Today, we visited RSPB Elmley Marshes on the Isle of Sheppey in North Kent on yet another mission - the intention being to add Spoonbill and Red-necked Phalarope to our year lists, both species reported to be present yesterday.
Setting off at 6 a.m., we arrived at Elmley at about 7 a.m. and headed along the access track that crosses Elmley Estate towards the RSPB car park. Many Lapwings, some with chicks, were beside the track and a few Yellow Wagtails, although not as many as have been seen in past years, Redshanks, Oystercatchers and a Black-tailed Godwit.
Once at the reserve, we passed Kingshill Farm and headed down the track to walk the mile and a quarter to the Wellmarsh Hide (the first hide on the reserve).
A Barn Owl was still quartering the ground near the sea wall by The Swale. We watched it for some time before it headed back past us and landed on a gate post.
A Corn Bunting was perched on a low bush and was singing its jangly song. Good numbers of Sedge Warblers, Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings were present and all showing very well.
A Mediterranean Gull flew high over our heads calling as it went, which was what alerted us to it. This was the first of nine summer-plumaged adults seen.
Several Pochards, Teal and Gadwall were present plus a single male Wigeon.
On arriving at the Wellmarsh Hide, another birder was already present and soon put us on to the female Red-necked Phalarope but it was very distant and the low sunlight gave poor views. After a long stay at the hide, hoping the bird would oblige and swim closer, many more birders arrived and so we decided to head on to the South Fleet Hide and return later in the day to get better views of the bird. Fifty plus Avocets were present at South Fleet and four Common Buzzards spiralled together in the distance. Two more Black-tailed Godwits were feeding distantly, as were a couple of Curlews.
At least nine Little Egrets were around the reserve and, in addition to the buzzards, raptors were represented by at least five Marsh Harriers and two Kestrels.
It was not that long before many of the birders that were in the Wellmarsh Hide joined us at the South Fleet Hide and so we decided that this would be a good time to return to the first hide.
On our return, the Red-necked Phalarope had move a bit nearer and eventually swam very close to the hide. Paul managed to get some good shots of it now the light conditions had improved.
Satisfied that we had completed part of our quest, we started back to the car park. Four Common Terns were present and two partridges were heard but not seen. Were they Greys or Red-leggeds? We were not sure but both of us still need Grey Partridge for our year lists - frustrating!
A Wheatear suddenly appeared on top of some mounds of earth and, back at the car park, we scanned the marsh for a last time and picked out a Whimbrel.
Two Swallows were perched on wires by the farm but the return trip back along the access track failed to produce much more in the way of birds.
No sign of the Spoonbills today, but I guess you can't have it all.
Paul & Graham