Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Three Men in a Marsh: Sheppey Revisited.

This time last year Kevin, Steve and myself spent a day watching raptors on Sheppey. We enjoyed it so much we decided to do it again this year. On Tuesday 27, we revisited, hoping to break last year’s records of 65 species and 8 species of birds of prey, but given the dismal weather forecast and last year’s luck thought we’d do well to match it.

The SE part of the island of Sheppey is mile after mile of wet farmland. It attracts huge numbers of waders and wildfowl, and numbers of raptors to prey on them, making it possibly the best place in Britain to see raptors. We started and finished at the Capel Fleet View Point, a raised platform from which the whole of the central plain can be seen. In between we parked at Harty Church and walked down to the Swale National Nature Reserve – a piece of marsh just over the sea wall from the saltmarsh and estuary, and stopped for lunch at the excellent Ferry Inn. We also went to the Elmley RSPB reserve – a mistake as its closed on Tuesday, but we thought the road may turn up some Short-Eared Owls.

Well, what a glorious day it turned out to be. Bright sunshine, warm in the sun, and 70 species with 9 birds of prey. It started as soon as we got out of the car with an adult Mediterranean Gull next to the watchpoint, then scanning westward towards the prison we had a Rough-Legged Buzzard in flight, looking slightly bigger and bulkier than adjacent Common Buzzards, and then found one sat in a bush at a distance of around half a mile. With the scope on max we could clearly see a white streaked head, and as it balanced in a bush we saw the all white tail with a clear thick black terminal band. Steve had a Merlin amongst the Fieldfares – our only Merlin sight of the day, although we did have a lot of candidates on posts and on bushes that all turned out to be Kestrels – and as we left the site a Ringtail Hen Harrier flew across the road. At the Swale reserve we had the Hooded Crow amongst 70 odd Carrion Crows, Reed Buntings galore, and Curlews, Wigeon, and Brent Goose on the freshwater marsh, and out on the estuary 30 Avocet, a mass of Grey Plover, Bar-Tailed Godwit, Dunlin, and a single Black-Tailed Godwit flew in.

At Harty Ferry a ringtail Hen-Harrier floated by – how often does that happen when you’re sat outside a pub having lunch? The trip to Elmley added Little Egret and Gadwall to the list, and a Green Woodpecker by the roadside at Eastchurch produced load cheers as we broke the previous year’s record. Finally back at the watch point it was raptor bedlam – they were everywhere. A Short Eared-Owl was patrolling along the nearby dyke, but we didn’t have time to look at that as two Peregrines were in the flat field by the watchpoint, and in the sloping field behind there was two Barn Owls and a Hen Harrier. There were silly numbers of Marsh Harriers – 6 sat in a field, 3 fighting over the marsh, etc. It was fantastic stuff – we were grinning from ear to ear as bird after bird performed in full scope view. In between we heard Cetti’s Warbler, and saw a flock of 20 Corn Buntings, and good numbers of Stonechats. A deafening Pheasant chorus as the light deteriorated signalled time to go.

70 species – a stiff target for next year. Clearly RLB will be no trouble, but does anyone know a site for Great Tit and Song Thrush?

Looking SW - is that an RLB in the bush?

E from the watch point.

Reed Bunting

Creamcrown Marsh Harrier

The watchpoint as the sun sets


Anonymous said...

Nice One, John. Couldnt of summarised it better myself!

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