Sunday, 15 January 2012

Isle of Sheppey with the Hemel RSPB group (14th January)

The usual start of the year trip to the Isle of Sheppey was, as always, extremely productive with a variety of waders, raptors and owls around the Isle.  We met as a group just outside Hemel before making the trip, by shared transport.

PS. I have also decided to type BIRDS OF PARTICULAR INTEREST in capitals as well as in different colours whilst the majority of birds will be typed in greenRARITIES and MEGAS will be writen in bold red.  Probable and possible records, birds I have missed, escapes and feral birds will not be highlighted in colour.


The usual count of 3 Buzzards and 4 Kestrels was a usual average, however the low light and cold temperatures (only -4°C) ment very few raptors had decided to start hunting.


Our first stop on the Isle was the Raptor watch point on the southern side of the Isle.  As we drove slowly to the small mound, that represented the closest to a hill in miles around we saw 3 Stonechats (1pair and a single ad.♂).  From the car we also saw flocks of Lapwing to the west of Capel Hill.  Other birds of note, just west of the raptor watch point included 3 Red-legged Partridge, 1 Reed Bunting and a single flyover Green Sandpiper and the first juv. Marsh Harrier of the day.  From the watch point I picked up on a large flock  of White-fronted Geese (numbers were difficult to tell as a large proportion were out of sight behind a mound in the field, but they were certainly over 100), as they were feeding east of the watch point in the Leysdown Marshes area.  The birding gradually improved through the course of the morning, and as temperatures rose and the ground frost melted 3 individual Marsh Harrier were seen (2, 1).  A single Kestrel was on a pile of newly dug earth near Capel Fleet and 2 Buzzards were of note (creating a little bit of excitement whenever one was seen due to the prospect of being one of the recent 2 Rough-legged Buzzards that had last been seen in the area two days prior to our visit).  The group and I were soon treated to a distant view of a SHORT-EARED OWL, perched on the edge of a field south of the raptor watch point, but even better the shout went up when a HEN HARRIER was found almost out of view behind a mound close to the spot were the Short-eared Owl had been found.  Fortunately, for the ID it took flight after a few minutes and headed east towards Eastchurch Marshes, showing its white rump (ringtail) very clearly.  One of the local birders was also kind enough to point out a 1st year MERLIN in the field north of the watch point and provided great views as it sat and preened on the ground.


Our next stop off point was down Harty Ferry Lane were we parked up and did a short scan of the scene from the car park before going down to the edge of the Swale to survey the Waders and Geese down on the expanse of mud.  An accurate count of Wildfowl and Wader numbers was difficult to conduct due to the masses of birds that were present and would have taken several hours to build an accurate picture up of the exact numbers.  However, The highlight was the sight of 100's of Black-tailed Godwits take to the air followed by dozens of Bar-tailed Godwits.  Other wader species included 44+ Knot with several Redshank amongst them as well as occasional Turnstone and 2 Grey Plover near the river edge.  1 Great Black-backed Gull was also of note as were 2 Dunlin, amongst the large number of Godwits and Curlew.  To the east of the jetty a BARN OWL began to quarter the fields and we were lucky enough to see it come closer, and stay in clear view for several minutes as it gradually made its way towards us, before heading back west again towards the Swale NNR.  The next highlight for me was a juv.  HEN HARRIER that I found as it dived over the brow of the hill to the west of the path putting up a large flock of Woodpigeons in the process, a great give away.  Further birds of note included 3 Marsh Harriers (2♀, 1♂) and a possible flock of 4 RED-BREASTED MERGANSER.  The final spectacle was the amazing sight of 100's of Brent Geese take off from the estuary mouth and head north into the Isle in a long trailing line.

 hundreds of Brent Geese taking of from the marshes to head inland


Peacock, strutting around one of the barns

some of the 44 Knot with 1 Dunlin amongst their ranks


The weather was improving throughout the day and the frost had long since disappeared  as the cloud cover 0/3 and wind 0/3 helped the temperature to climb.  Back at the car park we decided to take a walk down to Harty Marshes that overlooked the vast expanse of mud at the Swale estuary.  1 Marsh Harrier was of note and as I scanned the 100's of Brent Geese and White-fronted Geese further north of the path a flock of woodpigeons took flight.  As always superstitions were boosted over the prospect of an additional and possibly new raptor to the day list, as expected it only took about half a minute for an adult Peregrine to bolt into view at the end of the line of Woodpigeons, the second time Woodpigeons have given away the presence of a raptor today!  The Swale estuary was extremely impressive with thousands of Waders wading through the shallows.  The numbers were massive with 100's of Godwits, Curlew, Dunlin, Shelduck etc and no fewer than 17 AVOCET were amongst their masses.  Unfortunately the time we had to survey the numbers was limited so a thorough search would not be possible. Instead, we resorted to marveling at the beauty of the popular Avocets).  Other birds of note around the reserve farmland included a single BARN OWL (possibly the same bird as the one seen at Harty Ferry Lane), 2 Reed Bunting, 2+ Stock Dove and 14 Meadow Pipits and 2 Peacocks (obviously from escaped origins resting in the barn in the small hamlet).


On our return we made a final stop at the raptor watch point were we clocked in another 2 Green Sandpiper, 2 Reed Buntings, 4 Red-legged Partridges and a further (self-found) SHORT-EARED OWL.  Unfortunately, we were informed by the 30+ people that 2 Great White Egrets had dropped into the Capel Fleet.  However, the view over the fleet was very restricted and they both decided to remain well hidden.  With the addition of our group, we totaled over 40 people all standing very cramped at the top of the raptor watch-point that only occupied a small area of several square meters, it must have looked comical from a distance.


Our final stop for the day was along Shellness road were dozens of Turnstones and Sanderling were frantically feeding along the narrow sand/shingle stretch of beach followed by c.97 Curlew.  The light was fading more quickly now and the rest of the members of the group were eager to return home so it was a race against time to find as much as possible out to see before rushing back to the car and home again.  In fact, the rush did bring out a few birds including a pos. SLAVONIAN GREBE, 1 Diver sp., 1 Sawbill sp. and a raft of 20+ probable COMMON SCOTERS.  A great finish to the day, definitely one of the best RSPB trips I'v been on.



89 of the near 100 Curlew flying south

more Sanderling

more Turnstone pics


(all photos taken by Ephraim Perfect)

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