Trip reports

Elmley NNR (Leader Richard Hanman)

Elmley NNR (Leader Richard Hanman)
Hare [Richard Hanman]

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Our summer visit to Elmley was scheduled to start at 9am from the car park so many of our 12 strong group took the opportunity to start birding early on the approach track to the car park. This always proves fruitful and today was no exception with amazing close views of hares, lapwings and oystercatchers. The crop margins were planted with comfrey which attracted meadow pipits, skylarks and yellow wagtails.

We assembled in the car park and were delighted to see that new members / first timers outnumbered our regulars. So, welcome to Lee, Maryna and their young son Hayden (who we met the day before at the All Hallows Village Fete); two of their friends Alison and Hank who had recently joined the RSPB; and Mary Anketell from the RSPB local group in Sevenoaks. Regular MLG members in attendance were Sue Carter, Steve Goodrich, Ron Philp, Yeuk Wong, Nigel and myself Rich Hanman as the appointed walk 'leader' on the day.

We set off from the car park and walked towards the observation screen overlooking The Swale. Reed buntings and reed warblers were seen in the reeds; swifts and black-headed gulls flew overhead and a pheasant poked its head up from the long grass.

At the screen itself, the tide was out so birds were thin on the ground. We did see oystercatchers, lapwings and redshanks, as well as numerous sightings of the black and yellow striped cinnabar moth caterpillar. Hayden also saw a fox-tail moth caterpillar. Small flocks of starlings flew around the grazing cattle.

We continued to Wellmarsh Hide where the pool had completely dried out. A sign in the hide explained that this had been the driest summer on Elmley since 1995 - hence the lack of water. A lone avocet sat on the dried mud, surrounded by hundreds of very noisy black-headed gulls many of which had chicks. Mary spotted a lone Mediterranean gull amongst the throng.

At the second hide, there was water in the channel but the scrape behind was also dry. Large flocks of shelducks gathered contemplating when the water would return. Marsh harriers hawked the distant fields and reed beds and a common tern made a few repeat sorties up and down the channel. A redshank called continuously drawing our eyes to two small chicks in the long grass.

In the distance Steve picked out a peregrine and Sue spotted greylag geese and a little egret. A cormorant perched on a post and a bit of gull-ID separated lesser black-backed from greater black-backed and herring gull.

After lunch in the hide we retraced our route back to the car park adding common buzzard, kestrel, mute swan, pochard and tufted duck to our day list.

In a bed of nettles, we picked up red admiral and peacock butterflies and also the caterpillars of the peacock. On the path, we stopped to observe a hummingbird hawk moth which was almost impossible to see, camouflaged so well against the stony track. Other day-flying moths seen included cinnabar moth and five spotted burnet moth. Small white and small skipper added to our butterfly list.

We arrived back at the car park about 2.00 pm. The feeders were empty so goldfinches, chaffinches, blackbirds, house sparrows and mallards were loitering in anticipation of the next 'top up'. On the track leading away from the reserve we added rook and grey heron to our day list.

All in all, a great morning. 12 x birders, 36 birds, 5 butterflies, 4 moths ... and my personal highlight ... numerous hares running through the meadows, for me it's what makes Elmley such a special place.

Richard Hanman