Friday 26 November 2010

Pillar Point and Half Moon Bay, San Francisco, California, USA

Half Moon Bay is to be found on the ocean side of the San Francisco peninsula, 25 miles south of the Golden Gate Bridge on Highway 1. I had come at it from Palo Alto by the lower bay and had taken the 92 up and over the ridge.
The outer harbour is protected by a breakwater roughly made from large boulders. Though it is possible to get out onto, it is a scramble rather than a stroll.
Across the bay, a radar station sits at the top of a headland known as Pillar Point which juts out into the ocean. I left the car outside an RV park by the start of the breakwater . There were Brewer’s Blackbirds and Common Starlings in the conifers at the entrance. Gulls, mostly Western Gulls were being very attentive to the fishermen that had clambered out onto the rocky wall.
On the inshore waters outside the harbour were 6 Surf Scoters. My main hope for this visit was to find some lifer scoters. White-winged and Black Scoters would both be writ with the red crayon if I could find them, but all the Melanitta that I saw, stubbornly displayed the yellow and white markings of perspicillata. Inside the harbour, a flock of black ducks were too distant to allow me to discern any head markings, so I made my way out along the rocks to try and get a better look.
The makers of the breakwater had attempted to make it navigable. The top was made of rocks laid with their flattest sides uppermost, but it is no promenade and trying to turn while keeping a flying gull in frame was a precipitous job. The drifting ducks kept ahead of my progress and maintained a distance that denied me knowing them better.

The sun was losing height and warmth now as the afternoon passed to early evening. I hoped that I would get a better look from the headland on the other side of the bay. Beyond the harbour village, there is a car park by a salt marsh at the approach to the radar station. A path leads along the bottom of the earth cliffs to a small beach where locals were gathering to watch the sunset over the exposed reefs.
There were California Towhees and a Common Raven by the car park and a flock of 50 or so Bufflehead close in. A thin beach just inside the breakwater was the most productive spot of the afternoon. A Willet fed in the wavelets of the protected harbour, a Grey Plover stayed up-beach from the water and a Black Oystercatcher watched from a nearby rock. All the time tiny Sanderlings rushed back and forth as the ripples came and went.
The birds here were very confiding and people were walking within 5 meters of the Sanderlings. I chose a rock and sat down to enjoy them as they bowed to their reflections in the wet sand. From my seat, I was hoping that they would approach even closer as the waves pushed them up the beach.
Having consulted tide tables, I was expecting the water to be approaching its highest point soon, but instead, it was receding.
I had noted the times for Palo Alto which was only a few miles (20) across the ridge as the crow flies, but a much greater distance (60) along the tidal flow. Half Moon Bay has its tides as much as 2.5 hours in advance while the water surge finds its way along the coastal and inner bay route to Palo Alto.
Actually, the receding water gave me just a few extra seconds to enjoy the Sanderling show. The sun was dropping behind the rocks and an incoming tide would have pushed them into the encroaching shadow. The last rays were almost horizontal before the performance finished.
The sun set and the Sanderlings flew off to roost leaving me richly rewarded for my efforts. No lifers for my list today, but a delightful encounter in the last moments of light had made me wonder if I shouldn’t be making lists of moving experiences rather than just bird species seen. Is a sea-duck tick more rewarding than the Sanderlings’ charming dance in a Pacific sunset? Listen to me getting all waxy.

Watch for an enthused post about my little angel dancers coming soon.

Bird species; 24

Pacific Diver 1, Brown Pelican 8, Double-crested Cormorant 6, Greta Blue Heron 1, Black-crowned Night Heron 4, Brent Goose 1, Mallard 17, Surf Scote 16, Bufflehead 50, Black Oystercatcher 1, Grey Plover 2, Willet 1, Black Turnstone 7, Sanderling 60, California Gull 1, Glaucous-winged Gull 1, Western Gull 25, Common Raven 1, Common Starling 60, Yellow-rumped Warbler 2, Common Yellowthroat 2, California Towhee 2, Song Sparrow 3, Brewer's Blackbird 35.

Moving moments;
Sanderlings dancing in a Pacific sunset.
Pillar Point and Half Moon Bay, San Francisco, California, USA

Sunday 21 November 2010

Shoreline at Mountain View. Palo Alto, SanFrancisco, California, USA

Continuing my day in San Francisco that began on the previous post, I turned off the 101 taking Shoreline at Mountain View. This is a renowned area for finding Burrowing Owls and I couldn’t resist a quick look while I was close by. I might have been more successful earlier in the day, but the tide was at 06.00 and I wanted to look for rails from the boardwalk at the end of Embarcadero Rd. This picture is from a previous trip.
Shoreline Trail that leads from the car park took me past a tidal marsh where Song Sparrows teased me by skulking through the cover. By a platform overlooking the marsh, a small flock contained White-crowned Sparrows. I pished them to see if they would sit up for a photo, but attracted a Lincoln’s Sparrow instead.
The path is at the top of a bank and a good view can be had down onto the water. Hundreds of Ruddy Ducks were dozing with a few Western/Clark’s Grebes feeding between them. I think Clark’s on balance as they seemed quite pale, but they were back-lit and too distant to see the bill or eye well enough. On the downslope of the bank a large flock of Bushtits were picking insects from some tall weeds.
The White-crowned Sparrows were more amenable on the return journey with the immature ones being the boldest.
A last scan of the Burrowing Owls favoured area revealed a few California Ground Squirrels which can look tantalizingly owl-like from a distance when they stand up outside their burrows. 

 Bird species; 24

Pied-billed Grebe 2, Great Blue Heron 1, Snowy Egret 2, Canada Goose 60, American Wigeon 4, Northern Shoveler 120, Ruddy Duck 1000, Turkey Vulture 3, Red-tailed Hawk 1, American Kestrel 2, American Coot 20, Anna’s Hummingbird 3, Bewick’s Wren 2, Northern Mockingbird 2, Western Bluebird 8, Bushtit 35, American Crow 4, House Finch 2, Lesser Goldfinch 6, Common Yellowthroat 2, California Towhee 1, Song Sparrow 5, Lincoln’s Sparrow 1, White-crowned Sparrow 25.

For other visits to Shoreline and the Palo Alto area try;

Otherwise consult the America and Canada page for posts from California and USA.

Purisma Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve is on Route 35, Skyline Boulevard. I had to take Highway 92 across the ridge to get to Half Moon Bay for the afternoon and popped into the preserve very quickly to record the following.

Bird species; 7

Acorn Woodpecker 2, Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1, Chestnut-backed Chickadee 12, Pygmy Nuthatch 2, Stellar’s Jay 4, Townsend’s Warbler 2, Dark-eyed Junco 5.

Shoreline at Mountain View. Palo Alto, SanFrancisco, California, USA.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Palo Alto Baylands, San Francisco, California, USA SFO

First light caught me pulling in at the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center. The highlight here is the boardwalk that protects the salt marsh from trampling feet and takes visitors out to the edge of the lower lobe of San Francisco Bay (Google Earth ref; 37° 27’ 34”N, 122° 06’ 21”W).
 American Avocets roosted at high water, waiting for the levels to start dropping again and expose feeding opportunities in the fresh mud. 
My reason for coming here this morning is that I am convinced that one day, Lady Luck will smile on me and a Black Crake a California Clapper Rail and maybe even a Sora will pop into view None of them did any such thing, but you never know until you try. Song Sparrows aplenty and a Black Phoebe caught my eye, but no rallids. At the viewing platform at the end of the boardwalk, a few Least Sandpipers approached closely and even sat up out of the early morning shadows. 
There is a trail that leads around the back of the duck pond which leaves the morning light over your right shoulder when walking it in an anti-clockwise direction. A single Dunlin flew in and nearly landed at my feet. It stood tall and I became very excited, hoping for a moment that it might be a Stilt Sandpiper. I am far more used to seeing dumpy Dunlins hunched over, feeding in large flocks and it took a while to convince myself about this tall, slim singleton.
Northern Shovelers, Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon and plenty more avocets were in the water on the right of the trail. On the left, a Red-tailed Hawk perched watchfully in a tree over-hanging the path. I talked gently to it as I passed under the branch that it was on and it ignored me until I was beyond it and had the light in my favour.
I find that talking to the birds has a two-fold benefit. It reassures the birds that I am not trying to creep up on them, so they don’t perceive me as a threat and don’t feel the need to maintain a prudent flight distance, while people who see me talking to birds do perceive me as a threat and feel the need to keep a prudent flight distance.

Although the hawk was looking out over the slough, none of the waterfowl appeared worried. Can they tell, for instance, that the redtail prefers rodents or perhaps that it had already eaten? Do ducks have a built-in field guide to enable them to identify threats? Neither this Ruddy Duck, nor the Canvasback paid the hawk very little attention. Perhaps they knew that they were safe from the hawk out on the water?
By the pond, pigeons and gulls waited for scraps from the duck feeders.
Western Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls and a Glaucous-winged Gull 3rd yr (with a big bill that might indicate some western influences) sat patiently on posts waiting for the children that they knew would come.  
Some Herring Gull look-a-likes had no markings on their heads and were more likely to be pale-eyed westerns. 
Across the road, a Cooper’s Hawk waited quietly. The slough was draining and exposing lots of mud behind the hawk. Marbled Godwits, Grey (Black-bellied) Plover, Kildeer, and a few Long-billed Curlews probed here. There were plenty of dowitchers feeding on the newly exposed mud. The ones closer to me seemed to be chuckling as they fed, so I am assuming them to be Long-billed Dowitchers. I was not able to identify the rest of them with any real confidence.
A loon was hauled up onto a mudbank and belly-slid back into the water when it saw me. Here again I had a crisis of confidence. The diver, which I assumed to be a Common Loon, showed no neck markings. I had a fairly good look and at no point could I see any indentation that would have assured me of its provenance. The bill seemed robust enough, with the suggestion of an angle on the lower mandible, to allow me to overcome most of my doubts, but I was still niggled about the neck markings. Are they a constant feature in all plumages and forms? G is favouring Pacific. After trolling Flickr for Common Loons, I have to agree with G and concede that it is "slight". He is tactfully pushing me towards Pacific and I will agree with him. Thanks G.
I withdrew to a nearby restaurant for an early lunch. It had been a confusing morning and I wanted to consider the loon, gulls, dowitchers and Dunlin. I was greeted eagerly by the Spanish owner who clapped his hands and called excitedly to the kitchen staff, “ ‘El Gordo’, esta aqui y tiene hambre!

Bird species; 42

Pacific Loon 1, Pied-billed Grebe 3, Clark’s Grebe 2, Brown Pelican 2, Double-crested Cormorant 6, Snowy Egret 3, American Wigeon 1, Gadwall 2, Green-winged Teal 25, Mallard 45, Northern Shoveler 80, Canvasback 5, Ruddy Duck 8, White-tailed Kite 1, Cooper’s Hawk 1, Red-tailed Hawk 1, American Coot 12, Black-necked Stilt 8, American Avocet 160, Grey (Black-bellied) Plover 4, Semi-palmated Plover 2, Killdeer 15, Long-billed Dowitcher 25, Marbled Godwit 35, Long-billed Curlew 4, Greater Yellowlegs 1, Willet 3, Western Sandpiper 25, Least Sandpiper 8, Dunlin 1, Ring-billed Gull 3, Glaucous-winged Gull 1, Western Gull 15 , Mourning Dove 8, Anna’s Hummingbird 1, Northern Flicker 1, Black Phoebe 2, Bushtit 15, American Crow 6, Yellow-rumped Warbler 6, Song Sparrow 8, White-crowned Sparrow 35.

Palo Alto Baylands is about 20 -25 miles south on Highway 101 from San Francisco International Airport (SFO). There are a few access points from the 101 at Embarcadero Road, Terminal Boulevard and Shoreline Boulevard. The boardwalk and Interpretive Centre are at the end of Embarcadero Rd.
I had arranged to pick up a car from the airport which has a 24hr rental plaza. Catch the BART (San Francisco's Subway system. $8.20 one way from Powell St. Station. First trains from 04.30ish.) to the airport SFO and transfer onto the Airtrain which is the closed circuit airport transport system. Allow one hour from the hotel to the rental desk.

Other posts from San Francisco can be found at the links below;

There are more Californian and American posts on the dedicated page.

Palo Alto Baylands, San Francisco, California, USA SFO

Saturday 13 November 2010

Mattheson Hammock, Miami, USA

James Bond had an Aston Martin DB5, suits from Saville Row and his trusty Walther PPK. John Steed, from 'The Avengers' preferred the Bentley, bowler and sword-stick. Even Austin Powers had a Jaguar E-type.
I was finding it difficult to maintain my 'International Man of Mystery' persona in my birding silks, riding a Mary Poppins bike that I had borrowed from the hotel.

Mattheson Hammock was 5 miles away. No public bus served the route, taxis are unreliable for return and 'Q' has been spending so much time trying to fix my lens, that he forgot to send the flying motorscooter. So a bicycle was the most practical solution, although I had hoped for one that would allow me to retain a bit of dignity and sexual credibility.

In my line of work where image will always take second place to practicality, I cut a fine dash as I passed some of my more flamboyant and outrageous colleagues on their way to..., well I'm not sure what they were going to do. They did tell me.., but I can't have heard them correctly. They called out and asked if I wanted to join them for a bit of Ruff. When I turned them down, they suggested Brambling (they were very knowledgeable about birds, considering). Having never brambled before, I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was quite fun.

I had been on an unproductive visit to Snapper Creek in the evening when I rode past my colleagues looking like Julie Andrews on patrol. The small river is very close to Best Buy. I had been promising myself a bridge camera for some time and since my lens may be out of action for a while, now seemed like a good time. I plumped for the Nikon P100. Fully charged and with the instruction manual briely glanced at, I set out into the darkness of the next morning.

The ride only took about 20 minutes on good flat roads, but the traffic was quite heavy on Old Cutler Road as I approached Mattheson Hammock (the bikes do not have lights, so make your own arrangements if you are setting out early or returning late).
The picnic area to the right of the entrance is my favourite place to start. There were Palm Warblers on the ground and a couple of Black-throated Blue Warblers in the trees. On the grass close to a lake were three White Ibis, probing the soft ground.

If you are planning to visit Matheson Hammock and hope to do so either early in the morning or later in the evening, bring insect repellent. Bring the strong stuff. The tiny biters were very irritating this morning despite frequent applications. Once the sun came up, they moved into the shade of the trees and the rest of the day was pleasantly insect-free.

The camera took a long time to warm up this morning. The air was warm and humid and the condensation kept forming on the glass that had been chilled in an air-conditioned room overnight. Note to self; next time, take out binoculars and wear them during the ride to give them a chance to acclimatise.
Other birds around the picnic area included Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Gray Catbird. The entrance to Fairchild Tropical Gardens is just beyond the picnic tables. I was attracted by a sharp "chyut." in a small tree. I couldn't see anything, so I hazarded a pish which produced a movement, but the bird remained in cover. I waited for a moment and pished again. This time the bird came out for a better look and I recognised the black streaking on the flanks, the black markings on the face and coloured throat of a Yellow-throated Warbler. I had never seen one before, but had passed over its image dozens of times as I scanned field guides to identify one of its Dendroica cousins.
An Anhingha was perched with its wings spread on a branch over the lake. The camera did not like to focus on the bird, but preferred the bushes beyond. I had to rely on manual focus to get a picture. A similar problem occurred when I tried to take pictures of birds in amongst foliage, but I wasn't quick enough to switch to manual focus for the Prairie Warbler or the Northern Cardinal.

Back at the entrance, I headed along the road, through the mangroves, to the shore. The road forks right towards the marina across the creek. The left fork leads to a large car park which looks out across a shallow bay and serves a water sports area and a lagoon beach.
The weather was threatening and it looked as if it might rain at any moment. Downtown Miami, in the distance to the north, looked as if it had displeased the Gods.
As the tide drops, beds of sea grass are exposed and this area is popular with herons. Great Blue and Little Blue Herons, Great Egrets and a Yellow-crowned Night Heron were hunting close to shore when I arrived and ventured further out as the water became shallower.
An artificial lagoon is usually a popular place for local sun and sand enthusiasts. There were a couple of diehards there today despite the leaden skies. A pair of Laughing Gulls in flight caught a stray sunbeam which threw their eye rings into stark contrast with the darkness of the approaching rain.
A flock on the lagoon were mostly Laughing Gulls, but one Herring Gull and a couple of Royal Terns were mixed in with them. I had to take a close look at the flock. The Laughing Gulls appeared to be of assorted sizes and I was hoping to tease a Franklin's Gull out one of the smaller ones, but I couldn't.
The lagoon has been constructed as a circular pond. There is a beach and a couple of lifeguard stations. A path runs around the outside and is washed by the inshore waters of the ocean. It has a couple of inlets that allow the pond to be flushed by each high tide. A small group of Ruddy Turnstones were feeding on the ocean side of the path.

I learned some new and exciting facts about Turkey Vultures today;

A flock of Turkey Vultures in the air circling to gain height is known as a 'kettle.'

A group on the ground is known as a 'venue.'

If you see them perched in a tree, you could use 'wake.'

The wings out stance that they adopt when perched is called the horaltic pose. I have found the term used frequently in reference to Turkey Vultures, but not to any other bird. Does it also apply to cormorants and other birds that extend their wings in a similar pose?

These facts come courtesy of various sites that I was searching through as I tried to find out about the light coloured growths on Turkey Vultures' faces. I don't know if they are caused by bacteria blooms or are they perhaps lappets gained through maturity?
A sudden wind heralded the imminent arrival of the rain. The Turkey Vultures on the ground beyond the lagoon spread their wings to greet it and lifted into the air without a single flap between them.

The only place to shelter from the downpour was the mens changing room. I felt a bit conspicuous standing in the doorway with my cissie bike, so I whistled a few lively show tunes to keep my spirits up.
Once the rain cleared, I took a last turn around the car park looking out across the grass beds. A distant Osprey was hopefully trailing its feet through the water as it flew out to a post in the middle of the bay. Some more Ruddy Turnstones were picking through washed up weed while a Willet bathed by the waterline.
On the way home a small Buteo caught my attention. It was clinging to the spike growing from the top of a palm. It was smaller and the breast was more heavily marked than the Red-tailed Hawks that I commonly see. Comparing the photo to a field guide, I believe it to be a Broad-winged Hawk, which would make it my second lifer for the day. 

To present a more holistic impression of Matheson Hammock it would be as well to include a few comments about other creatures apart from birds that were seen this morning. 

There were a few butterflies around including the ones pictured here. There were moths too, but if I were to start taking pictures of moths, I wouldn't have to go beyond my own wallet and wardrobe. 
There were lots of lizards that scurried away through the rustling undergrowth before I could get a look at them. I have photos of Cuban Anoles from my previous visits, but I cannot say with any certainty what this one is. 
We are into November now and I was surprised to see so many dragonflies still about. Very few settled for me to get a good look at, but I suspect that many were Black Saddlebags Tramea lacerata and a few were Blue Dasher Pachydiplax Longipennis. This is a female Crimson Darter Crocothhemis servilia which is an introduced species. 
Talking of which, introduced exotics are very common in Florida and especially in Miami it would seem. Is there a collective noun for alien species? I saw half a treeful of them as I cycled back to the hotel. The extravagant whistling from a Hill Myna caught my ear. I found two of them in a bare tree with Canary-winged Parakeets, Common Starlings and a Eurasian Collared Dove. Across the road was a White-crowned Pigeon and overflying, a flock of Red-crowned Parrots. It was like being in an ex-pat enclave.

Bird species; 43
Brown Pelican 6, Double-crested Cormorant 40, American Anhinga 1, Great Blue Heron 4, Great Egret 2, Little Blue Heron 6, Yellow-crowned Night Heron 1, White Ibis 35, Turkey vulture 60, Black Vulture 1, Osprey 1, Sharp-shinned Hawk 2, Broad-winged Hawk 1, American Kestrel 1, Common Moorhen 2, Willet 1, Ruddy Turnstone 15, American Herring Gull 1, Laughing Gull 60, Royal Tern 3, White-crowned Pigeon 1, Mourning Dove 4, Eurasian Collared Dove 4, Canary-winged Parakeet 50, Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1, Belted Kingfisher 1, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1, Gray Catbird 3, Northern Mockingbird 3, Blue/gray Gnatcatcher 3, Blue Jay 4, American Crow 15, Orange-crowned Warbler 2, Black-throated Blue Warbler 2, Yellow-throated Warbler 1, Prairie Warbler 1, Palm Warbler 12, Northern Cardinal 5, Red-winged Blackbird 5, Common Starling 50, Hill Myna 2, Boat-tailed Grackle 40.

Mattheson Hammock, Miami, USA

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Return to Reculver

You may recall in the most recent post, that I promised you some pictures of Snow Buntings. This meant another trip to Reculver and another windswept day, this time a cruel, biting northerly.
A few guys had been sea-watching from the shelter of the towers, but I arrived as they were packing up after a disappointing session. The last couple of days of bad weather might have pushed a few offshore birds into view, but only the most experienced eyes were able to pick out the Leach's Petrel.
The Brent Geese (B b bernicla) gave a good flypast and I was able to get a few photos using my Canon 100-400mm which has been fixed and is back in service.
With my prime target the buntings, I started from the towers end and headed east towards Minnis Bay. I was most hopeful of seeing the buntings on the shingle tiers against the sea wall opposite the oyster farm. Sure enough reports from birders coming in the opposite direction mentioned buntings, but they were 'flighty'.
The Ruddy Turnstones made good lens fodder again.
 Shortly after, I saw the buntings for the first time; a flock of around 12 - 15, heading back the way I had come. They landed close to the wall about 200meters west of me. I approached slowly, not wanting to flush them, but a couple with dogs coming the other way saved me the walk and sent them back past me again 200meters east. This time I managed to get close enough to take a shot, but a flourescent cyclist put them up again and they disappeared out of sight towards Minnis Bay.
I couldn't see the birds on the screen of the Nikon  P100. The viewfinder is eletronic too and I had to take a wild shot in the general vicinity and hope that a bird appeared in one of them. I used the Nikon instead of the Canon because......., don't ask. Just don't ask! There was swearing! 
Of 4 pictures, I managed to capture 1 1/2 buntings.
Here is the whole one, cropped from the photo above, but I do not consider the promise fulfilled by this and I shall endeavour to do better.
I had five sightings altogether, inevitably, they were flying in the direction that I had just come from.
Still, my choices were to go birding on a bright and breezy day, or to stay in and revise for my yearly exams. So frustrating, unproductive and cold the day may have been, but I was outside and had managed to add a few more species to my Reculver list.
The accepted list numbers 200+, so I still have a long way to go.
Bird species; 30
Great Cormorant 30, Little Egret 2, Brent Goose 300, Mallard 25,Common Eider 14, Common Buzard 1, Common Kestrel 2, Eurasian Oystercatcher 1, European Golden Plover 120, Grey Plover 6, Common Redshank 22, Ruddy Turnstone 14, Sanderling 3, Common Gull 13, Herring Gull 30, Black-headed Gull 50,Stock Dove 50, Wood Pigeon 40, Meadow Pipit 5, Pied Wagtail 2, Common Blackbird 1, Common Stonechat 3, Great Tit 1, Eurasian Magpie 6, Carrion Crow 30, Hooded Crow 1, Common Starling 400, Chaffinch 25, European Goldfinch 6, Snow Bunting 15.

Monday 8 November 2010

Reculver Seawall, Kent, UK

From the Minnis Pub on the southern (Kent) shore of the Thames Estuary (Google Earth ref; 51° 22’ 46”N, 1°16’ 52”E), I was looking west and could see the towers of the ruined, 12th Century church of St Mary’s at Reculver (51°22’46”N, 1°11’58”E).
It is a bit further than this picture might suggest. As the crow flies it is about 3.5 miles or 5.75 kms. Any crow would have had its work cut out today though as there was a strong wind blowing. Even the Black-headed Gulls were struggling to appear graceful and elegant in flight. Confused doggies ran in circles as balls, thrown for them, were returned to the throwers by the stiff south westerly.
Occasionally, events conspire to give me a chance to bird in my own backyard. As I spend so much time working away from home, I try to devote as much attention to my family as I can when I get back, but in the absence of copious presents, they tire of this attention very quickly. This week I have a few extra days off and their patience is wearing thin, so I took myself off to look for Snow Buntings.
These birds are one of the rarest breeding birds in the UK, though they are widespread on the East Coast during the winter. They are a scarce, but regular feature of the shingle beaches of the estuary and have been recorded at Reculver each year from October onwards since Christopher Hindle started documenting bird sightings there in 1963 . His diary on the Kent Ornithological Society website showed that they had arrived for the season and my wife was making a comparison between the tidiness of the house when I am at home and when I am away. So in order to contribute as best I could to domestic bliss, I went out.

The tide was just beginning to recede as I arrived. This was more coincidence than contrivance, but it suited me well as the shorebirds were pushed closer to the sea wall and the Ruddy Turnstones made easy pickings for my new camera. I bought a Nikon P100 to use while my big lens is being repaired and it has produced a few nice pictures already. I don’t enjoy using it as much as a DSLR, but it has impressed me.
The buffeting wind made photography difficult. It came whistling across the levels and hit the raised dyke with full force. I would have had a lot of very shaky pictures with the DSLR, but the stabilising technology in the bridge-type Nikon coped very well. I walked with the water on my right. The turnstones were the first onto the wet shingle as the tide retreated, though some were still roosting on a breakwater.
On my left, a freshly ploughed field proved irresistible to Northern Lapwings, Starlings and Black-headed Gulls.The sea wall runs fairly straight and parallel to the water. It meanders gently on a couple of occasions as it skirts Plumpudding Island and Coldharbour Lagoon.
The raised walkway and shingle banks provided lea shelter for roosting Oystercatchers, Grey Plovers, Sanderling and a couple of Ringed Plovers. The wind carried the sound of bird scarers from the flat fields inland and had the required effect of putting all the waders to flight from the beach. I took a few shots with the camera and was surprised to find that I could recognise the birds when I downloaded the card later on.The digital zoom facility wasn’t able to do justice to the Common Redshanks of Coldharbour Lagoon, but when the wind was trying to push me in with them, it wasn’t a bad effort.
I turned inland from here and followed the River Wantsum upstream. At the railway line I turned left and sauntered slowly through thorn trees laden with dark red berries. I lingered in the area in the hope that some of the reported influx of Bohemian Waxwings might put in an appearance. Instead a late Common Darter got the treatment from the Nikon’s macro facility. This individual is a female which has turned brown indicating great age. In order to get close to the dragonfly, I had to lie down on to the ground which prompted a concerned birder to come to check that I was OK. He told me that Snow Buntings had been seen that morning on the beach just beyond where I had turned inland.

Waxwings, Snow Buntings. Snow Buntings, Waxwings. Decisions decisions. Either bird would be a lifer, but I plumped for the bunting due to its here and nowness. There is a Tesco superstore close to our house. It has a big car park full of rowan trees, so the Waxwings can come to me.
The buntings feed on seeds from coarse grasses that grow in sand dunes and coastal habitats. Finding a brown, grey and white bird on the brown, grey and white shingle wouldn’t be easy, but they are restless feeders which I was hoping would make them stand out.Perhaps like the rest of the birds today, they were keeping their heads down out of the wind. The hoped for flashes of white from the extended wings never materialised despite a good look through the mixed grass and shingle areas. They are very confiding birds I believe and don’t flush quickly. Therefore if they were sitting still and staying put, the chances of outwitting their camouflage were low.
Soon it was time to go home and mess up the house again, but not before a Peregrine swept across the seawall and down into Coldharbour Lagoon. The redshank scattered and like a sweet wrapper from a fast car’s window, were caught up and swept away by the wind as they cleared the shelter offered by the raised road. The falcon dipped back behind the wall and was gone. Earlier, one had been reported putting a Hooded Crow, a recent rarity, to flight as it hunted further along.
I was heading back to my car when a small flock of birds caught my eye. They were travelling east to west across the water, about 5 meters beyond the small breakers. It struck me immediately that these were not wading birds. The undulating flight and white inner panels in the wings of 3 of the birds left me with only one choice; Snow Buntings. It was not possible to get a photograph, but I intend to return and get one.

Christopher has kindly given me the text of a booklet that he prepared for self-guided walks around the Reculver Marshes. It is reproduced below and remains the copyright of Christopher Hindle.

Bird Species; 28

Great Cormorant 35, Little Egret 1, Brent Goose 32, Common Kestrel 2, Peregrine Falcon 1, Eurasian Oystercatcher 120, Northern Lapwing 45, Grey Plover 60, Ringed Plover 2, European Curlew 3, Common Redshank 14, Ruddy Turnstone 60, Sanderling 40, Common Gull 6, Herring Gull 40, Black-headed Gull 400, Stock Dove 30, Common Wood Pigeon 15, Eurasian Collared Dove 4, Meadow Pipit 9, Pied Wagtail 15, Common Blackbird 2, Eurasian Magpie 2, Rook 4, Carrion Crow 30, Common Starling 150, Chaffinch 35, Snow Bunting 8

RECULVER by kind permission of Christopher Hindle.

Reculver Country Park lies on the N.E. coast of Kent, 2 miles east of Herne Bay. The main landmark at Reculver is Reculver Towers, the remains of a twelfth century monastic church, which itself is situated on top of a Roman Fort. West of the Towers are the low eroding cliffs at Bishopstone and east is the seawall which stretches to Minnis Bay. Behind this seawall are Reculver Marshes which are now given over almost exclusively to agriculture.

Reculver is particularly good at migration times - April and May, and August to October - when almost anything can turn up in the right weather conditions. Reculver can be particularly rewarding in winter when one can get excellent views of the regular flock of Brent Geese, together with good numbers of waders on the beach. Here it is also possible to see Snow Buntings and even occasionally Shorelarks. In summer Ringed Plovers breed on the shingle, and on the land behind the seawall birds such as Reed and Sedge Warblers and Yellow Wagtails, Meadow Pipits and Reed Buntings breed.


BY ROAD - Leave the A299 (Thanet Way) east of Herne Bay at the turn off marked Reculver. From here it is a mile and a half to the car park below Reculver Towers (TR225694).


BUS - A half hourly bus service runs from Herne Bay to Reculver - for further details phone Stagecoach - 01227-472082.


TOILETS - Reculver Country Park Centre and King Ethelbert Public House.

REFRESHMENTS - The King Ethelbert Public House, and a cafe near the telephone box is open during the summer months.

INFORMATION - visit the Reculver Country Park Centre beside the car park to get information and leaflets. There are also information display boards at the entrance to the car park and at Reculver Towers.

TIMING - Allow 2-3 hours for the complete circular walk. It is not often hot at Reculver!

Be prepared to wrap up warm, particularly in winter when a wind off the sea can make it feel significantly colder than inland. A start before 9.00am or in the late afternoon will probably produce the largest variety of species.

1. Reculver Car Park.

Looking west from the car park at low tide during the winter you may see groups of Brent Geese(W) feeding at the waters edge below the coastguard lookout at Bishopstone. In the summer months Fulmars(S) regularly patrol these cliffs, which hold Kent’s largest Sand Martin(S) colony - Stock Doves(R) also nest on these cliffs.

Now walk from the car park sea wall up the path towards Reculver Towers.

2. Reculver Towers

If it is windy Reculver Towers can provide a sheltered place to watch birds flying past, often quite close inshore. In spring and autumn Common(SM), Sandwich(SM) and Little Terns(SM) may be seen, whilst in winter you are more likely to see Red-throated Divers(W), ducks(W), Brent Geese(W) and various species of gull. The grassy areas and walls of the Roman Fort also attract migrants, particularly in autumn. Look out for Yellow Wagtails(SM) on the grass and Pied Flycatchers(M), Redstarts(M), Willow Warblers(M) and Chiffchaffs(M) around the walls.

From the Towers the footpath leads down and left to the seawall. From here walk east a short distance and through the gate to view the Oyster Farm and its pools.

3. Oyster Farm

The extensive pools associated with the Oyster Farm often attract waders such as Redshank(R), Greenshank(M) and Common Sandpiper(M), and in cold weather in winter, ducks such as Red-breasted Merganser(W) and Goldeneye(W) and the occasional grebe(W) can be seen. Also keep your eyes open for Kingfisher(R) and Rock Pipit(WM) in this area.

Now walk east along the seawall.

4. Seawall

Walking along the seawall towards Cold Harbour will turn up a variety of wading birds. If the tide is low, look particularly at the mussel beds where you can see Oystercatcher (RW), Redshank(R), Turnstone(W), Ringed Plover(R), Curlew(W), Grey Plover(W) and Dunlin(W). Sanderling(W) can often be seen running about like clockwork toys feeding near the water’s edge. If the tide is in, keep your eyes open on the sea and watch for passing Cormorants(R) and waders, or Little Terns(S) feeding off shore. On the seawall itself you may see Wheatears(SM) and Yellow Wagtails(SM) in summer and Reed(R) and Snow Buntings(W) in winter. If you are lucky enough to choose the right day in September or October you may witness the migration of thousands of Swallows(S) and Sand(S) and House Martins(S) as they fly along the seawall. The shingle on the seaward side of the wall is the best place in the area to see Shorelarks(W) in the winters when they arrive in Kent. The fields inland regularly hold up to 500 Brent Geese(W) in winter, together with Mallard(R), Teal(W), Wigeon(W) and a large flock of Mute Swans(R). Frequently look out to the embankment, known as the Green Wall, which runs parallel to the seawall as Hen Harriers(W) and occasionally Short-eared Owls(W) hunt up and down it.

The walk from the Oyster Farm to Cold Harbour is about one and a half miles and will take 30-40 minutes.

5. Cold Harbour Lagoon

The lagoon itself is used throughout the year by birds. Look for Redshank(R), Turnstone(W), Dunlin(W) and Shelduck(R). Meadow Pipits(R), Reed Buntings(R), Skylarks(R)and Greenfinches(R) feed in the small patch of saltmarsh. Over the shingle ridge there is normally a large high tide roost of waders, on occasions numbering over a thousand birds - Turnstone(W), Sanderling(W), Oystercatcher(RW), Grey Plover(W), Redshank(R), Dunlin(W) and the occasional Curlew(W), Bar-tailed Godwit(W) or Purple Sandpiper(W). PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB SLEEPING BIRDS, BUT WATCH THEM FROM A DISTANCE . There are usually duck sitting on the sea off Cold Harbour- Eider(R), Common Scoter(M), Wigeon(W) and Mallard(R). In the past Little Terns(S) bred on this shingle bank, but now too much disturbance means that birds seen here are usually non-breeders or migrating birds.

From the seawall behind the lagoon a footpath runs south beside the River Wantsum towards the railway line.

6. River Wantsum

This narrow river is the western limit of the Isle of Thanet and you may see Mute Swan(R), Heron(R) or Moorhen(R) here. The reeds and scrub at its edge have breeding Reed(S) and Sedge Warblers(S), and if you are lucky you may hear a Grasshopper Warbler(S) living up to its name. In really cold winters when inland waters freeze the River can attract duck and grebes. In recent years these have included Smew(W), Goldeneye(W) and Slavonian Grebe(W).

Continue down this path, up the railway embankment and over the railway crossing to walk along beside the Chambers Wall bushes.

7. Chambers Wall Bushes

This line of bushes, adjacent scrub and reeds has breeding Whitethroat(S), Lesser Whitethroat(S), Linnet(RM), Goldfinch(RM) and Yellowhammer(R) and also acts as a magnet to migrating birds - almost anything can turn up here! Early mornings and evenings are the best time to see migrants. Look out for Fieldfare(W) and Redwing(W) flying in from Scandinavia in the autumn, and in spring and autumn you will see various warblers(M), flycatchers(M) and chats(M).

When you reach the small, fishermen’s car park return back down the path, but after 100 yards take the left fork across a bridge and walk to the railway embankment and Green Wall.

8. Railway Embankment and Green Wall
The bushes besides the railway attract birds such as Whitethroat(S), Whinchat(SM) and Reed(S) and Sedge Warblers(S). Hen Harrier(W), Merlin(W), Kestrel(R) and Short-eared Owl(W) can often be seen hunting over the marsh. This whole area is on the flight path of large numbers of winter and summer visitors, and depending on when you visit you may see Chaffinches(M), Bramblings(M), Meadow Pipits(RM), Fieldfares(W), Redwings(W), Lapwings(WM) and Swallows(S) and martins(S) moving through, usually flying west.

Walk westwards along the railway embankment until it heads towards the sea then follow the Green Wall all the way back to Reculver.


The shingle beach between Reculver and Minnis Bay forms a feeding and roosting place for many birds, and also a breeding place for Ringed Plovers. At low tide a variety of waders feed on the sand, mud and mussel beds. The lagoon at Cold Harbour still has a remnant area of salt marsh with its associated plants. During the summer and autumn the seawall attracts many insects from the surrounding farmland, which in turn attracts insect eating birds like wagtails, pipits, wheatears and whinchats.

BRENT GEESE are winter visitors from their breeding grounds in northern Russia. Historically they were much rarer than they are today, but in the last twenty years, they have learnt to eat winter wheat, barley and oil seed rape and their numbers have increased dramatically.

HEN HARRIERS frequently visit the marsh during the winter months. Look out for their slow flight and V-shaped wings as they hunt over the marsh. Females and immatures are brown with white rumps whilst males are pale grey with black wing tips.

OYSTERCATCHERS are mainly winter visitors, but the odd pair breeds on the beach or on the agricultural land behind the seawall. Large numbers roost at Cold Harbour at high tide and feed on the mussel beds at low tide. They are very obvious and noisy birds.

RINGED PLOVERS are present all year and are regular breeders on the shingle beach. The eggs and young are wonderfully camouflaged against the shingle and virtually impossible to see. Watch out for their display flight and calling during late spring and summer, but please do not disturb them.

TURNSTONES are mainly winter visitor, but a few non-breeders stay all summer. This species lives up to its name, turning over stones to eat sand shrimps and other creatures. A common bird on Reculver beach with a large roost at Cold Harbour at high tide.

LITTLE TERNS used to breed at Reculver with as many as 36 pairs in the 1970’s, however increased recreational use of the beach between Reculver and Minnis Bay means the species has not bred for some time. It is however still regularly seen off Reculver during the summer months.

SHORELARKS are rare birds and a Reculver speciality although they are not seen in every year. In winters when they do arrive in Kent, there favourite place at Reculver is on the beach between the Green Wall and Cold Harbour.

YELLOW WAGTAILS are summer visitors from Africa and nest on the agricultural land south of the seawall. During August large numbers of migrant Yellow Wagtails feed on insects on the seawall. They have an elongated appearance and a very distinctive call note - “tsweep.”

SNOW BUNTINGS visit Reculver in most winters and can often be seen feeding on the beach above high water mark. When a group takes off listen for their call note “teu” and look out for the large white flashes on their wings. Adult males are particularly pale and attractive birds.