A days birding within the footprint of the proposed airport at Cliffe?
by RSPB Warden Alan Parker. A personal view of the No Airport@Cliffe Big Sit, Sept 28 2002…As part of The RSPB NAAC campaign, birdwatchers throughout the UK were urged to send in their Sept 28th records to the birding news services, dedicating them to the campaign, while all RSPB reserves were also asked to send in day lists. These records would give a snapshot of how many species were recorded in the UK on this particular day. In order to highlight the importance of the area under direct threat from the airport footprint - as published in various reports - I spent a day roaming the area accumulating a species total , principally spending time at Northward Hill, The mudflats/river E of Egypt Bay and Allhallows seafront?It was a clear, moonlit night still when I arrived at Northward Hill at 5 am, with mist patches which fortunately didn`t cause problems. First bird was a Mallard calling near my office, closely followed by Greenshank, one of very few passage waders remaining on the reserve. I stationed myself in a field directly below the wood [at a point indicated as the site of the airport terminal buildings!] and waited for dawn, as always an impressive experience here, filled with bird sounds. Little Owl called on cue, as did Water Rail from the marsh, corvids were added in fine style when 2600 rooks and jackdaws hurried from the wood at 6.20. After waiting for a Buzzard to emerge, which it didn`t, I did a quick tour of the wood, usefully getting Bullfinch, which is only just still with us. It was obvious that no passerine movements were taking place, and with a surprising lack of Blackcaps, it didn`t look good for a big total. I returned to the office - the reserve House Sparrow stake out - for breakfast [and a chat with Perry Haines, who was about to organise TV, Radio and Press interviews with Jools Holland at Cliffe] then headed out across the reserve towards Egypt Bay. Various expected species were found on our two new reservoirs, which are already holding good numbers of birds., including Kingfisher, Pintail and Ruddy Duck. The fields at the north end produced Stonechat and Whinchats, and an unexpected covey of Grey Partridges. On to the seawall near Egypt Bay where various low tide species were added - Rock Pipit, Brent Goose, but not many waders yet. Looking back towards the wood revealed a good selection of raptors up in the now hot, calm conditions, these included Buzzard, Hobby and two Marsh Harriers, so I phoned these and my total so far, 74 species by about 11, into Rare Bird Alert. It was then time to press on to Allhallows to catch up on low tide waders, all of which duly appeared, as did Little Egrets and a distant Mediterranean Gull, and a couple of coasting Grey Wagtails. Returning to the office for lunch, and a catch up session with Adrian Thomas, RSPB public affairs officer, who was collating national records from there, I added up the score and found it was 90 by 1 o`clock, not bad for a quiet day. We wrote the birds up on a board by the marshland viewpoint- nice to see a steady trickle of birders there throughout the day, while I contemplated tactics. Several easy species had eluded me so far - Shelduck, Snipe, Gadwall, Wheatear and GS Woodpecker should surely be about? A thrash around strategic bits of the marsh found a Snipe [sitting on a deluxe pond dipping platform built for our NAAC open day], a late Sedge Warbler, a Bearded tit where they should be and a GSW in a dead willow in Decoy Fleet. With the tide coming up, another look at the river seemed the best bet, and Arctic Skua, Avocets and a surprising juvenile. Gannet sitting on the water made it 97, with feral pigeon [well, they do count] and at last a Wheatear making 99! But no amount of scoping could bring up a Shelduck [I knew there was a flock off Cliffe fleet] or a passing Sandwich Tern, and a quick dash to Allhallows failed to produce any Shelducks in Coombe Bay either. So in a final bid to make 100, I rushed back to our Barn Owl nest box to catch its emergence, but you know what its like with owls and big lists - There`s never one around when you need one! So 99 it was, and not a bad total considering the lack of migrants, indeed this emphasises the vital importance of this area for a whole range of birds.It`s interesting to think about what this tally would have been like 23 years ago when I started work at Northward Hill. For a start I wouldn`t have got Sparrow hawk or Hobby [or Ruddy Duck !] and I would have been most surprised to see Med Gulls and Little Egrets. Finding wetland birds would have been a lot harder, as all of Northward Hill`s lowlands were still arable then. But in the wood I would have easily found Yellowhammer and Tree Sparrow, with Corn Buntings nearby [couldn`t find any of these on the day] and if memory serves, Marsh Tit and Coal Tit as well. Also I wouldn`t have had a Mitsubishi turbo-diesel 4X4 to chase around in, and would have ended up with even sorer feet. But similarly, the conservation movement is now in much better shape to see off this outrageous threat than it would have been then - NoAirport@Cliffe! Alan Parker, RSPB Senior Warden North West Kent Reserves
4th July 2014