Isle of Sheppey

The imminent arrival of Storm Ciara necessitated the late decision to bring forward this walk by a day. As a result only seven members were able to participate despite excellent weather conditions.

We started at the Swale NNR car park and were immediately startled by a small raptor swooping back and forth over the dyke. Despite finding its perch we were unable to decide whether it was a male sparrowhawk or merlin. There was no such doubt about a peregrine perched out on the marsh. We then walked to the point but found a dearth of birds on the shore apart from a roost of some hundreds of oystercatchers. As we walked to the blockhouse small numbers of turnstones and ringed plovers appeared together with a few sanderlings and one grey plover. Beyond we found many shelducks and perhaps a hundred curlews lurking in the reeds. Marsh harriers patrolled and displayed behind them while at greater distance we could see large flocks in the air, some obviously of Brent geese and one very large one of golden plovers. On the sea great crested grebes were numerous with a Slavonian grebe keeping them company. Singles of red-throated diver and shag both landed on the water at a distance that allowed reasonable views.

We next proceeded to the raptor viewpoint, opportunistically scanning as we went. Particularly exciting was the sudden appearance of a female merlin determinedly chasing a small bird and then perching in view. Also enjoyable was the sight of well over thirty corn bunting on roadside brambles, part of a mixed flock which included pipits and starlings. At the viewpoint at least six marsh harriers could be identified as well as the red-legged partridges being disturbed by them. Two brown hares were seen running across the fields and as we left two more merlins flew sedately close by.

We finally headed for Elmley. The road to the farm held many hundreds of lapwings, a sprinkling of curlews and two ruffs. From the packed car park a sleeping long-eared owl could be viewed with relatively little difficulty, its camouflage resplendent in the setting sun. A walk to the ruined schoolhouse was eventually rewarded with views of the eyes and beak of the resident little owl peeking through a gap in the wall. The final course of our birding feast was two short-eared owls hunting in the sunlight.

The list for an excellent day totalled sixty one.