The pewter grey sky hangs heavy and deadens the afternoon light; on the long road to Kingshill farmhouse, lapwings are dotted everywhere on the endless flooded meadows, foraging at the edge of silver pools and occasionally displaying low over the ground. A flock of starlings hurries across a distant horizon, no doubt mindful that this is merlin country and each is perfect prey.
The track from the car park behind the old farm winds down to the levels and then runs beside a grassed sea wall hiding the Swale estuary to the south. A quick look over and the water is nearly up to the sea wall; shelducks fill this section of the estuary as a bobbing, idling flock together with a solitary great crested grebe. The high-pitched trumpeting of a flock of 14 white-fronted geese rings the air; they swing over from the west and turn north towards the grazing marshes. After a mile of trudge, past empty reedbeds and fields with just a short shout from a Cetti’s warbler, the track eventually reaches birdwatching hides that stand guard around a series of flooded pools. The walk below the sea wall continues for another mile to Spit End. In the fields, large flocks of golden plover sit hunched in a long line and a small proportion are put up briefly by a teasing marsh harrier. A peregrine flies over fast but does not stop.
Redshanks burst from the edge of a fleet, shout and shout some more while hanging in the air then drop back to the ground, standing upright and on guard ready for another round. At Spit End, the small hide offers welcome shelter from the northeasterly and shelducks swim in to the inlet and are joined by others from both ends of the Swale; they chunter and chatter and a chase ensues low over the water. Two marsh harriers hunt the saltmarsh. Common gulls come past and a few loose flocks of lapwings come in from the direction of Oare Marshes. The tide is not high enough to force any waders from the estuary islands to roost on the marshes. The shelducks quieten as the wind drops at high water.
The walk back is cold and, for the most part, uneventful. Meadow, or perhaps water pipits rise from the wet ground only to disappear into the short sward. A silhouette of a kestrel works the ground with a determined hover between the path and the seawall. Near the farm, a brown hare bolts from the verge along the track, turns into a field and then stops, it then is off again and doubles back at full stretch. The rain starts from the east and the old farmhouse on the hill, its predecessor notable for briefly being a detention centre for King James II during his first attempted flight to France in 1688, with its fine sash windows stares out blankly over the sodden marshes.