Compared to the last couple of week’s cold weather, this week has been glorious. We have had a good number of visitors out enjoying the sights and sounds of early spring. The most notable and watchable signs being the lapwing displaying with the males starting to hold their territory. These acrobatic birds can keep anyone captivated for hours with their rolling and tumbling display flight, and their distinctive calls.
Although we haven’t got the high numbers of past years, waders and wildfowl have started to increase, especially noticeable on the flood in front of the hides. As... I’m sure by now.... most people have heard; it has been a very dry season. We have not had the levels of water that allow us to pump and flood the reserve to create the shallow pools and rills most favoured by breeding waders. However, the small amount of water we have got stored in our reservoir we are using wisely.
Our course of action this year is to concentrate on two main areas. These being the main scrape in front of the hides and the second scrape towards Spitend to the East of the reserve. These have proven to be the most popular and successful areas on the reserve for the breeding waders and wildfowl in the past and so we are going to do our best to maintain these areas, particularly over the spring.
Notable highlights of the week for staff and visitors have been 2 rough legged buzzards over Kingshill farm and also watching a large group of roosting Knots being troubled by a Peregrine one evening on Wellmarsh pool.
The North Kent marshes team wants to thank everyone for their very kind wishes and words for Gordon, he is going to be greatly missed. All donations received will go towards a memorial at Northward Hill, a place Gordon worked prior to his arrival at Elmley and was very fond off.
for those who have not yet heard, we have some very upsetting news:
Rainham Marshes blog
A friend of mine came over to the island today to do a bit of winter birding. The recent cold snap has frozen the reserve, with the result that most of the bird interest stays outside the seawall on the Swale. As a result, we decided to head elsewhere today. First stop was the beach at Minster, on the north side of Sheppey. Parking behind the bank at Scrapsgate, we walked up to the top of the shingle beach. There were lots of waders along the water line: over 100 sanderling & 200 oystercatcher were the most numerous, but there were also redshank, dunlin, turnstone, knot & a couple of bar-tailed godwit. Nice though this was, it wasn't what we were looking for. Heading east along the top of the shingle ridge, it wasn't long before I heard a rippling call from somewhere nearby and there, c.30m away ferreting about in amongst clumps of vegetation, was a flock of 23 snow buntings. This has traditionally been a good spot for snow buntings, but it's the first flock I've seen here for some time. They performed superbly, occasionally flying off over the coast road, but always coming back to their favoured area of shingle. Bouyed by our success, we headed first to the bay at Leysdown, where there was very little bar a few gulls; and then to Shellness. Having missed high tide, most of the roosting waders were now moving off, but there were still hundreds of knot & oystercatcher along the beach, with smaller numbers of dunlin, black-tailed godwit, grey & ringed plover and a few avocet. Offshore, the only thing of note were a few kittiwakes feeding around the cable-laying vessel that's been in the Swale for a while now. 3-400 brent geese were seen flying off the fields by Harty Church out onto the Swale. Cutting our losses in a very cold wind, we next headed to the RSPB fields at Harty, pausing by Muswell Manor to watch 3 ruff feeding in a paddock with a single lapwing. On arrival at Harty, we were met with the sight of a hunting short-eared owl & a ring-tail hen harrier. Even better, the harrier flushed a flock of c.30 birds that landed in the grass very close to where we were stood on the footpath: Lapland buntings! Whether it was the time of day or the weather or what, I don't know, but they seemed oblivious to our presence, running through the grass like small mammals. Despite seeing the flock land, once on the deck it was impossible to actually see more than a handful of birds at any one time. We watched for 10 minutes as they scurried back out across the field until they once again vanished from view. As time was now getting on, Capel Fleet was the obvious place to end the day. The temperature by this stage was now firmly sub-zero, so the Raptor Viewpoint was endured long enough to get fine views of another couple of short-eared owls and another ring-tailed hen harrier and then we headed to the western end to investigate some geese that I'd seen in the distance. We paused en route to enjoy a small flock of corn buntings in a roadside hawthorn, another ruff and a dashing merlin, zipping low across the fields. From a roadside pull-in we checked the large goose flock out on the arable - plenty of greylags & assorted "farmyard" varieties, but also at least 150 white-fronts. Light & distance prevented us seeing if there were any other grey geese with them, but our attention was distracted anyway as a pale, wavering form appeared between us and the geese - a hunting barn owl. And a fitting end to a rather cold, but very satisfying day in the field.