Day 1: Sat 7 September – Arrival and the Oare Marshes
We meet at 2pm at the railway station in Faversham or at our hotel, and after checking in take the short drive to Oare Marshes. Here we will soon be scanning flocks of passage waders with the opportunity to familiarise ourselves with a host of species. On this reserve birds can often be feeding close by, so this is a great way to improve identification skills and enhance your birding knowledge. With luck, scarce Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper might be present to compare with commoner Dunlin, inevitably in a variety of plumages with adults and young birds side by side. At this time of year, it is also a great place to view and hear ‘pinging’ Bearded Tit as family parties feed, often out in the open in the tops of the reeds or on the ground at close quarters. A great place to start our tour.
Day 2: Sun 8 September - Isle of Sheppey
A full day exploring Sheppey, most of which is a combination of grazing marsh with reedbeds, wide ditches and muddy fleets. Around Capel Fleet we will check the channels for waders and wildfowl with Ruff, Avocet and Whimbrel possible. Also with an extensive area of flat grasslands, Sheppey is a good place to find hunting raptors with Hobby, Peregrine, Marsh Harrier all likely with a chance of Little or Barn Owl or even an early Short-eared Owl. A viewing mound provides a great vantage point to scan for anything of interest, including flocks of Yellow Wagtail in the fields, or Corn Bunting and migrants in the hedgerows. Moving on to the beach at Leysdown, the foreshore is worth checking for feeding waders or any seabirds moving offshore. We may also visit Swale National Nature Reserve, a great place for waders which on a rising tide congregate on the end of Shellness spit. When the wind is in the north, seabirds including skuas may be pushed into the entrance of The Swale after crossing from the vast mouth of the River Thames.
Day 3: Mon 9 September - Cliffe Pools RSPB Reserve
Today we drive a little further to visit Cliffe Pools RSPB reserve, an area approximately 230 hectares in size and incorporating the old clay pit diggings and river dredgings from the River Thames. Managed for wildlife and landscaped into saline and fresh water pools, mixed grassland saltmarsh and scrub can be attractive to many birds. We shall be able to slowly wander around the area checking suitable pools for passing waders with good chances of Green, Wood, Common and Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank plus any rarities. In addition we should see vast flocks of post breeding Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Shelduck and rafts of Little Grebe. Raptors including Hobby, Peregrine and Marsh Harrier will keep us busy as we check the bushes and available cover for migrant passerines. On returning to Faversham we should be able to revisit Oare Marshes to check for any new arrivals, or look for any species we may have missed on our earlier visit.
Day 4: Tue 10 September – Reculver, Stodmarsh and Grove Ferry
A change of scenery today, the road east to Reculver taking us into good habitat to spend an hour or two checking for any grounded passerines. Whinchat, Wheatear, wagtails and warblers are the most likely, and there is also always the possibility of a rarity such as Wryneck or Red-backed Shrike if we are lucky. Later in the morning we make the short journey to Stodmarsh or Grove Ferry and spend the rest of the day exploring these sites within the Stour Valley. A vast area, and home to the largest reedbed in South-East England, a selection of footpaths and a purpose built viewing ramp give wonderful views and opportunities to watch birds. In autumn large flocks of hirundines can be found feeding over the reedbeds, which in turn attract Hobby sometimes into double figures! Viewing the flooded scrapes, Water Rail and other crakes may be seen with feeding terns including Common, Arctic and Black. We are on the lookout for Garganey in eclipse plumage and with recent range expansion may see Spoonbill or Great Egret too. The Grove Ferry part of the reserve has a great track record for producing rare birds, so we could spend more time there depending on up to date news.
Day 5: Wed 7 September - Dungeness and Rye Harbour
Today we relocate south to the Dungeness Peninsula and Rye Harbour in the English Channel, a leisurely journey of just over an hour. With three nights, we have plenty of time to cover these areas in a relaxed manner, bird news or the forecast perhaps determining where we begin. We may choose to cross into Sussex straight away and head for Rye Harbour LNR, practically on our hotel doorstep. The site has been created and developed from coastal gravel workings into one of the premier south coast bird reserves. With large breeding colonies of Sandwich, Common and Little Tern, plus vast numbers of Mediterranean Gull, many of these local breeders can linger in high numbers into September. At this time of year, the shallow pools often attract good numbers of waders and returning ducks and with five good hides we can get up close and take our time. We may also have an option after dinner to look for Barn Owl at dusk.
Day 6: Thur 11 September - Dungeness Peninsula
Today our aim will be to spend all day around the Dungeness area, visiting a diversity of habitats including the vast RSPB Reserve. This is a large reserve with many different areas including its weird and wonderful Fisherman's huts and even a Nuclear Power Station! A sea watch from the beach is a must in favourable winds, passage likely including Gannet, skuas, gulls, terns, auks or even early moving wildfowl with Common Scoter a possibility. Anywhere where there is scrubby cover should be checked for migrants such as Wheatear, Whinchat, Redstart, flycatchers, warblers and finches. On the RSPB reserve we have a chance for Cattle and Great Egret and maybe a Bittern if we are lucky. Black-necked Grebe turn up at this time of year on the ARC pit as well Black Tern or even Little Gull. The roosting flocks of birds here often hold interesting waders and Garganey can often be found on so careful scanning and patience will be required. Later in the day we can look for a roosting Little Owl or check the Dengemarsh Road for other species not found so far.
Day 7: Fri 12 September – Dungeness/Rye Harbour
Our last full day will be spent locally catching up on any new arrivals or perhaps another seawatch if conditions are favourable. We spend time searching the area around Dungeness Bird Observatory where thick cover, sallow copses and open shingle can support birds. The entire area around ‘The Moat’ including the bird ringing site is another place worth covering, and we might make a second visit to either the RPSB reserve, Dengemarsh, the ARC pit or perhaps nearby Lade Pit. If there is any news of interesting migrants in the area, we follow these reports or re-visit Rye Harbour for roosting Bittern at dusk, which can also often be good for Bearded Tit and squealing Water Rail.
Day 8: Sat 13 September – Departure
We anticipate there will be little time for birding today, so after breakfast we return to Faversham to meet trains departing from 12pm onwards where our holiday ends.