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A Report from

Kent, UK 1-7 December 2001,

Gavin Edmondstone

While Sue and I have been contemplating our first birding trip to the UK for some time, December was certainly not a time of year that we had considered. However, a business trip came up and December it was. Since we are still planning to do a dedicated spring birding visit we particularly wanted to see winter birds that would be lifers for us.

We took the daytime flight from Toronto to Heathrow on 30 November arriving at 9 PM local time. This worked out well for us as it was 5 hours earlier home time and I was not sleep deprived while learning how to drive on the other side of the road. Light traffic at this hour was another bonus.

Birds mentioned are predominantly life birds, which are denoted with an asterisk*. Bird names follow those customarily used in the UK, the adjective "Eurasian" being dispensed with.

1 Dec.

With the time change we were not very quick about getting up in the morning and we chose to take the train into London from our base camp at the Rose and Crown Hotel in Tonbridge for some sightseeing. Towards the end of daylight we happened into St. James Park where we saw our first birds of the trip including: Wood Pigeon*, Shelduck*, Coot* and Carrion Crow*. We wondered what a beautiful male Eider was doing in this pond.

2 Dec.

At first light I walked the grounds of a Norman castle across the street from our hotel. This was a good combination of birding and history. One surprise was that some birds here sing in December. Lifers came fast. Long-tailed Tit*, Song Thrush*, Mistle Thrush*, Greenfinch*, Dunnock*, Robin*, Great Tit*, Blue Tit*, Chaffinch*, Bullfinch*, Blackbird* and flyover Lapwings*. Twelve lifers before breakfast...not bad.

We then made the short drive to Bough Beach Reservoir. This was our first experience driving on English country roads. When we arrived at Bough Beach we figured there must be a rarity present because of the number of birders there. No, it was just business as usual on the weekend. With the help of other birders we saw Great-crested Grebe*, Grey Heron*, Greylag Goose*, Mandarin Duck*, Pochard*, Green Sandpiper*, Pied Wagtail* and Meadow Pipit* from the causeway. Word came that "the Water Rail is showing well". A short walk to the oast house where active feeders distracted us briefly from our quest for the rail but soon we had great views of at least two Water Rails*. Sue had the unusual distinction of seeing Water Rail before she saw a Robin! On the feeders and nearby we added Coal Tit*, Nuthatch*, Fieldfare*, Great Spotted Woodpecker* and Treecreeper* to the rapidly growing list. There was talk of a Brambling on the feeder. We were offered access to the hide. This gave us a wonderful view of the feeder action and the Brambling* when he showed up again.

After returning to the hotel for a pit stop we explored the walking paths around the many playing fields of Tonbridge. One field was full of Pied Wagtails. We had a distant view of a Kingfisher*. It was quite a productive day, surprisingly not all that far off our first day in Costa Rica!

3 Dec.

This morning we had arranged to meet John Cantelo of Canterbury at the Dungeness RSPB reserve. I found the drive, along narrower and more obstacle cluttered roads than I am accustomed to, to be somewhat stressful. Most of the obstacles were parked cars but one was a cygnet out for a morning walk on the road. We did make it safely, on time, and with only one small navigation error. Near the entrance to the reserve we spotted what proved to be a great rarity: namely a life bird seen from a moving vehicle. The bird was a Kestrel*. John made enquiries about the status of some of the less common birds that interested us. It happened that the "hottest" bird was an "American" Herring Gull. We did not try to locate this one. We were happy to learn that the Black-throated Diver (Arctic Loon to North Americans) was still around. As John led us from one hide to the next our UK list grew. Most of the ducks were familiar from home but Smews* were a very nice find. A Little Egret* allowed close study. Finally the Black- throated Diver* surfaced right in front of us. Little Grebes* emerged from the reeds to allow us good views. A large mixed flock of Jackdaws*, Carrion Crows and Rooks* offered good comparisons. Other new birds for us seen as we walked the trail: Stock Dove*, Green Woodpecker*, Stonechat*, Yellowhammer* and Corn Bunting*. We returned to the now open visitor centre to dry off and plot strategy for the remainder of the day. A birder who was patiently scoping the gull flock asked if anyone was interested in a Yellow-legged Gull*. I wasn't shy! John was rather disappointed that we had not seen more birds and postulated that the rain was keeping the small birds down and out of sight. It was time to leave the reserve and do some car birding. A family of Whooper Swans* was keeping company with a large flock of Mute Swans in a farm field. I found this quite interesting as I cannot recall ever seeing our Mute Swans feeding on land at home. Another field was full of Bewick's (Tundra) Swans. Our next quest was Mediterranean Gull. A quest that was to elude us but we did add a few new UK ticks in the process. We opted not to try to follow John through Folkestone to try for the gull at the most reliable spot.

4 Dec.

Our original plan was to bird the north Kent marshes today but we decided to do another day in London instead as there were not all that many likely new birds left. I did a pre-breakfast walk in Tonbridge and picked up Sparrowhawk*, Goldfinch* and Siskin*. In London we were surprised to see a juvenile Great Crested Grebe on The Serpentine still sporting a face stripe. Another surprising find was a "loonie" (a Canadian dollar coin bearing the image of a Common Loon) on Charing Cross Road.

5 Dec.

It was now time to go to work but there was still one new bird today. I was sitting right behind the bus driver while on the way into the meeting facility when a Jay* flew across the road. I made a comment about it to the driver and he replied: "Another one for your list." It was nice being in a place where birding concepts are widely understood.

7 Dec.

No new birds yesterday (I was here for work, don't forget) but while outside briefly today a Redwing* flew over. Our flight home early the next day was uneventful. The binoculars and telescope attracted no attention from security agents in either airport.

Prior to this trip I had some trepidation about driving on the unfamiliar side of the road and dealing with roundabouts which are an alien concept here. John was kind enough to send me a link that explains the rules of the road This information was quite helpful preparation. For our next visit we will know that I can deal with the driving but that it would be unwise to plan to do as much driving in a day as we might do in Canada or the USA. While driving on the motorway was easy for me I found the country roads to be more difficult.

Finally, I would like to thank John Cantelo for showing us around Dungeness, the birders we met at Bough Beach Reservoir who pointed out some birds that we would have missed and all those who answered my RFI on UKBN.

Now to start preparing for May in Norfolk!

Gavin Edmondstone Oakville, Ontario, Canada

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