Tuesday 3 November 2015

Year of the Owl...

Just a bit of murk this morning with no grotty claggy fog but thankfully also no wind either. I headed out shortly after we opened up and wended my way towards the woodland. Redwings and Song Thrushes were pinging out of the bushes and the playground held a nice mixed flock of Green, Gold and Chaffinches.  

I successfully pished out a Goldcrest and some Long-tailed Tits by the bridge and a Chiffchaff called a little further back but was drowned out by the Cetti’s Warblers which were giving it large.  A Great Spot Woodpecker dropped into the chestnuts and had a quick thump at a dead branch or two before bounding off.

Amazingly, just for once, I actually remembered to look for the Barn Owl and one of them was sitting almost right outside their box albeit still miles away. A Common Darter flicked by and Wasps were out on patrol and seemingly after sluggish flies. 

No one saw a Dartford Warbler yesterday so I was very pleased to pick up what seemed to be the darker male bird in the little elders with its Stonechat chaperones. He performed very well for a few minutes before going to ground again. This is definitely not the bird that we saw last week and fits in with the original report of a male bird and not a drab first-winter bird. Indeed later on both birds were seen in the same spot so keep your eyes peeled.

Dartford Warbler

Dartford Warbler and Stonchat - Trevor Oakley


There were plenty of Skylarks and finches bimbling around and they were to become a feature of the morning.  A little further on the last of Clive Watts’s summer charges was still in her dew soaked web although by midday she had apparently gone. As none of us have ever seen a wasp Spider past the last week in September this late run of specimens here has been remarkable.

Wasp Spider
The smell of the huge Polar just past Ken B is probably the most autumnal of any tree on site – rich and earthy with just a hint of decay and damp. I am never sure if I actually like the smell or not (a bit like Horse Chestnut flowers) but it is so much a sign of the turning of the seasons with green leaves turning golden yellow before the blackness of their species quickly overtakes them. 

Out on Aveley Pools there were 21 scattered Pintail in elegant upending pairs while Shoveler squibbled in groups and a Little Egret and several Grey Herons speared fish in the shallow water. There are only a smattering of diving duck so far as the water levels remain so low. Both the adult male and female Marsh Harriers quartered the marsh with the male looking particularly resplendent while in the corner of the Tringa Pool a smart Water Pipit alerted me to its presence with its less strident ‘phist’ call.


I was then delighted to discover that the annual reprofiling of the Butts Scrape had attracted at least five of these smart, pale, eyestriped pipits to scurry along the muddy margins with several Pied Wagtails, 20 Meadow Pipits and a big flock of Linnets. I am hopeful that this becomes a feature of the winter rather than us trying to find odd birds on the foreshore. It is not that they are difficult to identify, it is just that trying to find them lurking amongst the seaweed is! Other sites such as Staines Moor, Stodmarsh, Minsmere and the Yare Valley Marshes hold good wintering numbers in similar habitat so perhaps this is the time of change for our precious piece of marsh?

Water Pipit

Water Pipit

Snipe zig-zagged overhead and a Kingfisher almost flew into the hide as it zipped towards the MDZ. The male Marsh Harrier gave another fly by and my first Short-eared Owl of the day dropped back onto the foreshore in the distance after going for one of their early morning wanderings. Later on up to five would be seen incredibly well down at the west end of the river wall where they have a liking for the longs on the saltmarsh before heading up onto the capped landfill and into the Enclosed Bay to hunt. The quality of the images coming out of there has been superb.

male Marsh Harrier

Basil Thornton and his wife were watching the Bearded Tits at the Dragonfly Pool at incredibly close range but I could not focus on them quick enough and thankfully Basil let me use his wondrous shots.

Bearded Tit - Basil Thornton

Bearded Tit - Basil Thornton

Just a short way past this the energetic vols were busy with the lengthy task of fitting the new plastic planking onto the section of boardwalk that has had to be replaced. They are doing a great job – only about 3.5km to go...

Up on the river wall where the low tide revealed a great selection of waders across both sides of the Thames with 4 Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, 18 Black-tailed Godwit, Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, 180 Dunlin, 97 Redshank, 391 Lapwing, 8 Golden Plover and 4 Curlew. Knot are especially scarce here and Fraser did well to find them first thing this morning. Teal and gulls lined the edges and I counted nine Yellow-legs amongst them. The first three Shelduck were also back on the mud after their summer sojourn to Germany but more of that later.  Two tame Kestrels allowed a close approach on my amble back along the Victorian seawall and six Rock Pipits and yet more Skylarks were seen but a sausage bap brunch beckoned and only some super spotty Starlings and Teasel munching Goldfinches distracted me for the last hundred yards.

The rest of the day was an inside affair but I cannot really complain with frequent views of various Marsh Harriers and the two monster Ravens once again upsetting the local corvids and causing me mid-meeting to exclaim ‘oh...look  a Raven – kronk kronk’. A Short-eared Owl even glided past the window and along the southern trail much to everyone’s delight while plump Greenfinches investigated the fat hips outside the window.

Shorties - Tom Bell

Shortie - Bill Crooks

Shortie - Russ Sherriff

The final noteworthy sight for the day was a skein of high flying small ‘geese’ that Andy Tweed somehow picked up. They were mere dots and it took some time to get them in the scope but they were not Pinkies as we first suspected but 23 migrating Shelduck dropping in from a grey sky freshly arrived after their long flight from the Waddenzee where the adults head en masse in the summer to moult on this huge shallow body of water with tidal flats and wetlands.  

So, although they ‘only’ turned out to be Shelduck and not some unusual incoming grey geese, their arrival is probably more significant for announcing the return of a species that is characteristic of our mighty southeast muddy estuaries and to show that you should always expect the unexpected but that it is not always something as out of the ordinary as you might as hoped!

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