Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Sheppey day

Hello, and apologies to all for the long gap betwixt this post and the last one. Work, life, you know the score. I had a trip to Elmley Marshes with Phil (of Sharp by Nature) today and it was fab, despite very murky grey skies all day that made for very murky grey photographs, some of which I present below for your viewing pleasure.

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.

This Common Gull flew towards us as I was trying and failing to get nice shots of some of the Curlews.

Finally a Curlew did strike a clear pose for me, on the edge of a largish scrape which I think might be newly dug. Also new was what looks like some anti-predator fencing, and a broad strip by the track that was planted with big seeding stuff, including many sunflowers. This area was stuffed with hungrily feeding finches, but was on Phil's side of the car - I hoped to get some photos on the return journey.

I was eagerly scanning the fields for hares but found none. This Pheasant was sprinting across the sloping field close to the car park.

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.

Aw. Barn Owl was at home, and doing a charming head-tilt in our direction. On the grass below, a small flock of Black-tailed Godwits were feeding, while Teals were in the water and Wigeons grazing on the far bank.

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.

A little further along the first of the day's many Kestrels came flapping along, and obligingly hovered quite close by for an impressively long time.

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.

Things looked pretty quiet from the Wellmarsh hide, but a closer look revealed a tightly packed crowd of waders on one of the many little islands. They were mainly Dunlins but with a fair few Knots, Grey Plovers and Turnstones. The only other island to hold any birds had a lone Avocet and a few Snipes, but it did later collect some overspill from the most popular island. A few Shovelers were out on the water, and two Marsh Harriers patrolled the far shore.

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.


They both came pretty close and posed nicely. It is interesting how these birds pair up when on their winter territory. I just pulled my copy of Stonechats - a guide to the genus Saxicola off the shelf and learned that these winter pair bonds don't necessarily persist when the birds return to the breeding grounds - they may have a territorial function only.

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.

Another confiding Kestrel gave us some close views on the walk back. We also heard Bearded Tits calling from a reedbed halfway along the return trail but they weren't showing themselves.

It may not be a Beardie but it's still a very cute reedbed denizen. This Reed Bunting was one of a group of four, and bravely sat around distracting us while the other three made their getaway.

On the driveway back, we stopped again by the weedy strip to check out the finches. The flock, made up of Linnets, Greenfinches and Goldfinches, seemed to have shrunk a bit since we first encountered it, but there were still a few birds busily demolishing the sunflower heads.

There were lots of Lapwings alongside the track. Among them we spotted a couple of Ruffs - this one, and another with an almost completely white head.

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.







From the top, here we have Brent Geese, Dunlin, Sanderling, Grey Plover, Redshank (with bonus blurry Dunlin), a bunch more Dunlins, and a Turnstone.

Just as we were thinking about packing up, as the light was getting ridiculous, a smallish-but-not-that-smallish falcon came bombing along the shoreline and revealed itself to be a very lovely male Peregrine. It chased but couldn't catch one of the little waders, and then carried on to wreak havoc among the huge cluster of Oystercatchers on a distant spit.

The traumatised Oyks came around and landed quite near to where we were sitting, though by this point the tide had gone out far enough that they were not all that close to us. I'm pleased to report that we were able to get up and sneak away without disturbing any of them.

4 comments:

Graham Canny said...

That read like a terrific day out! Some fantastic birds from what sounds like some great places. Plus your usual high standard photos!

Phil said...

A very nice account of a very nice day Marianne. Of course the light conspired to make photography difficult, but you still managed to get some super shots. Next time, full sun!!

Warren Baker said...

Well that was a good read on a dreary old December evening Marianne :-)

photo of the day is the Peregrine I reckon :-)

Lou Mary said...

Brilliant set of photos! Elmley is lovely. Shame you didn't get to see any hares but you certainly made up for it with that peregrine! I had an interview yesterday and had to give a presentation, which I gave on falcons! They are such charismatic birds aren't they! Great post indeed :)

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