Thursday 21 April 2016

Spring Rush At RSPB Rainham Mashes 13th -21st April

13th April 

Another day, another potential springtime bonanza of freshly arrived migrants. I arrived at the little car park at about 0730 with and with Stan Brown heading to the Serin Mound and Alasdair Wilcock ambling down the river wall towards the centre I decided to head the other way round the landfill before cutting up and over it to see if I could relocate Ruth’s even earlier female Ring Ouzel.

Like yesterday there was Skylark and Meadow Pipit song all around but the difference was the glorious blue sky with wispy opalescent cloud and a flat calm River Thames. There were no terns today but a Corn Bunting made itself known with a series of little ‘plips’ as I headed up onto the tip. It was definitely a morning a little brown birds with the larks and pipits joining the bunting to watch me from their chosen perches. Linnets were out collecting nest material and I reckon that there must be about ten pairs in that area. Such smart little birds. 


Meadow Pipit

I suspect that they were keeping an eye on the Short-eared Owl that was permanently patrolling the ‘hillside’. He was completely unperturbed by my presence and came incredibly close.

Short-eared Owl - Paul Hawkins

Short-eared Owl - HTV

The Marsh Harriers were out over Wennington and two Egyptian Geese flew in from the west. The marsh really is looking great and the view from the top of Rainham Ridge (as we affectionately know it) put the whole reserve into context in the urban fringe industrial landscape in which we nestle. Two more owls greeted me upon my descent before I headed into work.

Ten minutes later I was driving slowly down our approach road with my radio off and customary open windows to be met by a singing Firecrest in the Mardyke Ivy. I stopped and reversed up just in case my ears were playing tricks but no, sure enough there was a dapper little stripy headed sprite gleaning insects from the Lime Tree buds but somehow managing to sing vociferously at the same time. I attracted a few pullover birders and staff and most managed at least a glimpse. Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps were getting going and a Whitethroat moved through the canopy. I thought I heard the start of a Garden Warbler and this was later confirmed by another visitor who actually saw it too.

Firecrest - Jake Alexander

It looked like it was going to be a lovely day and a quick listen from the drawbridge revealed that the closer Grasshopper Warbler was still present (and in fact showed quite well at times during the day and was one of three reeling) and Cetti’s could be heard in almost every direction. I even saw one in the car park when I got out of my car.

Grasshopper Warbler - Magnus Andersson

Cetti's Warbler - Tony Coombs

More Whitethroats had come in and could also be now heard from the centre along with the usual plethora of Wrens and Dunnocks. There are still so many duck around and I saw all the regular dabblers today with Shoveler definitely being in the majority with the males being especially feisty at the moment!

Bathing Shoveler - Tony O'Brien

The Wednesday Walk had not long been out when I glanced out of the window to see a small bird flying to my left. It looked like a Coal Tit, so I grabbed my bins and locked on as it headed up onto the river wall where it thankfully perched long enough for a good look and to get Tony Coombs onto it! It was exactly what I suspected and the bright blue-grey upperparts, clean white face and wing bars and clean under parts all pointed to a bird of Continental origin. As if to prove my point about being a migrant on the move it promptly took off and bimbled west along the river wall. This is only my third record for the site with both the other sightings coming from October-November when Continental immigration is also more likely than local dispersion. Rather bizarrely I have seen more Penduline Tits, Pectoral Sandpipers, Great White Egrets and Goshawks and the same number of Razorbills here than I have Coal Tits!

Just a few minutes later Andy Reid radioed in to say that they Stone Curlew had just flown over his head and landed on Aveley Marsh out near the Winter Pool but is immediately went to ground and was never seen again all day. The rest of the day was desk bound but I did manage to see two Brent Geese on the river, my first Hobby of the year way out over Wennington and a cracking luminous Yellow Wagtail that flew over Louis and I.

As for that Cuckoo? Well not today but they arrived at Two Tree Island and Stow Maries so I will not be too far out!

14th April

The weather precluded much in the way of footfall but some determined slogging around in generally inclement weather from Dominic, Smiffy, Tweedy, Phil, Pat and Bill (and window watching from myself) resulted in a new day record of 100 species for the site!  Anyway, suffice to say all of the 'usual suspects' common birds were logged with most of the warblers being seen and now including five singing male Grasshopper Warblers. Three are between the visitors centre and the Turnstile Gate with another in the Enclosed Bay and one out on Rainham West. The one closest to the centre is especially showy at the moment.

Grasshopper Warbler - Russell Sherriff

And click here for a listen to this bird recorded yesterday evening by Fraser Simpson.  What an amazing song...

The rain seemed to push quite a few more Terns up river including 55 Commons with a few Arctics mixed in. When the weather broke for a short while late in the afternoon nine gleaming Arctics gracefully headed back downriver.  The weather front also dumped a few hirundines and although there were not many, the twenty or so each of Sand Martin and Swallow and a few House Martins were still more that we have seen all spring.  They were alighting on the fence at the bottom of the Ramp and Jo managed some nice ' in the rain' shots.

Hirundines in the rain - Jo Collins

A couple of Whimbrel, the Greenshank and four Avocet were floating around and ten Dunlin and two Ringed Plover were new in. A Corn Bunting jangled up on the tip and Pied, White, Yellow and Grey Wagtails were all seen along with the male Firecrest once again in the ivy covered limes along the entrance road.

16th and 17th April 

The 16th was freezing with a northerly breeze that brought back out the woolly hats and gloves and kept the birds closer to the deck but it was by no means dull with three gull species being added to the ever increasing week list with a 1st summer Common Gull, two adult Med Gulls and a beautiful 1st summer Little Gull along the river. The latter had residual black in the wings but none underneath, a partial black hood and the most ridiculously pink under parts I have seen on a small gull in a long time! It spent most of the day dipping into the scum line where the currents met in Aveley Bay. Common Terns peak at over 100 and several Arctic Terns positively bounced up river. 

A good few Wheatears were seen between the Concrete Barges and Ouzel Fields and the Grasshopper Warblers were still in song and showing on and off – oh and on that note please stay on the paths and away from the bushes so that the birds can properly set up their territory and make more Groppers... The first Swift was seen and a Jack Snipe was once again a-bobbing on Purfleet while a late evening Cuckoo was heard at the west end.

Wheatear - Russ Sherriff

And so the 17th dawned clear and bright with blue sky, no wind, a heavy frost and the promise of some spring sunshine. The Grasshopper Warbler was still reeling away but was again pushed and went quiet for a while, while two Whinchat and several Wheatears were seen behind the Serin mound where the Short-eared Owls continued to play.

Bearded Tits were especially mobile and noisy today and two Hobbies entertained and even perched up in the middle of Aveley for a while. A few Swallows and Martins had arrived with their hunter but it was obviously after smaller aerial prey and left them alone. Two more Swifts eluded me but a glowing Yellow Wagtail headed through and the Firecrest was again heard in song late afternoon along with a Goldcrest in the same spot by the Spider Park Bridge.

Bearded Tit - Ricky Blackman

The warmer weather prompted the local Buzzards and Marsh Harriers to get up and also provided us with yet another highlight to an amazing week when Phil Street shouted ‘Montagu’s Harrier’ down the radio. We missed the bird as it came past the centre but caught up with it as it gracefully circled across the river on long narrow silver wings. What a bird to see here! Better was to come as Jo Collins and several others had actually seen the bird out over the marsh and she arrived a while later with some stunning pictures of this full adult male as it cruised through!

Montagu's Harrier - Jo Collins

Montagu's Harrier - Jo Collins

Roy Woodward picked up an Osprey a short while later heading west but it was too far off for us to pick up and Arctic, Common and Sandwich Terns were all seen on the river. Warblers were in energetic song and although there are not many Reed Warblers at the moment, the Sedgies are in in good numbers and are in full flow along with many Whitethroats and a couple of rattling Lesser Whitethroats and Willow Warblers too. Even the Ravens dropped in today to round up an amazing seven days on the marsh with a staggering 124 out of 156 species recorded for the entire year to date seen during the week...
Let’s start again tomorrow...

18th -21st  April

It has been a mixed bag weather wise this week with glorious sunshine one day and freezing cold and windy the next but still the birds have struggled in and over the last two days we have seen some new arrivals in the shape of a few Common Swifts scything through the air and a trickle of passage waders starting to appear.

Bar-tailed Godwit - Joanne Gates

Wednesday saw two find summer plumaged Spotted Redshanks on the Winter Pool and five Green Sandpipers on the Target Pools while both Bar and Black-tailed Godwits, two Whimbrel, two Curlew, Dunlin, Greenshank and four plump orange-legged Ringed Plovers appeared over the high tide  I am sure that there will be more to come over the next few weeks although the incoming northerlies will hold things back a little once again.

Whitethroats and Sedge Warblers are now in in great numbers and Reed Warblers are slowly arriving while in the Cordite there are now three rattling male Lesser Whitethroats to be seen.

The Grasshopper Warbler is still showing periodically and allowing some great views with the right degree of patience.  At least two more are still reeling elsewhere on the marsh.  Our third Ring Ouzel of the spring was seen near the Serin Mound and the same very fortunate Bruce Carson also saw a female Common Redstart while I had a female Whinchat on Rainham Ridge on Monday.

Whitethroat - Russ Sherriff

Lesser Whitethroat - Dawn Cowan

Love this atmospheric shot of a sedge warbler by Magnus Andersson

Grasshopper Warbler - John Humble

The Kestrel continues to show well along the river wall and two more Red Kites added to our great year tally.  The Hobbies were seen again over Wennington and there was some great interaction between the Marsh Harriers. Similarly the Short-eared Owls are still on show most days and I am wondering if they will still be here when I get back from my holidays? 

Hobby - Karl Price
The woodland was wonderfully sheltered and the butterflies gave themselves up on the warmer days and even the hyperactive Brimstone touched down long enough to get papped.  And I just had to put in this superb shot of a by Gerry Hoare... a cracking springtime fly called Gymnocheta viridis and despite its colour, not related to Greenbottles at all... 

Gymnocheta viridis- Jerry Hoare
The Musca autumnalis are massing again and on warmer morning are starting to congregate on the sunny side of the building and on posts, fences and signs!

Musca autumnalis
And big Queen Bumblebees such as this Bombus terrestris have also been seen catching rays...

The Little Grebe nest by the MDZ got predated by a Weasel on Monday with the loss of both parent and eggs but there are plenty more active pairs around to enjoy and they do seem to like nesting very close to the path. The reeds seem to have become a summer home for at least four or five pairs of Bearded Tit once again and there are more reliable now than they have all year while the Marsh Frogs are now very much up and active and attracting the usual degree of attention from public and predators alike.

Little Grebe - Magnus Andersson

Bearded Tit - Magnus Anderson

Marsh Frog - Moi Hicks

Tomorrow is my last day for a couple of weeks so let's hope there is something fantastic like a Black-winged Stilt wading round on the Purfleet Scrape when I get in!  There was a Great White Egret seen by Fraser late Wednesday night so who knows!

And thanks as ever to the photographers for the use of their Rainham images in my own blog...

Tuesday 12 April 2016

Rain Starts Play - RSPB Rainham Marshes - 12th April 2016

The last few days on the reserve have been pretty good what with a female Serin giving everyone the run around on Saturday morning and the amazing sight of a full summer plumaged Razorbill paddling round in front of the Ken Barrett Hide that very same afternoon and so yesteday I had a well deserved day off - at home - not at work - in the garden...

Razorbill - Roy Rookes
And so this morning I awoke to the sound of rain outside. It was 0330 and I had trouble getting back to sleep. Mmmm... light rain and a light south-easterly... could be interesting I thought. By not long after 0630 I was parked in the little car park at the end of the seawall (at work) with no rain or wind but grey skies. A Short-eared Owl was already drying himself out on a post up the landfill and the Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were just coming back to life and celebrating the cessation of the deluge.

Willow Warblers were immediately obvious with several singing birds in the flowering Blackthorn so with fingers cross that I would refind yesterday’s Ring Ouzel, I ambled off along the river wall towards the centre.

Willow Warbler - Terry Poskitt

The cloudscape to the north was quite dramatic with undulating folds of obviously still rain laden fluffiness but it was going away from me and the blue skies were sneaking in from across the river. A summer plumaged Spotted Redshank ‘chewit’ed over my head and two Little Ringed Plover could be heard in mechanical song flight somewhere off towards the Target Pools while similar aerial machinations from two pair of noisy Oystercatchers broke through the wall of Skylarks song.  Linnets fed in small parties along the top of the wall; the males now mostly sporting their red bikini tops. I had hoped to relocate my Serin but it was not to be.

As it warmed up Sedge Warblers and Whitethroats made their presence known and Dunnocks and mellifluous Blackbirds serenaded me. I had the place to myself. Lapwings were giving short shrift to the Carrion Crows and the Marsh Harriers were in turn chased by the latter while Redshanks commuted to and from the river.  Slugs and Snails were everywhere in the damp conditions making walking somewhat hazardous!

White-lipped hedge Snail

Stonechat & Sedge Warbler - Ricky Blackman
As I neared the centre a Whimbrel appeared on the rocks and furtively crept back over the ridge rather than fly while a scan round the other way revealed a superb female Merlin perched on a rather robust crusty cowpat. I saw a female bird briefly on Saturday and it so it was great to be able to get scope views of such a mobile and charismatic little falcon. There was no sign of the Ouzel but I was enjoying myself as birds had clearly arrived and there was a chance of finding something good. 
I bumped into Graham Howie (one of our new Education Assistants) and we started to retrace my steps back west.  A pair of Common Scoter were quickly picked up and were generally around for most of the day after that (apart from whenever Smiffy looked for them!) and they did the usual Scoter thing of fly up, drift back.  

Common Scoter

The first tern of the day was amazingly a fine Sandwich and while getting tat in the scope an adult Little Gull drifted through on paddle wings. As we approached the Big Willow I was just pointing out the regular pitfall of our Wrens on this stretch that start their song with a short Grasshopper Warbler like trill when the real deal started up in the bramble clump just below us.  It did not sing for long but was yet another indicator that some new blood had arrived over night. Two more Willow Warblers sang and a few Sand Martins zipped through and two Avocets seemed quite at home on the MDZ Pools.

Graham and I parted ways and I continued onwards to beyond the Serin Mound where I added the first two Wheatears of the day, a Redwing and a female Stonechat. The Shorties were out hunting again and I found two nice patches of flowering Cowslips in the verge.


Rather than pack up and head off (as had been my plan) I actually decided to head off back down the wall again with the intention of a cuppa at the end.  There were now 26 Common Terns in the Bay and the wake of a ship flushed a Common Sandpiper from the Coldharbour foreshore and onto my year list at long last. 

Sandpiper flusher

I was not too far from the Centre when a second Grasshopper Warbler started up and with a little bit of patience I got some cracking views of this little pink legged Locustella as he shook himself silly with that industrial excuse for a song. I should have had some ok pictures but I was too preoccupied with actually looking at the bird when it showed best and so only ended up with several bits and pieces shots! 

Bits of Gropper

I was just showing this bird to a visitor when Smiffy rang and casually announced that he had a Stone-curlew on the Ouzel Field so it was a quick about turn and back we both went. A few short minutes later we were watching this goggle eyed beauty as it stood by the side of the central road, trying to blend in with the earthy edges.  Smiffy had first picked it up when the Lapwings decided that they did not like it and caused it to fly around but strangely enough they left it alone for the rest of the day and after it sat back down it was a real pig to see with often as not only the top of its head was visible. 


It was at this point that most of the staff in the centre (as well as the first visitors) arrived for a view and were greeted by not only the Stone-curlew but a glorious display from the Shorties and the original Grasshopper Warbler winding itself up again.

Terry arriving

Back up on the river wall there were now 46 Common Terns and two Sandwich Terns were glowing in the throng but of those pesky Scoters there was no sign while four more Wheatear were on the lone foreshore clump.  We did eventually make it back to the cafe for that cuppa and cake before giving the riverwall and final pre-lunch bash. There was nothing else to add but the views of the Short-eared Owls just got better and better and once at the Serin Mound it was Wheatears that took over with a further 11 birds out on the sward where there had only been one earlier.  Seven Little Egrets were dotted about and the young male Marsh Harrier is starting to acquire more grey in the upperwing but still has a cinnamon coloured tail.

Wheatear - Shaun Harvey

Lunch beckoned so I left site for a couple of hours feeling vindicated for coming back to work on my day off. How else am I meant to bird it in such an intensive way?

I parked at the centre on my return and ambled along the Southern Trail where I helped Andrew locate current Lapwing nests and locate hopefully a few more as well as seeing the nest that produced our first Lapwing chicks today bang on schedule. She was busy brooding and probably has two or three eggs to go. We also found a Redshank or two sitting tight and a female Mallard who had made a big grass nest on top of an island.  Starling pairs probed the grassy verges and the Little Grebe was still on the nest near the MDZ while Bearded Tits pinged off in front of us and the top of the Stone-curlews head was still visible but there were now five Wheatears in the field with it.

Bearded Tit - Ricky Blackman

Cetti's Warblers were prety showy today - Jerry Hoare

Sitting tight - Dawn Cowan
Shiny Starling -  Ricky Blackman
Stone... Ricky Blackman

One last trawl along the top of the wall on now aching legs gave me the chance to look for the Tawny Mining Bees in the sunshine on the Sloe. I saw lots of big jawed, white bearded males and a couple of smart ginger females as well as a big fat black Hairy Footed Flower Bee. Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies were everywhere!

Peacock - Tom Ellmore

Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva)

A male Zebra Jumping Spider was trying his best to nab a sunbathing bee but they were just too flighty.

Can you see me?

And so my day ended with a flight of 19 Curlews and the lone Whimbrel as they headed out to the Winter Pool to wash and brush up over high tide. I have a good feeling about the rest of the week and reckon that the first Cuckoo will be in tomorrow and perhaps a Mediterranean overshoot for the weekend...