Saturday, 1 April 2017

The Last Week of March..

I headed into work after lunch on Tuesday 28th to help out with the end of year shop stocktake but there was a little while before I was needed so I ambled out into the warm sunshine.  I was rewarded with quite a few bumble and mining bees if you sought a spot out of the wind and most of the commoner species were evident along with several energetic Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva) with the females in their bright ginger fur coat and the skinny males with the huge jaws! 

Tawny Mining Bee checking out our be sign

female Tawny Mining Bee - Jerry Hoare
A couple of male Hairy Footed Flower Bees (Anthophora plumipes) were careening around the Primroses in the wildlife garden and Jerry Hoare and I even found a tiny male Little Blue Carpenter Bee (Ceratina cyanea) when the books suggest May at the earliest. 

Little Blue Carpenter Bee (Ceratina cyanea)
Brimstones and the first Small and Green-veined Whites were on the wing amongst the Small Torts, Commas and Peacocks and a single very early flowering Hawthorn was drawing in plenty of bees and hoverflies and I managed to id a few species of the latter before the sun went in again – Epistrophe elegans, Syrphus torvus (with the hairy eyes), Eupeodes luniger and Eristalis arbustorum so not bad for five minutes of sun on one shrub! 

Peacock - Bob Cooper

Small Tortoiseshell - Jackie Thornton

Eristalis arbustorum

Eupeodes luniger - Lawrence Rogers
The Marsh Frogs were especially noisy and Little Grebes were giggling off the Bustop.  A superb Red Kite hanging above the centre as we were leaving was a fine way to end a stressful stock take afternoon!

Red Kite
The cold northerly wind was prevalent on Wednesday 29th but I still had a look around the Serin Mound and Landfill early on and was rewarded by a fine male Ring Ouzel with gleaming gorget and silvery wings lifting out of the gorse and winging up and over the grassed tip. A real early spring bonus and my first one ever here in March. 

Two male Corn Buntings jangled on the Ridge and could just be heard over the glorious cacophony of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits while the other two regular species – Goldfinch and Linnet were still adding to the morning chorus. 

Corn Bunting
Meadow Pipit
I spent the part of the morning helping teach some five years olds about the joys of mini-beasts– the first time I have done this for nearly ten years having started in that role with the RSPB 14 years ago and I have to say that it was great. Purfleet Primary is seemingly full of little kids who actually feel some connection to wildlife. They knew the names (or at least the family) of many types of British wildlife and while out with me they actually queued up quietly to firstly all have an orb spider walk across their hands and then to watch a dozy cold Queen Buff-tailed Bumblebee recuperate in my hand before being positioned on some Sloe blossom. Brought a smile to my face.

And so to Thursday 30th where my early morning walk down the other end produced two Red-breasted Mergansers heading up river and a couple of Wheatears on the Ridge while a low Red Kite at 0730 over Wennington that drifted off to the north once again suggests that we now have local birds.  Coltsfoot, Dandelions and the first Cowsliips added low level yellow to the heavenly coconut scented Gorse up above.

Long distance Wheatear

and even more distant Red Kite!

A vapour trail morning

The wall to wall sunshine may not have appeared but the temperature certainly rose into the high teens and as such there was another insect surge. Jerry identified several new small bees including a colony of Andrena flavipes attending the burrows I had found first thing down by the little car park.  They were being attended by the wasp-like cleptoparisitic bee Nomada fucata which was a bonus. 

As predicted the extra warmth caused the emergence of the first Holly Blue and Orange Tip butterflies taking us to nine species for the day and Bee-flies were zipping around.
I found a funky Gymnocheta viridis Greenbottle on the inside of the centre window – my first of this spiky species I have seen this year and a chance to use my little S7 phone macro adaptor.

Gymnocheta viridis

Gymnocheta viridis
Cetti’s Warblers are still being quite showy with a little patience especially the male on the approach to the Purfleet Hide as you walk down from the centre where I suffered a ‘where’s my camera’ moment. With a bit more sunshine in the afternoon a couple of new in Sedge Warblers got going but although I escaped from reception for a whole ten minutes I only heard a little burst of song above the background of Lapwings, Redshank and Skylark.  My day was completed by my first two Sand Martins of the year just before closing. 

Lapwing - Tony O'Brien
The day was not quite over as a cursory glance at a still fruit laden Cotoneatser tree not far from my house finally produced the Waxwings I had imagined in there over the last 15 winters. I pulled over but the traffic spooked them and I managed a tree top shot of the gang of 11 before the headed off towards my house where the species is still missing from the list!

Last Waxwings of this winter?
Having been relieved of transport duties I was actually at work on Friday 31st for just after 6.30am and so set out on a full circuit around the marsh. It was initially a little grey but the sun was still considering getting up and it did not take too long to warm up. The Cordite was alive with song and Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were settling into their territories while a brief burst of Willow Warbler was most welcome.  Great Spot and Green Woodpeckers were vocal with the former drumming and the Kingfisher zipped through.  Ring-necked parakeets seem to be on the increase again with 12 birds milling around this morning - to be honest it's nice to have them back.

A pale legged Chiffchaff - Russ Sherriff
Our Poplars are well in flower now with the fallen blooms exploding in a puff of yellow pollen where they have hit the board walk. There are meant to be Black Poplar but I will look more closely this year when the leaves come out.

Poplar flower
The Barn Owl was typically dozing in his box and as I approached the Troll Bridge I was surprised to put up a female Yellowhammer from just in front of me but unfortunately she did not stop and I followed her to a tiny dot over the river wall where she eventually landed in the big Sallow. My second one this year and always a notable one to get.
Aveley Pool was flat calm and Tufted Duck were milling around in little groups but as usual there was nothing different with them while several breeding plumaged Little Egrets fed around the edges.  Cetti’s Warblers, Wrens and Reed Buntings were singing well and the first visit of the day by the Marsh Harrier put the duck to flight along with a Water Pipit that had probably been in front of the Butts Hide. There were still plenty of Wigeon around but Teal numbers have dropped off while Pintail are now split off into pairs and Shoveler have definitely increased with groups whirlpool feeding in the open water.

A party of nearly 30 Carrion Crows had gathered in the middle of the marsh and I initially assumed that it was over a deceased duck or something but it appeared to simply be a social gathering with lots of noise, a few scuffles and plenty of posturing before the group disbanded and the pairs all flew off to their own territories. Only at this point did the Lapwings kick up a stink – it was most odd.

Some of the Crow Mob
Eight inquisitive Canada Geese were on the Tringa Pool and I am ashamed to say that normally you would just pass them by but the light was superb and it made their necks look like crushed velvet rather than matt black. I spent a few minute actually watching them as they kept pace with my progress.

I almost captured the action...
I met Andrew, our Site Manager, near the chicane where he was surveying the Lapwings and at that moment he picked up a luminous male Yellow Wagtail striding around amongst the feet of the small herd present in the Ouzel Fields.  There is something magical about all the flava wagtails and the spectacle of a yellow blob of sunshine dashing about with head bobbing to and fro is true spring joy and one of the reasons I love going back to Lesvos. 

There is a Yellow Wag in there somewhere!
I ambled on passing the first Coltsfoot to have gone to seed and got dive bombed by a mad male Lapwing before reaching the Dragonfly Pool where the sculpture was reflected mirror perfect and needed to be captured. 


While doing this two Water Rails dueted and Bearded Tits pinged either side of me and then a pair of Pochard swum out.

Bearded Tit - John Humble
Now normally they are very skittish especially on this small pool but I stayed still and the male let me take a series of images in the low golden light with his plumage gleaming and red eyes shining.  This was my second ‘I should really look at these’ experience of the morning.

What a splendid duck...
I could hear the frenzied ramblings of a Sedge Warbler up in front but he would not reveal himself but a higher pitched reedy song lead me to a male Stonechat singing from the highest points he could find in a big circle from the MDZ around to the old river wall. He certainly did not have a mate at this stage but by the end of the day all his proclamations had been answered and a female was in tow...

Mr Stonechat looking for love...
Up onto the river wall where Aveley Bay was fully exposed on a super low tide but was quiet other than a couple of Curlew and some Shelduck. Pairs of the latter whistled over in courtship flights sounding like leaky bellows and a party of 14 males were strutting around on top of the old MoD Central Control Building. I checked for early terns but the river was lacking although a Harbour Porpoise heading slowly up mid channel was good to see again after a couple last Saturday. Oystercatchers were vocal and two pairs of Sea Pies were engaging in high speed towering synchronised courtship chases up and down our stretch.
The remainder of the walk revealed just how many Linnets we have paired up and ready to breed on site with every Bramble clump holding a singing male and nest collecting female. Two more Sedge Warblers were actively competing down near the High Seat and a Chiffchaff up here was probably new in that morning.

Cock Linnet
Back near the centre the chacking of a Fieldfare drew my attention with a fine male perched up near the feeders – it was certainly becoming a day of contrasts and this was later added to with some more winter leftovers with two bobbing Jack Snipe out on Purfleet Scrape.
The rest of the day was spent behind front desk trying to coax two more memberships out of the visitors to reach our end of year target while snatching glances out of the window behind me. Marsh Harriers, Peregrine and 30 high tide Curlews were forth coming and thankfully those final memberships were too...

And so to today Saturday 1st April and with some sunshine creeping through every now and then I popped up the garden with my camera and found few interesting insects visiting the spring flowers.  A couple of Platycheirus albimanus and Syrphus ribesii hoverflies were holding court over the pond and I found a nice fat Syrphus torvus on the Marsh Marigold along with a female Andrena haemorrhoa mining bee.  

Syrphus ribesii

Syrphus ribesii

Andrena haemorrhoa

Andrena haemorrhoa on Marsh Marigold
Green-veined White and my first Speckled Wood of the year flitted around and the Pond Skaters were warming themselves on one of the glass pond ball.  

Speckled Wood

Speckled Wood

Pond Skaters sunbathing
Goldcrests and Long-tailed Tits were nest building and Blackcap and Mistle Thrush song kept me company before the sun ran away and so did I...


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