Trip reports

Cliffe Pools (RSPB)

Cliffe Pools (RSPB)
Photo of the goldeneye by Ben Hall

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Cliffe is an area of old gravel pits, scrub and open pasture nestled up against the Thames in North Kent. Today it was also VERY windy, conditions that eventually caused something of an early finish. In the meantime however, six members joined me for an enjoyable if somewhat rough morning exploring the pools.
Heather provided the first moment of tension by admitting that she had forgotten to bring a waterproof. At this point however, Mick once again proved his credentials as a gentleman and provided a spare. Honour intact, we started out along the paths and pools where the dominant bird in pure number terms was the humble coot but the one that kept grabbing our attention was little grebe. Wherever we looked, there seemed to be individuals and small groups spread across each of the various pits. There were certainly more than 100 of these sometimes shy grebes, but not shy today; they seemed to be everywhere!
Otherwise, the site boasted a nice mix of wildfowl such as teal, mallard, gadwall, wigeon, shoveler and the always elegant pintail. Star duck was goldeneye, particularly the males with the immaculate white body contrasting with bottle green head and the standout spot just behind the bill; a more handsome duck you will struggle to find.
Whilst goldeneye might be star duck, star bird was undoubtedly marsh harrier. Raptors are undoubtedly my favourite group of birds and none are more impressive than the elegant marsh harrier and Cliffe provided at least five of these masterful birds of prey; masterful because in spite of the conditions (which occasionally had them flying backwards!), they nonetheless appeared to be in total control at all times. Magnificent!
Waders were represented by lapwing, small numbers of redshank, curlew and dunlin with a single grey plover. There was also one very pale, rather distant wader that we believe was a greenshank. Looking out over the Thames brought little, in that the tide was up and it seems all the waders had retreated to Essex! In flight however, we could pick out a flock or two of avocet.
Little birds were few and far between, preferring no doubt to keep to shelter in the blustery conditions. We were treated to a small flock of fieldfare and in spite of many winters watching these visiting thrushes, they never fail strike to me as very smart birds indeed.
Having retreated to the cars for lunch (including some teddy bear shortbreads courtesy of Heather), conditions were such that we decided to copy the small birds and head for home.
Neil Bew