The precursors of the main migration rush are often the waders, returning back south from their breeding grounds in the Arctic. On their way north in the spring they are in a rush to get to the best breeding sites. In the autumn they are a bit more relaxed and can hang around for a few days feeding up. This certainly applies to one pretty rare bird, a long-billed dowitcher, which has taken up semi-residence at Oare Marshes in Kent. This is a pretty small reserve in north Kent, on the edge of the Medway estuary. I've been a few times before so I knew the way and got there about 7 to a beautiful sunny morning.
The reserve is right at the end of a road leading to Harty ferry and is basically just one large pool surrounded by reeds. This view is from the road looking across the reserve to the river at the back of of the marsh. The centre ground at high tide, which was 8 today so just after I arrived, is covered with waders. The downside though is that you are looking straight into the rising sun making for, how shall I put it, challenging viewing and photographic conditions.
Still, I got out my 'scope and set up next to the 4 or 5 other birders already scanning the marsh. There were hundreds of golden plovers, dozens of black-tailed godwits, dunlin and ringed plovers as well as smaller numbers of ruff, greenshank, redshank, spotted redshank, turnstones and avocets.
The first good bird we got onto was one which dropped in the day before - a red-necked phalarope. These are gorgeous, delicate waders, breeding in very small numbers in Scotland but normally a classic migration bird. These are horrible photos into the Sun, but hopefully give the impression of what they look like.
They are always busy, spinning around in shallow water picking flies off the waters surface. They often do this in deep water, so swim rather than wade. They have a characteristic "jizz" of seeming to be peering curiously at the water in front of them, hunting by sight for their breakfast.
Close by was the second of my targets, the long-billed dowitcher. I haven't seen one for a few years, since a long-staying bird at Lodmoor in Dorset, and they are rare if not actually mega in this country.
They are a more typical wader, long-legged, feeding by probing the mud. Size-wise they are larger than a redshank but smaller than a godwit. The thing to look for though is the bill which is, well, long!!
After this, with not much else around in Kent, I braved the southern M25 - awful as usual - to go to Staines reservoir.
A good day all round - 4 new year ticks taking me to 246 and way ahead of my best ever year with the main part of Autumn still to come. Would be nice to get a few lifers in the mix though!!