January, 2011

Elmley Marshes

Elmley Marshes
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Elmley Marshes

  • Old Squaw on the Swale

    "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. 

  • Some sunshine at last!

    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.  

  • 26th January

    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.