Tuesday 8 December 2020

A Kentish Winter's tale of Geese, Buntings and Thrushes - 8th December 2020

A just about dawn start saw me on my way east towards Reculver Towers for an amble with Pat Hart. It was a very cold morning but with no frost and no breeze at all and it was a very eerie start to the day.


The tide was dropping and the Dark-bellied Brents could easily be heard grumbling over half a mile away along the beach towards Beltinge and a quick scan added a selection of waders to the day with scuttling silvery Sanderlings, stop start Grey and Ringed Plover, Redshanks Oystercatchers and Curlews. Two 1st winter Yellow-legged Gulls were with gulls poking around on the seaweed but the dead calm sea was devoid of life with only the distant windfarm to draw the eye.


Brents with Herne Bay beyond

We walked up past the Towers where Starlings probed the dewy grass of the Roman Fort and a couple of Blackbirds and several Robins were on the walls and rocky breakwater.

Greyish-breasted Rock Thrush

Quality probing going on...

Dewy Blackbird

Monument Starling

Part of the ancient Roman fort


I said to Pat that it looked good for Black Redstart and then promptly found on just before the old Oyster farm. With no one else around she was actually quite confiding and hopped up towards us with the rusty tail all a quiver.

Black Redstart - Me and my shadow


We had not gone twenty yards when another appeared on the path and although still an ash brown bird, this one had much bigger whiter wing panels.


House Sparrows chirped in the brambles and Meadow and Rock Pipits were out over the old workings. We were hoping to find the huge flock of Russian White-fronts discovered here yesterday but the unexpected early sun was making looking inland almost impossible.


However it did make the hunting Short-eared Owl look gloriously ethereal as it silently ghosted over the pits before alighting on a pole.  It sat there for ages with alert yellow eyes scanning around and only got slightly agitated when a Redshank kicked off.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl


The sun started to slip behind some hazy cloud and so I scanned inland towards Shuart Farm and could make out a line of Russian White-fronts feeding in a distant ploughed field but the light was still terrible but every now and then you would get a flash of belly bars or white forehead blaze as well as the odd snippet of goosey conversation between them.

A flock of Reed Buntings were coming down to feed on the concrete cyclepath with a pair of Stonechats, Robins, Wrens and Dunnocks for company and a Song Thrush and several Blackbirds erupted from the brambles. I could hear Corn Buntings and after finding a couple a flock of about 40 came out off a grassy bank and plipped away into the distance.

Path Buntings

Mr Stonechat

As we approached Coldharbour Point the Beltinge Brents came in from the west for their wash and brush up in the freshwater outfalls there but a Grey Heron spooked then and the flock dissipated with some heading inland but the explosive goose scarers placed every few hundred yards were keeping them on the move.

Dark-bellied Brents

How many Ringed Plovers can you find?

A Little Egret and a few Turnstone and Redshank were feeding in the outfall and a flock of Herring Gulls dropped in for a bath.  We had been told that two Snow Buntings had been frequenting this area and almost immediately picked them up grovelling amongst the Yellow-horned Poppies on the shingle in front.

Of course after just two shots my camera battery died and being a numpty I had left the other back in the car.  Naturally the buntings then came out to play just a few yards away but were a joy to watch as they shuffled around collecting seeds invisible to the eye.

Snow Bunting

                                             And a little video taken with my phone...

Yellow-horned Poppy

Stag's Horn Plantain

We decided to turn back at this point and then divert off the cycle track onto the inland levee around the enclosed bay of the Oyster farm.  This was a good move with two Yellowhammers calling immediately although I could not actually find them. Six Grey Partridge rocketed out of the grass and I do not remember the last time I saw them in Kent (although it was undoubtedly at Harty).


Reed and Corn Buntings were zipping all over the place and it was great to encounter so many small seed eaters.  It was actually not that surprising to therefore find a delightful female Merlin sat in the winter wheat field alongside us.

After a few head bobs and a shuffle she moved a little closer in super low level stealth flight like a cross between a dinky Peregrine stuck in a male Sparrowhawks body. This time she showed off that lovely barred tail before taking off once more and powering up into the sky after something that only she could see.

More Buntings and big Linnet flock were seen and the Russian White-fronts left to the east in small parties before we even got to the fields.   I counted 84 in total with two bonus Barnacles and a single Greylag in tow.  The geese all looked laboured in flight and through the scope I could see that every bird had a double thick bill and dangling legs clogged with clay from the field they had been in.  I presume that they were off to somewhere east to get cleaned up.

A solitary Lapwing called from the field but we could not find it and two Mallard and a male Shoveler were the only ducks that we saw all morning.

Full of Buntings!

A fine Cormorant


It was time for a coffee and a single Gannet far out on the otherwise still quiet sea was added to the list before we headed inland towards Grove Ferry.

A singing Song Thrush greeted us on our arrival and a Mistle Thrush rattled over as we were getting our gear back on.  It was still cold but the sun had begun to sneak back out again.

Fieldfares and many Redwings came up in front of us from the hawthorns as we started the walk and three Ring-necked Parakeets squawked overhead.  I was hoping for a few birds to look through from the viewing ramp but there was nowt bar a Mute Swan, Little Egret and six Black-headed Gulls.  Someone had stolen all the duck and Moorhens and Coots.  It was very odd. 


We took the usual path through the middle with a Kingfisher zipping down a channel and Cetti’s Warblers giving the odd chic or two. A flock of 15 Russian White-fronts appeared and headed steadily north towards Chislet in a more aerodynamic way than their Reculver buddies!

Departing Russian White-fronts

 A large flock of Fieldfares could be seen in the distance which only grew in number as we got closer with perhaps 500 circulating around the still berry laden Hawthorns.  A few Redwings and Blackbirds were mingled with them and the odd grey Song Thrush called as it bolted from cover. 


A bench was a good stop for lunch and in the area we had been told two Dartford Warblers had been frequenting.  It was still very still and any movement was discernible and I soon picked up a pair of Stonechats. They came into the closest brambles and I had the briefest of views of one of the Dartys as it popped up and looked at me.  Fieldfares surrounded us now, flashing powder grey rumps and black tails with the full suite of soft and hard chacks and cackles as they kept in touch with each other.  At the next crossroads we found a good spot to watch them feeding with the light behind us. They glowed.




A couple of Yellowhammers flew over and Marsh Harriers were a constant feature with at least four female types and a gleaming adult male patrolling the reedbeds although I would imagine that they are hunting the thrushes too.

Marsh Harrier


A solitary goose flew through calling and I hastily got my scope on it hoping that it would be a Tundra Bean.  The forewings looked dusky and the bill and head dark and as it came in to land I saw the bright orange legs – bingo!

It landed out of view and ten minutes later a flock of Russian White-fronts took flight from the same area and circled around before heading off over the ridge to land somewhere south of Grove Road. I presumed that the TBG was with the 46 strong flock but on our walk back this single goose reappeared for two circuits calling like a deep voiced grumpy Pink-foot as it headed back east towards Pegwell! 

Russian White-fronted Geese

Russian White-fronted Geese

Greylag Geese

Tundra Bean Goose

Tundra Bean Goose

Tundra Bean Goose - orange legs!


A female Sparrowhawk harried the Fieldfare flock mercilessly and a female Bearded Tit pinged across the path and then perched up for a few moments to have a little preen in the low sunshine before clambering down into the reeds.

I do like a Belted Galloway!

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit


Rather strangely it actually felt warmer in the late afternoon and the gloves even came off.  The Stonechats showed well again and the male Marsh Harrier gave another magnificent performance on the return leg before we settled in for a relaxing wait at the viewing mound to see if anything should drop in as the sun sank closer to the horizon.  

male Marsh Harrier

Turn and drop

The pool was still almost duckless with two Shelduck trying to make up for the lack and Teal could be heard plibbing away on a hidden pool. Five Water Pipits came and went around the edges but it was almost impossible to find one on the deck and five more Lapwing were added along with calling Snipe and Green Sandpiper.  Buzzards and Marsh Harriers loafed on bushes and several more Bearded Tits called from the depths of the reedbeds.

Hundreds more Fieldfare were drifting in from the east and presumably they have been roosting in a secure thicket somewhere out on the marsh. A couple of Water Rails squealed and the Kingfisher returned to its distant perch, now bathed in golden pre-sunset light.

A Golden Kingfisher

We hoped for an Owl or Bittern but were very happy to round things up with a dagger billed Great White Egret that glided effortlessly into the pool to begin feeding around the margins. With that and the fact that fingers were once again becoming numb and the coffee was all gone, we packed up and made our way back through the pre-roost Redwings to the cars and home.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret - Pat Hart



  1. That was one cracking day out, some nice birds, 8 ringed plover and a dawn start - sounds good until you realise dawn is 8.00 nowadays. 😂

  2. This sounds very much like my day out, I felt like I was by your side every step of the way with lovely photos and great knowledge of the birds a good account of your amble, thank you, Mikey