> Waders: numbers continue to build through the month. Many only arrive on their wintering sites after going through their post-breeding moult elsewhere. This year's WeBS count is an early one (7th), so additional birder counts from later in the month will be especially useful.
> Wildfowl: Many of our dabbling duck species are paired now. Males have little to do with nesting, and a female can benefit from choosing a strong mate now to see her through the winter. It often seems that there are way more males than females - a hangover from the breeding season (females much more susceptible to predation) and display activity can be watched most mornings as surplus males strut their stuff.
> Diurnal migration: a (well, my) lifetime ago the saying was 'it's not over 'til the fireworks go off' but now movements are a norm through past mid-month; one element that initiates movement is dropping temperatures over a two, three day period, which now happens later in the month.
> Nocturnal migrants: November's full moon is the 'Woodcock Moon', and falls on Friday 19th this year. Some truth to it - when crossing the North Sea, Woodcock simply prefer the calmer moonlit nights. Pick your morning to check the copses.
> Seawatching: Dave Davenport's excellent chapter in 'Bird watching on the north Kent marshes' confirms November watches have the commoner seabirds moving on day one as the wind goes north-west, but 'day-after' movements then being some of the more interesting/ varied of the autumn. Still plenty to play for.
> Roosts: If you have the time, checking several flightlines to private roost sites can be rewarding. Here in the western basin the Southern Water reed bed is the more undisturbed of two such beds on Motney and roost site of choice for birds such as Grey Wagtail. Obtaining several counts from both the Otterham and the Riverside seawalls is useful in estimating numbers (evening or morning).
Tide sites of the month
1) A spring covering at Funton. Fast and furious flocking. From about the 3.5 metre mark waders pile in from the western basin, while the loafing duck are pushed out of Funton Reach.
2) A neap high tide at Otterham. Often happen not long after dawn, with birds able to hang on at the saltings by the head of the creek.
3) An ebb off of Sheerness. In addition to Sanderling, Turnstone, Oystercatcher moving out from Medway roost, good potential for movement out over the Deep Water Channel.
My perfect November day would be...
- Morning: Dawn, a walk through Bloors Lane community woodland for Woodcock, and on to Bloors Wharf for some viz-mig.
- Mid-day: A covering at Lower Halstow.
- Late on: The last hour of daylight around Motney/Otterham. Flight lines aplenty. Worth getting down to the head of Otterham for Iron Mountain's Stock Doves.
Top 10 tips for November:
1) Viz Mig (visible migration)- early November might seem late, but has always seen the peak for many diurnal species, including Fieldfares, Blackbirds and Bramblings.
2) Woodpigeon - The old 'migration or movement?' debate. Woodpigs are struggling to find food resources now, and are disturbed routinely. No wonder so many wander. But knowing how many birds are usually about help avoid mistaking a daily flight for viz-mig. Here, if your count is below 500 and the birds weren't high flyers, don't get too excited. They move together in the mornings after leaving roost. And there will be a lot of adjusting going on; the acorn crop seems to have failed and the numbers aren't in the north Downs woodlands at the moment. Expect a lot of hungry Woodpigs this month.
3) If into photography, Bloors wharf is coming into its own now. Go for the hour before covering, starting c. 3.0 metres, especially when happens middle of the day (the sun will be right behind you).
4) Lower Halstow's main footpath, especially between the Brickfields and Twinney, gets very, very muddy from now on in. Probably the worst stretch of the Medway's Saxon Shore Way during the winter months. (Lower Halstow parish finishes at the gateway, why wood chippings only ever get spread up to there.) All why I find a trekking pole an essential piece of kit.
5) Late in the month is the time to grit your teeth and search for scarce wintering passerines. Twite and Lapland Bunting are reaching mythical status now, but if they're here, then now is the time to look. Brush up on the calls for these and other oddities such as Snow Buntings and Shorelarks.
Tips for adding value:
BTO WeBS Alerts are issued for those species for which a site was nationally/internationally important at the time it became protected (the 'designated features'). Of our 15 designated features here, at the last formal calculation (for 91/92- 16/17) 9 had High Alerts issued, 3 Medium Alerts. All counts for any of these species can prove useful data. Check their excellent interactive webpage out for full details, species accounts and graphs.
6) Make your Turnstones count:
High alert (for long term trend)
Short-term (5 years) +44% Medium term (10 years) -10% Long term (25 years) -53%
Turnstone often follow the tide out, and there are an awful lot of good feeding spots out among the islands where the seawalls have crumpled. They are very happy changing roosts here as well. For example, the concrete barges east of the Strand, the Sharp's Green Bay rust-buckets, the Nor seawall, can all be used over one tide. Any roost-specific three-figure count is extremely useful if combined with a tide height/ specific time.
Other good viewable sites include both Funton creek and Bedlam's Bottom's hulks along the Funton Road, and the Rushenden wrecks.
7) Make your Dunlins count:
High alert (for long term trend)
Short-term (5 years) +68% Medium term (10 years) +75% Long term (25 years) -61%
Another tide follower, a large percentage track back with the tide making highest counts from shore always on the covering. Why, if supplying counts to a public database always worth noting tidal state. Fractionally less disturbed, bigger numbers are always in the eastern basin until the weather starts to deteriorate.
8) Make your Great Crested Grebes count:
High alert (for long term trend)
Short-term (5 years) -24% Medium term (10 years) -1% Long term (25 years) -72%
The best technique for getting a reasonable count is to 'scope Half Acre/ Bartlett on the rise, from about the 2.5 metre mark. The main flotilla comes up with the tide. (Easy to spot smaller grebes at this time as well.) Just a question of then counting what you can around the main channel. Distant 'scoping gets you birds going into the Ham complex, but the main grouping in the western basin is around the islands, and Stangate creek in particular. By the 2.5 metre mark many will be off Lower Halstow, just south of Millfordhope. The main deep water channel is a little too fast-flowing for big numbers. And there can be good numbers off of Sheerness-Minster in the slack between the DWC and shore - this area is not covered by any WeBS count at present.
9) Count a 'non-bird': Golden Plover:
'Non-featured species' on WeBS Alerts are those for which we do not hold 'important numbers' but for which trends can be monitored and black= bad - in this case, short term:
Short-term (5 years) -57% Medium term (10 years) -31% Long term (25 years) -14%
A species reliant heavily on the single monthly WeBS counts, and yet one that is often seen from the Funton road when put up from their favoured Chetney marshes. Many birders veer away from estimates, preferring to record 'low figure count +', or just ignore altogether. But the Chetney Goldies (and Lapwings) are great birds to fine-tune your count techniques on.
10) And this month's whacky suggestion is:
Monitor fireworks disturbance. If we don't record it, how do the authorities know? This year Riverside Country Park is making an attempt to educate the public on the law and discouraging fireworks within the park. Other favoured launch sites in the past have been the spots where parking is fairly easy. The Otterham land drain outfall, the Funton lay-bys and Queenboro' promenade have been past favourites. (The latter an interesting one, with several official local events finishing with fireworks displays launched from the jetties on the SPA during the course of the year. That is crying out for some sort of study.) 2021 and the good news is austerity appears to be reducing incidents. The end of October was particularly quiet. Fingers crossed. Left-overs tend to be used up for up to a fortnight after the 5th.
Hot off the press for 2021:
- The ongoing North Sea Auk wreck is causing birds to come in to more unusual spots, including a handful into the mouth of the Medway. Sadly, their being here is down to starvation. So, whilst the chances of adding Guillemot and Razorbill to a list have never been better, sightings are still tempered by their chances of survival.
For those who keep score, this month's potential:
(Since moving back in 2013, checks at the end of each year have shown annual totals in the 180s, 190s. That's helped by my birding daily here, but a north Kent 200 should be on for someone willing to chase it. This might help incentivise.)
November? 105 species for the month should be an achievable target.
If you're aiming high, but birding purely the southern shore through the year, based on my numbers you might be past 170 by now and if you've been cheekily been including that estuary extension out into the Deep Water Channel, you could be topping 185.
And finally, something for the listers: what's Medway missing?
This month's top three dreams/nightmares:
1) Okay. This really should have been in the month before, but then most missing species should feature in October. And this is one species I know of at least four birders who have it but have either not submitted a record or not had their claim accepted. It's big. It's grey. It's noisy. It's Common Crane.
2) Just how far do gulls move after moulting? Who checks our evening roost assemblies here? Sure, just an outside chance the Oare Bonaparte's Gull could be one of our commuters here, but we all know they can relocate short distances here in the county (whistles innocently, seriously, don't go there).
3) Again, so few check the Medway roosts this could slip under any radar, and as one did sneak into the county late last month, let's go Pallid Harrier.
All just a bit of fun; if you do turn something up, well done, if not, it'll have been a hoot trying.
That's it for November. Time to get out there and look...