Tuesday 20 November 2012

Twitching and Harrier Roost Counts

The Sunday just gone saw this winter's second Harrier Roost Count (HRC) taking place at various parts of Kent. If we're fortunate the weather is as it was on Sunday afternoon, clear blue skies, sunshine and no wind, although it got a tad cold once the sun had set, as it was below, behind Harty Church.

On my way out to the reserve at 15.15, I briefly stopped off at the Raptor Viewing Mound along the Harty Road, where around fourteen birdwatchers were enjoying the good weather. Several harriers had already been seen from there, including both male and female Hen Harriers, and so with the Shellness saltings in front of the Swale NNR, the favourite Hen Harrier roost site, I had high expectations for my count. I was also advised/warned, that a twitch had been going on along the reserve's seawall during the afternoon due to the appearance of a male Desert Wheatear - gawd, twitchers!
Parking up at the reserve barn and letting the dogs out of the car, I could see the group of twitchers standing on the seawall, right where I normally do the HRC but fortunately there were only half a dozen, others were already making their way back along the seawall. So the dogs and I set off across the marsh towards the seawall, bathed in the orange glow of the sun, now low in the sky, and rejoicing in the beauty of such a late afternoon.
Walking up to the group it was obvious where the bird was, by the direction that their scopes were pointing and I asked if they were looking at the Desert Wheatear. Fortunately one of the group could be bothered to reply, the others looked at me as though I was the village idiot, and continued talking among themselves - my lowly opinion of twitchers became even more entrenched! Anyway, the guy who did reply let me have a look at the bird through his scope, yes Desert Wheatear and five seconds later it was history. I wondered how far and how long these guys had travelled and rushed to spend such a short time making a tick and so asked the one who was being friendly, to my surprise he said he came from California! No, he hadn't jetted over at the speed at light at the beep of his pager, he currently now lives in Edenbridge but I guess that's far enough to come on a whim. We walked a short distance away from the other group and he carried on along the seawall home while I began looking for Harriers that might be coming into roost on the saltings, as the light was ebbing fast. As I did so, the remaining group began walking past and I made a second attempt at conversation by asking if they had far to go for home and all I got was a curt "no" as they all trundled past in silence - methinks I'll stick at being the village idiot and leave the twitching to those that feel that they know better!
By now it was getting colder and darker and yet still no harriers had appeared to roost, quite surprising as I'd seen two male and single female Hen Harriers regularly over the last few weeks on the reserve. Finally in the increasing gloom, I did spot a pair of Marsh Harriers drop into the reed beds alongside the seawall and then, briefly, in swept a female Hen Harrier. However, with a high tide part flooding some of the saltings, it clearly wasn't to her liking and she eventually made her way across the reserve and dropped into a reed bed by the barn, which is unusual.  
So, my count of just three harriers was pretty poor for mid-November but several other roosts were being counted on Sheppey and the two whose counts I've already seen had credible numbers, all in reed beds - one on Harty had 24 Marsh Harriers and one from Elmley had 14 Marsh Harriers and 2,500 Starlings.

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