Monday, 10 June 2013

The North Kent circuit

Josh texted me on Saturday asking where he might go with his free time on Sunday to get some life ticks.  Now he's only been at this game since last autumn, but already is showing some worrying signs of twitchery.  I checked Birdguides and gave him a couple of options. He thought he could do both. With that kind of eagerness I thought I might as well have a day off from non-London listing and be his navigator for the day. Kent to me sounded the more promising and so at 6am he picked me up from my flat.  First stop was Oare for the first winter Bonaparte's Gull that has taken up residence there. The rest of the plan depended on news and as the weather was more winter like I wasn't sure how that would pan out.

Oare was breezy to say the least and very chilly.  We arrived at the car park as a male Marsh Harrier hunted the fields to the west and hundreds of House Martin, Swallows and Swift looked for meagre pickings over the flood.  The tide was well out but there was nothing on the Swale, bar a few Shelduck so we moved quickly for the relative comfort of the hide. About 150 Icelandic non breeding Black-tailed Godwit were furtively feeding in the shallows while a few Avocets braved the wind.  Not a lot out there but one of the locals picked up a moulting Garganey amongst the few ducks.  The Bonaparte's we were told favoured the creek at this time of day, returning to the flood when the tide came in.  So with no joy on that front there was nothing for it but to brave the cold and have a look-see. A few Black-headed Gull were in the creek and about a mile on I noticed a candidate bird just about to hide behind a fishing boat. It appeared small enough, but not as thoroughly convincing as the other BG I'd seen in Cardiff. I reeled off a few shots to check later.  We carried on for a while but ran out of gulls so turned back. This time I noticed the same bird in association with a much larger BHG, and at certain angles I could make out the grey nape. I got another birder on it and he agreed. Yay, tick for Kent, while Josh was already 5 lifers to the good.  With little to hold us and no other news we agreed hot coffee would probably be a good idea.

Luckily while we supped news came out of the Bee-eater refound at Pegwell Bay, so instead of Grove Ferry we carried on to the coast. I've only been here once for a wet dip of the Fan-tailed Warbler a couple of years back, and so the reserve in general was a mystery to me.  Luckily a lot of locals were on hand with a communication network set up to give immediate news of the bird's location.  Not that it helped for the first hour, but finally we got to see the bird distantly as it circled over distant tree tops.  Not completely satisfactory!  We waited and nothing, so then we got a bit pro-active and went looking for ourselves.  We found some people looking at it in a clearing as it perched up in between hunting flights.  After that it appeared to follow me and Josh everywhere. We decided to move on; Black Kite a possibility now, but I wanted to check Grove Ferry for Turtle Dove, Nightingale and perhaps a late wader for Josh.  He'd missed the two doves that hurtled past up along the tree-line.  As we wandered off met up with the Blow Monkey on a quick tick and run exercise, as we gave him directions to the last sighting the bird flew over our heads. Kent tick 2, now # 8 for Josh.

To Grove Ferry then.  It looked awesome.  Shame there were few birds there (another eclipse Garganey on the floods). Half way around the river walk, I picked up the sound of Nightingale, and immediately afterwards the brief purring of a Dove. We carried on and completed the circuit through the reeds.  A TD hurtled above our heads, and a few harriers across the fens. News from the Monkey of the Kite showing well (and excellent directions, which I immediately forgot, but luckily described on the BG app) we hoofed it back to the car and my consummate navigational skills got us to the right place again.

Bit of a twitch going on here, but no one on the bird.  Big bins to the rescue. Well distant but good scope views of this magnificent bird over not so shabby Kent countryside.  Job done, and on this particularly small road tick and run was order of the day. Kent tick 3, Josh now #13.

Should have left it there and called it a day, but then I had to try for Grasshopper Warbler in the Ingrebourne and failing that Rainham, drawing a blank at each.  Can't win em all, and we didn't get lost once. A great little day out with 84 species seen (or heard).

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