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17 September 2014
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Northward Hill

Dawn chorus

Northward Hill

Northward Hill in Kent is located on a a ridge overlooking the Thames.

Its nature reserve is an excellent place for bird watchers boating one of the largest heronries in the UK

Dawn chorus - be sure to get there by 5am!

As well as its heronry, Northward Hill contains a diversity of woodland birds as well as offering a stunning selection of springtime wild flowers.

The ridge is part of the bigger North Kent Marshes area which boasts a diversity of habitats including marshes, ponds and the Thames estuary, all of which are excellent for wildlife such as Frogs, Eels and Water Voles.

Heron haven

HeronThe reserve's most distinctive bird is the Heron which roosts in the tops of ancient oak trees close to the Thames estuary.

The birds love this location because of its close proximity to mudflats and marshes which are rich in food.

There's a constant stream of Herons flying overhead at the reserve and it's possible to see them from two viewpoints.

The exact number of Herons varies year on year, having peaked in 1983 with 234 pairs.

Today there are over 150 pairs nesting in the treetops.

These large birds start nesting early with up to 10 nests up a single tree.

Perhaps surprisingly Rooks nest right next to the Herons and the two species are quite happy as next-door neighbours.

The RSPB is also planting trees to expand the wood to create new nesting areas, but the middle of Northward Hill is ancient woodland.

Bird paradise

Little EgretSpring is when Little Egrets return to the reserve - there has been a colony at Northward since 2000.

Egrets are a type of heron, although they are smaller than the Grey Herons.

There used to be very few in the UK with only 23 recorded before 1957.

Millions of birds were killed for their feathers - used to decorate hats - a society formed to stop this which eventually became the RSPB.

Now, possibly because of global warming, there are more than 1,000 Egrets around the British coastline and 55 pairs at Northward.

In the breeding season the Egrets develop a lacy plume on the back of their head and breast.

Also to be found on the reserve are Turtle Doves, the only members of the pigeon family that migrate to the UK.

They spend most of their time in Africa, arriving on British shores in the spring.

And a Nightingale sang...

NightingaleIn the heart of the woodland can be found the Nightingale, one of the best singers in the bird world.

Other woodland birds which can be spotted in spring are Robins, Blackcaps, Song Thrushes, and Willow Warblers.

Bluebell fact

Flowers in the shape of bells with narrow leaves.

Perennial plant with a strong, sweet scent.

Flowers April-June.

Adapted to deal with shady conditions created by woodland canopies.

First shoots appear in January, giving bluebells a head start over other woodland plants.

The number and density of the flowers give the impression of a blanket of blue.

Before the 17th Century, tree planting was uncommon so a wood surviving from before this period has grown naturally.

As a result Northward Hill is blessed with a variety of cover which is perfect for all sorts of animals and plants.

It's especially good for wild flowers and the wood is renowned for its springtime carpet of bluebells.


There's also a huge variety of other flowers including Dog's Mercury and Yellow Arch Angel.

The woodland is a perfect habitat for Greater Spotted and Green Woodpeckers who love old wood, which is why many dead trees are left by the foresters.

 

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