Last week we visited Elmley NNR on Sheppey. On the drive in we could see that the numbers of golden plover and lapwing had increased greatly since our last visit. We tried counting but gave up and decided that there were “lots”. On the walk to the hide we saw stonechats, heard bearded tits and saw yet more plovers. This number of birds was bound to attract predators and we spotted peregrine, merlin, kestrel, buzzard and marsh harrier. Between them they managed to constantly stir up the plovers, which would take to the air whenever they sighted a bird of prey. Amazing to watch – especially the starlings which formed tight, ball shaped flocks when attacked by a merlin.
There were very few birds on the scrape in front of the first hide but up to five marsh harriers lazily flew up and down the reedbed adjacent to it. Sometimes dipping down into the reed bed but soon to rise again.It seemed to me as if they were looking for a roost site – but it did seem rather early to go to bed (for the marsh harriers!).
Anyway, we met one of the reserve volunteers in the hide and he told us about the coordinated marsh harrier count that had taken place recently across Sheppey. Volunteers had counted all of the marsh harriers returning to the known communal roosts on one night. 180 birds were counted – with a least one roost holding more than 50 birds! Evidently some were local birds, some were from Norfolk and others from abroad. And the winter counts are expected to be even higher!
I can remember visiting RSPB Minsmere Reserve in the late 1970’s and seeing what was the only pair of marsh harriers left in Britain. What a conservation success story. Now lets get started with Hen Harriers!
Thanks to Sally for the short video and Terry for the photo of the marsh harrier.