Shore Larks and Great Northern Divers...7th December 2009

We visited the RSPB reserve at Cliffe Pools in North Kent today. Our target birds being Shore Larks and Great Northern Divers, both species being reported there yesterday.
Neither of us have visited this site in recent years and we were expecting to see a vast improvement in the area since the RSPB took over the management of this SSSI.
Arriving just after 7.45 a.m., we found that the new car park on the reserve didn't open until 8.30 a.m. so we had a short stroll and then waited for the warden to open the gates. He did so bang on time and we parked up and began our quest.
The Shore Larks had been reported along the western shore of Flamingo Pool so we headed straight there. A couple of other birders were already up on the bank scanning the weedy margins of the pool. They told us that there had been four birds there yesterday but they had not seen them today.
It didn't take long before Paul spotted all four Shore Larks feeding together on weeds along the muddy margin. We spent the next hour or so taking in these attractive birds and trying to get photos, which was very difficult as it had become very windy and showery and the light was very poor.








Deciding that we ought to try for the divers that had been reported on the Alpha Pool, we headed off along the footpath that skirts the Thames and after a fairly long walk came to the edge of the pool. It didn't take long to pick out the two juvenile Great Northern Divers on the far side of the pool. Again, we tried to get photos, but the wind was even stronger by the river and digiscoping was obviously going to be difficult, especially as the light was poor.




We headed back in the squally showers, satisfied that we had seen both of our target species.
Other birds of note included a distant female Marsh Harrier carrying prey, 3 Little Egrets, 2 male and at least 5 female Goldeneyes and lots of Lapwings, a few Golden Plovers, Pintails and Shovelers with even smaller numbers of Wigeon and Teal.

Female GOLDENEYE (Graham)

So had Cliffe Pools improved much in recent years?
Well, sad to say, not really.
It was still pretty scruffy, with loads of litter everywhere, but at least the dumped cars had disappeared (except for one in the mud by the Thames). Dog-walkers were numerous with owners obviously not clearing up after their dogs. One of the notice boards was peppered in dents from air gun pellets and another was covered in graffitti.
It still seems an area that leaves you feeling pretty vulnerable, but I guess that the gloomy weather didn't really raise our spirits today and a bit of sunshine may have given the reserve a friendlier atmosphere.
Whether the RSPB can find a way to prevent littering and vandalism of this site remains to be seen, but one thing is certain, they will have a battle on their hands to succeed.
Bird-wise, there was not the huge numbers of wildfowl expected and, apart from the Lapwings and a couple of Curlews and Redshanks that flew over, waders were noticeable by their absence.
We can't grumble though, with Shore Larks and Great Northern Divers now safely on our year lists.

Paul & Graham

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