Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Harriers and WEBS


This morning saw the weather back to grey clouds and a cold NE wind which made it less pleasant walking round the reserve. Fortunately, despite a strong NE wind, the last two days have been cloudless and sunny and quite warm out of the wind.

On Sunday the first of the six monthly winter Harrier roost counts took place at several sites around Kent. Basically this results in an observer in place at each regularly known site ready to count the two types of harrier as they drop into their evening roosts, it also means that you are there until it is pretty much pitch dark. Can get tricky if you're trying to make your way back across a wet and muddy marsh in the dark.

My site is obviously the Swale NNR and I arrived at 5.00 Sunday afternoon in order to enjoy a walk across the reserve and the late sunshine before it eventually got dark at 6.30. The most enjoyable part of the walk was finding that there were no duck shooters out that evening, not on the saltings, the new ponds, or in Capel Fleet. Very unusual for a Sunday evening and normally the cause of much disturbance to roosting harriers, who generally roost in either tall reed beds on the marsh or the saltings.
I ended up in the reserve's Tower Hide, which gives excellent views across all of the reserve and the surrounding marsh and watched a beautiful sunset but no roosting harriers. A couple of female Marsh Harriers did carry out a bit of late hunting across the reserve but they left before the light closed in. That's often the way for the first count but walking back in the near dark and listening to the various sounds across the marsh was worth being there.
It was not all bad news though because at two other sites on Harty there were counts of 9 and 67 Marsh Harriers going into roost, with the 67 all going into one small reed bed.

Yesterday afternoon the three man Swale NNR team carried out our monthly Wetland Bird Survey (WEBS) count, a national count done at high tide to count all wetland bird species. Yesterday's was spectacular because of a very high Spring Tide that was being pushed in roughly by a strong ENE wind. For the two observers at each end of the reserve, which included parts of the saltings, this meant an earlier start in order to count the birds before they were moved off their normal roost sites by a tide that eventually covered the saltings. I don't know the full amounts yet but apparently the wader counts at Shellness Point, where the beach normally escapes the highest of tides, were quite spectacular and higher than this time last year.
Me, I always count the bit in the middle, the marsh and surrounding farmland, and this because of the continuing drought, was spectacually poor. For instance, I walked the whole length of the "S" Bend Ditch and got just one Green Sandpiper, its very unusual to not even get one single duck in there. My duck tally for the whole of the marsh was a miserly 35 Mallard and 4 Teal which is quite ridiculous but the ditches are just so low or dry.
That fact also creates a problem with my two dogs, because after a good run they do enjoy a swim and a drink in a ditch and so despite my shouts of "NO", in they plunge. The result in just an inch of water over three foot of stinky black mud is Nana the Beagle coming out with four black and smelly legs up to her shoulders and Midge the Jacko changing from white to all over black with a whitish face and looking like the mascot for the Black and White Minstrels. Not pleasant in the back of the car on the way home!
Anyway, back to the WEBS and for me the best count was in a field of newly-sprouted winter corn next to the reserve and here I had a final tally of 1,000 Golden Plover, an exceptional count for this time of the year!

It was a busy couple of days and this morning, although cold and cloudy, it was just nice to wander about and not particually count anything.

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