Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Rain Starts Play - RSPB Rainham Marshes - 12th April 2016

The last few days on the reserve have been pretty good what with a female Serin giving everyone the run around on Saturday morning and the amazing sight of a full summer plumaged Razorbill paddling round in front of the Ken Barrett Hide that very same afternoon and so yesteday I had a well deserved day off - at home - not at work - in the garden...

Razorbill - Roy Rookes
And so this morning I awoke to the sound of rain outside. It was 0330 and I had trouble getting back to sleep. Mmmm... light rain and a light south-easterly... could be interesting I thought. By not long after 0630 I was parked in the little car park at the end of the seawall (at work) with no rain or wind but grey skies. A Short-eared Owl was already drying himself out on a post up the landfill and the Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were just coming back to life and celebrating the cessation of the deluge.

Willow Warblers were immediately obvious with several singing birds in the flowering Blackthorn so with fingers cross that I would refind yesterday’s Ring Ouzel, I ambled off along the river wall towards the centre.

Willow Warbler - Terry Poskitt

The cloudscape to the north was quite dramatic with undulating folds of obviously still rain laden fluffiness but it was going away from me and the blue skies were sneaking in from across the river. A summer plumaged Spotted Redshank ‘chewit’ed over my head and two Little Ringed Plover could be heard in mechanical song flight somewhere off towards the Target Pools while similar aerial machinations from two pair of noisy Oystercatchers broke through the wall of Skylarks song.  Linnets fed in small parties along the top of the wall; the males now mostly sporting their red bikini tops. I had hoped to relocate my Serin but it was not to be.

As it warmed up Sedge Warblers and Whitethroats made their presence known and Dunnocks and mellifluous Blackbirds serenaded me. I had the place to myself. Lapwings were giving short shrift to the Carrion Crows and the Marsh Harriers were in turn chased by the latter while Redshanks commuted to and from the river.  Slugs and Snails were everywhere in the damp conditions making walking somewhat hazardous!

White-lipped hedge Snail

Stonechat & Sedge Warbler - Ricky Blackman
As I neared the centre a Whimbrel appeared on the rocks and furtively crept back over the ridge rather than fly while a scan round the other way revealed a superb female Merlin perched on a rather robust crusty cowpat. I saw a female bird briefly on Saturday and it so it was great to be able to get scope views of such a mobile and charismatic little falcon. There was no sign of the Ouzel but I was enjoying myself as birds had clearly arrived and there was a chance of finding something good. 
I bumped into Graham Howie (one of our new Education Assistants) and we started to retrace my steps back west.  A pair of Common Scoter were quickly picked up and were generally around for most of the day after that (apart from whenever Smiffy looked for them!) and they did the usual Scoter thing of fly up, drift back.  

Common Scoter

The first tern of the day was amazingly a fine Sandwich and while getting tat in the scope an adult Little Gull drifted through on paddle wings. As we approached the Big Willow I was just pointing out the regular pitfall of our Wrens on this stretch that start their song with a short Grasshopper Warbler like trill when the real deal started up in the bramble clump just below us.  It did not sing for long but was yet another indicator that some new blood had arrived over night. Two more Willow Warblers sang and a few Sand Martins zipped through and two Avocets seemed quite at home on the MDZ Pools.

Graham and I parted ways and I continued onwards to beyond the Serin Mound where I added the first two Wheatears of the day, a Redwing and a female Stonechat. The Shorties were out hunting again and I found two nice patches of flowering Cowslips in the verge.


Rather than pack up and head off (as had been my plan) I actually decided to head off back down the wall again with the intention of a cuppa at the end.  There were now 26 Common Terns in the Bay and the wake of a ship flushed a Common Sandpiper from the Coldharbour foreshore and onto my year list at long last. 

Sandpiper flusher

I was not too far from the Centre when a second Grasshopper Warbler started up and with a little bit of patience I got some cracking views of this little pink legged Locustella as he shook himself silly with that industrial excuse for a song. I should have had some ok pictures but I was too preoccupied with actually looking at the bird when it showed best and so only ended up with several bits and pieces shots! 

Bits of Gropper

I was just showing this bird to a visitor when Smiffy rang and casually announced that he had a Stone-curlew on the Ouzel Field so it was a quick about turn and back we both went. A few short minutes later we were watching this goggle eyed beauty as it stood by the side of the central road, trying to blend in with the earthy edges.  Smiffy had first picked it up when the Lapwings decided that they did not like it and caused it to fly around but strangely enough they left it alone for the rest of the day and after it sat back down it was a real pig to see with often as not only the top of its head was visible. 


It was at this point that most of the staff in the centre (as well as the first visitors) arrived for a view and were greeted by not only the Stone-curlew but a glorious display from the Shorties and the original Grasshopper Warbler winding itself up again.

Terry arriving

Back up on the river wall there were now 46 Common Terns and two Sandwich Terns were glowing in the throng but of those pesky Scoters there was no sign while four more Wheatear were on the lone foreshore clump.  We did eventually make it back to the cafe for that cuppa and cake before giving the riverwall and final pre-lunch bash. There was nothing else to add but the views of the Short-eared Owls just got better and better and once at the Serin Mound it was Wheatears that took over with a further 11 birds out on the sward where there had only been one earlier.  Seven Little Egrets were dotted about and the young male Marsh Harrier is starting to acquire more grey in the upperwing but still has a cinnamon coloured tail.

Wheatear - Shaun Harvey

Lunch beckoned so I left site for a couple of hours feeling vindicated for coming back to work on my day off. How else am I meant to bird it in such an intensive way?

I parked at the centre on my return and ambled along the Southern Trail where I helped Andrew locate current Lapwing nests and locate hopefully a few more as well as seeing the nest that produced our first Lapwing chicks today bang on schedule. She was busy brooding and probably has two or three eggs to go. We also found a Redshank or two sitting tight and a female Mallard who had made a big grass nest on top of an island.  Starling pairs probed the grassy verges and the Little Grebe was still on the nest near the MDZ while Bearded Tits pinged off in front of us and the top of the Stone-curlews head was still visible but there were now five Wheatears in the field with it.

Bearded Tit - Ricky Blackman

Cetti's Warblers were prety showy today - Jerry Hoare

Sitting tight - Dawn Cowan
Shiny Starling -  Ricky Blackman
Stone... Ricky Blackman

One last trawl along the top of the wall on now aching legs gave me the chance to look for the Tawny Mining Bees in the sunshine on the Sloe. I saw lots of big jawed, white bearded males and a couple of smart ginger females as well as a big fat black Hairy Footed Flower Bee. Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies were everywhere!

Peacock - Tom Ellmore

Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva)

A male Zebra Jumping Spider was trying his best to nab a sunbathing bee but they were just too flighty.

Can you see me?

And so my day ended with a flight of 19 Curlews and the lone Whimbrel as they headed out to the Winter Pool to wash and brush up over high tide. I have a good feeling about the rest of the week and reckon that the first Cuckoo will be in tomorrow and perhaps a Mediterranean overshoot for the weekend...

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