Isle of Sheppey, Kent 5th November 2009 ........

Setting off from Surrey in the dark, we arrived at Shellness on Sheppey at about 7.15 a.m. but the tide was still very low. We did see plenty of Oystercatchers and Redshanks out on the mussel beds, but apart from several Meadow Pipits, one Rock Pipit and a female Hen Harrier, little else was showing, so we decided to move on to Capel Fleet for an hour or so.
Standing on the raptor watchpoint, we were rewarded with good views of at least 6 Marsh Harriers, 2 female Hen Harriers, a distant Peregrine that was being mobbed by a Marsh Harrier and eventually landed on a field (and remained there for 30 minutes or more), a Sparrowhawk and a Kestrel.

Male Marsh Harrier, Capel Fleet (Graham)

Male Marsh Harrier, Capel Fleet (Graham)

Spot the Peregrine, Capel Fleet

Also at Capel Fleet, 9 Bearded Tits flew up high out of the reeds near the viewpoint and headed along the fleet. Three Ruff and around 200 Golden Plover were in flight and several Red-legged Partridges were sent into a panic by one of the Hen Harriers. Unfortunately we failed to see any Merlins or Short-eared Owls, which were our target birds for the day.

We decided to head on to the Elmley RSPB reserve, which turned out to be a bad decision.
There was little of interest, either along the access track or on the reserve. As we walked to the first hide, 55 Barnacle Geese flew over our heads and at the hide they could be seen distantly in the company of what looked like two Emperor Geese. The Barnacles were almost certainly feral birds. Apart from one or two Marsh Harriers, little else was about and it is the first time that I have ever failed to see waders at Elmley.

Feral Barnacle Geese, RSPB Elmley (Graham)

Slightly disappointed, we trudged the mile and a quarter back to the car and headed back to Shellness. By now, the tide was in and there were plenty of Turnstones along what remained exposed of the shell-strewn beach.
Eight Little Egrets were on the saltmarsh and a female Hen Harrier did a distant fly-past. About 20 Curlews were roosting on the saltmarsh as we walked towards the blockhouse.

Turnstone, Shellness

Turnstones and Dunlin, Shellness (Graham)

Little Egrets, Shellness

Female Hen Harrier, Shellness (Graham)

Beyond this point we were treated to the sight of thousands of waders roosting on the beach, mainly Dunlin but also large numbers of Grey Plover and Knot with a few Ringed Plovers thrown in for good measure.

The wader roost at Shellness (Graham)

On the more distant spit, several hundred Oystercatchers and around 60 Bar-tailed Godwits were roosting. A few Brent Geese were on the Swale and came quite close to the shore but, with the westerly wind, sea-watching a waste of time.

Oystercatchers and Bar-tailed Godwits (Graham)

The time was getting on, so we decided to move back to the raptor watchpoint at Capel Fleet to see if we could locate a Merlin or Short-eared Owl.
No luck, but a couple of Green Sandpipers flew over and, as the light quickly faded, we headed back along the Harty Ferry Road and picked out a Barn Owl perched on a fence post by the road (too dark for a photo).
By now, it was time to call it a day and we headed back home.

Paul & Graham

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