Haysden Country Park October 2019


10 birders, all rather shell shocked by the sudden onset of the first autumn frost, convened at Haysden Country Park café for bacon baps and coffee and a two-hour wander. Haysden is situated just down the road from us and can be spotted either side of the A21 before the turn off to Tonbridge. Cutting straight lines through the country park are the River Medway, abandoned Victorian canals and the London to Dover SE Railway line but around corners are areas of open lakes, meandering streams, marshland, meadows and mixed woodland. In other words, a perfect place for local birding. Early autumn is not a particularly exciting time for spotting anything unusual - betwixt and between departing summer visitors and the arrival of wintering flocks. However, we all looked carefully and created a list of "old faithfuls"…

Cormorant, heron, mute swan, greylag goose, Canada goose, mallard, tufted duck, coot, moorhen, black headed gull, wood pigeon, collared dove, kingfisher, wren, dunnock, robin, great crested grebe, long-tailed tit, blue tit, great tit, magpie, crow, rook, jay, jackdaw, sparrow, greenfinch, blackbird. (audible green woodpecker).

There is often a certain amount of confusion in the world of corvids - 7 altogether in this country - crow, rook, jackdaw, raven, magpie, jay and hooded crow in the north. The first four are often pretty indistinguishable - certainly from any distance. Fortunately we found crow, rook and jackdaw conveniently settled in close proximity in a meadow alongside the river so were able to see, with the help of the 'scope, the subtle differences between them .Crows are all black, shiny of coat, strong billed and pretty solid looking and found everywhere. Rooks, with their white faces and bills below a steep forehead, are likely to be flocking in open fields and high up in rookeries; jackdaws are smaller than rooks and crows, have distinct grey heads and mantles, often swoop around with a "clacka jack" call and are found in more built up areas. Apparently, jackdaws are able to identify different people and so learn who to trust. So, if you have a flock near your home, be proud of yourself. Another aide memoire - if you see a single rook, it's a crow: if you see a flock of crows, they are rooks. Hope this helps!

As we walked the footpath along the Medway we heard, before we saw them, a wandering group of long-tailed tits. Always a joy to see these delightful rose-tinted titmice. Bet you have never seen one flying high or past you in the open. This is because they are "agoraphobic" which means they avoid open farmland and roam the tree corridors in social groups rather than risk exposure. These are the birds found sleeping together in a tight knit bundle of warmth on the winter nights. Think I might like to be a long-tailed tit.

Towards the end of our walk through the park we came to a marshy area where we had previously seen kingfishers earlier in the year. A short, silent wait and we were rewarded. Penny spotted the tell-tale iridescence of a kingfisher in the bushes - no sooner had she alerted us when it darted like quicksilver out of sight - frustrating for those looking the other way but otherwise unmistakable. How out of place their tropical colours seem amongst the green, grey and brown of the English countryside. Apparently, their beauty belies their filthy habit of never cleaning out their riverbank nesting holes, and they have few predators, other than mink, because apparently they smell and taste foul (although Henry VIII probably had a go).

So, all in all, a rewarding, happy and healthy morning.

Happy birding.


Watch out now for handsome, active mistle thrush, flying high in the trees, usually in pairs. These are the guys who cache mistletoe berries in tree forks and enjoy hanging about at the top of swaying