Back in 2013, overflying cormorants were not an unusual sight, but for some reason numbers have tailed off since then. So I’m pleased to report that in January I had already seen as many as in the whole of 2019, with the highest count so far this year being 218 on the 7th. In the early morning, which is when most of the bird surveys are conducted, the cormorants are mainly flying upriver, visiting the string of lakes between here and Chilham; during the afternoon the same birds probably fly downstream to join the massive roost of up to 3000 cormorants at Stodmarsh.
Not to be outdone by cormorants, the local rooks have also been more in evidence, and I’ve already seen more of them flying over this month than in the whole of the past three years. Admittedly, they aren’t pausing to feed at Hambrook, but it’s still pleasing to see the birds flying over, cawing companionably to each other; and to think that in the December newsletter I was getting excited at having seen three rooks!
Forty-five snipe were present on the 7th, but numbers then declined to 21 on the 20th, perhaps due to the unseasonably mild weather. The same day, 80 black-headed gulls flew over, some now in the process of acquiring their brown breeding hoods. Odds and ends included two greylag geese flying over twice, four little egrets on nearby Tonford Lake, and 13 meadow pipits on 10th, while nine chaffinches on the 7th was my highest ever count, and two pheasants were present the same day.
But the highlight of the month had to be a lone marsh harrier (pictured) that drifted over Canterbury on the the 7th, passing low over Bingley Island, and in the process upsetting the herring gulls that hang around the Wincheap area. Reduced by a combination of pesticide poisoning, marshland drainage and persecution to about five breeding UK pairs in the early 1970s, vigorous conservation management and the banning of the most persistent and toxic insecticides has since resulted in a strong recovery, with around 350 pairs now present nationally, a hundred of which nest in Kent. Stodmarsh is the closest stronghold of these raptors to Canterbury, and the bird I saw had probably wandered over from there. As I wasn’t on Hambrook at the time, I can’t say if it actually flew over the Marshes, but it was heading roughly in that direction, so arguably deserves to be added to the Hambrook bird list. This is of more than academic interest to me, as it would constitute the 100th species that I have recorded on or over Hambrook Marshes since I began my weekly visits in September 2012.
With so much mild weather, it has felt more like spring than the depths of winter, a sensation accentuated by frequent song from great tit, song thrush, mistle thrush, wren and robin. Unfortunately, early breeding behaviour now doesn’t mean that the worst of winter is behind us – remember the Beast from the East! Further thoughts of spring were engendered by one of the transplanted marsh marigolds being in full, radiant flower in its wet ditch on th 7th .