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Birding London trip report, 1 September

Shorne Country Park, the Isle of Sheppy and Oare Marshes near Faversham, Kent with Don and Pam Frey — led by Jack Fearnside


The weather forecast was fairly mixed with a couple of westerly fronts crossing the country promising some sunshine but a high possibility of showers, particularly in the afternoon. However, overnight rain had ceased by the time Jack picked up Don and Pam from their Piccadilly hotel at 6 am. We drove out over Westminster Bridge to pick up the A2, which took us to our first stop at Shorne Country Park, near Gravesend. This area of mature woodland and scrub started our birding with a roving flock of tits and warblers, and the odd Spotted Flycatcher, close to the car park. The scrub areas held reasonable numbers of birds but the mature woodland was quiet with little activity except views of Western Jackdaws and an elusive Eurasian Jay.

The sun was still shining as we continued on to the Isle of Sheppy. Our first stop here was at Leysdown-on-Sea where we took time to look at the shorebirds before driving the rough track out to Shellness. Here we walked out past the old block house to view the shorebirds, seeing Northern Wheatears and Yellow Wagtails on the way. Our next stop was at Capel Fleet, on the road to Harty Ferry, where Northern Lapwings and a female Western Marsh Harrier were highlights. We took a lunch break at the curious Harty Ferry Inn where there were a surprisingly high number of diners considering the remoteness of the pub. After lunch we drove the track to Elmley RSPB reserve and watched Green Sandpipers and Little Grebes from the car. At the farm the clouds were building but, still in sunshine, we watched Barn Swallows and Sand Martins on the roof of a barn and a delightful Long-eared Owl roosting in the little orchard. We started out to walk the 1.5 miles to the hides but the ominous dark clouds were building so we (luckily) abandoned our walk and returned to the car to visit Oare Marshes local nature reserve on the mainland.

We drove to Faversham through a downpour, vindicating our decision to wimp-out on our walk! At Oare Marshes we sheltered from the rain in a hide overlooking an area of freshmarsh where plenty of shorebirds were collected at high tide. The rain stopped allowing us to walk a short way along the sea wall before starting back towards London where the trip ended.

84 species were seen or heard during the trip.

Species list

Little Grebe – The first was a summer-plumage bird on Capel Fleet with others on dykes from the track to Elmley.

Great Cormorant – A few fly-bys at Leysdown and Shellness were later supported by two roosting birds at Shellness.

Grey Heron – An immature bird fished one of the ponds at Shorne CP and later we saw others including an adult.

Mute Swan – Adults and immatures swam on the pools at Oare Marshes.

Greylag Goose – A flock were grazing the grass at St James's Park on our return journey.

Canada Goose – A large flock were grazing on Blackheath on our return journey

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 which flew over at Shellness and swam on the pools at Oare Marshes.

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

Mallard — Common at Capel Fleet and Oare Marshes.

Northern Pintail – A single female was preening on the pool at Oare Marshes.

Northern Shoveler – Plenty of eclipse birds at Capel Fleet and Oare Marshes.

Common Pochard – One immature bird was diving at Oare Marshes.

Tufted Duck – A female was a late addition at Oare Marshes.

Common Eider – A large, but distant, flock were offshore at Leysdown. This consisted of immature males and females.

Western Marsh Harrier – Excellent views of a female at Capel Fleet.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk – The first was a male, well spotted by Pam, at Shorne CP with another bird, a female this time, flying over the road on our way to Harty Ferry.

Common Kestrel – The commonest bird of prey: seen at Leysdown, Capel Fleet and Elmley.

Red-legged Partridge – Two coveys were present in a stubble field near Harty Ferry.

Common Pheasant – Good numbers fed in fields near Harty Ferry.

Common Moorhen – Adult and immature birds were at Shorne CP, Leysdown, the track to Elmley and Oare Marshes.

Eurasian Coot – The first was seen on Capel Fleet with many more from the track to Elmley and Oare Marshes.

Eurasian Oystercatcher – Good numbers on the shore at Leysdown were surpassed at Shellness where a large flock was building up in the tidal roost.

Ringed Plover – Common at Shellness and Oare Marshes.

European Golden Plover – The first flock of the winter, about 50 birds, were on the fields beside the track beyond the farm at Elmley and were seen in flight where the white underwing showed well.

Grey (Black-bellied) Plover – Adults in summer plumage were on the shore at Leysdown and Shellness.

Northern Lapwing – Voted 'bird of the day', good views were had at Capel Fleet, the track to Elmley and Oare Marshes.

Red Knot – At least one small flock flew past at Shellness, with a few winter-plumaged birds on the muddy island at Oare Marshes.

Sanderling – One flock of white winter-plumaged birds flew past at Shellness.

Little Stint – Good numbers of this tiny wader were seen at Oare Marshes.

Curlew Sandpiper – Good numbers at Oare Marshes included some moulting adults amongst the juveniles.

Dunlin – A few flew past Shellness with more on the freshmarsh at Oare Marshes.

Ruff – About seven birds, mostly males but at least one juvenile, were at the pools at Oare Marshes.

Common Snipe – A number of birds seen in flight and on the ground at Capel Fleet and Oare Marshes. Now split from the American sub-species (Wilson's Snipe).

Black-tailed Godwit – Large numbers, including some still in summer plumage, were on the pools at Oare Marshes.

Bar-tailed Godwit – Birds were on the shore at Leysdown and small numbers were seen in flight at Shellness.

Whimbrel – Small numbers were on the shore off Shellness and flocks flew past as we walked out to the ness.

Eurasian Curlew – Good numbers fed on the foreshore at Leysdown and Shellness.

Spotted Redshank – About six birds, all in winter plumage, fed amongst the godwits and Redshanks on the pools at Oare Marshes.

Common Redshank – Birds fed on the shore at Shellness, with flocks passing us inland over the saltmarsh. Good numbers fed at high tide on the pools at Oare Marshes.

Greenshank – Three birds joined the pre-roosting Oystercatchers at Shellness. They flew around giving their distinctive triple call notes.

Green Sandpiper – Good views of two on trackside pools; one flew to show its white rump.

Ruddy Turnstone – Some birds roosting on the breakwaters at high tide at Leysdown included at least one in summer plumage.

Black-headed Gull – The commonest gull, but without a black head. Seen at all sites from London onwards.

Common (Mew) Gull – Good numbers rested on the shore as we arrived at Leysdown. This may be split from the American subspecies (Mew Gull) in the future.

Lesser Black-backed Gull – One adult gave a good comparison to loafing Great Black-backs on the mud near Shellness. Others were seen during the day.

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

Great Black-backed Gull – A single was on the shore at Leysdown and a small flock, including one Lesser Black-back, was at Shellness.

Common Tern – A small flock of seven birds were resting at the water's edge at Shellness. They flew off up the River Swale.

Feral Pigeon – Ticked as we left London and ignored for the rest of the day.

Stock Dove – The whooping song of this species was heard at Shorne CP and one was scoped on a dead tree. Others were seen, mostly in flight, at other sites.

Woodpigeon – Common.

Eurasian Collared Dove – Seen around the houses in Leysdown.

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

Common Swift – One migrant at the car park at Shellness.

Green Woodpecker – The laughing call was heard frequently at Shorne but our only view was of a bird in flight near the main gate as we left.

Great Spotted Woodpecker – Only heard at Shorne CP.

Sand Martin (Bank Swallow) – Birds were first identified as they flew low over a pool beside the track to Elmley. Small numbers showed well as they sat on a barn roof at Elmley.

Barn Swallow – Common at Sheppy and Oare Marshes.

House Martin – A few birds were flying around the car park at Shellness where their white rumps showed well.

Meadow Pipit – Calling birds were seen in flight at Leysdown, Shellness, Elmley and Oare Marshes.

Yellow Wagtail – First seen on our walk out to Shellness, others were at the start of the track to Elmley and at Oare Marshes.

Eurasian Wren – The only species in good voice at Shorne.

Dunnock – One was seen well at the entrance to Shorne CP and others were seen in scrub at this site. A boring bird with an amazing sex life!

European Robin – Showed well sitting on a sign in the car park at Shorne CP; many others were heard and seen at this site.

Northern Wheatear – Some excellent juveniles were on the track out to Shellness.

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

Song Thrush – One disappeared into bramble scrub at Shorne CP.

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

Chiffchaff – Common at Shorne CP where the differences from Willow Warbler were discussed. Birds were in song in the birch scrub and as we re-entered the car park.

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

Spotted Flycatcher – One showed very well on a fence at Shorne CP, near the car park.

Long-tailed Tit – Seen at Shorne CP, with good numbers in the scrub areas.

Blue Tit – Common at Shorne CP.

Great Tit – Adults and juveniles were seen at Shorne CP.

Eurasian Jay – A bird was heard calling and showed fleetingly in tall trees at Shorne CP.

Common Magpie – Common.

Western Jackdaw – The distinctive calls were heard and we enjoyed good views in trees at Shorne CP.

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

Common Starling – Common, sometimes in quite large flocks.

House Sparrow – Common around buildings.

European Greenfinch – Three sat on wires on the road from Harty Ferry.

European Goldfinch – Seen well at the start of the track to Elmley, but all were either juveniles or moulting adults and lacked the red faces.

Common Linnet – Good numbers of this decreasing species at sites on Sheppy and at Oare Marshes. Some drank from pools beside the road at Leysdown.

Corn Bunting – One of these big buntings sheltered from the rain on a Hawthorn bush near the start of the track to Elmley.