Posts Tagged ‘Shelness’

Last week Keith, Sue, and I spent a day birdwatching on the Isle of Sheppey, off the north coast of Kent. Our first stop was south of the town of Leysdown on the eastern end of the island. There had been a party of Shore Larks here for a few days and we hoped to catch up with these attractive but increasingly rare winter visitors to the UK. We had only just arrived when a pair of birdwatchers further along the sea wall were signalling to us and we were soon looking at a group of 4 Shore larks on the field below us. They then flew up onto the sea wall to give us even clearer views. There was also a large party of Brent Geese on the mudflats.

From here we drove west and took the Harty road towards the south coast of the island. This long and winding road crosses Harty Marshes with opportunities for birdwatching along the route. At one stop we saw a distant White-fronted Goose in a field, but we were struck by the absence of birds of prey, except for a lone Kestrel, along the way. This may in part have been a result of the strong winds that were blowing all day.

At the end of this road is Harty Ferry, the site of the old ferry to the mainland (now replaced by a road bridge at the western end). Scanning the marshes, we had a selection of wading birds including Oystercatcher, Curlew and a single Godwit. Two Marsh harriers were seen distantly but along with another two kestrels, these were the only birds of Prey.

Soon it was time to make our way back across Harty Marsh towards home, stopping briefly at a site just by the bridge to the mainland, where we saw a small flock of thrushes. Unfortunately, we were unable to identify them before they flew off. Were these a group of newly arrived winter thrushes?

A good day with the highlight being the wonderful views of Shore Lark.

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.

Sadly many people view these wild spots as just a rubbish dump!

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.

Hen Harrier (f)
Photo by Lorenzo Magnus ( https://www.flickr.com/photos/lorenzo-l-m/ )

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.