On Sunday 16th March our dedicated band of recorders carried out the last monthly Harrier Roost count of this winter at various sites in Kent. It had been a beautiful sunny and warm day and the early evening was just as good as I stood on the sea wall of the Swale NNR, waiting for any Hen Harriers to come in to roost in the saltings ahead of me. Little was happening bird-wise but I witnessed a double event that I've never seen before. First there was superb sunset in the western sky behind Harty Hill.
Amazingly, just half and hour later, rising from the hills behind Seasalter came a full moon.
As for the harrier count, well I saw no Hen Harriers at all going in to roost and it completed six monthly counts this winter where no Hen Harriers have roosted on the Shellness saltings at all, probably the first time for many years. That, and the fact that Hen Harriers have been very thin on the ground this winter on Sheppey anyway, confirms what most of know, Hen Harriers are in serious trouble. On the other side of the coin, the Marsh Harrier roost counts on Sheppey continue to remain very healthy and for the second month running, just one of the reed beds on Harty that was counted, recorded a roost in the high twenties.
Gradually, as a result of a couple of weeks of sunny, windy and drying weather, the high water levels on Sheppey's marshes are now starting to recede and drain away. Areas of grazing marsh that have spent the winter months under water are now drying out and beginning to green up again as the grass re-grows. The regular White-fronted Geese flock has finally left for it's northern breeding grounds and duck numbers are also starting to thin out as breeding activity starts to intensify. The sounds on the marsh now are dominated by the song of Skylarks and the courtship displays of Redshanks, Oystercatchers and Lapwings. In fact the first nests of Lapwings have already begun to appear as have those of some ducks, but with those have also come the first signs of casualties, odd eggs scattered around the marsh with the tell-tale signs of predation by crows. Every year, corvid predation has a serious effect on successful breeding by those birds that urgently need to increase their numbers, such as Lapwings, but fortunately most nature reserves these days have woken up to the need for properly managed pest controls. As a result corvid trapping is now taking place on places such as Sheppey's nature reserves and the surrounding farmland and people with common sense will hopefully reluctantly accept what they might see during their visits.
Finally, we're also at that frustrating time of the year when spring migrants are appearing. A time where you can spend endless hours and days searching every field and bankside for the first Wheatear and see nothing and yet others are seeing them daily. That first Wheatear sighting does eventually happen to lift the spirits but is not comparable to that warm Spring morning when the first Swallows come zipping past you, now that really is magic.