Birding The Royal Military Canal, Kent

Saturday, August 27, 2016 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Slightly later than planned due to a couple of days under canvas sans technology in Pembrokeshire, it's time to head to Kent. As a little background this is not an area of the country I know well and thanks to a busy couple of days at work leading up to our trip I'd had scant time for any serious planning. As a result we were very much in the hands of our hosts, my sister and her husband (still sounds strange saying that even after three years), so when they suggested a walk along the Royal Military Canal last Saturday we were all for it. Completed in 1809 its twenty eight mile length had but one purpose - to fend off any attack from the French across Romney Marsh. A noble ambition for sure but one never tested in anger before the canal was eventually decommissioned in 1877. Since then nature has been allowed to take her course, softening once stark edges and slowly eroding defensive banks and other structures. Today a footpath stretches its entire length and we picked up the trail from Appledore before heading East. Even after two hundred years the original design philosophy is clear to see with kinks every five hundred yards, each marking the position of an artillery battery allowing a clear shot down its defended stretch of water. The result is that you walk through a constantly changing vista, each twist and turn opening up a new window on the surrounding landscape.

P1040394 - Royal Military Canal

The contrast between lush vegetation on the landward side and dry grassland and drained marsh on the other was stark, a boundary marked by the canal itself. This presented an intriguing mix of habitats which one moment had us watching a family of Spotted Flycatchers and the next Sand Martins and Stock Doves. Darting between the two like a bolt of lightning were Kingfishers, at least two but probably more. They were an almost constant presence along the three or four mile stretch we walked, occasionally perched up but more often than not seen disappearing around the next corner or over towards a parallel drainage ditch. I tried to keep a tally in my notebook but in the end settled on the slightly vaguer "several". If anyone is aware of just how large the local population is then I'd love to know.

Of course, being a canal there were the almost ubiquitous Mute Swans and Mallards but other than that the waterway itself was strangely devoid of bird life. The long-ago drained marsh was much more productive with a yaffling Green Woodpecker giving us more than the usual run-around as it perched alternately on ground, fence and then dead tree before settling on mocking us from positions unknown. All par for the course really. Slightly easier to track down were a pair of passing Grey Herons, one of which came close enough for another attempt at in flight photography. Definitely getting there I think.

P1040372 - Grey Heron, Royal Military Canal

All the time these events were unfolding we were never far from a Dragonfly or Butterfly with species seen including Common Darter, Brown Hawker, Migrant Hawker, Red Admiral, Small White and Speckled Wood. Of these my best photo came of a Common Darter and boy does he look pleased with his berry!

P1040387 - Common Darter, Royal Military Canal

There were also plenty of signs of unseen visitors as well for those taking the time to look. The most obvious were at least two large Badger setts and the most unusual these Woodpecker 'drillings'. I'm sure there's a technical term but for now it escapes me so instead I'll let the photo do the talking.

P1040376 - Woodpecker action, Royal Military Canal

Heading back into Appledore's well tended lawns and expensive housing I couldn't help wandering how often the locals use what's on their very doorsteps. We met not a soul heading out and only one single couple on the way back. According to my sister this is not unusual which was great for us but a shame to not see the canal being more widely enjoyed. Perhaps I'm being overly pessimistic so come on Appledore, next time we're down your way I expect to see far more people pondering the fruits of our long-standing feud with them over the channel.

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