Over Easter I managed to visit family in Kent and take a walk at Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve, a lovely reserve on the edge of Sevenoaks, owned by the Kent Wildlife Trust. After some glorious warm weather the week before, spring appeared to have been put on hold temporarily, and the day had turned out rather cloudy, dull and chilly.
Fortunately, unlike the weather the wildlife was still busy gearing up for spring – as soon as I got out of my car I was hit by a chorus of song from robins, blackbirds, blackcaps, chiffchaffs, chaffinches and great tits, all busy claiming territories and trying to attract a mate. There was also the occasional drum of a great spotted woodpecker, and I’m pretty sure I also heard the drum of a lesser spotted woodpecker, a species I have yet to see.
(Left: male blackcap; Right – male great spotted woodpecker)
Despite being so close to London, I’m always struck by how much there is to see and how peaceful it is at this small reserve, which was once a commercial gravel pit. There were plenty of birds out on the lakes, including a couple of newly arrived migrants such as little ringed plovers and a number of swallows and house martins. The lapwings were also busy displaying, their characteristic calls providing a backdrop to the afternoon’s birding.
(Top: view across the East Lake; Bottom left + right: little ringed plover)
Although there were a fair number of cars in the car park, I still managed to walk through the woods on the reserve without encountering many other people. There really is nothing like standing in the middle of a wood on your own and just listening – you often suddenly find yourself surrounded by birds! There was a lot of bird song, noise and activity going on, with the beautifully flutey song of blackcaps, lots of mixed tit flocks moving through, the constant “chiff-chaff-chiff-chiff-chaff” of chiffchaffs, quite a few treecreepers creeping their way up the trees, and the gorgeous song of a few song thrushes.
(Left: chiffchaff; Right: song thrush)
I even had this friendly rabbit happily grazing right beside me!
One of the oddest sights of the day was a field full of ewes and lambs behind the reserve, surrounded by a mixture of geese, woodpigeons, corvids, a pheasant and three noisy Egyptian geese which were grazing and walking about alongside them. Egyptian geese aren’t native to the UK, but they do add a bit of colour:
There were also of course lots of ‘regular’ species too, like coots, moorhens, mallards, greylag geese and Canada geese. (I was also quite chuffed to find, on a return visit I managed to make a few days later, a first year white-fronted goose – not something I expected to see there!)
It did feel very like spring was almost there, but still holding back slightly. There were a couple of bluebells starting to come out, and buds and catkins on many of the trees, but most of the trees still looked very wintry and bare, with most still to properly come into leaf.
In the couple of weeks it’s taken me to write this blog (yes, I’ve been a bit slow recently) I expect a lot has changed, and many more of the migrant birds have probably arrived, while others will be well into nesting. Around my local patch in Bristol I’ve now seen and heard the first willow warblers and reed warblers (so great to have them back) and have also spotted small flocks of meadow pipits migrating overhead. The trees and bushes are also looking decidedly more green, with that beautiful lime green of early leaves, and I’ve been lucky enough to watch some nestling song thrushes and blackbirds being ringed, as well as spotting a female mallard with 13 very young and tiny (and, it has to be said, very cute) ducklings.
Now we just need the weather to catch up and be a bit more spring-like!