Last week’s trip to Elmley was made despite some of the greyest, coldest weather we've yet seen this year, plus the prospect of a low tide and no birds on the scrape.
I think the weather was too cold even for the birds to want to venture out onto the mud of the Swale though and there was some activity in front of the hide. After scanning the flocks of wigeon, shoveller, mallard and teal I put the scope to the far shore where snipe hide in the scraggy rushes and grasses and their cryptic plumage with its stripes and flecks can render them invisible.
I got a couple of crows in the scope and watched them as their attention seemed caught by a particular clump of dead grass. I managed to make out a bundle of feathers lifting in the wind and at first I thought the crows had found a corpse, but the feathers moved and resolved themselves into a young male sparrowhawk, obviously on a kill which interested the crows.
They circled the spar like Native Americans around a wagon train in an old John Wayne movie. All the time the spar kept a wary eye on them until he'd had enough and he made a jump at one of the pair which convinced them to stay back a bit and let the feisty little raptor get on with his business in peace for a while.
So there he sat, sometimes hidden, but turning around on his kill so that he came back into view from time to time. After a reasonably lengthy sketching session of 15 minutes or so the crows returned and this time the spar made a break for it across the scrape carrying what was left of his prize (possibly a starling as it was small and dark). He went into cover with the crows in hot pursuit and I lost sight of him. Whether the spar was able to hang onto his kill or whether the crows won the day I’ll never know but at least the diminutive hawk had had the time to eat some of his kill.
I then went back to scanning the reeds and finally saw a group of at least eight snipe all well in the deep cover and only betrayed by their occasional movement and one bird on the fringes, not quite as well hidden as the others. Into the sketchbook he went. By this time though my hands were numb with cold and I think some of my bones were beginning to crack so it was time to call it a day and return home for a large mug of coffee and a slice of toast.
But the trip had been a success despite my initial misgivings. There’s always something new to see!