The weather forecast for our visit to Elmley Marshes on the Isle of Sheppey was not looking good . Both rain and high winds were expected. However, 15 hardy souls met in the car park to see how far we could manage. We had all arrived at the gate about 9 o’clock so that we could have a slow drive up to the reserve and there was plenty to see. Groups of starling were swirling around in the wind, alighting here and there to feed. A buzzard was spotted on the ground apparently tucking into some morsel. 2 or 3 marsh harriers were quartering the fields putting up many lapwing, wigeon and other wildfowl. Rooks and crows could be seen rootling around for titbits. Through the open car window skylark could be heard and seen. Small groups of curlew were also observed moving through the grass and then flying on to new areas. In fact by the time we reached the car park we had already seen at least 20 species.
Having wrapped up warmly we left the car park and proceeded along the track towards the first screen. The tide was only just beginning to go out after high tide so there was unfortunately little to see from here and the wind was so strong we did not linger. However, there is a large pool off the track just here, which held pochard, tufted duck and mallard. Along the banks where some of the ducks were loafing there was a large flock of golden plover behind, doing a good job of camouflage. They could barely be seen in the binoculars. Once they were in the air however, they were a spectacle to behold. One minute pale undersides showing and the next their golden plumage twinkling as they twisted and turned before returning to the ground. They were not the only wader waiting for the tide to retreat. Black-tailed godwits were probing for food in the soft ground with their long bills and a flock of dunlins were barely visible by their feet.
Proceeding on along the track we caught up with a couple of stonechats flying to and fro and perching up on bushes. Teal, greylag geese and a grey heron were spotted and then something was noticed floundering in the reeds just off the track. On closer viewing it was seen to be a large raptor flapping its wings but seemingly unable to fly off. We did not like to leave the bird like this so we alerted one of Elmley’s staff, Abby, who drove out to retrieve the bird. Later we discovered that it had been sent to a chap on Sheppey that helps injured birds. He would assess it and hopefully return it to the wild once recovered. It did not appear to have any obvious injuries.
The cool wind was speeding us towards the Wellmarsh hide for a welcome hot drink and lunch. As we sat there eating our lunch we watched the shoveler and wigeon swimming around. A pintail appeared from nowhere, previously hidden from view. A group of very cryptically camouflaged snipe were hard to see but with the help of a few scopes I think most of us managed to see them. More marsh harriers appeared flying over putting up great flocks of lapwing, wigeon and teal.
It was decided that because of the forecast of rain and strong winds around 2 o’clock that we would return the way we came and, if the rain had not arrived, we would walk down to the old school building to see if the little owls might be about. On the way back we stopped at the screen again to see what may have come to feed on the mud now revealed by the outgoing tide. Dunlin, ringed plover , redshank and grey plover had all appeared busily feeding.
Unfortunately it was too windy for the owls, who were probably sheltering out of the wind behind the school. Short-eared owls are also often seen flying in the area adjacent to the car park but again we think it was too windy for them. So, when the first drops of rain arrived, we made our way back to our cars, and slowly drove out along the 2 mile entrance and exit track.
A hunkered down hare was just visible and then one close to the track feeding gave much better views.
We managed at least 45 species for the day and had a mainly dry if windy day. So not bad considering the forecast.
Thanks to everyone who came and made it an enjoyable day.
Irene and Terry.
Thanks to Irene and Terry for leading and for the report. Thanks to Terry and Steve for the photographs. Also thanks to Sue for organising the visit.