Sandwich and Pegwell Bay National Nature Reserve is of international importance for its bird populations and is also home to a diverse range of rare plants, animals, and habitats, including Kent’s only ancient dune pasture.
The tranquil peace of Pegwell Bay is interrupted by the distinctive “pee-wit” of lapwings and calls of curlew sifting through the mudflats with their moon-shaped bills. Back for the winter, these birds will move inland to grassland and arable fields to breed come spring. It is reassuring to see so many curlew – I have counted over 100 here before – when this endangered bird’s population numbers are declining, especially in the lowlands of South England.
Pegwell Bay also hosts well-travelled guests: flocks of teal visiting from Siberia, black-tailed godwits from Iceland and wigeon from Russia join our resident birds.
The easily identifiable fiery legs of a redshank wade through the shallow, salty water, passing by a little egret creating gentle ripples as it dips its head in search of fish.
If you are lucky, you might even see seals hauled out on the sandy peninsula. A closer look is offered from the boat tours that leave from Ramsgate. Otherwise, cormorants and gulls claim the land for themselves.
Bird disturbance is a pressing issue at Pegwell Bay. Dogs off leads often spook the birds, interrupting their feeding and breeding activities. Kent Wildlife Trust, who manage the reserve, recently appointed Protected Area Wardens to educate the public on the importance of the reserve and how to reduce disturbance, and to help identify migrant birds. Free walk and talk events run every three weeks from Pegwell Country Park.
A few miles further south lies the other end of the expansive reserve. Here, you can take in several vastly different habitats on just a short walk; a circular route from Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory will lead you through grassy fields where you might spot the kestrels which are beginning to think about breeding in the nest box again, until you emerge via a golf course at the sea. During wintry storms, sea birds can be blown inland, and you may spot fulmars and shags. Continuing past Restharrow Dunes, where a rare Dartford warbler may be hiding, to pause at Restharrow Scrape, spacious hides overlook a small manmade lake which supports water birds all year round and becomes a communal nursery in spring. Looping back to the observatory, you may wish to stop off at The Elms, a small woodland where I spotted a long-eared owl perched atop a tree last summer.
I recently enjoyed a walk from the observatory towards Worth and was rewarded with a sighting of my first white stork, which has stayed for several weeks, feeding in the recently ploughed fields. Eleven glossy ibis have also been spotted flying overhead – an unusual but exciting spectacle.
For those who are interested in a more hands-on birding experience, the observatory regularly fits birds with numbered rings to provide data on species’ movements around the world. I began ringing as a trainee in late autumn and have already seen birds I never had before, including lesser whitethroats, redwings, lesser redpoll, siskins, blackcaps, and several types of warblers. Visitors are welcome to watch the process.
The observatory regularly runs events for children, adults, and families, with Bird Wise guided family tours offered this February half term – perfect for those who would like a little extra guidance on identifying the birds of the area.
By Juliet Landeman
To book onto a free family walk and talk at Pegwell Country Park, please email: email@example.com
To book onto a free guided walk with Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory Trust between 14th-20th February, please email Greg: firstname.lastname@example.org