Thursday 7 January 2021

Green Urban Birding - The Hoo Loop - 7th January 2021

The forecast suggested that today would be the first dry and calm day this year for us down in darkest north Kent and after the late showing of the sun yesterday afternoon I had hopes of getting out for a much needed walk.

It dawned grey once again but it was not raining and the trees were not thrashing around as in recent days so I got myself sorted and ventured forth at about 8.30.

Little groups of Redwings were moving around as I got towards the end of the road but whether these are local birds or newcomers I am not sure. I cut down through Morrisons car park that was still largely empty and was followed by a party of Long-tailed Tits who were foraging in the small trees in the car park while a Carrion Crow was annoying someone sitting in his car but scrabbling around on the roof with a scrap of something he had picked up.  No amount of banging from the inside made him move! Pied Wagtails scurried like little fancy mice across the wide expanses of open tarmac. Perhaps the local shoppers are taking this Lockdown just a little more seriously once again? There was no queue outside B&Ms or Poundland.  The roads were quiet and there were very few people around so avoiding them was easy.

Pied Wagtail

Carrion Crow

Under the railway and left onto Canal Road where a pack of Black-headed and Herring Gulls were descending on whole loaf that had been tossed out onto the prom. Common Gulls were also present but they prefer to chase and harry the Black-heads in flight to get them to drop their morsel.

Herring Gull - 3rd year

A Great Black-backed joined in and I heard it before it crashed the loaf party. They are truly a beast of a bird.


Great Black-backed Gull

The wasteland that I have checked on and off since April was covered in water again and the gulls of all species were utilising it for a freshwater ablution stop. There were no Grey Wagtails but two Pied Wagtails darted round the edges.


Pied Wagtail

Pied Wagtail

I now have a name for the long steep slope from here up to Frindsbury All Saints church.  It is called Donkey Hill as it was the route the donkeys took when hauling commodities from the bustling riverside docks.  I always try and get to the top without stopping and succeed most times. Today was once of those and at least there were lots of Redwings to watch when I was catching my breath although there were very volatile and erupted out of the Ivy covered trees with no provocation whatsoever.  A Mistle Thrush was defending the huge Holly tree in the oast house garden before I took the path back down to the main road and crossed towards the Temple Hill sewage works.


Mistle Thrush

More Redwings zipped about but not one would pose for more than a second or two but a female Blackcap showed a little better as I scanned the streamside bushes. No Cetti’s Warblers here today but 12 Meadow Pipits came up from the scrubby field.


I stayed on the path past Gundolph Pool where furtive binocular raising (it’s MoD) revealed 13 Pochard and a Tufted Duck but nothing else and a Buzzard was up above getting grief from the local Carrion Crows.  Blackbirds were feeding on the Ivy but everything was very skittish and both male and female Blackcaps were also seen and a Chiffchaff heard as I walked through Lower Upnor. 

Goldfinches on roadside feeders - nice


The path alongside the wall of Upnor Castle House was quiet although I may have heard a Firecrest and Grey Squirrels were playing chase through the Sycamore canopy. Down at the Medway the tide was going out which meant that I could follow the Saxon Shore path but I suspected that it may end up a little too far out to be profitable once I got past Hoo Marina.

Oops - I'm sorry - Stigmella aurella on Bramble


I almost walked past a sign for one of the open units in the Ordnance Yard when the words Madeiran Patisserie caught my eye. Now I do like a Portuguese Tart, so I convinced myself that I should be supporting local entrepreneurial businesses and would force myself to buy a cake to go with my lunch. And so with my mysterious purchase from Coelho’s I continued on my way...


Another Mistle Thrush was defending an Apple with a huge clump of Mistletoe as I dropped down onto the very wet foreshore. Normally the upper reaches of the exposed beach are a little soft but there is so much gravel and debris that it is normally ok but there was so much water flowing continually out of the surrounding woodland slope that it was pretty much a serious squelch the whole way along. 



The odd Redshank was down on the margins and my first Little Grebe actually on the Medway was feeding actively close in around an area where fresh water was pouring in.  It is normally very wader poor on this entire stretch up to the Marina but today was an exception and there were about 400 Dunlin, 13 Black-tailed Godwit and 85 Avocets along with Curlews, Redshanks and Oystercatchers. 

Little Grebe


Common Periwinkle - (Littorina littorea )

A bump headed Cormorant

Sorry about the rubbish but water pouring out of the woods

Black-tailed Godwits - only the second time a 'walk'

And likewise with the Avocets

Shelduck squibbled the surface mud with snaky head weaves and the Avocets did likewise with delicate little flicks.

Hoo Fort

Shelduck trails


A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from the quiet woods and a female Sparrowhawk tried to catch a Redwing as I approached the Marina before briefly perching up.  


As usual House Sparrows dominated the entire walk through the complex of boat yards and chalets and I really should have done a count in the springtime but who knows, I may get another chance. Blackbirds were plucking Pyracantha berries from tiny box gardens and Starlings descended to clear scraps from another in a noisy twenty seconds of mad thrashing and squawking.

House Sparrows

 Once beyond the marina the river wall became as treacherously muddy as I expected and although the tide was now miles out at least the light was fairly flat giving me a shot a quickly adding a plethora of species to my fledgling year list.  A few more waders quickly fell with Knot, Grey Plover and Ringed Plover and then my first new ‘Lockdown walking from home and garden list’ bird appeared with a ghostly Barn Owl quartering the Pampas grass covered Hoo Salt Marsh Island.  This was a most welcome addition.


The game crop behind me on the other side of the main ditch was full of Chaffinches and Goldfinches along with a couple of Greenfinches, House Sparrows, Reed Buntings and seven plipping Corn Buntings. Skylarks and Meadow Pipits called from the ploughed field behind and fine cock Pheasant strode purposefully across it. 

Reed Bunting

A Snipe got up from the fragments of saltmarsh as I sloshed along the top of the bank and a Scandinavian Rock Pipit similarly burst from cover. Only the odd Redshank was close to the bank but I was pleased to find another two new species with several Bar-tailed Godwits and a calling Spotted Redshank.   Way out of the mud the Dark-bellied Brent Geese were roosting up and preening and although they were a very long way off I was sure I could see a gleaming white patch on one at the right hand end. I took some pics of the whole flock with the aim of counting them all later but could not see my white patch at the time.  Having just counted 423 geese now that I am home I can safely say that there was indeed a Black Brant in the flock!

Part of the Brent flock

and on the right hand end - a big fat Black Brant

I stopped at the corner Pill Box for my lunch.  It was still calm but cold although there was a suggestion that the breeze was stirring.  Sandwich devoured; it was time for the Portuguese pastry from Coelho’s. Layers of flaky puff pastry with almonds and apple (I think!) and it was just perfect with my coffee while watching the Brent flock start to come alive.


In the course of the next 30 minutes the whole flock headed over my head and north inland over Hoo, presumably to a winter wheat field somewhere.  I did not see my suspected Brant as they light was terrible as they went over as you can see from my pics!

Catching up with the parents


There is something very special about the grumbling of Brent Geese. Coming from Essex, it truly is a sound of the county winter scene and just hearing them, whisks me back to early years muddy walks around Old Hall, Cudmore Grove and Tollesbury with our YOC group almost forty years ago.

The paddocks behind me were largely flooded and instead of ponies they now had Teal and Redshank and the main pool itself hosted Gadwall, Shoveler and Mallard along with singles of Grey Heron and Little Egret. A Cetti’s Warbler called like a mini machine gun from the phragmites and Reed Buntings flicked white sided tails from the tops.  



A male Kestrel got vocal when pursued by some Carrion Crows but despite scanning around I could not find any Harriers or Short-eared Owls.

Back out in the channels I added an adult Yellow-leggedGull and  my first Pintail to the grand tally as they dozed in pairs on a creek side and Wigeon and more Teal could be seen further out. I strained my eyes to look for and Mergansers or Goldeneye but had to be content with several Great Crested Grebes but in doing so I picked up six Russian White-fronted Geese coming across the river to land out of sight near the power station. My sixth new ‘walks’ bird so far.

Sleeping Pintail and the last few Brents


The temperature was dropping and so I decided not to slosh on any further towards Kingsnorth and turned down the track between the pools which was somewhat damp to say the least. The last of the Brents headed over and on the main fishing lake I found 12 Tufted Duck and three female Pochard and a paddock full of grazing Coots. 

Lesser Reedmace

Look at the neck on the Cob!

Even the horses had rugs on

A Coot Farm

The Stand Off

A Goldcrest moved through the Willows with a Long-tailed Tit flock but checking the Lesser Reedmace did not reveal any masked vagrants. Just beyond the last paddock, the winter wheat field had flooded quite badly and was home to a pair of Egyptian Geese; yet another addition.  All I needed now was a Water Pipit walking around the edge to cap things off nicely... ‘phist phist’ oh there’s one. Quite ridiculous. I left this odd trio with several Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails and started on the homewards loop back towards Hoo church.

Egyptian Geese


I always go through the churchyard and today it was the mosses on the wall that caught my eye although I tried not to be distracted by the Lichens too!

ENNNIIIDDDD!! all for you!

The long drag back up through the farmland was bird poor as usual although I was hoping that the sunflower belt alongside the path would have more than 16 Goldfinch, three Chaffinch and a Reed Bunting in it.   

the view behind me



Just before I got to Chattenden there were three old chicken sheds in a field and with the way the day was gong I thought, if I was a Little Owl I would be sitting round this side out of the breeze in that watery sunshine that has miraculously appeared. So, I put my bins up and found two immediately. I see this species so rarely in the UK nowadays that it is always a pleasant surprise to come across one.

Little Owls

The path degenerated once again as I slipped down the alley between the houses (finding Phyllonorycter leucographella on Pyracantha just because I had to look!) and redwings were dashing out where ever I went.

Phyllonorycter leucographella

I took the path at the end back into Cockham Woods above Upnor and slid my way down the path back towards the river. There was so much surface water with rivulets trickling across every path and actually gushing in places. You could hear water everywhere and all the hollows which I assume my sit on a clay bed were full creating a series of micro ponds throughout the wood despite it all being on a steep incline. I imagined that they were Woodcock all around me sitting silently in the damp leaf litter. Both Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were vocal and the latter was even drumming and the hoped for Nuthatch silently snuck through the canopy. Celandines and Lords & Ladies were already pushing through new spring growth and it will not be too long till the first flowers.


Lords and Ladies

Reappearing on the Upnor riverfront meant having to walk back past Coelho’s again but I resisted the urge to pop back in – but only just.

Looking back towards Hoo my first local Harbour Seal was fishing mid-channel - another addition to the mammal list.


I climbed back up the steps by the wonky wall and heard the Firecrest in the Holly immediately although it was a little way back and I could not see it but then once back in Upper Upnor I walked around to castle Street to find the little muddy path through the back of the Temple Hill woods that would being me back out by the sewage works.

There were Redwings all the way through and I spooked them while they were drinking at a path streamlet but all I got photographically were they cute little prints in the sand.  I may have accidentally seen the now usual moth and leaf mine suspects as I ambled along – in fact I had been seeing them all day but decided not to tell you.

Phytomyza ilicis on Holly

Redwing tracks

Euleia heraclei on Alexanders

Phytomyza chaerophylli on Cow Parsley

Coptotriche marginea and Stigmella aurella on Bramble

With the trees denuded for the winter I could at last see the sewage works but the active tanks are enormously high so you would need to be in a helicopter to see into them. I had seen nothing when I approached from the other way earlier but now a cloud of at least 60 Pied Wagtails swept up from the hidden working and many alighted in the Hawthorns below.  I could hear at least two Grey Wagtails and a Chiffchaff was stridently calling away somewhere while the Redwings were still exploding from cover.

Pied Wagtails!

Buck's Horn Plantain

Ivy Berries

Old Man's Beard

I crossed the main road and then went back up the hill towards All Saints before looping around the churchyard the other way and finding some Hart’s Tongue Fern to go with the Wall Rue I found here back in October. 


Punky Jay in the graveyard

                    A singing Redwing enjoying the sunshine but out of view for me...

Hart’s Tongue Fern, Wall Rue (top right) and friends

The view back of the golden shining Medway was worthy of a couple of shots before the amble down the hill back into Strood and home but not before I had at last got a picture of  a Redwing that was part of a flock feeding in an overloaded back garden Cotoneaster.

Ivy Leaved Toadflax



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