Thursday, March 4
Herons of the Hoo
A fortuitous combination of a day's holiday and some sunny weather saw me exploring the RSPB reserve at Northward Hill in the Hoo Peninsula. Despite some grey skies this morning, the clouds scooted away soon after lunch and the sun came out. There was still a rather cold breeze, but in sheltered spots it was really quite warm.
Apparently Northward Hill is home to north-west Europe's largest heronry, which I found quite surprising - partly because I didn't realise that such a thing existed, and partly because it seems such a random spot. But the tall trees of the woodland that clothe the slopes of the hill are home to about 100 herons, the website says, and indeed today I reckon I saw about 30 of them. Most of them were in the pose shown above, and most quite a lot higher up in the sky!
There wasn't much to see from the viewing spot next to the woods, but as I emerged over a stile into one of the fields on the edge of the marshland, about 15 herons flew up from the field a few hundred yards away. And then I realised that the white dots I'd dismissed as seagulls were in fact the heads of herons peeping out from the long grass in the distance.
About half of them flew over to the woods where they stayed until I was at a safe distance, then returned one or two at a time.
I was rather disadvantaged as I'd forgotten to bring my binoculars - I was hoping there would be a hide closer to the pools so that I would be able to see something - but most of the viewing spots were at some distance from the waterfowl. Nevertheless I did get a fabulous close-up view of a green woodpecker which flew into the trees behind me as I was looking out for avocets (didn't see any). I also surprised a fox which skipped across the path in front of me in the woods - quite a shock for both of us. I don't often get to see them in the wild, just in our back yard!
In the bright sunshine the colours of the lichen and tree bark were bright and eye-catching.
Incredible that some people think this glorious place would make a good spot for an airport. The hill, the marshes and everything around would have been destroyed if the proposal for Cliffe Airport had been approved, and the habitat and birdlife is still at risk from Boris Johnson's proposal to build a floating airport in the Thames estuary. We need fewer airports, not more!
Apologies that this post seems to have been hijacked and diverted from its original intentions, it just happened. Never mind, I believe I am still on-topic!
(I recommend clicking on this picture to get the full glory of the view - a huge expanse of marshland stretching out ahead. The Coryton oil refinery in the background is a stark reminder of the industrialisation of much of the Thames east of the Dartford crossing.)