May, 2011

Elmley Marshes

Elmley Marshes
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Elmley Marshes

  • Pezza vs. the ET


    I made a comment on the forum about the diversity of some birds of prey diets. Not so the peregrine. It's almost exclusively feeds on other birds, usually caught on the wing. According to Birds of the Western Palearctic (BWP), in the UK 117 species have been recorded as peregrine prey, from goldcrests to grey herons. While I was out checking the livestock today, I was looking at the cattle in the fields down towards Spitend Point when I flushed a large immature female peregrine from the ground c.70m ahead of me. She headed off east, but swung back over the seawall and flew back past me, before powering off out over the Swale. As she went past, I could see by her bulging crop that she had just fed and, hoping that it wasn't one of our breeding lapwings, I investigated. The kill was obvious: a mass of white feathers spread over the ground suggested that she'd taken a black-headed gull. But when I looked closer, I was a little bit surprised to see that the unfortunate victim was actually a little egret! I'm not sure whether little egret figures in that list of 117, but they are clearly now on the menu.

    Little egret kill - Gordon Allison

    Incidentally, "ET" is the BTO code for little egret and has nothing to do with Steven Spielberg's cute alien.

    The 2 spoonbills were again around the reserve all day today, though they only visited the Flood briefly in the evening, before returning to their new favourite hang-out further east. These pools can be viewed from Swale hide, although the birds are quite distant. Also on the Flood today, a drake garganey at Wellmarsh, 90 black-tailed & 3 bar-tailed godwits and 26 turnstone. Single ruff & whimbrel and 4 greenshank were scattered across the site and there was a return to form for Med gulls, with at least 65 birds, including one flock of 57. Apart from the peregrine, the female merlin was still present, as was a buzzard. At least 2 wheatear remained today and there were singing blackcap & whitethroat at Kingshill Farm. A pair of grey partridge were again at the start of the access track this afternoon. 

  • Sweet precipitation!

    The rain finally arrived at Elmley on Thursday afternoon - only showers, but some of them heavy enough to make a difference. We got just over 10mm, which wasn't enough to wet up areas that have dried out, but will keep the remaining wet bits wet a bit longer. Crucial for the many wader chicks that are now present across the reserve. The rain had cleared Friday morning, so I was able to get out to survey the saltmarsh section of the reserve down at Spitend: the expected redshanks, reed buntings & meadow pipits + a single pair of yellow wagtail. The rising tide had pushed a few waders into Windmill Creek, with totals of 90 grey plover, 40 dunlin & 16 bar-tailed godwit. I could hear a little tern calling somewhere, but didn't see it.

    Then back to Kingshill Farm for the interviews for Nat's replacement when she heads off to Dungeness in July. A large field of applicants had been whittled down to a final 5 & I'll now have the weekend to mull over who to offer the post to - not an easy decision.

    While Nat was out checking the livestock, she saw an Egyptian goose out near Spitend - a rare bird at Elmley. Despite the species status as a bit of an avian minger, I had a look for it in the evening, as it's a species that I've yet to get on my "Elmley list", but no joy. Just the returning spoonbill, back from it's jaunt across the Swale. On this occasion, I'd have happily swapped it for a hotch-potch goose! Garganey are an altogether more pleasing breed of wildfowl and there were still two drakes on the pools behind Kingshill Farm during the day. The barn owl was also out hunting early again today & I suspect that the pair must be feeding growing youngsters for them to have been tempted out in daylight. There's also still a cuckoo, a single singing corn bunting and a regular flock of over 20 Med gulls around the farm. Other highlights included a common sandpiper, hobby, buzzard and a very late merlin. Broods of humbug-like shelducklings are now appearing all over the reserve - I've seen 5 or 6 in the last couple of days, with anything up to 11 ducklings in a brood.

  • The past week

    Having been away over the bank holiday at Spurn Bird Obs (am I the only person in the world not to have seen "that" dress?) and only now seeming to get 10 minutes to myself since my return, I thought it was about time that we had a bit of a catch up.

    The drought continues: there was 0.3mm of rain during the last week of April, giving a whopping total of 3.9mm for the month! Coupled with wall-to-wall sunshine & a fresh, drying north-easterly wind, this has meant that the reserves water levels are evaporating faster than Gillingham FC's promotion chances this year! I'm still able to pump water onto some of the core wader fields from the water stored during the winter, but some of the peripheral fields are pretty much dry now and, unless we get some serious rainfall will remain so until the autumn. Regardless, the birds are getting on with nesting. Following the first couple of breeding bird surveys, lapwing numbers are slightly up across the site and the first chicks have already hatched. It's actually quite hard to see lapwing chicks on the RSPB reserve, due to their habit of keeping to the vegetated rills, but they are a bit more visible along the access track to the carpark. Look for alert adults, usually giving their wheezing alarm calls and there's a fair chance that chicks won't be far away. Avocets are still very much at the incubation stage - I wouldn't expect the first chicks for another week. Redshank are also present in slightly higher numbers than last year, but again with them chicks aren't likely to start appearing for another week at least.

    Aside from the breeding waders, spring migrant birds are still very much part of the scene. The first swifts arrived on the 3rd and there have been 1 or 2 whinchats. We're still seeing wheatears and there has been a cuckoo "cuckoo-ing" about Kingshill Farm. A drake garganey y/day seems to have moved on (although may yet be lurking) and the 3 spoonbills had decreased to 1 over the w/e, and that may have moved on too, as there's been no sign of it so far today. Buzzard, hobby and peregrine are being seen regularly, although a lingering merlin and a short-eared owl (both present on 3rd) are more unusual. Passage waders are also providing some interest. It's been a good spring for wood sandpiper, with at least 2 still present today. Most of these delicate relatives of the redshank are heading further north than the UK (although some do breed in north Scotland), where they will often nest up a tree in an old thrush nest. A distinct head pattern, speckled upperparts and yellowy legs mark it apart from green sandpiper or redshank and when it flies, the square white rump & high-pitched "Chiff-chiff-chiff!" call are diagnostic.


    Wood sandpiper - Gordon Allison. Not the best picture in the world, but it was quite distant!

    Other waders have included up to 9 spotted redshank, 8 greenshank, 4 ruff, 100 black-tailed godwit, 20 bar-tailed godwit (part of an amazing spring passage through the UK), 25 whimbrel, 3 common sandpiper & a single green sandpiper