the cold. Perhaps they all knew that cold winter conditions often bring more birds to the pools. One of the first birds found was an immature male scaup amongst the many tufted duck, pochard and pintail. However wigeon was easily the most numerous duck species present. We also found 3 male and 4 female goldeneye – real winter visitors these and, for me, a Cliffe Pools special. One of the males briefly displayed to a female that was close by – which reminded me of my very first sighting of goldeneye. I recorded the event in my notebook. OK – the drawing is really awful and not very accurate either (and the male symbol is the wrong way up!) but it seems to help me remember the sight and sound of the displaying male. Despite missing the high tide wader roost we still managed to find a total of 43 species including buzzard, marsh harrier and, for some, a fleeting glimpse of a kingfisher.
At lunch time some of our group decided to retreat to warmer habitats but the rest of us moved on to the RSPB reserve at Northward Hill.
Northward Hill is famous for its large herony. But during the winter the grey herons desert the wood and disperse throughout the north Kent marshes. However they are early nesters and they often start to gather on the marsh below the wood in early February. For a short period, perhaps only a few days, they gather along one of the ditches (a traditional site) and then, after somehow coming to a group decision, they re-occupy their nestsites which they had left the previous June or July. In some years they gather even earlier in January (I think there are records for December!) and when we arrived today I noticed 3 grey herons standing together by the reservoir and another further out by the side of the traditional ditch. So I suggested that we visited the Heron Viewpoint to see if there were any early signs of them gathering.
On the way Hazel asked me where was the best place to view the nesting herons. It is a difficult question to answer. The number of grey herons nesting at Northward Hill now is probably about half that of the 250+ pairs at its peak in the 1980s. They also seem to have withdrawn to trees deeper in the wood. Anyway, getting good views of the nesting grey herons is difficult. But it has not always been like this. Some of you may remember the tree hide, accessible from the public trails, that overlooked the nesting trees. But this was destroyed long ago and anyway it would be unlikely to get past Health and Safety inspections today! There was also a long viewing screen that was used on special “Heron Open Days” but that too was destroyed.
Unfortuately today we were unable to get to the Heron Viewpoint because the trail was blocked at one of the gates by a quagmire of mud ripped up by the passage of 4- wheel drive vehicles. Only one person was prepared to negotiate the hazard so we were forced to retreat. Fortunately on the way back we saw two buzzards and marsh harrier – the former making their way towards the wood, perhaps to roost. A great spotted woodpecker was heard drumming but with unusual flair. Rather than using the wooden telegraph pole it was tapping hard on the metal crossbar- with great effect! As we left the reserve, the rooks and jackdaws were gathering in the fields before entering the wood to roost. I have not watched this for many years but in the past several thousands of birds gathered to roost. Perhaps not quite up to “Winterwatch” standards, it is still worth seeing (hearing!). The group is visiting on February 14th – see the programme for details.
Thanks to Irene and Terry for leading.