Kent: Part I
A trip to Elmley Marshes in Kent just over a week ago allowed me to get pretty close to a Wheatear:
Northern Wheater (Oenanthe oenanthe)
A Yellow Wagtail landed on another post almost as close but flew before I could point my lens at it. On the Safari-style drive out of Elmley, I found another feeding next to a cow:
Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava flavissima)
Elmley rarely fails to deliver a Marsh Harrier and my latest trip was no exception:
Western Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)
As I have described before, the vast, beautiful, but bleak wetland stretches out to become farmland. I took the photo below in March last year to show (just about) a Peregrine perched on a post outside of a barn:
Peregrine in front of barn
I looked back in the same direction on my latest visit and found a Common Buzzard perched in a similar place to the Peregrine 17 months before. I focused my telescope on the Buzzard and it promptly took off. Any birder will know how hard it is to track a moving bird at high magnification, but I more or less managed it. Suddenly there was a flash of white in my eye-piece and I momentarily thought that Buzzard had somehow grabbed a passing gull. The Buzzard and the white bird tussled and span in mid air. It wasn’t a gull though, it was a Barn Owl. As I focused on the mid-air scrap, the Barn Owl seemed to be the better off and had clearly initiated the attack on the Buzzard. The birds parted and the Barn Owl flew back into the large window hole shown in my photo above of the barn. It had clearly taken umbrage at the Buzzard’s presence so close to the barn. I have no photographs of this rapid and distant incident, but it is a memory that will remain etched in my mind.
I walked back to the car park and past the Wheatear again on a slightly different post and now bathed in the golden light of early evening:
The photos are not exactly Jonathan Lethbridge standards, but I was pleased with them nonetheless.
As I left the reserve, the air was thick with Hirundines. Mainly Swallows, but also House and Sand Martins.
Sand Martin (Riparia riparia)
By the time I was turning out of the reserve I glanced to my right and saw that they had concentrated in a meadow where they almost swarmed quite possibly in their thousands.
I drove off a happy chap and went deeper into to Kent to visit a friend.
Kent: Part II
The following day, my friend and I drove out before dawn to Oare Marshes. The fantastic reserve juts out into The Swale – the thin strip of sea (despite appearances it is not a river) that separates the Isle of Sheppey from the Kent mainland:
I had read about recent sightings on the Kent Ornithological Society website where a Messr Wright had written that, “The regular Hobby was in the lone Elder west of the road as usual first thing.” As we arrived in the pre-dawn gloom I looked west of the road and, sure enough, there was the the little falcon in the tree as described (excuse the poor phone-scoping):
Hobby (Falco subbuteo)
We walked along the sea-wall and identified a number of waders on the muddy flats of the Swale including Curlew, Dunlin…
Winter plumage Dunlin (Calidris alpina) on the right with unidentified wader to the left – it could be another Dunlin, but the bill looks more Knot-like to me
… and, Golden Plover:
Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria) still in summer plumage
As we turned down to face the Oare Creek, I saw two small terns fly past in the distance. I am at least 80% sure that they were Little Tern, birds I have only seen before in France, but they were just a little too distant for me to reliably give myself the UK tick.
Back inland, the actual Oare Marshes were coming alive with activity. Soon after we arrived, around 400 Black-tailed Godwit flew in:
Some of the Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa)
Aside from the ‘Blackwits’, there were snipe, little egrets and Ruff:
Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) – a white variant male in breeding plumage
Yesterday I drove North of the Thames into Essex to Vange Marsh:
Vange Marsh marked ‘X’ with Oare as ‘Y’ and Elmley, ‘Z’ with the River Thames in between
I drove with a specific purpose. It was my first Essex twitch. A Wilson’s Phalarope has remained there for a few days. The rare American vagrant was just too much of a pull to miss, although soon after my arrival a hunting Marsh Harrier almost made sure that nobody else got to see this rarity. Luckily it survived the swooping attack.
After the long walk to the site, the frenetically-feeding tiny wader was just identifiable through the scope at maximum magnification:
Wilson’s Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) just visible in winter plumage
Before screwing your face up too much at the shoddy image, please note that this bird is little bigger than a thrush, is almost a quarter of a mile away and is photographed through an iPhone pressed up to a scope eyepiece!
Distant it may have been, but that is a great rarity to have seen barely 40 minutes drive from my house. Stay tuned for more twitches likely in the future.
My trust scope and the rest of ‘the twitch’