Monday 25 September 2017

Two Days To Go...

With two days before the start of this year's Shetland adventure it only seemed appropriate to get in as much birding as possible before I set off.
As such I found myself at a tranquil Ingrebourne Valley at a little after six yesterday morning with the intent of hopefully getting the obliging (when it shows) Spotted Crake that was discovered by my boss, Andrew Gouldstone the previous weekend. I had already dipped twice and as I stood there patiently by myself with the sky turning pink to the east with a cacophony of Canada and Greylag Geese breaking the silence I did wonder if it would be third time unlucky.  Over 20 Snipe probed the edges and two Green Sandpipers tiptoed around while at least seven Water Rails squealed from cover across the vista.

Cetti's Warblers sang and a Tree Pipits called as it went over along with a handful of odd Mipits while the flocks of raucous Ring-necked Parakeets swirled overhead but it still took best part of 40 minutes for the delightfully lemonoidal shaped Crake to appear right under my nose.

Spotted Crake

It showed incredibly well for the next 15 minutes before I decided that there would still be some time for birding at work before opening and hastened off.

Blending in...

Just how I got any pictures in the pre-dawn light is amazing but I was just pleased to have seen this enigmatic little chap.

Green Sandpiper 
My morning only got better at RSPB Rainham Marshes with a good scan of the far side of the Thames resulting in the Curlew Sandpiper with the small Dunlin and Ringed Plover flock and seven noisy 'eriking' Sandwich Terns up river. Sam Levy found the first Brent Goose of the season and with Goldcrests along the river wall and House Martins were on the move it felt like a good vis mig was in the offing.

It did not quite come to that but Buzzard and Hobby action was superb and included a ghostly pale bird of the former that had people guessing. I picked up a Yellow Wagtail from the end of the ramp and the Little Stints and nine Ruff did the decent thing and flew over my head with some of the Ringed Plovers.

And so to part three of the day with and after work dash avoiding some interesting traffic to Roding Valley Meadows NR where the stunning juvenile Red-necked Grebe found by Barry Jones on Friday was still paddling around on the lake and showing ridiculously well.

Red-necked Grebe

I do not think I have seen a juvenile before and the tiger striped face and rufus neck was delightful.  Ring-necked Parakeets headed off to roost and both Grey Wagtail and Little Egret complimented the scene.  The only down side was the large numbers of that thoroughly annoying large biting midges that homed in on my still shorted legs!

And so today which Max Hellicar and I spent trundling around the mid and south Essex countryside. It was a very grey and gloomy day but we persevered at Abberton Reservoir and located a good spread of waders in Aveley Bay including a small Pectoral Sandpiper amongst 34 Ringed Plovers, eight Little Stint, four Dunlin, two Curlew Sandpiper, 16 or so Ruff, 40+ Blackwater,  Greenshank and three Snipe. A juvenile Black Tern hawked the lagoon and countless Pintail were scattered amongst the Wigeon.

Max's superb Pectoral Sandpiper shot....

We were also treated to the mass exodus of Cormorants from the Reservoir as they headed for the Blackwater with 820 counted and another 50 elsewhere taking the site total to at least 870!! Yellowhammers and Reed Buntings were seen around by Abberton Church but we could find nothing amongst the huge rafts of Great Crested Grebes and the Great White Egret eluded us.

With the light not improving and an incoming get tide we headed back to Canvey Point for a seawater.  It was murky, the breeze was blowing upriver, the tide was still flooding in and the only burds we saw were actually going out! Four Gannets,  a Bonxie, pale adult Arctic Skua, Arctic Tern,  four Common and five Sandwich Terns were noted along with twenty Brent Geese, 50 Wigeon, a few Swallows and Med Gulls.

Arctic Skua

Black headed and Med Gull

Little Egret 

Dark-bellied Brent Geese

The ever obliging Turnstones were coming to some seed left on the sea wall. They were most entertaining and attracted in a rather rotund Woodpigeon and a smart coal black Carrion Crow.



Fat Boy Pig E On

Carrion Crow
From here we had a last stop at RSPB Bowers Marsh and although the light was abysmal we did have a some great encounters with 16 Corn Buntings, 15 House Sparrows, 16 Reed Buntings and a mixed Linnet, Goldfinch flock along with a flighty male Stonechat.

Over 100 House Martins and Swallows hawked low to the ground and hedges with a couple of Sand Martin for company and occasionally harassed a Kestrel.

The lagoon was covered in Wigeon and Gulls and we picked up six Ruff, six Ringed Plover, Little Stints,  8 Blackwits and three Lapwing around the edges while a Greenshank invisibly called.

A couple of wonderfully performing Bearded Tits rounded off a nice prelude to the main event that starts on the morrow...

24th -25th September 2017

Thursday 21 September 2017

Drawing to a close...

The last couple of weeks have seen some good inverts out on the reserve at RSPB Rainham Marshes. It started with the discovery of a curious chunky weevil at the end of August that was identified as Larinus turbinatus by the Natural History Museum after being posted on another insect FB page. This caused great excitement as it was potentially only a second record for Britain although its presence had been suspected and the first was only upriver a little way on the Kent side in 2008.

Larinus turbinatus

Mark Gurney one of our own RSPB ecologists came down for a look and found several of this distinctive species in and around the tops of Creeping Thistle around the trail. Having seen the images I thought it looked familiar but I am no beetle expert and I was aware of its similarity to the common Larinus carlinae but the id seemed very straightforward.

And so on the 6th September we were visited by Tony Allen the editor of the national 'Coleopterist' journal and I caught up with him near the ant hill in his search for turbinatus. He was quickly successful and I was able to get some good shots of the short almost straight snout and broad shoulders.

Larinus turbinatus

That evening it was still bugging me that it looked familiar and I searched back through my images and discovered that I had taken pictures of this lurking species in both 2010 and 2011 as well as the commoner carlinae

Amazingly I found another one the following day and was able to show it to several of my keener entomologically inclined volunteers and today Yvonne showed me a picture of one she took back in early August! So it looks like this fetching well built weevil may have been doing very well for itself for at least eight years on the reserve and given the swathes of Creeping Thistle it is unlikely to do anything except prosper.

At about the same time David Grieve found a couple of the almost as rare Mottled Shieldbugs, Rhaphigaster nebulosa which I do believe was actually first found in the UK at Rainham Marshes in 2010 (although I have only just found this out) and Phil found one in 2015. Yvonne and myself have also seen them in the last two weeks so keep your eyes open.

Mottled Shieldbugs, Rhaphigaster nebulosa - David Grieve

The Kids Birdwatching Club on the 9th became the Kids Bugwatching Club (last month the B became Blackberry) and I was lucky enough to find and photograph the seldom seen Turtle Shieldbug - Podops inuncta with it curious little anvil-like projections either side of the head.  Yvonne is still jealous of this one in her quest to discover as many Shieldbugs and cryptic Ladybirds on the reserve as possible.

Turtle Shieldbug - Podops inuncta

However, she has now found not one but two new Shieldbugs for the site this week alone with the nymphs of the African alien Southern Green Shieldbug, Nezara viridula around the Adventure Playground and the rather smart Rambur's Pied Shieldbug, Tritomegas sexmaculatus in amongst the Black Horehound in the Wildlife Garden Herb bed. It has only been in the country since 2011 when it was discovered in Kent and these may well be the first documented Essex records.

Southern Green Shieldbug, Nezara viridula - nymph - Yvonne Couch

Rambur's Pied Shieldbug, Tritomegas sexmaculatus
Slender Groundhopper Tetrix subulata - my first here for several years

Yesterday I had a short stroll out to the playground and back where there were lots of loafing flies on the hand rails trying to absorb the scant warmth in the air.  Most were shiny Greenbottles of various sizes – mostly Lucilia but with one or two fat bottomed Neomyias and two delta winged Mesembrina meridiana with their golden jowls.

The Noon Day Fly - Mesembrina meridiana

The Noon Day Fly - Mesembrina meridiana

The Noon Day Fly - Mesembrina meridiana

Lucilia sp

Lucilia sp

Lucilia sp
A Phaonia sp - one of the Muscids

Triangle Plume Moth, Platyptilia gonodactyla
I saw a several Common and Shrill Carder Bees and German and Common Wasps were still busily harvesting wood to pulp into their still active nests and countless Garden Orbs, Araneus diadematus were strungout across any available gaps. However, it was the fine rotund and rather splendid Four Spot Orb Weaver, Araneus quadratus that won the day. She was amazing and given her gravid nature it was amazing that her spindly web could support her weight.

Four Spot Orb Weaver, Araneus quadratus

Four Spot Orb Weaver, Araneus quadratus

This is the first one that I have seen here this season and it always a real sign of autumn for me…

Four Spot Orb Weaver, Araneus quadratus

Now just four days to go before this year’s Shetland adventure begins… I can’t wait…

21st September 2017

Wednesday 13 September 2017

Day of the Ant Licker...

A Kentish Jaunt 12th September 2017
I may spend most of life back in my home county of Essex at my beloved RSPB Rainham Marshes but the county in which I reside, Kent, probably accounts for a fair amount of my non-work related birding nowadays and this today we headed south to RSPB Dungeness in the hope of a grand autumnal day out.
The day did not start in a too auspicious way with Pat missing the A2 entirely resulting in a 20 minute delay in collecting me that cost us a visit to the Golden Arches for pre-birding calorie intake. The journey was not without recompense with a fine male Peregrine over the Medway bridge and several Buzzards perched along the roadsides.
We arrived back on time at 0730 at the ARC car park to be greeted by not only the rest of the posse for the day but a steady passage of House and then Sand Martins heading towards the coast and a winter in more African climes.  Chaffinches and Greenfinches were also moving and several Meadow Pipits and Yellow Wagtails headed over. The day felt birdy...
Down at the Hanson Hide the view was the best in many years with islands and spits but alas there was nothing among the Lapwings. A scan of the duck revealed mostly Shoveler with a few Gadwall, Mallard, Teal, a solitary Pintail and a fine Garganey that actually paddled towards us until it was the closest duck.

Greylags coming in



Polish cygnet with regular sibling and Dad...

The amble back produced a few more hirundines and a small party of Tree Sparrows while the long willow hedge was chock full of warblers and we spent an enjoyable forty minutes getting close views of at least 15 Willow Warblers and ten Chiffchaffs flycatching and gleaning from the sheltered sunny frontage.  Both species were singing well. Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcap and Reed Warblers were also present along with a good number of Long-tailed, Blue and Great Tits

Willow Warbler

Lesser Whitethroat - Denis Tuck
A Green Woodpecker was glued to the telegraph pole and a female Sparrowhawk was the first of several migrant hunters seen during the day.

Large Flowered Evening primrose

Tasty Sea Buckthorn - packed with vit c

It felt like there would be a heap more migrants down at the Obs so we headed that way – passing four Great White Egrets on the ARC for good measure. The lighthouse garden only held one Chiffchaff and a couple of Meadow Pipits in the surrounding area as we headed to the sea. The tide was right out and the view sparsely populated with birds. A few Common and a single Arctic Tern were on the Patch along with a delightful juvenile Little Gull and 1st winter Yellow-legged, Med and Common Gulls added interest. Sandwich Terns and a few Gannets were passing out to sea but it was otherwise disappointing so we retraced our steps towards the Obs.

The Patch looking west towards Fairlight

The Obs
Sparrowhawk - Denis Tuck
Again the bushes were very quiet with one Goldcrest for our troubles but there was a profusion of butterflies including Small Coppers, Brown Argus, Painted Ladies and non-stop Clouded Yellows. Two Hummingbird Hawkmoths kept us similarly photographically challenged.

Painted Lady

Small Tortoiseshell

Small Copper

Brown Argus (I reckon) & Small Copper

Hummingbird Hawkmoth
Another female Sparrowhawk erupted from cover and terrified the Moat leaving us with a few Mipits and four Wheatear so we cut across towards the Desert in the hope of finding the Wryneck. Bumping into Lee Gregory added negative news for the day but we pushed on and were delighted when the rest of the Obs team refound it grovelling at the base of some sheltered brambles when we were only fifty yards away.
The next half hour was pure Wryneck magic with a superlative views as it fed completely unphased by our presence, lapping up ants with that sticky pink tongue. Gill was particularly pleased as it was a lifer for here and I think the others had only seen one or two a piece.


Walk away views of the highest order and we left it hovering and ambled back towards the cars. It was now back to the reserve and hopefully the Cattle Egrets. Pulling up at Boulderwall revealed no close live stock and I was just scanning around when I picked up the Osprey way off over towards the Denge Marsh Pits. I was just trying to give directions when the two Cattle Egrets flew through my front vision resulting in a change of focus. They landed out of sight but by walking back down the road great views were had as they fed, more Little Egret like, along the margins of the fleet. I never did see the Osprey again!

One of these with the orange bill is a Cattle Egret
An early lunch in the now warm sunshine with several Migrant Hawkers for company and then off on the circuit that began with an amazing Common Wasp nest in a disused Fox burrow by the Dennis Hide.  Small Heath was added to the butterfly list and a large Rove beetle that I think is one of the Platydracus species.

Migrant Hawker

Fox hole with new occupants

Such an amazing piece of artistry...
Platydracus sp - I think

The new Burrows Pit islands area features are looking superb and Angela showed my some of the cool Black-headed Gull decoys that will be put out to attract them down to breed.  A couple of Little Egrets and a Common Sandpiper were seen along with a grumpy looking Great White. Three more GWE’s were on the adjacent Christmas Dell pits and yet another flew over so we reckon that we had at least six on the site and we had not seen a Grey Heron at that stage!

GWE - it had to be done

Thankfully the sticks prevented me getting a reasonable picture

Damn... an in focus, close-ish, not burnt out picture of a Great White


Actually Black-headed Black-headed Gulls
Yellow Horned Poppy


The leeward side of the brambles and willows were alive with Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters and Comma, Peacock and Red Admiral were all coming down to the late fruit. Eristalis tenax was the only hoverfly seen and a smart tachinid – Norwikia ferox eluded my camera once again.

Red Admiral

The wind was strengthening and by the time we reached Denge Marsh it was really picking up and the temperature was dropping. Two Ruff and a Golden Plover were with the Lapwing and Grey Heron finally fell. A male Marsh Harrier spooked the Coots with his persistent quartering.

Marsh Harrier
I think that this little critter is a Water Shrew - not overly black above but much bigger than your average shrew... Denis Tuck
Down at Hookers we encountered the rare sight of four sub-species of RSPB volunteer harmoniously working alongside each other. It was possible to tell the length of service of this ever evolving species by the colour of their upperpart plumage... They were doing a sterling job of clearing and burning the reedbed below the viewpoint while the fully fledged RSPB Staff member was identified by his brushcutter and brightly coloured helmet...

Communal behaviour with a mixed flock of RSPB Volunteers
The rest of the walk back added a couple of late Meadow Browns while Meadow and Mottled Grasshoppers were seen and Grey Bush Crickets heard.

Meadow Brown

Mottled Grasshopper

Oare Marshes was calling so the convoy moved north reaching the site just before high tide which is not normally the case with my generally unplanned visits! It was perfect and the next few hours were spent soaking up the atmosphere and soundscape of a wader roost. 

There were great splodges of Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank with similar patches of ‘doodling’ Golden Plovers and piebald Avocets. The Long-billed Dowitcher was quickly picked up (thanks Dom) and as hoped even came closer and performed in its usual corner. 

LBD sneaking in with the Lapwings - i did not actually realise he was in shot!

LBD showing the long plain tertials and barred tail
LBD - Denis Tuck
Ringed Plover and Dunlin formed another amorphous mass with Turnstone and 12 peach fronted juvenile Curlew Sandpipers keeping us on our toes. As is usual there were a few of each species not resting up and some were active and under our noses. Snipe probed the edges and two calling Greenshank eventually gave themselves up while there was a smattering of Bar-tailed Godwits and Knot amongst the Blackwits and Redshank. Both cold and frosty adults and cinnamon juvenile Ruff were dotted around and one juvenile Little Ringed Plover was still at the muddy end.

Golden Plovers

juvenile Curlew Sandpiper

Bar-tailed Godwit - Denis Tuck
Blackwits, Greenshank, Redshank, Dunlin, Black-headed & Common Gull

Dunlin & Ringed Plovers

This place is wader lover’s dream and an autumn afternoon is probably the best time and place in the country to come and stand in the fresh air with the sky all around and experience the sight and sound of Oare at its best.

Despite the tide being right in we still managed to add Curlew, Grey Plover and high flying lost Whimbrel to the wader list while 13 Buzzards drifted around Harty Hill with Kestrel, Peregrine and Hobby for company. There was no sign of the Osprey but Marsh Harriers were hunting the far bank and a beautiful adult female Hen Harrier snuck across the Swale and dallied with the waders on the East Flood before continuing on her way.


Decamping from the Mirosa with the seriously cross legged dog

Looking across to Harty Hill & Ferry Inn

High Whimbrel

Avocets against the changing weather

Hen Harrier about to spook everything...
With that we decided that ten hours in the field birding was probably enough for one day and so after filling up our water bottles at the spring we bid our farewells and left the still heaving mass of restless waders behind...