Trip reports

Two visits to Stodmarsh

Two visits to Stodmarsh
Dartford warbler by Dave Smith

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

We haven't been able to offer birdwatching walks since the first lockdown in March, and don't know when it will be possible to resume this enjoyable and sociable activity. In the meantime, here is an account of a couple of recent, solitary walks, which had wildly different, but equally fascinating highlights.

While out birding at Stodmarsh on 4th November, a mild, bright day, it was noticeable how many insects were still on the wing - peacock butterflies, several common darter dragonflies and other smaller species, including day-flying moths. Reaching the Lampen Wall in late morning and looking east across the marshes, dozens of black-headed gulls could be seen constantly circling round. It was obvious they were feeding on something abundant to keep so many birds in one location for so long. I believe the food source was spiders. For some reason there seems to have been a mass movement of these arachnids. Around the reserve, the trees, bushes and reedbeds were festooned with cobwebs, made more visible by bright sunlight glinting off very long, individual silky strands streaming horizontally out from the vegetation in a profusion of delicate bunting on an almost imperceptible breeze. Many more strands could be seen floating in the air, some of them very high, and only discernible to those of us trying to make out what it was we were observing when they joined together to form a UFO. It was difficult to see these tiny creatures, let alone try to capture an image as they drifted along. Being so small in the viewfinder, the spiders I was trying to focus on remained undetected by my camera, but I had to give it go, and ended up with some desperate attempts at record shots. It was all very interesting to those who were lucky enough to be there.

I witnessed something similar many years ago (my two boys were very young) while attending an air display at West Malling. Towards the end of the show small spiders began to drop out of the sky and land, in their thousands, on the airfield and into the crowds of people watching the proceedings. You can imagine the panic it must have caused for those who were arachnophobes, to be suddenly covered in numerous spiders. I remember the screams!

Another visit, this time to the Grove end of Stodmarsh on Wednesday 11th November, also proved interesting. Not long after seeing a ring-tailed harrier, the next treat was a family of three Dartford warblers, two adults and a juvenile. Apparently, at least one had been sighted the week before, close to the viewing ramp. The area where they were last reported was in the fields between the Harrison Drove track and the footbridge along the path leading west out towards the marsh hide. They were feeding in the line of bramble and hawthorn bushes directly behind the new wooden bench, about 50 yards before the bridge. A great deal of patience was required because they were quite elusive most of the time. Several stonechats were in the same location. Far too many photographers (myself included) have been trying to get a good shot of these warblers. I failed, but it felt wrong to be disturbing the birds any longer, so I decided my record shots would have to do!