The continuing spring-like weather made for a "more pleasant than some" boat trip to carry out the final Medway WeBS count of the 2010/11 winter season. I was joined by Andy & Jason from Northward Hill for the occasion & as we gunned our RIB across the stretch of water between Nor Marsh & Burntwick island, Jason suddenly called a halt as he'd spotted a diver off the port bow. The bird - a great northern diver - allowed us to get amazingly close, before it got fed up with our attentions after a few minutes & submerged. But not before I got a few pictures!
Great northern diver - Gordon Allison
An amazing bird & a real pleasure to get so close! Could it get any better?
The tide y/day was a big one, so a lot of the saltmarsh was completely submerged, resulting in a rather smaller count of roosting waders than we may have expected. Although judging by the numbers of wigeon we saw (c.10!), it's possible that many of the dunlin & grey plover etc have also already moved off north, rather than roosting elsewhere on the estuary. But 200 turnstone, 550 black-tailed godwit & 60 bar-tailed godwit were all fairly notable. Few ducks, but still over 1000 brent geese were logged. And here's where it get's even more interesting! Checking amongst the old submerged barges off Hoo island, a brent goose leapt out from it's companions, appearing much darker (blacker, even) in overall colouration, with a striking white neck marking and an obvious white flank patch, contrasting sharply with the duller dark grey of the fore-flanks & breast. Unfortunately the bird then flew off with it's dark-bellied mates, but we were happy that we'd seen a black brant, the American race of brent goose. Even more unfortunately, as I was at the wheel of the boat at the time & my camera was in my bag behind me, I wasn't able to get any pictures! Black brants are seen annually in the UK, with North Kent, Essex & North Norfolk being favoured locations ie where the biggest flocks of dark-bellied brents are. There had been one around the Medway earlier in the winter, but I've not heard of it being reported recently, although it will almost certainly be that bird. Brents (often into the hundreds) linger in the Medway estuary sometimes into May, so it'll be worth keeping an eye out for this bird. Other highlights included an early Sandwich tern, probably 20+ Med gulls and a fine drake eider.
Returning to Elmley, I found that I'd missed another swallow, plus a ring-tail hen harrier and a merlin.
Very nice photos, it was a shame your camera was in your bag when you saw the Black Brant but the plus side was that you had a good view.
Another interesting report.
Thanks for keeping us all up to date.
All the best
I was just reading the Birdwatch magazine and Black Brant numbers for February was 18 for Britain & Ireland. Quite well spread.