Well, here we are in 2012 and returning to Elmley after my Christmas break, I very much had a sense of deja vu, although on this occasion it wasn't just the RSPB website that I couldn't access - I couldn't connect to the internet at all! We traced the glitch to a faulty dongle and having replaced it, it's all systems go again. "Ding, dongle, merrily on high..."
The first few days of January has seen rain on every day - very welcome as, despite the reserve starting to look a bit more like a marsh, we're still a good 12" short of our abstraction point, when I can turn on the pump and really start to flood the place up. But every little helps, as they say, although I reckon we're going to need at least another 4"-5" of rainfall to get Windmill Creek up to that level. The creek has got quite a large catchment area, so it won't take 12" to get to our required level. Which is just as well, as the rainfall stats show that that's about half our annual rainfall. The stats also show that 4" is usually what we get in January & February combined, so March could be busy... Highlight of the festive period was the discovery of a rough-legged buzzard around the reserve on Christmas Eve. This is definitely a different bird to the one that spent a few weeks around Harty Marshes in November, and from the pictures that I've seen, appears quite dark and if seen perched at a distance might be tricky to seperate from a common buzzard. I've added a picture sent to me by Rocking Robin (Thanks John - that's a better view than I've had so far!), which shows the bird in flight. Note the solidly dark belly, the pale head, obviously white base to the tail and the pale bases to the primaries on the upper wing. When perched, it shows some fairly obvious buff spotting across the back. It was still around on Bank Holiday Monday, but hasn't been reported since, although conditions have hardly been ideal for raptor spotting since then.
In addition, there's been the usual buzzards, marsh harriers, peregrines, merlins, sparrowhawks & kestrels. There's been sightings of both male and ring-tail hen harrier (although they remain irregular) and there are still probably at least 5 short-eared owls around the reserve. We're also seeing from time to time a Harris hawk. This New World species is a popular falconers bird and the adults are easily identifiable, with their chocolate brown plumage, rufous shoulders & "trousers" and black & white tail, with a gleaming white rump. But this bird is an immature, is quite buzzard like and, with a white rump, could be mistaken for the rough-legged buzzard. I've added a couple of pictures from Mike Hook of the bird. Note the hefty bill, the longer tail & the beginnings of it's red "trousers". Unusually for an escaped falconers bird, there's no sign of any rings or jesses, which has led to speculation that this may be a "wild" buzzard x Harris hawk cross.
The white-front flock of 65 birds were still present over the festive period, but haven't been seen this year. Nor were there any reports from just before Christmas of the tundra bean goose that had been accompanying them. A herd of 11 Bewick's swans were seen on the 22nd and the recent stormy conditions have improved the spectacle on the Flood, with hundreds of wigeon, teal, mallard & pintail abandoning the choppy waters of the Swale for the relatively calm conditions on the reserve. Lapwing numbers are still encouragingly high, with several thousand present on any given day, with smaller numbers of golden plover. I don't often mention small birds in these round-ups, but the addition of a couple of strips of cover crops on the approach to the carpark has resulted in an impressive flock of linnet, numbering up to 200, with smaller numbers of other common finches, reed buntings & fieldfares. They ought to be a magnet for the reserves merlins & sparrowhawks! A couple of stonechats have been resident around the Flood.
Glad you are back on-line, fingers crossed !. It was really great to see the water levels rising. Keep the wet-stuff coming !.
Great to have you back, happy new year. I will keep the rain dance going or singing in the bath that should give us plenty of the wet stuff..lol. Looking forward to seeing Elmley again this year thanks for the report..