Another breezy, showery day, without anything too exciting happening around the reserve. Although a visitor reported seeing a stoat at Wellmarsh hide carrying either a young moorhen or coot. After Monday, our spoonbills appear to have gone AWOL again, I haven't seen the garganey again since Sunday and even the spotted redshanks have been a bit "hit & miss" - 5 dropped into the Flood yesterday evening, but they're the only ones that I've seen since Saturday. A greenshank has also been on the Flood & green sandpipers are now starting to turn up more regularly. I saw 7 today at various points around Sheppey (including 2 on the reserve). There are still lingering grey plovers out on the Swale. None of these birds are in summer plumage, so I'm assuming that they're last years youngsters that won't be making the long haul north this year.
Buzzard, hobby and barn owl are still being seen regularly and I had the first report for a while of the Kingshill Farm little owls. Also, it won't be long now before the first juvenile marsh harriers fledge. Look out for a really dark bird (from a distance, the could almost be mistaken for a crow), but with an obvious honey-coloured head & shoulder patch. The picture below shows a juvenile that we found in a ditch on the reserve a few years ago that unfortunately had to be taken into care, although it did recover sufficiently to be released at a later date. I remember Bob Gomes (the Warden at the time and who was holding the harrier) asking me if I could hurry up & take the picture, as the bird had managed to insert a number of claws into his hand! Funnily enough, the harrier seemed un-moved..
Juvenile marsh harrier - Gordon Allison
I'd been concerned for 3 months about the lack of rain, but of course I was forgetting that June is the month for Wimbledon & cricket test matches, so maybe shouldn't have been quite so worried. The last couple of days has seen another half an inch of rain drop on Elmley and todays strong breeze (is it usually this windy at this time of year?) pushed another batch of beefy showers across the reserve, helping to maintain the wet areas. At this rate, I'll be having to let water off the Flood to expose some mud for the autumn wader passage!
Our semi-resident flock of spoonbills increased further today, when another two birds arrived, bringing the total to four. All four were feeding on the Flood out from Southfleet hide this evening. Also present over high tide were 8 spotted redshank, 22 grey plover, 100+ black-tailed godwit & 5 turnstone. Three garganey were again on the pool at Sharfleet creek this evening: a relatively fresh male, a second male that is well into it's "eclipse" moult and a female. Raptors today again included hobby & buzzard
This predictions business isn't easy you know. A couple of posts ago, I suggested that a couple of nice June surprises for the reserve might involve a roller or a squacco heron. Imagine my frustration when first a roller appeared on Monday. In Suffolk. And then today came the news that there was a squacco heron at Dungeness. Right county this time, but the wrong end! Just as well I'm not the betting type..
Yesterday saw the re-appearance of the spoonbill on the Flood and today there were two, both sub-adult birds. There are a few scattered around the UK at the moment, but there were two at the Cliffe Pools reserve y/day, so it's tempting to suggest that these could be they. Also on the Flood today 7 "black" spotted redshank at Wellmarsh hide, fishing amongst over 250 black-tailed godwits. A flock of 26 gadwall on the Flood suggests to me that this species has had a duff breeding season - I've yet to see a single gadwall or shoveler duckling. Quite a few mallard & shelduck broods + a few pochard, but no sign yet of any other "dabblers". Or tufties for that matter..There were also 3 green sandpipers on the pools at Kingshill Farm. Raptors today included 2 buzzard and single hobby and sparrowhawk
The showery weather continues, although I think I'll still have to put some more water onto the Flood. I went out this evening to check on one of the cows out there. It was OK, but some of the pools are looking low, despite the rain. But the shallow water is what the avocets love and i counted a minimum of 80 chicks on the pools running out from Southfleet hide. + a few at Wellmarsh & Counterwall & elsewhere on the reserve. So the avocet picture is looking pretty rosy. As is the redshank story - at one point on the flood, I suspect that a stoat was around, as there was a cloud of alarming redshank following something in the grass. I counted at least 30!
Passage waders today included a greenshank, 3 dunlin, 35 turnstone & 110 black-tailed godwit on the Flood + 30 or so grey plover out on the Swale. Raptors included buzzard & barn owl. Still a few Med gulls around and the swallows in the porch of the ladies loos have hatched a brood of chicks.
And thank Crunchie for that! They say that us Brits have a bit of a weather fixation, but as the Warden of a wetland nature reserve, the "fixation" is probably bordering on "obsession". I really was starting to get a bit concerned by the way that water was disappearing from the reserve. Not only did it put our surviving wader chicks at risk (as highlighted by a piece on the BBC South-easts news programme), but low ditch levels and poor water quality can also impact on livestock security & health, not to mention the fact that there has been very little grass growth so far this year. So to wake up in the small hours of Monday morning to hear the rain drumming on the window was a good sound. In fact, between late Sunday night and Monday lunch-time Elmley received 28.3mm of rain - more than March, April & May put together!
We're now fast approaching the summer "doldrums" for birding: most of the north-bound passage waders have gone and it'll be a few weeks yet before the early returning birds (ruff, LRP, spotted redshank, green sandpiper) are present in any sort of numbers. Likewise, songbirds will be concentrating more on raising families & moulting than on singing. Obviously there is still plenty of bird activity on the reserve, but it's this time of year when you can afford to spend a bit more time looking at some of the other wildlife that we've got. I saw the first black-tailed skimmer dragonfly basking on some muddy wheel ruts at the weekend and the first meadow brown butterfly y/day. And I must try and get the moth trap running a bit more regularly.
Bird highlights over the past few days have included the spoonbill present until Sunday at least, the first returning spotted redshank on 6/6 and an immature little gull on the flood on 7/6. There's still a few lingering waders on the Swale: peaks over the last few days have included 45 bar-tailed godwit, 37 grey plover, 12 turnstone & a few dunlin. The 52 curlew y/day are probably the first influx of returning birds - they build up to some impressive numbers during July & August. There are still up to 3 barn owls being seen regularly, but hobbys seem a bit scarce this year. And there's still time for a June "mega" - witness the white-throated robin currently in Hartlepool - something like a skulky squacco heron or a roller would be nice...