A particularly cold late-winter Sunday and an opportunity to steal away for some out-of-town birding, and so to north Kent with Laurence in glorious winter sunshine and bone-chilling north-easterlies.
First stop Dartford Marshes, an urban hinterland on the south bank of the Thames opposite Rainham; the gun club rattling out constant rounds behind us, Skylarks singing merrily above us, and the mudflats of the exposed river yielding small gull flocks (as well as e.g. Shelduck, Oystercatchers and Dunlins). Our aim was to locate scarcer large gulls, and despite only moderate numbers on the foreshore, we managed at least two Yellow-legged Gulls and a suitably disproportionate third-winter Caspian Gull amongst commoner relatives.
Onto Sheppey for the rest of the day, and a good role-call of classic wintering species in excellent light - great views of Hen Harriers, numerous Marsh Harriers, a group of around 30 White-fronted Geese, various waders including Ruff, Green Sandpiper, teams of Golden Plovers and Lapwings etc. (as well as the prison and the redneck cul-de-sac seaside towns on the island).
Always a great pleasure and never diminishing in its pure, wild spectacle, we hiked out to the high-tide wader roost along the Swale for the last hour or more of burnt orange light, and duly lapped up the incoming, tightly-packed masses upon the shingle; innumerable Knot and Oystercatchers, many Bar-tailed Godwits, Turnstones and Dunlins, and generous sprinkles of Sanderling, Grey Plovers and Ringed Plovers along the beach. A winter ritual that always justifies the journey and the extra layers.