As always the drive along the track into Elmley is best taken slowly and having taken our time watching the huge flocks of birds in the fields – mainly lapwing, oystercatchers, starling and coot – several of us had to speed up for the last few hundred yards to make sure that we met Jeff in time for our 10.00 am start. Some saw peregrine and buzzard with a distant flock of brent geese also seen.
From the wall by the toilet block there were large numbers of wigeon whistling and coot grazing the field and with those with telescopes a very distant peregrine could be seen perched on a gate, but no little owl in the tree on this occasion.
As we moved into the reserve proper there were robin, blackbird and pheasant near the office. We continued along the track and the fields and pools were teeming with birds including: teal, wigeon, mallard, coot, shelduck, little egret, gadwall, meadow pipit and curlew. With the wind now behind us we spent several minutes watching a small a group of canada geese which had a small number of brent geese mixed in as there was a possibility of the pale-bellied subspecies being present – more of this later.
A couple of reed buntings were flying ahead of us on the track keeping low to the ground in an attempt to gain some respite from the breeze, even mute swans were being blown sidewards as they tried to fly on to the reserve. A group of greylag geese drew our attention as there appeared to be some white-fronts in with them. There were around a dozen to be seen in the end moving through the gullies in the field – sometimes with just their head and neck showing with the bright white around the base of the bill giving them away. Jeff decided that we needed to have a break from the weather too, and we all gathered in the Wellmarsh Hide for a quick “coffee break” whilst we watched lapwings being flushed by up to 5 marsh harriers, dunlin, along with more of the aforementioned ducks.
As the tide was coming in we wasted no time in moving on, but by the time we had got to the sea wall hide there were few areas of mud available, and as the wind was coming from the south it was generally more comfortable to look out over the reserve inland. The few brave souls who kept the flaps open were able to see huge flocks of dunlin flying up the river to roost on the reserve. Jeff spotted a great crested grebe and there were a couple of unidentifiable ducks which defeated us in the swell.
After lunch Jeff took us back to the floods where we again saw huge flocks of birds in front of the hide. Marsh harriers were again in evidence and then a couple of folk got onto a ring-tailed hen harrier which an eagle-eyed Malcolm spotted flying low over the fields in the distance. As we continued to notch up more bird species, including stonechat, pintail, redshank, black-tailed godwit, grey heron and ringed plover, we noticed that a huge group of waders were flying around in front of the Wellmarsh Hide. Although we diligently watched we couldn’t see the reason for their behaviour, but decided that it would be best to go back to that hide to see this fantastic show close up.
We were not to be disappointed. There were over 1200 knot, 260 grey plover and 2500 dunlin – yes of course we counted them all! [In fact we met up with Gordon the reserve warden and he gave us the official figures.] One lone avocet was spotted behind all the waders.
As we scanned the scrape Gordon pointed out a “red-head” female smew on one of the pools at the back of the scrape – a previous birdwatcher had mentioned it but at the time it was actively diving and they couldn’t see it, now it was swimming with a group of wigeon and staying very close into the bank of the pool but was visible as it ventured out of shelter from time to time. The last time this species was seen at the reserve was 2002 and the time before that 1997! We were therefore very lucky to get the opportunity to see this particular bird. The consensus is that the windy weather had pushed the bird onto the reserve and whilst this weather continues there is a good chance it would stay.
One of the knot had colour rings on it and is part of a Dutch bird ringing scheme. [Will post further details as and when available].
We finally dragged ourselves away from this ornithological cornucopia (sorry Malcolm!) and started on the long trek back to the car park.
Gordon caught up with the last few in the car park and told us to keep our eye on the lapwing and starling flocks on the way out where there several ruff. With some careful scanning we managed to spot 7 ruff with the very distinctive pale feathers around the base of the bill.
Thanks to Jeff for leading an excellent walk and to Gordon for some excellent pointers which helped us all to see some great birds.
Number of species seen today : 50
Number of species seen YTD : 75