Our trip to Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory and associated Restharrow nature reserve took place last Sunday (19 June). The weather had not looked too promising at the start, with cooler temperatures than during the previous week, an overcast sky and it was quite breezy. However, although it tried to rain with a few drops at one stage, the weather did gradually improve and by the end of our visit we had sunshine and warmer conditions. But let me start at the beginning.
Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory is situated just beyond the quaint village of Sandwich on the East coast of Kent, situated within the Sandwich Bay estate. A small toll (£1) is payable for vehicles visiting the observatory.
Sandwich Bay was one of the first independent ringing stations in the country, and there are an enthusiastic group of ringers who volunteer there. However, the previous night’s wet weather meant that they had not been ringing that morning, so we did not have an opportunity to drop into the ringing hut to observe them processing any birds caught on this occasion.
We therefore set off across the road towards the golf course and the beach. (When visiting SBBOT and crossing the golf course, please keep to the public footpath and be aware of golfers ‘Teeing off’.) We quickly picked up swallows and house martins swooping over the first field and in a damp corner our first orchids of the day, southern marsh. As we proceeded across the golf course a kestrel was hoovering over the dunes and skylarks were singing overhead. Towards the coast road, we got to our first (non-avian) target species, the lizard orchid. There were several stands of these quite tall, if messy looking, orchids. Most were past their best but a few were still showing their purple lizard tails. In amongst them were clover-scented broomrape, a parasitic plant associated with the yellow plant bedstraw. Also seen along the road edge were pyramidal orchids and these were beginning to come into full flower.
Along the golf course boundary fence and the few hedges we saw meadow pipit, reed bunting, whitethroat and on the shingle shoreline, singles of curlew, oystercatcher, dunlin and a juvenile ringed plover.
The coastline here is the result of northern drift of sand and shingle and holds a rich array of flora and fauna. On the beach several plants that are specialists for this habitat were seen, including sea holly, sea kale, beach bindweed, vipers bugloss and yellow-horned poppy.
My highlight of the day was spotted just before we headed off the coast road. Feeding on the yellow flowers of silver ragwort a hummingbird hawk-moth. It was a real treat to watch this orange moth with a black and white ‘tail’ moving from flower head to flower head, its wings a constant blur.
On the bird front, two linnets in splendid bright plumage, popped up on some bramble. Walking past the sailing club and on towards Restharrow scrape we added goldfinch and got some close views of a corn bunting singing his ‘key jangling’ song from the top of a bush.
We had lunch while sitting in one of the two hides situated on the edge of Restharrow scrape, which was created in 2002 and enlarged in 2019. Here a pair of avocets were constantly defending their single chick from the attention of some noisy black-headed gulls. A pale buzzard sat preening itself in the background, while tufted ducks, dabchick, coot, mallard, moorhen and lapwing were on the water or the water’s edge. A couple of us got a fleeting view of a sparrowhawk as it made a low sortie across an adjacent field.
A short circular walk into the Restharrow woods yielded long-tailed tit and blue tit, singing blackcaps and chiff-chaffs as well as cooeing wood pigeons and a calling great-spotted woodpecker. A few saw a pygmy shrew and slowworm beneath the corrugated iron sheets.
Exiting the woods, we spent a productive twenty minutes on a patch of nettles, which, with the sun now warming up everything, was alive with invertebrates, including several great green bush cricket and Roesel’s bush cricket nymphs, snipe fly and a small ant-mimic beetle. In the meadows just beyond there were more southern marsh orchids, long-cone head cricket nymphs, with large skipper, marbled white, meadow brown & red admiral butterflies.
We moved on towards the Dragonfly pond for our final highlight of the day’s trip. This is one of the few sites to host dainty damselfly. These are small blue damselflies and as with most dragonflies best identified by photographing likely candidates and then zooming in to examine their markings. After a while we managed to find a few and got some photographs to clinch the identification. Also seen were blue-tailed, azure and emerald damselflies.
We returned to the car park for some final refreshments and checking of id guides before heading back home well pleased with the day’s sightings.
Trip report: Paul Yetman
Photographs: Maria Yetman, Chris Peeling, Paul Yetman