On Friday evening Jem came up with the genius idea of spending Saturday exploring Cliffe Pools on the North Kent Marshes. It’s an RSPB site, but is open 24 hours a day to all visitors. Getting there from London is actually fairly easy – high-speed rail from St Pancras to Strood and then a 15-minute bus ride to Cliffe Village – but it does work out fairly expensive at around £30 each. We arrived around noon and initially struggled to find anywhere in the village where we could grab some picnic items, but eventually found a tiny village store that we’d earlier overlooked. Then we walked off to the Pools, via a narrow footpath through a strip of hedges where we found Holly Blue butterflies, Wasp Beetles and Scorpionflies.
When we eventually reached the Pools themselves we could straight away see hundreds of gulls, several Avocets and a Hobby. As we walked along the pathway towards the Thames we suddenly heard a very close-by Cuckoo, which then flew out of the trees straight past us. The bushes either side of the path also contained at least three singing Nightingales. Despite being just a few feet away, we didn’t manage to get a glimpse of any of them. We also saw a very tatty Kestrel hovering overhead and a Little Egret. The end of the pathway brought us Common Whitethroats, many more Avocets, several Common Redshanks, a flock of Black-tailed Godwits, a solitary Oystercatcher, a Skylark, and hundreds of Shelduck. A year ago I’d never seen an Avocet before, but after getting my first views in Serbia with David Lindo last April I’ve now seen plenty – and none more so than here at Cliffe where they seem to outnumber most other species. The thing I liked most was the almost universal access, with no barriers or boardwalks limiting where you went. On the way back we heard a Sedge Warbler, saw dozens of Swifts with the occasional hirundine, and noticed a distant-but-impressive further flock of around 100 Godwits. A distant Buzzard and a Great Spotted Woodpecker finished the walk. As we waited for our bus to arrive we also enjoyed several House Sparrows in the nearby churchyard.
Sunday saw a relaxing lie-in followed by a nice walk along the Thames from Putney Bridge, up to Hammersmith Bridge and back down on the Putney side. The usual Herring Gulls were seen, along with Mallards, Canada Geese and Cormorants, plus several Blackbirds on the path between the river and the Wetland Centre, but the highlight was a fine Sparrowhawk circling above the houses just a few streets away from the flat. A fitting end to a nice weekend of birding.