Trip reports

Conyer Creek (Leader Giuseppe Raffa)

Conyer Creek (Leader Giuseppe Raffa)
Waders [(Richard Hanman]

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Fog and widespread frost did not discourage nine group members who decided to put the Christmas shopping on hold and join me for the last outing of the year. Not surprisingly I would say, as Conyer creek, which has been part of our program for several years now, hardly ever disappoints.

The trip did not get off to a flying start though, as - after spotting a few common birds by the Ship Inn pub - we all quickly realized that there still was a lot of fog in the area, so much so that focusing our scopes on the first wader of the day - a curlew foraging in the field a few yards away from the pub - proved to be a challenging task, despite the size of the bird.

After checking the tide timetable, starting off by scanning the Swale was clearly the most sensible choice. However, the visibility was definitively poor for the first forty minutes or so, when a bit of sunlight began coming through... and it was very welcome indeed. Dunlins, redshanks and black-tailed godwits did not fail to turn up, soon followed by grey plovers and a few distant wigeons. We also kept an eye on the other side of the path - which means the shrubby bit - where we promptly spotted a male reed bunting and then the first redwing of the trip.

Unfortunately, not many winter thrushes appeared to be in the area, despite what I saw during my pre-visit at the beginning of the month, when they seemed to be everywhere. We guessed that they had moved somewhere else to maximize their chances of finding food.

Roughly half way between the beginning of the path and the gate where we normally turn right to start the second part of our circular walk, we were all delighted to see a kingfisher on a pole used to measure the tide level. As it frequently happens with this beautiful creature though, after thirty seconds or so all we could see was a flash of blue, as our bird was clearly determined to catch something in one of the pools in front of us.

We kept scanning the area hoping to identify a red-breasted merganser, but to no avail. When probably most of us thought that it was a good time to move on, our attention was focused on a bird that looked like a herring gull, but with yellow legs... definitively worth investigating. After the usual debate, Peter - after double-checking his smartphone - provided us with sufficient evidence that it was a yellow-legged gull.

Shortly after leaving the path overlooking the Swale, the first fieldfare of the day materialized on the top of a bush... it would have been very disappointing indeed if we had not managed to add this handsome thrush to our trip list!

A few more thrushes were then sighted in the nearby orchard, where at some point two large - but rather distant - birds caught our attention. The vegetation around them certainly did not help, but their silhouette appeared to be a good match for long-eared owls. A couple of minutes later though, the birds moved enough for us to see the beak as well as other markings... and we all agreed that we had been looking at two superbly camouflaged buzzards!

A very pleasant morning with 42 species seen and four heard (long-tailed tit, jackdaw, Cetti's warbler and great tit). Thanks to all who decided to participate.

Giuseppe Raffa