Trip reports

Elmley Conservation Trust's Elmley National Nature Reserve (Leader Richard Hanman)

Elmley Conservation Trust's Elmley National Nature Reserve (Leader Richard Hanman)
Short-eared Owl [Richard Hanman]

Sunday, 25 November 2018

I had the pleasure of leading a walk for the RSPB Medway Local Group on my local patch at Elmley today.

Warren, Nigel, Geoff and myself were the only four hardy birders that turned up at the car park at 9am. It had rained all last night and was still persisting it down this morning, sufficient to put off any fair-weather birders. Debate and discussion of options in the rain finally settled on "well we're here now so let's just make the best of it". What a brilliant decision this turned out to be!

We'd already picked up marsh harrier, curlew, lapwing, ruff, skylark, starling, coot, greylag goose, carrion crow, rook, magpie, red-legged partridge and pheasant on the approach track to the car park. Not to mention a peacock sheltering in the barn.

In the car park itself we observed blue tit, chaffinch, goldfinch and house sparrow on the feeders, with moorhen, mallard, guineafowl and pied wagtail loitering underneath mopping up any spilt seed. A robin and a wren called from the hawthorn bushes just as the rain began to ease off.

We scanned a ground-feeding mixed flock of woodpigeons, curlews, black-tailed godwits and lapwings in the field at the back of the car park and then our attention turned to a single short-eared owl (SEO) quartering in the distance. We watched this magnificent bird flap effortlessly as it patrolled areas of long rough grass in search of a meal. Tracking the bird through our bins we also spotted a common buzzard and a peregrine falcon perched on distant fence posts, a kestrel hovering and a pair of marsh harriers. It was turning into a raptor day!

We took the track from the car park to the viewing screen hoping for further views of SEO. We weren't disappointed. First we saw one owl, then a second, then a third ... all in the air at the same time! If that wasn't enough a female hen harrier came into view, white ring-tail gleaming in the mirk.

From the viewing screen we could see grey, ringed and golden plovers, dunlins, oystercatchers, teals, wigeons, gadwalls, pochards, tufted ducks, shelducks, little grebes, little egrets, cormorants and mute swan. Nigel and Warren's attention was drawn to a stonechat, while Geoff and myself relocated a SEO. In the fields we also spotted a red fox, several brown hares and numerous rabbits.

We continued our walk to Wellmarsh Hide adding reed bunting, meadow pipit, grey heron and herring gull on the way. From the hide itself we added avocet, redshank and great black-backed gull.

At 11.30am with dark clouds congregating in the sky, we retraced our route back to the car park, enjoying multiple sightings of marsh harriers. It's hard to believe that marsh harriers are rarer than golden eagle in the UK, but here on Sheppey they are locally common and we must have had 20-30 sightings this morning alone. No SEO or hen harriers on the way back, but a final tally revealed 52 species. Not a bad effort for a grey day at Elmley. At 12.30pm we called it a day just as the rain came.

Perfect timing.

Photos were not great on account of the conditions but act as record shots for the fair-weather birders who stayed at home!

Richard Hanman