Trip reports

Motney Hill and Cliffe Pools RSPB Reserves on 16 February, 2014

Motney Hill and Cliffe Pools RSPB Reserves on 16 February, 2014
Ernie Thomason

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Sunny, calm and mild - rare weather features in recent weeks and very timely for our double-venue trip to the north Kent marshes! We spent the morning on the southern shore of the Medway estuary, walking along the embankment and beach out to the tip of the Motney Hill peninsula. A rising tide was far from full and large expanses of mud and salt marsh were still exposed. Substantial numbers of Great Crested Grebe, Shelduck, Teal and Wigeon were widely distributed over this bit of the estuary, along with rather fewer Brent Geese, Pintail and Mallard, and a single drake Red-breasted Merganser (one of the day's two nominated "target birds") was also picked out on a distant channel. Wader numbers within comfortable viewing range increased all the time as flocks from further out were pushed in by the tide, species present including Oystercatcher, Grey Plover, Lapwing, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Redshank, Curlew, Turnstone and (a single) Greenshank. Most impressive of all though was the succession of Avocet flocks arriving from further downstream, these almost certainly containing well over a thousand individuals overall. Passerine numbers during the morning were not high but did include at least two Rock Pipit along the high-tide line, several Skylark overhead and both Reed Bunting (seen) and Cetti's Warbler (heard) at the reedbed.

Around mid-day we moved on, driving through the Medway Tunnel and across the Hoo Peninsula to Cliffe Pools. As we set out for a walk along the southern edges of Radar and Flamingo Pools to the Thames seawall, our first butterfly of the year, a Peacock, flew by! On the pools, we noted more of the dabbling ducks seen earlier at Motney, these being accompanied here by good numbers of Gadwall and Shoveler. Diving ducks weren't particularly numerous but we did find some Tufted Duck and Pochard and also about a dozen Goldeneye in roughly even gender split (the second of our day's target birds). Lots of waders, including the odd Golden Plover, were roosting at the pools during the Thames high tide and on the shoreline of Flamingo Pool these had been joined by both a Little Egret and, the probable bird-of-the-day, a Spoonbill. Unusually for its kind, the latter had the good grace to raise its bill from under its wing once or twice for inspection before eventually departing and giving flight views too! At least two Marsh Harrier were seen hunting beyond the pools but the only other raptor found was a single Kestrel. From the bank of the Thames, another sizeable flock of Avocet was visible far away on the Essex shoreline and finally our return walk to the cars produced a few Meadow Pipit, Linnet and Goldfinch. (The daylist for our ten participants totalled 70 species).