Gary arrived at my house in the dark at 07:00 and we headed off to east Kent for some migrant hunting. Our first port of call just after daybreak was King George V park in Ramsgate. As we got out of the car several flocks of Siskin and Redpoll flew low overhead trilling, pewing and rattling as they went. We walked into the park with low cloud and light drizzle raising our optimism. The first dog walkers were already in the park but it had not been too disturbed. We checked through the patches of trees along the coast finding three Chiffchaffs and half a dozen Goldcrest. Goldfinches, Siskins, Redpolls, Chaffinch and Meadow Pipits continued to pass overhead and the first small group of Redwings arrived. As we walked back into the open at the northern end of the park six hirundines were feeding actively over the trees - five House Martin and a Swallow. We headed over to the west side and eventually located a very smart Firecrest feeding with a small group of Tits. Back to the central area and a flock of 11 Redwing flew out of the trees, a small flock of Goldcrest teased in the sycamores, but nothing new could be found. We decided on a cup of tea at the small cafe and sat in the sunshine as a few more finches flew by.
Next stop was the Port Regis area of North Foreland. Two Firecrest greeted us in a noisy flock of Tits and Goldcrests beside the golf course and as we walked down the path more crests and tits could be heard around. Overhead Siskins, Redpolls and Skylarks were passing. Four flocks of Crossbills flew over calling loudly, one bird even singing as it passed, but very high up and two flocks completely unseen. Just as we reached the small reservoir a tiny, multiple striped warbler flitted out of the hedge into some weedy vegetation. We both got on it, but it flicked around the corner. Advancing slowly we expected it to reappear but no sign, and despite patient watching over the next hour we just could not relocate it - probably a Yellow-browed as neither of us saw a pale rump as it flew away, but it had appeared quite green and yellow, so we just weren't able to confirm it. Birding can be very frustrating... All the crests and tits were carefully checked until they drifted away into the private areas. Further searching along the road to the sea found probably the same flock but still no phyllosc - another one that got away...
With surprisingly little news coming in from anywhere in the county we decided to head to Sheppey, briefly checking Warden Point (nothing) before driving down to Sheppey. We arrived to find Chris Gibbard just packing up and discovered it might be worth walking out from Muswell Manor. As we started to drive back up the track Chris waived us down - his car battery was flat. After an embarrassing five minutes looking under the bonnet for my battery I realised it was strangely located in the boot! Turning the car around we soon had Chris hooked up and re-started. At Muswell Manor we walked down the footpath until we reached some useful cover vegetation and setup. Several hours later we retraced our steps having had a superb afternoons raptor extravaganza. We had two Rough-legged Buzzard, a Common Buzzard, two Peregrines (hunting regularly), two Merlin, four Kestrel, two Sparrowhawks, three ringtail Hen Harriers, a dozen Marsh Harrier and two Short-eared Owl.
One juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard gave almost continual views, hovering into the breeze over a nearby field in search of mice. It was pretty successful at catching them incredibly spotting movement from 25 - 30m in the air. We also enjoyed stunning views of hunting Peregrines, one within a few metres chasing a Lapwing, until it realised we were there and the lucky Lapwing managed to escape. An adult male Peregrine then chased away the youngster, and attacked a Woodpigeon missing it by inches as it stooped at incredible speed.
Later the juvenile was again hunting a Lapwing out by the seawall. After several minutes of chasing the Lapwing was exhausted and the Peregrine simply snatched it from the air. However all the activity had attracted two Marsh Harriers and as the Peregrine dropped to the ground to finish off the hapless Lapwing the harriers bullied it off the prey. As the raptors fought each other for the spoils the Lapwing suddenly took to the air and escaped over the seawall onto the saltings - amazing. Our final close encounter was a Hen Harrier that came down a ditch in front of us and appeared within two metres - not sure who was most surprised, but it gave us a glare as it went away.
A superb few hours birding watching Golden Plovers, Skylarks and Lapwings in abundance, several Little Egrets and Grey herons in the fields and a couple of Green Sandpipers in the ditches all enjoyed on a sunny autumn afternoon.