As predicted, more freezing conditions and another dollop of snow hit the reserve over the weekend. The access track is still passable with care, but the reserve was pretty empty today. There were a few flocks of lapwing roosting on the frozen water bodies and one small group of golden plover in with the cattle, as well as a male stonechat, his orange breast positively glowing against the snow. Birds of prey were very much in evidence, with a good number of marsh harriers about (although not as many as the 10 that I saw flying together on Friday!), buzzard, peregrine & merlin. 30-odd fieldfares were removing the last of the hawthorn berries in the orchard.
However, if the reserve itself was quiet, the Swale was positively covered in ducks! Between Wellmarsh Creek & Spitend Point, I counted 7660 wigeon, 2110 teal, 588 shelduck, 540 mallard & 100 pintail. There was probably a similar sort of number of wigeon between Wellmarsh and Sharfleet, but Steve from the Emley Conservation Trust counts that bit. In amongst the commoner species were 5 scaup out from Swale hide (possibly the Medway birds + one), 5 eider at Wellmarsh, 9 gadwall, a couple of pochard & tufted duck, a handful of shoveler and a drake red-breasted merganser. Then there were the waders. As the tide was in, numbers weren't huge (most must have been roosting elsewhere), but 500-odd dunlin, 52 avocet and a dozen bar-tailed godwit were of note amongst the other curlew, redshank & grey plover.
I'll be heading back to Glasgow for Christmas, so will not be contributing to the blog for the next week or so, but hopefully Nat can keep you up-dated with what's about and how easy it is to get out here!
After a couple of days of "above zero" temperatures, the fresh water on the reserve has thawed, with the result that the Flood is covered in duck again. A quick count this afternoon revealed a good 1700 wigeon, 3-400 teal and c.40 pintail + mallard and shelduck. Unfortunately the forecast is for the whole place to freeze again tonight, so tomorrow will probably see a bird-free, iced-up scene again! Never mind - still plenty out on the Swale. There's still 12-1500 knot around, shelduck numbers are pushing 1000 and I suspect that we're looking at in the region of 10,000 wigeon. The WeBS count this weekend should give us a more accurate figure.
Otherwise today, the spotted redshank was again around the reserve, there were a couple of avocets on the Flood and while yesterdays fieldfares seem to have moved on, there was at least one redwing in the orchard.
It's been quite quiet on the reserve over the past few days. The continuing cold snap has meant that none of the water bodies on the reserve has properly thawed out, so most of the birds remain either over the seawall on the Swale, or have moved further afield. However, coming back to Kingshill Farm late this afternoon from the reserve, I flushed a short-eared owl from the side of the track - the first one that I've seen this winter! There's been at least one bird around that's been reported on and off by visitors, but so far it's eluded me. I wasn't really able to enjoy this sighting - the bird took off, lingered in the truck headlights for a few seconds and then headed off across the marsh. Hopefully there'll be better encounters over the next few weeks. Also today, a single peregrine chasing everything up to greylag goose size south of the carpark, and a spotted redshank briefly on the reserve. Still at least 50-60 fieldfares around the farm, as well as up to 3 goldcrests. 2 barn owls were hunting around the beginning of the access track yesterday at c.3.45pm
Well, they've been a while coming, but finally today they arrived! Out this afternoon in beautiful sunshine to check the livestock. The grazier & his vet had been in y/day to see how many of his cows were pregnant and we were pleased to learn that they all were, which is quite a rare occurence. Nonetheless a few more of the Simental cattle were taken off site, as they don't do as well as the old Sussex cows in these wintry conditions.
On the way down to the reserve, a group of 36 brent geese grazed in fields behind the seawall. A quick check with the telescope showed there to be 11 of this years youngsters - easily told from the adults by the pale edges to their upper wing coverts, forming several parallel lines across the closed wing. If some of the larger flocks show these sorts of proportions of young birds to adults, then they'll have had a good breeding season. On the reserve, still a general lack of birds as the water bodies remain frozen. Despite the sun, there was a gnawing northerly wind. There were a few lapwing scattered across the fields + a few flocks of skylark & starling. Hunting raptors included a ring-tail hen harrier, a buzzard and a barn owl out at 3pm. Returning to the farm, I detoured into Wellmarsh hide to see what waders were up on the high tide. Not huge numbers, but 200 dunlin, 20 grey plover and a couple of turnstone & ringed plover. Scanning across the back of the Flood for perched raptors, I picked up 5 large white birds coming in from the NE - the first Bewick's swans of the winter. Hurrah! A family party of 2 adults and 3 juveniles, they flew west over the reserve and kept going, presumably deterred by the lack of open water. Hopefully these will be the first of more winter wildfowl arriving on Sheppey. Also of note today was a covey of 14 grey partridge right at the very start of the access track at Straymarsh Farm.
With Nat doing the honours with the livestock today, I took myself off Sheppey (first time since 27th Nov!) to have a look on the Medway estuary. Specifically at Motney Hill RSPB reserve. This often overlooked reserve is situated on the south side of the estuary, near Riverside Country Park by Gillingham and is "twinned" with Nor Marsh reserve, a saltmarsh island out in the Medway. It's another site where the rarer grebes are quite regular in winter, so after the appearance of birds on th Swale, I thought I'd check it out. No luck there, although there were at least 28 great crested & 6 little grebes out on the mirror-like water. However, I was pleased to see 4 scaup. These sea duck are never common winter visitors to Kent (although they are quite regular at Cliffe Pools), so it was good to see them, along with a goldeneye and a couple of red-breasted mergansers. In Rainham Creek (the bay to the west of Motney) there were a selection of waders & wildfowl, including 700-odd dunlin, 112 black-tailed godwit, 185 knot, 70 redshank and smaller numbers of shelduck, wigeon, teal, pintail & shoveler. Along the beach were at least 5 rock pipits.
Anyone travelling between the reserves on the Hoo Peninsula and Sheppey could do worse than to spend an hour or so here!