A day on the Isle of Sheppey with Keith and Dave. The Isle of Sheppey lies in the Thames estuary and is connected to the north Kent coast by a bridge. Surrounded by water it is a birding hotspot in the South-East. Unfortunately, it is also poorly served by public transport and so not somewhere I can get to regularly.
The weather forecast was not promising as Dave picked Keith and me up at Gillingham. Our first stop was Funton Creek, on the mainland side of the Swale, the stretch of water which separates Sheppey from the mainland. Here the birds were distant as the tide was not as far in as we had expected. There were a variety of wading and waterbirds present but the stars were the large party of Northern Pintail, the drakes showing well in their fresh plumage even at distance.
Onto Sheppey and a stop at Capel Fleet, where we saw Marsh Harrier, Kestrel and Buzzard plus a good number of Corn Buntings (this is one of the best sites in the SE), a pair of Stonechats and heard a singing Cettis Warbler.
At the eastern end of the island is the Shelness national nature reserve, where there was a good number of waders roosting on the beach including Oystercatcher, Red Knot, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Sanderling and Turnstone. Further out on the marsh there were large flocks of Brent Geese.
Our final stop was at Harty Ferry, so-called because it was the site of a ferry between Sheppey and Oare until 1941. On the way down to the ferry, we see large numbers of Red-legged Partridge on the fields. The tide is now well in and large numbers of Bar-tailed Godwits are the last waders on what remains of the saltmarsh or at least that what it seems. Suddenly, a large flock of Common Snipe take to the air, perhaps 40 or 50 in number and is that a smaller snipe in with them, a Jack Snipe perhaps? Sadly they flew off and we were unable to confirm it. A Barn Owl and a Short-Eared Owl were seen briefly but I didn’t see either of them. The star of the day though was the female Hen Harrier, which flew across the Marsh in front of us. This used to be the commonest of our two Harrier species but is no much rarer than its reed-bed cousin, the Marsh Harrier due to persecution and destruction of its moorland breeding habitat.
A Brown Hare had obviously been caught out by the rising tide as we saw it ‘swimming’ back to the dry land through the flooded saltmarsh.
Time for a coffee at the Harty Ferry Inn and then the drive back to Gillingham. Thanks to Keith and Dave for a great day out.