Time for another of my rather infrequent updates, as I STILL can't access the RSPB website from Elmley. We're still trying to fix the problem, but it's a slow process.
Highlight of the month so far was the discovery of a grey phalarope on the Flood reservoir on Saturday night. It was still there the following morning, but gave visitors the runaround until it disappeared mid-afternoon. These charismatic little waders are usually encountered off-shore, as apart from during the breeding season, they are truly pelagic (ie. ocean dwellers) and it's only really in the aftermath of weather systems that they show up at inland sites. There has been quite a run of these birds across the UK this month, but it's the first at Elmley since November 2008. We're now getting to the end of the passage wader season: species like spotted redshank, whimbrel, common sandpiper & little stint are becoming less likely when you visit the reserve. Though there are still birds going through: recent totals have included 15 greenshank, 10+ green sandpiper, 6 whimbrel & the odd ruff. However, the winter waders (eg golden & grey plover, lapwing, dunlin, bar-tailed godwit & knot) are starting to arrive in ever increasing numbers. While Wellmarsh pool is now thoroughly dried out, the mud is still being used as a high tide roost by varying numbers of ringed plover & dunlin, with other species including little stint, curlew sandpiper & turnstone. The tides at the end of next week are the highest of the month, so a visit should be worthwhile if you are interested in waders. We've now cleared all the fringing vegetation from here, with just the scarifying of the substrate to carry out before we can re-flood the pool this winter.
Wildfowl too are starting to appear - wigeon have gone from a handful to pushing 100 in the last week, the first brent geese have arrived and teal & mallard numbers are climbing, It's still very dry out on the marsh, so it's often not easy to see the ducks as they are down in the ditches, but it just needs a pass from a hunting marsh harrier or peregrine to flush them into the air. In terms of birds of prey, the marsh is already taking on a winter flavour, with hen harrier, merlin & short-eared owl already recorded. Although it looks as if the owl was only passing through, there should be others arriving on Sheppey very soon. We'll also be seeing the last of some of our summer migrants very soon. Last time I blogged, yellow wagtails seemed to be everywhere. Now there's only a few left, often hanging around where the cattle are grazing. Wheatears are still widespread, but whinchats have become harder to see. One of the main features of the past week has been the numbers of hirundines flying south. I normally expect sand martins to be the first to go, but in the past few days, they've often outnumbered the swallows as they head south out of the UK. I've hardly seen a house martin this year, but last weekend there were hundreds on the move. the orchard at Kingshill Farm can often hold migrants, although so far this month that appears to consist solely of chiffchaffs. And in answer to James' question after my last blog as to how to tell this species apart from willow warbler at this time of year, I would say call is the most reliable. Chiffchaffs have a "hweet" contact call, while willow warbler sounds more di-syllabic ie "hu-weet". If you watch them for any length of time, you'll notice that chiffchaff regularly pumps it's tail, something that willow warbler very rarely does. And by late September, most willow warblers will have left the country, so the majority of small brown leaf warblers you will see now are going to be chiffchaffs