When I meet new people and discuss where we live I often get “Oh, you’re so lucky to have all those good sites near you”. Today just confirmed how right they are and how brilliant the area is for getting out and seeing great birds.
Having checked a few websites last night, the Sheppey area seemed our best bet for seeing some new birds for the autumn so we set off for Leysdown and Shellness. The tide was far out at Leysdown so we decided to make for Shellness and take a stroll on the inland track along the seawall towards Harty. Starlings, house sparrow and goldfinch greeted us as we arrived at the car park, but “I’m not here to watch starlings!” rang in our ears from one member of the group . . . . . . indeed we hadn’t . . . . .
we had heard that rough-legged buzzard, hen harrier and short-eared owl had been seen in the area over the last few days so as we donned boots and packed our bags we discussed the possibilities for these species in particular.
Imagine our surprise when within five minutes we had rough-legged buzzard and hen harrier in our sights with marsh harrier close behind. We followed the rough-legged until it landed in a field and enjoyed great views through the telescope. A female hen harrier flew through as the buzzard took off and complicated things for a short time, but we soon sorted them out again as they settled back into flying over the nearby fields looking for prey. At one stage a sparrowhawk swooped across the sea-wall and away from us at speed, sending meadow pipits dispersing in its wake. Skylarks were singing above the white clouds, declaring their ownership of territory, and grey heron stood stoically along the edge of the fields.
We wandered along the path for an hour or so and then decided that we should return to Shellness to see how the tide was doing. Although it hadn’t come in a great deal there were plenty of waders and gulls to see, so we settled by the sea wall out of the wind to watch and enjoy lunch. Large numbers of knot, oystercatcher and grey plover fed on the mud, along with curlew, little egret, cormorant, turnstone, herring gull and black-headed gull. From here all the way to Leysdown brent geese waddled in the shallows – we counted 225 at one stage. On the seawall a pied wagtail hunted for food.
Now it was time for us to move inland to Harty Ferry and Capel Fleet, and as we drove through Leysdown several red-legged partridge were spotted in a field by the road. We decided to move to Harty initially, stopping a couple of times on the way. Our first stop by the lake on the corner gave huge numbers of mallard and teal, in one of the fields just past the Capel Fleet viewpoint we spotted a flock of lapwing, starling and in amongst them large numbers of golden plover. A stonechat showed briefly on top of a bush as we drove past.
At Harty there were few birds to find, a couple of curlew on the marshes, some distant brent geese and at one point Sally heard a fieldfare but despite seeing some blackbirds we had no evidence of the thrush.
Back to the viewpoint and although Sally had been spotting birds all day, she really came into her own now! Kestrels on the telegraph wires, marsh harriers, more red-legged partridge and a flying great white egret were all down to her. Add to that wheatear, male hen harrier, and short eared owl and you have a perfect birding day.