Monday 3 August 2020

Rolling back the years in Kent

The first twitch I can ever remember was in August 2007. Sharp-tailed Sandpiper was the target, and Oare Marshes in Kent was the location, just south of the Isle of Sheppey. It is a fabulous reserve but one that inexplicably I've only ever visited a handful of times. I went again yesterday for the first time in about eight years. Eight years! I mean I know Wanstead is good, but come on - Oare is not the kind of place that should be neglected for that long, it was simply superb and stuffed full of waders. I rarely see waders, in fact these days I probably hear more waders than I see, so to be presented with a panorama overflowing with them was quite the thing.

I was on a day out. I had thought about staying local and spending another weekend at home doing very little, but then I realised that 2020 could easily pass without me seeing many birds at all which would be rather sad. I needed a change and despite the distance I am glad that I went through with it - these days it takes very little for me to press the "sod it" button. So at 7.45am on Sunday I found myself at Dungeness, which according to my records I had not visited since 2016 (I am aghast but I can well believe it). I was alone. No dog-walkers, no joggers, no sirens, just me and various gravel pits that had been stocked with birds prior to my arrival. I started at the ARC, viewing from a bank that in normal circumstances you are not supposed to stand on, but with the screen and hide being closed the many footprints strongly suggested that this was the most viable alternative. Gosh what a lot of birds there were, and I picked through every one of them. Crossing the road back onto the reserve I wandered towards Hooker's Pit, briefly seeing three birders shock horror, and picking up a few Cattle Egret and Great White Egret, which at Dungeness are as common as muck. Hundreds of hirundines fed overhead, mostly Sand Martins, and the low scrub either side of the path was alive with Warblers. If it sounds as if I had a jaunt in my step, I most certainly did. From the ramp at Hooker's I spat at another Great White Egret, and one of the what I assumed were hawking Common Terns turned out to be a Little Gull, a bird I have not seen for four years this country. 

A quick scan back up the ARC pit from the main road picked up a regular Black-winged Stilt, but I never like birding along there as some cars absolutely cane it down this "final straight" and didn't linger any longer than I had to. Whereas I had barely seen a soul on the RSPB reserve the area around the Obs and new lighthouse was heaving - lots of families enjoying the morning sunshine, and the café was doing a roaring trade. I had a quick look at the sea but there was nothing doing at all, and even the outflow known as "The Patch" had practically nothing on it, so bidding farewell to Dungeness I headed cross-country to Oare. 

What a lovely reserve. Early morning and I can be there in about an hour, and for the life of me I don't know why I don't do it more often. I guess I just don't like driving I had timed my visit for the high tide to ensure maximum waderage and I was not disappointed. Back to school, were all the Dunlins Dunlins? Could I pick out a Curlew Sandpiper, not having seen one for six years..... as it turns out I could which pleased a number of other people who had been trying to do the same thing. Six years!! What the hell have I been doing??? I guess that time just goes rather quickly these days, and by the time a few weekends have gone by and you've said "oh well there's always next year" a few times this is the inevitable result.

A long-staying Bonaparte's Gull was still around although finding it was a nightmare - even though it is distinctly smaller than a Black-headed Gull, when all of them are sat down and asleep this difference is not readily apparent, particularly now that the moult has started. Luckily some of the other birders there picked out a candidate, which when it did finally wake up proved to be spot on.

I tried to look at gulls for as little time as possible obviously. Instead I bathed in waders for over two hours, drank them all in. Avocets, Goldies, Blackwits, Dunlin, two Curlew Sandpipers, Redshank, Common Sandpipers, Turnstone, Lapwing, Snipe..... In fact I was so absorbed I even missed lunch, and got a reminder at about 1pm saying that I had promised to be home by 1pm to cook lunch and why was I still in Kent (the family can track my whereabouts, it is for the best)? Oops. Anyway, lunch became dinner and I had a great day out birding, my first day anywhere in the southeast other than Wanstead since February. I should do it more, not constantly, but perhaps more often than once every few years - it clearly enhanced by enjoyment of birding. I can't not mention the downside which is at the forefront of many a conversation at the moment, which is that I drove about 170 miles when I could have walked around the patch carbon-free. I honestly don't know what to say here. In my defence I've not been to Derbyshire, and I didn't go to Holy Island, Portland or Wexford either. The trouble is when you live in a city you cannot readily replicate this type of birding but ultimately this was a selfish trip. Perhaps I should move to the coast? This whole remote-working thing shows that I don't need to live in London - I've performed my job for nearly six months without going to Canary Wharf even once. I wonder if I could convince the rest of the family?

Imagine living with this on your doorstep?