Tuesday 9 February 2016

Patch Work Challenge 2016 - Estuarine Minileague - RSPB Rainham Marshes January Summary

January 1st 2016 saw a traditional early start and I was on the reserve by six in the dark with a few early songsters under the belt before lowering the drawbridge for the usual motley assortment of keen regulars at seven. It was still and calm and a Woodcock heading from the marsh to the Mardyke was within the first ten species and despite only getting out for just over an hour after we opened I managed to get 88 of the 92 species seen including one of the Dartford Warblers, Short-eared Owls, Ravens, Caspian Gull and Spot Red. 

By the end of the next day, Siberian Chiffchaff, Dark-belllied Brent, the always difficult Egyptian Goose had found their way onto the tally. A hint of an easterly had brought Kittiwake and a dozen beautiful buoyant Little Gulls up river that day to entertained us. Woodcock and Little Gull were both last gasp species in 2015 so to get them so early on was great.

Siberian Chiffchaff - Shaun Harvey

Little Gull - Ian Bradshaw

Short-eared Owl - Shaun Harvey

Dark-bellied Brent Geese - Mark Vale

Several more Caspian Gulls were picked up and a juvenile Iceland Gull was seen briefly but Med Gull eluded me. I eventually caught up with the flight only Bittern after several early mornings vigils and hours spent scanning Wennington from the Centre and similarly the female Merlin eventually gave itself up. A Red Kite on the 17th was a bonus (and my 100th species of the year) as I do not normally connect until March and the species is still a ‘shout down the radio’ bird round these parts. Short-eared Owls, Marsh Harriers, Buzzard and Peregrines were daily viewing with six of the first two species wintering on the marsh and proving a drawn for everyone from dog walkers, joggers, birders and photographers...

Short-eared Owl - HTV

Short-eared Owls squabbling - Trevor Oakley

With such generally mild weather there was almost no real visible result of the mini-cold snap and we did not get any interesting Athyas of sawbills for our trouble and not even the almost expected White-fronts although elegant Pintail almost made 50 and a few Fieldfare and redwing moved in.

Fieldfare - John Humble

Waders included unseasonal Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit along with a couple of Avocet and odd sightings of Ruff, Grey Plover and Jack Snipe but the Turnstones wintering two miles downriver would not come up beyond the QEII bridge and into view.  Lapwing touched 1400 and made a fine sight on nicer days shimmering with about 150 Goldies and hundreds of Starlings.

Lapwing, Golden Plover & Dunlin - HTV

The Dartford Warblers were occaiosnally obliging during the month and shining white Water Pipits continued to show on the scrapes while a Yellowhammer was a good find but difficult to pin down. Corn Bunting, Bullfinch, Siskin and Lesser Redpoll all made early, much appreciated, showings but no one found a Brambling. Bearded Tits were difficult with just the odd sightings but Cetti’s Warblers were in full flow proclaiming their winter territories. With such an amazing Reedmace crop this year, I have been trying my hardest to find Penduline Tits. I have a great track record with them here but after eight years on the bounce, we have not had one since February 2011. Must try harder! 

The dull Dartford Warbler - HTV
The bright Dartford Warbler - Trev Bird

So, all in all not too shoddy a start to my Patch Work Challenge for 2016 with 107 species and 127 points. So what did I miss out on? Not a lot to be honest but there are several that may prove very tricky to get back...  Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (only the 4th record), Goosander and five Whooper Swans that headed up river while I was getting out of my car in the car park...

And let’s not forget the epic skies that the reserve is known for this time of year with some great cloudscapes and blistering sunsets.

I have already added a few more in February but I am still praying for a proper blast of Arctic air to spice things up a little before the first Little Ringed Plovers, Sand Martins and Wheatears appear in just a few short weeks time...

And thanks to everyone who let me use their reserve bird pictures...

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