Friday, 12 February 2016

Here and there on Sheppey

I'd planned to go birding with Phil (read his fab blog HERE) on Friday. The weather forecast was looking ominous and I was sure we'd take a raincheck, but it turned out that both of us could do Thursday instead, so we did. We had sunny weather most of the day, making things almost warm-ish by midday, and breezes were light. All very pleasant indeed.

We kicked off with a drive down the Elmley access track, and stopped almost immediately to admire this little charmer sitting on top of the big barn roof. The first Little Owl I've seen here.

The track produced large numbers of Lapwings, mixed in with a few Ruffs. The winter seed area was devoid of finch-life apart from three Linnets. We reached the start of the reserve proper and had a sneaky look for the Barn Owl in its box, but it wasn't at home. There was, however, a very large flock of Golden Plovers in the fields beyond.

This female Stonechat was by the track on the way back. No sign of her fella (I presume there was one, somewhere). We enjoyed close views of a couple of Skylarks dustbathing on the track ahead of us (sadly not photographable because of the windscreen!). A Marsh Harrier went over, and two Buzzards wheeled and miaowed in the distance. We found a lone Snipe crouched by one of the small pools, but our search for Brown Hares proved futile.

We went on to the raptor viewpoint at Capel Fleet after that. Scanning from the mound produced more Common Buzzards and Marsh Harriers, all very distant, and a couple of even more distant things that could have been male and female Hen Harriers, but could also have been another Buzzard and a gull. From the reedbeds Bearded Tits pinged but refused to show properly, and we had close but brief (very very brief in my case) views of a Water Rail. We met a fellow birder here, who'd seen the Richard's Pipit at Shellness earlier that day, but had failed to find the Shore Lark at Minster. We resolved to try for them both, and headed towards Minster first, aiming to be at Shellness for high tide at 3ish.

We located the right car park at Minster beach without any trouble  - you park right on top of the shingle ridge which has been frequented by a lone Shore Lark for some weeks. Gulls were around, mainly Black-headed, several of which were testily dive-bombing this poor Herring Gull.

The car park was also host to this adorable Sanderling, and it was soon evident that there were plenty more waders down at the shore, very close to hand as the tide was already a long way in.

Part of a large flock of Ringed Plovers and Dunlins, which we tried not to disturb (but they were constantly being bumped along the beach by walkers and dogs anyway).

We met a couple of people in the car park who'd seen the Shore Lark just 20 minutes before, and as we were talking to them it dropped down and landed on the beach very near us. Then it flew off again, and didn't return for a good 15 minutes.

I spent those 15 minutes photographing the little waders (here a Sanderling and a couple of Turnstones) that were going back and forth, and lamenting the fact that the sun seemed to have been consumed by a very grey cloud (pretty much the only cloud in the sky at the time).

I was also a bit peeved that I kept missing the Mediterranean Gulls overhead until it was almost too late. This was one of three seen while we were there.

Then the lark made a welcome return, and we spent a happy 15 minutes taking its photo while it fossicked among the shingle vegetation, quite unworried by our presence.

Lovely little bird. Much more confiding than the Norfolk trio I saw in December, and the light (though still clouded out a bit) was a LOT better than it had been that day. Hence my best Shore Lark pics so far.

We left Minster, just as the cloud rolled away and the sun came out (typical), and drove towards Shellness. The plan was to walk parallel to the coast along the flood defence wall, and look for a certain pipit. It was a lovely walk - tide-flooded and bird-filled saltmarsh on one side and open fields on the other. We found plenty of pipits but all were Meadows and none were Richard's.

But who can complain about that when this happened? A stunning male Hen Harrier came wafting along over the field. It was distant, and my record shots are even worse than I thought they'd be, but what the hell - what a bird.

Scanning distant gateposts produced what we're fairly sure was a pair of Peregrines. Closer at hand, Reed Buntings kept whizzing along the little reedy ditch.

There were also many Skylarks about.

Where the path suddenly gets bendy, there's a view over a shallow bit of water. Here were geese - mainly Greylags but also a few White-fronted. Shovelers dabbled on the open water, and there were a handful of Brents here.

There were, however, absolutely tons of Brents on the saltmarsh side. Their grumbly calls were a constant backdrop, and they kept coming in, in lines and clumps, joining the masses already there (alongside many Curlews, Redshanks and Shelducks).

On the walk back, we found the very fresh (virtually still steaming) remains of a Dunlin, which I'm SURE hadn't been there on our outward walk. I wonder what drama had gone on behind our backs?

Reaching the Shellness beach involved much careful stepping over and around flooded bits from the high tide.On the way we did find this lovely Kestrel. Although the waters were high on the marsh, the tide was already retreating when we reached the beach and sat down. We jumped up almost immediately after sitting down, because we heard a huge load of Brent Geese approaching us from the landward side. They flew low and directly over us and the sight and sound was quite staggering.

They arced round and gave us some stonkingly good views.

We settled down to watch the birds going along the shoreline. As ever, the gulls were most obliging - here a Common and a Great Black-back.

There were plenty of Oystercatchers - some close, some not so close.

As the tide ebbed, the waders wandered a bit closer. Here's a Grey Plover...

... and a Dunlin coming in to land. Soon there were about 100 Dunlins feeding in front of us.

This Curlew wasn't stopping though. And as the sun set slowly in the west, we made our way back over a slightly less flooded saltmarsh and homewards.

1 comment:

Phil said...

Very nice account Marianne and some super pics. You'll notice the lack of in flight shots on my account of the day. I'll quiz you on your technique next time we meet!!
I'll contact you in the not too distant re the elusive Richard's.