Surprisingly there was a fresh covering of snow when I woke up this morning and there was even a glimmer of blue so I hastily got myself sorted and got outside in the cold with only a vague idea of what I may attempt. I headed down the road and then dithered and aimed for Temple Marsh. It was still early and I thought that I may have got the jump on the dog walkers to be able to go and check the frozen saltmarsh.
Some rambunctious Starlings were doing a very good job of getting into the bin bags by the chicken shop while the Redwings and Song Thrushes in the Ivy by the railway were far more well behaved and just for once actually stayed put for a while as I watched them.
|A very dull Great Tit|
|A no-neck Woodpigeon|
The saltmarsh was covered by a thin blanket of snow and ice and two each of Meadow Pipits and Reed Bunting came up from the narrow path in front of me while two male Dunnocks were getting all territorial with each other. Robins appeared mysteriously whenever I stopped.
There were countless Rabbit tracks and some Brown Rat and like Tuesday, I was confident that I could see Woodcock trails leading in and out or the Bramble thickets but as usual no actual birds. I was hoping for Jack Snipe but had to be happy with two explosive Commons Snipe that rocketed away in front of me.
There were plenty of Redwings and a few Greenfinches in the Poplars and down on the mud the Redshanks let the Lapwings know that they had seen me. This was the first time this winter I have seen these species down here on my bit of the Medway. I could also hear two Oystercatchers which may mean that our breeding birds are already heading back into the inner river.
As I neared the new houses I picked up a Little Grebe feeding just offshore from where a group of Black-headed Gulls were loafing around and it was using the swirl of the incoming tide to carry it along.
Further up on the exposed mud there were 26 more Redshank scampering around with 23 Dunlin sticking closer to the tideline but I could only find four Shelduck and a few Mallard while nine Mute Swans were counted across the view.
|Black-headed Gull, Redshank amnd four Dunlin|
|The wind had pushed the snow right into the scrub|
I really fancied some more river action so I climbed back up to the Cuxton Road and then down and over the M2 bridge. It was a little chilly up there but the views towards Rochester were superb and the patterns in the mud below were highlighted by the low light. Redwings and Fieldfares called below in the Diggerland scrub and rather bizarrely as I was half way across seven Corn Buntings flew over heading north!
|Why did I think that this looked like sugar dusting on top of a huge chocolate brownie?|
Once down the other side I wiggled through onto the riverside path by the little house boats and crunched and squelched my way along the top of the bank.
Redshank and Lapwing came up from the edge but only one Snipe and a solitary Curlew drifted overhead on its way to the frozen pastures where some of the Lapwings were gathered.
|Lapwing and Redshank|
|Lapwing and Starlings|
I alternated between the top and both bottoms f the river all in an attempt to locate any more probing waders but found nothing. A Water Rail squealed from the frozen ditch and a few Meadow Pipit moved ahead of me along the bank along with a female Green Woodpecker that I surprisingly saw before she flew.
There were no duck on the river and just a single Little Grebe while back in the Hawthorns a noisy group of Fieldfares managed to keep themselves between me and the light at all times! A huddle of Rooks where rotivating the middle of one field and I think they had found an old straw pile while a dozen Carrion Crows fed not far away but all spaced out and appropriately socially distanced.
The chalk cliff on the east side had a big spiral of Jackdaws cruising around and they all came up to say hello to a passing Buzzard. The cliffs always look so white but with snow all around they actually looked yellow.
I left the river behind me and dropped down to the path that would lead me to Starkey Hall. Well, actually I slipped over and slid the whole way down the bank leaving a delightfully muddy skid mark behind me and I suspect that my back mirrored it somewhat. I nonchalantly decided to stop at the stile and have a cuppa and clean the mud off my bins and camera as best I could before tacking the field. I knew from my long distance views from Ranscombe that these fields were actually covered in water below the snow so I stayed on the raised path for the most part and only deviated to walk the edges of the sedgey channels that bisected it but again they were bird free. This field is spring fed from the Hall garden and was still flowing in places but it was not until I reached the fence that three Snipe came up. They circled and landed again which is where I left them.
|the non white chalk cliff on the west side of the river |
|the path across the meadows|
A Buzzard cruised low over the field with the snow reflecting off the underside making the white almost blue and a baby Rabbit scampered for cover within the boggy garden which must be heaving with hidden Woodcock!
|My Little Owl tree - not that I have ever seen on here...|
Dozens of Redwings were tossing leaf litter around and the moving surface water seemed to keep the spot unfrozen and obviously full of wiggly delights. They were very vocal too and there were lots of fights over the best spots which definitely included under the giant trampoline! Song Thrushes, Blackbirds and Robins joined them.
|Through the trampoline Redwing|
Once past Starkey Hall I had a choice of turn left and onto Wouldham Road or go straight across up the hill through the snowy wheat fields to Burham Road above it. I thought I could see the round evergreen dome of Holm Oak at the top of the hill and rather sadly I remembered Antony telling me to check any Holms for a moth leaf mine and so up I went!
Starkey Hall Across the road I go... Micro Copse
These are the fields that I can see rising above the Medway when I do my Ranscombe walks and the view back behind me over the Medway Valley was equally good from this side. I could see all the way to Holly Hill in the south west of the North Downs Ridge and way off towards the Mallings in teh distance while straight east was the Valley and the woods and Brockles Field with its scrappy little hawthorns. I do love a landscape and I think that I know this one well enough to recognise almost anywhere in my field of view.
The weather was as peculiar at this stage as it had been all day with sunshine peeping through before grey returned and there were even sporadic patches of blue.
It looked like only a single dog walker had trod this path but there were numerous Fox trails leading off across the fields and a few Rabbit prints too. I was not surprised to once again find what I thought was Woodcock and I followed a wonderfully curvy little trail through the snow for thirty yards with probe holes in the snow at regular intervals.
The only birds that I saw up here were a couple of Skylarks and Linnets overhead and three Redwings and a Blackbird in the tiny copselet that I checked for itinerant wading birds.
Common Gulls glided silently over the snowy fields with the light making them look blue below just like the Buzzard earlier.
|Looking west towards Ranscombe and the North Downs with the M2 bridge to the right|
|And southwest towards Holly Hill highpoint in the middle|
I think the farm at the top was called Ivy Lodge and it did indeed have a large Holm Oak in the garden which thankfully was on the next footpath so I went and had a look. The leaves were riddled with mines, quite literally thousands of them!
I could not remember the name but a quick message and I had indeed found Ectodemia heringella. I took a few pics and then consulted my map.
The footpath looked good and did loop back towards Borstal but then took a jink away to the east as it crossed the M2 which would have added quite a bit to my walk so I decided to stay on Burham Road back to Borstal and anyway I had spied a huge manure heap about 500 yards away and you never know what may be lurking around one of those in the winter. I had my lunch on a hay bale watching the pile and seeing precisely two Meadow Pipits and a Song Thrush.
The white fields were quiet and although it was still bitterly cold things had started to thaw a little and the road surface was ok to walk on. Back down towards the river the colourful line of Brambletree Cottages looked like a mini pastel shaded Medway version of Tobermory. I am not sure whether this little hamlet comes under the blanket of Borstal or not.
The fly tipping along this lane was appalling with everything including the kitchen sink in the verge but it was while I was tutting at a pile of mattresses that I found this curious box attached to a tree just set back from the road. I can only imagine that it is a bee hive of some sort but am open to suggestions?
|Common Gull on the roof of Borstal Lodge Farm|
And so I found myself walking back under the M2 at the same point as this morning before taking the first left back into the houses and down towards the Medway once again. A Mistle Thrush was defending a front garden Holly against several Redwings as I ambled downhill before finding the slippery footpath that would take me to the Medway Bridge Marina. Redwings were everywhere and they were popping out of every back garden Ivy clump while the House Sparrows were making a fine racket and are obviously doing well in this spot.
Back at the river I entered the Baty’s Marsh path and with the tide fully in now, I ventured down the steps and went out in the snow for a last look for Jack and Common Snipe. Again there were none to be found but the Mute Swans that I saw earlier were all feeding at the high tide mark and a Scandinavian Rock Pipit was the first of the day.
Back up on the path Redwings and Robins were kicking about under the Ivy hung Hawthorns and coming down to drink from the growing puddles in the path.
All too soon I was back on the pavement but there were still birds to be seen and there was a lovely shining flock of Lapwings on the Medway Towns Rowing Club ramp with some Black-headed and Common Gulls and while watching them a Rockit bobbed and weaved amongst them.
|Lapwing, Black-headed and 2w Common Gull|
|Lapwings and Rock Pipit|
|Mega Crested Lapwing and Rockit... interestingly this might just be a nominate petrosus Rock... intriguing|
It was good to see people out with their kids sledging on the steep slope of Churchfields. It was not crowded and there were no big groups of people.
I stayed on the river frontage to the Esplanade where some smart Mallard were the only birds feeding close in on the now turning tide.
Another Holm Oak drew me off the path to discover more Ectodemia heringella mines and the Pyracanthas predictably had Phyllonorycter leucographella mines on it.
I stopped on the Rochester Bridge and watched the purple sheened Feral Pigeons strut their funky stuff before the final leg home through town.
As I crossed the channel to Morrisons the storm drain suddenly opened scaring the dodahs out of me as it ejected a torrent of water back into the Medway..
It was good to create a fresh circuit today especially with a new section of path walked and although I did not find my Jack Snipe I was still very pleased with me efforts. Snow happens so rarely down here in the south-east that I feel that I just have to get out in it! By the time I got home it had largely gone from the urban sprawl but with the temperature not set to really rise for a few days i suspect it will linger a while longer.