Fringe Box



Birdwatcher’s Diary No.202

Published on: 9 Feb, 2020
Updated on: 9 Feb, 2020

By Malcolm Fincham

All in all, this winter has so far remained a relatively mild one in the southern regions of the UK.

Although some parts of the Northern Hemisphere had been plunged into Arctic conditions, We had stayed, for much of it, on the southern side of what has become in recent years an increasingly wavy jet stream.

In spite of a continued strong westerly flow of low pressure systems across our shores, a few settled spells prevailed.

Papercourt water meadows.

Such moments allowed me to set out around the Surrey countryside in the hope of catching a few glimpses of the local wildlife in their natural surroundings.

Barn owl at Papercourt water meadows.

Barn owl at Papercourt water meadows.

At Papercourt water meadows, near Send, as mentioned during my previous reports, a barn owl continued to regularly be seen, quartering in the late afternoon sunshine.

Rose-ringed parakeet.

Rose-ringed parakeets continued to be a common sight and sound there.

Sunset at Papercourt water meadows.

While possibly the most stunning views were of the winter sun at its time of setting, though still too early in the day for my liking.

As January drew to a close, a window of opportunity as well as a spell of settled weather allowed my wife and I to get away for a few days.

Kindly, she had organised a visit to the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. One of my favourite locations to visit during winter months.

I have visited the island on numerous occasions and have written about some of my ventures there in a few of my previous reports.

A long time had passed since I had been graced with the chance of seeing a long-eared owl. It was certainly prior to my days of photographing my sightings as well as writing these birdwatcher diary reports! On that occasion my son, now in his 30s, was still at school!

Distant memories still held a vivid recollection of my son’s eyes and face lighting up when eventually he saw its eyes looking back at him, as it sat so well camouflaged in the thicket of bushes, just feet away.

Road bridge on to Sheppey, seen from Elmley marsh.

Looking back across the fields at Elmley marshes, I recalled the bridge, opened in 2006, now standing out on the skyline. It hadn’t been built when my son and I had visited.

Now it provides an alternative highway to the neighbouring Kingsferry Bridge that we crossed at the time.

Ironically, the long-eared owl had taken to roost in the same hedgerow on Elmley marshes, although even more obscured than before.

Long-eared owl, roosting on Sheppey. It can be seen just to the right of the centre of the picture.

When first seen by birdwatchers a few weeks ago, as many as three had been there.

Unfortunately, over-enthusiastic photographers had been attempting various ways of getting better pictures, only to cause the owls to retreat deeper into the undergrowth.

The Isle of Sheppey is renown during winter months for its abundance and variety of birds of prey.

Kestrel on Sheppey.

I was especially surprised at the amount of kestrels we saw there.

Kestrel on Sheppey.

I counted at least a dozen within the various locations we visited.

While in the early afternoon sunshine, at least four short-eared owls could be seen hunting across the low lying landscape, stretching out across the reserve.

Harty Ferry Inn on Sheppey.

Residing at the Harty Ferry Inn, we were able to view across the Swale estuary where the ferry used to cross to Oare marshes on Kent’s mainland.

Swale Estuary.

A late afternoon walk near the inn gave me the opportunity of photographing a barn owl.

Barn owl on Sheppey.

It could first be viewed hunting along the stretch of marshland along the edge of the river.

Barn owl on Sheppey.

Adding to my luck and surprise, it turned and began to fly in my direction.

Barn owl on Sheppey.

Eventually flying close by before turning to quarter the nearby field.

Red-legged partridge.

Although not seeing any grey partridges, plenty of red-legged partridges were present. “Twitchy” by nature, they would take flight on first sight of a human.

Brown hare on Sheppey.

Several brown hares could also be viewed as the light began to fade.

Geese in flight over Sheppey.

While skeins of geese could be seen and heard, as they flew over in the late afternoon sky.

Fieldfares on Sheppey.

As the sun began to set, groups of fieldfares flew by reflecting the last of the day’s sun on their flanks.


Among them, and equal in number, redwings could also be seen.

Marsh harrier on Sheppey.

On Harty marshes the following day there were a good number of marsh harriers out hunting. Counting at least five at various points of the compass at one stage.

Marsh harrier on Sheppey.

They were just a few of the many that inhabit the island during the winter months.

Little egret on Sheppey.

At a raptor-view mound, by the roadside on Harty marshes, as well as watching the marsh harriers as they quartered over the nearby reed beds, a little egret rose from the reeds. And while glistening in the sunshine, flew overhead.

Hen harrier (ring-tail).

Less common, are hen harriers.

Two hen harriers in flight).

I was most pleased to get two in one camera shot. Not only adding it to my 2020 sightings list, but also better photos than the one I recorded in Shackleford, near Godalming, in December last year, and wrote about in report 200.

Unfortunately, the white-fronted geese and the bewick swans were too far across the fields to pick out with my camera lens. And a merlin flew by too fast for me to react.

Corn buntings on Sheppey.

I did, however, add a few of the 50 or more corn buntings that flew across my path, settling briefly in a bramble clump.

Lapwing on Sheppey.

Lapwings were plentiful, often “put up”, in flight by a marsh harrier passing through.

Skylark on Sheppey.

Close to view was a very confiding skylark, looking resplendent as it raised its quiff.

Male stonechat on Sheppey.

Both male and female stonechats could be commonly be seen.

Shelducks on Sheppey.

Large groups of shelducks gathered around the wetland areas.

Wigeon on Sheppey.

While “whistling” wigeon could be heard and seen as they gathered in abundance, in and around the pools.

Sunset on Sheppey.

Inevitably, the weakening afternoon sun, once again, began to wane.

A short You Tube video, recently posted and taken at about the time of our visit features some of the wonderful wildlife on Sheppy, including the long-eared owl.


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