I was quite taken with Higham Marshes on my Monday walk and so headed back there at about eight this morning for a different approach. This time I parked by St Mary’s Church (where I had lunch) and struck out on a reverse route. I had only just got past the church when my brain said ‘Cuckoo’. In any other year it would have discounted it but there were two fairly local yesterday so I stopped and it sang again! Remarkable! It was off somewhere in that very wet woodland that I would be sensibly avoiding this time. A couple of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were bringing in the day and a Willow Warbler joined in from the hedge as I sloshed across the field to the first style.
The cattle were still in their misty field and after admiring the fine Bull amongst the heifers I had another go at Cattle Egret hunting. Almost immediately I found an Egret and the head wobble told me I had scored but it walked behind some prime beef and a few minutes later reappeared as a Little Egret. I was puzzled but stuck with it and sure enough the Cattle Egret soon followed. Both were using the cows but even at range their different hunting methods were apparent. The bill on the Cattle Egret was only slightly orange and I suspect that it had mud on it rather than being in breeding colours as there was not a spot of buff on the head or mantle.
|'Wouldn't want to be in there with him' I thought|
|A brace of Egrets|
With no wind today the air was full of Skylark song and the noisy Black-headed and Med Gull flock way out on the marsh could clearly be heard.
A Sedge Warbler chattered away as I made my way through the bushes and a pair of Long-tailed Tits moved ahead of me. I counted six visible Lapwing nests out on the fields and was really hoping for some different waders so I was pleased to find a Spotted Redshank that was just starting to moult and a male Ruff with a gleaming white head. The Little Ringed Plovers were heard but again I could not see them.
The ewes and lambs were enjoying the watery sunshine and many seemed to have triplets and there was at least one with quads. A Water Shrew was noisily fossicking in the ditch edge and a Water Rail was wheezily singing from another reedy channel.
With the increase in temperature there were many more Andrena flavipes around and a couple of Small Whites amongst the Peacocks and Small Torts. The duck were still in the rills and a good scan did not reveal anything new but these pools are crying out for Black-winged Stilts, Garganey and passage waders if the water lasts into the late spring.
|Shoveler and Teal|
When I got to the seawall I crossed over the spur onto the path to Cliffe Fort. The tide was completely out and a man was walking the actual tideline in Wellies with a trowel in hand but as a consequence he kept spooking the Avocets, Redshanks and Black-tailed Godwits. There were about 150 of the latter and most were in breeding finery as they stock up before the long journey back to Iceland. A flock of Dunlin were also seen along with Curlews and Oystercatchers.
|Black-tailed Godwits and Coalhouse Fort|
Cliffe Fort is actually properly moated and flooded and in a sorry state of repairs unlike its sister Coldharbour Fort across the Thames at East Tilbury. I sat for a coffee and envisaged Black Redstarts flicking around or a Hoopoe probing in the sandy banks such is the flights of fancy us birders take.
Three Cormorants were up on a big jetty and were joined by a honking Egyptian Goose and his mate who had obviously taken possession of the whole thing for the breeding season. I think that they both went into the old workmans hut...
|Shelduck - they were on the roof of the Fort|
Two Sand Martins flicked through and Linnets were feeding in the path in front of me but it was the insects on the flowering Alexanders that distracted me. There were many bees but they seemed to stop so rarely. Most of those that did so seemed to be Andrena flavipes and I found several what I believe to be Nomada fucata in close proximity while a fluffy orange Andrena with a white face would appear to be a male A.nitida.
Yellow Dung Flies were everywhere and some of the fresh horse pats were covered in lovely furry flies. Many of the big males had already acquired mates and were jealously guarding them from interlopers. The males were also out hunting from the Alexanders flowers and would occasionally dash out after a smaller fly. Both Eristalinus aeneus and sepulchralis were present too, although it took a while to look at eye hairs!
|Yellow Dung Flies|
|Yellow Dung Fly|
|not sure yet|
|Eristalinus aeneus - have to take my word about the half hairy eyes |
I was even lucky enough to once again find Gonia picea and several more Eudasyphora cyanella as well a many Dark-edged Bee Flies. Brimstones and Peacocks were numerous and Orange Tips will not be too long now I think.
I got better views of Avocets and Redshanks on the creek beyond the fort and the Privet thicket added a few more Hoverflies to the day list.
|Black Barn beyond|
|Redshanks and Avocets|
I stopped at the Flamingo Pool where two Ringed Plover were the only addition before cutting through the pits. The gull colony was in full swing and the sheer number of Med Gulls is amazing. Hundreds were present on the main islands and they seem to have pushed the less aggressive Black-headed Gulls towards the edges and onto the small islands around them. They will always be my favourite gull so I sat and watched them while I ate my lunch and surrounded myself with the sound of Medway Summer.
My lunch spot was also home to some tiny mining bees but getting a picture was somewhat challenging but I gave it go. I have asked for help so you never know, there may be an identity down the line.
Other than a few half hearted Blackcaps there was little other small bird life as I plodded back towards the car park and tried my best not to get distracted too often but Bees on the Alexanders!
|Parasitic Wasp sp|
|Dark-edged Bee Fly|
The walk of discovery took me up Salt Lane and then in towards the gravel works before veering through West Court Farm where a small patch of Comfry where a green Soldier Fly was seen and awaits identification as I thought it was Chloromyia formosa but they should not be on the wing till May.
|Chloromyia formosa ?|
The route took me through the farmyard with its pack of well trained Intruder Alarm Guinea Fowl and then cut through a paddock filled with ewes and their multitudinous lambs which were ridiculously cute before heading out across yet more amazing flooded fields and pastures alongside the railway that services the workings.
There were a few Coots and Little Egrets dotted around but like so much of this hidden habitat around here, it has a more continental feel to it. I just hope that the waters last. I now had horses for company and then some young Sussex cows before crossing the railway and finding myself in the field with the main herd of seriously chunky cattle that held the Egrets earlier.
|More Med Gulls!|
They ignored me and the Bull was still holding position and let me pass with no trouble as I headed to the small bridge in the far corner and the last stretch back to the car. Although the sun had never really got going it was still showing 23c and the air was actually hot and sticky which felt very odd for the last day in March.
I headed for home and had a cuppa up the garden and watched the insects come and go. There were several Eristalis pertinax laying eggs in the pond and pondlets by flicking eggs in flight at the surface and I was pleased to find a freshly emerged Myathropa florea gleaming as it rested on a log.
Being so warm has meant that I have had to water in recent days but this has also benefited the gazillions of Sycamore seedlings that have taken the opportunity to germinate in the newly landscaped top third of the garden. I am not anti this stately tree but I will have to keep on top of it otherwise I will have a Sycamore forest before the summer ends.
My parent Marsh Sow Thistles are both now showing through and I found my first garden 22-spot Ladybird and Nursery Web Spider of the season.
|Nursery Web Spider|
I am sure that the weather will be back to grotty and cold by the Easter weekend!