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Birding London trip report, 21 November

Shorne Country Park, Cliffe Pools RSPB reserve and the Isle of Sheppy, (Leysdown, Capel Fleet, Harty Ferry Inn and Elmley), Kent with Bob Savage – led by Jack Fearnside

Itinerary and weather

Jack picked up Bob from his London accommodation at 6.30am and we headed south east to spend the day on the southern shore of the Thames estuary in north Kent.

We arrived at Shorne Country Park just after sunrise. We walked a looping trail through closed canopy and more open woodland. As predicted the woodland was relatively quiet but some birds showed well. These including both Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers (seen in the same sunlit tree), a Stock Dove and some Western Jackdaws on the dead snags, Eurasian Jay and a mixed flock of tits back in the car park which included many Long-tailed Tits.

We drove the short distance to Cliffe Pools, a reserve of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Here there were plenty of grebes (particularly large numbers of Little Grebes), ducks and some shorebirds including Common Redshanks and a nice flock of Black-tailed Godwits. There were good passerines too: Mistle Thrush, European Goldfinches, Eurasian Stonechats, and excellent views of Fieldfares, and Redwings in the Hawthorn bushes.

We moved on to the Isle of Sheppy where a look at the sea at Leysdown provided little except some very friendly Ruddy Turnstones, plenty of Eurasian Oystercatchers and a distant Great Cormorant. Capel Fleet was good for raptors of five species: Western Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard, Peregrine, Merlin and Common Kestrel. We also enjoyed good views of Northern Lapwings, Eurasian Golden Plovers and 15 Ruffs feeding in the fields. Possibly the best birds of the day were two very obliging Short-eared Owls which performed superbly over the saltmarsh in front of the Harty Ferry Inn. We drove the track out to Elmley in the fading light for our last bird of the day, a fine Little Owl in the line of trees near the farmhouse.

We returned to central London where the trip concluded.

It was cold with a hard frost that persisted where the sun could not reach. However, the air was still and the sun shone all day with none of the dense fog predicted by the weather bureau.

79 species were seen or heard during the trip.

Species list

Little Grebe – Large numbers on the first pool at Cliffe (c50 birds).

Great Crested Grebe – Plenty of birds in winter plumage at Cliffe.

Great Cormorant – One distant bird over the sea at Leysdown and one swimming in Capel Fleet.

Little Egret – At least four birds at Cliffe with more at Harty Ferry.

Grey Heron – Seen at Cliffe and Capel Fleet.

Mute Swan – Quite scarce today with only a few birds on Capel Fleet.

Greylag Goose – Large but distant flocks were seen at Elmley.

Dark-bellied Brent Goose – Two were swimming off shore at Leysdown with more small flocks off Harty Ferry.

Common Shelduck – Our first were at Cliffe with more seen on Sheppy.

Eurasian Wigeon – A small flock flew off the Thames foreshore as we approached the sea wall at Cliffe, with larger numbers seen at Elmley.

Common Teal – Large flocks were at Cliffe and Capel Fleet.

Mallard – Seen at most sites.

Northern Pintail – Two females were dabbling at Cliffe.

Northern Shoveler – There were small numbers on the main pool at Cliffe.

Western Marsh Harrier – A few, mostly distant, birds were seen in flight at Capel Fleet.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk – A bright male sat for us giving good views in the scope.

Common Buzzard – We had unsatisfactory views of a distant bird perched on a bush. When it flew it revealed an all-dark tail, eliminating a Rough-legged Buzzard also in the area.

Common Kestrel – Seen well at Cliffe and Capel Fleet.

Merlin – One sat on a distant sheep pen at Capel Fleet.

Peregrine – Two birds sat on far fence posts at Capel Fleet.

Red-legged Partridge – First seen at Capel Fleet, there were large numbers on the road to Harty Ferry.

Common Pheasant – Seen at Cliffe and, in large numbers, on Sheppy.

Common Moorhen – Seen at most sites.

Eurasian Coot – Flocks were seen at Cliffe and Capel Fleet.

Eurasian Oystercatcher – Many were feeding on the short grass behind the coast road at Leysdown and more were moving in sizeable flocks down the coast to their high-tide roost at Shellness.

European Golden Plover – Small numbers were with Lapwings and Ruffs in fields near Capel Fleet.

Grey (Black-bellied) Plover – A single bird waited out the tide on a groyne at Leysdown.

Northern Lapwing – Small numbers were at Cliffe, with much larger flocks on Sheppy.

Dunlin – One at Cliffe Pools.

Common Snipe – We had good views (except for the five-bar gate!) of one feeding in puddles at Cliffe. Also two in flight at Capel Fleet.

Black-tailed Godwit – The first was a bird in flight, followed by a flock wading on the main pool at Cliffe.

Eurasian Curlew – One at Leysdown and more on fields at Capel Fleet.

Common Redshank – Good numbers at Cliffe, on the pools and Thames foreshore.

Green Sandpiper – One called and gave good flight views near the Thames at Cliffe.

Ruddy Turnstone – Very tame birds ran on the road at Leysdown.

Black-headed Gull – Common, seen at all sites.

Common (Mew) Gull – Seen well on the sea wall at Leysdown and noted at other sites.

Lesser Black-backed Gull – Flyovers at Shorne and many at Cliffe and on Sheppy.

Herring Gull – Birds dispersing from roost were seen over Shorne, with many on the sea at Leysdown.

Great Black-backed Gull – An adult was noted on the main pool at Cliffe.

Feral Pigeon – Plenty seen on our journey out of London.

Stock Dove – One seen well on a snag at Shorne Country Park showed the diagnostic small, black wing bars.

Woodpigeon – Very common.

Eurasian Collared Dove – Seen in villages, particularly at the start of the track at Cliffe.

Little Owl – Our seemingly unsuccessful search bore fruit on the return journey to the car at Elmley. An adult gave very good views in the trees near the farm.

Short-eared Owl – Two gave a brilliant performance as the glided and wheeled in the air at Harty Ferry.

Green Woodpecker – Seen well with a Great Spot at Shorne, another was with Starlings on an isolated tree at Cliffe and, finally, one was on a fence post, far from any trees, at Capel Fleet.

Great Spotted Woodpecker – A female gave good views at Shorne Country Park, sometimes in the same binocular view as a Green Woodpecker.

Skylark – Large numbers were in flocks at Cliffe where we scoped some on the drying pool edges.

Meadow Pipit – A few of this neat little bird were at Cliffe. One or two bathed with finches near the 'snipe gate'.

Grey Wagtail – An unexpected find in a ditch near the Thames at Cliffe.

Pied Wagtail – Seen well at Cliffe and Elmley.

Eurasian Wren – Heard often at Shorne and seen well at Cliffe.

Dunnock – Seen well on the path near the park centre at Shorne.

European Robin – Seen well at several sites.

Eurasian Stonechat – Birds in winter plumage performed at Cliffe. Also seen on Sheppy.

Common Blackbird – Common.

Fieldfare – Superb views of many birds feeding on hawthorn berries beside the track at Cliffe.

Song Thrush – One on a bramble at Cliffe and another on a bush at Capel Fleet.

Redwing – At least two birds joined the Fieldfares on berries at Cliffe.

Mistle Thrush – A bird on overhead wires gave close views as we neared the main pool at Cliffe.

Goldcrest – Good but brief views of Britain's smallest bird in the woods and car park at Shorne Country Park.

Long-tailed Tit – A flock performed well in the car park at Shorne.

Blue Tit – Seen well at Shorne and Cliffe.

Great Tit – Surprisingly scarce at Shorne with only poor views of two birds. Seem well at the 'snipe gate' at Cliffe.

Eurasian Jay – First heard, then glimpsed and eventually seen well, if briefly, at Shorne.

Common Magpie – Common. Now split from Black-billed (now American) Magpie of North America.

Western Jackdaw – Common.

Rook – Seen well on fields as we left Cliffe.

Carrion Crow – Common.

Common Starling – Seen at all sites.

House Sparrow – Noted for the day in the village and near the black barn farm at Cliffe.

Common Chaffinch – Seen well at Cliffe. Also seen on Sheppy.

European Greenfinch – Many fly-overs at Shorne. We saw a female in grasses at Cliffe and a flock beside the road at Capel Fleet.

European Goldfinch – Many good views at Cliffe and on Sheppy.

Common Linnet – A few birds in winter plumage bathed in puddles near the 'snipe gate' at Cliffe.

Lesser Redpoll – Small flocks passed over calling as we walked through the woods at Shorne. We eventually saw one feeding in a birch in the car park. A split from Common (Mealy)Redpoll.

Reed Bunting – Numerous small flocks were seen at Cliffe and Capel Fleet, with some males showing signs of their summer plumage.

Corn Bunting – Two sat close by on wires at Capel Fleet.