The Isle of Sheppey is a place of contrasts. At one extreme, dreary, run-down former industrial hub and, at the other, a massive expanse of beautiful marshland set under a big, open sky. It is also the site of my first (and likely to be only) dalliance with jellied eels – Go on, click the link, there’s even a video.
Elmley Marshes National Nature Reserve is situated on the south-west corner of Sheppey. It is a 3000-acre freshwater grazing marsh that provides an important habitat for wildlife. An Elmley-inspired marshy landscape featured in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. King James II was also held at Elmley in 1688 whilst attempting to flee the country. Also, before the water channels dividing them silted up, Elmley (along with Sheppey and Harty) used to be one of the three islands that made up the Isles of Sheppey.
Right, that’s your history lesson over…
Looking out from one of the hides, I could see a group of Godwits in the semi-distance – long-beaked, long-legged wading birds, probing into the shallow water for food.
Globally, there are four species of Godwit: Black-Tailed, Bar-Tailed, Marbled and Hudsonian, but being a bit of a dimwit when it comes to Godwits, I couldn’t be sure which type they were. All I could say for certain was that I hadn’t seen any of them this year, so whatever they were, they would be a new species for the list.
Having just stated that there are four types and listed them, I probably don’t sound like much of a dimwit, but this is where a good bit of looking in a bird reference book comes in. Before I acquired my Collins Bird Guide, I’m fairly sure that I thought British birdlife consisted of Blue Tits, Blackbirds and Sparrows (just the one type, mind you, and not the three resident species we have over here… That said, if I’m being factually precise (for once), the inaccurately-named Hedge Sparrow (or Dunnock) is actually an Accentor and not a Sparrow). The first time I had a flick through the book, I was astounded at the vast array of birds that live in or visit the UK.
As it turns out, the birds pottering around in the shallow water in front of me could realistically be one of two: Black-Tailed or Bar-Tailed – The other two are far too international for these parts (although, the Hudsonian has turned-up in Britain on a few occasions, evidently).
To my untrained eye (well, eyes) the pictures of the possibles showed two incredibly similar birds, so I asked for help… Evidently, the best way to differentiate between the two was to see them in flight as one has a black tail and the other has a barred tail (Plaudits go to the bird namers!).
We were basically waiting for godwit to decide to fly. [It has taken me five paragraphs to crowbar that sorry attempted play on words into this post – I do hope I can Beckett up with some interesting ramblings].
Eventually, the small flock decided that they wanted to be somewhere else – slightly out of wading range – and took to the sky. It was clear to see that they were Black-Tailed Godwits and I finally had a new addition to my bird list for the year.
Additional new sightings at Elmley for 2014 were Yellow Wagtail and Ringed Plover. Both of these were significantly easier to identify. The Yellow Wagtail is a Wagtail that’s yellow, and the Ringed Plover looks just like a hooped jumper (#excessivelycryptic) – Can you work that one out?
I also managed to spy a female Common Pheasant before it scared me witless. My usual sightings of Pheasants involve them flying out of the undergrowth from within a few feet, squawking hysterically and flapping violently, whilst I have a small cardiac incident. There have been numerous stories in the news of the species getting militant – If I was a betting man, I would wager that they are planning some sort of coup… A Pheasants’ Revolt, if you will.
Fauna Corner has been a little butterfly-centric of late, so, in order to keep it from getting monotonous…
In Other News…
It has been a well-kept secret, but shockingly Fauna Corner has two illegitimate children: Fruit Corner – which deals with hard-hitting yoghurt-related issues and Naughty Corner – which highlights the natural world… um… er… well… getting jiggy.
Due to copyright issues, however, I have been informed that I am no longer allowed to mention the former. It seems that the legal departments of fermented milk product companies don’t hang about with cease and desist proceedings.
As a result, I proudly unveil the very first (and possibly only) Naughty Corner. Please set your shame levels to zero and switch voyeurism mode on…
Please address all complaints to Me and send them to the ‘Comments’ section below…