Having had a mild rant in my last blog about birding abbreviations, I thought I'd carry on about another pet hate of mine!
Sitting in Southfleet hide this evening, I had the surreal experience of watching SpongeBob SquarePants float across the Flood. "How amusing" I hear you say. Unfortunately, both myself and most of the birds on the Flood disagree. There's something about helium-filled novelty balloons that birds hate and it always sends them into a panic, resulting in clouds of them taking flight. Spectacular no doubt, but at this time of year birds leaving unguarded nests leaves them wide open to a sneaky attack by a predator like a crow or a gull. And for this reason these ballons are also on my hate list too. Not only do they cause big disturbances, but they also get caught in our electric fences, resulting in the system shorting out and are a danger to livestock (which will sometimes eat the things). Goodness knows where they all come from, but nature reserves seem to have a magnetic attraction for them. Our prevailing winds are south-westerly, but Sittingbourne hardly seems to be a ballon hotspot. But wherever they originate from, I'd happily ban the poxy things!
There was surprisingly no sign of either spoonbill on the flood today when I had a look, although there were 3 spotted redshank, 2 ruff, 25 black-tailed godwit & c.90 turnstone. A smart little merlin perched on a post opposite Southfleet, before zipping low across the Flood; and other notable raptors included the first hobby of the year, the short-eared owl again hunting the seawall & a couple of buzzards. Still large numbers of Med gulls around the reserve, with one flock of at least 120 between Kingshill Farm and the hides. The ring ouzel was belatedly reported again yesterday, but I didn't see it today in a quick search. Other migrants today included whitethroat, blackcap & swallow around the farm
Don't you just love bird watchers vernacular?
The spoonbill was still on the Flood today, as were 2 spotted redshank and a ruff, amongst all the nesting activity of avocets, lapwing & redshank + a variety of ducks & assorted other waterfowl. A single whimbrel was in the field near Southfleet hide. But my highlight turned up at Kingshill Farm - a cracking male ring ouzel which hung around for a brief spell, before heading further west on the reserve. These smart thrushes ( the upland version of the blackbird) are fairly regular early spring migrants in North Kent, although it's a year or two since there's been a spring record at Elmley. The vernacular referred to above is the tendency for birders to abbreviate birds names - hence "rouzel" from ring ouzel, "gropper" from grasshopper warbler & (ugh) "spreddie" from spotted redshank. Still, it's a step up from the tendency to lose the generic name. That's just laziness! A birder might say to you "Have you seen the spotted?" Spotted what?! Crake? Flycatcher? Sandpiper? I'm not sure that it's as common a practice as it used to be, but it still bugs me! A cuckoo was reported along the line of oak trees at Kingshill Farm this afternoon, although there was no sign today of the short-eared owl that was still present y/day. As were a willow warbler, at least 7 wheatear and a staggering 250+ Med gulls.
Anyway, here's a picture of a rouzel..
Ring ouzel - Gordon Allison
This winter has been pretty hopeless for short-eared owls at Elmley. We had a run of records in the autumn and then very little after the first cold snap, with the last record back in January. Until now. For the past day or so, a bird has been hunting the fields around Kingshill Farm. I was returning from Spitend this evening when a distinctive shape crossed the track ahead of me - short-eared owl. In perfect light, I was able to watch this supreme hunter beating along ditch edges and over other rough vegetation. In the 10 minutes or so that I watched it, it managed to catch two small mammals, which it ate having flown a short distance to a favoured perch. It also flushed a wheatear during it's activities. SEO's have bred at Elmley before, so an April record is always worth keeping an eye on.
On the Flood, the spoonbill lingers and there was also ruff and greenshank. Nothing much else in the way of migrants today. Yesterday saw 140+ Med gulls in one flock, 2 whimbrel, spotted redshank, 1st-summer little gull, ring-tail hen harrier, the 1st reed warbler of the year, several sedge warblers & a swallow
I was going to call this blog "March of the Med Gull", but more of that later.
Todays visit by a whiskered tern was a long over-due first for the reserve and quite clearly the days highlight. Found by Rob Clements at c.10am, the bird stuck around the grazing marsh and Flood until c. 5pm, when it flew west over the counterwall. Although whiskered terns look superficially like a well-marked common tern, they are in fact marsh terns (like a black tern) and their darker grey upperparts, shorter tails and generally more bouyant flight mark them out as different. They nest on lakes & in swamps in Iberia, Central France & in the eastern Med. A few turn up most springs in the UK. I managed to get back down to Counterwall hide in the afternoon with my camera & got a few OK shots to at least get some shots of it. I suspect that there's a whole lot better out there.
After the excitement of a 1st for the reserve, the spoonbill barely registered, but was still here. The garganey was reported, but remained elusive. New migrants today included two more little gulls, the first common terns, a single fly-over LRP, a greenshank and numerous swallows & sand martins. "Old" migrants included 7 ruff and 2 spotted redshank. Raptors today included 2 buzzard, ring-tail hen harrier & female merlin.
Oh Yes! "The March of the Med gull" stuff. Numbers continue to seemingly sky-rocket. I am reliably informed that the flock of Med gulls at the start of the access track on Saturday morning was "at least 150!" That's almost twice the peak count that I had in April last year!
About time too! I've been looking out for our first garganey of the year for a couple of weeks now. This is our only summer migrant duck, the first birds arriving back in the UK from their African wintering grounds as early as Mid-March, although most push through later in April & May. The drakes are super-smart with brown heads with a bold white eye-stripe, powder grey flanks and drooping black & white wing covert feathers. The bird today was on the Flood in a small mixed group of ducks. Curiously there is also a hybrid wigeon-type duck which has normal-looking female body feathering, but a browner head with a bold while mark behind the eye that meets on the nape. For a second i thought it was another garganey, but quickly realised my mistake. Maybe a garganey was the other parent? Also on the Flood were the long-staying spoonbill, 150 black-tailed godwit, 2 spotted redshank and 6 ruff.
The first garganey of the spring is always a highlight, but my best bird of the day was a blue-headed yellow wagtail. This race or sub-species of yellow wagtail (Motacilla flava flavissima, where our nominate yellow wagtail is M. f. flava) is the North European race, found on the other side of the Channel, but present in small numbers in the UK in spring. Yellow wagtail is a smart enough bird, but the blue-headed version is a notch up again!
A presumed escape lanner-type falcon was about again today (I've still not seen it), as well as 2 peregrines and a merlin. There was a singing blackcap again in the orchard and a singing corn bunting in one of the little hawthorn bushes beside the track below Kingshill Farm.