We could not believe our luck on Sunday morning when 16 of us met at Shellness by the seawall for our 4th outdoor meeting of the year. The sun was shining and it was not raining! After a short debate, and on Ian’s recommendation, we decided to take a few of the cars down to the NNR carpark at the end of a very potholed track. This was so we could walk along an embankment to look for a group of white-fronted geese that Ian had seen on a previous visit. This area is the Swale NNR and is owned and managed by ECT( Conservation) Ltd who also manage Elmley NNR. The reserve is a grazing marsh that supports significant populations of wildfowl. We were not disappointed. As we walked along we could see large groups of ducks and geese and waders all over the very wet fields and marsh land. Shelducks galore, flying, swimming, feeding and bickering. Brent geese, teal, gadwall, curlew and golden plover all happily sharing the watery landscape. The sky would suddenly fill with lapwings and starlings forming great swirls of birds before settling back on the ground.
Not only was the sight of so many birds a wonder but also the sound. The sun seemed to have made some birds think it was spring. The air was full of skylark and meadow pipit song as they flew over our heads. Reed bunting and house sparrow were singing or chattering in bushes and the haunting call of the curlew drifted over the fields. Next we observed some greylag geese in the distance which on closer inspection yielded many white-fronted geese amongst them, and some great views were had by all. Retracing our steps, our minds on lunch, we had a magnificent view overhead of 2 buzzards accompanied by what appeared to be a female marsh harrier.
Lunch was beckoning and we headed for the beach. The tide was rising as we made for the block house or XDO post as it is known. Eating lunch in the sunshine and enjoying views of masses of waders flying onto the point, what more could we ask for? Hundreds of oystercatchers, dunlin, bar-tailed godwit and ringed plover, all trying to fit on an ever decreasing point of land. Early finishers of lunch started to scan the Swale with their scopes and our ace spotter Alan E called to our attention a red-throated diver swimming not too far out amongst several great-crested grebes. After lunch we approached closer to the point to better see the wader roost, the tide being fully in by then, and had more wonderful views of bar-tailed godwit, dunlin and grey plover.
Next to Capel Fleet but before we could, Sue Griffin had spotted a short-eared owl flying and we all stopped to watch this graceful bird quartering the field. What a day and still more to come! Capel Fleet is the RSPB raptor watchpoint on Sheppey and we hoped to see all manner of birds of prey hunting or coming into roost. Again we were not disappointed as we had several sightings of marsh harrier, both male and female, and also of a merlin flying and then perched on a post. Gradually our group members began to drift off home until only 3 of us remained. We were watching a group of small birds in a distant bush which we suspected were corn buntings as it was their usual haunt, when suddenly our ace spotter Alan, spotted a bittern standing in the reeds. We watched as it posed and then moved slowly through the reeds. Time for us to leave also but not before we had stopped by the roadside to confirm the identity of the corn bunting by listening to their jangling keys call.
Magic. Thanks to Jeff for leading and ace spotting by Alan.