I arrived on the seawall just as dawn was breaking as you can see below and it was both mild and very damp from overnight rain. What you can't see due to the light, are two wildfowlers sitting in front of me halfway across the saltings.
After an hour and no shots fired the two of them were still out there and so I rang one up on his mobile to find out if he had seen much prior to my arrival. Apparently he had bagged one Teal and claimed to have heard some Pink-footed Geese fly along the saltings in the dark, if he was right then hopefully they will be re-found some time today by any birdwatchers out and about. As well as the two wildfowlers mentioned I could just make out the heads of another two at the far end of the saltings by the old barges and that total of four is the most that I have seen out there in the last couple of months, which pretty much describes how few wildfowl there are in the area.
In recent weeks the two RSPB fields alongside the reserve have been attracting both good numbers of birds and as a result increasing numbers of birdwatchers. The principal interest has been increasing numbers of Lapland Buntings, peaking this week so far at 20-22 birds, a number unheard of on Sheppey for many years, if at all.
These two fields, that run between the public footpath that runs down behind Muswell Manor and the edge of the reserve are simply two grassy fields. What makes them so attractive to a large and varied number of passerines however is their progress over the last year.
Three years ago the two fields were part of the neighbouring arable farmland and shot over and were two of four purchased to eventually come into the RSPB's ownership. During autumn 2010 the two fields, after levelling and landscaping, were re-sown with grass seed which by this Spring had produced a good green sward. As I understand it, the fields are destined to become yet another two examples of grazing marsh for the benefit of breeding Lapwings, as though we need more! For whatever reason the fields were left to become totally overgrown and the wide variety of grasses, corn, wild oats and rape, all run to seed before the fields were eventually cut in late September. The resultant grassy base of the fields, packed with all manner of wild seed, first became a magnet this autumn/winter for flocks of a 100+ Skylarks and Linnets and then gradually Reed Buntings and the Lapland Buntings have followed. It has become an accidental example of what you can achieve out there by providing that, in very short supply, that type of habitat and hopefully the senior RSPB management will now re-consider their original plans for the fields.
One last point of possible interest to some readers, Ellie continues to make progress as you can see below. Despite her little legs she now manages to complete an almost full patrol round the reserve in company with Midge. I think she's always going to be a much shorter version of Midge but she has tremendous stamina and character.
Tonight, and not by choice, I have to stay up until well past midnight in order to calm Midge as we endure the barrage of fireworks that now have to be let off each New Year and so panic her.