Saturday, 10 August 2019

A Plod Around The Patch

RSPB Rainham Marshes 8th August 2019

On Thursday I got into work just before seven and set out along the river wall. It was pleasantly cool at that time, with an autumnal feel. The Thames was quiet and calm and high tide was imminent precluding any waders to watch but the bushes and Brambles were full of life with parties of foraging Whitethroats working their way west in front of me.  Blue and Long-tailed Tits were their carrier species and four pristine little Lesser Whitethroats with bandit masks were seen along with a single lemony Willow Warbler in the big Sallow.

Long Tailed Tit

Seventy House Sparrows also shuffled along the path in front of me and seemed to be feeding collecting grass seed from the edges while several hundred patchy plumaged Starlings descended en masse to ravage the Brambles of their fruit.

House Saprrows



I could hear Bearded Tits in the ditch below and there were several Reed Buntings and Sedge Warblers flitting around as I descended to the turnstile gate. The Beardies were immediately on view I watched two maturing juveniles working their way steadily along the water margin, delicately leaning down between splayed legs to pick up a morsel.  They never stopped calling and I could hear others further up the channel while a Skylark (never an easy August bird here) chirruped from the fields.

Goldfinches and Linnets were feeding avidly around me and both seem to have had a great breeding season. The Goldies are naturally attracted to the Creeping Thistles that are going to seed while the Linnets seem to prefer the tall Crucifer that has now finished and dried out.

One of my favourite patches of flowers on the trail this time of year is the nodding yellow heads of Perennial Sow Thistle just before the Dragonfly Pool.  There were only a few Bumbles on them but I cannot resist touching the flowers as they are so amazingly soft and fluffy.

Perennial Sow Thistle

The recycled plastic boardwalk is a delight for slugs and snails with perfect slideability properties especially with some morning dew for added glide…

Chillin' Black-lipped Hedge Snail

A young Grey Heron landed up on the handrail and gave me a hard stare before croaking and heading off down the channel.  I wonder if it was the youngster I temporarily rescued a month ago?

Grey Heron

Reed and Sedge Warblers flitted in front and there were several Painted Ladies sunbathing in the growing warmth.  We have not had the mass arrival witnessed further up the east coast but it was nice to see some pristine ones rather than the worn battered individuals that have been around.  

Painted Lady

A juvenile Marsh Harrier cruised across from Wennington and half heartily spooked the Little Egrets from in front of the Butts Hide but as usual (for me) there was no sign of the juvenile Cattle Egret that I have only seen so far in flight.  Sixteen Littles were either huddled on an island preening or wading in the shallows. The latter had several Gadwall for company who were following along in the wake of their foot stirrings and well grown Little Grebelets were merrily catching Sticklebacks.

Masrh Harrier

Little Egrets

A Common Sandpiper bobbed along the margins making considered assaults on the local fly population but three Lapwing were the only other waders at this point.

Common Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper was added to that list a short distance further on as it watched me from the aptly named Tringa Pool and more Beardies pinged.

Aveley Pool was subject to a gull invasion with newly fledged Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gull families loafing about.   I found two juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls and what I was happy was a brute of a juvenile Caspian although I only got a poor front on shot of the bird.

Lesser Black-backed Gull family

juv Caspian Gull & Ruff, Mallard, Shoveler, Gadwall, Teal

The two Ruff were still there with 31 Black-tailed Godwits and a juvenile Ringed Plover was a new in bird but there is little in the way of mud to drag in much more.

Black-tailed Godwits and a juvenile Ringed Plover

One of my desires for this walk was to catch up with one of the Blue Eyed Hawkers that have been patrolling the reserve. It was warm enough as I reached the end of the boardwalk to encourage Hawkers to get up and the very first one I saw was a cracking male BEH.  He patrolled his stretch diligently and seemed to have some success catching small flies from the Great Willowherb.  I watched him until an almost as smart male Migrant Hawker came in and pushed him off patch.

Blue Eyed Hawker

Blue Eyed Hawker

A Snipe was hiding in front of the Ken Barrett Hide and there was a line of lazy Teal dozing on the edge and there were several soft pink heads of Flowering Rush.  This area feels quite crakey but I did not even see a Water Rail.

Grey Heron, Snipe, Lapwing & Moorhen

Flowering Rush

Swaying Chicory

The Woodland was quiet although I did add both Woodpeckers, Blackcap and Chiffchaff before coming around a corner and finding a half grown Muntjac crossing the path! As usual, dog sprang to mind before the brain caught up. It moved into the Cordite edge but there was still movement on the other side of the path and there was its mum staring at me. 

I offered her safe passage but she bolted the other way towards the adventure playground and proceeded to bark as I headed up that way, obviously trying to tell her offspring which was she had gone.  This is the first time I have seen one here and I reckon that there have only been a few previous records.

I managed to do a circuit of the car park and wildlife garden before settling down for a day inside and the Greek Marjoram in the herb bed was attracting three species of chunky Volucella with zonaria, inanis and pellucens nectaring on this and the Black Knight buddelia. 

Volucella zonaria

Volucella zonaria showing the dark centres to sternite two and three underneath - compare with the wholly yellow sternites of the Volucella inanis below...

Volucella inanis

Wool carder Bees - Anthidium manicatum

Eristalis arbustorum on Ragwort

Solieria sp - a Tachinid - on Wild Carrot

Solieria sp - a Tachinid - on Wild Carrot

Tatty Gatekeepers jostled amongst them and the Honey Bees and Wool Carders were in the process of creating the next generation and Red Admirals, Holly Blues, Commas, Small Whites and Jersey Tigers flitted around the blooms.


Holly Blue on Purple Loosestrife

Jersey Tiger

Wasp Spiders had strung their fresh webs across their footstep sized grass gaps and Field Grasshoppers were whirring away but it was time to tear myself away and retreat indoors only to be serenaded by the mellifluous tones of the escaped Canary that has been singing his little heart out since Sunday morning.

Wasp Spider

Canary - Mark Laffling

Monday, 22 July 2019

Mid July Musings...

The last ten days at RSPB Rainham Marshes have seen me make a couple of escapes for freedom but to be honest they have not exactly resulted in the natural history wonders that I was hoping for and so I have had, for the most part to be content with what I can see from the window.

This did not include the Cattle Egret and Spoonbill present on the 14th July  and I was forced to make do with a selection of inverts from inside the glass panes that make up my normal silent movie television screen viewing conditions.

Seven female presumed Hybomitra ciureai were rescued from the glass prison along with a couple of the green eyed Chrysops relictus.  The latter is very keen on dining on human blood but thankfully the Hybomitra are not so fervent!

Hybomitra ciureai - the Levels Yellow Horned Horse Fly

Hybomitra ciureai

Chrysops relictus

Small and Essex Skipper abound at the moment around the blooming Lavender and I have found a couple of Anthophora bimaculata amongst the other bees and the season first Osmia spinulosa doing their super vibrating dance on the Ragwort and Fleabane.  

Essex Skipper

Osmia spinulosa

Peacocks have hatched in numbers and gaudy eyed beasts are flouncing all around the trails.


I eventually got a good walk on Friday 19th when the pesky invisible Spoonbill was almost enough to tempt me out but the two Great White Egrets in front of the Butts Hide made a walk even more tempting.  I even saw these two from the window but wanted more and a Red Kite circling over the Dartford Warbler field sealed the deal.

I went via the woodland and found three Volucella zonaria on territory and both Volucella pellucens and Eristalis intricaria were also patrolling at head height.   The reedbed as I came out of the woodland was full of hoverflies with countless Episyrphus balteatus, Syrphus and Eupeodes resting up. 

Volucella zonaria

Episyrphus balteatus
Brown Hawkers are now on the wing but in general dragonfly numbers still feel very low but I still have hopes of Blue-eyed Hawker once again.

As I came out of the woodland the Red Kite came up from the ground not far from me and gave the most amazing of views and from this range could be seen to be an immaculately plumaged juvenile.  It was crisp and bright and spent the next twenty minutes circling around with occasionally attention from Carrion Crows and a strangely agitated Grey Heron.

Once at Aveley Pool the Spoonbill decided to remove its cloak of invisibility and was loafing on its ankles on the island. Not the most engaging of views but at least it put its head up once!

Two male Ruff fed with about 30 Black-tailed Godwits and the two young fledged Avocets were still with their parents.  A scan of the large gulls produced two pristine juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls but there were no Meds with the Black-heads.

Spoonbill - Andy Tweed got a little closer than I did!

Swifts and Sand Martins were drifting in from the west no doubt ahead of the next wave of rain that I hoped to avoid. Down to the Butts Hide where I had the two Great White Egrets all to myself as they stalked around just outside. They are always such imposing birds with a certain regal stance and demeanour and I never tire of seeing them but especially here. I twitched my first on the 17th July 2006 while in the middle of working on my aviary in my garden in Strood.  It was found by Steve Hall who was out field teaching at the time. We were not even open to the public for another five months and this was still a huge Essex bird at the time. I reckon that these were my 44th and 45th for the site since that time, reflecting the amazing change in fortunes of this species.

Great White Egrets

Great White Egrets - Andy Tweed

They had a couple of good fly abouts showing off those ridiculously long black legs and languid light before eventually heading off to the north late morning. 

There were 21 Little Egrets dotted about out front and a couple of well grown Gadwall and Shoveler broods along with two of our fledged Little Ringed Plover from our two broods this year.

The male Marsh Harrier was out hunting over Aveley and two of his kids were playing over the now bone dry Target Pools.  It feels like three young have been fledged this season but whether this is two from one nest and one from the other we are trying to discern.

There was plenty of flora alongside the paths with the Wild Carrot being very popular with vast numbers of Red Soldier Beetles living up to their alternative name of Bonking Beetle.  I checked the Great Mullein for Crab Spiders with no joy and tried once again to capture the ephemeral colour of the tiny Vervain. It is the palest shade of lilac but never looks quite right on a picture. Cinnabar moths were munching their way through the Ragwort and the sky blue Chicory was offset but the swathes of yellow Ox Tongue flowers.

Wild Carrot


Great Willowherb


Great Mullein

Chicory and Ox Tongue

Until last year I was only aware of Bristly Ox Tongue until I had Hawkweed OT pointed out to me and we have plenty of both species growing side by side on the marsh.  Following an online chat with Lee Gregory about some confusing plants in Gwent, he suggested that the very prickly ones with Hawkweed like leaves may well be hybrids.  I was intrigued enough to pay attention to ours and suspect that this may be the case here too.

Bristly Ox Tongue

Hawkweed Ox Tongue

Possible Hybrid Ox Tongue
However, I am no botanist and will dangle this problematical carrot in front of Enid when I see her next rather than upsetting the botanising community further...

A brood of ten Shelducklings were with their parents in Aveley Bay and a solitary Curlew was out on the mud where three fresh chequerboard juvenile Great Black-backed Gulls were loafing in a siblings only unit suggesting local breeding once again within our stretch of the Inner Thames.


Mute Swans in the PD

...with a cute baby Moorhen

I ambled back along the Victorian Seawall where Field Bindweed crept its pink and white trumpets across the concrete and the Sea Beet is now setting seed leaving little bundles of future plants for the next big tide to pick up and disperse up and down the river.

Field Bindweed


The cloud was rolling in and the sky darkening and with a rising wind it would not be long till rain arrived but even the wet afternoon was not birdless with more Harrier views and a fine adult Med Gull that glided past the window with the wind behind it.

My Saturday was not quite as I had hoped with cat related knee dislocation traumas, washing machine installation incompetence (on three occasions) and subsequent general irritability but was salvaged somewhat by helping out with the Thames Chase Bioblitz at Broadfields on Sunday 21st.

The lack of interest from the visiting public in looking at or for anything was disappointing and although we tried to engage with people out on the trails, it was all about a bike or a dog and the strange compulsion to jog.

Banded Demoiselle



Tachina fera

Chrysotoxum festivum

Brown Argus

Misumena vatia

And Phil C in full fly mode...

However, I had fun (yes, I enjoyed myself) and set to task recording every single thing I could identify comfortably.  Phil and Mel were working their way through the more complicated flies and Yvonne was out grubbing for Ladybirds and Shieldbugs leaving me with a total of at least 175 species during my search which I am sure will increase further over the next few days as others send in their sightings.

The week ahead is looking incredibly hot and I suspect that insects will again come to the fore at work again so let’s hope for more opportunities to nip out for a speculative look...