BLUE BELL HILL

A green oa­sis among sub­ur­ban sprawl

Bird Watching (UK) - - Go Birding - ALAS­TAIR RI­LEY

Once my lo­cal patch – and it kept me fit – this in­trigu­ing oa­sis of calm and green rises up and above the ever ex­pand­ing ur­ban whirl of Rochester and Chatham and is al­ways a pro­duc­tive walk. The noise of the M2 and the large pop­u­lace around you seem in­trigu­ingly re­mote and I love this tiny tract of the North Downs ‘squashed’ be­tween the sprawl on the west and the River Med­way to the east. The to­pog­ra­phy pro­tects three vil­lages that re­main rel­a­tively un­touched and also of­fers a bird­watcher a va­ri­ety of habi­tats which al­ways gives my note­book at least 35 species; once – in May - 65! Re­ferred to lo­cally as Blue Bell Hill (which, in win­ter is an icy devil of a road) it is the in­ter­est­ing lin­ear tract of mixed wood­land to the south east of the North Downs Way which al­ways kept me alert. It is re­li­able for Treecreeper, Nuthatch and three wood­pecker species along with Marsh and Long-tailed Tit, Bullfinch and breed­ing Spar­rowhawk and Buz­zard. Fur­ther on loaf­ing gulls on the arable fields at the north­ern end of the walk are worth check­ing out and these fields have given me a Hen

Har­rier sev­eral times in win­ter; Mer­lin, too, more than once. It is true that if you choose to climb the down out of Burham vil­lage your body will cer­tainly know about it, but the va­ri­ety of species of­fered by a walk that could eas­ily ex­tend be­yond the three hours I cite will tip the bal­ance. On top of the down big­ger skies change your as­pect and fo­cus and oc­ca­sional flocks of water birds – maybe from the Isle of Shep­pey – can add to the mix, es­pe­cially in win­ter. Hav­ing gained the higher ground, the rest of your walk is level then down­hill and you’ll be warm enough to ig­nore the ghost sto­ries you may have heard in the lo­cal pubs about a phan­tom hitch-hiker, a tale I have been told sev­eral times while at­tempt­ing to jot down my birdlist!

Bullfinch

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