I met Phil at West Malling station and we were at the start of the access track by about 10am. This is my first visit to the site since it ceased to be an RSPB reserve (new management's website is here). Not a lot seemed to have changed at first glance. We began the traditional slow pootle down the long driveway, soon stopping to admire Curlews aplenty and lots of bathing Starlings, while the first of many Marsh Harriers cruised around in the distance.
We parked up, and I went over to check the Barn Owl box, noticing as I went that the car park was full of fine-looking chickens, one of which gave me a casual peck in passing.
We went on into the reserve, noting on the right of the trail a great big pile of earth which we theorised could be a new raptor viewing mound. We even climbed up it to check but could see no raptors from up there, though it did supply terrific views.
As we walked hide-wards, there were huge numbers of birds in view much of the time, though at a great distance away. Out on the fields, a big flock of Canada Geese was accompanied by a few Brents, while swirling masses of Lapwings were on the horizon and little gangs of ducks (Mallards, Wigeons and Shelducks) were constantly going overhead.
On we went to the Counterwall hide, which overlooked a completely deserted scrape. However, there was some pleasing 'little bird' action here in the shape of a pair of Stonechats.
We had a debate at this point about whether to continue to the other hides or to go to Shellness instead, and Shellness won that one quite easily. So we packed up and headed back.
The drive to Shellness produced a flock of (probably Red-legged) partridges and another close-up Kestrel. We arrived just as a party of birders was packing up to leave, and they told us that the high-tide roost was pretty epic, so we took the path behind the 'Shellness estate' to the beach. We were about 30 minutes after high tide, but the path was still fairly inundated with sea water, suggesting it had been a REALLY high tide. As soon as we got out onto the beach it became obvious that there were birds aplenty on the shores, probably some tens of thousands of them. I suggested we sit quietly by one of the breakwaters and see if any of the waders would come close to us after a while, and to my great gratification they did. Even some of the many Brent Geese chilled out enough to swim right past us. It was a most wonderful experience and my only wish is that we could have had some sunlight... maybe next time.