Friday, 16 December 2011


I picked Alan Roman up at Meopham this morning amid a quite generous dumping of snow on the North Downs. We arrived at Oare marshes at around 10.15 and immediately spotted the long staying Great White Egret which was fishing in a narrow ditch to the east of the road down to the car park.

This is quite a showy bird as you can see from the photo above, clock those thighs! I was busily snapping away at it when suddenly a small bird, either a Reed Bunting or a Meadow Pipit I think, flew in front of us hotly pursued by a bird of prey. Before we had time to ID the raptor a second one joined the fray, this bird though was instantly recognisable, it was a stunning male Hen Harrier, just thirty feet or so in front of us. We were speechless as we watched the small bird dive into some small bushes and escape two sets of talons and then saw the Harrier turn away to the west and out of sight. What a great start and we hadn't even reached the car park yet.

To say that it was bitterly cold is a major understatement, the NW wind blowing off the water was vicious. We headed straight for the sea wall hide for some shelter but to be honest it wasn't much warmer in there.

The tide was at its lowest point so the views of Shelduck, Dunlin, Redshanks, Grey Plover, Curlew and a few Turnstones were pretty distant. Murray Wright was bravely scoping in the lee of the hide and we were very grateful to him for drawing our attention to a Great Northern Diver which flew in from the east and passed quite close to the hide. Another really good bird for the morning list, although unusually I had to try and keep the list in my head as my hands were too cold by far to write anything down in a legible fashion.

As the morning progressed the tide turned and began its inevitable return, thus pushing the birds further up the mud towards us and giving me the opportunity to at least get a passable if semi dark shot of one of the Avocets which were feeding on the freezing mud, their dainty heads swinging from side to side like avian metal detectors.

We decided to move on to the hide on the east flood, mainly in the hope that the movement would thaw our now frozen feet. It worked, but the raw wind soon froze our faces instead and even the sight of a Short-eared Owl hunting in front of us was marred by eyes that insisted on watering copiously as we turned into the wind to watch it cross the flood.

Snipe, Teal, Wigeon, Little Grebe, Little Egret, Kingfisher, Green Woodpecker, Ruff and Kestrel were soon seen on and around the water, as well as Marsh Harrier and Buzzard in the distance towards Sheppey.

By about half past two we were treated to a weak but welcome burst of sunshine. This coincided with the arrival to the flood of a lot more birds as they were pushed off the mud by the tide. Flocks of Avocets like the one pictured above were nicely lit by the sun as they circled to land on a small island, as were the white wing bars of the handsome Black-tailed Godwits and flocks of Dunlins caught the light too as they twisted and turned in tight flocks just above the surface. But maybe the stars of this part of the show were the small groups of Pintails that looked absolutely stunning in the sun as they flew in to join all the others already on the flood.

The low sun didn't last too long though, the last few rays giving a dramatic look to the reed beds and the sea wall hide in the distance, set against the backdrop of some very ominous black clouds. Time to go.


Mike Attwood said...

Cracking pics. Phil. Happy Xmas.

Phil said...

Many thanks and a merry Christmas to you too.

Bob Bushell said...

Wow, you've done it, the Great White Egret and the Avocet, great images they are too.

Jason K said...

Fantastic shots of the Great White egret Phil...nice one. I've only ever seen one during my birding years.

Marc Heath said...

Lovely shot Phil, it seems to be a shwer indeed. I wonder if its unwell or recovering, or just a tame individual. I may well have a go myself tomorrow.

Rob said...

Great photos of the birds, and a welcome burst of sunshine. The reedbeds look amazing.

Mike H said...

Great account Phil and a Great day by the sound of it. May go back for a second visit in a week tomorrowl Nice photos. said...

Nice shots, i really like the one of the landscapes where you go birding!

Greenie said...

Phil ,
Great shots of the GWE .
Just a thought , does Carol know about your lusting of bird's thighs while you are out ?

Alan Pavey said...

Some great pics there Phil and a real treat to have the male Harrier so close, excellent!

Ken. said...

Hi Phil.
Nice photo's of the long staying G/W/Egret, and plenty of good birds seen to make the day special, but my bird of the day would have been the male Hen Harrier, what a top ten bird.
They are a rare sight these days, probably due to the fact of the way they are treated up north, and north of the border.