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The Overlooked Birds of Sandwich Bay
Written and illustrated by Emily Hill
When regularly birding in the same area, it can become easy, over time, to dismiss a certain species as common or uninteresting. In an effort to shed some light on some of the incredible birds that make their home in and around the Sandwich Bay area, I have written about a selection of them, according to the habitat in which they are found. Some are common, some are uncommon, but all are birds which I believe make Sandwich Bay stand out as a truly special place to watch wildlife.
Across the scrubby areas of bushes and hedgerows surrounding the farmland, there are plenty of notable species. One of these birds is the Turtle Dove, the plight of which many are now aware of, as the species is threatened not only in England but in the whole of Europe. Kent is one of their main strongholds in the UK where they visit during the summer, and while the numbers are still low, we are lucky to have had at least 5 pairs breeding last year across Worth marshes, in part due to the scrub habitat present there which they nest in. While Turtle Doves are not a particularly abundant species, it is important to appreciate them as much as possible while we still can, since their declining numbers may mean they won’t be here forever.
Whitethroats are another summer migrant and a warbler species which can be seen and heard singing here throughout the spring, particularly in these areas of scrub, and Lesser Whitethroats (the smaller, more grey and white coloured relative of the whitethroat) are also seen, though in comparatively smaller numbers.
Corn Buntings, the largest of the buntings, are notable. As a bird which benefits from low intensity agriculture, they can be found in the bushes and farmland surrounding the Observatory and are identifiable from a distance from their song, which sounds somewhat like jangling keys.
Kestrels can be seen distinctively hovering all throughout the year, and Stonechats hang around in the shrubbery often perched on top of bushes.
The Lapwing is a bird which, as one of the more common waders here, may often be overlooked, but their stunning black and white plumage coupled with the green-rainbow sheen on their backs really makes them a sight to behold especially when seen on a bright sunny day.
Coast and Marshland
When talking about Sandwich Bay, it would be difficult to avoid mentioning the amount of seabirds and waders which visit and reside on our shores. One rarer bird of note is the Mediterranean Gull, the beautiful, white wing tipped gull that has been appearing in increasing numbers across the country in the past 50 years. The adult plumage is really striking and they can be distinguished from the more common, and related, Black Headed Gulls by the lack of a dark trailing edge on the wingtip.
The Snow Bunting visits in the winter in small numbers, migrating down from higher latitudes in the mountainous habitats where they breed, to our rocky shores where their winter plumage as a mixture of white, grey and brown provides excellent camouflage.
The UK’s two Snipe species, the Common Snipe and Jack Snipe, are present in their largest numbers during the winter and can be seen well from the hides at Restharrow Scrape. Though it takes a bit of practise to pick them out from the vegetation due to their beautiful cryptic camouflage.
Fields and Golf Courses
The golf courses of Sandwich Bay are one of the areas which is more well known to the general public, and this habitat is also home to a couple of interesting birds.
One such bird is the Skylark, a bold little passerine well known for its song and rightfully so. It is a fantastic experience to walk across Royal St George’s golf course in the middle of spring where multiple Skylarks explode up into the air belting out their tireless song and making their presence known. They are ground nesting birds and many pairs nest in the Sandwich Bay area, thanks to the open fields and dunes which provide their ideal habitat.
Meadow Pipits are another small and brown speckled bird which can be seen here. While superficially similar in appearance to the Skylark, they are more closely related to the Wagtails and they have an interesting display flight and song of their own; flying up into the air and singing a series of notes which rapidly increase in speed before raising their tail into the air as they parachute back down to their perch, or to the ground.
Sandwich Bay is a fantastic area, filled with an interesting range of habitats which make it amazing for birdwatching and I hope that, next time you visit, you take the time to appreciate the amazing and perhaps more overlooked birds which help to make the area so special, be it through listening to a chorus of Skylarks, observing the Snipe quietly probe for food at Restharrow Scrape, or by standing in awe at the colours of a Lapwing.