Seven days of Autumn Magic - 27th August - 2nd September 2017
It has been a fruitful week that began with an amble around the delightfully posh craft fair at RHS Hyde Hall last Sunday. It was very warm with unbroken sunshine and as it always the way here, there is undoubtedly wildlife to be seen despite the thronging crowds.
The sedums were crowded with Honey Bees and bumbles including several hortorums amongst the terrestris. Hovers were sparse but I did find an Eristalis arbustorum, a couple of annoying Cheilosia sp, Syrphus ribesii, Sphaerophoria scripta, Platycheirus albimanus, Episyrphus balteatus and a couple my favourite Myathropa florea kept us company during lunch and were accepted once I had explained about them not being wasps...
A Hummingbird Hawkmoth zoomed around and the three ponds were alive with Odenata with a good list of species: .Emperor, Brown and Migrant Hawker, Black-tailed Skimmer, Ruddy and Common Darter, Common Blue, Azure, Blue-tailed, Small Red-eyed and several elegant Willow Emerald Damselflies.
|Willow Emerald Damselfly|
|and another large tachinid that refused to pose - too hot and flighty!|
Bank Holiday Monday at work saw a self imposed exile on the river wall just outside the visitors centre at RSPB Rainham Marshes with the intent of not only engaging with the visitors but also to prove that despite it being the best part of 30c there would be plenty to see out on the reserve. I stood there with my scope and flip chart from opening till 3pm when the heat just got too much and in that time I had clocked up 81 species from just that one spot.
|Starlings - Ken Bentley|
There was not anything that out of the ordinary for the most part but people were shocked at just how much could be seen ‘even on a quiet day’. Saying that there were a couple of goodies thrown in with a very distant Big BOP that Martin Jordan and I got onto mid morning that gave us our first Honey Buzzard of the season and a juvenile Red Kite that was initially seen by others and superbly photographed by Ian Plume before it climbed up from Wennington and allowed me to enjoy it too.
|juvenile Red Kite- Ian Plume|
|juvenile Red Kite- Ian Plume|
Hobbies were a constant delight and clouds of Starlings kept swirling around and plummeting into the blackberry clumps to strip what is left of this year’s bumper harvest.
|Hobby with multiple dragon catch - Ricky Blackman|
Wednesday saw the anticipated poor weather with low cloud, mist, drizzle and rain but little wind and with it came frequent pulses and terns up the Thames. All were determined and on the move and you had to be quick to keep up with them, count the flock and try to id as many as possible. Sometimes they were mixed Commons and Arctics, sometimes just one species would predominate but by the end of the day we had amassed a whopping 325 Arctic Tern and 275 Common Tern with single adult Roseate Tern, Little Tern, 11 Black Tern and 4 Sandwich Terns.
This was our best visible passage for many years with all six regular species in one day as well making it all the more memorable. I watched from the warmth and comfort of the visitors centre while Andy, Phil and Dave very bravely stuck it out along the river wall where they hunkered down behind Phil’s enormous fishing umbrella.
|Not ideal for the high street but superb for riverwatching!|
A few waders were noted including new 16 Avocet and two each of Turnstone and Ringed Plover but a drake Common Scoter was the only other river bird of note but we were not complaining. As the rain let up at 5pm a splurge of hirundines poured through with over 500 House Martins and a couple of hundred Sand Martins counted as the moved ahead of the weather.
In complete contrast to the very cool weather of Wednesday, Thursday was again warm and sunny but we were very grateful for the squally shower early in the afternoon as I glanced out of the window to see five glowing white Spoonbills descending in ever decreasing circles ahead of the incoming rain. Cue some running round the centre shouting and other completely appropriate behaviour. They annoyingly landed out of sight on the closest edge of the pool and so and escape was made with camera in hand. All five were still awake when I got there and I managed a couple of shots before they all dozed off in traditional Spoony fashion.
|Five glorious Spoonbills|
It looked like three juveniles and two adults and this was later confirmed when they continued on their southward journey about an hour later. Pity they did not stay longer but great to see and it made up for me missing them twice last year and twice so far this year! All these new year birds were doing my Patch Work Challenge 2017 list a world of good in my battle to keep on the toes of the mighty RSPB Frampton and Hale and Pickering Pastures lads in my Estuarine league.
Friday dawned clear and bright and calm and so I took myself out onto the reserve at just after seven. The Thames was a mill pond with some great reflections and you could hear two young Common Terns pursuing one of their parents.
Chiffchaffs were dotted liberally along the river wall and I counted 22 on the full circuit but only one Willow Warbler. A couple of Meadow Pipit headed west and were a species I missed on my Monday marathon.
Down on the foreshore a solitary Curlew eyed my cautiously before heading further up the mud and six Ringed Plover had, as usual, found a little rumpled area of mud in which to stand and look like other muddy lumps. About forty Black-tailed Godwits fed along the edge with two Redshanks and a host of moulting Mallards and a few Teal and the closer godwits were snickering and bickering in their normal manner.
|Blackwits and friends|
|Yes, I know it is a cat but he was a fine beast and looked quite a home down on the foreshore|
The Bearded Tits showed well around the Dragonfly Pool and Yellow Wagtails pinged over but we do not get the numbers in the autumn that we used to.
|Bearded Tit - Barry Jackson|
I could not find any chats but the early morning arrival of the vast Greylag flock always tells me that autumn is firmly hear as they transfer their loyalties from Sevenoaks to us for the forthcoming months. Several birds are Darvic ringed and have been traced to the KWT reserve and the piebald ones are quite easy to track.
Aveley Pool was quiet and over full but we can’t release any water until we have somehow lowered the levels in the main feeder ditch into which it can empty which is very frustrating. Four Cormorants were taking the opportunity to fish and the regular dabblers included a solitary Wigeon.
Migrant Hawkers were already on the wing and it was no surprise that the Hobbies and Kestrels were likewise active putting on some superb displays over the marsh.
|Hobby - Mick Brockington|
And a superb video of this same 2cy bird taken by Pat Hart...
As I approached the Ken Barrett Hide a little brown bird flicked up from the path in front and into the big Poplar showing white tail sides and wing flash! Pied Flycatcher! I saw it again briefly as it dropped down but I was on the shadowed side of the tree and I suspect that the sunny railway aspect was where it went to perch up and feed. The woodland was full of Chiffies, Blackcaps and ‘throats with a good sized tit flock but I could not dig out any more flycatchers so being 9am it was time to head back in after a fine stroll and another one for the list.
|Burnet Rose hips now gloriously purple and black|
Amazingly I only had to wait about an hour for the next one when, in a manner identical to the Spoonbills of yesterday, i glanced out of the window to see a large white bellied raptor circling into Aveley Pool and thus it was time to yell ‘Osprey!’.
|Osprey - and a free plug for our neighbours City Lifting|
Unlike previous sightings here this bird spent the next twenty minutes slowly circling Aveley Pool and the Butts Scrape and even plunged into to the former once but came up with nothing. It felt like a juvenile through the scope and this was confirmed by a stunning series of shots from John Humble who was fortuitously in the Butts Hide at the time. They show it to be un-rung too so we have no way of knowing where it came from.
|Osprey in all its magnificence - John Humble fo all the above shots|
Suffice to say there was much visitor centre happiness once again and I think that every volunteer and member of staff also got to watch it before it drifted off to the north.
Even more amazingly this puts me top of my Estuarine group in the Patch Work Challenge for the first time ever although I shall do very well to hold that position for long againgst the pulling power of the Lincs reserves!
I was centre bound for the day bar a short escape along the river wall late afternoon where I stumbled upon a silent Tree Pipit that flew up just in front of me before alighting on a dog rose. After dropping back down it waited until Pat, David and Gill caught me up before showing once again before heading off high and west – again without a single note being uttered. A rare bird on the deck here and always pleasing to see.
|Tree Pipit - note the short hind claws|
Friday was also our Late Night Opening with added Moths and Bats and thankfully the weather held out long enough for the Bat walk to have encounters with five or six species including possibly all three big ones and they even held the detector up to the radio so that I could hear the Daubenton's clicking away!
We were treated to a superb pink and orange sunset over the City before embarking on some mothing. Jersey Tiger, Old Lady and Dusky Thorn were all popular as was a fine Red-legged Shieldbug before the rain started and the storm arrived.
|Setaceous Hebrew Character|
|Square Spot Rustic|
|White point & Least Yellow Underwing|
Packing up happened just in time before the heavens opened and the sky lit up with lilac sheet and fork lightening in spectacular fashion.I love a good storm and this one followed me all the way home after midnight and raged for two hours after that.
|The Storm - Barry Jackson|
And so to a hungover Saturday but without the joy of having had a drink. Laziness ensued but I dragged myself down to Oare Marshes for an evening of perfect light, masses of waders and a good chat with friends from across the years. Chris One-Thumb was on fine form and it was good to catch up with Nicole and Jason who are beginning to realise that a life in Kent is not such a bad thing with places like this on your doorstep.
|Lorax, Khanage & the Moule Moule|
The tide was way out but there was still a good selection although the Red-necked Phalarope had moved on and although I did see the now winter plumaged Dowitcher, it was the masses of spangled Golden Plover that stole the show.
They glowed in the low light and are always so communicative and get incredibly excited when a new group arrives to join the flock. Dunlin scurried amongst them and a few Ruff included several dinky peach and buff juveniles.
|Long-billed Dowitcher and Lapwing|
Beardies pinged and two Water Rails ‘kipped’ at each other while Swallows and Martins drifted in to roost.
Down on the Swale there were pied Grey Plovers and Oystercatchers and flocks of mosaic patterned Turnstones while the dinky Bonaparte’s Gull tottered around with his Black-head buddies. Sandwich, Black, Common and Little Terns milled around and a Marsh Harrier traversed the river.
Several Harbour Seals were hauled up out on Horse Sands with countless gulls and much to my delight I picked up an Osprey fishing way out in the estuary which is a fine way to round up any day...
With another seven day run coming up at work, let’s hope for some more of the same in the coming days...