Thursday 20 April 2017

Spring in My Step

RSPB Rainham Marshes, Friday 14th to Thursday 20th April 2017:
This Easter will not be remembered for the weather and although the rain largely kept at bay it was blooming freezing with a cold wind that cut to the bone when sandals and shorts had been de rigueur just a few days before hand.

I was working throughout the four day holiday but went in early each day and managed to at least get a circuit in before work. Good Friday was a dull and cool affair when I started my clockwise circuit.  The Grasshopper Warbler that was found by Jerry Hoare the previous day was still reeling from the Southern Trail and Sedge and Reed Warblers and a couple of Whitethroats were half heartedly in song. 
Sedge Warbler
The Shelduck seem to be settling down into domestic life although the females did not look impressed that the males were taking them to the Blue Oyster Club on top of the MDZ...

Shelduck in love

A Wren was belting out his song from the old wall of the Rifle Butts and the male Cetti’s Warbler at the end of the Dragonfly Pool even decided that that the light was so bad it would not hurt to perch up for a little longer.
Cetti's Warbler

Rock Wren
The Little Grebe was still on her nest right alongside and I only lingered for a couple of seconds before moving on. She is a fearless little creature.
Little Grebe
The heavy grey weather front actually started to recede as I reached the Target pool and three Willow Warblers were singing from the Sallows as I approached but they were obviously newly arrived and swiftly moved off north one by one.

Wigeon and Pintail were still to be found out on the pool and a pair of Avocet were getting jiggy with it and starting the process of duffing up every bird in sight. The pair of Little Ringed Plovers were wisely keeping out of the way and several nesting Lapwings were sitting tight.
The male Marsh Harrier was on patrol but nothing seemed to bothered by his presence and a couple of Sand Martins zipped around. The heavy front suddenly moved far enough east for the sun to appear over the top, illuminating everything in a glorious glow but even this only lasted for about forty minutes before cloud bubbled up the west and the gloom returned for the rest of the day that I was to then spend on reception.

Easter Saturday was busy again with the Grasshopper still reeling away merrily but other than a few hirundines it was business as usual birdwise. I did however have a very profitable escape into the sheltered and sunny side of the car park where the scent of the Apple blossom drew me and a host of insects in and I spent a wonderful half hour tracking 13 species of hoverfly as they commuted between the soft plump Dandelions and heavenly scented Apple blooms.  Amongst them were the nationally scarce and very tiny Neoascia interrupta, my first Leucozona lucorum of the year and several Eristalinus sepulchralis with their spotty, half hairy eyes. 

Eristalinus sepulchralis
The other species were Melanostoma scalare, Platycheirus albimanus, Eupeodes luniger, Melisaeva auricollis, Episyrphus balteatus, Epistrophe eligans,Syrphus ribesii, Rhingia campestris, Eristalis arbustorum, Eristalinus sepulchralis, Helophilus pendulus.

Rhingia campestris

Orange Tips battled with all three Whites, Peacocks and Small Torts for the Dandelions and Bee Flies and several male Anthophora plumipes frequented the Apple along with Early, Buff and White-tailed Bumbles and several Andrena species including haemorrhoa, flavipes and probably nitida.
Green-veined White


Andrena haemorrhoa - male

Andrena haemorrhoa - female

Andrena nitida - I think
Two Nomad bees were seen with numerous red flava-types and a couple of large black and yellow Gooden’s.  It was great being able to show people so much in such a tiny area and on just two species of plant!
Nomada sp - most likely flava
I was on site by 0630 on Easter Sunday to leisurely open the hides with a male Greenfinch greeting me as I drove in blending nicely with the verdant Bramble growth.  Willow Warblers and Lesser Whitethroats were singing in the Cordite and I had high hopes of a good walk.
It was actually very quiet with a Grey Heron bogging me from the hand rail being the southern highlight.
Grey Heron
A pair of Pochard were back on the Dragonfly Pool and a Sedge Warbler showed very well as the light improved. A few Swallows and Sand Martins flicked over Aveley and a White Wagtail was my first of the year here but it was hard work with little warmth to encourage anything to show a bit of spring vavavoom. 
The Green Woodpecker pair were still vocal and seem to have pushed the Great Spots back to Mar Dyke trees once again and the curious ‘ticking’ Chiffchaff that Max and I had last week was still calling in the Cordite Store.
Green Woodpecker
The rest of the day was a bit of a blur with a sum plum Golden Plover and four Whimbrel catching the eye before the build up to the Tall Ship flotilla that was heading out of the Thames from Greenwich in the evening. 
Whimbrel - Tom Bell
It started getting really busy at about 4pm and by the time they started to appear not long before seven there were over 300 people in our cafe and on our river wall!  The rain held off, the sun peaked through and a great time was had by all but we did not finally lock up till just before 9pm!

Bank Holiday Monday was similarly bustling and my early circuit duly added Bar-tailed Godwit to my Patchwork Challenge year list as it fed in Aveley Bay while a lagging Tall Ship, the Artemis, steamed out behind it.  I found an uber-cute brood of Lapwings running around like little dinky windup toys until Mum summoned them back to her warm breast feathers and I believe five such clutches were found during the day although I suspect I was getting a bit tired by then and everything got a little blurry!

Bar-tailed Godwit


Micro Lapwings
Tuesday was technically a rest day but I still ended up at work for a cup of tea at the end of the ramp in the late afternoon where I was joined by Alison Steadman and we talked about duck identification, John Cleese and Gavin and Stacey...
I have always dismissed this as a non native here but now know that it is Burnet Rose... looks like a poached egg!
Wednesday’s early stroll took me along the riverside from the little car park. The tide had just started to recede and a surprising selection of waders was on show with 22 Redshank, four Oystercatchers, two Curlew, two Avocet, six Dunlin, a male Ruff, 27 Black-tailed and three Bar-tailed Godwits present and frenetically feeding on the newly exposed mud.
Blackwits and single Barwit

Ruff, Avocet, Redshank and Shelduck


Barwit - Dante Shepherd

Can you see the Barwit?

None of the Barwits was the bird from Monday and one of them was ringed as was one of the Blackwits with several coloured leg adornments.  Rather oddly two more tall ships also past behind the godwits as I was watching them just like on Monday!
A cracking Song Thrush anvil as I came through the turnstile

A new Grasshopper Warbler sung from the Enclosed Bay and a couple of Wheatears were using the wooden detritus as look outs. The Avocets were out on the Target Pool again but were too busy giving two silvery Greenshanks grief to continue with nuptials and the Little Ringed Plovers were similarly trying to keep out of the way.. again. I could hear Water Shrews squabbling in the ditch but as usual they eluded me.

Wheatear - Mark Vale

Wheatear - Mark Vale

The unexpected sunshine was a suitable backdrop to two Hobbies that were careening about on sabre wings and were obviously catching lots of aerial morsels which I suspect may have been St Mark’s Flies as there had definitely been an emergence.  They were certainly giving the previously nonchalant Sand Martins something to think about and one was not quick enough and was soon being plucked in mid air.
A male Orange Tip somehow taken with my phone...
And so to this morning... it was cold and grey once again as I headed out but the river wall was alive with warbler song including the showy Gropper which Russ Sherriff so stunningly captured.
Grasshopper Warbler - Russ Sherriff
Sedge Warbler
As hoped there was a delicate Arctic Tern in the Bay and two Common Terns were loafing off the point while the exposed mud only held five Bar-tailed and no Black-tailed Godwits today. They are such smart birds in breeding plumage.
Reed Bunting
The Stonechat and Gropper were both singing still from the Enclosed Bay and at long last a male Cuckoo started up and joined the Arctic Tern on my Rainham yearlist. I eventually picked him up on an Elder where he sat tail waving at the world. Seven Wheatears were dotted around the RDZ and a single Willow Warbler seems to be on territory now.



War Wheatear

The rest of the circuit was fairly quiet with nothing new in but the pair of Marsh Harriers look to have chosen a nest site and I even saw them mating which is great news. He certainly seemed very pleased with himself! 

Just the one more day at work till I escape to Lesvos, so hopefully I can find a Swift to finish up my month nicely!

Addendum.. no Swift on the Friday but I did add Black Tern to the list...

Monday 10 April 2017

Look Into My Eyes...

10th April 2017:

Today did not quite pan out as expected and what started out as a planned trip to RSPB Dungeness morphed, for various reasons into a 100 mile perambulation around the Kentish and East Sussex countryside with a view to getting some pictures of some of the fabulous spring flora that I drove past on my way back from Belle Tout on Thursday.

Being that most of this blanket of colour was strewn liberally along roadside verges meant that any stops were completely random and reliant on an appropriate layby.  It was far cooler that the 25c of yesterday but the sun did its best to shine and provide a springish feel to my pictures.

We headed down towards Maidstone to start with before deviating through Bearstead and south towards Headcorn before turning west in Biddenden and then south to Hempsted Forest (remember the three species of Crossbill there a few autumns ago?).

An suitable spot alongside a damp wood already heaving with budding Bluebells and a carpet of Wood Anemones allowed me to sneak up on some of the latter and mounds of golden Lesser Celandines  with both species having their open faces turned towards the sunshine. A time-lapse on these would have looked superb and they followed the sun round. Chiffchaffs, Coal Tits, Nuthatches and Great Spotted Woodpeckers could be heard but there was no sound of the hoped for Nightingales although it is still a little early.

Wood Anemones

Wood Anemones & Celandine

Wood Anemones - less pink in this one

Lesser Celandines

Lesser Celandine

The walk through the pines and clearings of Hempsted Forest was quiet birdwise with just a few Goldcrests, Coal Tits, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers along with a male Yellowhammer and a pair of Bullfinches. The path edges were literally pulsating with the comings and goings of countless thousands of aggressive Wood Ants and any stop to look at something was pre-empted by noticing where your feet were first!

Wood Ants

Little spikes of Bugle were being visited by Bombus pascorum and lapidarius as well as energetic Bee FliesBombylius major and I was looking at any hoverfly that I found too.

Most seemed to be Platycheirus albimanus but I did find what I am hoping is Eupeodes latifasciatus as well as Eupeodes luniger which I am more familiar with. 


Eupeodes latifasciatus - I hope

Eupeodes latifasciatus male- I hope

Eupeodes luniger - female

Eupeodes luniger - female - inverted Y shape on frons (above antennae)

Green Tiger Beetles whirred away in front of me and as usual refused to allow themselves to be snapped and I looked for Adders but to no avail. Everyone else seems to bump into them this time of year in almost any appropriate spot I think it may be as long as 15 years ago that I last saw one in the wild.

Back at the car there were some Dog Violets and Greater Stitchwort flowering on the bank and a Common Lizard scuttled out of view.

Pretty sure these are Dog Violets

Dog Violets

Greater Stitchwort

Westwards again with Old Lodge NR programmed into my phone – it’s not often I use a Sat Nav but the route was somewhat convoluted and I needed help. There were some superb patches of Lady’s Smock growing by the roadsides but not where I could ever stop so I was very pleased to find a suitable patch and gap just before getting into lovely village of Rotherfield.

There were clumps of this archetypal spring bloom – also known as Cuckoo Flower – interspersed with patches of limey yellow Primroses and sky blue Field Forget-me-nots and huge fluffy Dandelions while Wild Garlic was wafting up from the stream verge. 

Lady’s Smock

Lady’s Smock


Field Forget-me-nots


Such peculiar activity attracted the attention of a local who pulled over to see what I was doing hunkered down in the vegetation!  You could see the local rag now... ‘Man stops to be with the flowers!’

Lunch in the Old Lodge carpark and then off for a walk around the circuit hoping that the sun would keep shining and that northerly wind would keep away. 

Being the middle of the day the birds were fairly quiet and I did not encounter a Redstart at all but this was made up for buy several beautiful Woodlarks whose mellifluous song drifted down as they sang in lazy spirals across the clearings through the pines. It simply is one of my favourite songs and although melancholy it fills me with such joy. A Tree Pipit was also encountered and there seemed to be good numbers of Willow Warblers already on territory while both Lesser Redpoll and Siskin were seen in display.

Bilberry I think

Bloody Nosed Beetle - cheers Annie for the ID

A young couple and their dog were about 100 yards in front of me and she suddenly started to scream and the dog bark. Another birder called out – ‘Bet you have found an Adder!’ I nonchalantly headed down the slope trying to conceal my anticipation that it might still be there.

Thankfully they had still got their pooch on its lead and had stepped back allowing me to approach cautiously and have the most amazing Adder experience I could ever imagine. This feisty male was already rearing up and stayed that way for the duration which must have taken an incredibly amount of muscle strength. He was sucking in air and hissing it back out at me like some reptilian heavy breather and was obviously seriously hacked off with having been disturbed in the first place.


I watched him and was mesmerised by his hypnotic Kaa eyes but managed to break away after five minutes and leave him to go about his business... I was elated!

The big male of the local pair of Ravens entertained me on the walk back round with their nest somewhere in the pines and a pair of Stonechat on the thickly scented Gorse rounded things up nicely before heading for home via yet another garden centre or two...


Raven mid-kronk as he kept an eye on me


Glorious Gorse