It was a pleasure to read my first email of the day!  It was from a local chap, new to birdwatching, and keen to share with us his experiences when visiting Northward Hill and Cliffe Pools Nature Reserves yesterday.  Thank you Tim Harris for writing to us and for allowing us to publish this for others to see.

The day was grey with the odd bright patch and the continual threat of a shower. Very mild for December and a slight breeze across the marshes. I got to Northward Hill at about 1pm and it was very quiet with a few assorted small birds in the trees and bushes and hardly anything else in sight. After a short walk towards the heronry with no luck I returned to the hide. Nothing in view except a large flock of geese towards Allhallows. Just as I was about to leave a kingfisher appeared from opposite the hide and shot off along the dyke.

I then made my way to Cliffe along the Cooling Road. Two male kestrels sat on telegraph poles between Cooling and Cliffe. The second posed as I took his photo, with the wonderful blue and red brown plumage all the better for the dull conditions.  At Cliffe I drove through the village and parked halfway down the unmade track leading to the sea wall. In the pool nearest the road were a good selection of shoveler, mallard, pintail and pochard, clustered with a large number of coot. All were easily visible from the road. Further down, opposite the farm was a flock of about 100 lapwing which rose and landed several times as I watched.

Over the marshes to the east I saw the first of five marsh harriers. As I passed the farm there were a number of greylag geese and a mixed flock of lapwing, shoveler, mallard and pintail on a small island in one of the pools.  Upon reaching the viewing point I had a view of all these birds and was machine gunned from all side by numerous wren. In the bushes alongside the track were large flocks of fieldfare. The shovelers were joined by a redshank which fed on the fringes of the reeds.

As it began to get dark I saw two marsh harriers towards the Thames. As they moved over the marsh they disturbed numerous flocks of small birds.  As twilight slipped in I was joined by a barn owl which patrolled ghost-like along the fringes of the path and towards a large tin barn in the middle of the marshes towards Allhallows. As I watched I was amazed to see a short-eared owl come into the same field of view. It hunted beside the barn and settled on a gate post about ¼ mile away. I then saw it attack and drive off a marsh harrier. A wonderful raptor dog-fight taking place. Amazing!

After breaking off combat the short-eared owl flew towards the Thames, by the old gunpowder sheds and for a few seconds was joined by another short-eared owl, before they went their separate ways. Whilst this happened a couple of egrets re-positioned themselves on the eastern marsh and a lone kestrel hovered over the sheep fields to the north east. A formation of ten cormorant arrived from the direction of Southend and descended near the radar station. 

As I walked back to my car the Barn owl again appeared before heading off to the north east. I was treated to one last spectacle, which I really shouldn’t be seeing in December - a bat, buzzed the fringes of the pool. It was medium sized, but I am not sure of the species.

So all-in all a brilliant afternoon, which rewarded a little patience. As a new birder I find Cliffe pools excellent. Good access and views allowing the novice the chance to take time to identify species and as a bonus the very likely possibility of being rewarded by something just a little special!

I hope this is of interest to you and goes to show that the hard work of the staff and volunteers at Northward Hill and Cliffe Pools is really paying off.

Tim Harris 14.12.2015

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