Wednesday, 5 May 2021

RSPB Rainham Marshes - A mini bloglet just about Dunlins... 5th May 2021

I got to work a little early today and after adding the requisite 37 layers required for a walk in the British spring time I waddled along the river wall into the stiff westerly breeze.

The tide had just turned and there was a little mud exposed on the south side upon which some Sanderling were scurrying and a Turnstone was hunkered down with four Ringed Plovers.  This was  a good sign and I continued towards Aveley Bay but long before I got there a dog walker flushed  a shimmering ball of Dunlin from the concrete Victorian seawall where they were obviously trying to wait out the tide. Five more Sanderling and a gleaming male Turnstone decked out in black, white and orange headed straight across the Thames but the fish ball returned and I stayed back to see what they would do all the while conscious that they needed to rest but there was always a walker and hound to keep them on the move so I soon moved on and left them be.


I can’t remember ever seeing such a large spring flock here and as I suspected in the field they appear to be of the British upland breeding race Calidris alpina schinzii that have shorter slightly less decurved bills than the birds we often see here in the winter months.  Their black bellies are small and quite patchy and surrounded by white and in flight there seems to be quite a bit of contrast between the silvery wings and chestnut in the mantle. 


And the Turnstone!

I suspect that many we see this time of year may be this race but to be honest I have never really paid close attention until today when the spectacle of 112 of the little beauties swirling around in some rare morning sunlight made the differences all the more apparent.

I headed back to the Centre for the day with a female Cuckoo for company and four Whimbrels around their favoured posts and spent the day around the building watching Hobbies chase careening Swifts with kronking Ravens and soaring Peregrines and Buzzards up above as the storm clouds grew and the heavens finally opened as we closed up for the day.

Quality Cuckoo shot...

The light kept changing from about 3pm onwards

          And I shall leave you with Thunder and Sparrows - volume up all the way!

Sunday, 2 May 2021

Thirty Years Ago – April 1991

3rd April: 

An early morning visit with my Dad to Gernon Bushes at the top of Epping Forest where other than the ‘usual’ Hawfinches we saw a two late Redwing and a female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker before popping down to Fishers Green Goosefield where the Little Ringed Plovers were still present along with a many Redshank and Snipe and a bonus male Pintail which even today is a rare Lee Valley bird.

7th April: 

A North Kent perambulation with Pete G with a few summer migrant Warblers at both Cliffe Pools and Church Wood Blean but no waders of note at the former and just some Wood Anemones, Sweet Violets and Lesser Celandines at the latter.  We rounded up what I described as 'a very disappointing day' with the long walk from Grove Ferry to Stodmarsh and back.  There were a few more Warblers and a summer plumaged Green Sandpiper but the undoubted highlight was an early Turtle Dove.

Green Sandpiper

8th April: 

A day in the Brecks with Roy and Ian W and James H and we arrived at Mayday Farm at just after 8am to be greeted by a convoy of Forestry Commission machinery and the calls of numerous singing Golden Pheasants and Crossbills. 

Despite this we could not find a single Golden Pheasant and most seemed to be deep within the understory of naturalised Moonberry and Mahonia. The days of hearing Golden Pheasants where ever you went in the Brecks are long gone.

Once at the end of the track Crossbills became more evident and three male Tree Pipits were already proclaiming territories.  Two male Goshawks got up for a bit of a tussle and both started displaying and a female Sparrowhawk was keeping well out of their way. 



The main clearing held two pairs of Woodlarks and several singing Skylarks and Yellowhammers while a flock of 12 Crossbills containing a big headed male Parrot that we picked up on call.

Weeting Heath was our next stop and a pair of Stone Curlews were easily found sheltering while ten late Fieldfare and a pair of Wheatear hopped around them on eth rabbit cropped sward. Ten more Crossbills were in the pines above us.

Stone Curlew - dozing


Our route from here to Lynford Arboretum added a phenomenal flock of at least 600 summer plumaged Brambling feeding by the side the road in Mundford.  It was a great splash of orange black and white across the field!


The Two Barred Crossbill eluded us this time but we did find 15 Hawfinches feeding in the ground along with the magic Six Tits, a few Siskins and another 30 Crossbills. We ended the day at Lackford (after stopping again at Mayday Farm and seeing another pair of Parrot Crossbills – as you do) where Willow Warbler, Sand Martin and Swallow were added to the day tally.

12th April: 

Another visit to Gernon Bushes where I found four pair of Hawfinches and several Marsh Tits before a mirror visit to Fishers Green which was now knee deep in Warblers with at least 30 male Willows and Blackcaps.

13th April:

This was basically a re-run of Monday to the  with the male BrecksGoshawks, Woodlarks, Tree Pipits and Crossbill selection again but with the welcome addition of my younger brother pointing out the glowing male Golden Pheasant perched up in a tree above the Moonberry bushes and not within them. 

Golden Pheasant


Lynford again provided excellent finchy encounters while Lackford offered the first singing Sedge Warbler and a pair each of Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers.  After a natter with Pete G and the wardens we headed for Bury St Edmunds where the rest of the family went shopping and I kipped in the car before wiggling home through the Essex countryside.

14th April:

Another Kentish jaunt, this time with Pete G and Roy W and we were at Dungeness by 0730.  Our seawatch (as so often it is) was unproductive in the northerly wind with just one Gannet, Fulmar, seven Mergansers, and adult Med Gull and a selection of Terns than included Common, Arctic and Sandwich. Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plovers headed east and a male Merlin did its best to catch a Linnet. 

We circumnavigated the Trapping Area for a grand total of eight Magpies and so headed for the RSPB reserve which was also very quite with just a single Sandwich Tern, two Yellow-legged Gulls amongst many Lesser Black-backed Gulls and my first Yellow Wagtail of the year.

We chose not to try for the Seaford Surf Scoter and headed for Elmley where Pete decided to stay in the car while Roy and I went yomping off. The male American Wigeon was not on view when we got down there but there was a good selection of waders including 500 Black-tailed Godwits, Whimbrel, Little Stint, Spotted Redshank and Ruff.

The Thamesmead Family arrived (I think I know who you are...) and promptly found the Yankee duck. This immature drake showed very well but I am not quite sure what happened in my drawing!  Interestingly it was paired up what even now, I think may well have been a female.

American Wigeon

16th April: 

Roy W and I started at the top of the Lee Valley at Kingsmead where a pair of Garganey were found dozing along with a few Teal and with five LRPs and four Ringed Plovers. We added little more at Amwell and Rye Meads where I noted the red lower mandible of female Kingfisher for the first time. Kingfishers were also seen down at Fishers Green along with six Barnacle Geese and six Yellow Wagtails on the Goosefields and a strange female aythya hybrid in the relief channel that sounds like it had some Scaup in it. Our last stop was Connaught Water where a Nightingale sang and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Lesser Redpoll and Marsh Tit were casually noted along with a late Siskin.

21st April: 

A late morning excursion to Abberton Reservoir for Paul H and myself.  A pair of Garganey were our quarry but we could not find them but there was a smart male Ruddy Duck and several Sedge Warblers and Lesser Whitethroats were singing.

We quickly moved on to Fingringhoe Wick where Nightingales performed admirably and Grey Plovers, Dunlins and Black-tailed Godwits fed along eth shoreline of the Colne.  A couple of Sand Martins whizzed around and there were many Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps in the scrub.


It was time for lunch before heading back to Abberton where the pair of Garganey drifted out from underneath the trees where they were surprisingly cryptic against the roots. A Turtle Dove flew through and Yellow Wagtails scurried around the causeway banks.  Three Common Terns dipped down and suddenly it was raining hirundines with 250 Sand Martins, 150 Swallows and ten House Martins flitting around us after the myriad of flies.


25th April: 

This trip started out as a pop to Rainham Marshes with Roy and Ian but we never got there as the temptation of a Marsh Sandpiper at Elmley proved irresistible.  On arriving we were told that it had not been seen for four hours!  However we stayed until late evening and there was a very fine wader selection to distract ourselves with ruffed Ruffs, summer plumaged Godwits, Little Stint and Golden Plover and two years ticks in the shape of a Whimbrel and a creeping Temminck’s Stint.  The male American Wigeon and his consort were still around there were plenty of hirundines and Yellow Wagtails to look at too.

Temminck’s Stint


26th April: 

We actually made it to Rainham Marshes this time ostensibly to look for Stonechats for Roy’s bird race the following weekend. Now, you have to remember that at this time the east end of what is now the reserve was still out of bounds as a live MoD firing range so this left us with various forms of trespass be it up onto the Silt Lagoons with its quicksand and overflying bullets of the landfill and its settling pools of mysteriously bubbling blue liquid and other such noxious wonders.  In 1991 there was a good pool quite close to Coldharbour Lane (infact opposite where the security booth now sits) and we scrambled up the bank for a look.  Two Common and two Green Sandpipers fed around the edges along with Dunlin, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Lapwing and a diminutive Temminck’s Stint.

I seem to recall that it was at this point that we heard the distinctive ‘pruuk pruuk’ of a Bee-eater overhead but just like a few short days ago and 30 years later I could not find it in the blue.  There were a few Yellow Wagtails around and we did find those elusive Stonechats.

27th April: 

With the Marsh Sandpiper still being at Elmley I filled my car with bodies (Peter, James and Paul) and off we went.  It was once again mobile but we eventually tracked it down and got some great views of this summer plumaged bird as it delicately fed alongside a couple of Redshanks. This was only my second Marsh Sand after the Cley bird in autumn 1987 that I saw on one of my first ever trips to Norfolk.


The wader spread was much as the 25th with the Temminck’s Stint once again but two Curlew Sandpipers were certainly new  and a drake Garganey was a welcome sight along with the American Wigeon once again. It actually turned out to be a big twitch and there were plenty of pople to talk too and bits of gossip to dig out!

From here went to Westbere in the Stour Valley where Garden Warbler joined in with the general warbler back drop. Two Kingfishers whizzed by and three Cuckoos were singing.  Bearded Tits pinged and there were good numbers of hirundines hawking over the lakes but the surprise was an immature Kittiwake that flew over with a flock of Herring Gulls.


We end up the day with a long walk around Church Wood Blean where the highlight was a male Redstart in song by the car park.

28th April:

After a rather uneventful drive (which was in itself a surprise as Pete G was driving) we arrived at Mucklebough Hill near Weybourne in the vain hope that the singing male Sardinian Warbler would be doing just that.  it was not and so after a couple of hours searching we moved onto the East Bank at Cley where an amazing 93 Whimbrel were feeding in the meadows with a further 25 just down the road at Cley Eye.  This was the most I had even seen in one spot before. The reserve was very quiet with just a reeling Grasshopper Warbler for our troubles and the sea was almost devoid of life.


On to Titchwell where Pete stayed in eth car for lunch while I did Thornham Point and back in record time just to see the three delightful Shorelarks which were now even smarter and bedecked with proper ‘horns’.  A few Whimbrel and Avocets were noted as I sped back along with a pair of talon grappling Marsh Harriers while Beardies pinged from the reeds.

A phone box stop revealed nothing on Birdline so we headed into the Brecks and Lackford which was full of warblers and little else bar a pair of Turtle Doves on wires by the car park but the day still finished on a high with three summer plumaged Black Terns delicately hawking over Livermere.

Black Tern




Tuesday, 27 April 2021

RSPB Rainham Marshes - Winter leftovers, dazzling Greens & sky watching memories - 27th April 2021

My intention was to get in early for a nice pre-work riverside amble but the A2 was in a somewhat debilitated state and I ended up on the ‘Southern Country Route’ before popping back out in Dartford and attacking the Tunnel. As such my time on the wall was foreshortened somewhat and the actual amount of walking curtailed even further by me finding a huge white winged gull on the other side near to the Darenth Barrier.

I had to wait for the early haze to lesson but it became clear that it was a monster 2cy Glaucous Gull with all the right proportions in all the right places complete with hefty black tipped pink bill.  It was very aggressive and kept the smaller Herring Gulls at bay and often gave a long call with the head and neck held straight up and the wings kept in which I am not sure I have seen before.

It poked around at something dead on the tideline for about half an hour and then flew slowly up river when the plumage tone changed from the almost burnt out white to a good hint of classic biscuit. It looked even more massive in flight.  This was certainly not on my radar for a fine late April morning and with a 2cy Caspian and a couple of immature Yellow-legged Gulls adding to a good low tide gulling session.

An award winning scoped image of the Glaucous Gull with a stilt legged 2cy Caspian Gull in the foreground

Andy Tweed's 'atmospheric' shot as the Glauc flew up river...

Thirty-two Common Terns were actively fishing mid river and two bouncy Arctic Terns went past but as is often the case did not linger.

My time was up but it was a good way to start the day.  The plan for the day was to try and get to the end of the Ramp for a late lunch high tide especially after a Curlew Sandpiper came in yesterday on it but in the meantime there were distractions closer to Reception in and around the top end of the car park.

A small dingy looking butterfly whizzed past me as I was on the phone to the butterfly loving Colin Jupp and the brain said Green Hairstreak for no good reason at all. I followed it and eventually it landed and proved me right - I then got off the phone to Colin!.  It was incredibly fresh and on looking at the pictures I took the wings were not quite fully flat and inflated which probably explained why it stayed around a very sunny Honeysuckle patch for about an hour during which time it attracted almost every visitor who passed by.

Green Hairstreak

Green Hairstreak and with a Box Bug in the last two

Rhombic Leatherbug

Mottled Shieldbug

Seven Spot Ladybird

There was plenty else to see around the same clump with faded male Anthophora plumipes and two of their kleptoparasitic buddies – Melecta albifrons which were my first for the reserve. Andrena flavipes dotted the Dandelions and another small bee has left me asking questions while there were several Nomads to test my patience once again.  With help from Tony M I now know that the small ones I have been seeing for the last few days are in the Nomada flava/panzeri/ruficornis group. I also saw a couple more today along with two wholly black and yellow types that I think are both Nomada goodeniana and Nomada marshamella. There is so much to learn.

Andrena flavipes

Andrena chrysoceles

Nomada goodeniana

Nomada marshamella

A couple of furry ginger Osmia bicornis were around one of the old bee houses while several worker Bombus pratorum were on the last of the Rosemary flowers and Bombus pascorum were on the Apple blossom with many Honey Bees.  

Bombus pascorum

Bombus pratorum

Osmia bicornis

Osmia bicornis

Osmia bicornis

There were Dark-edged Bee Flies in attendance at the Forget-me-nots and a tatty Gymnocheta viridis basking on a trunk as they are prone to do while a smart little fly has been identified as a Morellia sp but the estimable Phil C.  There were several Hoverflies with several species around the prolific fruit trees including my favourite Myathropa florea.

Dark-edged Bee Fly

Dark-edged Bee Fly

Dark-edged Bee Fly

Morellia sp

Gymnocheta viridis

Helophilus pendulus - female

Myathropa florea - male

Eupeodes luniger - female


Bulbous Buttercup

Bosun Berry - a Gooseberry - Blackcurrent hybrid


Pisaura mirabilis

There were other Butterflies too and the warmth in the enclosed car park made them hyper active and difficult to get close to but there were several Orange Tips and both ‘small’ Whites along with Small Tortoiseshells, Peacock, Comma and my first immaculate Speckled Wood of the year decked out in chocolate and cream with a hint of green on the body ‘fur’.

Speckled Wood



Small Tortoiseshell

Lunch at the Ramp was not the wader fest that Andy Tweed and I were hoping for but it was nice just to sit on the bench and miss Phil Street being with us and reminisce about numerous Raptor O’clock sessions here over the years while watching Grey Plover, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwits and Whimbrel come and go and Hobbies hawking invisible insects high above us.

Bar-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel

Both Ravens made an appearance and several Buzzards and Marsh Harriers circled over and late on there was a pulse of Sand Martins and Common Swifts.  The Avocets seem to be expanding onto another island and even the Jack Snipe popped back out for brief bobathon along the margins.

Raven in the haze

It felt good to be warm for the first time in what feels like a month and even if that is it for the week, it was good to share our thoughts of our missing friend and feel him sitting there beside us, leisurely slumped in his garden chair, hat and sunglasses on and staring at the blue for a passing raptor or two...

Ruth, Phil, Jonathan and the Averys