Trip reports

RSPB Northward Hill (Leader Warren Mann)

RSPB Northward Hill (Leader Warren Mann)
Barn Swallow (Rich Hanman)

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

The day before had seen nearby Gravesend experience a temperature of 34.4o C, the highest September temperature in the UK for more than 100 years. Luckily for the 10 of us assembled in the car park, temperatures did not approach that mark, but it was still a bright, sunny, very hot and somewhat humid day.

The feeders were well supplied with food but failed to attract any takers. As we moved on we heard, then saw, a great-spotted woodpecker at the top of a partly bare tree. We added a swallow and a magpie as we moved to the Marsh Viewpoint. Just after we arrived a marsh harrier put up a grey heron. We found the green sandpiper and snipe seen earlier in the morning by Yeuk and then set about identifying the good mix of waders and wild fowl present on the pool. There were mute swans, teals, mallards, pochards and gadwalls (but not the shoveler seen earlier in the day), plus black-tailed godwits, lapwings, spotted redshanks and eventually little egrets. In addition there were coots and little grebes. Distant common buzzards were seen over the marshes towards the Thames, and there was also one sitting on the grass next to the reservoir. By now we had also added a crow, rook and jackdaw to our list.

We then made our way down to the little bridge and up the slope to the orchard. Given the heat it was an easy decision not to proceed up to the top of Northward Hill to the viewpoint, but rather to scan the marshes through the gap in the hedge by the stile and to take advantage of the nearby benches. We were rewarded by sightings of three red-legged partridges, and a good number of distant gulls - mainly black-headed but with some herring gulls. Much nearer, working along the hedgerow, were about 20 long-tailed tits. Great tits, blue tits, reed buntings and chaffinches were also seen. Brian put us all onto a sparrowhawk, and then got us very excited with a distant view of a possible honey buzzard. However, he was unable to confirm the identification to his own satisfaction, so we had to delete that sighting from the record.

As we made our way back to the Marsh Viewpoint we heard a Cetti's warbler and saw a lone goldfinch. There were further sightings of buzzards and a good view of a wasp spider. Despite another look from the viewpoint we added no new birds, but we were able to confirm the sighting of the spotted redshank. As we made our way to the Ernie Hemsley (EH) Viewpoint we saw 12 swallows on the wires and a party of goldfinches; some of the group saw jays and a wren. This was trumped by those who saw both a shrew and a vole. We also added to the good number of sightings and hearings of green woodpecker experienced throughout the morning.

At the EH Viewpoint we saw stock dove, cormorant and kestrel and distant greylag geese, and Brian spotted another sparrowhawk, this time being mobbed by two crows. I thought this was going to be the last bird of the day but as we were about to depart the Viewpoint the rarities sub-committee declared, after some 15 minutes of deliberation, that the distant bird seen over the Thames was indeed a peregrine falcon.

This late addition to the list meant that we had seen or heard 45 bird species including five raptors (but not the honey buzzard). We also identified six species of butterfly (red admiral, common copper, small blue, large white, peacock and comma), and seen two small mammals and an arachnid. In all we had a very pleasant morning's walk and enjoyed some lovely birds and weather. On a sad note Terry announced that this would be his last outing with the Group, as he and Allan were moving to Ipswich to be near Terry's daughter. We wish them both well.

Warren Mann