It's been a while since I went to Elmley RSPB. I don't know why because it's a great place and it's not too far from me. So yesterday I took myself down there for the morning and boy, was it chilly! It was so cold I put a hat on and not many people have witnessed that I can tell you.
The three miles drive along the entrance track only produced Lapwings, pictured above and below, a Kestrel and the ever present Crows. I'd hoped for a Merlin or a Marsh Harrier, but no such luck on this occasion.
Last time I came here was in the summer as I recall, it was warm and I remember photographing newly fledged Swallows being fed by their parents in the bushes opposite the house. Today it was cold and the windblown, leafless bushes were scant shelter for House Sparrows, a couple of Blue Tits, a few Blackbirds and at least one Goldcrest which I managed to eventually pin down after walking up and down for about ten minutes following it's high pitched call.
I like this picture of a Lapwing but who's are those fingertips poking out from under it's tail feathers!!
The walk down to the first couple of hides is quite a long way and it was straight into the teeth of the wind. So it was a case of head down and quick march, consequently not a lot was seen apart from whistling Wigeon, calling Curlews, distant ducks, hunting Harriers and grazing Greylag Geese. Some of which, it was noted later were their smaller cousins, White fronted Geese.
From the relative comfort of the first hide I watched Shovelers paddling round the margins with their heads almost permanently under the water, only surfacing to draw a quick breath before resuming their feeding. Also here were more Wigeon, someTeal, a couple of Little Egrets, a few small groups of Grey Plover huddled in the lee of the islands, a single snoozing Common Snipe and the very elegant drake Pintail pictured below, also sheltering from the elements. Notable by it's disappointing absence was the immature Spoonbill which has been gracing this hide quite regularly recently.
I decided to continue walking down to Southfleet hide just in case the Spoonbill was on the flood there but unfortunately it wasn't. But as I was scanning the area in front of the hide, I spotted a Peregrine Falcon carrying a fairly large, dark bird. I wasn't sure what it was but as I watched, it appeared to try and get a better grip on the prey but instead managed to drop it. I watched the falcon circle around low a couple of times as if looking for it's lost meal, but I think it actually dropped it into the water and wasn't able to retrieve it. It eventually gave up and landed on a fence post in the distance and to my surprise, a couple of posts further down was another Peregrine, double trouble for the local meals on wings. As I watched the two falcons a third, unidentified bird of prey swooped low over them and was immediately chased off by one of the Peregrines.
Exciting stuff. But more excitement was to follow.
I left Southfleet hide and was walking back over to the seawall path when I noticed a couple of small birds on a gravelly raised area about halfway to the gate. I'd seen lots of Meadow Pipits and Reed Buntings during the morning and fully expected them to be one of these species. But I was more than a bit surprised to see a bird with a yellow and black face, a black throat and brown streaked back. If my memory serves me right I said to myself 'what the hell is that' or something very similar. I grabbed my camera and fired off a couple of quick rounds before they flew a short distance and I think, landed alongside a couple more but I can't be sure.
I had no idea what these birds, pictured below were, and I certainly hadn't seen one before but with the aid of the photo's and a bird book and a bit of help from Warren when I got home, I was able to identify them as Shore Larks, a brand new tick. I was chuffed to bits to find them and the walk back to the car park, suddenly didn't seem too bad.