Welcome to my birdwatching blog. This blog will contain stories about my bird watching trips, interesting bird news and other tales that may or may not be bird related. I want to make it useful to the avid birder as well as those who may only have a passing interest in bird watching. I enjoy photographing bird life, common and rare through a spotting scope, not that they always sit still long enough for me. Being on the outskirts of North East London, my reports will not only cover my local patch of Redbridge/Waltham Forest, but also dip into deepest Essex, Suffolk, Kent and Norfolk.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Into the wilderness of Elmley Marshes

Elmley Marshes looking back towards Kingshill Farm

Elmley Marshes is a vast, flat expanse of grass and marsh land on the southern side of the Isle of Sheppey, where it runs along the northern side of the Swale estuary. Distance is a great word to associate with this place. The two mile drive from the entrance to the car park tests your driving as bird life is rich in the fields, channels and pools but the road is narrow and snakes around floods and gullies that if your car went in, well that would be that.

So at 5mph and one eye on the road and one scanning the landscape, it was easy to pick up the lapwings; some divebombing the car other seemingly oblivious to it and therefore making viewing them very close up a treat. A marsh harrier quartered in the distance and little egrets flew up from one channel and the down again to be hidden from view.
Disinterested Lapwing
Once at the car park at Kingshill Farm, there was the slightly strange sight of golden plover, dunlin and fieldfare all feeding in the fields together. The air was full of the distinctive calls of wigeon and coot. Overhead, small formations of shelduck glided in to mix with the curlew and oystercatchers that added to the chorus around me.

Around the farm there was no sign of the normally guaranteed little owls but a pair of goldcrests and some very friendly wrens made up for that.
There are five hides here and the first one is about 1.5 miles out so luckily it didn’t look like it would rain but it was bloody cold and there was a stiff (whatever that means) breeze. So with hoodie up, head down and hands in pockets, I trudged off in the direction of the counterwall hide. Bird-wise it was more of the same really. A few little grebes squawked away in the reeds and the mallard just float around as if they are pretending to be decoys.
Little grebe
Once at the hides, and it takes a while, there were two bonuses; a warm, well breeze-free shelter and  avocet. I love avocet. They are different. Long blue legs and a bill that is long and upturned. real freaks when I think about it but the symbol of the RSPB and why not.
Avocet. You should see their bills, no you really should.
In the distance, pintail, teal, shoveler, wigeon and Canada geese made up most of the wildfowl. On the wader front, at least 500 knot huddled together in a usual pose with dunlin, turnstone, redshank, curlew and grey plover all scored well. In the sky a pair of common buzzard occasionally got low enough to spook the teal. Marsh harriers wheeled and glided in ever increasing circles displaying to mates with one eye and looking for a tasty morsel with the other (know the feeling).

Oh good, a hide at last.

Now, there’s a first time for everything. This week, I saw my first live badger and today, I saw my first kestrel kill. I was watching the bird hovering like they do and suddenly it dropped like a stone and clutched what looking like a field vole. It then flew to the seaward bank and proceeded to rip the little fella to pieces. I felt honoured to see this and tried to video it but my camera had been doing the rounds in some swanky bar in Hoxton and the memory was full. I quickly dumped a few images and had time to get this. I know it’s just a kestrel but believe me, he’s sitting on a rodent, well, half a rodent and there is a bit of flesh in his beak.
Probably only walked 7 miles  but the fresh air and the wonderful sights and sounds really cleared the Hoxton Hooch from my head. If you ever find yourself on the Isle of Sheppey (Yeah, I know) have a gander at the geese and other assorted wildlife: much better than aspirin.

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