Cliffe Pools RSPB – Saturday, March 16th 2024

Seven of us had gathered by the car park at Cliffe Marshes and were a little confused as the RSPB’s website had shown the car park was open from 10am to 4pm, whereas the signage on site said 9am to 5pm. We were expecting another couple, but set off when we heard they were delayed. Before leaving the cars though, we had our first sighting of what proved to be many Mediterranean Gulls.

Mediterranean Gull by Steve Grayson
Mediterranean and Black-headed Gulls by John Birkett

There was also the first Cetti’s Warbler of the day belting out its song. Scanning the nearby pool we quickly added a variety of wildfowl and a Greenshank was found along one of the margins.

The latecomers duly joined us as we headed off towards the Black Barn (a misnomer as it is no longer black!). The warm weather clearly brought out the insects and we had many brimstone butterflies as we walked round, along with the occasional peacock and red admiral.

Brimstone by Steve Grayson

More of a surprise came when we saw a male brimstone chasing with a white butterfly. The latter didn’t look right for a female brimstone and when it settled briefly it appeared to be an early small white.

There were no major avian surprises for us, but did have a few sightings of Marsh Harriers and at one point there were three Buzzards in the sky together.

Buzzards by Steve Grayson

Other raptors came in the form of Sparrowhawk and Kestrel. Other scarcer birds Avocet and Pintail, while a small flock of Snipe added to the interest. A small pond near the black barn held several marsh frogs and a Water Rail was heard squealing nearby.

Marsh frog by Steve Grayson

The Black Barn Pools were rather full and not the best state for waders and the only one of much interest was a lone Black-tailed Godwit.

Black Barn Pools by John Birkett

Scanning round, Roy caught sight of a couple of wagtails. One was obviously a Pied Wagtail, but it was accompanied by another. Direct comparison showed the clear differences between ‘our’ Pied Wagtail and its continental sibling the White Wagtail. At this point the day list depends on whether you count subspecies as different birds or a single entity.

Walking on towards the sea wall a field next to the track had a couple of Egyptian Geese and several Rooks. There was also a nice flock of Linnets.

Linnets by Steve Grayson

We crossed the only stile, noting the burnt out remains of a car next to it. All the time we were searching the fields in the (vain) hope of finding an early Wheatear sitting up. Likewise, we had been scanning all the pools for another early arrival, Sand Martin. No joy with either of them.

While having our lunch by the sea wall we could see a couple of common seals hauled up on the far side of the river, where there were also many waders including Avocet and Dunlin. While having our lunch we did have a sighting of Peregrine – unfortunately not a bird, but a vessel of that name registered in Valetta (so perhaps it was a Maltese Falcon?).

Peregrine (or Maltese Falcon?) by John Birkett

When we first arrived, there was still mud showing in the adjacent creek and held a good number of Avocet and Redshank. By the time we left, the tide was in and the creek devoid of birds.

Not long after we set off, a lone bird perched on top of a bush turned out to be a Corn Bunting. Closer inspection showed a second was also present. When they flew off it was apparent that there had been four in the one bush. A little further on we found a pair of Stonechat. In the past we have seen many waders roosting on Flamingo Pool, but now, even though the tide was pushing waders off the shore, there was little to be seen from our first viewpoint. This was probably down to high water levels. However, a little further on we could see waders arriving. Although they did settle, they were skittish and every so often the various Grey Plover, Avocet, Dunlin and Ringed Plover would have a fly round. It was around here that we also had our only Turnstone of the day.

Wader selection by Steve Grayson
Grey Plover and Dunlin by John Birkett

Distant cranes seen from here were, again, man-made and not birds!

Distant cranes by John Birkett

Nothing else of interest was added as we headed back to the cars, ready to head home (or off to a pub for a meal). Ultimately, we had recorded 69 species of bird plus one additional subspecies.

Species lists


Canada Goose, Greylag Goose, Mute Swan, Egyptian Goose, Shelduck, Shoveler, Gadwall, Wigeon, Mallard, Pintail, Teal Pochard, Tufted Duck, Pheasant, Stock Dove, Woodpigeon, Water Rail, Moorhen, Coot, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Oystercatcher, Avocet*, Lapwing, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit*, Turnstone, Dunlin, Snipe, Redshank, Greenshank*, Black-headed Gull, Mediterranean Gull*, Common Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Cormorant, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Sparrowhawk, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Kestrel, Magpie, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Skylark, Cetti’s Warbler, Long-tailed Tit, Chiffchaff, Wren, Starling, Blackbird, Robin, Stonechat, Dunnock, House Sparrow, Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii), White Wagtail (Motacilla alba alba), Meadow Pipit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Linnet, Goldfinch, Corn Bunting, Reed Bunting

Mammals 2 Species:

Rabbit, Common Seal

Amphibians 1 Species:

Marsh Frog

Butterflies 4 Species:

Brimstone, Small White, Red Admiral, Peacock