Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Wednesday 11th March

A day off and a chance to catch the last of winter on Sheppey. We intened to go for raptors and spent the whole day exclusively on the island. Dawn saw us crossing the Swale and the first raptor of the day wa soon seen - a Barn Owl hunting opposite the Harty Ferry Road turn off. The low mist, huge blazing sun low on the horizon made for a very atmospheric scene and we watched the owl for 10 minutes or so, a few Hares bounding around below it. Onto to Capel Fleet where a large flock of Corn Buntings flitted around. Visibility was poor due to the mist, so we moved onto the Ferry House Inn, taking in a second Barn Owl and large flocks of Chaffinches. The tide was out, but we got good views of Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit and Red-breasted Merganser, and turning back to the pub watched a ringtail Hen Harrier drift across the saltmarsh. A scan across to Swale NNR failed to pick out the Hooded Crow, so we headed off to Mocketts Farm and across the footpath to Harty Hill. A group of Pied Wagtails added to the list and a Stoat lept across the farmyard. The mist was now clearing and it was turning out to be a beautiful, warm morning. We'd hoped to pick out the Rough-legged Buzzard here, but although numerous Marsh Harriers and a (the same?) ringtail Hen Harrier were seen we were frustrated by the heat haze that made two distant white-headed raptors (on the ground) and herd of swans to be unidentifiable. Back to the raptor viewpoint, and apart from Marsh Harriers there was not much to be seen. We checked the reeds and ditches for Green Sandpiper and Bearded Tit, for the latter the conditions should have been perfect, but to no avail. At Capel Fleet I tried to get a better view of the swans but the heat haze was even worse, but just below the prison , on a grassy mound one of the Rough-legged Buzzards was found. A male Sparrowhawk also enjoyed the sunshine.

We needed some waders, so off to Shellness but there was not much to see, all the gull count went up. Onto Minster beach, where I picked out a distant flock of Sanderling, only for James to point 2 on the beach right under our feed! Ken of Halling fame also showed well - a new life tick for me, wonder when I'll get him on my patch list! Onto Sheerness, up and down any number of stairs just east of the sailing club looking for a Purple Sandpiper, but we were out of luck.

Elmley was the next and last port of call on the island. We failed to see the Merlin along the entrance track, and kicking through the oaks only added Goldcrest to the list. Down to the hides; Wellmarsh was very disappointing considering it was high tide - only a scattering of Ringed Plover proved their was life out there. However Southfleet was much better with good numbers and views of Avocet. The Swale held very little - I'd heard there'd been a clear out of wildfowl over the last few weeks. Only the Water Pipit further along the seawall could drag us up now. As we approached the beach where it had been reported a pipit flew up high of the wall and across the path and onto the pasture - was it the Water Pipit....I'll never know, it didn't return! Scanning across to relocate a GBB Gull I picked out a Peregrine sitting out some harassment from a group of irrate Lapwings. Then possibly one of the best sightings of the day for me - a Hedgehog! Sad I know but I've not seen a live one over 2 years. It curled up as we approached, before rolling own the slope! James' pessimism of finding a SE Owl would have had us back to the car in no time, but my optimism and Gordon Allisons's update on SE Owl sightings from the previous day saw us sitting out on the bench at Wellmarsh waiting for an owl to turn up. A second and third Peregrine were seen while we waited and right and cue at 16:15 a SE Owl slipped across the saltmarsh and put on a fantastic show for 10 minutes or so. James was happy so off we trotted, taking in a Pochard on the way (we'd written this off for the day). Back at Kinghill Farm we dipped on Little Owl but added a secon sighting of Ken. He was just off to the hides, and how I'd wished I joined him - Garganey grip off...grrrrrrrrrrrr! Final port of call was Rose Hill Wood, Bobbing for Firecrest - it was always a long shot and we failed, but at least added the elusive trio of Goldfinch, Song and Mistle Thrush to the list. A respectable 80 species, with some quality birds, on the list......and then 81 as a flock Fieldfares flew overhead as we strolled into The Bull, Barming!