Trip reports

RSPB Cliffe Pools (Leader Warren Mann)

RSPB Cliffe Pools (Leader Warren Mann)
Dunlin flocks at Cliffe Pools (RSPB image)

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

As the group, which was eventually 11 in number, slowly assembled in the car park the early arrivals were rewarded by two flocks of geese flying overhead: one comprised of brent geese and the other greylags. We also saw a kestrel, herring and lesser blacked-gulls and in the Crystal pool there were tufted ducks, a pochard, mallard and gadwall, plus coot, redshank and little grebe.

We decided to do the full circuit in an anti-clockwise direction, and we aimed to arrive at the top of the Flamingo Pool between 12.00 and 12.30. We hoped to take advantage of the spring tide which in theory should drive lots of birds off the mudflats and into the pools. Initially it was quiet as we made our way around only adding a couple of birds to our list, but things improved markedly when we reached The View Point overlooking the Radar pool. Firstly, close-up was a large flock of coots and just behind them two winter-plumaged great crested grebes, then we picked up a single golden eye, four pintails and several shovelers and shelducks. There were also curlews, grey herons, ringed plovers and a distant marsh harrier.

We moved on and at Alan's pond there was a moorhen, and in the surrounding scrub there were blue tits, great tits, and dunnocks. As we made our way up the track we saw pied wagtails, black-headed gulls, mute swans, goldfinches, and a pair of stonechats. At the viewing mound, just past the Black Barn we saw teals, wigeons, cormorants, and one of each of dunlin, common and green sandpipers. We walked further up the track and heard several Cetti's warblers, and then we saw, what initially we assumed was another flock of starlings landing in some distant bushes, but we quickly realised it was a large flock of fieldfares. We moved closer and a prolonged scan failed to find any redwings amongst them, but a fine sight nevertheless. As we moved on towards the sea wall there was a lone Egyptian goose on the grazing marsh and a number of rooks to add to our list. A brief look at the Thames confirmed it was indeed a very high tide, and there was nothing of note on the river.

When we reached the mouth of Cliffe Creek we decided it was time for a lunch break, so we eventually arrived at the Flamingo pool somewhat behind our schedule. However, it was still high tide and we were rewarded by the sight of a single Bewick's swan alongside more curlews. The highlights of the day for me were the dunlins. Flocks of them were taking off and flying in all directions, sometimes close to the water, other times flying over our heads, always swirling and turning, changing from black to white as they did so. As we made our way down the Saxon Shore Way we came to realise that there were dunlins practically all the way down the far bank of the Flamingo pool. Sometimes they were in small clumps, or stretched out in a long line. Our first guess was that there were perhaps 500 birds, this rapidly became about a thousand dunlins, then two thousand and finally three thousand. To be honest we did not have a clue, but we all agreed there were lots! There were of course other birds present, some we had seen before such as golden eyes, shelducks, and lapwings which were present in good numbers, but there were also small numbers of grey and golden plovers. We also saw our first little egrets and had much closer views of marsh harrier.

We moved on to the next pool, but to our surprise there were none of the expected large flocks of avocets and black-tailed godwits. There were a few godwits but we had to search to find a solitary avocet, hidden amongst some greater black-backed gulls. We made or way back to the car park, adding meadow pipits, robins and long-tailed tits to our list. We arrived only 75 minutes after our intended finishing time which I put down to people stopping to look at the birds rather than getting on with the walk. Still, their efforts were rewarded with a total of 58 species and a very enjoyable walk in the winter sunshine.

Warren Mann