Sheppey, Eastling & Oare.
James Hunter and I arrived at Capel Fleet as the sun was rising on yet another mostly grey, dull, mild winters day. Within a few minutes we were watching a flock of around 150 White-fronted Geese which were rather uncharacteristically close to the road, albeit still several hundred yards away behind a low bank. They were accompanied by 8 Barnacles. It was not too long before a local farmer flushed the lot and they disappeared in the mist towards the west end of Capel Fleet.
A few minutes later 3 Whooper Swan's flew past; 2 adults and a juv. As the light improved we scoped the area and found the usual scattering of Buzzards and Marsh Harrier's perched on posts and banks and a few of the latter already quartering the edges of the fleet, reedbeds and rough grass.
We moved along to the "raptor watchpoint"at the other end of the fleet, pausing to look at the 20+ Corn Bunting and c100 Linnet that were present on their favoured bramble bushes.
From the watchpoint we soon had the wintering Hooded Crow (luckily for us flushed into view by a tractor), a distant ringtail Hen Harrier and a female Sparrowhawk. A good start.
Our next stop was Muswell Manor, out towards Shellness on the far eastern tip of Sheppey. Lapland Buntings had been being seen in recent days on a stubble field and we set out to search for them.
The stubble field was enormous and we started on the northern side, walking slowly alongside, listening and scoping for birds. It was very quiet. On winter wheat we had c200 Brents and c70 Skylark including one bird with a lot of white in the outer primaries that gave me a jolt when I first saw it. We also had another ringtail Hen Harrier and a few Buzzards and Marsh Harriers.
As we returned to the car Chris Gibbard texted me to say that they were watching from the seawall above the track to Shellness and had seen Lapland and Snow Buntings.
James and I joined them and over the next hour or so we scoped the stubble field as a huge flock of birds moved about it. There were at least 600 Skylark, 50 Linnet, 2 Snow Bunting and 2 Lapland Bunting. Unfortunately the flock never came close and in the rather gloomy conditions that was the best we could do.
A stunning sub-adult male Hen harrier flew along the back of the field towards the Swale NNR and on the beach behind us as the tide dropped there was a steady build-up of Knot, Sanderling, Dunlin, Turnstone and Oystercatchers.
Happy that we'd done better than we expected on Sheppey we headed off the island early afternoon and down to Eastling to check-out the Hawfinches.
On mixed woodland with plenty of yew and beech on chalk downland we found plenty of Hawfinches though they were mostly in the trees feeding and sheltering rather than sitting out on view. We estimated 40 birds but given how difficult they are to see there could well have been double that number.
Lots of Yellowhammers and a Marsh Tit added to our day list as we decided to end the day at Oare.
Arriving at Oare around 15.45 I laughed at James's suggestion that we leg it over to the creekmouth to see if the Long-billed Dowitcher was still on view - it was getting pretty gloomy. We went anyway and sure enough the first bird we saw, opposite the sluice, was the Long-billed Dowitcher, asleep on one leg on the waters edge. We walked back to the car along the sea wall, stopping to scan the Swale and the southern edge of Sheppey but added nothing to our days tally which at 86 species was rather good going.
|Capel Fleet at dawn|
|Buzzard on a swan that probably hit the wires|