Monday 16 September 2019

RSPB Rainham Marshes 9th-15th September 2019

I have continued with my attempts at a pre-work amble along the riverside path but the rain stymied my Monday morning attempt leaving birding effectively from inside the Centre for the day but it had its rewards with a surprise winter plumaged Guillemot bobbing out with the tide and avoiding the attentions of the larger gulls. Auks are always rare birds this far up river and this was my first for several years.  A glance the other way and the pair of boisterous Ravens could be seen bounding around out on the marsh without a care in the world.  It’s nice to have them back.


Even so it has been a quiet start as we nosed our way into September but there is a definite autumnal feel to things now with a trickle of Meadow Pipits ‘seeping’ south and a few Chaffinches bounding west.

Tuesday saw a notable increase in warbler numbers along the path side bushes and I intercepted almost 30 each of Blackcap and Chiffchaff as they foraged through bushes with a good number of the usual tits.  Willow Warblers, both ‘throats and singles of Reed and Sedge Warbler were also encountered.  The birds were moving steadily west, feeding as they went.  I was hoping for something scarce amongst the roving flock and was rewarded with an immature Redstart shivering that fiery tale with an olive Chiffchaff giving it grief.


Sunbathing House Sparrows

The Avocet flock has now reached the heady heights of 37 and 71 Black-tailed Godwit were feeding along the edge while the former were working the mud amongst an daily increasing flock of Teal.

The river has also been quite busy with military hardware on their way to the event at the Excel centre in Docklands.  The HMS Argyll (F231) has been up here before and is 30 years old now but none of us had ever seen the RFA Lyme Bay (L3007) before with its curious split hull for being able to act as a repair dock while at sea (if I have read things correctly!).  A small odd looking white vessel was identified as the DSSV Pressure Drop USNS Indomitable (T-AGOS-7) a United States Navy Stalwart class ocean surveillance ship.  The river is never quiet nowadays.

HMS Argyll (F231)

RFA Lyme Bay (L3007)

RFA Lyme Bay (L3007)

DSSV Pressure Drop

Back at the Centre the Starlings were entertaining themselves with the light cones and once again providing suitable entertainment with their antics. As usual every Starling was spaced equidistant from its compardre.

Jump across!

And one evening I caught them playing on the roof of one of our light cones...

With some warm spells during the day, I managed to escape back in the Wildlife Garden and Cordite for a spot of impromptu invert hunting and as it turned out, autumn fruit finding.

The yellow composites were still attracting a variety of hoverflies including Syrphus ribisii and Episyrphus balteatus as well as a spiky little Tachinid and a few of the three Carder Bees. Small and Green Veined Whites joined them. Dark Bush Crickets chirped at my feet and I managed to find a stridulating male Field Grasshopper and could even see his hairy belly which was quite handy as the pronotum was actually quite poorly marked. 

Syrphus ribisii

Siphona sp - a Tachinid

Green Veined White

Small White

Brown Banded Carder Bee - Bombus humilis

Brown Banded Carder Bee - Bombus humilis

Brown Banded Carder Bee - Bombus humilis

Shrill Carder Bee - Bombus sylvarum

Gall of Picture Winged Fly - Urophora cardui on Thistle

Gall of Bedagaur Gall Wasp on Dog Rose - aka Robin's Pin Cushion
Field Grasshopper

The Ivy was pretty much in full flower and was weighed down with Honey Bees, stripy little industrious Ivy Bees, Wasps, a few bumbles and many flies including my favourite Hover, Myathropa florea with its Batman mark. Eristalis tenax, many Syrphus and a fine Volucella pellucens were also noted while Red Admirals and Speckled Woods also nectared.

Ivy Bee

Ivy Bee

Honey Bee

Myathropa florea

Myathropa florea

Red Admiral

There is plenty of autumnal fruit to provide sustenance throughout the coming months and some of the leaves have started to change to reflect the season.

Old Man's Beard flowers

Old Man's Beard seeds



Dog Rose

Dog Rose - different shape

Rosa rugosa - Greenfinch favourites


Wayfaring Tree

Crab Apple


Guelder Rose

Guelder Rose

Blackberries - not quite there yet

Elderberries - gone over


Deadly Nightshade

The Sedum flowing around the Centre is still a magnet for bees and the same three Carders as well as a few variously faded Buff-tails were busily harvesting with countless Honey Bees from our still active colony.  A Bee Wolf paid a brief visit but unlike the other day, failed to catch a hapless HB for the nest burrow.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee - Bombus terrestris
Bee Wolf subduing Honey Bee

Mottled and Green Shieldbugs wandered around and Garden Orbs had strung their webs between gaps through the flower beds.

Green Shieldbug
Mottled Shieldbug

Wasp Spiders are now mostly over but there is still a small cluster near the pay and display machine and one now skinny mother guarding her poppy seed head-like egg capsule within which lies next year’s generation of stripy hunters.

Wasp Spider

Wasp Spider

Wasp Spider with egg case behind

From the window we can see where Jamie, Phil and Paul have begun the task of clearing swathes of phragmites to create openings and channels within our peripheral reedbeds.  Team Challenges over the next few weeks will see the removal of literally tonnes of reed from where they have cut and as the marsh wets back up these places become the best places for encountering Water Rails, Bearded Tits and Cetti’s Warblers during the winter months.

Bird feeding station in the Cordite is almost good to go

I managed a stroll along the river wall again on Thursday before the current weather front pushed in from the south-west.  There were still quite a few warblers to be seen but numbers were definitely down on Tuesday.  Yellow and Grey Wagtails called overhead and three Tree Sparrows coasting west at height along the wall were the first for the year and always one I hope to encounter at some stage in the autumn. To think we used to see three figure flocks here even into the early 1990s. Now they are practically non-existent in the entire south east and are certainly extinct in Essex as a breeder.

Swallows and a few Sand Martins flicked south with Meadow Pipits heading the same way slightly higher up but it was the seven Whinchats in the Ouzel Field that kept my attention for twenty minutes as they fed from the fence line and sallied forth after the countless black flies dancing around the reed heads and willows.


Friday was quieter with no escape option but a red wing tagged juvenile Marsh Harrier was new and I wonder if it will have come from the Norfolk Broads like last year’s green tagged bird while Buzzards were definitely on the move once again with 13 seen.  

Red FL Marsh Harrier - Andy Tweed

An interestingly pale Wheatear found by Pat out in the middle of Aveley Marsh was concolourous enough to warrant a closer look and so Bob took Andy out in the truck where he managed to get some pictures to confirm that we were looking at a pale Northern and not something far rarer!

Northern Wheatear - Andy Tweed

Three circuits on a very warm Saturday certainly brought up a healthy step tally as well as a good selection of small birds despite the blue skies, warm sun and lack of any breeze.  A Spotted Flycatcher quite literally followed a Tree Pipit out of the sky along the river wall. The latter was lost but the Flycatcher briefly perched up for my Kids Birdwatching Club.  Wheatear, Whinchat and Bearded Tits performed far better and a second Spot Fly in the Cordite ensured that everyone got a look.   

Bearded Tit

BT - Mark Phillips

BTs - Steve Cullum

Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps were once again encountered and all three Wagtails and a few Swallows and Meadow Pipits trickled through. There were kettles of large gulls thermalling wherever you looked and a couple of Buzzards and three dashing Hobbies were picked out by eagle eyes.

immature Goldfinch on Teasel

Pristine Small Coppers and tatty Brown Argus were seen on the Slender Leaved Ragwort and much to my delight a Wall Brown flicked past as we walked along the river wall.  There have been three sightings this year, one in each season so perhaps there is hope that this species is hanging on here somewhere that we have not discovered yet.

Small Coppers - Ken Bentley

My lock up circuit that evening gave me the chance to put out another sign at the newly created Ivy Bee viewing area and to spend some time watching these energetic little bees swarming around the short grass and spoil heap of our Rabbit warren entrance. I saw one brief mating ball but it soon broke up.  I sat down with them and lost myself for a few minutes in the combined hum of insects and the pylons way above my head!

And Jerry Hoare made this superb video to show just how amazing these Ivy Bees are...

Green Sandpiper and Snipe were in front of the Ken Barrett hide on the dwindling (but superb looking pool) and four Ruff were on the next one back with four Ruff and 19 Avocets. Migrant Hawkers still patrolled the boardwalks and several Reed Warblers were foraging in the reedmace where we had found none in the morning.

Green Sandpiper
Ruff and Moorhen - Mark Vale

Migrant Hawker - Tony O'Brien

Squirrel and the Fox...

Sunday was Shop Boy day but even then I still managed Tree Pipit, Yellow and Grey Wagtail and even a flyover Spot Fly in brief ambles outside of the doors!  Never give up... there are always birds!

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