24 January 2015
Elmley and Capel Fleet
With little change in the ornithological scene I decided to try somewhere different. The sun was shining and despite a stiff NW breeze it was a joy to be outside. I decided on Sheppey and started the day at the Elmley NNR. I found a small group of Fieldfare adjacent to the entrance track but no Short-eared Owls, then drove very slowly along the track checking the vast flocks of birds that are enjoying the damp grasslands this winter. In addition to significant numbers of Lapwing I found several large flocks of Curlew, Golden Plover and Starling numbering many thousands of birds. Among one flock of Curlew I found at least a dozen Ruff. Several Marsh Harrier and Common Buzzard were seen hunting beside the track and over the fields.
|Any visit to Elmley begins with close views of Lapwing along the entrance track|
|Female Bearded Tit|
I continued on to Southfleet Hide where the sun was behind the hide and the views across the flood were perfect. There were huge numbers of Wigeon, with smaller numbers of Teal, Shoveler, Pintail, Gadwall and Mallard. Along the back of the flood a flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese was feeding and at least 7 Marsh Harrier, a Kestrel and 2 Common Buzzard were hunting. I checked through the flocks of at least 12,000 Wigeon hoping to find something less common, but only found 2 Black-tailed Godwit. I spent a while wondering how I might tell a European (limosa) from an Icelandic (Icelandica) Black-tailed Godwit in winter plumage, concluding there were no real features, and judging the bill length was impossible with a lone bird.
|A Marsh Harrier spooks the Wigeon|
|Vast flocks of Wigeon spook from the flood|
Eventually I dragged myself away and walked into the stiff NW breeze. The rising tide had pushed good numbers of waders close in and the new viewing screen allowed good views of about 1,000 Knot and 150 Dunlin. I first visited Elmley in 1981 and have to say the new management have made some nice improvements. There are now several nicely placed benches along the well maintained track, a screen for viewing Sharfleet Creek, a new wheelchair access pathway to Wellmarsh Hide and the reserve itself has been well maintained. A photographer wandering along the counter wall across the back of the flood was soon rounded up and sent back to the path, and told to walk below the skyline (A.T.G.A.N.I). The weather has surely helped in providing a lot of water across the fields, however the number of birds here is truly incredible, from the entrance track right across the reserve and the habitat looks fantastic for the breeding season ahead.
|Knot feeding along the tideline|
Scanning from the track as I left the reserve I found a distant Brown Hare and a Red Fox, and more large flocks of Wigeon, Curlew, Golden Plover and Lapwing.
I decided to drive over to Capel Fleet. Scanning into the sun from the hill I found 2 White-fronted Geese in the Greylag flock beside the fleet. Marsh Harriers were typically obvious hunting across all of the fields. From the viewpoint a Common Buzzard and a large flock of Mute Swan. I returned to Capel and scanned for a while finding a male Peregrine back towards Shellness, two more Common Buzzard, a Kestrel and a dozen Marsh Harrier. Out towards Elmley were huge flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover. From this new view point I rechecked the Greylags into the sun finding 2 or 3 Barnacle Geese feeding behind the flock.