January walks are all about timing. Things can appear dreary, muddy, dank and generally unappealing but with the right weather conditions the quality of the light can make everything right. Clear, bright, frosty days are definitely the best for a Kent hike at this time of year and despite all the low cloud and rain this month, there have been quite a few such days falling at the weekend. Well, a couple anyway. We’ve tried to make the most of it and walks at Cudham, One Tree Hill, Ide Hill, Hosey, Downe (despite the new fences) and Petts Wood have come up trumps. With a hard frost, like the one we found at One Tree Hill last Sunday, a lot of the mud freezes, which helps considerably. Such days can be good for a spot of casual birdwatching too with small birds often so keen to feed that they care less for human presence – I’ve enjoyed up-close views of goldcrest, nuthatch, coal tit and brambling this winter. But it’s a mysterious affair; sometimes there are no birds at all.
One of Earth Wind and Fire’s finest, but also a great month if the weather is half decent, as it has been. I haven’t been out walking much, due to work and various things, and when I have it’s been mostly very local. At Downe, on Sunday, our late afternoon stroll was rewarded by wonderful light and colour and a great view of a tawny owl (big one, too), gliding between beeches near the end of the walk. Below are some pictures from recent walks. Clear September days have a special quality.
Birds of Kent and Kentish birds
Most walkers will often ask themselves ‘I wonder what that bird is?’ at some point along their favoured trudge, before moving on none the wiser.
On my most recent walk (Shoreham to Eynsford, December 3, 2015) I was lucky to spot a little egret (instantly recognisable) at Shoreham, and later a troop of long-tailed tits followed me along the hedgerows beside the Darent.
Soon after this I came to a young tree with plenty of seed heads draping from its thin branches. There appeared to be no birds in it but I could hear the whirs, whoops and clicks of finches. As I neared, a never-ending stream of birds left the tree – incredibly there must have been at least 75 in there, goldfinches or siskins. Being silhouetted I couldn’t tell exactly what they were.
Now, my mate Dave would have been able to tell me – and in a pleasant non-anoraky style too. He’d also have known what kind of tree it was, what type of birds make that call, and deduced what species they were from what they were eating (if he was on form). If Dave had been there we’d have spotted and heard so much more, but I was on my tod, so apart from the usual jackdaws, robins, parakeets, various gulls, mallards and blue tits, I saw nothing else. But there are a host of exciting birds on these walks – from various owls to tiny goldcrests – and it’s worth knowing what they are, even if you never see them!
So with this in mind I invited Dave to write a page for this website, and here it is.
Buzzards, aeroplanes and wild flowers
The bluebells are well and truly finished now we’re into June, but the meadows in this little pocket of near-idyll from Westerham to Eynsford are alive with wild flowers. The field adjacent to Down House is particularly spectacular as are the open grass sweeps of Lullingstone. I’m no expert on variety identification but there’s more to see than just daisies and buttercups – there’s pyramidal orchids, abundant cow parsley, cowslips, chalk milkwort, speedwell…
Cycling near Cudham recently I disturbed a large buzzard. Close up, the scale of this bird of prey is decidedly impressive, but what suddenly occurred to me is that, when growing up, it was unheard of to see buzzards so close to London. They were definitely considered birds of the upland wilds, not the suburban fringe. There’s clearly been a sharp rise in their population in recent years in these parts … I wonder if there’s a breeding programme nearby, or perhaps it’s that their persecution by landowners has stopped. Soon after this I saw two buzzards soaring over the valley between Downe and Cudham, closely followed by a red kite gliding at height from north to south. Again, sightings that would have been almost unthinkable up until 10 years ago.
At Downe Bank, on another cycle on a recent coldish evening, I saw my first ever badger in the wild, hurrying across Cudham Road ahead of me as I laboriously ascended that steep hill.
On June 13 walkers in the area will be treated to the sights and sounds of Spitfires, Hurricanes and the Red Arrows, all flying at the Biggin Hill Festival of Flight. The air show marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, and while a more modest affair than the airfield’s major International Air Fairs (until 2010), the event should prove a fitting tribute to those who fought against the Nazis from Biggin Hill. And walkers and cyclists in the area that day will get some unusual and exciting views of the planes as they manoeuvre for passes over the airfield.