Todays highlight was one of those "right time, right place" moments - a late afternoon turn around the reserve and suddenly a harrier appeared over the counterwall. There has been a ring-tail hen harrier around until last Sunday at least, and at first I thought that this bird was it. But as it headed across in front of me heading north, one or two things didn't look quite right. It was clearly not bulky or broad-winged enough for a female hen and the almost white lower underparts, with rusty streaks indicated that this was an immature male Montagu's harrier. The whole sighting was over in under a minute, as it flipped to the other side of the Windmill Creek dam. One of our rarest breeding birds, migrants pass through the UK in spring en route north from their African wintering grounds. They are almost annual at Elmley, but most records are of late summer or autumn migrants.
The 3 spoonbills remain, although have tended to favour flooded fields east of the Flood over the past couple of days. There were also still 5 wood sandpipers, although they were quite mobile. Other waders included 18 whimbrel, 2 greenshank & single spotted redshank and common sandpiper. Garganey was reported this morning and a cuckoo was again around Kingshill Farm.
NOT a quote from a Monty Python sketch, but another bizarre occurence for the Elmley warden. I'd experienced a bit of car trouble today and having got back to the reserve was slightly concerned by the smell of "overheating car" when I got out. Lifting the bonnet, I noticed 2 things: firstly a small collection of dark, twisty objects that looked very much like small animal droppings on the shelf above one of the front suspension struts; and secondly, the padding that is packed underneath the bonnet cover had started to drop down onto the engine block. I wasn't sure if this was flame retardant, but felt it was a bit of a fire risk on a hot engine, so removed it. Poking about inside one of the vents to make sure that more padding wasn't about to fall out, my fingers encountered a hard object that had no business to be there. I managed to hoik it out and was somewhat surprised to find that it was the remains of a rabbit head! A further feel about revealed a blackbird wing. I then became quite paranoid that the culprit would lodge sharp little teeth in my fingers. Silly really, since after todays motoring + a trip down to Dunge yesterday, anything lurking under the bonnet wouldn't have been in any better shape than the assorted bits I found. Quite clearly the work of a stoat at some stage in the past few weeks - I do hope he wasn't having a kip in there one day when I started the engine. What remarkable little animals they are! Reminds me of the time that I took the Northward Hill truck for it's MOT and the garage rang back a little while later to tell me that they'd found a dead rat on the engine block...
The 3 spoonbills remained on the reserve all day today, but had returned to the flooded fields out by the Windmill Creek dam, where there were also 3 wood sandpipers. On the Flood, I could only see 2 spotted redshanks: I imagine that these are now keen to push on north to their taiga breeding areas - it's only a matter of 6 or 7 weeks before the first "autumn" migrants return to Elmley!. Also on the Flood, 10 dunlin, a knot, 5 common sandpiper, 26 black-tailed godwit and 4 ruff. These last comprised 2 males and 2 females, one of the males definitely living up to it's Pugnax specific name by squaring up to the other male at any opportunity. But it was equally keen to show off it's disco legs, executing some fancy footwork for the laydeez! It's been a while since I've seen amorous ruff here, so it would be nice if they stuck around for a while. A few more swallows today and still good numbers of yellow wagtail.
Plenty of stuff around for the good numbers of visitors that visited Elmley over the weekend.
Where to start? The 3 spoonbills remained faithful to the Flood most of the time, although they can sometimes be difficult to see when they choose to feed in the deeper channels. Still at least 3 garganey about - a pair on the pools by Kingshill Farm are showing on & off (although they left it until this evening to appear today, disappointing most of their potential admirers) and a drake at Wellmarsh last night. Passage waders have included up to 8 spotted redshank, 4 greenshank, 2 ruff & 90 whimbrel. A common sandpiper was on the Flood tonight and there were 2 wood sandpipers elsewhere on the reserve. Still a few grey plover & dunlin about, although up to 80 turnstone were roosting at Wellmarsh. Birds of prey were very much in evidence, with the ring-tail hen harrier still about, as were a merlin, 2 peregrine and 3 buzzard. 4 hobby were seen today, also a sparrowhawk & the usual loads of marsh harriers. The short-eared owl also lingers - hunting along the counterwall earlier today, before giving a marsh harrier some half-hearted grief at Sharfleet this evening. The first two little terns of the year appeared briefly at Wellmarsh y/day afternoon and up to 12 common terns are daily over the reserve. 3 bearded tits were seen from Southfleet hide. Other migrants included a blackcap at Kingshill, the odd wheatear, 3 swallow around the carpark this afternoon and lots of sedge warblers & yellow wagtails. A "channel wagtail" type (probably a hybrid blue-headed x yellow - they're tricky things!) was reported along the access track today. Med gulls still very present in large numbers, with 150+ today. The first dragonflies of the year - hairy hawkers - were on the wing on Saturday.
More sunshine forecast for tomorrow, so doubtless we'll be busy again.
I just wish it would rain...
Today was the first "field by field" census of the year for this breeding season. We carry out 3 of these to record the breeding populations across the site, walking through every field & aiming to get to within 100m of all points on the reserve. Elmley's quite a big area, so to cover it all in a morning we split it, Natalie & Rachel took the north & me the south. As far as I'm concerned it's one of the perks of the job - out just after dawn to spend several hours wandering across the reserve. I have to confess that levering myself out of bed at 0500 is a bit of an effort, but once I'm out it's a different matter! We did have to wait a little this morning for the fog to lift, but from c.6 am, it was beautiful. What can be better than striding through the dewy grass with displaying redshank, lapwing and (particularly obvious this morning on the Flood) black-tailed godwit all around? You too can experience this on our "Displaying Waders" guided walk on Saturday 23rd. Please book through the North Kent Marshes office (01634 222480). Cost is £3 for RSPB members & £5 for non-members. We're not asking you to get up at 5am either - it's from 10 - 1.
Selected highlights from today included: still 3 spoonbills on the Flood for most of the day, as well as a little stint with 15 dunlin & 75 turnstone at Wellmarsh + 5 spotted redshank, 25 black-tailed godwit, 4 ruff and a late golden plover. Elsewhere up to 6 whimbrel, a couple of snipe & a greenshank. Large numbers of Med gulls continue to be seen, with at least one 3-figure flock; 2 seperate male bearded tits in areas of reed, buzzard, 2 hobby, a couple of water rail, 3 wheatear and good numbers of sedge warbler & a few reed warbler in song. 2 pairs of garganey were on the pool system behind Kingshill Farm. Lots of butterflies around - small tortoiseshell, red admiral & peacock the commonest, with several orange tips around the Kingshill Farm garden.
Quite an exciting day on the reserve today. I was just going back into the house at Kingshill Farm this morning when I heard the unmistakeable rattling call of a garganey coming from the pool behind the house. There were actually 2 drakes and a duck present here. The call has been likened to someone shaking a match box with a couple of matches in it and gave rise to it's old country name of "cricket teal". That's the insect of course, not the game.
3 spoonbills were present again today - the long-staying immature, as well as the occasional couple of sub-adults. There were a few more passage waders about today as well: single wood and green sandpiper, 5 each of spotted redshank & whimbrel, 3 ruff & a greenshank. We took delivery of our first load of suckler cows today (that's cows with a new calf) and there can be few better places to appreciate groups of newly arrived yellow wagtails than around cattle. There seemed to have been an influx of these today as well, with plenty along the access track & flocks of double figures with the cattle. The only other passerine migrant of note that I saw today was a single male wheatear at Wellmarsh hide, although reed warblers were singing & there seems to be better than usual numbers of sedge warblers. Raptors today included 3 each of hobby & buzzard and the lingering merlin. Still large numbers of Med gulls across the reserve, with one flock of 110.