So. Today, warm and sunny, and I met my blogging pal Phil Sharp at West Malling for a trip to Stodmarsh. On the way we called in at Wye Downs NNR in the hope of tracking down a Duke of Burgundy, one of the few British butterflies I've never seen. (The others, for those who are interested, are Chequered Skipper, Large Blue, Large Heath, Scotch Argus, Mountain Ringlet, Marsh Fritillary and High Brown Fritillary. All the rest - in the bag.)
The view from up here is astounding - you overlook a very long, steep-sided valley which, the car park sign informed us, is called 'The Devil's Kneading Trough'. I would like to have seen the resultant Devil's Crusty Bloomer. Beyond the valley, the view was more or less uninterrupted greenness, with Ashford handily hidden by a flank of hillside. Sadly I had no short lens for a landscape photo, but it looks like this. Actually, Phil took a photo or two with his bridge camera, so hopefully he'll post that on his blog, which you can see here.
We walked to the first hide (Reedbed hide I think), which overlooks a smallish reedy lake. Very little was on the water (two Great Crested Grebes, plus a lovely pair of big Common Carp in the shallows), but we were in for a real treat when a Bittern came languidly flapping across. I didn't manage any decent photos, partly because when I saw the big brown thing appear I presumed it would be a Marsh Harrier and decided it wasn't close enough to bother to photograph (as I have many closer Marsh Harrier photos), and so raised bins rather than camera. Then saw it was in fact a Bittern (of which I have no photos, distant or otherwise), so lowered bins, raised camera, but it was even more not close enough by then.
We left the hide when a large group arrived (accounting for at least some of all those cars), and walked towards Lake Tower hide. On the way, we saw at least 12 Hobbies wheeling around very high up, while lower down many gulls and Common Terns were doing the same thing.
And now for some gruesomeness.
The next stretch of the walk was pretty uneventful, though very pleasant. We heard but could not find a singing Turtle Dove at the turn towards the Grove Ferry ramp. We went up to the ramp and had a sit-down, noting a couple more Hobbies on the wing and the day's first Sedge Warbler giving its ecstatically crazy song from somewhere below. Then onwards, and through a field of cows - not my favourite kind of experience, and they were (of course) standing right on the path, but they didn't do anything apart from stare at us with that worryingly steady bovine gaze that seems to say, 'I know you enjoy cheeseburgers'.