"You what?" I hear you say. Although in these days of political correctness, I should perhaps use some other alternative name, like Old Wife, or Old Billy. I am referring to an irregular visitor to the reserve, the long-tailed duck. The various names refer to it's vocalisation (usually only heard on it's high Arctic breeding grounds), but the Old Squaw name has fallen out of favour in the States due to obvious connotations. This bird drifted east past Swale hide on the falling tide, before flying back west again. Another bird that it would be nice if it stuck around for a while. Unfortunately, it never got out of the glare of the sun, so I've no idea what plumage it was in, though I suspect an immature or female.
This particular moulty individual was photographed in the Medway off Nor Marsh a few years ago. They're quite small ducks: clearly smaller than a wigeon and in fact, through binoculars, I thought at first that it might have been a smaller grebe.
Back on dry land, at least 8 Bewick's swans north of the access track this afternoon by the cattle grid at the base of the hill up to the carpark. No sign of any other obvious wild swans (though a few mutes), but again, they were mostly obscured in a dip. There was still at least one pale-bellied brent goose in with the dark-bellied flock by Swale hide. Raptors included a female merlin, 2 buzzards and a barn owl and there were at least half a dozen bearded tits calling from the reeds beside the track down to the hides, past the single bench.
Another rather dreary, cold start to the day, with grey skies and a keen NE'ly wind that quickly froze my fingers. And then in the early afternoon, the sun came out! What a difference - still cold, but you can cope with it when the sun's shining.
All "the usual" birds of prey were present today: at least 3 peregrines were around ( 2 on Spitend & another at Kingshill), with a male hen harrier, a female merlin, 2 buzzards and a barn owl out hunting at c.2.30. The increasing brent goose flock had moved to the fields behind Swale hide. I counted c.250 this afternoon,including 4 pale-bellied birds. These look to be a family party of 2 adults & 2 juveniles. Interestingly, I counted at least 44 juveniles amongst this flock, so that's pushing on 20% - an excellent ratio. A small flock of 49 white-fronts were still out on the marsh beyond Rose Cottage and there was also a group of wild swans here too. They were down in a low spot, so were difficult to see, but there were at least 8 birds. I suspect most were Bewick's, but at least one looked quite long-necked, so may have been a whooper. I'll keep an eye out for these tomorrow. The feral barnacle goose flock was also way out on the marsh today. High tide also produced a reasonable wader roost at Wellmarsh, with a few hundred dunlin + grey plover and knot; and there were at least 50 avocet out on the Swale on the falling tide. A single male stonechat was also present.
A thoroughly dismal day on the reseve today: low cloud, drizzle and a nagging northeasterly breeze. But of course, diesel pumps and livestock and other bits & bobs need attention, so we wrapped up warm & ventured out. Not a great day for observing birds of prey - I managed a couple of sightings of marsh harrier, but that was about it. However, there are still impressive numbers of waders around the reserve. I found myself down at Spitend on the rising tide, where 1200 knot & 2000 dunlin clustered on the shrinking area of mud. Also here were smaller numbers of grey plover, redshank, curlew, black-tailed godwit, turnstone & avocet. Off-shore, a pair of red-breasted merganser dived. On the Flood there were 1150 golden plover & 2500 lapwing, with another 6-700 golden plover & 1500 lapwing in fields to the east. The brent goose flock was just north-west of the Wellmarsh benches this afternoon and still contains at least 2 pale-bellied birds. There was a very distant small group of white-fronts, but I couldn't see any sign of a larger group. All of the dodgy barnacle & emperor geese were in the same area as the brents today, so my suspicion that some of the barnies might be "proper" as they were with the white-fronts/brents, looks likely to not be the case. Ah well.
For anyone out there with a penchant for flocks of honkers, Elmley is the place to be at the moment. I am of course referring to geese - not necessarily all wild, but there are a lot here at the moment, both in numbers and varieties. I counted 7 types this afternoon, and possibly missed at least one. There are still large numbers of feral Canada and greylag geese across the site, but these flocks are also where the wild white-fronts are hanging out. Unfortunately, the white-fronts were just a bit too far out on the marsh today to see whether there was still the odd pink-foot with them, but there was at least 150 and there were at least 4 barnacle geese with them. These latter birds may well be genuine wild barnies, as there is also a flock of 67 (today at least) on the Flood that are definitely feral, as they include a few emperor geese with them (these look a bit like blue-phase snow geese, but are wire-hoppers) and it seemed strange to me that this 4 should be seperate from the main flock. Also with the white-fronts today were 95 dark-bellied brent geese and at least 3 pale-bellied brents. These 2 different races/species (depending on who you listen to - I still regard them as sub-species) arrive in the UK from different directions: the dark-bellied birds from Russia & Siberia via the Baltic and the pale-bellied birds from Svarlbad & Greenland. They also spend the winter in different parts of the UK - the former in the south & east, with the paler birds in Ireland or around Lindisfarne. So there you go - 7 different goose varieties at least - and maybe one or two more still to find!
The wader roost continues to impress. High tide was just before 4 today and the islands in front of Wellmarsh hide were covered in dunlin, knot & grey plover. I made an attempt at counting, but perhaps because there had been a merlin hunting earlier, the birds were very flighty, never settling for long and calling constantly. I reckoned that there were a good 4000 dunlin, 600 knot & c.100 grey plover, but in the end just gave up counting and sat and watched as the birds wheeled around, settling briefly and then got up to twist and dance some more. Just brilliant! Not to mention the 700 golden plover and the several thousand lapwing on the Flood and the 200 avocet & 150 black-tailed godwit on the Swale.. And everything kept on it's toes by the aforementioned merlin and an adult female peregrine. And there were barn owls hunting the fields south of Kingshill Farm and around Straymarsh Farm as dusk arrived.
You never can tell. Down to the reserve mid-morning to do various pump-related jobs and I paused on the counterwall at Wellmarsh and scanned the Flood. It wasn't an especially high tide today, but the pool in front of the hide was covered in waders. So I detoured briefly to get a count. Half an hour later and I'd totalled 3600 dunlin, 2400 lapwing, 280 grey plover, 85 knot and a few turnstone, curlew, redshank, oystercatcher, golden plover, ringed plover and a single bar-tailed godwit . Further east on the reserve, there was another 1400 lapwing and 1000 golden plover. All pretty impressive
This picture is a slight cheat, as I took it on the Medway & most of these birds are knot, not dunlin. But the general effect is the same.
I also had a quick look for the red-necked grebe, but couldn't see it. There were two red-breasted mergansers amongst the thousands of wigeon and smaller numbers of shelduck, teal, mallard, pintail and shoveler. 2 barn owls were showing well again today and the other raptor highlight was a big immature female peregrine trying to catch ducks on Windmill Creek. It made a few low passes over the birds on the water, but eventually got fed up and moved off