Tag Archives: Brent Goose

The Saxon Shore

A couple of days ago, I went for a walk with a friend. We walked for just over 13 miles from the outskirts of Canterbury, through Blean woods, then up to the North Kent Coast, along the Saxon Shore Way (by the Swale and then down alongside the creek) to Faversham where we inhaled some much needed beer and food. A very rough map of our journey is set out below:

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 20.13.21

The highlight of the walk was in the South Swale reserve in the North Kent Marshes (around points A-C in my makeshift map). Before we reached Saxon Shore Way, we walked through fields (point ‘A’ on the map) that were alive with Skylarks in full song flight (I swear winter only lasted for about one week this year!) In fact the number of Skylark and Fieldfare (with the latter in the hundreds) were close to UK records for me. The fields were bordered by water-filled ditches and reed beds with Little Egret, Snipe, and Reed Buntings all showing. We watched Buzzards, Kestrels, a Marsh Harrier, and a probable, distant, Merlin (unfortunately I won’t be counting the latter for my year-list) hunting.

When we reached the Swale, I was a little disappointed at first that it was high tide – the mudflats here are so huge that they even have names (like the South Oaze), but that disappointment soon dissipated when we saw a seal (point ‘B’ on the map). It was as curious of us as we were of it, and resurfaced many times closer to watch us:

IMG_6783v2

Harbour (or Common) Seal (Phoca vitulina)

Walking along the Saxon Shore Way – named after some of the fortifications built to protect late Roman England from Saxon invaders from the Continent, at a time when the coastline looked very different indeed – we realised another benefit of the high tide: many of the water birds were concentrated in quite small areas of reeds and pebble banks (point ‘C’ on map).

IMG_7769v2

The Swale

We saw large numbers of Teal and Brent Geese, and huge numbers of Wigeon collecting in a banked off lagoon section, while large flocks of Lapwing flew over.

IMG_6833v2

Brent Goose (Branta bernicula)

Even greater numbers of Grey Plover and Dunlin, with some probable Knot as well, were huddled together on the pebble banks, at first looking like rocks or weeds:

IMG_6944v2

Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola) and Dunlin (Calidris alpina)

There were also reasonable numbers of Curlew, Redshank, and Oystercatcher. We didn’t stop long to look at them – as we were getting thirsty and hungry at this point – and so I entirely failed to see what had put a large flock of Oystercatcher up in the air. It was only when looking at my photographs that I noticed the raptor amongst the flock. At first, I just assumed it was a Peregrine Falcon even though its shape confused me, but comments below made me look again and realise this is almost certainly a Sparrowhawk (I am assuming that it wasn’t hunting the Oystercatcher, which would be out of the size range for prey even for a female, but Redshank or Dunlin were possible targets – who knew Sparrowhawk hunt waders? Not me it seems!) There is also a single Bar-tailed Godwit towards the back of this zoomed-in section of the flock:

IMG_6823v2

Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus), Sparrowhawk (Accipter nisus), Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa Lapponica), and Common Redshank (Tringa totanus) – The latter two may take some careful studying to find

A flock (or ‘time step’ to choose the very cool collective noun) of one of my favourite waders, Turnstone, whipped past us and settled on a small patch of grassy shoreline where they were belted repeatedly by the waves:

IMG_6951v2

Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)

IMG_6900v2

Turnstones (one of which is ringed) playing Canute

When we reached the Faversham Creek, we looked across the water at Oare Marshes, and further across at a pub we had our sights set on (point ‘D’ on map). Unfortunately, we hadn’t quite bargained on the lack of mechanism for crossing the water. There were no bridges in sight, and we could see quite a long way. If it wasn’t for cameras and the fact that it was winter, we might have contemplated swimming (that is an opening scene of Casualty right there) or ‘borrowing’ a rusty upturned boat we had found.

IMG_7770v2

Faversham Creek

So we followed the creek upstream (does a creek even have a ‘down’ or ‘upstream’?) Either way, we were walking away from the Sea towards Faversham in an exaggerated bow. It was here that we saw my first Goosander for the year – apologies for shoddy record shot:

IMG_6968v2

Goosander (Mergus merganser)

And we ended our rather epic walk in a great pub in Faversham (point ‘E’ on the map) where we drank ales brewed in the same town by the famous Shepherd Neame  – Britain’s oldest brewer.

As this is my first real trip in the UK off the patch this year, a number of the birds listed above were inevitably year ticks. Overall, four species of raptor (not counting the possible Merlin) and ten species of wader is not bad for a morning’s walk.

Advertisements

Snapshot of Solent wildlife

Sea view

The Solent is the strait of water that separates the Isle of Wight from the south coast of England. The notoriously deep and treacherous waters were once likely to have been a river, deepened and exposed by the thawing of the last great Ice Age.

At the western edge of the Solent, Hurst Spit shields an almost entirely enclosed patch of sea-water, called Keyhaven Lake, from the Atlantic tide and winds (it was unbelievably windy and cold when we were there).

Hurst Spit

The spit is famous for Henry VIII’s ‘Hurst Castle’ and Hurst Lighthouse. The almost gale force freezing wind made it too difficult to walk to the castle, but we did get a good view of the wildlife sheltering on the eastern side of the spit.

Small and tame Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) pecked and chattered up and down the spit pebbles.

Turnstone

Unlike most waders, the Turnstone is an opportunistic feeder. Known to scavenge on a huge range of possible food sources, the birds have even been recorded feeding from human corpses. You get an idea of how small the Turnstone is in this shot of it (note the number of rings it carries on its legs) next to a Black-headed gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus), which is, itself, a small gull…

Black-headed Gill and Turnstone

The gulls were able to hang in the air suspended by the head-on wind…

Black-headed Gull

… whilst below them Brent (or Brant) goose (Branta bernicla) swam and fed through the weed. This was the first time I had seen this species of goose. In the winter, it is believed that nearly half the global population of Brent geese will migrate to the UK.

Brent Goose

Much larger Mute Swans (Cygnus Olor) also patrol the area, and I also managed to photograph a flock of a around 200-250 Linnet (Carduelis cannabina), so called because of their fondness for flax from which linen is made.

Mute Swan

Linnet flock