Thursday, 23 February 2012

Shellness Sheppey 21-2-2012

On Tuesday Alan and I went to Shellness with the aim of catching a Short Eared Owl. We got there at – I was late as the M2 had been closed for an accident and I had had to divert via Maidstone doubling my travel time. En route however I had seen a Buzzard overhead so not all bad news, however Alan was one up on me as he had had a Sparrowhawk pass about 10 feet from him and also had Jackdaws which I had missed. A quick look over the Sea Wall gave a couple of Turnstones and a number of Black Headed Gulls, but little else. As the tide was in we made our way down to the High Tide Roost by the gun emplacement. When we reached the riverside a check of the groynes revealed a Purple Sandpiper hidden among the Grey Plovers, Redshanks and Turnstones on the posts.
Grey Plover  - Canon 400D + 100-400mm

Turnstone and Purple Sandpiper - Canon 400D + 100-400mm

Purple Sandpiper and Grey Plover - Canon 400D + 100-400mm
By the time we got to the gun emplacement what had started out to be “nice and sunny” had deteriorated into “dull and cloudy with a blustery wind” making the scopes just a little unstable and the smaller waders a wonderful juddering blur and sadly, unidentifiable (to me). We did see several hundred Oystercatchers and to the right of them was a similarly sized mixed flock of Godwits (Black Tailed I believe), Dunlin, Grey Plovers, Redshanks and several Sanderlings. On our way back to the car park the tide had started to go out and feeding on the shore nearby was a Redshank, two Ringed Plovers, a Knot and quite a few Turnstones, as we watched more waders arrived, Grey Plovers, Dunlin, Oystercatchers and several Redshank’ this short stretch started getting very busy, a brief burst of sunshine (the last for the day) gave me enough light to get a couple of clear shots.

Five different Waders  - Canon 400D + 100-400mm
Our next viewing point was to look out seawards (East) which revealed very little except a large flock of about 150 Mallards and one Pintail Duck.

The last venue was a bit of a walk away, out into the marshland to the Sea Wall hide to have a late lunch there. Near to the gate of the nature Reserve were a few Linnets and a small flock of House Sparrows, however as we walked on activity seemed to drop off. A sad sight was seeing a couple of tractors ploughing all the fields to our right, in January this area had been home to hundreds of Brent Geese, Lapwings and Golden Plovers, today though there was nothing except a small cloud of Gulls following the distant tractors and about a dozen Red Legged Partidges who looked a little lost running alongside one of the ploughed fields. (Having read “Letters from Sheppey” Blog it looks like this ploughing has been going on for a few days).

As we neared the first bend, things picked up a little with a Little Egret to our left and three geese flying overhead a pair of Brent Geese with a white Goose. A scan with the scopes over all the fields about picked out a Kestrel on a distant fence post; a mixed flock of Golden Plovers, Lapwings and Starlings in a couple of distant fields and a two Mute Swans even further away in a gully. Nearer at hand were half a dozen Greylag Geese (no White Fronts though). A scan of the shore line revealed a large number of Shelducks and Curlews. It was about this time we picked up our first Marsh harrier of the day, but it was some distance away).

Ringed Plover (near gun emplacement earlier when there was some light)  - Canon 400D + 100-400mm
We reached the Sea Wall hide to find the ladder cut off and a Health and Safety closure notice. Why only on the hide, why not a warning in the Car Park too? A long walk to see a rotting shed on stilts, I have had better days! However I was close enough now to a small group of white geese I had seen earlier and as expected they were Domestic Geese.

The return trip picked up a bit with more sightings of Marsh Harriers quartering the wetlands, Shelducks and Curlews flew past us making their way inland and several Reed Buntings were flitting between the footpath and the reeds to our left. A Cormorant also flew past. I again checked the Lapwing fields by the bend and was surprised to see among the Plovers and Starlings a Marsh Harrier, just sat in the middle of them all. The photo is very grainy as the light was awful and they were over 500M away. I have underlined the smaller birds with little red 'x's. It was while we were watching the Marsh Harrier that a Sky Lark started to sing high above us, in the overcast sky he was easily picked out.

Marsh Harrier amidst Lapwings and Starlings  - Canon 400D + 100-400mm
We were about 400 yards from the car park when a large grey shape took off about 100 yards to our right which the binoculars revealed to be a male Hen Harrier, only the second Hen Harrier I have ever seen and my first male of the species, a fantastic sight, he kept very low to the ground heading South where we lost it close to the shore. I was glad we had made the trek after all, unfortunately I had already packed my camera up for the day. There was still one more to add to the list, in a tree next to the car park was a small flock of Corn Buntings.

Other species seen throughout the day included Magpies, Carrion Crows and Wood Pigeons. We had inevitably disturbed a few waders close to the path on our journey and I am sure Snipe were among these, however as I had not seen a stationary one, with my eyesight I am unwilling to call it. An odd day, with 38 between us, a bit low in all honesty but understandable with the ploughing and weather. In the car, BRFM radio had the news that the bridge off the island was closed due to a wardrobe fallen off the back of a lorry (I kid you not). A very odd day to be sure.

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