Spring is definitely in the air, as demonstrated by tufts of snowdrops on the river bank, occasional flowering lesser celandine, and a great spotted woodpecker heard drumming on February 6th. More remarkable than all of these was a grass snake spotted on the surprisingly early date of the 19th. Not normally seen until late March or April, this individual emerged from hibernation after two days when the temperature crept up to an unseasonably high 15°C.

There were also signs that this is the transitional period between winter and spring; redwing are getting restless, and 11 were present on the 23rd; teal (left) are quite a rare visitor to Hambrook, so the presence of three on the 26th was another indication that these small duck were thinking about moving on to breeding sites. A handful nest in Kent, and about 4000 pairs breed in the UK, but the overwhelming majority of the half a million that overwinter here will return to northern Europe to nest. 

But the most exciting discovery was of a pair of shoveler (right) on a flooded portion of the boardwalk field on February 23rd – a new species for the Marshes and the 108th on the list of birds spotted here. Aptly named, the birds have an enormous, flattened bill which they use to scoop up invertebrates from the water surface. Like the teal, it is a fairly uncommon breeder in Kent, and most of the birds seen in the UK in winter will disappear to breed in northern Europe and western Russia.

Visitors have been reporting the presence of a goosander, which has been seen on the river periodically since at least late December. Other notable bird records were 55 black-headed gulls on Tonford lake, the first buzzard for four months, and a water rail (left) in the flooded area of the boardwalk field. The water rail’s shape is remarkably like a diminutive moorhen, to which it is related, but it is far shyer, and can be almost impossible to find if it doesn’t emit its characteristic pig-like squeal.