Monday 29 March 2021

Kentish Nature Walks #2 - Higham Marshes and the garden 29th March 2021

It was fortuitous that my day off was forecast to be glorious and I decided to drive to Lower Higham and access the marshes for the first time rather than materialise in a small Devonshire seaside town overnight as if by magic...

I followed Barry W’s advice about where to start from and was already gobsmacked before I even left the car for the marsh meadows alongside Canal Road felt more like a little bit of the Fens or Somerset Levels.  They were crying out for a sneaky pair of Garganey or Black Winged Stilt or three or a whole selection of rare skulky Herons in a few weeks time.  There were six Little Egrets, some Coots and three pairs of Egyptian Geese to be seen.

Egyptian Geese

One of the disadvantages of limited my car driving last year was that although I may have discovered some amazing places on foot from home, I only really ventured out further other than during Butterfly season.  A bit like Cliffe Marshes, I could have walked there as it is only about six miles from home but by the time a circuit is done it becomes a very long day with a lot of road walking at either end.

Anyway, I parked up and headed along the official towpath next to the now overgrown (and even more herony!) canal on my left and the extensive firing range marshes on my right.  Chiffchaffs and Cetti’s Warblers were vocal and Long-tailed Tits were collecting feathers and fluff from the Willows while out on the marsh there were parties of Shelduck and a male Green Woodpecker was foraging for ants.

Not sure what the name is for this style of laid hedge - must ask Dad

Green Woodpecker


Two Kingfishers peeped a duet out of view before moving off and Med Gulls called overhead and unsurprisingly were a constant companion for the circular walk.

There are lots of pylons

I got distracted by some horses in the meadow next to me as two of them engaged in some friendly but determined sparring.  Horses like this are a feature of the North Kent Marshes with their skew and piebald coats and wild flowing manes. The play fight ended amicably enough and both returned to grazing.


Just as I turned onto the footpath to cross to the sea wall a man stopped and raised the red flags.  This would have put the kybosh on my loop but he said that they would not be starting for 45 minutes and I should get to the seawall by then!

The Ranges were to the west and I could see the back of the rifle butts like at Rainham and although I was probably a mile away, I did not linger too long on that section. The marsh to the west is Shorne and I am pretty sure that is the main RSPB area down here. The predator proof fence certainly looked familiar and within it were countless Redshanks and Lapwings and I could see several of the latter on nests.  Duck and geese were liberally scattered around but the sward was much shorter than at Rainham and I suspect that it may be sheep grazed like the rest of the marshes I was see throughout my walk.


Just under a hundred Curlews came in off the Thames and dropped into Higham and a flock of Wigeon and Teal did likewise into Shorne.



At the far end lays the ruins of Shornemead Fort which I had previously only seen from my boat trips on the river.  It only has a front now and the whole crumbling edifice has been adorned with graffiti and street art. I was hoping for a Black Redstart but was content with a smart singing male Greenfinch and a party of twittery Linnets. 


male Greenfinch

I found several patches of Wall Rue growing in the shady recesses of the fort and was intrigued by the giant Lego Blocks...

Wall Rue


The sun was really starting to burn through now and that meant that my inland view was somewhat stymied by the light but it did not stop me hearing flocks of Med Gulls out over the marshes along with several singing Cetti’s Warblers and the curious song of a Water Rail from a distant reedy ditch.

Med Gull


Med Gulls


As usual with any walk of mine, the tide was way out and still going but I still found Avocets, Oystercatchers, Redshank and Curlews on the mud along with Shelduck and a few gulls.  There was nothing coming up the Thames bar a light steady stream of Black-headed Gulls.



The wall here is obviously somewhat popular with the lovers of off road motor vehicles and had been churned up on both sides and the top.  The recent windy days had dried things out somewhat but I can only imagine how bad it was during the winter months.  It felt like there should be a Wheatear or two to be found but when I did find one it swiftly became seven! Five males and two females were seen focused around an area of rubble piled up at the base of the wall.  One or two were fairly accommodating but within a few minutes the whole group had moved inland. I saw my first at Rainham on Saturday morning as it zipped over the road so it was a good to be able to stop and watch these dapper travellers feed up.


Two more were encountered about half a mile further up as I scanned the marsh for interesting white egrets but I could not find one heron of any sort.

It was still very windy and the only insects seen were Yellow Dung flies and lots of what I am sure were Andrena flavipes flying very low to the grass.

Skylarks were singing and I picked up a few Meadow Pipits and two Reed Buntings as I walked east alongside Higham Bight towards Cliffe.



Andrena flavipes

Yellow Meadow Ant Hills

I scanned the Alpha Pool and found a few Great Crested Grebes but was pleased to find a partial sum plum Black-necked too tucked down the southern end.  I have not seen this pit from this side before and never realised that there was another one just beyond it by the gravel works.

Alpha Pit with DP World left and Thundersley off to the right above Holehaven

I sat on the bank and had a coffee and watched the world go by.  Four strange geese circled and revealed themselves to be of mixed Canada and Barnacle parentage before heading back to Cliffe and way up above in the now cloudless blue a male Marsh Harrier ‘sang’ and Skydanced for the attention of a female hunting way out over the fields.  The floods here were littered with Redshanks and Lapwings and I could hear two Little Ringed Plovers out there but could not pick them up.  

Canacle Geese

male Marsh Harrier dancing in the heavens

Over Alpha toward Radar Pool


Buzzards drifted over almost continuously and spooked the duck hiding in the deeper rills and channels and over 200 Teal rocketed into the air with Shoveler, Gadwall, Wigeon and Mallard.  There must be a Garganey out there somewhere?!

Common Buzzard


My third Kingfisher of the day flashed across in front and I could hear Little Grebes in the ditches and the constant calls of pearly white Med Gulls passing overhead. Seven Little Egrets dotted the marsh with plumes wafting in the breeze.

Little Egret

Little Egret

Med Gull

Med Gull and Black-headed Gull - so different underneath

At this point I dropped down off the river wall and took the footpath that headed for St Mary’s Church in Lower Higham. It wiggled between a pit on the left which had surface feeding Wigeon and the marsh on the right.  The Hawthorns in between had several singing Chiffchaffs and I could hear the delightful cascade of a Willow Warbler and the start up song of a Blackcap.  there were a myriad of dancing small flies and quite a few more Andrena flavipes on the Coltsfoot along with my first Peacock butterflies of the day and a single plopping Marsh Frog.

Andrena flavipes


I found a fine herd of cattle (Sussex I think?) but there were not Cattle Egrets with them but at least I know where to look now.

St Mary's

I crossed the railway and popped out at the wooden spired church and had an early lunch against the graveyard wall. Dark-edged Beeflies and male Anthophora plumipes zipped between Primrose and Celandine blooms and a Goldcrest sang from the large Yew.


I had a quick look inside the fund Phytomyza ilicis on the Holly and a pair of Mistle Thrushes collecting food as well as a splendid pair of Pied Wagtails that were likewise foraging.  They were keeping and eye on the displaying Buzzards way up above.

Phytomyza ilicis


Mistle Thrush

Pied Wagtails - just one of the male

Common Buzzard

Weathered wooden grave cross for William Wells from 1914

I consulted my map (yes, a real OS one) and swung a right just past the church. The verge below the cottages was alive with insects with Andrena flavipes all the way alond as well as several Beeflies, Honey Bees and Buff-tailed Bumbles. One car had attracted a congregation of mostly male Musca autumnalis and I shall predict that they will be smothering the visitors centre when I go to work tomorrow!

Nomada fabriciana - female

Andrena flavipes

Andrena flavipes

Dark-edged Beefly


Musca autumnalis

The last cottage was almost in the marsh and with a Phragmites and Reedmace bed almost in the garden.  Great Willowherb was just shooting and there was Celery Leaved Buttercup a little further out.

Celery Leaved Buttercup

The footpath from here on was somewhat damp – in fact it was under water and mud in places but I pressed on through.  Great Spotted Woodpecker, Stock Dove, Grey Wagtail, Jay and Coal Tit were all new for the day list.  It crossed back over the railway and I had to veer off course to get around the water but once regained it dried out and climbed slightly which provided me with some more insect opportunities in the Nettled edges with Eudasyphora cyanella seen once again along with Eristalis tenax and pertinax and Meliscaeva auricollis hoverflies. There were several mining bees including Andrena flavipes again but I am awaiting help on the other species I saw.


Eudasyphora cyanella

Eristalis pertinax

Eristalis pertinax

Andrena praecox

Andrena praecox 


Brimstone, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and Comma were all seen but seldom landed and a Common Lizard was basking on a small footbridge.

Common Whitlowgrass

Seven Spot Ladybird

I had reached Canal Road once more and was just a few hundred yards from the car with damp feet but a big smile after a pleasing first circumnavigation.  I suspect that I can park by the church and just head out to that section of the marsh which may well become one of my new ‘got a spare hour or two’ spots for the spring.

I was back home for a lunchtime (and resisted a second one) and with the sun still shining and temperature not too far off twenty I headed up the garden for a while to see what I could find.

Male Anthophora plumipes were careening around all over the place and seemed to be heading back over the back fence so I suspect a lawn over there has the colony and it took and age to get one to land long enough for me to get a shot or two!

Anthophora plumipes

Beeflies attended the Red Dead Nettle and there were several Andrenas about including A.flavipes and what I think are A.trimmerana (brown and furry) but it was also good to see two female A.fulva in their vibrant almost orange livery.

Dark-edged Beefly

Andrena nigroaenea

Andrena nigroaenea

Andrena nigroaenea

Andrena bicolor

The first Marsh Marigold flower

Spurge sp

Spurge sp

Eristalis pertinax and several Meliscaeva auricollis were seen with the latter already holding ‘hover territories’ and Comma and Peacock ventured down briefly.  It really felt good to be able to sit and watch the comings and goings in the newest sections of my garden and all the hard work seems to be paying off already.

Meliscaeva auricollis

Meliscaeva auricollis

Not sure yet...sending it to Phil!

Calliphora sp

Calliphora sp

Comma - looks like woken up rather than fresh and new!


On top of that the frogspawn seems to be developing nicely and a male Smooth Newt was my first this year while my cats found a fine plump Slow-worm in the Catio which I moved up the garden and away from the other felines that like to call my garden home.

Grazing Ramshorns




and three of my garden cats...

And my Jasper - Prince of Darkness watching proceedings...

Dock Leatherbugs and now almost green Green Shieldbugs were sunning on the Ivy with Seven Spot Ladybirds and the big Queen Buff-tailed Bumble was back on my Fritillaries.

Dock Leatherbug

Green Shieldbugs


I am quite looking forward to this spring...



  1. Your nomad is fabriciana, mystery Andrena is almost certainly A. praecox, the furry Andrena is nigroaenea rather than trimmerana and the chunky flavipes is not flavipes and probably A. bimaculata.

  2. Great blog Howard, really enjoyed a good read, can't wait to get back to Blightie