Top birdwatching spots in Kent
PUBLISHED: 19:40 31 August 2014 | UPDATED: 19:40 31 August 2014
Manu Palomeque 07977074797
With its geographical position, its three coastlines and the diversity of its habitats, Kent is one of the best counties for bird watching in the UK
We’re lucky in Kent to have such a diverse range of habitats for our local wildlife. But while an increasing number of people are attracting wild birds to their gardens and take an interest in the comings and goings on their bird feeders, there still aren’t many of us who would identify ourselves as ‘birdwatchers.’
But you don’t need to be an expert, nor do you need to get up at the crack of dawn and spend hours in a hide to enjoy some of the brilliant sights Kent’s top birding areas can offer.
With the right advice about where to go and when and armed with a little basic knowledge, you can spend an interesting day out in the wonderfully wild, protected reserves on our doorstep and open to all.
Much of the famous Garden of England is orchards and fields, and despite all the building that goes on it’s still surprisingly well wooded, so birds tend to thrive in our green county. There are also some significant locations which provide truly unique habitats for certain kinds of birds, thanks to our coastline and marshlands.
The shingle peninsula of Dungeness, for example, supports countless rare flora and fauna and the North Kent Marshes represent a large proportion of the entire country’s remaining inter-tidal grazing marshes.
Because of this the RSPB has no less than five reserves in the county and there are two dedicated bird observatories. The society rates Kent as one of the country’s top birding counties.
Rolf Williams from the RSPB says: “The nature reserves in North Kent and on the Dungeness peninsula fall within a landscape protected under national and international environment laws for the birds that live there. RSPB Dungeness is one of the best places in the country to see the elusive and very rare bittern and the beautiful smew. These wild places also make a convenient escape from our urban lives next door.”
Martin Coath, chairman of the Kent Ornithological Society, agrees: “Kent is simply one of the best counties for birding, with a total list of more than 400 species thanks to its geographical position, its three coastlines and the diversity of its habitats. It’s best known in birding circles for its breeding birds, winter visitors and passage migrants.”
A local group with around 700 members, the society is aimed at the serious bird watcher and is involved with a lot of complex surveying and behavioural studies. But Martin is keen to encourage even those with a limited knowledge to experience some of the wonderful birding spots in Kent.
“For me the best area is the Dungeness peninsula with its seabird passage, its stopover migrants and its gravel pits with deep water for waterfowl and muddy margins for a variety of wading birds.
“September sees the great southward movement of birds which breed in the Arctic and move south to winter, especially in Africa. Most are young birds on their first migration, so anything can happen, especially when there is high pressure over Scandinavia and clear skies encourage mass departures.”
Another spectacular spot for watching birds at this time of year is the Elmley National Nature Reserve on the Isle of Sheppey. For years an RSPB reserve but now privately run by the Fulton family, the marsh area is teeming with wildlife.
“September perhaps isn’t the best bird watching month for the more serious birders as many of the summer migrants, like swallows, are leaving and many of the winter birds haven’t yet arrived,” says Georgina Fulton.
“But there is still plenty to see if you’re a novice. Many of the resident birds are easy to spot at this time of year and are pretty charismatic creatures. And the weather is better and drier, which makes a big difference for those new to bird watching.”
If the stunning landscape at Elmley wasn’t unique enough, with its big open skies and flat marshlands, the reserve also offers something that no other nature reserve in the UK can – the chance to stay on the site all night in a very special glamping site.
“We have our new shepherd’s huts in place now, so bird watching here will be an even more special experience," says Georgina. "This really does set Kent apart from other areas for bird watching; it will be the only place in the country where you can actually stay the night on a nature reserve and bird watch from bed!”
The three hand-crafted huts are intended to have a minimal effect on the wilderness of the area and will afford a rare and personal view of the sunrise – something photographers flock to Elmley for – as well as dawn and dusk birding opportunities. They overlook ponds, which means wildfowl will literally be on the doorstep.
“They have excellent views of oaks trees with resident barn owls,” adds Georgina. “The huts are warm and cosy so can even be used in winter when tens of thousands of winter wildfowl and wading birds visit us, along with marsh harriers, peregrines, merlins and short-eared owls.” n