Archive for the ‘UK’ Category

The church of St Thomas the Apostle, Harty lies in the middle of Harty Marsh on the Isle of Sheppey, off the north coast of Kent. The Church dates from the late 11th or early 12th century, with later additions in the late 14th or early 15th century. It was last restored in 1878-80. The village of Harty is mentioned in the doomsday book (1086) and was a much busier place until the ferry between the island and the mainland stopped running in 1946 (replaced by a bridge at the western end of the island). It is now surrounded by farmland and nature reserves.

Inside there are a number of features worth seeing including the Rood Screen (1350-75) and a 14th-century Flemish chest. The stained glass, although mostly 20th century has many themes connected to local farming.

Last week Keith, Sue, and I spent a day birdwatching on the Isle of Sheppey, off the north coast of Kent. Our first stop was south of the town of Leysdown on the eastern end of the island. There had been a party of Shore Larks here for a few days and we hoped to catch up with these attractive but increasingly rare winter visitors to the UK. We had only just arrived when a pair of birdwatchers further along the sea wall were signalling to us and we were soon looking at a group of 4 Shore larks on the field below us. They then flew up onto the sea wall to give us even clearer views. There was also a large party of Brent Geese on the mudflats.

From here we drove west and took the Harty road towards the south coast of the island. This long and winding road crosses Harty Marshes with opportunities for birdwatching along the route. At one stop we saw a distant White-fronted Goose in a field, but we were struck by the absence of birds of prey, except for a lone Kestrel, along the way. This may in part have been a result of the strong winds that were blowing all day.

At the end of this road is Harty Ferry, the site of the old ferry to the mainland (now replaced by a road bridge at the western end). Scanning the marshes, we had a selection of wading birds including Oystercatcher, Curlew and a single Godwit. Two Marsh harriers were seen distantly but along with another two kestrels, these were the only birds of Prey.

Soon it was time to make our way back across Harty Marsh towards home, stopping briefly at a site just by the bridge to the mainland, where we saw a small flock of thrushes. Unfortunately, we were unable to identify them before they flew off. Were these a group of newly arrived winter thrushes?

A good day with the highlight being the wonderful views of Shore Lark.

Here is a photo of a liner that was laid up off Paignton during my recent trip together with an amazing Devon sunset.

It had apparently been there for many months during the pandemic but left on our final day to resume its cruising duties.

following our week in Norfolk, sue and I drove around the wash to South Lincolnshire for another week. We spent most of the week exploring the nature reserves on the northern shore of the wash.

Frampton marshes is a RSPB reserve near Boston which I think is one of the best reserves in the UK. It is not different this time as I saw a Black Stork, a visitor from Europe, which had been present for a number of days. Sadly although we saw it flying across the reserve we didn’t manage to photograph it.

Gibraltar point is a national nature reserve, which is on a spit of land south of Skegness. The highlight here was a group of Spoonbills, once a rare species but now becoming established in a number of places in England.

On one day we traveled north to East Yorkshire to visit the RSPB reserve at Blacktoft Sands to see a white-tailed Lapwing. It breeds on inland marshes in Iraq, Iran and southern Russia. The Iraqi and Iranian breeders are mainly residents, but Russian birds spend the winter in India and north east Africa. So it is a long way from home. the first record in the UK was in July 1975 and it has been seen here on less than 10 occasions since.

On the final day we went to Whisley nature park, near Lincoln. I have never visited here before but found it a fantastic place. Highlights seen here were a Hobby, Little Stint, Little Ringed Plover and Wood Sandpiper, although all too distant to photograph.

A fantastic week

Sue and I spent a week in Norfolk in early September this year.

On one day we went into Sheringham, a pleasant town on the coast.

Sheringham is the eastern terminus of the North Norfolk Railway. They were holding a Gala day on the day we were there so there were lots of historic locomotives to be seen.

Another day we went to the RSPB reserve at Titchwell. The highlight was an excellent view of Common snipe

We also went to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve at Cley Marshes. The highlights of the visit were views of a Common Crane and a Cattle Egret.

Our third trip to a nature reserve was to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve at Welney.

It was a very good week and we enjoyed visiting some of the wonderful nature reserves in North Norfolk.

My weekly wildlife walk takes me across the grounds of the estate where I live to the Tarn, a local park around a small lake. I am very fortunate to live on an estate with really nice grounds adjacent to a golf course and a park and so we see lots of wildlife.

After leaving the estate a short stretch of road leads to the entrance to the Tarn, descending from street level past the old ice well of Eltham House (now the clubhouse of the golf course).

I do this walk once a week and record all the wildlife I can see and hear. The results are then reported back to a number of different schemes set up to monitor the wildlife in the UK.

This week it is rather quiet. The Canada and Greylag Geese flocks are absent, they use a number of different sites in the area. There are good numbers of Mallard, Coot and Moorhens, so they have had good breeding seasons. The resident pair of Egyptian Geese still have 3 young but these are now indistinguishable from their parents. No dragonflies were seen, which is surprising as we usually have Common Darter present during August and only one butterfly, a single Speckled Wood was seen on the whole walk. It seems to have been a poor year for butterflies locally.

A couple of days ago I was going to visit a friend for the first time this year. As I waited for the bus in Eltham I noticed a seat which hadn’t been there before. It was dedicated to John of Eltham. It wasn’t a new seat so I imagine it had been moved there from another location during the changes that were made to the High Street layout during the pandemic. Anyway I wondered who John of Eltham was as I hadn’t come across him before.

John of Eltham

John of Eltham, Earl of Cornwall was born at Eltham Palace in August 1316, the second son of King Edward II. His childhood was not a happy one as his father and mother (Isabella of France) were at war with each other, Isabella having allied herself with rebels trying to overthrow the King. In 1326 she invaded England from France and King Edward was captured and forced to abdicate in favour of their eldest son, also Edward, who became King Edward III. Despite his young age, John became a highly trusted advisor to his elder brother and occupied a number of important posts including ‘Guardian of the realm’ deputising for the King when he was away at war. Few details are known about John’s life, although records show a number of attempted, but ultimately abortive diplomatic marriages. He was a commander of the army at the battle of Halidon Hill, defeating the Scots and later in south west Scotland, supporting Edward Balliol’s claim to the Scottish throne. In some Scottish histories he is remembered as the man who commanded that Lesmahagow Abbey be burnt down, even though it was full of people. It is unclear whether this was actually true or not. In some versions of this story, John’s brother, King Edward was so enraged at this barbarous act that he killed John himself in fury. In fact John died at Perth in September 1336, aged 20, probably of a fever. He was buried with full honours in Westminster Abbey.

John of Eltham’s tomb in Westminster Abbey

On Sunday Sue and I travelled down to Kent to meet our friends Keith and Elaine as we were all going on a boat trip around the Isle of Sheppey, which lies of the north coast of Kent.

The Island is separated from the mainland by a stretch of water known as The Swale. It is not a river since it has no source and no estuary, joining the River Thames near Whitstable and the River Medway near Queenborough. And it was at Queenborough that our journey commenced as we joined the Jacob Marley for our trip.

We set off down the Swale. Originally the island was only reached via ferries but when the railway arrived, a bridge was built to carry traffic and the trains across the Swale onto the island. The current bridge dates from 1960. The problem was that this had to be raised and lowered to let some boats into the Swale, particularly at high tide so in 2006 a high level road bridge was built next to the railway-road bridge so traffic could flow to and from the island to the mainland without any hinderance from ships on the Swale.

After passing under the bridge we proceeded past Ridham dock, the last working dock on the Swale.

Although there is still plenty of evidence of past commercial activities

Once past Ridham, there is open country on both sides of the Swale. On Sheppey, we pass the famous Elmley Nature Reserve, once managed by the RSPB, but now an independent company. A Hobby flies over the boat on its migration south and there are lots of wading birds returning from their Breeding grounds feeding or roosting on the mudflats. Some maybe going further south and some may remain here for the winter. Large numbers of Little Egrets, once a rare bird in the UK, are seen feeding along the mudbanks.

The previous day had seen the Medway barge race and so we encountered a number of different sailing barges making their way back to their moorings.

At the eastern end of the island we come to Horse Sands where there is a small seal colony with both Common and Grey seals present.

Reaching the eastern end of the Island we turn west along the north coast. Soon we see 2 Artic Skuas chasing gulls. These birds are like large gulls and they chase smaller seabirds hoping to make them drop the food they have caught rather than catch their own. A little way further we see another Skua closing on the boat from behind. It looks different as it flies low to the water, but it overtakes the boat and is lost from sight by us before we can confirm its identity. Our conclusion was that it was probably a juvenile Long-tailed Skua, which is quite rare for the Thames, but we couldn’t be absolutely sure. Unlike the adults, the juveniles do not have the Long tail streamers which give it it’s name. The following day up to 20 were seen in the Swale so it is likely that our unconfirmed identification was correct.

Out in the estuary we can see the old wartime defense forts and the more modern Thames wind-farm.

Looking to land we can see where the island is eroding.

We pass the wreck of the Richard Montgomery, a wartime munitions carrier, that ran aground and broke up off Sheerness. Much of its cargo is still aboard and it is estimated if it ever blew up then houses would be affected by the shockwave in Sheerness and in Southend on the opposite side of the Thames and a wave up to 5m high would hit both coasts. Soon there will be nothing to see as there are plans to remove the masts to relieve the weight on the superstructure which is breaking up.

Soon we are back at the western end of the Island passing the docks at Sheerness

And then onto Queenborough where we disembark. A great trip full of interest and some excellent birdwatching as well.

Greenwich Reach

Posted: August 24, 2021 in Birds, Landscape, London, Natural History, UK
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Out for my monthly survey walk along the River Thames at Greenwich counting the waterbirds using the river. Even in the summer months when it is very quiet there is always plenty of activity on the river to see.

In addition my walk is opposite the historic town of Greenwich.

At the west end of the walk there are views up river towards central London

At the eastern end is the Millenium Dome, now known as the O2, a concert and exhibition venue.

But what about the bird survey. There are the first signs of birds returning from their breeding grounds – Black-headed Gulls which have been almost absent since April were back with about 150 seen on the walk. Other Gull numbers were up slightly and I would expect this increase to continue over the next couple of months. A Group of 16 Canada geese was more then I had seen previously here so it will be interesting to see if they stay on the river or are just moving through.

Other things of note were a Eurasian Sparrowhawk seen flying high over one of the riverside housing developments and a Great Cormorant perched on jetty – unfortunately he refused to turn round and so i only got a back view.

It has been awhile since my last birdwatching trip, so it was with anticipation that I set off to meet Keith at Gravesend for a trip into unknown territory. We often walk the promenade at Gravesend, usually before RSPB meetings as it is a convenient place midway between our homes. On these walks we often look across the river and wonder about what is on the other side, around the town of Tilbury in Essex. So it was on this day that we decided to venture across the water and see what possible habitats we could find.

We took the ferry from Gravesend, leaving from Town pier.

and 10 minutes later were stepping ashore at Tilbury

Even as we left the terminal we could see the potential of this site for waterbirds and waders in the winter. Unlike the developed Gravesend riverfront, the Essex side, east of the terminal is just marshland (to the west is the cruise terminal and the container port!).

Inland from the river was a mosaic of grassland and pools which surround Tilbury Fort

Tilbury Fort was originally built by Henry VIII to protect London from ships coming up the river and eventually became one of a number of forts on both sides of the Thames. It has been updated in many conflicts and during times of tension since as can be seen by the current armaments, which date from WW2.

Moving on we passed more marshland until we reached the power station, where the path turns inland. We hardly saw anyone on our walk, although we did find our way blocked by a family of horses at one point.

There plenty of butterflies and it was nice to see some Marbled Whites, a species which seems to be spreading into London and is seen much more frequently than it used to be.

There was not a great variety of birdlife present, with Mediterranean Gull probably being the best sighting, but the site will be a lot more productive in the winter, when the water birds return to the river from their nesting grounds.

So with lunchtime drawing on, we made our back to the ferry and the crossing to Gravesend.

After lunch we did our normal walk along the promenade to Gravesend Fort and the local park.

The highlight of our walk was a Painted Lady butterfly, which we found in the park.

A good day out and some nice sightings but also we have identified another local area of potential, which we cant wait to return to in the winter months to see what is there “across the water”.