A tale of two tails

Furnace Pond near Horsmonden was created by an old, dam with a high, cascading stone weir in the corner. The large pond provided a head of water to power an iron foundry in the days when the Weald was the centre of the industry. The stream below the weir is a short section of ghyll woodland; ghylls are relic areas of ancient woodland within narrow, stream valleys and gorges that occur throughout the sandstones of the Weald and, because of the humid microclimate, are rich in rare ferns and bryophytes.

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The weir at Furnace Pond

A pair of grey wagtails feed on the weir steps picking off insects floundering in the fast-flowing water, sometimes darting into the splash zone to pick something from the air. Their high-pitched calls, like those of dippers, kingfishers and forktails, are audible above the noise of the rushing water. The pair may have a late nest high on the weir wall under hanging brambles but the site is, as so often, inaccessible. A wren works the weir edges, also hunting insects but with no aerial dexterity just using its small size to get in amongst the vegetation and debris.

At Oare Marshes near Faversham, migrating yellow wagtails are on the coast with whinchats and passing swallows.  These don’t have the extra long tail of the grey wagtail, just a long tail and have more lemon yellow on the underside and so look altogether brighter and more compact. The birds dash and dart for insects at the water’s edge and on the soft mud around sedges and rushes. Their distinctive tseep calls immediately gives their location away; their plumage is perfect camouflage in the tangle of wetland vegetation.

The waders at high tide fill the East Flood and birdwatchers line the road to find a solitary long-billed dowitcher, a vagrant from North America and one amongst the flocks of black-tailed godwit, avocet, redshank, and golden plover. There are also small numbers of spotted redshank, ringed and little ringed plover, dunlin and little stint. A dozen shelducks fly over in formation and look to settle but then head off back to the empty Swale. A slow stream of single cormorants land on a thin strip of mud with a long, lumbering approach into the wind, something akin to the landing of large aircraft. Starling flocks wheel and settle, visiting bramble bushes to steal off with the last blackberries.

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Thames barge off Shellness coming in on the flood tide

The waders are settled on the shallow water and no harrier or peregrine comes over the East Flood to send them into the air. A small flock of ringed plovers circles low over the water and lapwings continually get up to perform their switchback display. Shoveler ducks in their dun brown eclipse plumage circle high above and then descend fast.

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The East Flood at Oare Marshes

There is a constant babble of chattering birds, mainly the godwits with occasional whistles from golden plovers and redshanks; the volume waxes and wanes to create slow rolling waves of sound across the water, perhaps as arguments about space are settled or restlessness increases. In the warm sunshine and light wind of a late summer afternoon, it is a restful backdrop to the wetland scene.



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