Friday, 24 September 2021

Reading RSPB

MEMBERS were entertained by an enthralling talk from Sal Cooke entitled “A visit to the celestial mountains”.

Sal, a member of the RSPB’s executive council, had travelled from deepest Yorkshire that very day and that is where the talk began — at the RSPB’s legendary Bempton Cliffs reserve with images of plunge-diving gannets, comical puffins, and cliffs teeming with guillemots.

From there, Sal took us on a whistlestop tour of Europe to the very rugged terrain of Kazakstan where the mountains offered an entirely different array of avian life.

A few days later some group members visited Elmley nature reserve on the Isle of Sheppey.

This is a large nature reserve on the Medway estuary which is famed for its winter wildfowl and is also one of the finest places in Britain to view raptors, as featured on the BBC’s Countryfile only a couple of weeks earlier. There were good numbers of feral greylag and Canada geese but among them were a few of the smaller Arctic breeding brent geese.

There were also good numbers of wintering duck, notably hundreds of wigeon, with smaller numbers of gadwall, tufted duck and pochard as well as a few lapwing.

The raptors were not so obvious but with patience we were eventually rewarded with sightings of both kestrel and marsh harrier. A merlin alighted on a distant gate, allowing good views through a telescope, and then a flock of starlings was disturbed by a chasing peregrine.

It appeared to catch one and disappeared as quickly as it had come.

As the light failed, we left the reserve down the long drive across farmland where two short-eared owls were hunting and briefly a bittern appeared from a patch of reeds close to the road.

It was a fitting end to an excellent day. The next meeting will take place at Pangbourne village hall on Tuesday, March 14 at 8pm with an illustrated talk by Paul Stancliffe entitled “BTO”.

Paul will introduce us to the scientific world that is the British Trust for Ornithology.

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