We set off at 0700 so we would arrive just after dawn and have maximum use of the few hours of winter daylight. It was well below zero most of the day but it was fine and mainly sunny.
On arrival in Leysdown we drew up close to the sea wall and peered over. The tide was in and we wowed at the numbers of sanderling and turnstone just in front of us as well as a grey plover. After a short while with these active and interesting birds, we decided to concentrate on the main goal, so we pressed on into the Swale nature reserve, an area served by an exquisitely pot-holed track which made for a tense drive wondering if my rather low-slung car would hit the bottom in some of the deepest holes. In the end it wasn't too bad.
At our first stop we viewed a field teeming with curlew, golden plover and Brent geese - but no white fronts. We pressed on further and stopped on a small hillock giving a good vantage point over the fields. It wasn't long before we picked out a reasonable flock of white-fronted geese among the many more Brents and that put David one ahead of me for the year! Dohhh!!
He deserved to win (243 to 242). He beat me even though he has to rely on others for all his transport. His dedication and tenacity brought its reward.
We returned to the beach where we lay behind one of the groins photographing the turnstones, sanderlings and the odd redshank. This was instructive as well as allowing some fairly close shots. I'd always wondered what sanderlings ate. I'd only seen them racing along the sand at Titchwell, close to the water's edge. Leysdown beach at high tide is pebbly but with many shells. Both sanderling and turnstone ate shellfish - not sure which, could be cockles. I'm no good at shellfish. They seemed to be able to break into the shells with their beaks and pull the fish out. Clever!
Turnstone with cockle?
Sanderling with cockle
After lunch in the car (it was still freezing), and a bit of sea watching (during which David tried bravely to identify birds that must have been at least 3-4 miles offshore!!!) we decided to go to Capel Fleet, as David still needed short-eared owl for his year list. We stopped at a pull-in just before the raptor watchpoint to watch a lovely male marsh harrier that was flying towards us.
Male marsh harrier
He dropped down and, while we were waiting for him to re-appear, a skein of 36 Bewick's swans flew right over our heads. The noise of their wings, the calls of some of them and their graceful flight was wonderful.
Female hen harrier.
Shortly afterwards a car stopped and I met Corrina Smart for the first time. She had pulled up to ask what was about. I hadn't realised that she, as Eagleseagles, was the person who wanted to use my brown shrike photo on her blog. We chatted for a while, found a pregrine eating its prey and then went on to the raptor point. The light was fading, but we still saw two or more hen harriers, several marsh harriers and quite a dark barn owl. We had just left to come home when, in the fading light the barn owl alighted on a post in the glow of the Western sky. David jumped out to take a silhouette in the semi darkness.
All in all, a very enjoyable day and a fitting end to a good year. Thanks, David for your help and company this year.