Monday 23 January 2017

Neither Upnor Down - 23rd January 2017

It was a long weekend at work, I awoke to a seriously foggy morning in north Kent and it took a while to persuade myself to venture out into the cold. I headed first to the top of my road but the Waxwings seem to have stripped all the Rowan berries and there were none to be seen. The trees were covered in a blanket of hoar frost so I decided to head down towards Upnor with a view to visiting the castle and getting some frosty shots.

My drive there did not reveal any other Waxwings although I did go via almost every Rowan and Cotoneaster I know. Unsurprisingly the fog was thicker down by the Medway but I perserved and was soon in the castle car park. I have lived for 15 years now in Kent and this is the first time that I have ever actually made it down here so I was slightly disappointed to discover that the English Heritage site was closed for the winter. It is a real pity as I do not want to visit these special places in the school or summer holidays when they are busy and parking is difficult so I resigned myself to having a nose around to see what I could discover.

The outer tower of Upnor Castle

I started right down on the river foreshore where the tide was partially out and two Oystercatchers, two Redshanks and a solitary Dunlin were feeding on the mud. The Oiks were pushing their entire heads into the gloop before extracting a lug worm and without a trace of mud on their plumage.  


Hold your breath time!

Plump House Sparrows were fidgeting in a Privet and seemed to be taking the little frozen black berries while from the towering Ash trees above came a steady shower of ice crystals that glimmered in the weak sun as they spiralled to the ground. It was all quite magical and reminded me of those October gossamer days when spiderlings decide to seek new homes.

Frozen Privet berries

As I could not get into (or even really see) the castle I retraced my steps up the High Street and onto the Saxon Shore Way which took me initially inland around the Castle and House through a wooded area that held a flock of spherical Long-tailed Tits, Blue and Great Tits, Goldcrest and Great Spotted Woodpecker before descending some steps into Lower Upnor and the boatyards.

Spherical Tit

Female Great Spot

A bird flew into the front gardens of some flats and I managed to creep up on a fine Common Snipe as it tried to remain hidden under a trimmed Beech hedge. It did not stay long and soon zig-zagged up and over the trees.

A very dark, heavily marked Snipe

The river was very calm with many yachts moored in rows mid channel and Cormorants sat with wings outstretched and Black-headed and Common Gulls plodded along the edges with several more Redshank.


St Mary's Island just becoming visible

Running away...

Both Grey and Pied Wagtails bounced along in front and two individual Mistle Thrushes were standing guard over their respective trees containing big clumps of Mistletoe.  There were not many white berries left but it did not stop them giving Robins and Blackbirds grief for venturing too close.

A rubbish Grey wagtail  - but I just love them


Frozen Turdus
The entire wood inland of the village was completely bedecked with frost making it look like a very corny Christmas card but the only birds I could see up there were some Jackdaws and big fat pink-bellied Woodpigeons. The path began to peter out and only muddy beach remained so after a scan down river towards where an WWII Pill Box had collapsed into the mud, I turned around and then diverted back onto the Saxon Shore Way and headed inland and upwards and into the woods of Beacon Hill.

One of several enormous old mooring chains

The end is in sight..

White Trees, War Remains

At this point it started to rain although it was only falling from tree top height as the sun started to loosen up the large ice particles adhering to the branches. I emerged from the trees into a clearing to the sound of heavy rain fall all around but with none of it now falling on me. It was a most odd sensation.   

Roving tit flocks contained the hoped for Treecreeper and Chaffinches, Redwings and Song Thrushes fed in the leaf litter under a brace of huge Holm Oaks while a Grey Squirrel was searching for acorns. A Sparrowhawk flashed through and Bullfinches called plaintively.

I continued on a loop back into the trees and then came down through a belt of Turkey Oaks towards the road. I was hoping for a Woodcock but had no joy and was soon retracing my steps to the car.

A plump Squirl

... and equally rotund Rabbit

Turkey Acorns

As I came back past the walls of Upnor Castle House I noticed what appeared to be an old ‘cat’ flap positioned in the base of the wall with a thin sheet of metal as the flap. As I approached for a closer look a little ginger Bank Vole poked his head over the lip and then dashed through to my side and disappeared in the litter!

Although the sun had not fully burnt through, I was gently steaming upon my return to the car and I was pleased to shed some layers after a most enjoyable venture into the unknown on my doorstep.

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