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Monday, 30 January 2012

Snowy Sunday

Sunday (29th) was grim weather wise with a combination of mist, fog, sleet, drizzle and a cold northerly breeze added to the mix - certainly not good for photography. However the birding on the North Kent coast was still exceptionally good. As designated driver for the day, the first port of call for me was Swalecliffe, where despite a good search, we could not relocate the Shorelark. We did manage to see a group of Dark-bellied Brent Geese on the shore, a Little Grebe in the brook, a female Stonechat, several Meadow Pipits and my first Red-breasted Merganser of the year, a drake that flew west close inshore. A fox was seen near the skate park.

Moving on to Seasalter and the marshes around the South Swale NNR we walked west from the Sportsman pub to Castle Coote hoping to find the recently seen Snow Buntings. On route we saw a cracking male Marsh Harrier flying east, a female Sparrowhawk on one of the metal fences/barriers, 1 Skylark, calling Cetti's Warbler and a couple of groups of Bearded Tits (heard and not seen). The usual waders were noted on the mud in small numbers, most notably Knot. Around halfway between the white post and Castle Coote a flock of c35 birds took off from the beach and vegetation, clearly the Snow Buntings. They split into two groups and headed off west, fairly high towards Castle Coote, and despite a walk further west, with MG, who had been walking towards us and had also seen the birds fly, we could not relocate them. 33 Mute Swans and 3 Reed Buntings were noted before the long walk back to the cars, and while there was little to add to the notebook, an enjoyable chat about Kent birding, cameras and habitat management was had. See you soon MG.

We then dropped into Oare Marshes around 12:30 to see if we could catch up with the 2 Great Northern Divers seen recently. Once in the car park and wrapped up warm, we were treated to wonderful views of a Short-eared Owl hunting close over the reeds and rough ground, before later heading off over the slipway, saltmarsh and the West Flood. A Wren showed in the car park brambles. Moving over to the slipway, I started scanning the Swale with binoculars, and just to the east the first 2 birds that I came across on the water warranted closer inspection with the telescope. They turned out to be 2 cracking drake Goosanders. Both of my parents managed to have a look in the scope before they took off to the west and joined an already airborne drake Red-breasted Merganser - a nice comparison. The Merganser pitched down but the 2 Goosanders carried on west over Uplees copse and disappeared into the murk. Soon after, I started scanning to the west and located the 2 Great Northern Divers feeding and occasionally being hassled by juvenile Herring Gulls. There was obviously a good supply of food in this part of the Swale as there were also 5 Red-breasted Mergansers (4 drakes) diving, and then Mum picked up a Grebe. It was obviously smaller than the Mergansers, and after around 10 minutes of scrutiny, we were able to confirm that it was a Slavonian Grebe. Even at long range the black and white plumage could be seen with the white neck and cheek being particularly noticeable. The flat black cap was visible too. While looking at this bird a Common Buzzard flew low over the Sheppey saltmarsh before crossing the Swale and disappearing around the copse too. All of the usual waders were present on the mud, and back in the car, there was a healthy number of Pintail on the East Flood and a Kestrel in the top of a tree by the cottages on departure. Another enjoyable, if somewhat brief visit and good to bump into KC here too.

The final stop of the day was Conyer Creek, where the tide was coming in fast over the remaining areas of mud in the Swale. Oystercatcher, 94+ Avocet, masses of Knot, Dunlin, Grey Plover and Redshank with a few Black and Bar-tailed Godwits, Ringed Plover and Turnstone were quite a spectacle through the optics, plus there were 9 R-B Mergansers (7 drakes), 2 Little Grebes and many Wigeon on the Swale. Flocks of Teal and Mallard could be found in the creek. A Rock Pipit was on the saltmarsh and Curlew and Brent Geese could be seen on the grazing marsh to the east looking back towards Uplees. A look around the trees and bushes revealed several Long-tailed Tits and a Great-spotted Woodpecker. Quite a day.... and weekend really.

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