2019 birding blog

Birding diary 2019.
1st January: New Year ‘bird race’
In 2018 I had tried to see as many species as possible. I was doing well until a rather unrewarding (in terms of new species) week in Norfolk in October. The timing of my holidays is very much work-governed and clearly I had left it too late.
I decided that for 2019 I would not aim to break any records (not that I have any!) but enjoy a good variety of birds. I will keep Surrey and Kent lists as well as my UK list. Just for the record, in 2018 I saw 169 species of wild bird in the UK (including 110 in Surrey and 127 in Kent).
I started 2019 with a day in Kent, mainly with a view to seeing some of the birds that you can only see in winter. So it wasn’t a ‘bird race’ in the strictest sense of the word. I didn’t see much point chasing blue tits on a day when hours of light were limited. My day list was 57, although I did hear a tawny owl in addition back home in Surrey.
Highlights were undoubtedly the raptors. From the Raptor Viewpoint at Capel Fleet on the Isle of Sheppey, starting at 8.20 am., I had marsh harrier and a very distant ringtail hen harrier, which was pointed out by one of a small group of watchers there. One of them kindly showed me a couple of corn buntings, too. After a rather chilly half-an-hour, I went back to my car only to hear some excited comments from the guys on the mound. They had seen a merlin. I jogged back up the mound and one of them let me look through his scope. A very handsome male was perched on a fencepost at no great distance (perhaps 300 yards). I then watched through my bins as it took off with a rapier like flight. It eventually landed much further away but I was really pleased to get this bird so early in the year. I also saw a common buzzard here but not the hoped-for short-eared owl.
Later in the morning I spent about three hours doing the long walk across the Swale NNR and Shellness. Apart from the flock of 80 or more white-fronted geese, the main highlights were a peregrine, which was sitting on the turf, and a large sparrowhawk flying low across the saltmarsh. There were lots of reed buntings and skylarks here, too.
From Shellness I had a good variety of waders, and a big flock of mallard, attached to which were the odd wigeon and gadwall.
I had stopped briefly at Leysdown on my way to Shellness, and picked up about ten species of waders including knot and sanderling. There were grey and ringed plovers at Shellness. I also noted several groups of red-legged partridges as I moved around (the first six as I approached Capel Fleet).
By this time, the light was beginning to fade. I decided to go to Funton Creek, just off the Isle of Sheppey, as it is a good site for pintail. I mentioned this to one of the ‘raptor view point’ birding group who I bumped into again. He told me that a rough-legged buzzard had been reported from there.
Fortunately, I managed to find Funton Creek without all the mis-turns I had taken on my previous visit (head to Iwade and take an insignificant looking right turn down Raspberry Lane). I picked up quite a few pintails and lots of avocets. Unfortunately, the tide was very low now and the waders were a long way off. I could see godwits but not decide which type – someone told me that both were present but I couldn’t legitimately count them. I noticed a raptor sitting on a grassy bank but before I could point it out to anyone else I managed to lose it. Eventually someone relocated it. It was not a very helpful view as it had its back to us. But after a while it took flight and we could see all the markings to diagnose a rough-legged buzzard – particularly the whitish underparts and the upper tail with a black terminal band; and the black belly patch and carpel patches on the underwing. It was great to see it do something as raptors can spend a lot of time just sitting around.
The only other raptor, which I haven’t yet mentioned, was kestrel, of which I saw several.