Greater Yellowlegs – Elmley, Kent

At 6:30pm on Tuesday 30th March a Greater Yellowlegs was found on flooded pools alongside the approach road to Elmley on the Isle of Sheppey. It was on view for most of the evening, feeding with Redshanks at a range of about 100 yards. It was gone the next morning and I naturally assumed that it had continued its migration overnight.

I was slightly surprised, therefore, when the Greater Yellowlegs was seen again, at the same site at 7:19pm the next evening. I immediately began to make plans to get to North Kent.

There have been only 35 records of this North American wader, mainly because most have insufficient fat reserves to make it across the Atlantic. They breed in Alaska and Canada and winter in Southern USA and South America, those that do make it to Britain are believed to make stop overs in the Hudson Bay and Southern Greenland.

I was covering the LloydsLink office on Thursday and I guessed that my best chance would be to try and get to Elmley for Thursday evening in the hope that the yellowlegs would repeat its appearances of the previous two evenings. Pager messages on Thursday morning at work confirmed that, as per the previous day, the yellowlegs had moved overnight. I made arrangements for someone to cover the telephones during the afternoon and at 1:45pm I left Southampton.

The 150 mile journey to the Isle of Sheppey was made in just under 3 hours and at around 4:30pm I arrived to join a long line of cars parked along the approach road. 250 birders like myself were pinning their hopes on the fact that the Greater Yellowlegs was using the site to roost and if the previous evenings were any indication then it would re-appear within the next 3 hours.

It was a bright and calm evening, spirits and optimism were fairly high. We picked out a pair of Garganey, a female Merlin, a female Marsh Harrier and a Short-eared Owl but as the clock ticked past 7pm I began to get a little anxious, there was no sign of the Greater Yellowlegs.

Sundown was at 7:30pm and it would be getting too dark by 8pm. Over the next 40 minutes my optimism dwindled although I still hung on to the belief that it might just appear as dusk fell. By 7:40pm, however, it was getting very dark and most birders had given up and with a heavy heart I joined the steady stream of birders cars to begin the long journey home. The Greater Yellowlegs was not seen again. 

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