The hot summer has gone and conditions for the first RXbirdwalk of the autumn were inauspicious. As rain pattered against the kitchen window I wondered whether we should call it off, but in the end headed once more for the picturesque starting point of Dogs Hill toilets. In the event, the bird list came to a surprising 76 species.
Thousands of Swallows & Sand Martins were moving east along the seawall together with hundreds of Meadow Pipits. Beyond the luggers of the low tide mark and the leaden sea, turning Gannets were startlingly white against a sky as dark as a Lesser Black-back’s back – if only graellsi. The backs, meanwhile, of Common Gulls, in diffuse light and against the wet sand were blatantly pearly.
Large numbers of hirundines were gathered over The Ocean and Castle Water, below them a single f Pintail among the usual Coots & GC Grebes. In late morning House Martins began to appear and were in the majority by the time we finished. There seemed, however, to be no other overhead migrants apart from several Grey Wagtails.
Chiffchaffs predominated through the Beach Field – we spent several minutes watching them dashing about in an exotic mix of Sumach, Buddleia & Bear’s Breeches. There were Blackcaps too, especially at the north end, but few Common or Lesser Whitethroats. As usual, it was a challenge to get a decent look at any of these as they crossed the paths at high speed, only to dive straight into the deepest, shadowiest Hawthorns which were Alive With the Sound of Ticking.
With seed-clogged teeth, we paused to chat to anglers about birds, fish and blackberry crumble before moving on to Castle Water, where the rain has done little to reduce the islands. Good for waders, I imagined, but it wasn’t apart from a few Lapwings, 3 Ruff and a very little Little Stint. No sandpipers at all, no Marsh Harriers. But then we picked out a couple of Snipe on the far bank and a flock of brightly coloured Black-tailed Godwits went swooshing past. If this account suggests that the lake was deserted, that was not the case for there was a constant movement of Greylag & Canada Geese, Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall & Cormorants as well as visits by 5 species of gull and unremitting flurries of hirundines.
Back across the pallid Cynosurus prairies we disturbed just one Skylark and found a lone Whinchat. In the Wood were Green & GS Woodpeckers and a Treecreeper but the pools of West Nook Meadows, overgrown and contaminated with Crassula were almost birdless. At high tide, the sea was a lot paler then before, showing up the snouts of two Grey Seals, then the streamlined form of an Arctic Skua on its way south, ignoring nervous Sandwich Terns.