With some trepidation yesterday morning I arrived at Leysdown having agreed to Lead a Kent Ornithological Society Field meeting, firstly to Shellness Point and then round The Swale NNR. It was a bitter cold and windy morning and the prospect of several hours freezing to death, and being out of my depth doing something I'd never done before, was quite daunting. In the event, the wind dropped, the sun put in an appearance and our 8 member party had a thoroughly good time and at Shellness Point we were even temporarily joined by a large party from the South Bucks Bird Club.
The High Tide Roost at the Point was unfortunately a bit of a damp squib because the high tide was of the lower height variety and by failing to cover much of the inner mudflats it allowed the few thousand waders to remain spread out along their length into the distance. However spirits were raised as we watched a distant speck in the sky out to sea gradually morph into a Peregrine Falcon that eventually dive-bombed some waders almost alongside us before disappearing along the tide-line again. A Merlin also put in an appearance, using an old lorry tyre way out in the saltings as a perch.
Leaving there we made our way along the seawall to the main part of The Swale NNR, and along the wall, I reckon the best bird of the day got up out of the grass just yards from us, a Short-eared Owl. A cracking sight and very soon after we stopped to get some equally good views of a flock of around 160 White-fronted Geese that were feeding in a grazing meadow alongside the seawall. Eventually scared up by an approaching helicopter they flew a circle around us, filling the air with my favourite wild goose calls.
The marsh part of the reserve was fairly quiet birdwise but we did at least catch up with several Marsh Harriers that until then had been reluctant to put in an appearance.
This is a bit of a wizz through a wander round that lasted almost six hours but I'm sure that the participants found much to enjoy.
I was back on the reserve with Midge earlier on today and with little wind and the sun beginning to break out through patches in the cloud it was a really pleasant patrol. What was very quickly apparent was a feeling that something had changed, and for the better. After a few drying and windy days the surface of the marsh was dryer and firmer and almost seemed greener, the sun was out and couple that with an overpowering stillness in the air, you could feel that Spring was very, very close. There were other little signs as well, a few indivdual pairs of Greylags had broken away from the main flock and were looking like prospective breeding pairs and even better, one or two Lapwings were practising their courtship displays with much "peewitting". Yes there was definitely a whiff of Spring out there this morning and just think, many of the Spring migrants will have already left their wintering grounds and be starting the migration north, not long now before that first Sand Martin turns up over a pond or waterway.
I wonder if the Hooded Crow was thinking the same this morning as it made its way out onto the saltings with a flock of 120 Carrion Crows, was he thinking of Scotland once again, he looked quite dapper in his two-tone plumage.
Yes, there's been a stillness in the air today that suggested that we were almost at the crossroads of the seasons.
THE BARN EARLIER TODAY JUST BEFORE THE SUN BROKE ABOVE THE HORIZON
THE RAPTOR VIEWING MOUND ALONG THE HARTY ROAD
HARTY HILL FROM THE HARTY ROAD
CAPEL CORNER WITH CAPEL FLEET IN THE BACKGROUND