A win­ter bird­ing walk on the Isle of Shep­pey

Bird Watching (UK) - - Go Birding - PAUL TRODD

Elmley Is­land, as the south-west cor­ner of the Isle of Shep­pey is known, in­cludes one of the largest ar­eas of unim­proved, wet grass­land in south­ern Eng­land, much of which is a Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve (NNR) un­der the aus­pices of Nat­u­ral Eng­land. Al­though some arable farm­ing is car­ried out, the land is dis­sected by nu­mer­ous reed-fringed drainage ditches, meres and creeks, plus large ar­eas of open sheep-grazed fields, some of which flood in the win­ter. The for­mer RSPB re­serve at Elmley, com­pris­ing some 3,200 acres, is now a pri­vate farm but con­tin­ues to be man­aged much as be­fore as a na­ture re­serve. The drive or walk along the two-mile ac­cess track to King­shill Farm can take some time, as there are nor­mally plenty of birds on the fields and in the strips of game cover. Com­bine all this with the tidal Swale chan­nel to the south and a wide range of win­ter­ing species are as­sured. The open vis­tas are at­trac­tive to large num­bers of wet­land birds such as Lap­wing, Golden Plover, Curlew, Red­shank, Sky Lark and Meadow Pipit, which in turn at­tract birds of prey. Look out for Hen Har­rier and Mer­lin, plus the chance of Rough-legged Buz­zard among the com­moner Marsh Har­rier and Buz­zard, while day-fly­ing Short-eared and Barn Owls are reg­u­larly seen. Care­fully scru­ti­nise goose and swan flocks, as White­fronted Geese and Bewick’s Swans are some­times present. A win­ter rar­ity, such as Crane or Great White Egret, is also quite likely. The sec­tion of the walk on the re­serve takes in a num­ber of hides, which are good for view­ing waders and wild­fowl. View­points also over­look The Swale tidal chan­nel. It’s worth spend­ing the day at Elmley as the sense of re­mote­ness found on these marshes is hard to ex­pe­ri­ence any­where else in this over­crowded cor­ner of south-east Eng­land.


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