Marianne and I were hoping to see some Brown Hares on the approach track at Elmley NNR on wednesday but on this occasion it wasn't to be. Plenty of birds though, some of them brown like the Curlews above and below who were present in large numbers and appeared to be making a good job of aerating the soft ground in the fields and around the margins of the apparently newly created scrapes.
Several Marsh Harriers were seen in the distance as we inched our way along, not once reaching the giddy heights of second gear. The Harriers were actually doing exactly the same but never straying into camera range. Lapwings and Starlings gathered in good numbers along the track side, some having a wash and brush up in the puddles and scrapes. The latter prompting thoughts of marauding Merlins. Gloomy weather, dodging potholes and being on the wrong side of the track on occasions all conspired to deny me acceptable pictures of them. No sign of said Merlins either.
Before reaching the car park, there's quite a large strip of land between the fields and the track which had been sown earlier in the year with Sunflowers and lots of other seed laden wild plants. It was great to watch flocks of Goldfinches, Greenfinches and Linnets all making the most of this seedy bonanza.
The concrete block adjacent to the ladies facilities in the car park affords great, distance views of the marshes and a closer view of the owl box in the nearby Oak tree. The occupant was clearly awake and didn't give a hoot about being the centre of attention. The first Barn Owl i've seen in a long time.
The walk down to the first couple of hides was fairly uneventful save for a Kestrel or two and the odd LBJ diving in and out of the reeds. The sky is huge here and we were struck by the large flocks of birds who constantly rose from the distant marshes, fleeing some danger, real or often imaginary before circling and resettling. Other flocks flew purposefully inland, pushed off their muddy feeding grounds by the approaching high tide. On offer from the first hide were a few Common Snipes who occupied one end of a long thin island, while the other end was packed shoulder to shoulder with Grey Plovers, Dunlins, Knots and a couple of Turnstones. I'm confident the ID's of these waders are correct because Marianne kindly told me so. I do need to go 'wading' more often. Shovelers, Wigeons and more distant Shelducks added to the picture.
We paid a quick visit to nearby Counterwall hide where the highlight was a pair of Stonechats, well spotted Marianne.
We pretty much exhausted the supply of interest at the first two hides but decided against venturing on to the next one. Instead we headed back to the car, intent on paying a visit to Shellness while there was still some light, dim as it was. The walk back to the car failed to produce the hoped for Short-eared Owl, but the reedbeds offered up a quartet or so of Reed Buntings, a calling Cetti's Warbler and a couple of pinging Bearded Tits, who inevitably remained anonymous.
After a bumpy drive along the Shellness track we paddled along the puddled path to the beach where the high tide had left thousands of waders and Brent Geese, (below with an assortment of waders) packed on to the remaining shingle and shell beach. We didn't know where to look first.
I really like to see groups of Oystercatchers in flight and there was plenty of opportunity here. There was a very large flock on the far side of the beach who were gradually dispersing east in front of us in small groups. I tried to get a few shots but once again the light got the better of me. The hoped for late sunlight from the setting sun failed to materialise and reluctantly we decide it was time to head back. Just before we did, a Peregrine appeared from the east and dived towards the shoreline, it made an attempt to catch a small wader, Sanderling I think, but abandoned the chase and continued west causing much havoc as it went.