Guest Blogger Fatbirder
Kent has always been a great birding county with a coast on three sides stretching from the Thames Estuary along the Channel to the Sussex border it can be great for sea-watching. The Medway & Stour discharge into the sea creating mudflats and marshes. Kent has a number of precious chalk streams with their unique habitat, the rolling North Downs, several large reservoirs, coastal dunes, reed marshes and almost every sort of farming and fruit growing not to mention the largest area of shingle in Europe it has many different habitats. This is some what diminished by being a heavily populated county with London on its northern doorstep.
Nevertheless, there are many great birding localities and a number that have regularly attracted rare and scarce birds including some never seen elsewhere. Autumn migration can be particularly fruitful because it has the most south-easterly land and so the last feeding stop for birds migrating to southern Europe and Africa. Being the ‘garden of England’ means it is an attractive fuelling depot for fructivores like the winter thrushes and supports a few species overwinter that normally leave the country such as chiffchaffs and blackcaps. It is also well placed for colonisation by species extending their range north. For example, Cetti’s Warbler became well established in Kent before spreading much more widely. Other species have bred here that may colonise such as Great White Egret, Purple Heron, Marsh Warbler, Savi’s Warbler and Penduline Tit.
There are many excellent birding hot spots these ten are in no particular order.
Stodmarsh NNT and Grove ferry occupy a position next to the Stour where mediaeval mine workings collapsed, were flooded and led to the county’s most extensive reedbeds. Roosts of Bittern and Harriers in winter, resident Bearded Tit, and a range of both summer and winter visitors. Perhaps a highlight are as many as forty hobbies hunting over the reeds and water in high summer. The Grove end can be brilliant for passing and resident raptors.
Blean Wood and Clowes Wood in particular offer a rich mix of woodland species including Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Parts are reserves for RSPB and KWT and subject to rewilding by European Bison and wild pigs. The habitat holds rare butterfly species like Heath Fritillary too. It was also the last Southeast location for breeding Golden Oriole.
Bough Beech Reservoir is particularly good for scarce wintering ducks, waders and woodland passerines. Feeders at the KWT reserve attract nuthatch, woodpecker and marsh tits. But its attraction to birders is its propensity to attract migrating water birds such as Osprey and Terns.
Cliffe pools are old gravel pits which attracted a rich avifauna long before being bought and managed by RSPB. Scarce birds like Black-necked Grebe, Pied Stilt, Pallid Swift have been long stayers and some have attempted to breed. The pools are excellent for a wide range of waders and the surrounding scrub can be alive with warblers, nightingales and finches.
Isle of Sheppey
Elmley is the only National Nature Reserve in the UK managed entirely by its private owners. Emphasis has been on breeding waders and over-wintering wildfowl but it is a magnet for photographers who go for close encounters with four owl species, an incredible density of marsh harriers and a supporting cast of anything from Penduline Tits to flocks of Cattle Egrets. It now holds a greater density of breeding Lapwings than any other site in England. Much of Sheppey is arable farmland with plantings to encourage released gamebirds for the shooting fraternity. The benefit of which extends to large passerine seedeaters in winter and perhaps the best variety of raptors in winter anywhere in the UK. Regular Rough-legged Buzzard and Hen Harrier join with Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine, Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Red Kite and an incredible density of Marsh Harriers. Capel fleet has a raptor watchpoint and both Barn Owl and Short-eared Owl are regular along with an accommodating flock of Corn Bunting.
On the opposite bank of the Swale is Oare KWT reserve. Marshes, pools and some shallow scrapes attract vast numbers of waders and wildfowl as well as breeding birds like Water Rail and Bearded Tit that can be easy to see. It is a magnet for rare waders in particular and with scrapes close to the road it attracts photographers galore. A very large flock of Black-tailed Godwit commute between here and Elmley via the exposed mud of the Swale and Horse Sands which is a low tide ‘roost’ for common and grey seals.
Sandwich, Pegwell Bay and the adjacent Worth Marshes hold literally thousands of birds at times – such as flocks of up to ten thousand Golden Plover, roosts of 300+ Sandwich Terns and hundreds of Oystercatchers. Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory monitors all year round and the area regularly attracts rare visitors. In 2022 Britain’s first long-staying Eleanora’s Falcon was ‘ticked’ by thousands along with a Red-footed Falcon and a dozen Hobbies feeding over the newly established Lydden Valley RSPB Reserve. The ‘obs’ has cheap accommodation for visiting birders and has great birds any time of the year.
The largest area of shingle in Europe, old gravel extraction lakes, marsh and scrub sticking out into the channel makes this a prime migration locality. The RSPB reserve has scare winter ducks, breeding bittern, three species of Egret and regular long staying rarities such as Purple Ibis. The Dungeness Bird Observatory, located in the ‘dessert’ of shingle is constant effort and the warm water outflow from the nuclear power station attracts flotillas of gulls and waterbirds, especially in winter. Moreover, the lakes are the best site for medicinal leeches, the bushes hold Hairy Bumblebees and just about anything van turn up and does, from Crested Lark, to Iceland Gulls, Little Bittern to Penduline Tits. It is probably the top site in Kent for rarities all year round.
Ham Street Woods
The woods around Ashford are increasingly important for woodland bird species but much other flora and fauna too.
Marshes and Bluebell Woods next to farmland makes this an anytime of year attraction. The county’s largest heronry now has as many Little Egrets as Grey Herons and Cattle Egrets and Great White Egrets may also breed there. It is also one of THE places to go to hear Nightingales.