A walk at Elmley RSPB Reserve was our destination this weekend with Clifford and Joan at the helm. 16 of us gathered for this walk, a rather poignant one as it was the first following the sad loss of Gordon Allison the warden. He was in our thoughts as we gathered in the car park.
On the drive into the reserve there were dry rills and very few pools of water – just shows how different from previous years when the fields have almost been underwater in March. Despite the dry conditions and the few birds around we did see lapwing displaying – giving their fantastic calls as they fluttered in the sky. Further along, a meadow pipit slowed our progress by dust bathing in front of the car. We had great views as it flapped its wings to get the dust all over the feathers, even rubbing the top of it’s head at one stage – lovely to watch. Finally we got to the car park where house sparrow, wigeon and coot were seen behind the toilet block. Some of the gentlemen also added wren and goldfinch from their facilities. In the “owl tree” wood pigeons were resting causing some interest as we scanned for little owl.
Moving along the track a bird was spotted on a distant building by Sally, through the telescope it had that distinctive pattern on the chest that I had seen on rough-legged buzzard last year, but it was so far away it was hard to call. After some debate someone decided that it was far too small to be a buzzard, someone else decided that it was large enough! As I moved to allow someone else to use the scope the bird flew – “definitely a buzzard” was the call. With their telescopes Roy, Alan and Ian saw a white tail – so Rough-legged??
In the pasture and pools by the side of the track were mute swan, curlew, skylark, little egret, mallard, shelduck, canada geese, moorhen, teal, a large flock of starling and a very smartly plumaged male reed bunting – the first I have seen this spring in full colour. A kestrel hovered as marsh harrier swooped over the far ditches. Over the course of the day we saw at least three kestrel and four or five female harriers, with one very handsome male. Carrion crow and magpie were feeding in the fields as were rabbits.
At the first hide we found more shelduck and coot and added little grebe, redshank, turnstone, oystercatcheer, and avocet. At the further hide – on the way to the site of the now removed Swale Hide we had great views of ringed plover, a possible spotted redshank (again too far away to see the colour of the legs or the bill) or greenshank? Three grey heron flew past, and were the only heron seen. Perhaps the rest are already at Northward Hill at the Heronry there?
As we lunched and enjoyed the view of the reserve in the sunshine a peregrine caused consternation with the lapwings – huge numbers of them swooping around to escape its clutches. As they flew overhead we could see a dozen golden plover in with the flock – totally impossible to see on the ground. A cormorant sat in the middle of a field, looking oddly out of place.
The tide came in pushing huge numbers of waders onto the reserve dunlin seemed the most numerous. Snipe, shoveler, pintail, greylag, pochard, mediterranean gull, herring, common and greater black-backed gulls all enjoyed the winter warmth from the sun.
After lunch we moved onto the sea wall (in the absence of the hide there is no other way to see the river, but as the tide was in no birds were close enough to be disturbed by our presence). There were several great-crested grebe, a small flotilla of shelduck, and huge flocks of waders flying in to feed on the small areas of mud still available on the high tide. Knot, oystercatcher, curlew and redshank were present in large numbers. Another stop in the last hide, and on the way we noticed the droppings of water vole and marsh frogs.
On the return journey sparrowhawk delighted us as it flew around high above us, hare were spotted in one of the fields and then as we were ending our walk, the final delight – a pair of short-eared owl flying over a reedbed. Just made our day.
Bouyed with newfound enthusiasm a few of us decided to go to Capel Fleet Viewpoint. One last stop on the track when we spotted a lapwing doing a strange dance with its tail in the air – presumably showing off the lovely russet vent to its prospective partner. After a while the female looked slightly interested, started to move towards the male, adopted a submissive position and then both birds turned their backs on each other and continued to peck at tasty morsels on the ground – so much for our theory – or perhaps they just didn’t want an audience!
Never has that road to Capel Fleet seemed so long – finally arriving, we met up with Pauline, John and Alan who were already in-situ and wondering if we had “wimped out” – they had already clocked up nearly 100 corn bunting and a couple more short-eared owls. This time the owls were close to us hunting over the rough grass and reed edged ditches where we had seen them on previous occasions. There were three individuals. We had superb views and watched spellbound by their grace and beauty. The corn buntings also started to return to two bramble bushes where they were roosting. A further grey heron, wood pigeons, kestrel, over 40 mute swan, pheasant and red-legged partridge completed our day.
The sad sight of the day was two dead swans under the telegraph wires.
A big thanks to Clifford and Joan for guiding us so well and keeping us in order – never an easy task. Another excellent day out at this premiere site for wildlife.