Thursday 26 January 2017

The Joy of Apples

RSPB Rainham Marshes 26th January 2017
Thursday dawned gloomy and grey but there was no frost but the wind more than made up for it keeping temperatures below freezing today for anyone brave enough to linger outside.  Just how the boardwalk work party stuck at their task today is beyond me... hats off.

My first job this morning was to top up the feeders and water and put out the 14 apples I had brought in.  I have found over the years that birds are more likely to attend apples poked up in a tree if they are at least slightly opened up so I cut my ones in half and impaled them on various bits of Willow and Hawthorn in the wildlife gardens on both sides of the centre.

I had not even made it inside before the first Blackbird and Fieldfare came down to investigate and I had the pleasure of watching these along with Redwings, Starlings and a female Blackcap all day as they took charge of their own particular segment. 

Blackbird - Helen Mathias

It was nice to be inside in the warm watching the dominance swing back and forth between the thrushes in particular. One of our female Blackbirds was especially stroppy and would see off any Fieldfare within four feet but it was the posturing of the Fieldfares that captivated me.

They were already fluffed up against the cold but when disputing some fruit they would droop their wings, raise and expand their lavender grey rump and spread and flick out that solid black tail whilst holding it vertical so that the other bird was in no doubt as to the meaning and all the while ‘chacking’ and rattling at each other.

Fieldfare - Helen Mathias

Obviously there was one other bird that I was hoping to entice down and it took no time at all for ‘Punkzilla’ the first winter male Waxwing to come down to sample the fruity delights. He obliged for the more hardy punters all day and even I was tempted back outside to get some apple shots.

I think the colours compliment each other nicely! Probably the best Waxwing shots I have ever taken
 It was a great day for engaging with the visitors – not too busy and having plenty to show them from the inside over a coffee is always a bonus. I have been amazed at the number of regular birding visitors over the last week who had never seen a Waxwing and delighted at the huge smiles that have ensued. There were plenty of finches and Sparrows around the feeders and a party of Long-tailed Tits moved through while a Cetti's Warbler once again showed very well.

Scanning around today gave views of the Marsh Harriers and plenty of bewildered Snipe that are obviously at a loss as to what to do with the marsh still ice locked. One of the Ravens, the big male I think, flew back towards its Kentish territory with a full crop and a beak full so I suspect that they already have hungry young despite the weather.

Seventeen Avocet were picked out amongst the Lapwing, Dunlin and Curlew and three Grey Plover were indeed just that today.

I have been steadily checking gulls behind ships heading up and down the Thames since I have been back but have seen nothing of note but that changed today with Caspian, Yellow-legged and an adult Med during the course of the day on the far side and then this afternoon a chap ambles in to have a look at the Waxwing and asks if I had just seen a first winter Glaucous Gull go up river behind the last ferry... umm...  no...

I was sure that it had not come right past the centre as I was glued to the gulls behind that ship and so I set about scanning everything on the river floating out with the tide and loafing on the Kentish bank. Much to my delight fifteen minutes later I picked up a 2nd winter Glaucous – not a 1st winter – well to my right motoring into town. It was very pale and patchy and clearly not a biscuit coloured bird but it was gone before I could even get a shout out. 

Pleasing but frustrating at the same time so I resumed my scanning and suddenly there it was – a monster rich tea 1st winter Glaucous Gull sat on the mud by the Darent Barrier.  This time I was able to muster the troops and over the next 30 minutes before we shut up for the day everyone (who was vaguely interested in a huge gull at huge range) saw it parading around and even making a few short flights after getting repeatedly poked by a Great Black-backed Gull.

So from no Glaucs to two and nine Larids for the day without leaving the centre... so, many thanks to James Litston for the initial white-winger shout!

Glauc with Herring to the right and below and Commons behind
And to round my day off a Woodcock flipped from cover as I left and headed into Purfleet becoming my second of the day after one on a roundabout in Lakeside whilst I was having a coffee before work!

Happy days...

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