Saturday, 31 December 2011

End of the Year

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.


  1. Really good numbers of Lapland Buntings Derek, Happy New Year to you and I look forward to a wander round with you soon.

  2. Thanks Alan, get in touch when you're free. Can't promise a list of birds such as you saw in East Anglia recently.

  3. Happy New Year Derek, Ellie looks a character. I will get down to Sheppy soon. Where is it best to park to go and see the Bunting Field?

  4. Tony, either at the tea kiosk opposite the county park outside of Leysdown, or the layby at the start of the Shellness track. Which ever you choose, then walk to Muswell Manor holiday park on the bend of the road and follow the track round its fence line to the farm barn at the rear. You are on public footpath then that goes all the way to the Harty Road. Follow that down to the first small gate on the track itself (a few hundred yards), immediately you go through that the two RSPB fields are on your left, with a raised bund (not footpath) between them.

  5. I was chatting with a wildfowler there on the 28/12 who was telling me that he hadn't fired a single shot this season so far, such is the lack of wildfowl.
    I have often wondered by your reference to the path as being on the 'seawall' as on my unfortunately infrequent visits (due to distance and time) the sea seemed an awefully long way off. Therefore you can imagine my surprise on that visit to find the water at the sea wall. Ha ha, that showed me!!
    Bad news that the 'dark empire' have been given the fields, I hope that they take note of your views, however I wont hold my breath.

  6. Ian,
    You will find that on the monthly high tides of around 6.0 metres or more and especially with a northerly wind pushing it in, that the tides frequently cover the saltings completely.
    "The Dark Empire" - not sure what you mean by that but the RSPB do far more good than they do bad.

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  8. Well Derek I have been a volunteer on two non 'empire' conservation projects, and regard them in the same way that local grocers do a certain well known supermarket chain. This is just my personal opinion and not that of any current group however. My reticence should tell you something.

  9. On a more positive note I wanted to ask your expert opinion on the matter of this years tremendous numbers (joy of joys) of Short Eared Owls. We have even seen them in numbers on the outskirts of London. My observation is that they act like a group of 1st year immature birds who migrate together, gradually becoming more territorial and then start to leave each others company and go elsewhere or even perish, possibly because the area cannot support that number in terms of food availability. There could of course be other explanations and in any case I dont have a shred of evidence to support any of this!