Sunday, March 1, 2009

Isle of Sheppey, Kent - 28th February 2009

A day's birding in the Garden (or neglected window-box) of England, with Laurence and Paul, in search of Sheppey's classic winter sights and sounds before spring finally stutters in. We picked a perfect day, having not-so-riskily banked on the BBC forecast being completely inaccurate - mainly bright with sunny intervals (as opposed to the forecasted dark low cloud all day), and therefore ideal for potentially enjoying raptors on the wing.

One of the first birds encountered was a ring-tail Hen Harrier, almost connecting with our windscreen as we chugged along the single-lane road; a good harbinger, and through the course of the day, we were lucky enough to enjoy all the potential raptor species within a few square miles. Distant, heat-haze blurred views of a Rough-legged Buzzard perched on a haybail close to the prison weren't entirely satisfying - but watching the same bird giving a stunning performance much closer an hour so later surely was.

Scrapping gracefully with a Marsh Harrier (presumably on territory, judging by its behaviour and feet-dangling), the bird showed beautifully for several minutes before eventually drifting east. Talking of Marsh Harriers, we encountered at least 20 today - great birds though they are, it's hard to believe they've become the big-shape-in-the-sky, then bit-of-a-let-down equivalent of thermalling Cormorants high over Hackney.

were great value as ever, with one particular adult diving vertically into shimmering clouds of Starlings several times (just failing to score); a cracking male Merlin, picked up sharply by Paul, was more successful, and we watched it rip up and gulp down its quarry for a good 15 minutes before leaving it to digest in peace.

Common Buzzard, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk were all present, bringing our raptor species tally to eight for the day - not bad for a single site in the south-east of England.

Several Stonechats and Little Egrets, good numbers of Lapwing, Golden Plover and Shelduck were out on the marsh / in the fields, but a priority was the glorious spectacle that is the high-tide wader roost, and so to Harty for mid-afternoon. A very special experience, with thousands of birds at wonderfully close range and rarely another soul around, it's worth the trip out here for this performance alone.

Knot, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Oystercatcher
and Sanderling were all present in their multitudes, and 400 Brent Geese grazed in the field behind us (with a few tame birds along the shoreline); a wonderful place just to sit and be quiet for an hour. One godwit was resplendent in full blood red summer plumage, contrasting starkly with its more crptic neighbours.

A long, productive day, rounded off by aptly by a Barn Owl as we set off back to the city in the dark.

Peter and Jordan relax with the Mothership

Progbirder - Punk is dead, long live 'Tull fieldcraft

More Progbirders - deerstalker, beard and wellingtons = Rick Wakeman.