Third Age Birders

Third Age Birders

About the Group: 
This is a group for all levels – beginners up. The only requirements are a pair of feet, pair of eyes and a pair of binoculars! Oh yes, and the ability to keep quiet when necessary.  Have a look below to find out details of some of our more recent trips.
When and where do we meet? 
Field trips to various sites in the South East
How much does it cost? 
Travel costs and occasional entrance fees
Group Contact: 
Briar Blake
Contact Details: 

We do our best to try to keep this information up to date. However, to find the latest contact details, look on the HOME PAGE and go to the STUDY GROUP CONTACT LIST and you will find more information about the groups there.

Sevenoaks Wildfowl Reserve

On the face of things it seemed a very quiet morning down at our local patch - the Sevenoaks Wildfowl Reserve.  The birds were certainly chirping, but not very much in evidence.  Extra "twitcher" cars filled the car park due to the arrival of two ring ouzels in the meadow; all efforts to spot these rare passage birds failed, but it was good to know they were there somewhere - en route to their nesting areas in the North.  We were promised large numbers of great crested grebe up to their mating rituals, but they were mostly hiding away, feeling shy for once. The weather too was cool, calm and collected and matched the general lack of excitement.  This is all easily explained - we are betwixt and between birding seasons - our winter visitors have all gone (apart from some lingering teal) and the summer visitors have not yet arrived.  We know swallows are here in Kent but not at the reserve just yet. Very soon we can expect swallows, house martins, sand martins, swifts, reed warblers, sedge warblers, chiff chaffs, etc

However, we still managed a list of 35 species, mostly all those to be expected.  A highlight was the sighting (thank you Diana) of a little ringed plover (longer, darker legs and bill than the common yellow, black and white ringed plover).  We spotted some beautifully designed grebe nests out on the water and oohed and aaahed at the stunning colouring and shape of lapwing - impossible to tire of their elegance.  Eagle - eyed Ellis was able to point out four different types of gull - black headed, herring, common and unusually - lesser black backed gull.  A big moment was the discovery of a busy heronry with at least six occupied nests some filled to bursting with gangly "teenagers".  Along the way, spring flowers were pushing through - among them -  bluebells, ground ivy, dandelions, primroses and a bank of cowslips.

Here is our day list: 
blackbird, wood pigeon, blackcap, magpie, crow, jackdaw, chaffinch, chiffchaff, coot, cormorant, collared dove, tufted duck, dunnock, gadwall, goldfinch, wren, shelduck, teal, mallard, Canada goose, greylag goose, gt. crested grebe, black headed gull, common gull, herring gull, lesser black backed gull, heron, lapwing, linnet, moorhen, nuthatch, little ringed plover, robin, swan, pied wagtail.  Please see pictures below courtesy of Jill Harris.  The two "ducks are a dabbling - up tails all" are gadwall!

MAY 24th Bough Beech Reservoir - morning only - booking now.

The Swallows have arrived

It might be snowing in the North, windy in the West, chilly in the East but in the South the first swallows have arrived in Four Elms!

A little group is resting and twittering away on our telephone wire as I type, after a long, long journey from Africa.  

Keep your eyes and ears open - they are here!


On a lucky day weatherwise, 15 birders descended upon RSPB Pulborough Brooks to enjoy a walk around this beautiful reserve in mild temperatures and calm conditions, that was until we mingled with lesser spotted school children enjoying the half term break. Generally speaking (and they were doing a lot of that!) they were pretty well behaved and should ensure the future of our precious wildlife. So we musn't be grumpy about the fact that it was difficult at times to hear and see any woodland birds who seemed to be keeping well out of their way.  

The first hide we visited (West Mead) was rather unproductive aside from a male reed bunting (thank you Diana) darting in and out of brambles and gorging on insects above the water and a pair of shelduck getting to know one another. Long-distance views of geese did not help us identify the three white fronted geese allegedly loitering in the area - these would have been a 'first' for the group had we been lucky enough to see them. Further along our route we had great views of the scrapes where huge flocks of picture-book lapwing tossed and turned in the skies above-  at once black, then brilliant white.

I'm so Bored!
Stephanie spotted a rather bored-looking buzzard perched on a post who must have realised we would appreciate a good long look at him. We saw gadwall, mallard, black tailed godwit, shoveler, teal, whistling wigeon and elegant pintail in this area plus a fantastic close up view of a cyclamen pink male bullfinch being courted by two females with barely a hint of pink tint. Long-tailed tit flitted past as we spent time gazing out over the water.

In a break from tradition, we suggested birders worked in pairs and made their own identification lists on this occasion with minimal input from Rog and I. The hope is that this will have confirmed how many different species each person can now recognise.

So here is the list that Rog and I made- a respectable 49 species in total.perhaps you will have a note of other birds that we missed.

Male Reed Bunting
mute swan, greylag goose, Canada goose, pheasant, great crested grebe, cormorant, heron, little egret, buzzard, kestrel, moorhen, coot, pied wagtail, wren, dunnock, stonechat, blackbird, wood pigeon, great tit, blue tit, long tailed tit, pochard, goldfinch, wigeon, teal, pintail, gadwall, mallard, lapwing, black tailed godwit, black headed gull, bullfinch, crow, chaffinch, collared dove, tree creeper, herring gull, sparrow, jackdaw, jay, linnet, magpie, reed bunting, robin, shelduck, starling, tufted duck. Audible- nuthatch, green woodpecker.

MARCH 27th
Please note the change of date. Not March 26th as previously published (as this clashes with our monthly U3A meeting). We will be heading north for a change - this time to South Norwood Country Park in Beckenham, followed by a walk around Kelsey Park to see the heronry. We should meet at the Holwood Farm Shop, New Road Hill, Downe at 9.30 for coffee and then head down to Beckenham. For those that fancy a meal after the morning activities - there is a handy Toby Carvery in Eden Park. I am taking bookings now.

APRIL 16th
All day RSPB Dungeness. I am also taking bookings for this event.

Happy Birding.   Briar


Hello birdy people, well, we finished off our year in perfect birding weather for our trip to Bough Beech Centre and Reservoir. What a beautiful winter's morning - cold, bright, sunny and calm - and a great opportunity to catch some rays after the recent dank and grey days.  15 of us were happy to abandon the pressures of Christmas preparations to spend time convening with nature at our local beauty spot. A chance to pause and breathe deeply. Our first treat was the "top  of the trees" appearance of two large flocks of fieldfare and redwing - winter visitors from Scandinavia who travel here every autumn because it is warmer!  

We quickly became familiar with the fieldfare "cackle" as the abandoned apple orchards at Bough Beech are a main attraction for them. We cosied up in the hide to view woodland birds attacking the two peanut feeders - chaffinch, goldfinch, great tit and blue tit, and were treated to the now rare appearance of a greenfinch feeding alongside them while a family of wren busied themselves in the reeds in front of us. A walk along the reservoir causeway allowed good views of pochard, great crested grebe, wigeon, cormorant and teal. 

Best spot of the morning was a single black necked grebe in winter plumage. This grebe is a rare breeder in the north and again comes south to warmer climes. The insistent honking of gossiping geese pierced the peaceful air - heard before seen as we reached the end of the causeway. These must be the guys who fly noisily over my house at dusk - demanding attention and never failing to stop me in my tracks. The signboard listed redpoll, goosander, snipe and mandarin but we didn't hang around in the hope of seeing them this morning because of the very low temperature.  In spite of this we were fortunate enough to see 37 different birds without really trying.

starling, blackbird, chaffinch, coot, cormorant, crow, wood pigeon, tufted duck, dunnock, gadwall, pochard, teal, mallard, Canada goose, goldfinch, greylag goose, robin, great crested grebe, black necked grebe, greenfinch, black headed gull, buzzard, heron, jackdaw, kestrel, jay, magpie, moorhen, wigeon, great tit, blue tit, coat tit, redwing, fieldfare, mute swan, pied wagtail, wren. 

During 2018 we have travelled near and far in our aim to see as wide a variety of bird species as possible - 

January - Sevenoaks Wildfowl Trust
February - Pulborough Brooks, West Sussex RSPB 
March - Kelsey Park, Beckenham
April - Tankerton, Whitstable, Oare Marsh, Faversham
May - Bough Beech
June - Broadwater Warren, Tunbridge Wells, RSPB
June - Rye Harbour West Sussex RSPB
July - Dungeness, Kent  RSPB
September - Sevenoaks Wildfowl Trust
October - Isle of Sheppey - Elmley Marshes
November - Cliffe Pools Thames Estuary
December - Bough Beech

I am now making plans for 2019 and hope to find some new locations as well as revisiting old favourites. That's the joy of birding - the same venue can be a very different experience each time we visit.


23rd January - Pulborough Brooks in West Sussex. Full day BOOKING NOW

4th, 5th, 6th or 7th February - Minsmere  RSPB - you are invited to join us for the day - we have a holiday cottage on the reserve

21st February - Gillingham Country Park and Bore Place. Full day BOOKING NOW

26th March  South Norwood Country Park and Kelsey Park. Half day BOOKING NOW

16th April, Dungeness. Full day

24th May, Bough Beech. Half day

13th June, Whitstable, Tankerton, Oare Marshes. Full day

5th July, tbc. Winchelsea, Rye or Minsmere. Full day, 

The Third Age Birders group now has 40 members. Because of this I would ask you to always book your place as soon as you have decided as an ideal number is 12 or less. I operate on a first come, first served basis. If full, I will put you on a short list. If a particular venue proves very popular we will aim to go twice in the month.  

Seasons greetings to all and here's to a happy and productive birding New Year.



Somehow we managed to pick the warmest, sunniest November day for many a year for our trip to RSPB Cliffe Pools on the Thames Estuary. A bittersweet pause before winter hits us.The air was soft and balmy, the clouds were fluffy and white, the winds were light and the wintering waders were mostly still oop north! 

Another, colder year and we could have seen a huge variety of flocks.This autumn we had to be content with numerous lapwing and a stately bunch of golden plover gleaming yellowy brown in the sunlight. Some notable "singles" included a lone avocet (thank you Barbara Phillips) a dulux-white little egret (thank you Molly Ward) some chestnut-headed pochard (thank you Diana Brown) and a hovering kestrel (thank you Brian Swift).

A large group of great black backed gulls loitered menacingly on a spit of land, probably dreaming of those lazy, hazy days of summer when lapwing chicks were an easy snack lunch. Diving dabchicks seemed to be everywhere in and out of our sights and as we reached the gloopy mudbanks of the river we saw a long-billed curlew and heard its evocative and mournful call.

Wandering flocks of long-tailed tits twittered in the trees alongside great tit and goldfinch, but there was not "much about" as birders say. However, strolling around the lakes in the warmth of the late autumn sunshine followed by a greasy-spoon lunch in good company more than compensated.  

Surprisingly, a species count reveals a respectable 31 confirmed sightings....

avocet, blackbird, coot, crow, curlew, dabchick, tufted duck, little egret, great black backed gull, herring gull, black headed gull, kestrel, lapwing, magpie, mallard, wood pigeon, golden plover, pochard, redwing, robin, shelduck, shoveler, starling, mute swan, great crested grebe, great tit, long tailed tit, wren, goldfinch, great spotted woodpecker au. chaffinch au.

Our end-of-year sortie will be into the wild depths of Bough Beech Reservoir. This will take place on 13th December, morning only. 9.30 Ide Hill Community Shop for coffee then 10 a.m. at the Bough Beech Centre.
The following day we have our birding group Christmas Lunch to round off a happy year of birding.

I will soon be busy making our plans for next year which I will then forward to you so you will be aware of the dates and locations well in advance.

Happy birding- Briar


Canada Goose
On a perfect autumn day, as we approached Elmley NNR on the Isle of Sheppey (from a variety of different directions - in joke!) our expectations were high - partly because this area of Kentish coastal marshes is featured in Dickens' "Great Expectations". However, the landscape in front of us belied his description of the bleakly dank wilderness that haunts the novel.

"The mist  was heavier on the marshes - gates and dykes and banks came bursting at me through the mist.  the cattle came upon me with like suddenness staring out of their eyes and steaming out of their nostrils - the marshes were positively  hellish, illuminated by a large red moon and the air heavy with a sluggish stifling smell". 

What confronted us could not be more different - the sky was the brightest blue, the larks soared high, the cattle were positively welcoming and the air was sweet and warm. There is a two mile drive from the road to the car park crossing  fields, passing peaty-brown pools fringed with reeds in silver flower, the only noise the lazy chomping of the beef herd. 

At Elmley you are not allowed to get out of the car on the drive up for fear of "disturbing the wildlife" so it was windows down and some frantic waving and pointing to the car behind as we frequently stopped our convoy to observe birds from the car windows, twisting ourselves around, down and then up to get the best view - just like the mad, foraging starlings. Our reward for these contortions - red legged partridge fussing about at the gate, majestic marsh harrier treating us to a flypast, picture book flocks of lapwing swooping then flashing black and white, solitary buzzards, harriers and kestrel motionless on fence posts close by and at a distance.

Marsh Harrier
Cars parked- and seen off by chirruping sparrows, we headed down from the farm which now runs this national nature reserve (used to be the RSPB) to the pools, and Swale Estuary. Half a dozen shepherd huts are set atop the hill with commanding views of the reserve from tiny patios - literally "way out" spartan accommodation for the most romantic and warm blooded.

We took the  lengthy walk to the first hide. Running along one side of the path is a grass covered sea wall protecting the feeding birds from the disturbing sight of us humans on the prowl with our bins and scopes. The site is extremely exposed;  few trees and bushes survive here and most days the slightest wind would be chilling, but now it was a joy to stroll along in the stillness and warm sunshine spotting meadow pipit, kestrel, linnet, skylark and numerous marsh harrier above and dabchick below en route to the hides. Dragonflies and damselflies whirred about in the rough and tumble of mid-air mating, the larger ones could almost be mistaken for small birds. 

Red Legged Partridge
Autumn is not the very best time to experience Elmley - winter and early spring are better as many waders, winter duck and geese flocks arrive in their thousands. But the beauty and remoteness of this special place in such clement weather more than compensated. There were few birds loitering about near the hides but we had excellent views here of a male marsh harrier, kestrel, heron and little egret. In all we saw 37 species - not bad for a "quiet" time of year. There were more that we couldn't identify as the light held them in silhouette and they were frustratingly distant, but no matter.  

We positively labelled: coot, cormorant, crow, dabchick, little egret, gadwall, goldfinch, Canada goose, greylag, greenshank, redshank, black headed gull, lesser black backed gull, marsh harrier, heron, jackdaw, kestrel, lapwing, skylark, linnet, magpie, mallard, moorhen, oystercatcher, red legged partridge, meadow pipit, rook, sparrow, starling, mute swan, teal, pochard, curlew, wood pigeon, wren, green woodpecker, buzzard. Oh yes, and we startled a hare on our way out. All in all a perfect Kentish marshland experience- Charles Dickens eat your heart out!!

Here are some more birdy dates for your diary:

Wednesday, 14th November - trip to Cliffe Pools on the Thames Estuary. Morning + lunch- BOOKING NOW
Thursday 13th December - morning only wander around Bough Beech
Friday 14th December - Third Age Birders - Christmas Lunch 12.30 The Old Eden BOOKING NOW


The first trip of the autumn season was to our local patch. 15 U3A birders descended upon the Sevenoaks Wildfowl Trust Reserve hoping to see birdy signs of life after the relative quiet of July and August. We knew there would be "not much about" and this was certainly true of the woodland species. However, we were rewarded, as we viewed the main lake from the hide by flocks of canada and greylag geese feeding away on the islands. Sharp eyes spotted pochard among the tufted ducks on the far side of the lake, a lone little egret loitering with the geese and then a solitary snipe poking away in the margins. A large goose flew past and proved, as it landed conveniently on the island in front of us, to be an egyptian goose. 

The Reserve looked quite fresh and lush after the late summer rains and the buddleai were abundant. We all commented on the lack of butterflies this summer and hardly saw any as we walked around in spite of this plant normally attracting them in droves. We always long to see a kingfisher on any trip. Rather frustratingly, one whistled past whilst most of us were looking the other way. But we can certainly "tick" it. 

We heard, rather than saw, a number of woodland birds including chiffchaff and blackcap. Most birds looked pretty untidy after the rigours of courtship and chick rearing and were going through their moults to one degree or another. Also, a large number of immature birds kept us guessing with their neutral colouring. This doesn't help with identification as the sharper breeding plumage colours are missing, so it was an opportunity to recognise species by shape and behaviour. 

Birds Spotted: blackbird, coot, cormorant, crow, tufted duck, little egret, gadwall, canada goose, egyptian goose, greylag goose, great crested grebe, black headed gull, immature lesser black backed gull, heron, jay, kingfisher, lapwing, magpie, mallar, nuthatch, wood pigeon, pochard, long tailed tit, robin, rook, snipe, swan, bluetit, great tit, pied wagtail, green woodpecker, wren, and audible, blackcap, chiffchaff, ring necked parakeet.
Not a very long list but a satisfying walk around in lovely warm sunshine followed by a delicious lunch at the Himalayan Gardens on River Hill.

Next Outing

Friday, 19th October- all day trip to Shellness on the Isle of Sheppey. 

Some of you will have seen this rich birding area featured on Country File recently. We should see waders and raptors and the marshes are well known for hen harrier and short eared owl. Full details to follow.

Happy Birding!


Dungeness Trip Monday 23rd July

What is it with the bird group and extreme weather?!  We bravely faced a trip to Dungeness RSPB on the hottest day of this exceptionally hot summer.  But no worries as the gods were watching over us - the car thermometer had dropped to 24 degrees as we climbed out of our cars and the sea breeze was deliciously cool.  We were probably in the most comfortable place in the country!

White Egret
Thus invigorated, we visited all 5 hides on the reserve and managed a three hour walk around. Our rewards were cracking views of screeching common tern nesting on the island pools; ringed plover and little ringed plover in close proximity allowing us to spot the subtle differences and several sightings of a common sandpiper foraging at the water's edge.

Dungeness has the largest shingle bank in the country and boasts a huge range of unique flora and fauna.  It is a hotspot for migrating and resident birds.  We were not disappointed even though July is one of the quieter months in the birding calendar. The biggest challenge was identification as many young birds do not display their full colours just yet so several robust discussions arose! As we walked on past more pools being patrolled by sand martins - a first for some in the group - cormorants hung rather threateningly in the bare trees decimated by their droppings. Hide number 5 brought the biggest "spot" of the day - a rare sighting of a pair of great white egret --"Egrets - I've had a few - but then again, too few to mention!"  These majestic birds are on the brink of regular breeding in the UK following the success of the little egret so hopefully we will see them more frequently in future.  But for now we returned to our cars in high spirits and with a sense of achievement.  

Birds spotted: blackbird, buzzard, marsh harrier, coot, cormorant, crow, dunlin, dunnock, great white egret, little egret, heron, canada goose, egyptian goose, great crested grebe, jay, kestrel, lapwing, linnet, magpie, sand martin, swallow, mallard, moorhen, ringed plover, little ringed plover, common sandpiper, starling, teal, common tern, sandwich tern, great spotted woodpecker, woodpigeon, mute swans, herring gull, great black backed gull, lesser black backed gull, black headed gull, oystercatcher, blackcap aud.

Butterflies Spotted: Large white, small white, meadow brown, peacock.

This beautiful day was rounded off by chish and fips at the famous Pilot Inn at Dungeness.

Future dates

We will take August off as birds are exhausted from all that child rearing.  Let's put a date in the diary for early September.

Thursday, 6th September - 10.00 am at Sevenoaks Wildfowl Trust, our local patch, followed by a peek at Bough Beech Reservoir on our way back to lunch at the Four Elms cafe.  

Thursday, 18th October - all day trip to Shellness on the Isle of Sheppey

Please let me know if you would like to come along.

Happy Birding!

"Alive with birdsong and ablaze with wildflowers"

Everything was perfect weather-wise for our trip to Rye Harbour.  Clear blue skies, warm sun and sea breeze.  The reserve was alive with birdsong and ablaze with wildflowers - a bonus on a birding trip.  This is a unique site edging onto shingle beaches and attracts unusual flora and fauna - notably nesting little terns and Mediterranean gulls both of which we were lucky enough to see. 

Highlights were a skylark having a sing on a fence post within yards of us, the fleeting view of a female wheatear (thank you Stephanie) and the huge colonies of both sandwich and common terns on display from the hides.  Med gulls were rare in this country until the 50s when they started to pop by as straying visitors but now can be found nesting on specific sites mostly in the south east.  They mix in with the numerous black headed gull just to make the birder's life difficult as they only differ very slightly from one another. So it was a challenge to spot them.  The stars of the show had to be the noisy nesting terns - sitting on nests, feeding chicks, fighting off nosey neighbours as they soared and swooped in front of us.  Hazel spotted  the long legs of a spoonbill standing motionless within a roost of great black backed gulls way in the distance and a "billie no mates" brent goose waddled by - should have migrated months ago to breed in the far north.

The wildflowers were abundant - purple viper's bugloss (echium), yellow horned poppy,
rusty red sorrel, greeny mignonette, yellow ragwort, biting stonecrop, bluey sea kale,  all offset by the occasional bright red poppy. (The sedum like plant with white flowers I have now identified as English White Stonecrop). We were delighted to spot a bank of vivid pyramidal orchids standing proud in the mix.

Birds spotted; blackbird, brent goose, skylark, chaffinch, coot, cormorant, crow, tufted duck, dunnock, goldfinch, canada goose, gt. crested grebe, black headed gull, great black backed gull, jackdaw, kestrel, linnet, magpie, mallard, house martin, swift, swallow, meadow pipit, oystercatcher, redshank, wheatear, shelduck, starling, mute swan, common tern, sandwich tern, little tern.

A wonderful day - away from it all - in a parallel universe!

NEXT BIRDING DATE.... Monday, 23rd July .... RSPB Dungeness
All day trip.   Please let me know if you would like to come along.

RSPB Broadwater Warren

At the end of the longest day of bright sunshine this year, an intrepid group of birders set out for an evening stroll around RSPB Broadwater Warren the other side of Tunbridge Wells.  The hope was to see, or at the very least, hear the elusive nightjar which visits for just a couple of months in the middle of our summer to breed. There was a chance of seeing a roding woodcock in this heathland environment too.

The European Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) is a nocturnal summer visitor from Africa.  It isn't hard to understand why this modest, reclusive, mysterious bird became associated with the uncanny and throughout Europe folklore insisted that the nightjar stole milk from goats udders, earning it the name "Goatsucker".  This is a misnomer, but probably results from the birds lurking around livestock to pick up the insects. Nightjars are rarely seen as they sleep during the day, but its appearance lends itself easily to legend.  It has wide, black eyes that shine like a cat's if caught in torchlight.  It has camouflaging, mottled brown feathers and looks like a reptile.  Its pink gape opens very wide to swallow large moths and insects and the beak is surrounded by bristles, presumably to more efficiently hoover up supper on the wing. The churring song sounds almost mechanical and consists of 1,900 notes per minute (who counted?), which it sustains for several minutes at a time. It throws its voice too.  

Luckily for us as after two hours of walking around a largely silent (birdwise) reserve we were able to hear it - at first some way off and then maybe another one nearer although we never actually spotted one in flight. This, despite Victoria's manic white handkerchief waving, which apparently can draw them closer!  Listening out proved rather tricky as the sounds of nearby traffic and a rock music festival on adjacent land competed with any natural noises!  But we did at least achieve our objective and witnessed the rare presence of this weird and wonderful bird!  

Other birds were very thin on the ground, let alone in the trees although of course it was late in the day for them to be much in evidence. Many were heard but not seen. 

Here is our list of "audibles"...…..tree pipit, chaffinch, tawny owl, blackbird, blackcap, goldcrest, wren and nightjar.  "spots" included crow, rook, wood pigeon, willow warbler, great spotted woodpecker, treecreeper, yellow hammer, linnet, magpie, swallow, robin.

Walking the reserve was a pleasure, regardless of the dearth of birds.  Rather thrilling to be out in the wild, but safe amongst friends and feeling the damp, cool air coming up from the ground as darkness fell and 10 pm surprised us!

Well spotted!
Here are some great photos from two of our members of the Birding Group of birds in their garden.

 Great spotted woodpecker fledgling popping out 
of nest hole

 Female feeding young (male has red on nape of neck, juveniles have a red crown)

Goldfinch bookends!

If you have any photographs of birds in your garden, send them to us at
Upcoming dates
On Thursday 28th June we have a full-day trip to Rye Harbour Nature Reserve - and I would like to know if you are planning to come along. We will meet for coffee at the Smokery at Flimwell at 10 am. and then head onto Rye Harbour.Car sharing makes sense.

Future birding dates will be Monday 23rd July and Thursday 6th September. Venues to be advised. We will take August off. Most birds are "kerry packered" from all the breeding business by this time.

Plans for Broadwater Warren
Here are the details of our plans for 22nd June when we will be going to Broadwater Warren the other side of Tunbridge Wells. There are still places on this - so just let me know.

I have made special arrangements with the RSPB site manager for us to park and go around the reserve during the evening, even though the site officially closes at 7pmSo I am very hopeful you will give this your full support

We should see and hear nightjars (7 males churring last night!), along with other heathland species including possibly woodlark, tree pipit, stonechat, linnet and maybe woodcock.  As we speak, the weather forecast is good.

The plan is to meet at 7.30 prompt and the gates will close behind us at 7.40 after which we will walk around for a couple of hours until dusk when the nightjars are most active being "crepuscular" i.e.meaning they favour dawn and dusk and like to operate in twilight. They are a rare summer visitor to British heathland.

We will meet at the Broadwater Warren car park in Broadwater Forest Lane, Tunbridge Wells TN3.  Broadwater Forest Lane is on the right off the A26 heading towards Crowborough about 2 miles south of Tunbridge Wells.

I would appreciate knowing whether you are coming as the RSPB will want to know number of cars and people by Thursday night. No limit on numbers. Car sharing makes sense. Fingers crossed it should be quite a unique midsummer birding bonanza. As always, check your email on Thursday night in case of cancellation due to weather.

A Healthy Morning at Bough Beech

A recent study at Kings College London, published in the journal BioScience found that mental well-being is improved by spending time in a natural setting. "When we are outdoors in nature our attention is automatically drawn to the scenes around us.  This takes pressure off our executive function (the ability to manage thoughts and actions to achieve goals) and lifts our mood.  Exposure to wildlife has a positive effect on well-being.  It's been shown that the more birds you see every day, the lower your risk of stress, anxiety and depression".  We all instinctively know this anyway and have done ever since playing in the countryside as children, but it's good to have confirmation from the "experts".  So being a Third Age Birder is very good for your health and well-being and is likely to stop you going nuts!

We had a very calming and rewarding morning at Bough Beech. There was no wind (the birder's enemy) and although the clouds looked threatening, we avoided any of the drenching downpours that have featured all week. From the Centre hide we saw the usual - coot, mallard, tufted duck, green woodpecker, numerous wood pigeon and kestrel.  It was so pleasant that we sat for a while and were suddenly aware of the lazy flapping of a magnificent gold and white barn owl quartering the field to our left. This was at 10am. We could only imagine that yesterday's downpour which had gone on into the early hours had left the bird extremely hungry and forced it to hunt in broad daylight. So we had the joy of seeing it feasting from a field that must have been alive with voles and mice as each "drop" resulted in a catch.  Nature in the raw! Mesmerising.  

By the flooded edge of the reservoir were two handsome Egyptian Geese (see pic. below - thank you Paddy).

We walked along the causeway to see the terns getting down to family business on their

man-made nesting rafts, all the while squawking herons flew over our heads.  We had come to hear the iconic song of the nightingale who nest every year at Bough Beech but the incessant singing of song thrush and blackcap confused us and we could not get a positive id. You very rarely "see" this shy bird so have to rely on its song for confirmation. As we returned to our cars, the old time birders who camp daily at the reservoir explained that the nightingales had flown in a few weeks previously but had "moved on".  This was the first year in living memory that they hadn't stayed to nest.  No explanation perhaps other than the tricky weather conditions of spring.  Let's hope they come back to us next year.

Birds seen at Bough Beech:goldfinch, blackcap, blackbird, chiffchaff, coot, cormorant, crow, cuckoo (aud.) dunnock, goldeneye, Canada goose, Egyptian goose, great crested grebe, heron, kestrel, wood pigeon, reed warbler, whitethroat, linnet, pied wagtail, mallard, moorhen, blue tit, shelduck, barn owl, pheasant, robin, wren, common tern, starling swallow, songthrush, jackdaw, green woodpecker.

So now, considering all the health benefits, why not join us on the next birding trip - this time an evening event at RSPB Broadwater Warren, nr Tunbridge Wells commencing 7.30 until dusk.  Our hope is to see woodcock, stonechat and the elusive nightjar on this reclaimed heathland.  Just let me know - details to follow.

At the end of the month we have a day trip to Rye Harbour.  Again - let me know.

22nd June 7.30 Broadwater Warren, TW
28th June - all day trip to Rye Harbour.

Happy, healthy birding!

Announcing the Birth
At last, owlets have been born in a tawny owl box put in the wood of two of our members about 5 years ago - so exciting!

Birders out and about again!

A hungry group of eight birders met for breakfast at the Tankerton Slopes café.  Once our taste buds were satisfied we set off along the prom by the beach huts to the nature reserve overlooking the Swale Estuary. Almost immediately we were rewarded - a group of about a dozen turnstones were doing just what they are designed for - flipping over pebbles on the beach in their endless search for food.  Their mottled appearance means they are perfectly camouflaged and our first sight of one by the water's edge quickly became a dozen as we got our "eye in". 

We enjoyed a very pleasant stroll along towards Herne Bay spotting crows, black headed gulls, oystercatchers, linnets and swooping swallows en route whilst listening to the spring songs of black cap and wren in the trees and shrubs. 

After a sustaining coffee break at Whitstable Castle we headed off towards Faversham and the Oare Marsh RSPB reserve.  We were greeted by a large flock of black tailed godwit, loitering on an island in the scrape showing off their handsome, orange summer plumage.  We tried to look the other way when we heard the croaking mating call of a bullfrog but failed and spent several interesting moments witnessing some vigorous goings on while a voyeuristic fellow frog looked on just like us! Another special moment was spotting about 10 toads marooned in a sluice gate as a grass snake writhed in the water all around them.  Goodness knows what they were up to - best not to ask!  A big treat was the close up view of a reed bunting, some common seals lazing on a beach in the distance, the flight of a migrating whimbrel and, after much debate, the final identification of a greenshank. 

We crowned a happy day of birding with a cuppa at the Macknade Farm shop in Faversham.

Here is our list of 49 birds for the day:
avocet, blackbird, reed bunting, buzzard, chaffinch, coot, cormorant, crow, collared dove, tufted duck, dunnock, little egret, gadwall, black tailed godwit, goldfinch, Canada goose, greylag goose, greenshank, black headed gull, lesser black backed gull, herring gull, heron, jackdaw, kestrel, skylark, linnet, magpie, mallard, moorhen, wood pigeon, feral pigeon, meadow pipit, pochard, redshank, robin, shelduck house sparrow, starling, mute swan, teal, blue tit, great tit, turnstone, pied wagtail,  wren, whimbrel and audibly -
cettis warbler, reed warbler, sedge warbler.

Herons in Kelsey Park

Our aim at Kelsey Park was to see the large heronry that has existed there for many years.  We were not disappointed. Dozens of gangly pairs sat perched in huge, untidy nests  mostly on one island in the centre of the lake.  Herons can be both elegant in flight and ungainly on land. They frequently floated gracefully past us then landed with an awkward "bump" at their tenements in the trees. We spotted two adults almost sitting on two squashed chicks and then several more families once we trained our eyes to see them.

The lakes at Kelsey were alive with waterfowl, geese and pigeons.  Tufted ducks were in abundance along with liquorice allsort coots and moorhen with their strange green legs, big feet and bright red Bermuda shorts which you can only see close up. Most birds were very tame so we had good views of the rather unexpected purple head feathers of Canada geese who were strutting around us as if they owned the place. Lurking at the far end of the lakes was a collection of multi-coloured mandarin ducks - startlingly bright against the mud under the trees .  We had two sightings of water vole which apparently are herbivores and feed on a huge variety of waterside plants consuming 80% of their body weight each day. 

Miraculously the rain kept away and the sun came out as we strolled about. So a very satisfactory walk, with background music from ring-necked parakeets, around a beautiful park in the middle of surburbia - a little gem.

Then some of us had time to take a look at Bough Beech reservoir on our way home.  The water levels were exceptionally high, flooding all the beaches and sandy margins where we might expect to see waders and geese.  However, we did spot great crested grebe, little egret, cormorant in mating plumage drying their wings and a dingy dunnock singing its heart out (every one has something special about them!)

Our total for the morning was 41 species. blackbird, coot, cormorant, crow, dabchick, collared dove, tufted duck, dunnock, little egret, pied wagtail, goldcrest, Canada goose, greylag goose, Egyptian goose, great crested grebe, black headed gull, wren, ring-necked parakeet, moorhen, heron, jackdaw, kestrel, magpie, mallard, mandarin, feral pigeon, pochard, shoveler, rook, robin, starling, mute swan, teal, song thrush, blue tit, great tit, longtailed tit, wigeon, Campbell mallard and audible chiffchaff and green woodpecker.
Our trip in April will be a full day to Tankerton, Whitstable and Oare Marsh.  The date will be Monday, 23rd April.  There are four places left.  Just let me know.

Happy Birding
Rewarding Trip to 
Pulborough Brooks RSPB

We made it at last!  After at least three thwarted attempts to get to Pulborough Brooks RSPB Nature Reserve this winter, we finally managed a trip down there yesterday.  Not that the weather was cooperating particularly - it was still damp and drizzly, but not the heavy rain and high winds that had stopped us in our tracks previously.  And we were well rewarded for our efforts...

We saw at least 40 species, including some family groups notably 5 corvids - jay, jackdaw, crow, magpie, rook;chaffinch, greenfinch, goldfinch and great, blue, coal and long tailed tits.  Our walk around the reserve for three hours included woodland, heathland and of course the "brooks" themselves - the River Arun floods in winter providing a rich habitat for wading birds, ducks and geese. Views from the hides were particularly good and we were able to clearly identify teal, shoveler, shelduck, wigeon and lapwing as they fed and dabbled in front of us.  The final hide provided fantastic views of black tailed godwit in their hundreds and a display and fly past of huge flocks of wigeon, teal, lapwing and the godwits.  We were transfixed by the back view of a bird of prey stuck motionless on a post way in the distance - much debate ensued as to whether it was a marsh harrier or buzzard as its colouring was unusual.  Eventually it shifted and turned out to be a "light phase" buzzard (see photo) which explained our confusion. Buzzard plumage is highly variable.

Here is our day list...

blackbird, buzzard, coot, moorhen, greenfinch, crow, jackdaw, rook, jay, magpie, white doves/pigeons, wood pigeon, little egret, black tailed godwit, goldfinch, Canada goose, Egyptian goose, little grebe (dabchick), heron, lapwing, song thrush, nuthatch, mallard, chaffinch, great tit, blue tit, long tailed tit, pheasant, starling, pintail, shoveler, shelduck, robin, teal, wigeon, coal tit, wren, pied wagtail, great spotted woodpecker. Green woodpecker and greylag geese - audible.

JULY 19TH......half day a.m. riverside plant circular walk River Eden Edenbridge to Marsh Green..lunch at local hostelry.12 max

AUGUST 13th..half day a.m.return visit to Broadview Gardens followed by lunch

SEPTEMBER  10th..full day Hever Castle Gardens to see late summer blooms especially dahlias. lunch,      circular walk around the lake (entry fee)

OCTOBER  10th a.m. an autumn walk in local woodland studying autumn colour, hedgerows, trees, orienteering skills, etc. 12 max

NOVEMBER 9th 10  a.m. funghi walk Sevenoaks Wildfowl Trust with expert guide, Martin Allison 2-3 hours.15 max. early booking recommended.(entry fee)

Starling Murmuration

Overview of Minismere Reserve

Here they come!

We have been lucky enough to witness a starling murmuration at RSPB Minsmere.  It takes place late afternoon over the reed beds as flocks of starlings gather to roost together in the reeds for warmth and safety in numbers.We had a commanding position over the reserve (for those that know it)  as we parked at coast guards national trust cottages at Dunwich Heath.  This gave us a birds eye view over the length and breadth of the reserve and way down the coast to Sizewell Power Station.  The reed bed roosting area was just below us.

At first the skies were empty but then almost without warning starlings came as if from nowhere and formed a birdy ceiling above us, loosely packed but blocking out the sky from all angles.  Slowly but surely this initial group grew to enormous proportions as smaller  flocks joined the gang from all areas tagging on from the underneath.
Then the fun really started as the flock became denser and faster moving.  Fantastic shapes were being created in front of us - a living, breathing art show.  At one moment a silver black line of birds morphed into a sausage, then back to a ribbon, then a bullet speeding across the sky, then hung like a hot air balloon which suddenly appeared to 
Oh the moon is out!
explode into two separate flocks,  twist around and join back together again in one heaving body.  It was truly remarkable to see especially as we were so close to them.

This restless twisting and turning carried on for about 30 minutes or so as the light faded and then the starlings swooped low over the reed bed as hundreds at a time were somehow expelled from the flock as if being released through a trap door into the reeds. This was repeated time and again until the very last few birds dropped out of the sky.  Then stillness, silence and darkness.  Did we just imagine that?

So many questions - Which initial little gang of starlings decide to start this? How do the others learn about it and join them? Who is pulling the strings and creating the endless 

movements? How do they decide who goes to bed first? Do they sleep on top of one another in reedy bunk beds and who gets up first? etc etc or Is this done in one huge lift off at dawn?!

RSBP calculate there are regularly around forty thousand in this Minsmere gathering - flocks can get as large as one hundred thousand.  Phenomenal!!!
Briar and Rog

Looks like a prehistoric creature eating trees

Preparing to roost
Going Down Goodnight!
Sevenoaks Wild Fowl Trust

At the third attempt, our group got together in spite of the weather and managed a local trip to Sevenoaks WFT. Fortunately, it seems we hit upon the only few hours when it was not thundering with rain and managed a good 2.5 hour walk around the reserve, albeit rather damp and cold. 

We were welcomed by the Reserve staff in the shop/café on arrival and all enjoyed a drink and an opportunity to see the small natural history museum they have there - worth a drop in if you are ever passing.  The reserve looked strangely beautiful in the gloom of a wet and misty morning.  Bare trees showered us with drips as we brushed past and with so many birds flitting in the treetops, we spent some time looking skyward for redwing, thrush and siskin.  Deepest, darkest winter has a special charm of its own and looking up as we were, we could appreciate the  different skeletal shapes and sizes of oak, alder, silver birch etc. and the cheery sight of early catkins. When we listened carefully we heard the first  sounds of spring with various birds calling - blackbird, wood pigeons. clucking ducks. In December there would have been silence. So onwards and upwards.

At lunch time and looking elegant in mud-spattered trousers and beanie hats, we were able to enjoy a hot drink and sandwich at the centre whilst viewing some excellent photos of wildlife on the reserve via their TV.  We are very lucky to have such a resource on our doorstep.

We saw a surprising 39 species in total including all four of our resident gulls which we could easily compare, a large flock of snipe and another of redwing.  Here is our list for the day.....

blackbird, bullfinch, chaffinch, chiffchaff, coot, cormorant, tufted duck, dunnock, gadwall, goldcrest, great crested grebe (beginning to pair off) black headed gull, common gull, great black backed gull, grey heron, jackdaw, jay, lapwing, lesser black backed gull, magpie, mallard, moorhen, nuthatch, wood pigeon, pochard, redwing, robin, shoveler, snipe, teal, mistle thrush, blue tit, long tailed tit, great tit, grey wagtail, wigeon, great spotted woodpecker, wren.

  Third Age Birders
Visit to Bough Beech

Seven super-keen birders with nothing better to do a week before Christmas, spent Saturday morning at Bough Beech Reservoir.  This iconic oasthouse centre owned by Kent Wildlife Trust is about to close to the public and become an educational centre for schools etc.  This will mean no future parking, refreshments, shopping or the opportunity look around the countryside museum there.  But the intention is to keep the bird hide open and hopefully the loos, so the impact on our birding group should not be too great.

At last we picked a day of bright sunshine and clear skies albeit a little "parky".  We wrapped up warm and headed for the bird hide via the Orchard (nuthatch, chaffinch, coot, bluetits)  and were almost instantly rewarded with the sighting of a little owl (thank you Ken) sitting motionless in the field opposite on a pile of twigs.  We could see its head rotate and bob as we peered at it via the 'scope and it remained there until we moved on. Little owls are out and about from dawn to dusk and the only owl likely to be seen in daylight. See a piccie of this little poppet below.  Would you like some little-known facts about this much-loved bird?  They often run to catch their prey from a sitting position rather than swoop down as other owls do.  They were introduced to the UK in the late 1800s purchased by landowners and released to eat garden pests and here's something - to two places only in the UK - one estate in Northamptonshire and the other Stonewall Park in Edenbridge (chiddingstone area I think).  Since then they have populated the rest of England and Wales, but not Scotland or Ireland according to my bird book.  So this little chap we saw will be a descendant of the original pair of migrants who lived up the road!  On the feeders close to the hide we were treated to good views of two female brambling - winter visitors from Scandinavia and Russia.  This species has variegated winter plumage - the males are particularly striking - but the females are like a watered-down chaffinch so quite difficult to identify but have a lovely soft cinnamon colouring. We walked the length of the causeway through the reservoir which is still very low for the time of year and en route saw a solo fieldfare loitering in an apple orchard - usually there are large flocks in this area but they must have been Christmas shopping.  All the usual birds were hanging around the water margins and the full morning list of 38 species now follows:-

blackbird, brambling, chaffinch, coot, cormorant, crow, tufted duck, fieldfare, gadwall, great crested grebe, greenfinch, black-headed gull, herring gull, grey heron, jay, magpie, mallard, moorhen, nuthatch, little owl, pheasant, wood pigeon, pochard, robin, rook, shoveler, snipe, starling, teal, song thrush, blue tit, coal tit, great tit, long tailed tit, pied wagtail, wigeon, green woodpecker, mandarin duck.

All in all a very enjoyable end to our year of birding.  Annual Report follows below.


I hope the group will agree that we have enjoyed our birding adventures this year.  We have tried to ring the changes a bit but certain places are always rewarding so the temptation is to visit regularly.  Trips included the RSPB sites of Pulborough Brooks, Dungeness, Cliffe Pools, Minsmere, Rye Harbour, and Kent Wildlift Trust sites at Oare Marsh, Bough Beech, and our much-favoured local patch at Sevenoaks Wildfowl Reserve.  Other walks have been taken around Whitstable and Tankerton and our local fields here in Four Elms.

We have plans in 2018 to try some news places, namely Kelsey Park and the South Norwood Country Park, Gillingham Country Park and Gore Farm and an exciting new (to us) RSPB reserve the other wide of Tunbridge Wells which is reclaimed heathland called Broadwater Warren.  There are some interesting wetland areas to the west of Godstone which we also plan to explore.

As always we try to accommodate everyone and are still happy to run a second trip if demand is high.  The restriction to around 12 per party seems to work very well - we hope you agree.  As always, please check your emails the day and evening before a scheduled trip in case it is cancelled at the eleventh hour.

We wound up the birding year with a Christmas Lunch at the Old Eden pub which was a very jolly affair culminating in a few rounds of Birdy Bingo with lucky winners shouting out "Wingo" and receiving a drum of Bird's custard for doing so!  All in all another happy year.  Long may we continue to share our time with friends of both the human and feathered variety.

Happy Days!
RSPB Cliffe Pools

On the wettest morning of the autumn so far, 8 intrepid birders set out across  on the rather exposed Thames Estuary!  Normally at this site there are far-reaching views of shipping floating eerily past along the channel between the pools and marshland.  Heavy rain and mist cut off most distant views but in spite of this drawback we saw a healthy number of birds.  Water birds of course are not put off by rain, but most woodland birds were in hiding.  Rainy days can be a disaster for birding if accompanied by high winds and cold, but it was pleasantly mild and calm and once we were wet through in any case, we were happy to take the circular walk around the lakes for 2.5 hours! 

There were many rewards for our perseverance.  Notably a very large flock of black-tailed godwits creating strips of beige colour alongside black and white avocets.  Occasional flocks of avocet would whoosh up, push against the rain, circle round and then settle once more on the mudbanks.  There seemed to be a pochard duck convention going on - we rarely see more than a handful of this handsome duck - but they were everywhere.  We spotted three types of grebe - great crested, dabchick and the rare black-necked grebe.  See piccie. This rather scarce variety generally breeds in Ireland but in winter can be found in ones and twos on large reservoirs and lakes throughout the UK. Very hard to spot as it resembles a dabchick and in the winter gloom difficult to identify.  On a clear day you would see its beautiful red eye and slightly upturned beak.  One to look out for again.

Victoria was the first to spot a majestic marsh harrier ranging low over the distant reed bed searching for frogs, small mammals and reptiles. In the spring their diet sadly includes eggs and nestlings.  A gang of great black backed gulls were holding territory on a muddy island, ready for anything.  They are a menace to just about every other bird and top of the gull food chain but you have to somehow admire these bullyboys!

A little treat was the sight of a whole bunch of woodland birds drinking and bathing in a newly-created fresh water puddle - it has been so dry of late they were taking full advantage - chaffinch, goldfinch, robin, song thrush, blackbird all bathing together - (if the birds can do it , so can we!)

By the end of the walk our equipment was saturated and not working so well - on a human level too - soaked trousers and fishy-white wrinkly fingers rather hampered things and we would have readily fitted windscreen wipers on our binoculars. Of course as we arrived back at the car park the rain stopped! In spite of all these disadvantages I am proud to announce our day list of 35 species...

avocet, blackbird, chaffinch, coot, cormorant, crow, curlew, dabchick, tufted duck, dunnock, little egret, gadwall, black-tailed godwit, goldfinch, greylag, black-necked grebe, great crested grebe, black headed gull, great black backed gull, herring gull, marsh harrier, lapwing, magpie, mallard, moorhen, oystercatcher, pheasant, wood pigeon, pochard, redshank, robin, shelduck, song thrush, great tit, teal.  

Birders in Rye Harbour Nature Reserve

A flock of happy birders landed at the Old Smokery, Flimwell for coffee and cake en route to Rye Harbour yesterday.  After days of clear skies and hot temperatures, the cool, dull and windy day was a bit of a shock, but mostly welcomed.

Our plan at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve was to see the 3 varieties of tern who nest here annually as they all favour a shingle coast for breeding. We were not disappointed.  A three and a half hour walk around the east side of this large reserve gave us excellent views from all three hides.  The first allowed close-up views of a ringed plover feeding busily in front of the hide, the second gave us a mass of black headed gulls and their young (now we know where they all come from) shrieking and squawking constantly and a long-distance view of a host of handsome sandwich terns. Then hide number three presented us with an exhilarating aerial display from common tern and the rare little tern - both adult and young.  In amongst this spectacle was a flock of dunlin, presenting white and black plumage in turn.  As a common tern settled in front of us we were able to spot its dayglo red legs, and black-tipped red bill.  The little tern is distinguished by its white forehead and smaller size. Sharp-eyed Alice spotted two beautiful common gulls (misnamed as they are not seen very often) lurking with intent near the young.  In a few weeks time, none of these tern species will be here as they set off en route to their wintering colonies in the southern hemisphere - so our timing was perfect.

Here is our list for the day:

blackbird, coot, cormorant, crow, curlew, dabchick, collared dove, tufted duck, dunlin, little egret, goldfinch, greylag goose, egyptian goose, black headed gull, common gull, great black backed gull, herring gull, kestrel, skylark, linnet, magpie, mallard, oystercatcher, wood pigeon, meadow pipit, ringed plover, pied wagtail, redshank, shelduck, sparrow, starling, stonechat, swan, common tern, sandwich tern, little tern, song thrush.

Another by-product of our day was the abundance of wild flowers on the shingle beach.....among those we could name were common fleabane, black mustard, vipers buglos (Echium Vulgare - Diana!) everlasting pea, sea cabbage, sea lavender and yellow-horned poppy.  Orange and brown gatekeeper butterflies were everywhere!  Beautiful!

Mapleton Estate and Obriss Farm 
Birders at Bough Beech
Bough Beech Reservoir
Undaunted by darkness, dankness and drizzle, an intrepid group of U3A birders spent a happy morning at Bough Beech Reservoir. A surprising number of birds were on show - 40 in total, including the group's first sighting of 2 grey wagtail and excellent views of a hunting female kestrel. We spent some time in the Nature Reserve Hide and scanned feeders in the orchard where we saw all manner of tits, including the elusive marsh tit. It became very chilly as we walked along by the reservoir but the rewards were great - especially the unusual sight of a green sandpiper wading in the mud, a family group of mandarin duck and a close up view of a kingfisher on a wall by the water intent on fishing and totally unaware of 12 shivering people gazing at him. His colouring was so vivid against the wintery grey background he could have been painted clockwork toy. All in all, a very satisfactory morning and a lot achieved in an hour or so. Right place, right time springs to mind.

You can never tell with birding - an unpromising start can blossom into something special.  Bit like married life really!

Anyway, enough of this nonsense - here comes the day list:
blackbird, chaffinch, coot, cormorant, crow, great crested grebe, mandarin ducks (12!) teal, wigeon, gadwall, dunnock, little egret, fieldfare, greylag, canada goose, black headed gull, herring gull, common gull, heron, kestrel, kingfisher, lapwing, mallard, nuthatch, redwing, jackdaw, grey wagtail (2) moorhen, robin, rook, starling, mistlethrush, blue tit, great tit, coal tit, long tailed tit, marsh tit, wren, green sandpiper, wood pigeon.

A second field trip with astonishing sights!

Long billed Dowitcher
We met for coffee at Gillingham Country Park in surprisingly warm sunshine and light winds - perfect conditions. With high tide approaching flocks of winter-visiting Brent Geese came in close alongside the most redshank we have ever seen - their long, thin, bright red legs standing out against the grey green of the marsh plants. Two little egrets were hanging about in the trees - exactly where we saw them last year!  Could they be plastic decoys? Then we spotted just one lone turnstone and followed its flight to a whole bunch of them roosting on a boat in the mudflats.  Again, the most we have ever seen. We saw four out of five gulls here - black headed, lesser black backed, herring and common gull (which isn't!)  The calm conditions made for very pleasant viewing and the light was behind us which showed every nook and cranny of our first grey plover of the season, conveniently poised on a bank so we could all study its charming bright eyed features.  We had good views of wigeon with their chestnut head, custard coloured forehead and lavender breast.

Then off eastwards along the North Kent Coast to Oare Marshes. The variety and number of birds that greeted us was almost overwhelming. A male marsh harrier appeared on cue as we walked from the cars to the water's edge. It was a 5 STAR DAY - the five in order of rarity being.....
1) Long billed Dowitcher - very rare north american vagrant.
2) Spoonbill - should really be in France.
3) Bearded tit - male and female hanging about feeding together in the reeds.
4) TWO water rail right in front of us foraging under a small bridge in the middle of the day.  They are "crepuscular" which means usually only appear at dawn and dusk.
5) Ruff - tall, yellow legged wader.

Huge flocks of golden plover, lapwing and black tailed godwit were spread in front of us.  Sharp eyes spotted curlew, avocet, pintail, shoveler, grey plover and teal amongst them. The piping call of a kingfisher in flight made us search the sky until we spotted it atop a nearby post in the water. The whole group could focus in on its stunning plumage for some minutes. What a treat!
We saw a staggering 56 different species without trying during what must have been the best birding yet for the group:
long-billed dowitcher, redshank, turnstone, little egret, meadow pipit, shelduck, brent goose, wigeon, black headed gull, common gull, lesser black backed gull, rook, magpie, robin, chaffinch, collared dove, starling, ruff, spoonbiill, golden plover, grey plover, shoveler, curlew, swan, teal, goldfinch, oystercatcher, great tit, heron, kingfisher, lapwing, ringed plover, mallard, pintail, reed bunting, bearded tit, coot, water rail, marsh harrier, kestrel, canada goose, blackbird, wren, pied wagtail,dunlin, avocet, cormorant, moorhen, black tailed godwit, sparrow, sanderling, wood pigeon, herring gull, buzzard, crow, cetti's warbler (audible) and COMMON SEAL!
We rounded off the afternoon with yummy food at Macknade's award winning Farm Shop in Faversham.
Intrepid Retirees spot Rare 
North American Vagrant…

A small, but perfectly formed, band of mature birdwatchers discovered a Long Billed Dowitcher at Oare Marshes yesterday.  The wader, blown many thousands of miles off course from North America should have been wintering in South America but was found feeding in the shallows by the Kent roadside. Thrilled by this discovery was group leader, Briar Blake for whom anything new at her age is usually a “symptom”.  “Roger and I have been birding for 25 years and this is a “first” for us”, she told our wildlife reporter Bill Dowhistler. Group member and aptly named Brian Swift Senior, was also the first to spot a rare spoonbill at  the same site which is a magnet for professional birdwatchers and photographers.   The U3A bird group hail from Edenbridge, nr. Sevenoaks and are living proof that it is never too late to be at the cutting (roadside) edge of life and make some remarkable discoveries.

 Article reproduced courtesy Kentish Times Sat. 29th October

Raptor Sightings

Just wanted to share this - last Friday we drove at mid-day from Edenbridge to Selsdon via Warlingham.  On the road B269 before you reach Sainsbury’s - where there is a big drop overlooking countryside on the left (where it is often foggy!) we saw 3 different raptors.  We weren't even trying as we zoomed along but saw buzzards, 2 kites and a kestrel with ease.  Obviously, buzzards and kestrels are common, but this is a great opportunity to see a red kite (rough size of a buzzard but with a definite forked tail). We saw them all again on the way back at 4 pm so they are obviously "local".

Hope you can catch Autumnwatch this week. Great golden eagle footage.

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Stodmarsh National Nature Reserve

Intrepid birders arrived in relay at the Seaview Cafe, Tankerton for a hearty breakfast before getting back in the car to find Stodmarsh National Nature Reserve.  This is situated in the north Kent countryside just east of Canterbury and south of Margate.  It is not near anywhere of particular note but can be found lurking off Stodmarsh Village approached by twisting country lanes. Not a place for a fleeting visit as fairly lengthy walks occur between each of the 6 hides once you have managed to arrive!.  As we stepped onto the path we were greeted by the alarm call of a Cettis warbler (just for Anne!) with a buzzard soaring above. Our walk to the Marsh Hide was rewarded with views of swan, goldfinch, rook, great crested grebe, black headed gull, lesser black backed gull, green woodpecker, fieldfare - first of the winter, cormorant, and teal. The teal can be found all year around in the UK but numbers swell in the winter.  At the moment they are in "eclipse" (the annual shedding of feathers after breeding) so plumage is similar between male, female and juveniles.  But we were able to spot some distinctive signs of handsome drake plumage coming through. A couple of local birders pointed out that we had just missed a kingfisher feeding below the hide!  It seems there was little about - certainly not enough to warrant some long walks.  

So we made the decision to head west back along the coast to Oare Marshes. A chilly easterly wind had blown up so we were glad of hats and coats - a sign of things to come. Here we were almost overwhelmed by the bird numbers.  Huge flocks of black tailed godwit were feeding in the scrapes.  In addition to those birds seen at Stodmarsh, we recorded avocet, pintail, golden plover just down for the winter from their breeding grounds in northernmost Europe, black tailed godwit, coot, moorhen, marsh harrier, lapwing, mallard, redshank, heron, wigeon, kestrel, magpie, shoveler and pied wagtail.  Rog and Anne were treated to the rare sight of a female bearded tit just in front of them as we walked back to the cars.  

Mid-afternoon refreshments and a warm up were needed so we headed to the Brogdale Fruit Farm cafe.  After initially declaring they had nothing "hot" to offer, the staff pulled themselves together and rustled up some very welcome and tasty bowls of soup for us all.  The afternoon was rounded off with tea and cakes and a good old natter before we all hit the motorway.

"Plovers"  - the plovers come down hard, then clear again, for they are the embodiment of rain" Paul Muldoon.

Happy Birding
Bough Beech and more
Twenty one happy birders were reunited after a very dry summer break in what can only be described as "mizzle" for our local trip to Bough Beech Reservoir and Sevenoaks Wildfowl Trust. Aren't we lucky to have two wild bird havens so near to Edenbridge.  The wet weather was also calm and muggy so not at all unpleasant as we wandered around the centre at Bough Beech and along the causeway. Water birds were happy to loiter to give us some excellent views. Notable firsts were 3 knots and a couple of green sandpipers. Sevenoaks reserve seemed to have been overtaken by greylag and canada geese and the last of the sandmartins swooping over the lakes before returning to winter in Africa.

Here is our day list:

chiffchaff, coot, cormorant, crow, tufted duck, little egret, great crested grebe with young on back!, black headed gull, heron, jackdaw, kingfisher, knot, lapwing, magpie, mallard, moorhen, woodpigeon, ringed plover, robin, green sandpiper, common sandpiper, starling, swan, bluetit, pied wagtail, great spotted woodpecker, green woodpecker, wren, dunnock, greylag goose, canada goose, sand martin, housemartin, teal.

Below is a photo of a "knot" - a singularly unimpressive bird until it flocks as a species and forms huge carpets on the coastal mudflats - notably Snettisham in Norfolk.

Rye Harbour Revisited 

Teasel (for goldfinches) obscuring the view from our hide
"I think that's and Avocet"
Another happy day with a repeat trip to Rye Harbour.  Fewer birds than on our previous trip as Rye Harbour has served its breeding purpose and common, sandwich and little terns have fledged.  They will now be feeding up and starting their autumn migration en route to their wintering grounds in Africa.

Large numbers of cormorant and dunlin were seen along with little groups of avocet (thank you Alice) oystercatcher and a lone curlew, sandpiper and ringed plover.  High winds prevented us from hearing and seeing smaller birds, e.g. skylark, meadow pipit but we caught fleeting glimpses of linnet and, again, those fascinating little egret were everywhere. Wild flowers were still putting on a great show.

Iconic image of a shingle beach
Doggie spotting along the way