Friday, 24 February 2017

Doris Day

Doris Day...  RSPB Rainham Marshes 23rd February 2017

Well, we all survived the rather angry attention of Doris yesterday. She was with us from breakfast, whipping up a frenzy of rather irate white horses across the turbulent Thames before occasionally vaporising the spume into a wall of hurtling mist that would hit the windows of the centre like a stampede. That old and wondrous Guinness advert kept springing to mind...

The building shook, the floor vibrated, the light cones thrummed and the windows bowed – it was all quite exciting really!

The sky was constantly changing with skudding dark blankets, white streamers and longitudinal pillows laden with rain that we never saw. Splashes of sunshine zoomed across the marsh resulting in the multitude of Black-headed Gulls sheltering there to flare shining white momentarily before returning to greyer shades.

The gulls saw quite a bit of my attention yesterday and they were constantly circulating with flocks in the hundreds resting up before heading back to the river only to be replaced by the next wave. They would land in the water of the Winter Pool and all hunker down and face into the teeth of the gale but were seldom still for long and would all slowly shuffle onwards so that they ended up on the grass in one amorphous mass of white. Only a few Common Gulls were amongst them and the big gulls were mostly riding the weather out on the river and elsewhere as very few were in the flock. Using jizz as an identification was almost pointless as every bird was crouched low and had its head pulled in but not tucked in and had no neck!  I did eventually pick out a first winter Yellow-legged Gull and a smart winter adult Mediterranean Gull for my troubles.

Black-headed Gull mass
The wind was making the Lapwing typically skittish with careening flocks being blown around with 200 silvery Dunlin and 55 Black-tailed Godwits while the Marsh Harriers and pair of Ravens were thoroughly enjoying the conditions with little flapping and lots of playing around. At one stage the big male Raven came so close to the window you could see his shaggy beard and glint in his intelligent eyes.  

The male Peregrine was not helping with the general mobility of the birds and huge young female decided that the best place to have a bath was in the middle of the flash where the Black-headed Gulls were resting up!

As the day wore on even more gulls came in and with a little low sun it became the skyscapes and struggling ships that took our attention before we finally closed up to go home but with the QEII bridge closed and traffic gridlocked in the area that was going to be another story all by itself...

Struggling up river - Tony O'Brien

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

More Fun With Finches

The Brecks - 13th February 2017

I have not taken people out for a trip for some months now but I was unprepared for the response to my casual ‘Anyone fancy doing the Brecks on Monday?’ email. 

And so at 7:30 yesterday morning I had 25 people massed in the car park of RSPB Lakenheath ready to head out onto the reserve with a promise of long-legged marshy birds of various types. 

A fine watery sunrise - Antony Wren

Some of the posse... Gill Price

As I suspected the walk down was quiet, with the cold wind at our backs and just a few Redwing, tits and clattering Woodpigeons for our troubles but the group had seen a Barn Owl just before I arrived so they had already had a pre-walk fix to tide them over. We had all driven past seven Roe Deer in the new plantation on the way in and two more were seen in the older cover. 

There are so many dead fall and hung trees in these woods that they may not last that much longer in their current state. They still ring with the ghostly memories of warm spring days when the susurration of a million heart shaped leaves rattling in the wind competed with your a ears for the ethereal notes of the ever shy Golden Orioles.The Orioles are currently a bird of the past and recolonisation of East Anglia’s poplar plantations seems unlikely and as such the old matchstick woods of Lakenheath are being allowed to dwindle and collapse with a view to allowing a succession of moisture loving Willow and Alder Carr to join up the patchwork of now twenty year old reedbeds. New trees have already been planted amongst their dying trunks to aid this process along.

Marsh Harriers fresh out of roost were already out hunting and using the gusting easterly to good effect and they followed us all the way down to the Joist Fen view point. The threat of a dull gloomy day seemed to be abating and blue skies and a hazy sun were trying to push through. We stood for an hour scanning the massive reedbeds with the aforementioned Harriers frequently spooking large flocks of Shoveler and Tufted Ducks from hidden pools while Greylags and a few Canada Geese performed circuits but we could find nothing different amongst them bar a single CanLag with a squeaky voice.
A blue view over Joist Fen

A Great White Egret flew down the southern side and three more were seen from the river bank in the adjacent fields but it was the Cranes we were after and they did not disappoint and once we had seen the first two we soon added several more until nine had been seen in languid flights across the marsh on enormous wings with fingers bowed up on every downstroke. The light reflected off their silver forewings and white necks gleamed in the sunshine but if they were calling we could not hear as the wind would have taken anything away from these already distant birds.


A Kingfisher spent some time fishing from the reeds in the channel in front and Cetti’s Warblers sang but of Bitterns there was no sign at all. I seem to be having a real problem with seeing one this year!

The walk back added a couple of obliging Buzzards and Little Egrets along the river bank and a large flock of Fieldfares were scattered over an almost black loamy field. 

The newly managed area looks superb and I can imagine it being a great spot on a spring evening
There was time for a quick coffee and then we were off to Santon Downham in an eleven car convoy that we somehow managed to keep together. The next couple of hours were spent in the company of the Bramblings, Chaffinches, Coal Tits and Treecreepers of the line of old Beech trees. Quite where the hundreds of Bramblings from last Saturday had gone I do not know but I suspect that there were still about 40 or so around and they showed very well for my crowd of admirers. To be honest it was a Nuthatch that I loved best as he kept coming back down to the bole in a Beech for an energetic bath.

Bramblings - Antony Wren
The peace was frequently disturbed by the sound of Tornados tearing apart the air overhead and unfortunately on one such occasion I had just picked up the melancholy song of a Woodlark up above us but it had drifted elsewhere by the time the thunder had ceased. Buzzards mewed and a single Little Grebe was down on the river but there were no Grey Wagtails.

And the first hoverfly of the year - an Eristalis tenax

A leisurely lunch and then to Lynford Arboretum for the remains of the day where the wind had dropped and the sun still glowed. As such we were treated a superb display from the pre-roosting Hawfinches with probably just over 30 seen in the tops of those pines once again with their bull necks, steely bills and flashing white wing bars. Crossbills also obliged although they were tricky to get in good light but through the scope you could seen the rich reds and greens. One male perched up on the Hawfinch pines and another dropped into the riverside trees so I think that the majority of my crew went away happy.Tony O and Marna also joined us for the finch fest and there was a great atmosphere within the party.

Hawfinch - Tony Orwell

Hawfinch - Tony Orwell

Crossbill - Tony Orwell
Marsh Tits were once again singing with two different songs heard – a mournful solo repeated tewing and a Crossbill like gypping from two males at each other across the paddock. Siskins wheezed overhead and showed well in the Alders and two Treecreepers eventually gave themselves up to Gill. 

Brambling called overhead and several more were in the avenue hedge where they were picking the buds from the Blackthorn in the company of two pair of Bullfinches. The males of the latter kept well hidden and it was nice to be able to give the females the attention they are due.

With the day – and crew – starting to fade there was just time to pop down to the gravel pits to look for any interesting wildfowl and a male Goldeneye with the Tufted Ducks and two Goosanders were duly bagged. That cold easterly had returned and with the sun slipping behind the trees the temperature was rapidly dropping and it was time to call it a day and head for home after a very successful venture.

A tranquil end to the day - Gill Price

Monday, 6 February 2017

Colchester to Rowhedge - a Colneside Amble - 6th February 2017

Another day away from the ranch saw me making may way against the traffic to Colchester so that Kettle could tinker with the car while I headed for my now traditional amble down to The Hythe and along the River Colne.
The first part of the walk down the hill out of the town centre is always incredibly noisy with the smell of exhausts from the rush hour traffic and other nefarious odours to encourage you to keep walking. I always marvel at the Gothic St Leonards Church jammed between the houses with its knobbly spires and fantastic gargoyles and as usual the House Sparrows were trying to be heard from the eaves of the very old house next door.

Good old fashioned tiles with lots of gaps!
 As usual the tide was going out and the usual collection of Teal, Mutes Swans, Moorhens and Black-headed Gulls were feeding in the river before the road bridge. Rather than walk up the northern trail I stayed on the south side and headed along past the TS Colne Light Ship. 

TS Colne Light



...and this is what he thinks of my photography

The monster pylon on the other side held as pleasant surprise as while being arty with my camera I picked up a female Peregrine clambering around the framework.  I could not see a mate but she seemed agitated and fidgety and I suspect was contemplating breakfast.

Many of the old boats and barges moored up are in a shocking state and most appear to be inhabited to some extent but one redeemed itself with a wondrously stroppy, confrontational, life size effigy of the great Bender Bending Rodríguez from Futurama. The celebratory 50 Years of Basildon baseball hat only added to his general ‘what you looking at?’ attitude...

Onwards towards the lagoons and beyond where the weather drastically improved and blue skies appeared from nowhere. The river hosted the usual suspects on these visits with many pairs of Teal, Redshanks, ‘snickering’ Black-tailed Godwits and the odd Curlew. 

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit




The mud here is so gloopy and the birds always come up filthy after having a good probe! A couple of Little Grebes and Cormorants dived and drifted with the outgoing swell and a Common Gull was having fun with a rather large leg bone which was just too big to pick up and carry off and away from the attention of the Black-heads and single Lesser Black-backed.
Reed Buntings and two Yellowhammers flicked across the river and I could hear Song Thrushes singing from various spots while the Rock Pipits once again were observed perching up on the railway lines.

Common & Black-headed Gull consider breakfast...

Little Grebe


Looking smart...

The lagoon itself was devoid of anything bar three reflective Mute Swans so I decided to venture into the unknown and keep heading east. The inland meadows were covered in the tell tale humps of Yellow-meadow Ant colonies just like at Rainham and the low light was showing them off to great effect. Curlews stalked around amongst them along with a few Starlings and Skylarks.


Anthill city!
Another bend in the Colne added Wigeon, Grey Plover, Snipe and Oystercatcher to the list along with more obliging Blackwits and a pale male Ruff with bright orange legs. 

Black-tailed Godwit

Oystercatcher with bubble gum Thayer's Gull legs!

Oik and the Wit

Ruff and Redshank

Great Spotted Woodpeckers were drumming in Wivenhoe Wood and I could also hear a yaffling Green Woodpecker and the plaintive calls of Bullfinch.
I had now made it as far as Rowhedge where the Godwits and Redshanks were even tamer and after procuring a fine Americano from the new Jam Jar Cafe I took myself to the nearest riverside bench and actually sat down and relaxed for ten minutes... well I never.  

Black-tailed Godwit... again



...and almost as spherical as the Grey Plover at Titchwell!

It was pretty peaceful bar the sound of the odd car and the various grumbling waders and gulls and I had a lovely young male Blackbird listening for worms on the lawn right next to me. He would lift his head right up, tilt it to one side, pause again and then strike. 

How often do you really look at a Blackbird?

I had a check to see just how far I had come and somehow three miles had slipped by which meant that I had another three to get back.  The return leg initially held the same species and a Woodpigeon dozing in the sunshine on the top of some flats looked to have not a care in the world. Eyes closed, chest out.

As long as the Sparrowhawk was not watching

An unfamiliar call reached me from the ancient hedge line just inland but I soon twigged that it was a Little owl and a bit like the Willow Tit song on Saturday, it is simply one I do not here very often at all. In fact I cannot remember the last time I saw the species. Fortunately it seemed to be calling from one of three Oaks that I could approach via the old inland river wall section. Blue and Great Tits were alarming which seemed a good sign but then a Sparrowhawk broke cover revealing itself to be the cause for concern. There were no owl noises now but I then noticed this little bundle of fierce feathers glaring at me through some old Bramble leaves. He had to crouch down to do so and so I slowly backed away and left him in situ and could still feel those yellow eyes following my every move.

Ever so slightly creepy...
Back on the trail I was starting to get back into the industrial zone with pathside Robins and Wrens for company and a plumed Little Egret was a very acceptable final new bird for the walk as I once again neared the Lightship.

Little Egret
I made it back to the workshop just as Adrian had finished things up; perfect timing after a perfect walk.