In the first week of April I went down to Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory in East Kent, for a week's birding with 3 other Next Generation Birders; George, Sophie (who was just back from spending the winter in Ecuador, so almost every bird she saw on the trip was a year tick!) and Lewis. We spent 5 days, from the 4th to the 8th, scouring the stunning flat landscapes of East Kent in search of birds and other wildlife.
I had a brilliant week, seeing 96 bird species, 38 of which were year ticks and 1 was a lifer! The weather was generally kind to us, with the odd rain shower here and there, but that gave me time to do some revision for my AS exams!
All week we were treated to good views of Firecrest, Short-eared Owl, Corn Buntings and Grey Partridges - birds I don't get to see all that often, and I don't think there were 15 minutes that we didn't hear the yaffle of a Green Woodpecker!
Even though the sea watching at Sandwich Bay isn't brilliant (after all it is a large bay) it was great just to be by the sea, a nice change from where I live, so far inland. We did however see a small flock of around 10 Scoter on the sea on the first day (Monday) which were the only ones seen all week. We also saw Great-crested Grebes on the sea throughout the week, which was a bit of an odd sight!
A daily visit to 'The Scrape' south of the Obs provided nice views of Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Snipe, Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler, Tufted Ducks, and a single male Wigeon on Friday. As well as several whinnying Little Grebes.
On Tuesday morning I took a walk over one of the golf courses to the sea, seeing a Stonechat, Short-eared Owl, a flock of Dunlin (the only ones seen on the trip) and my first Swallow of the year.
A Peregrine and a Marsh Harrier were seen over the Obs that day too. And it was brilliant to sit in the small woodland down the road from the Obs, 'The Elms', and have Goldcrests, Wrens, a Blackcap, Chiffchaffs and a Firecrest flitting about and singing in the trees around me!
On Wednesday, we had brief views of an immature Mediterranean Gull that just dropped into a field outside the Obs, so that was a nice and unexpected year tick. A Ring-necked Parakeet was also seen flying over. In the afternoon, as unfortunately the Bee Walk that was planned was called off due to bad weather, we headed over to Stodmarsh NNR, a reserve of vast reed beds and lagoons. Whilst walking through the woodland, heading towards the marsh, we had a pair of Treecreepers close to the path, a year tick. And it was not long until we were watching several male and female Marsh Harriers showing brilliantly, as well as hearing tonnes of Cetti's Warblers very close to the path, one of which we managed to get good views of (well, for a Cetti's anyway!). We also heard Water Rail, and I spotted 2 Red Kites across the lagoon, before it started tipping it down and we had to shelter in the hide. However the rain did bring down a handful of Swallows and Sand Martins, the latter being a trip tick.
All week there was bird ringing going on too, which was interesting to observe. On Wednesday they ringed a Redwing - I've never seen one so late in the year! A Great Spotted Woodpecker, Chiffchaffs, Starlings, Willow Warblers and Firecrests were other good birds ringed during the week, although I missed the latter two unfortunately.
On Thursday we headed up the coast to Pegwell Bay, getting there 3 hours before the high tide to watch the waders coming in. It wasn't massively busy on the wader front, but we did see 2 Brent Geese (dark-bellied), Curlew, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Common Gull and we got great scope views of 9 Sandwich Terns! We also had an escaped Harris Hawk fly over us!
On Thursday afternoon we took a walk up to 'New Downs', a scrape by the River Stour north of the Obs, to look for the Avocets and other waders there. On the walk up to the scrape we saw a Peregrine and a lovely Kingfisher, as well as many singing Skylarks and Meadow Pipits. Amongst the Oystercatchers and ducks on the scrape, we saw the Avocets, 13 of them, and 5 Ringed Plovers, both trip ticks and nice birds to see.
There was plenty of other wildlife besides birds to be seen throughout the week. When we first arrived, a beautiful Angle Shades moth was resting on the Obs wall, and stayed all day, allowing for a good photo opportunity. Moth trapping was done most nights, so it was very useful to watch the catch being processed and identified, especially as most of the species were ones that I caught when I trapped the week before at home. (Please click on the images below to view them full screen)
Around the Obs recording area there are several reptile refuges, which are often used by Slow Worms to warm up under. It was brilliant to see these creatures up close - I've only ever seen them once before and that was a rather quick view. So I was thrilled to see about 6 in the week, and managed a few photos with my phone. On Wednesday, Sophie and I lifted up a refuge to find a Field Vole underneath it, which was a bit of a surprise!
The last day of the trip was one of the best day's birding I've had in Britain for a while! It started with Sophie and I taking a walk around the area south of the Obs, when we got great views of Short-eared Owls, my first Wheatear of the year, 2 continental Coal Tits (Periparus ater ater), Corn Buntings and Grey Partridge. Then as we were sat in the hide at the scrape watching Curlews and the first Wigeon of the trip, the Obs warden came in asking if we'd seen 3 waders drop in at the scrape, as he'd just had a Long-billed Dowitcher fly north with 2 Redshanks! Soon we were dashing about scanning the marsh area nearby, with no luck on the Dowitcher front. We did however watch a female Hen Harrier drift by, my first for a long time! After giving up searching and heading back to the Obs, we decided that after lunch we would head up to New Downs (another scrape area north of the Obs) in the off chance that the Dowitcher had settled there. As we were walking along the riverbank, Sophie looked behind her at a scrape next to the river and saw 3 waders... I set my scope up as quickly as possible and there it was, the Long-billed Dowitcher with 2 Redshanks, a lifer! We proceeded to take some record shots and watch it (after some quiet celebrations at having refound the bird) for a few minutes, before suddenly it took off and headed north again. It wasn't seen again that day, but it was seen the subsequent few days after we had all gone back home. The birding hadn't stopped there for the day though - we hadn't been back at the Obs for 5 minutes before we heard that there was a Crane at the spot where the Dowitcher was first seen in the morning, quite a scarce bird in this part of Kent! And whilst watching the Crane I got a glimpse of a Merlin overheard, another year tick. A truly brilliant day that won't be forgotten for a while!
My brilliant Opticron Verano HD 10x42 binoculars and MM3 60 ED scope were put to great use on this trip. I had to carry the scope around a lot - it is just the right balance between lightness and performance, perfect for a trip like this. I would certainly recommend it to anyone looking for a travel scope!
It was a brilliant 5 days down on the east coast of Kent, a county I haven't been to for years. We had good weather, and I certainly can't argue with 38 year ticks and a lifer! I'd like to say a huge thank you to the Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory for having us, and I will definitely be visiting again in the future!
I'm Sorrel, a young birder, wildlife photographer and artist based in the East Midlands - this is my blog all about my birding and wildlife adventures.