A Morning Pootle

A Morning Pootle - Herring Gull
A Morning Pootle

At some ridiculous hour of the morning I was woken by my ageing father who was ready for a morning pootle out to some of the local North Kent birding hotspots. In particular the hotspots of Margate and Sandwich. (Slight dig at the old man here, it was only about 07:30, but he just gave me, while I wrote this post, some rather spicy chilli and chocolate!).

As we stepped out of the front door, leaving Zoe soundly sleeping. (Fortunately we woke the little one who roundly woke her for me – again a dig at Zoe as she was in on the spicy chocolate thing). The early winter sun was trying to fight her way through the thin cloud cover; while the light coastal breeze carried a few ice particles, presumably picked up on its anti cyclonic journey from the frozen north. It certainly felt like winter had finally set in.

A Morning Pootle

Our first destination the grassy covered cliffs of Clifftonville and Margate. And a quick scan through for an interesting (if that is the right word) gull or two. Sadly it was just the usual Herring Gull and Black-headed Gull, whose presence on the road side grass was as disturbed by dog walkers as ever.

The next port of call was to the famous (are they? I know there was an interesting Redstart here a while ago and a Swift last month!) Jet Ski ramps. Below the towering white cliffs of Margate. Here the biting cold wind was, it felt, whipping straight in off the north sea. Carrying with it the chill of the Arctic. Or that is how my un-gloved hands felt after 20 mins of standing staring out over the sea weed covered rocks, in the vein hope of a Purple Sandpiper. Alas there were none about. Instead we made do with a supporting cast of yet more Herring Gulls and Curlew.

Sea Birds

While I stood watching the grey choppy seas, trying to pick out passing seabirds. A distant Black-throated Diver powered its way past the multiple ships and tankers waiting for a space to dock. Stiff winged Fulmar could occasionally be picked out above the heads of numerous Great-crested Grebe, wintering in the shallow bays. Meanwhile a number of small Brent Geese flocks flew by close in shore.

Needing a little warmth, and in an attempt to see more birds, we jumped back in the car and headed off through Margate towards Westbrook. A continuation of our morning pootle.

Westbrook Bay stop 2 on our morning pootle

Arriving in the beach car park off the Royal Esplanade at Westbrook Bay, it was pleasing to find we were not alone. We were joined in the car park by a stunningly friendly Turnstone, who proceeded to pick and scratch at morsels all around the car.

Turnstone feeding in the car park
Turnstone feeding in the car park
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/5.6 1/160 ISO 250

 

Turnstone feeding in the car park
Turnstone feeding in the car park
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/5.6 1/160 ISO 250

Disembarking we wandered up to the iron railings, where we could look out over yet more seaweed covered rocks and not see Purple sandpipers. Or rather I could as I didn’t see one despite Dad seeing a couple. Instead I had to make do with the accompanying, melancholy calls of the 10 or so Brent Geese; who were casually swimming around the rock pools.

Brent Geese
Brent Geese
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/5.6 1/160 ISO 250

Rocky Shores

More Turnstone and Redshank could be found ducking in an out of the rocky vista in front of us; along side a striking winter plumage Grey Plover briefly; and several other gull species: Herring;Lesser Black-backedGreater Black-backed; and Black Headed.

Behind us I was alerted to the call of a small passerine who dropped into the muddy grass beside the car. Almost slate grey in colour this stunning Rock Pipit gave me some wonderful views before I had to disturb its presence and let my old man know it was there. It, of course, then flew off calling again and was replaced briefly by a Meadow Pipit. More colourful but not as special to me. A Pied Wagtail rounded off the birds in the car park nicely. Before I went back for another quick photograph of the Turnstone.

Rock Pipit
Rock Pipit
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/5.6 1/80 ISO 250

 

Rock Pipit
Rock Pipit
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/5.6 1/80 ISO 250

 

Meadow pipit
Meadow pipit
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/5.6 1/80 ISO 250

 

Turnstone at the edge of the car park
Turnstone at the edge of the car park
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/5.6 1/160 ISO 250

On to Sandwich our third destination of our morning pootle

Leaving the beach behind we headed back South West on our morning pootle, and on to the rather posh area of sandwich. Famed for its golf course and bird observatory. In the town itself, along side the river  a long staying male Mandarin Duck could be found in all its gaudy orange beauty. Still associating with the local Mallards, it has been there quite a while now. Keeping up the loose hope that a female will come to it, rather than go off in search it seems.

After passing through town and negotiating the toll collectors: £7 per car if you are not a resident or Bird Obs member! We briefly stopped in the observatory car park to check out the latest sightings on the board, before heading off past the end of the private road, and onto the road to deal. Where at a slow crawl in the, now driving, rain, we made our way along. Checking the roadside fields and golf course for any passing birds of interest.

Low Numbers

Actual bird numbers were very low for much of the time. And it wasn’t until we stopped and looked out over the fields and river valley, that is part of a new RSPB reserve, that we really saw anything. Here we were treated to a distant, very slow flying, female Marsh Harrier, as she quartered over the heads of the local gull population.

Further along, as visibility began to wane, we managed to stumble across a small covey of Grey Partridge. Hunkered down from the rain, it was, at times, hard to see. Where one bird ended and the next began. All around them Curlew picked their way through the muddy grass; and a small murmuration of Starling fed happily in amongst the cattle.

Black-headed gull in flight over fields near Deal
Black-headed gull in flight over fields near Deal
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/80 ISO 400

Sandwich Bay Scrape

After a short view of a pair of Stonechat; we stopped into the scrape area and I popped along to the small, yet busy, hide. There I was treated to some very close views of a first year Little Grebe as it played with a small fish. Catching it, then releasing it, just to catch it again in the shallow margins of the small lake.

Little Grebe
Little Grebe
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/250 ISO 400

 

Little Grebe fishing (you can just see the small fish in its beak)
Little Grebe fishing (you can just see the small fish in its beak)Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/250 ISO 400

 

Little Grebe
Closer view of the Little Grebe
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/200 ISO 400

Hundreds of Teal (over 400 one of the local male birdwatchers loudly proclaimed as I sat in the hide) could be seen mixed in with several Gadwall and good numbers of Shoveler and the odd Coot. Two Common Snipe (again announced really loudly by one of the female birdwatchers this time – there was a distinct lack of hide etiquette today!) could be seen atop the island and a lone Lapwing made up the only other species on the lake itself.

Male Teal
Male Teal
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/200 ISO 400

 

Male Gadwall
Male Gadwall
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/250 ISO 400

 

Eurasian Teal flapping his wings
Eurasian Teal flapping his wings
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/250 ISO 400

 

Eurasian Coot
Eurasian Coot
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/250 ISO 500

Gunfire from a Clay Shoot

Loud gunfire, from the local clay pigeon shooting club, put up the teal and Shoveler to flight at one point and it was wonderful to see hundreds of small ducks as the whizzed and dived in the air trying to find safety.

Teal scared into flight by gun shot
Teal scared into flight by gun shot
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/500 ISO 500
Lesser Black-backed gull (?) in flight
Lesser Black-backed gull (?) in flight
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/640 ISO 500

 

Herring Gull in flight
Herring Gull in flight
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/640 ISO 500

Having had my fill of both the birds and more importantly the noisy people in the hide I headed back to the car and we headed off home after another pleasant day out birding with my dad.

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