This was our last Group visit to Elmley as an RSPB Reserve. 14 members met in calm, bright and mild weather. A perfect day to see and hear the thousands of wildfowl gathered there. On the drive in, we could see just how flooded the marshes were. Fields that were usually green grass were lakes of water. In the distance curlews and lapwings fed on the dry bits. Near to the track a little egret paddled in the rill hoping to disturb worms or other tasty morsels.
The day started well with a good view of a little owl near the car park. Later, on our return, we saw a short-eared owl on the opposite side of the path. With such extensive flooding it must surely be difficult for owls to find the small mammals & worms they need to eat. On the walk down to the hides reed buntings and stonechats were spotted near the path, and though we didn’t see the little grebe, it was very vocal from the reedbed alongside the path. As we walked along, skylarks sang above us and the distant sky was full of huge flocks of wigeon, lapwings and brent geese.
Many of these flocks must have been heading for the flooded scrapes on the RSPB reserve for in front of Wellmarsh Hide there were hundreds of these birds loafing, along with good numbers of pintails, mallards, shovelers, teal and shelducks. And in the distance we could see marsh harriers harrying (of course) more huge flocks.
These marshes are clearly a vital resource for thousands of wintering birds. We hope they will remain protected for the future.
Marsh harriers were not the only predators about. A lively stoat dashed to and fro just in front of the hide, bothering the ducks but not actually catching one, as far as we could see.
We sploshed our way to the centre hide and then to the river wall. Great crested grebes and red-breasted mergansers could be seen in the Swale but again, the most amazing sight was the sheer number of birds on the water. 6000+ wigeon bobbed up and down in the bay.
In total we saw 53 species of bird and 4 species of mammal (not counting sheep). If you want to see a bird spectacle, then Elmley is the place to visit now. This will no longer be an RSPB reserve after March.