Saturday 17 December 2022

Kentish Nature Walks - #62 - Higham & Shorne Marshes - 17th December 2022

I made myself go out early this morning.  It was still bitterly cold and nothing has really thawed around here at all with the now icy snow still thick on the ground in places but I decided on a venture down towards Higham.  I was under no illusion that I was going to undertake one of my lengthy circuits so settled for parking up at the end of Canal Road before walking west along the frozen Thames and Medway Canal. It was not long after dawn and it felt like I was the first person down there but alas there were still no Woodcock or Snipe in the margins and only two immature Grey Herons lumbered away from me.  Redwings were all around but skittish and rocketed away before even a cursory glance could be taken.  It always feels like there should be Long-eared Owls down her lurking in the overhanging Willows and Ivy clad Hawthorns but I only found Wood Pigeons that were feeding on the frozen Ivy berries.

Ivy berries

The snow had evolved during the night and the extreme low temperatures had caused the crystals to grown outwards into stepped needles that made them look like some sort of white Club Moss.  Close up the shapes were even more amazing and were in fact shard-like but then with micro goblets of ice spreading from each staggered tip - almost like upside down Christmas Trees. It was quite beautiful and also amazingly consistent wherever I looked.

So difficult to capture the true beauty of these natural sculptures

A scan over the white marshy fields revealed almost no life whatsoever bar a huddle of shaggy Ponies with a cyclist amongst them hand feeding them carrots.  They were all very well behaved.

Note the mid-air Carrot

The odd Pheasant and a few Moorhens were dotted around the margins and a fine Fox was eyeing them up through the chain link while another hunted the canal edge and seemed unperturbed by my presence.  I hoped he would push something out for me but nothing appeared.


With no red flags flying I cut through the central bridal way between Shorne and Higham MarshesStarlings and Thrushes moved off ahead of me and included a few Blackbird and Song Thrush and some chacking Fieldfares that would not let me get anywhere near them but with patience I did get some lovely close views of the Haw snaffling Redwings.

The sky had some very strange post dawn colours in it

Fieldfare & Redwing

Song Thrush




Plump Hawthorn berries

A Great Spotted Woodpecker bounded away towards the river wall and I encountered the odd Greenfinch and Chaffinch and a small charm of Goldfinches attacking the Teasels and a single Reed Bunting called but I did not hear a single Meadow Pipit or Skylark.

Eight Moorhens were feeding  on the exposed grass around Shornemead Fort but soon flew back to the shelter of the bushes and there were even more Redwings here and they seemed to be trying to get a drink in the ditch so I cracked the edges to create a few puddly bits.  


Shornemead Fort - the only clear grass areas that I saw

I gingerly poked my head over the river wall to find the tide most of the way in.  A flock of Wigeon, Teal and Mallard were roosting up on the mud and two Tufted Duck were on the Thames with some more whistling Wigeon.  Twelve Dunlin, two Ringed and two Grey Plovers were on the tideline and Redshanks and Lapwings fed higher up.  Everything looked spherical and cold but at least the waders still had access to their food.  

Tufted Ducks and Wigeon

Ringed Plover and Dunlin

Grey Plover touching down and Dunlin

Grey Plover and Dunlin


There was nothing moving on the river and I decided not to walk along the top as it would have undoubtedly disturbed everything unnecessarily at this tough time so I started to retrace my steps adding Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Green Woodpecker before getting back to the canal.  A small Tit flock contained Blue, Great and Long-tailed as well as an energetic Goldcrest.

And a solitary Rabbit

The breeze had got up and despite four upper body layers I was starting to get cold so after a cup of coffee back at the car I headed back home passing a couple of sentinel Buzzards and a verge side Snipe on the way.

I fed the birds and did their water when I got home and popped some apples out in the vague hope of attracting a Blackcap or Waxwing but equally happy to supplement the diet of the local wintering Starlings.  There were Redwings in the Sycamores at the top and on a whim I decided to have a look inside the remaining Teasel heads as Antony has shown me before.  I have never found anything in my ones but in the first there was a white grub with a black head and black prothoracic plate which makes it Endothenia marginana or gentianaena while the second I looked inside had a very different larva with a pale brown head and a prothoracic plate the same colour as the rest of the body which seems to suggest that it is Cochylis roseana.  I tied both heads back up with some old Bindweed and put them safely to one side.

possibly Cochylis roseana

Endothenia marginana or gentianaena

Content with a well spent couple of hours I slowly descended the treacherously icy garden to hide back indoors and get the fire started.

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