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Birding London trip report, 19 August

Shorne Country Park and the Isle of Sheppy, Kent with Scott Orlosky — led by Jack Fearnside


There was a little rain and generally overcast skies as Jack and Scott met up at 6 am in Lewisham, South London. With quick access to the A2, we were soon arriving at Shorne Country Park, near Gravesend. With most birds entering a period of post-breeding moult, the woodland areas were eerily quiet with only Eurasian Wrens singing and a few squeaks from European Robins. There was more activity in the open habitat with good views of a juvenile Green Woodpecker on the ground and roving parties of mixed warblers and tits adding some ID challenges.

We moved on to the Isle of Sheppy in the Thames estuary where our first stop was at Leysdown to view the sea. Unfortunately the tide was fully out and birds present were very distant but we picked out a selection of shorebirds, including Eurasian Oystercatcher, Eurasian Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwit. A few passerines were also present, such as Common Linnets and Yellow Wagtails on the sea wall and Meadow Pipits on the fields behind us. The skies were now clearing and we enjoyed sunshine for the rest of the trip.

We moved back to Elmley and took the track out to the RSPB reserve. On a water-filled ditch we saw our first Little Grebe and our first Northern Lapwing was asleep nearby. We also enjoyed good views of Northern Wheatears on the fence posts. At the farm, where we parked the car, we saw a Pied Wagtail walking on the grass, with Barn Swallows and Sand Martins on the roof of a barn. In the small orchard next to the farm we were lucky to get close views of a roosting Long-eared Owl. We walked the mile-and-a-quarter track to the scrape area. Here, with the tide still out there were not too many birds but we managed to locate a number of shorebirds including Little Stint, Common and Green Sandpipers and a juvenile Spotted Redshank. A quick look from the second hide provided a sleeping Black-tailed Godwit and plenty of Greylag Geese. A brisk walk back to the car allowed us to arrive at Lewisham by about 1.15 pm where the trip ended.

71 species were seen or heard during the day.

Species list

Little Grebe – A few seen well in dykes and fleets at Elmley.

Great Cormorant – A number of distant birds were on the tideline at Leysdown and some closer birds were resting at the scrape at Elmley.

Grey Heron – Good views of an immature bird from the track out to Elmley with other adults standing in the fields.

Mute Swan – Another denizen of the ditches at Elmley.

Greylag Goose – Large numbers were on the scrape at Elmley with some showing their pale forewing (the grey lag) in flight past the hide.

Common Shelduck – With all adults now off to moulting sites at Heligoland, Germany and Bridgewater Bay, Somerset, the only birds left were relatively scruffy juveniles.

Common Teal – Plenty of eclipse birds on the scrape at Elmley. This species has now been split from the Green-winged Teal of North America.

Mallard — Common at Elmley.

Common Pochard – A few immature birds were on the large fleet beside the track on our way to the scrape at Elmley.

Tufted Duck – A female with well grown young, and a second female in the next fleet, were with the Pochard.

Western Marsh Harrier – Only a distant view of a female or immature bird along the back of the scrape at Elmley.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk – At least one dashing bird was seen in the woodland at Shorne CP.

Common Kestrel – A distant bird hovered over the coastal marshes at Elmley.

Common Moorhen – Adult and immature birds were at Shorne CP and Elmley.

Eurasian Coot – Common at Elmley.

Eurasian Oystercatcher – Good numbers on the shore at Leysdown.

Little Ringed Plover – Two birds in flight (showing no wing bars) as we crested the embankment near the scrape.

Grey (Black-bellied) Plover – Distant adults in summer plumage were on the shore at Leysdown.

Northern Lapwing – The first was a sleeping bird beside a fleet on the track out to Elmley, with good numbers present on the scrape there.

Red Knot – A small flock, containing some birds moulting out of summer plumage, were on the shore at Leysdown.

Little Stint – A single bird fed on the scrape at Elmley.

Ruff – At least three birds on the scrape at Elmley gave examples of male, female (Reeve) and juvenile plumages.

Common Snipe – Two partially hidden birds were resting on the scrape at Elmley.

Black-tailed Godwit – A single bird sleeping on the edge of a pool at the scrape.

Bar-tailed Godwit – Some relatively close birds on the shore at Leysdown.

Whimbrel – Only heard: the typical rippling call was heard at Leysdown but the bird could not be located.

Eurasian Curlew – A distant bird scoped on the shore at Leysdown.

Spotted Redshank – A single juvenile bird on the scrape at Elmley.

Common Redshank – Good numbers, but distant, on the shore at Leysdown.

Green Sandpiper – Good views of one on the scrape at Elmley and another on a trackside pool flew to show its white rump as we left.

Common Sandpiper – This look-alike for a winter plumage Spotted Sandpiper was feeding with the Green Sandpiper at Elmley.

Black-headed Gull – The commonest gull, but without a black head. Most birds were in winter plumage except one moulting out on the shore at Leysdown.

Common (Mew) Gull – Good numbers rested on the shore as we arrived at Leysdown.

Lesser Black-backed Gull – An adult flew over as we left the car at Shorne CP and another flew beside the car as we returned up the M2 on our way back to London.

Herring Gull – Common on the shore at Leysdown. The pink legs were noted.

Stock Dove – The whooping song of this species was heard at Shorne CP but the birds were not seen well until we watched two beside the track to Elmley.

Woodpigeon – Common, good looking, and they taste good – what more could you ask?

Eurasian Collared Dove – Seen around the houses in Leysdown.

Eurasian Turtle Dove – Two were seen in flight.

Long-eared Owl – Good views of a roosting bird in the orchard by the farm house at Elmley.

Common Swift – A few migrants were passing quite low over the fields by the shore at Leysdown.

Eurasian Kingfisher – The high-pitched piping call were heard at Shorne CP but the bird did not show.

Green Woodpecker – The laughing call was first heard at Shorne CP and then we enjoyed good views of a juvenile hunting ants on the ground. An adult also flew across the grass areas at Shorne.

Great Spotted Woodpecker – Picked out at a distance in flight, this bird turned away from us, only giving poor views.

Skylark – Unfortunately not in song, good views of a bird sitting on the track as we walked out to the scrape area at Elmley. Others were in flight over the fields.

Sand Martin (Bank Swallow) – Three showed well as they sat on a barn roof at Elmley and more were in flight over the reserve.

Barn Swallow – One was with the Sand Martins on the barn, and showed its red face well, and many were in flight around the Elmley area and at Leysdown.

House Martin – A few birds were flying around buildings in Leysdown where their white rumps showed well.

Meadow Pipit – Calling birds were seen in flight at Leysdown and Elmley.

Yellow Wagtail – A number of birds were seen on the sea wall at Leysdown and later a good male was on the scrape at Elmley.

Pied Wagtail – A female (with a greyer back) was parading around a paddock at the farm at Elmley.

Eurasian Wren – The only species in good voice at Shorne. One showed well as it sang in low scrub.

European Robin – Plenty were heard in the woodland but only one showed itself to Scott at Shorne CP.

Northern Wheatear – Some excellent juveniles were on fence posts beside the track to Elmley.

Common Blackbird – Males and females were feeding on blackberries in the scrub at Shorne CP.

Reed Warbler – The odd bird showed fleetingly in the reeds at Elmley.

Blackcap – The tacking call notes were heard at Shorne but none revealed themselves.

Chiffchaff – After hearing the contact notes of various unidentified warblers we eventually had an opportunity to study the differences between Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers as many juveniles moved through the bushes at Shorne CP.

Willow Warbler – Brighter green, longer winged, and paler legged than Chiffchaff. Many were seen well at Shorne CP.

Long-tailed Tit – The first bird seen at Shorne CP, we later saw good numbers in the scrub areas.

Blue Tit – Surprisingly difficult, this common species finally showed in the scrub area at Shorne CP.

Great Tit – This species performed slightly better than Blue Tit at Shorne CP.

Eurasian Nuthatch – The fluting calls were heard from a tall chestnut tree at Shorne CP but unfortunately we did not get a glimpse.

Common Magpie – Common. Now split from the Black-billed Magpie of North America (see 45th supplement of the AOU).

Western Jackdaw – The distinctive calls were heard near Cardiac Hill in Shorne CP but the birds were not seen.

Rook – A few birds were seen in flight on our journeys.

Carrion Crow – Common, even on Blackheath, near Greenwich, at the start of our trip.

Common Starling – Present in all habitats visited with quite large flocks at Leysdown and Elmley.

House Sparrow – Common around buildings.

European Greenfinch – One in flight at Leysdown.

European Goldfinch – One heard but not seen at Leysdown.

Common Linnet – Good views of birds on the sea wall at Leysdown and on the walk to the scrape at Elmley.