We intended an early start today around Stodmarsh but we are easily distracted and the drive in produced it's own interest. Huge numbers of Fieldfares and Redwings had arrived overnight and the hedgerows were alive with Chaffinches. Some bales of hay over looking Collards Lake made a useful perch for our first Yellowhammer of the year.
The Reed Bed hide was very quiet and there were very few birders as well!
Given the cold weather we felt a walk through the Alder Wood might produce a Water Rail or two, unfortunately it was not to be. However, the great thing about birding is despite the habitat and time of year the unpredictable can happen.
As we emerged from the dense vegetation a Ring Tail gently cruised by and it is lovely to see these heavily persecuted birds enjoy a peaceful winter in our inviting County, no sooner had this passed than a Woodcock exploded into the sky, Dan's first of the year.
As we started to walk on our attention was drawn to a pale fawn bird sitting in a bush. We both raised our binos and then turned to each other in disbelief. This confiding female Penduline Tit allowed us to approach incredibly close and we almost forgot to use the camera as he shuffled through the bush before taking to the reeds where a Cetti expressed his discontent at the company.
Dan wanted to alert the local birders through twitter and noticed that two birds we had previously missed at Cliffe were showing well. It was still reasonably early and he would normally be at work on a Saturday so we agreed to dash up the M2.
The walk from Cliffe RSPB car park round to Alpha pool goes on and on. The Thames was teaming with ducks, the most exciting was a male Goldeneye. We eventually arrived at the pool and the Long Tailed Duck was showing beautifully and it's plumage was a delight to see and study. We continue along the Thames to the far end of the lake and Dan's sharp eyes soon picked out the Black Necked Grebe from the throng of Little Grebes, a lifer for him and not a bad morning's birding.
The young buck then convinced his father there was a quicker route back to the car. I could see the gravel works near the car park and was easily lead astray. We walked on and eventually away from the Thames and arrived at a padlocked gate. I thought this is it, back we go, but the OS map on the phone showed a Public Footpath so we clambered over and the path had clearly fallen into disuse as the soft mud was no longer the problem but the brambles encroaching and ripping at our legs. Eventually we reached a dead end with reeds to our left a twelve foot wall to our right, over which we had heard trials bikes racing up and down and in front of us was the gravel works.
We had come to far to turn back, we (I) struggled over a sand mound and we followed the excavators tracks through the works to our exit. We saw a sign saying exit and I said we will tell the man on the gate we were lost, apologise and be on our way. We saw our first sign of life as a huge lorry moved through the grounds but appeared to ignore us. The gate was closed, unmanned and we could see our car. The fence was designed to hold out William Wallace, so there was not much hope for us until Dan spied a turn in the fence which was marked by wooden fencing.
Typical of a youngster, he was through the gap like a rat up a drain pipe! The old man carries a few extra pounds these days and had to part with telescope & binos to make the narrow exit.
We had just got into the car when the strong arm of the law arrived, various expletives were shared as they pulled up along side us. Unlike The Clash, I opted for polite diplomacy, turns out they were after the bikers and wanted directions. I was pleased to complete my public duty and escape to victory and the home of the Men of Kent!