Our second outdoor meeting of the year was to Elmley Nature Reserve on Sheppey, a family run farm with marshland and nature trails. Once having passed through the gate there is a two mile drive to reach the car park. However, this drive in is part of your wildlife watching experience as there can be lots to see. Coots and mallards in the wet marshland areas were our first sightings, along with lapwings and crows. Good views of quartering marsh harriers were had, some crossing the road in front of us. Other birds of note were some rooks amongst the crows, a small group of shelducks, a grey heron and one of many kestrels to be seen throughout the day.
Arriving at the car park we met up with 7 other members of the Gravesend group and proceeded to walk along the track. Barely out of the car park and we were alerted to a long-eared owl which was roosting in some nearby trees. The views of the bird were difficult because of its cryptic plumage and position but we think everyone managed it in the end. We continued on to the viewing screen which overlooks the Swale. The tide was almost in but some mud was still visible and dunlins, ringed plovers, redshanks and turnstones were busily feeding along the edge of the water. Unusually, there were also many grey plovers together standing about in amongst the other waders. Grey plovers tend to be more solitary waders but at certain times appear to like to group together. A large raft of ducks was on the Swale, the majority of which were at least 500 wigeon. Looking inland there were even more wigeon, greylags and teal. Small birds seemed to be thin on the ground. One or two robins and some stonechats which sat up nicely for us.
On reaching the first hide we were ready for lunch. We had taken 2 hours to get there! Whilst having our lunch we continued our birdwatching seeing more marsh harriers, canada geese, shelducks and shovelers. Two snipe were spotted along the edges and a lone oystercatcher. Only 4 brent geese seemed to be still present and only a couple of little egrets were seen during our visit. There were a few distant large raptors on posts and gates, some of which were buzzards. After lunch, as the pools in front of the hides appeared mostly empty, we decided to walk back to the car park in hope of seeing some early flying short-eared owls. One notable sighting on our return journey was of a pipit, which after consulting our bird guides, we believed to be a water pipit.
We visited the viewing screen again and added pintail to our lists and whilst there saw our first short-eared owls flying. Two birds were interacting with each other and a kestrel. We later watched this or another kestrel appear to steal the owl’s prey. We continued back up the track with at least 4 birds flying at one time. Amazing to watch their slow flight back and forth over the low scrubby areas with the occasional dive to the ground when some prey was detected. Back at the car park there was another opportunity to watch several owls flying and perching on low posts in the area adjacent to the car park. Here we were also informed of 2 peregrine falcons perched on a distant fence. We just had time for a quick walk along to the ruins of the church getting more views of the owls. We hoped for a possible little owl but it was not to be but we did add blackbird and wren to the list. Then it was time to leave so that we did not get locked in! Thanks to those who came despite the cold and gloom.
Irene and Terry.
Thanks to Irene and Terry for leading and thanks to Terry and Steve for the photographs. And now you know why birders regard short eared owls as special!