On Sunday 16 July the group visited Elmley NNR reserve. It was a warm, dry if humid day where a hat and sunscreen were the order of the day, together with provisions and drink as it is a mile long walk from the car park to the first of the hides around the scrape.
With Elmley the journey can be as productive as the destination including the car ride to the car park at Kings Farm and especially this summer as we were to find that the scrapes had dried out.
On the way in we saw hares, a family of kestrels and marsh harriers flapping lazily across the fields. In the car park we were greeted with the tinkerling of goldfinches and the cheeps of house sparrows on the feeders. Further down, at the pond, young swallows sat on branches begging for food from their parents. In amongst them were one or two young sand martins.
Elmley reserve is managed now as a private concern and several changes, since when it was managed by the RSPB, can been seen near Kings Farm including the enlarged car park and better toilet facilities. As you walk beyond the pond towards the Swale, you see another addition: one of several newly built ‘Shepherds Huts’ complete with an outside shower! (I believe there is another one inside). With much discussion about who would or would not try the outside shower we made our way to the viewing screen overlooking the Swale. The tide was out so the waders were quite distant save for a couple of curlews.
Summer can be a quiet time for birds ( or rather birdwatchers as the birds are busy bringing up their young), so it is not unusual that the group turns its attention to other wildlife.
With the sunny, still conditions it was ideal weather for butterflies, moths and dragonflies. During the course of the day we saw such delights as clouded yellow, painted lady, small copper, as well as red admiral, gatekeeper, common blue and meadow brown. We also saw Emperor dragonfly, black-tailed skimmer and Ruddy darter, to name but a few. Sometimes the best way to identify a particular dragonfly/damselfly species is to photograph them and then ‘zoom’ into the picture to examine the details against a guide; the problem is to find them sitting still long enough to get a decent photograph…
The birds also put in a good appearance: we had reed and sedge warblers feeding young, family groups of yellow wagtails along the path, skylarks singing high above, meadow pipit and reed bunting calling. My personal favourite came near the end when, following glimpses and enigmatic pings, we finally got rewarded with a splendid couple of minutes watching a magnificent juvenile bearded tit with fresh bright colours, sitting on top of the reeds. Magic!
As mentioned above the scrapes had dried out; the dry winter had meant there was insufficient water on the reserve to keep them flooded throughout the summer. The surrounding creeks and tributaries still held water and we could see perhaps half a dozen avocets and a redshank feeding around the banks. It was only when a boat plane flew low overhead ( landing on a creek nearby) and causing all the waders to take to the air that we realised there were in fact about 40 avocets altogether with approximately 20 black-tailed godwits in amongst them.
Others sightings during our visit included a fine male marsh harrier and a juvenile flying close by in front of the hide. On the water were little grebe, little egret, pochard families, greylag geese, shelduck, heron, whimbrel and lapwing. In the fields flocks of starlings and high in the sky swifts.
We finished our day with further dragonflies and butterfly chases at the pond and on the way out, Maria and I added one more species: a stoat running along the road, distinctive with its black tipped tail.
With thanks to Maria for the photographs.