It’s the time of year when birdwatchers start getting itchy feet… the autumn migration is revving up. Swifts, swallows and martins will be heading back to Africa along with yellow wagtails, chiffchaffs and the like. Some birds travel, some stay. Some species are split between resident populations and visitors; even blackbirds that hop on your lawn can be either from your hedge, or Belorussia. Soon redwing and fieldfare will begin to arrive from the east, maybe, later, waxwing too. I find it all a bit confusing to be honest and hard to remember the whys and wherefores. My friends Dave and Steve (check out the extraordinary North Downs and Beyond blog) are supremely accomplished in this area and languidly reel off reports such as ‘Box Hill 7am: 40 sand martins, 13 flycatchers, a honey buzzard, two cuckoos, 12 common buzzards and a female goshawk.’ Apparently, these birds, rarely seen by the layman, are all there just waiting to be spotted if you bother to wait and look.
Migrating birds can crop up anywhere but some maintain there are certain routes that are followed more than others. River valleys cutting through the downs make sense as a visual guide to birds but also as a way of keeping out of low cloud. You might imagine a warbler saying to another… you just head down the Darent Valley, then when you get past Fackenden Down chuck a left and you’ll eventually hit the Medway. When that gets wide you hit the Thames then spin right and soon you’ll be in Belgium, God’s own. So my tip for birds on the wing would be Shoreham, Lullingstone, Polhill and Fackenden walks. The Darent is, like the Mole and Wey further west in Surrey, a fine cut through.
This weekend will be a glorious opportunity to walk and get the binoculars out. The weather looks great, although the cricket and football’s on…
I’m not great at observing birds although I’m always seeing kingfishers out of the corner of my eye when near water. However, I did see a red kite last week on the chalk escarpment south of Cudham on my regular cycle route. It glided right over me at a height of no more than 50 feet. A sight like is not something you can forget easily.
The diversion to Fackenden Down is a great variation to the Shoreham circular walks. If you walk over the top of the hill and continue to Magpie Bottom you join the Romney Street walk, shortening it slightly. Fackenden Down and Magpie Bottom are both sites of special scientific interest and are examples of chalk upland being rewilded. Both have great biodiversity with rare plants, insects, birds and reptiles. See details (Walk 19). The other walk that can be altered to take in Fackenden Down is the ‘eastern valleys’ walk. Here are some pictures:
Here’s a map of the near-four-mile route; description here
The Greensand Way route between Ightham Mote, One Tree Hill and its Wilmot Hill derivatives are great for winter light after about 2.30pm at the moment. Picture below is from yesterday about 3.45pm. Love how the sheep reflect the light. It looks darker in the picture than it actually was… trying to get the exposure right for land and sky always a challenge.
A walk with added poignancy today. Mariner’s Hill (Walk 15) has great views over Winston Churchill’s house at Chartwell to the Weald. The autumn colours here are particularly vibrant although I don’t think the hot summer and ridiculously mild autumn has led to more vibrancy than normal – as was advertised by some sources.
The clocks have gone back. For me that means rushed late afternoon walks as dusk gathers. Today’s speedy stroll was at Ide Hill, ending in complete darkness. Was hoping for an owl, but didn’t even see a bat. Some beautiful autumnal scenes though, across the Low Weald of Kent.
A dull damp Saturday, a stormy Sunday morning then a bright breezy, cold afternoon. Big contrasts. Two walks: Polhill Bank (an extension of Shoreham mk1) and Ide Hill. I love Meenfield woods high on Shoreham’s western ridge in wet weather, wisps of cloud scraping past the tree tops. Further south, at Ide Hill on Sunday, the sudden bright sunshine, after a morning of torrential rain, strangely failed to warm the air which carried with it hints of the Arctic. We saw a buzzard and a red kite. Chaffinches, a bullfinch pair and blue tits hopped busily in the undergrowth on Emmetts’ southern bank. My boy suggested the pub, then changed his mind: he wanted to see if Arsenal would lose to Everton. They didn’t, and we put the central heating on. There’s a non sequitur for you.
September, rainy day looking out from Polhill Bank near Shoreham.
The new clearing looking south 250 metres in to the Ide Hill walk. September, bright, cold afternoon
It has been said that the longish hot summer this year will lead to particularly vibrant colours from later this month and up until December. Could be hype I suppose, but let’s entertain the notion that it’s true. Even if it isn’t, every autumn is colourful and fascinating given the migrating birds, transforming hedgerows and trees. All the walks on this site are great for classic fall colours because there a lot of trees in Kent! And I can’t think of a walk here without a great view. But if push comes to shove I’d say the One Tree Hill walks (6 and 7), the Chiddingstone walk and the Westerham walk are the top three, closely followed by Ide Hill and Shoreham Mk2. Anyway, we’re not there yet… still warm enough to pretend it’s summer (well, it was if you were reading this on Friday – no longer!), even if the wind is gusting noisily as I write and talk of storms is darkening the bright smiles of the TV weatherforecasters.