Monday, 4 June 2012

Looking for Black Redstarts in Dartford

Ok, so it’s pushing the limits of ‘South London’ but Dartford Marshes is close enough to warrant a bit of attention. The marsh is one of the area's last remaining fragments of wetland habitat that historically stretched all along the Thames Estuary. Dartford Marsh and the adjacent Crayford marshes have been heavily impacted by industry and development, it lurks in the distance wherever you look. Because of this, the River Darenth, that flows across the site where it meets the Thames and the remaining fields, creeks and scrub areas are an important refuge for many species of birds and other wildlife. Perhaps it tends to get overshadowed by Crayford Marshes across the creek and the good pull of rarities at Crossness, but Dartford still holds an impressive variety of birds as Martin found out last week...

Dartford Marshes, 31/5/12

Managed to get out for a birding trip to Dartford Marshes today. Weather was generally overcast with sunny spells. Wind was a strong Westerly.

As I had a bit more time on my hands I thought I'd try to walk further this time, right up to the power station, to see if I could find the Black Redstarts that used to nest on the pier.

I hung around the pier for sometime but there was neither sight nor sound of the Black Redstarts. However as I was walking back past the power station I spied a dark speck on top of one of the concrete fence posts. I managed to get the bins on it but though it was still small it was definitely dark grey in colour with a black patch over the ear coverts. Did I see a hint of a tail twitch? A flash of red? Then off it flew...

I was pretty sure I had my bird but not 100% so I settled down in the grass near to the spot. Luckily it appeared again much closer and sure enough it was the bird I was after. It even flew to a nearby signpost so I could see it even better. I was chuffed to bits as I started my return journey. I had one more treat back at the main part of the marsh as I got great views of a male Marsh Harrier hunting over the drainage ditches. It was mobbed by lapwings and a mallard before being finally chased off by a rather belligerent crow.

Here's my day list:
Black Redstart (m)
Marsh Harrier (m)

Reed Warbler (c10)
Cetti's Warbler 
Common Whitethroat (5)
Chiffchaff (2)
Swift (c20)
Swallow (5)
Skylark (c18)
Meadow Pipit (4)
Corn Bunting
Cuckoo (2)
Starling (c270)
Linnet (4)
Chaffinch (4)
Greenfinch (3)
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Pied Wagtail
Collared Dove
Wood pigeon
Feral Pigeon
Carrion Crow (8)
Pheasant (3)
House Martin (7)
Green woodpecker
Greylag Goose (8)
Canada Goose (c30)
Mute Swan (8)
Tufted Duck
Mallard Duck
Shelduck (9)
Great Crested Grebe (2)
Grey Heron (6)
Lapwing (12)
Redshank (8)
Oystercatcher (3)
Common Sandpiper
Black Headed Gull (c40)


Pair of Linnets on Dartford Marsh, May 2012

What a fantastic list and a great local record for Black Redstart! Anyone familiar with the area will realise how incredible it is to find birds like Marsh Harriers, Cuckoos, Lapwings and Skylarks in the shadow of  a heavily developed area like Dartford. It's well worth a visit - the marsh is best accessed by a footpath round the back of the station. Don't be put off by the industrial estate, it soon opens out and gives good views over the area.

Many thanks to Martin Stevens for the trip report (additional words and photo by Peter Beckenham)

Find out more about Black Redstarts and their conservation here.

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