Monday 17 December 2012

Harrier Roost Counts

Arriving on the seawall yesterday afternoon at 3.15, ready to carry out this winter's 3rd Harrier Roost Count, this was the scene that greeted me. The saltings were part covered by a high tide of around 6.0 metres in height. The water gradually receded, as did the light, but it had the effect of deterring any Hen Harriers coming into their traditional roost site on the saltings down towards Shellness Hamlet.
I was also surprised to watch a lone wildfowler and his dog make their way along the seawall later than usual and somehow find a way to get out to the seaward edge of the saltings, without disappearing down any of the flooded rills. The tide was ebbing fast as he positioned himself out there and large parties of Wigeon, Mallard, Shelduck and Brent Geese were drifting past on the fast moving tide, fortunately well out of his range, he could only watch them pass by.
It was indeed one of those late winter afternoons when a high tide one side of the seawall and a well flooded reserve the other side, combined to make very attractive conditions for a wide range of birds, in large numbers. Out on The Swale were some largish flocks of the birds mentioned above, all drifting with the tide and they all seemed to be eventually funneling into the bay created by the shell spit of Shellness Point, which itself had a reduced area due to the height of the tide. On the Point itself, the daily high-tide roost of waders displaced by the tide was well packed with large numbers of Oystercatchers, Dunlin, Knot, etc. and at regular intervals these would all rise into the air and swarm around like distant mosquitoes above a pond, well I was a mile away!
The flooded conditions on the reserve were just as productive and there was a mixed flock of c.500 Brent Geese and 40 Greylag Geese, there were Redshanks, Curlews, Herring and Black-headed Gulls, Mallard, Teal, a couple of Water Rails squealing in the Delph reed beds, Skylarks, Mipits, Reed Buntings, a Sparrowhawk and finally, two Bearded Tits on the reed tops. It was a noisy and scenic winter's dusk and by 4.00, as the light faded fast, the first of three single ring-tail Hen Harriers made it's way along the saltings towards Shellness where it dropped into a raised section of vegetation. It was soon followed by the other two harriers but just as they were about to drop down the wildfowler discharged three rapid shots at what seemed to be an empty sky. He repeated that shortly after and I can only assume that he was trying to scare up the wildfowl that were passing by on the tide with the hope some would pass over him. Unfortunately all it did was to twice startle and scare up the harriers and as I left for home they were still slowly circling round.
All that was left then was the trudge back across the reserve through much surface flood water and areas of clinging mud churned up by the feet of the cows and sheep. It's tiresome hard work in the daylight but in near darkness, trying to avoid the deepest of these areas is quite daunting and I eventually arrived back at the car both wet and wanged out, with two Jack Russells looking very similar - the joys of volunteering for surveys!

So, in the end my count for the evening was just the three Hen Harriers, but along one section of Capel Fleet on Harty 32 Marsh Harriers went into to roost in reed beds, with only one being a male bird. Elsewhere, at a Kemsley reed bed, yet another 32 Marsh Harriers roosted and there 5 were males among those. More counts have yet to be declared but I would expect another 40-50 Marsh Harriers from another Harty site so it all looks good, for Marsh Harriers at least.


  1. You know you love it Derek !
    Ken L

  2. Ken,
    After completing a WEBS count this afternoon which involved walking/near swimming, round parts of the reserve for a couple of hours and getting home with well aching feet, I do wonder wether I do at times

  3. Hi Derek. Compliments of the season (I dont like Xmas much) however having enjoyed your blog so much this year and not having replied in a while I thought it about time I did! We were doing the circular walk on the Swale NNR on Sunday and missed by about two minutes saying hi to you and the two little guys personally. DOH! We were much in admiration of your trip back across 'Grimpen Mire' and glad you made it back in the dark. Did you see what bird of prey went up after the amazing display by the 'ball' girating of Starlings at about 3.15hrs? We were at Muswell Manor (I much prefer the old name which given its aeronautical history they should have kept) at the time and not close enough to recognise. Warmest wishes.....Ian

  4. Sorry Derek, I of course meant 3.15pm!!!

  5. Hi again Derek,

    I spent between 11.00 and 2pm at either the raptor viewpoint and then onto Shellness beach photographing the waders as they came in on the tide. There were huge numbers of wildfowl and quite a few Brent geese out on the Swale. A very enjoyable few hours in the sunshine. I did notice quite a lot of surface water about and no doubt increased by that high tide. I have to say that in all that time I never saw any other Geese or a single Harrier until i dropped into Elmley on the way home. Hope the feet have dried out . I had to wear wellies today !!

  6. Ian,
    You must of been the two people that came along the seawall just as I was floundering back across the marsh, what a shame that I didn't wait that extra few minutes, but I was anxious to get back before it got too dark.
    Can't say as I did spot the bird of prey that you mention, neither did a second one of the harrier roost team who was positioned on the high ground of Leysdown behind the holiday camps.

    There was a lone birdwatcher on Shellness Point until near darkness, clearly he was there after you had left. There were huge numbers of wildfowl in the bay there, which disappointingly weren't there in such numbers on Monday afternoon when we carried out the WEBS count.