Since my birthday on Monday I have been determined to get out on foot from home and explore the remaining points on the Strood compass as part of my daily healthy amble.
Tuesday 7th: Post breakfast saw me head up towards the end of my road and enter to the Cobham Estate and the woods. Like everywhere that requires foot access, it was deserted and I enjoyed a circular amble through the Chestnut and Hornbeam pollards where Highland Cattle grazed and Peacocks, Brimstones and high speed Orange Tips flitted between Violets, Bluebells, Primroses and Celandines along with a host of very tiny Andrena chrysosceles (Hawthorn Mining Bee) and numerous Dark–edged Beeflies.
|There were six 'new' Sweet Chestnuts growing strongly from the long fallen body of this veteran tree|
|The Darnley Mausoleum|
|A very gnarly and almost naked English Oak|
|Can you smell that?|
|And the Highland Cattle have been stripping what looks like Sycamores|
|Hawthorn Mining Bee - Andrena chrysosceles|
Meanwhile up on the Ash trunks there were quite a few bristly Gymnocheta viridis basking in the sun. One or two were quite bronzy and probably getting on a bit! Eristalis pertinax and Epistrophe eligans were the two common Hovers along with a couple of Eristalis tenax and Melanostoma scalare.
Buzzards mewed overhead and Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were vocal along with Nuthatch, Treecreeper and the usual tits. I saw Hawfinch, Willow and Marsh Tits here when I first visited 20 years ago but only Marsh Tit recently and I could not find one at all this time.
|Empty Golf Course|
Wednesday 8th took me on a loop out of Strood via Broomhill Park which has a radiomast that I can see from my house, down through some young orchards and then up some lanes to Higham and back via Rede Common.
|The view from Broomhill Park - my house is just out of view to the left and down a bit!|
Mistle Thrushes are a part of urban Strood life and there are at least four pairs in my road and another couple nearer the old A2. One was singing nicely by the empty sports centre.
Banks of sweet smelling Alexanders line the lanes and they are not even in full flower yet and the scent of Hawthorn and Apple percolated down wherever you walked.
Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps, Wrens and Robins were the main songsters and I could not find any other warblers at all and the lack of any fieldside hedges is always disappointing to see.
Skylarks were singing in every field though and plump Woodpigeons were feeding where they probably shouldn’t.
Verges by houses were better for wildlife with a few hovers and bumbles and I found my first flowering Green Alkanet and Garlic Mustard. An exposed sandy bank on a roadside held a nice colony of Andrena flavipes and with no one around I could sit in the road and take some shots.
|Hedge remnant and Greater Stitchwort|
A male Swallow was serenading the sky outside some stable where some fine horses were paddocked and I checked for Wheatears and Ouzels but only found Starlings and Blackbirds.
The views out across the North Kent marshes were expansive and hazed by the sunshine and the glow of a trillion acres of Oilseed and you could just see vessels heading in and out of the Thames and a shimmer of Southend beyond.
Topped Poplars lined some fields and the new leaves shone copper red in the sunshine while another stand had lustrous lime green young leaves.
I heard Nuthatches and Goldcrests near Higham Church and discovered a colony of Anthophora plumipes in a bank at the end of Telegraph Hill with the cleptoparasitic bee Melecta albifrons in attendance.
It was then down the litter strewn Crutches Lane past the ancient preserved orchard and then up onto Rede Common and back home with a views over to Rochester Castle and some dancing Speckled Woods amongst the trees.
|Old Apple trees|
Thursday 9th: I ventured a little further and headed down the Medway, following the Saxon Shore Way for an early stroll. The tide was out which made the path available and I crunched my way through flints, glass, pottery, brick, seaweed and old oyster shells alongside Hoo Wood Fort towards the empty marinas beyond.
|The Saxon Shore Way|
|Great Crested Grebe|
|WWII Pill Box|
|Hoo Wood Fort|
|Hoo Wood Fort|
Oystercatchers and Redshanks called along the margins and Herring, Lesser Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls picked over the tideline for scraps with packs of marauding Carrion Crows.
Med Gulls were a constant feature although seeing them as they drifted over high in pairs was tricky and only their evocative ‘cow’ calls gave them away. The low light on the mud and boats and hulks was magical and other than the birds there was no sound bar the fizzing of the mud, and the buzz of an errant bee. This coupled with the smell of mud and iodine tang of salty seaweed made it a very tranquil place to be.
|Kings North Power Station Jetty Crane|
Green Woodpeckers yaffled from every wood as did Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps but only when I got to Abbots Pool SSSI did I find two Reed Buntings, a single Sedge and two shouty Cetti’s Warblers. There were more ouzelless paddocks to check but the numbers of singing Skylarks was encouraging and a single Avocet was a nice bonus. A Water Rail kipped from the reedbed.
|Abbots Pool SSSI|
|There was a good population of House Sparrows|
I came back via Hoo St Werburgh church where Goldcrests and glossy Starlings sang but the subsequent oilseed rape fields were barren of life and made my eyes sting.
|Hoo St Werburgh church|
A Grey Wagtail greeted me in song at the end of my circuit which, as ever, made me smile.
The afternoon was spent in the garden with the first Blackcap in full song and a fine female Peregrine overhead freaking out the local Sparrowhawks. Helophilus pendulus was added to the hoverfliy list for the year and all the others seen on Monday put in an appearance.
|A through the foliage Peregrine|
My Hawthorns were now in full scented flower with many, what I now know to be, Hawthorn Mining Bees in attendance. Speckled Woods rested on the Marsh Marigold leaves in the afternoon sun.
|Micro Stanley on Tulip|
|Great Tit drinking at at Hoverquarium|
I keep feeling like I should be ‘doing stuff’ but the garden is basically done now, I have no work, the weather is glorious, I have cold beers in the fridge and Med Gulls keep flying over my house. What more do I need?
Friday 10th and Saturday 11th: And as such I spent next two days lounging like a sluggish lizard in my garden, reading my book, updating my World Bird List in my mammoth Clements tick book and discovering that Lesser Nighthawk was my thousandth species, supping the occasional bevy and generally staring either at flies around my pond or at the unblemished largely bird free skies above.
Someone told me that apparently I was engaging in something called ‘relaxation’?
Sunday 12th: Two days of slothing around was enough to send me off walking again this morning on a local loop (notionally to look for some oeufs). I headed up onto Rede Common again where there seemed to be even more Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs before heading once again into the peripheral farmland and orchards discovering two more footpaths in the process. Ornithologically it was quiet but the walk was good for me – there are no flat walks around Strood!
|Luminous young Horse Chestnut leaves dangle like half opened umbrellas|
|Oak flowers are just starting to appear|
|And have you ever looked at a Sycamores flowers?|
|Kentish Strawberries in the making|
I failed to find any eggs and thus banished myself to the garden in shame where I even managed to find a couple of jobs to do in between fly, frog and sky watching.
|male Nursery Web Spider Pisaura mirabilis|
|I played with some macro|
At least there was a bit of cloud bubbling up in the late afternoon and it made picking out the super high Buzzards a little easier as they cruised over and I was pleased but not too surprised to see my first Hobby of the year and the male Peregrine performing some stunning aerial manoeuvres.
My garden nemesis is Red Kite. Everyone sees them over their gardens nowadays but in 20 years in Strood I have never seen one. There had been dozens moving throughout the south-east in recent days but they were mostly coastal but this time they were being picked up along the northern strip so perhaps it would be my day? As it was, the first one almost snuck through from the south before turning west and heading up the road at height. I was elated and there may have been an air punch and a fairly loud ‘yeeesss!’
|Red Kite #1|
Half an hour later another Kite appeared in my airspace and was a little lower than the first and this one even got hassle from the local Buzzards and then, an hour later I was told that one had gone west over Chatham and sure enough I picked that one up too as a micro-kite way up against the blue about 15 minutes later.
|Red Kite #2|
|Red Kite #3|
So, zero to three Kites in 90 minutes. A fine way to end my week and leaving me on 59 species for the garden list since lockdown on the 23rd March.
Tomorrow is Bank Holiday Monday and the weather is turning... I wonder what will blow my way?