Bird Watching On The North Kent Marshes
Written by Phil Brown, Badger Bushcraft Blog Thursday, 01 March 2012 03:46
A recent and rare morning off made for an early start to pack the Land Rover with a Inca, our Labrador Retriever, and a day sack with binoculars, camera, et al to journey to the south of The Swale for a long walk and a visit to the Oare Marshes Nature Reserve.
There is something magical for me in exploring the north Kent coastline; I guess it takes me back to my very early childhood when, for an exceptionally brief period, I lived with my parents in Birchington. As a toddler I would apparently take great delight in running into the sea fully clothed regardless of the weather and time of year. I’m not entirely sure if this pleased my parents at the time but it certainly makes them laugh now.
Childhood memories can be hazy but I have exceptionally vivid memories of coastal walks along the seashore and beachcombing the tide line for nautical treasures. I was, from this young age, completely captivated by the sea and one of my all-time heroes is Jacques Cousteau with his exploits aboard The Calypso and who’s television series “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” had me hooked with a desire to become a marine biologist, which impressed my parents friends especially to hear this from a three year old who would announce this to all that would listen.
It is strange how life’s rich tapestry seems to contain so many patterns and events that seem to turn full circle and now, as an older man and parent, I find myself and my own son revisiting theses powerful places of my childhood and sharing them anew with the next generation in our family.
It is always with great delight that we pack the Defender and journey northward from our village home to the North Kent Marshes, acknowledged as one of northern Europe’s most important wetland habitats, which runs from Dartford to Whitstable. Our destination was the Oare Marshes Reserve to the south of The Swale which is an area of sea that divides the mainland of north Kent from the Isle of Sheppey.
The first part of the morning comprised of a long walk along The Swale to exercise Inca and to “blow away the cobwebs”. We followed the shoreline for some distance spotting a host of bird life that included Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos), Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) and Curlew (Numenius arquata) to name but a few. As it was low tide we observed most of the birds at some distance and I had an interesting yet frustrating game with a Curlew that would not stay still long enough for me to get a satisfactory focus on the camera, as can be seen below.
With Inca exercised and less excited we were able to watch the abundant bird life on the Reserve from the roadside. Which whiled away time like it was going out of fashion as there was so much going on especially with the constant comings and goings of the plentiful Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) interspersed with Common Teal (Anas crecca), Shoveler (Anas clypeata) and stunning Pintail (Anas acuta).
We were also excited to see a Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus) and an exceptionally camera shy Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) that insisted on avoiding a picture!
We had hoped to see over wintering Harriers, but as with all aspects of wildlife watching it is essential to adopt the philosophy of “hoping for everything but expecting nothing” and this means one can never be disappointed and to be honest we had already had a very pleasant morning. The highlight of the day, however, was yet to come and to be discovered by fluke.
I had been watching an area of the lake through the viewfinder of my camera as I attempted to photograph both Teal and Shoveler and after a while I noticed a very slight movement in the grass in the background of the shot, as shown below. I had to wait quite some while as perceived “movement” did nothing but remain stationary until all of a sudden up popped a head with long bill which confirmed that I was not imagining things!
Out from the protection of its perfect camouflage in the tussock of grass popped one of two Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) that had sat side by side and nearly motionless for what seemed an eternity. This experience rounded off a perfect morning.
We shall greatly look forward to our next visit to this Reserve and further adventures on the North Kent Marshes and I must admit that I am rather tempted to walk the 160 miles of the Saxon Shore Way from Gravesend to Hastings to get to know this and other areas more intimately.
Something a little different for the Badger Bushcraft Blog but I hope you enjoyed it!
Thanks for reading.
I too was hooked by Cousteau at any early age and further interest sparked by a school field trip to Dale Fort marine biology centre at Milford Haven. Still not sure why I've spent 30 years in financial services!