Archive for the ‘Kent’ Category

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.

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”.

I have lived just down the A20 from Crittalls Corner for 21 years and wondered where the name came from? In the other direction we have Clifton’s roundabout, which was named after a garage that used to stand on the side of the roundabout. The garage is still there, but no longer called Clifton’s. A little further away is the Yorkshire Grey roundabout, named after a pub which occupied the south side. Again, the building is still there although these days it is a McDonalds restaurant. But I didn’t know anything about Crittall’s until quite by chance I came across this in a blog post.

Francis Berrington Crittall started his eponymous company in 1849, but it wasn’t until 1884 they started making their famous metal windows which even found their way onto the Titanic. The company has always been based around Braintree in Essex, so it is a bit of a mystery why a roundabout on the A20 near Sidcup where one of their factories stood on its north-west corner should have been given the accolade of Crittalls Corner.

I copied the text but sadly the browser closed before I could get the details of the blog, so a thank you anyway to the person who blogged it. great to finally know after all these years.

Rochester Castle

Posted: December 4, 2020 in Kent, UK
Tags: ,

Rochester Castle

Rochester Castle

The first castle on this important site where the London Road crosses the River Medway was built by  Odo, the half-brother of William the Conqueror shortly after their victory in 1066. In 1088, following Williams death, Odo supported the King’s eldest son Robert for the crown and the castle was besieged by forces supporting the eventually successful son William Rufus. Records show that the following year repairs were made to the castle by Gandalf, Bishop of Rochester. The tower keep, much as it is seen today, was built in 1127 by William, Archbishop of Canterbury,  who had come into possession of the castle.

The Keep at Rochester Castle

The Keep at Rochester Castle

In 1215 the castle was taken by the rebel barons and was subsequently besieged by the forces of King John. The defenders held out for two months but eventually, starving, they had to surrender the castle. It was besieged again in 1264, this time holding for the King against rebel barons although the outcome was different as the castle was relieved after a week by Royal forces.

The Castle Keep

The Castle Keep

In 1381  the castle was captured and ransacked during the peasant’s revolt. It was badly damaged and this seems to have made it turning point in the castle’s history  as although repairs were carried out and people continued to live in the keep, the records show that the amount of repair work done was insufficient to keep the castle in a fully functional state and eventually it fell out of use. Much of the stone from the external walls and outbuildings was carried away and used on other building projects such as nearby Upnor Castle.

One of the few remaining portions of the external walls of Rochester Castle

One of the few remaining portions of the external walls of Rochester Castle

In 1870, the site was opened as a public park and eventually passed into the hands of the local authority, then the ministry of public works and finally to English Heritage.

On Monday Sue and I travelled down to Sevenoaks Nature Reserve to meet our friends Keith and Elaine for a, socially distanced, picnic lunch. It was the first time we had been able to meet up this year. After lunch Keith and I went for a walk around the reserve.

Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs provided most of the musical accompaniment as we searched each of the lakes that make up this reserve. Although the number of bird species present was low (not surprising at this time of year) we managed 6 species of Butterfly and 5 species of Dragonfly. it was a lovely summer afternoon and a lovely walk around the lakes.

There is something about this stand of trees by the Oast House pool at Bough Beech that fascinates me.

Our trip out this week was a return to Bough Beech near Sevenoaks. I was returning for two reasons. One the local dragonfly recorder had asked for photographs of the Brilliant Emerald Dragonfly I had seen last week in order to confirm the record (I hadn’ t managed any last week) and secondly because a Western Osprey had been hanging around the Reservoir all weekend.

Our first sightings, however, were of a human kind as we met up with Andrew and Nicole, who we hadn’t seen since before lockdown and so it was good chance to catch up with them. They directed me to a Little Ringed Plover they had found on the edge of the reservoir and also described another wader which they had seen briefly in a channel in the vegetation on the north pool before it had disappeared from sight into the vegetation.

After they had left, I got another brief view of the mystery wader and although not totally sure thought it was probably Green Sandpiper. Amongst the other birds on the reservoir today were Common Terns and Grey Wagtail as well as the usual selection of Ducks, Swans and Geese. A female Mandarin Duck with 12 chicks was a pleasant sight.

I then decided to walk up to the Oast house to see if I could get the photographs of Brilliant Emerald. What a difference a week makes! the temperature was about 10 degrees lower than last week and whereas then there were about 40 insects from 5 species present, not a single one was to be seen today. I did hear Common Whitethroat and Chiffchaff and got excellent views of the resident Kingfisher.

Common Whitethroat. Photo by Nicole

Back at the Reservoir, I though I would give the mystery wader one more go. Imagine my surprise when I looked into the channel and there it was, a Green Sandpiper, sitting out on a rock in plain view. I tried to get a photo but the hedge vegetation has grown so high that I couldn’t get a clear shot before it wandered off into the vegetation and out of view.

Green Sandpiper. Photo by Corine Bliek (https://www.flickr.com/photos/147485441@N04/)

A good end to our trip.

Venturing Forth

Posted: June 4, 2020 in Dragonflies, Kent, Natural History, UK

Our first trip out in 10 weeks (except for shopping) was a couple of hours at Bough Beech near Sevenoaks. As we arrived a Cuckoo departed and was not seen again, apparently, we had also just missed a Red Kite. The reservoir was fairly quite. By the evidence of the number of young Grey Herons present, the local heronry had experienced a good breeding season.

But the stars of the trip were 5 species of Dragonfly including one male Brilliant Emerald, only my second sighting in the UK. This local species is only found in West Kent and Surrey and in 2 areas in West and North East Scotland.

Brilliant Emerald. Photo by Paul Ritchie (https://www.flickr.com/photos/thelizardwizard/)

Before going to the meeting of the local RSPB group, Keith and I had a walk along the riverfront at Gravesend. Good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank along with a little Egret.

Rochester Castle

Posted: July 10, 2019 in Kent, UK
Tags: ,

Rochester Castle

Rochester Castle

The first castle on this important site where the London Road crosses the River Medway was built by  Odo, the half-brother of William the Conqueror shortly after their victory in 1066. In 1088, following Williams death, Odo supported the King’s eldest son Robert for the crown and the castle was besieged by forces supporting the eventually successful son William Rufus. Records show that the following year repairs were made to the castle by Gandalf, Bishop of Rochester. The tower keep, much as it is seen today, was built in 1127 by William, Archbishop of Canterbury,  who had come into possession of the castle.

The Keep at Rochester Castle

The Keep at Rochester Castle

In 1215 the castle was taken by the rebel barons and was subsequently besieged by the forces of King John. The defenders held out for two months but eventually, starving, they had to surrender the castle. It was besieged again in 1264, this time holding for the King against rebel barons although the outcome was different as the castle was relieved after a week by Royal forces.

The Castle Keep

The Castle Keep

In 1381  the castle was captured and ransacked during the peasant’s revolt. It was badly damaged and this seems to have made it turning point in the castle’s history  as although repairs were carried out and people continued to live in the keep, the records show that the amount of repair work done was insufficient to keep the castle in a fully functional state and eventually it fell out of use. Much of the stone from the external walls and outbuildings was carried away and used on other building projects such as nearby Upnor Castle.

One of the few remaining portions of the external walls of Rochester Castle

One of the few remaining portions of the external walls of Rochester Castle

In 1870, the site was opened as a public park and eventually passed into the hands of the local authority, then the ministry of public works and finally to English Heritage.