Sunday 1 July 2018

RSPB Rainham Marshes: A week on the ranch 25-29th June 2018

It has been a quiet one at work this week with very few visitors in the searing heat but the wildlife is still there regardless of whether or not anyone walks through the doors to look at it!

Monday saw me once again take out the adults with learning difficulties from Tree Tops and it was a delight to find them still so engaged with the reserve and I was thrilled to hear them tell me not to touch the Hemlock but to smell the Hogweed...  

The river was quiet but the flowers on the bank were still in full bloom with the first Cinnabar cats amongst the yellow Ragwort and a full on cacophony of Grasshoppers and Crickets from the verges. Meadow Browns were the commonest butterfly and ‘small’ Skippers danced amongst them along with several very fresh Red Admirals and Small Torts.

There were snail shells at intervals where the Song Thrushes had been collecting their breakfast and a family of Whitethroats churred at us from the Dog Roses.

Sea Bindweed

Aveley Bay held no waders but over 60 Shelduck sieved the mud and Common Terns once again fished along the tide line.Down through the turnstile gate (sorry, staff perk) and a five minute linger on the bridge was most productive with a male Emperor hawking at eye level in shades of green and blue and dozens of Azure and Blue-tailed Damselflies zipping around.

Blue-tailed Damselfly

Azure Damselfly

A powder blue dragon caught my eye and despite not having bins or camera (it was too hot) I felt that I was onto a Scarce Chaser.  It was shorter than the Black-tailed Skimmer around and when it came close I could see dark basal wing smudges and the eyes were clearly blue and not green.  I took a shot with my phone anyway but even that seemed to confirm that I had indeed found a new species of Odonata for the reserve. A Water Vole did a celebratory swim across the ditch for the group!

Quality image of the Scarce Chaser... honest guv...

We ambled back along the Southern Trail with the male Marsh Harrier hunting alongside and still good numbers of Redshank and Lapwing sending him on his way although this week he has developed a penchant for young Moorhens to take back to his ever hungry young. Little Egrets loafed around and white heads could be seen poking up at regular intervals.

LIttle Egrets

The Purfleet Hide Bridge gave me some nice comparison views of Black-tailed Skimmers and another Emperor and unbelievably two more Water Voles engaged in a silent game of paddle chase back and forth across the channel with occasional dives that caused Marsh Frogs to randomly surface in trails of bubbles.

A pre-work visit on Tuesday morning to the end of Ferry Lane to ostensibly look for the Bonaparte’s Gull that has been at Crossness for my Rainham year list drew a blank but the strip of meadow between the road and river was florally superb with swathes of Wild Carrot amongst Weld, Dittander, Field Scabious, Vipers Bugloss and a wonderful clump of Tansy.  I might have to get down here and do some grubbing...



Field Scabious

I visited again on Wednesday, again with no gull joy although two Curlew were heard and the first young Black-headed Gulls were seen before spending the day with Bertha and Joe firstly carefully opening up the outer loop of the woodland trail where a host of hovers, butters and dragons were seen.


Small Tort

Ruddy Darter

Cheilosia illustrata

Eupeodes luniger - note the black inverted Y on the frons

A hairy eyed Cheilosia with dark antenna - possibly C. proxima or similar

Sphaerophoria scripta - male

Sphaerophoria sp - female

Lucilia sp

Lucilia sp

Calliphora, almost certainly C. vicina

Protocalliphora azurea

Also quite possibly Protocalliphora azurea

The afternoon was spent resurrecting Brown’s Bug Hotel in the Wildlife Garden before the heat got the better of us and we called it a day. The flowery raised bed is superb at the moment with scabious and verbena and various Bumbles visiting included a fine B.vestalisSouthern Cuckoo Bee but it was so warm that little was lingering for a proper look.

We did find some very nice Yellow Slugs (I think) with woodlice buddies under a brick

Thursday saw me making an early start in an effort to re-open the trail through the Cordite Store which had been apparently practically impassable for at least a week, so ably assisted by a pair of shears and a wire rake I set about judiciously making it accessible again. It was cloudy but very humid in there and it took me just over two hours to complete by which time it once again became usable without having to bring along a machete whilst retaining the wild, natural feel that I was after. 

Getting started - got to look after that Hogweed!

I was kept company by the Robins and a family of Long-tailed Tits and two Goldcrest moved through while a family of plaintive Bullfinches became the first breeding record for the reserve. At just before eight I heard a familiar sound... ‘pruk- pruk’... Bee-eater! I looked up into the grey but with restricted viewing it was a no-hoper from the start and so with a smile I continued with my task.

14 Spot Ladybirds

Andrena bee sp

Dock Leatherbug

Damselfly Graveyard - could not find the spider but it had six corpses!

Thankfully the Clegs were not quite as annoying this early in the morning with only one or two persistently bothering me and drawing blood but the Mossies were a pain and before too long my general sweatiness was attracting every other fly in the place to padulate my bare arms and face for essential salts! A quality wildlife moment. 

Mmm.. Giving Nature A Home... more like Giving Nature Bodily Fluids!

Musca autumnalis - one of the species I attracted!

Anyway, I sloshed my way back to the centre looking like I had been thrown into a very damp hedge much to the amusement of my colleagues and so after a shower I decided to head back out for a circuit to check signage and look for the Spoonbill duo.

I went through the Adventure Playground and was stopped by a bright blue and black Hawker on a Bramble – I had two seconds to clock the full blue eyes and it was off into the adjacent ditch. Our first Blue Eyed Hawker of the season; let’s hope that we get some more.

A couple of fine pied Volucella pellucens hovered at eye height near the little bridge and I had another brief view of our scarce Horsefly –Hybomitra ciureai.

Volucella pellucens
Hybomitra ciureai

And a Flesh Fly checking out the grades on the climbing boulders

Reed Buntings were still singing well and two families of Bearded Tits were busily zipping back and forth. Aveley Pool was magnificent with broods of ducklings, goslings, cootlings and grebelets strewn across its surface in a mass of fluffiness.  Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Pochard and Mallard were predominant but I did find two Gadwall broods too.

Reed Bunting

juv Bearded Tit - John Humble
Shovelers, Tufted Ducks and Canada Geese

Gadwall brood

The two Spoonbills were in attendance doing what they do best. One was full adult with plumes and a hint of a yellow breast bar but the other was plumeless and had a paler bill suggesting immaturity but lacked any black tips to the outer primaries so I am unsure of its age.

Spoonbills snoozing

Spoonbills awake! - John Humble

Click here to see a short video from Pat Hart of these superb birds...

The pair of Common Terns are also still around and it looks like they may be sitting which, like the Bullfinches, will add them to the breeding list for the site.  One of the fledged Marsh Harriers was up with its Mum and its Dad brought in a small prey item to the nest for those still there and was pounced on by this eager youngster who was by now lurking in the top of a willow.  The other pair was also out quartering so hopefully there will be more Bournville chocolate offspring to come. Black-tailed Godwit and Green Sandpiper were seen on the Target Pools and it's great that there is still so much water around.

Friday was another scorcher but I still managed some more path pruning before it got too hot with the sound of Reed Warblers and Blackcaps shouting out for the opportunity of  a second brood before settling in to a day on reception with the male Marsh Harrier entertaining on and off all day with his frequent forays across the Purfleet Scrape. 

Reception was heaving...
A Hobby dashed through and an immaculate male Ruff with black head plumes and an orange face briefly alighted before going for a fly round where it rather bizarrely looked like an odd Black Tern!

Some indoor hoverfly action kept Phil and me amused for a while with a fetching Chrysotoxum species that seemed to suggest a species not recorded here before but ended up being C verralli which we do get! Oh the joy of estimating antennal segments proportions!

Chrysotoxum verralli

Chrysotoxum verralli - let me out! and yes I did...

The very end was enlivened by the discovery of a huge Privet Hawkmoth in the Purfleet Hide that had to be rescued and brought back to the centre for all to see before her mighty pinkness was released into the Privet in the Wildlife garden where we have previously found caterpillars.

Privet Hawkmoth

My evening was rounded off with the first Summer Chafer of the season blundering around my living room floor... summer is truly here.

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