Trip reports

Pegwell Bay and Grove Ferry, Kent. Saturday 2 December 2017

Sunday, 10 December 2017

The tide was high and only a narrow strip of salt marsh separated us from the water's edge in the bay ahead. After some initial scanning across the bay, we slowly made our way south on the coastal footpath, with a flat expanse of bushes on our right and the mouth of the River Stour, where sandbanks remained above the tide level, to our left. 2 or 3 small flocks of common scoter and at least 2 female goldeneye were on the sea, while a female red-breasted merganser flew across the bay from south to north. A dense roost of 200 - 300 oystercatchers was prominent on the seaward side of a sandy spit south of the mouth of the Stour. Just two avocets were seen, near the mouth of the Stour. A female marsh harrier was hunting beside the River Stour mid-morning. After walking four hundred metres or so, we turned into the Stonelees Reserve and walked a circuit through its low-lying, relatively undisturbed, bushy habitat. A flock of 6 ring-necked parakeets were feeding on the berries of Guilder Rose bushes where 2 waxwings had been observed feeding on the previous day! We Croydonians got the worse of that deal. On emerging again, we took a direct route through bushes back to the car park, arriving there at around 13:30, to find that the sea had receded by the best part of a kilometer and exposed a vast stretch of mud and sand. No golden plovers had been evident during the morning high tide, but a sizeable, densely-packed flock (of 300+) was roosting at the outer edge of the salt marsh by early afternoon. A convenient picnic table near the car park, for lunch in the sunshine, gave views over the bay and mouth of the Stour. On the morning high tide, around 10 common (aka harbour) seals were scattered about in the bay or in the mouth of the River Stour. One in the river was seen repeatedly leaping clear of the water, porpoise-like. At around noon, while we were at Stoneees, 12 seals could be seen hauled out on the northern bank of the river several hundred metres from its mouth.
After lunch we left Pegwell Bay and drove back westwards for about 15 kilometres miles to meet the River Stour again at Grove Ferry, where we parked near the pub. We spent most of the remaining hours of daylight on the Viewing Mound at the north-eastern end of Stodmarsh National Nature Reserve, finally returning to the car to leave for home soon after 17:00. When we arrived at the Mound, we were told by another visitor that he had come to see murmurations by as many as 60,000 starlings that apparently now occur at dusk over the reed-beds between the Mound and the River Stour. Sure enough, from about 30 minutes before sunset, groups of starlings numbering between half a dozen and a hundred or so began to fly in to congregate in the sky above the said reed-bed area. Before long the ever-increasing flock began to perform mass aerial manoeuvres and these continued until the sun had set and light had faded, when the whole assemblage suddenly plummeted down to disappeared into the reeds. After a few minutes, smaller, though still sizeable, separate flocks took to the air again and resumed their display, now with the individual flocks more densely packed. The displays were still continuing when we left the Mound at about 16:30. The whole starling spectacle had certainly been impressive although on this occasion my feeling was that the number of birds participating had been nearer 20,000 than 60,000. During the course of about half an hour late in the afternoon at least 15 individuals marsh harriers, of both genders, flew in from various directions to approach the site of their roost, apparently in reed-beds near the Stour, with a magnificent red sunset as backdrop. A few of the harriers approaching from the north-east had to make their way through a huge swirling flock of starlings to reach their destination. As dusk gathered and we returned along the length of path between Mound and car park, we observed a woodcock flying from its day roost in the wood to our left (northwest) to its night-time feeding ground in the marshy field to our right (southeast). On previous visits during late-Nov/early Dec in both 2015 and 2016 we had observed several woodcocks flying singly on the same course from wood to field.
77 bird species and 2 mammals (common seal and red fox) were seen during the day. The full bird list was great crested grebe, cormorant, little egret, grey heron, mute swan, greylag goose, Brent goose, shelduck, wigeon, gadwall, teal, mallard, pintail, common scoter, goldeneye, red-breasted merganser, marsh harrier, common buzzard, kestrel, pheasant, water rail, moorhen, coot, oystercatcher, avocet, golden plover, grey plover, lapwing, knot, sanderling, dunlin, common snipe, woodcock, black-tailed godwit, bar-tailed godwit, curlew, redshank, black-headed gull, common gull, lesser black-backed gull, herring gull, great black-backed gull, woodpigeon, collared dove, ring-necked parakeet, green woodpecker, meadow pipit, rock pipit, pied wagtail, wren, dunnock, robin, stonechat, blackbird, fieldfare, song thrush, redwing, mistle thrush, Cetti's warbler, bearded tit, long-tailed tit, blue tit, great tit, jay, magpie, jackdaw, rook, carrion crow, starling, house sparrow, chaffinch, greenfinch, goldfinch, linnet, lesser redpoll, bullfinch and reed bunting.
Based on a report by the leader, John Parish.