In direct contrast to yesterdays gloom, today was another glorious day on the reserve and it was enjoyed by probably more people than got out on Sunday - probably not unsurprisingly. And no-one who visited in todays sunshine can have failed to be impressed by the number of birds out on the Flood. Still hundreds of wigeon & teal, filling the air with their respective whistles & peeps. Plus good numbers of mallard, shelduck, shoveler & a few pintail & gadwall. But today belonged to the waders. Not in this instance the legions of grey waders roosting over high tide, but the plovers. At one point in front of Southfleet hide there were comfortably 1700 golden plover, with a good 2000 lapwing. Add into the mix regular passes by cruising marsh harriers and the occasional foray of a merlin or a peregrine and there was almost constant motion going on. What a sight! Additional birds of prey for the day included a couple of buzzards at the back of the Flood and a single barn owl hunting the seawall below Kingshill Farm at dusk.
I've heard it's going to rain again tomorrow...
Not anything to do with birds in this instance. I'm referring to the fact that the hazel catkins are out around Kingshill Farm and the first great crested newts are starting to emerge from hibernation. The catkins are obvious enough, but the newts are generally far more secretive. The reason that I know that they're becoming active again (presumably due to the continuing mild weather) was because one of the teenage girls who were visiting Elmley today to do some work experience with Sheppey Youth Action announced that she had "Euuurggh! Found a squashed lizard!" On closer inspection, the unfortunate herptile was in fact a newt and it had been squished in the carpark. A bit harsh really, surviving the coldest winter for decades & then getting flattened en route to the nearest pond. What were the chances? On a more serious note, great crested newts are afforded the highest protection under European law, and while there's nothing that can be done about unfortunate accidents like this, I would urge visitors to Elmley to exercise a bit of caution at the moment. The newts are largely nocturnal in their movements, so it's only really peple who are staying late to look for owls etc that might encounter one, but it always pays to take care. The photo below is of a female that turned up in the house last autumn - you can just about make out the vivid orange underside that separates this species from the other native newts
And the newts weren't the only BAP (Bio-diversity Action Plan) species having a bad day today. While out moving the sheep, something scuttled off under a gate that I was just about to open - a stoat. And it was carrying something. Through binoculars, the unfortunate victim looked suspiciously like an immature water vole.. Ho hum. I suppose it's some indication that both species are doing well on the reserve, but I'd rather this was confirmed in other ways. At least all the brown hares that I saw today were healthy.
Nothing very spring-like about the bird highlights today. 10 Bewick's swans were on the Flood this morning, but had moved off by early pm, with possibly 8 of them relocating further west. The mixed goose flock at Wellmarsh today included 43 white-fronts, + the same 5 pink-feet & single barnacle & brent. Raptors included a male & female peregrine & a merlin.
The forecasters got it right today - lousy they said & lousy it was.
Still, more signs of the impending arrival of spring. Not just the odd skylark in song (even today) or the displaying lapwing (definitely NOT today!), but the increasing numbers of that most subtle of ducks, the gadwall. Still considered by the Rare Breeding Birds Panel, Kent holds between 10-20% of the current UK breeding population. And Elmley regularly holds a fair percentage of the county total. But it disappears almost entirely during the winter and it's only during this late winter period that it starts to betray it's presence again amongst other ducks with it's quiet "warck, warck" call. (and shame on anyone who added a mental "Ooops" to that. And apologies to any younger readers - you don't want to know...). It is for me, one of the spring sounds of the marsh and will start to be heard more regularly across the reserve. The female gadwall is very similar to a petite mallard, although with a striking white blob in the wing and a much more orangey bill; while the male is a symphony in grey (doesn't sound very interesting, but trust me), with a jet black stern and a rich chestnut flash & a "sugarlump" of white on the spread wing.
A pair of Gadwall (tho' doesn't really do the "subtle " drake justice!) - Gordon Allison
Otherwise today, still good numbers of duck on the Flood, lapwing & golden plover on the marsh and a few geese. One group near the counterwall this afternoon held 34 white-fronts, 5 pink-feet and single barnacle & brent. More brent were present further out on the reserve. Very poor for BoP's today, but a barn owl was hunting in the murk along the counterwall at 2.30pm.