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Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The Isle Of Sheppey - Owls about that then...

Saturday (14th) was a superb day weather wise, with unbroken sunshine, almost no wind and a heavy frost early on. The plan was a trip to the Isle of Sheppey, hoping to connect with some of the special birds that have been present as of late. It turned out to be a good decision.
The first sighting of note was from the new Sheppey bridge crossing where a flock of Brent Geese could be seen circling and dropping onto the grazing marsh, actually below the level of the car ... quite a different view!
Our first port of call was at the eastern end of the Island... Shellness and the Swale NNR. The light was stunning as we set off along the seawall to the hide overlooking the reserve.

Swale NNR

The highlights along the way included a smart ringtail Hen Harrier, Little Egret, and a Peregrine that appeared over the saltmarsh, before it or another started terrorising the Golden Plover and Lapwing flock a little later on. Viewing the reserve from the seawall by the hide, we located 17 White-fronted Geese amongst the Greylags and a Short-Eared Owl was seen briefly before disappearing behind one of the banks in the distance... the first of many. More about them later. The walk back to the car revealed a Kestrel, and several Marsh Harriers before the sound of Geese alerted us to the main flock of White-fronts (100-150 birds counted by others) dropping in to reserve, apparently from the Harty Marshes/Capel Fleet direction. Sadly we were now too far away to search for the Tundra Bean Goose seen recently.

Next stop was the fields around Muswell Manor. Here we saw a Stoat, before locating the Dark-bellied Brent Goose flock, and soon the Pale-bellied bird in the telescopes. The birds were happily feeding quite close to the road and I was pleased to get a couple of shots.

Brent Geese

The birds were then spooked by something as the sky was soon full of Geese, Waders and Starlings. The predator went unnoticed but it gave me a chance to get a shot of them on the sea.

Brent Geese

A walk to the RSPB fields was also rewarding with the highlight being the Lapland Buntings. Several were heard calling, and seen with the large Skylark flock when they flew up from the field. However Mum managed to get one bird on the ground in her scope and soon several birders were on to this smart Bunting - well done Mum! We also had 4 Short-eared Owls on view around us, one towards the Hamlet/car park, and 3 over the Swale NNR. One of these birds ended up hunting the field right in front of us before coming into contact with 2 Kestrels, which forced it to circle higher and higher. The contact and alarm calls were fantastic.

Short-eared Owl

Back at the car, a final look on the sea revealed 7 Red-throated Divers and a couple of Common Scoters.

Capel Fleet and the Harty Ferry Inn were the next stops. Capel was full of birders - never seen so many people on the Raptor viewing mound. Yet another Short-eared Owl was being harassed by a Kestrel and a Green Sandpiper showed briefly in flight, calling and then dropping into one of the nearby ditches. Harty Ferry was quieter birder wise but the birding was excellent. 3 Short-eared Owls and a Barn Owl were hunting over the rough fields to the east of the pub and the Swale revealed small flocks of Turnstone, Knot, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits. A couple of Snipe flew from the saltmarsh and a small flock of Long-tailed Tits in the Clay-pigeon shoot area had a Goldcrest in their midst.

Our final destination was Elmley Marshes RSPB & NNR. On route we had a group of Fieldfare near Eastchurch. The entrance track was relatively quiet but once at Kingshill Farm, we realised where all the duck had been all day. The Swale held a mass of Gulls and duck, mainly Wigeon, but also containing Shelduck and some smart Pintail. 2 Foxes were keeping a close eye from the seawall. The final Short-eared Owl of the day was hunting the rough grassland to the west of the track and Dad found a Merlin sitting on a gatepost before it zoomed off skywards. A Little Egret and some Teal were in the pools near the Oaks, and Mum rounded off the Owl count, finding a Little Owl sitting in the middle Oak.

Little Owl
Elmley Marshes from Kingshill Farm

So what a day out birding. Nice to see plenty of birdwatchers out enjoying the weather and the birds - good to bump into a few familiar faces too (Hi to MR & CG if they are reading this). No sign of any Buzzard species today on Sheppey but we did manage to see two Common Buzzards heading to roost as we came across the Downs at the Detling Showground. But there's always next time...


  1. What a nice visit with some excellent birds noted.

  2. Some good birds there! The weather has been stunning lately, albeit a bit cold! It seems to have been a good year for Short-eared Owls!
    Follow me at HEDGELAND TALES

  3. Hi Neil, Just started following your blog. Visited Shellness today missed the Laplands but good views of 17 white fronts and maybe 3/500 Brent. Also 2 SEO on the saltmarsh around the hamlet.No hen but 2 marsh harriers.

  4. Certainly cleared up there Neil, sounds like a perfect Sheppey Day :-)