Wednesday 26 September 2018

Day of the Beluga

RSPB Rainham Marshes 25th September 2018 & a little something special

Tuesday dawned in a glorious fashion but I had to wait until we had opened for a walk around the reserve, ostensibly to check on some signage. A radio shout from Andrew go things going with my first autumnal sighting of the two Ravens heading me to Kent so they must have made an early start. So good to hear that kronking from the skies once more.
I headed anti-clockwise around the trail with Bearded Tits pinging somewhere high in the blue before I had even reached the end of the ramp and Meadow Pipits were also invisibly moving west.

The woodland was quite warm and there was lots of insect activity with Speckled Woods still dancing and plenty of quality fly action too with Eristalis tenax, Rhingia campstris, Myathropa florea, Episyrphus balteatus and Syrphus ribesii representing the hoverflies along with a host of Blue and Greenbottles – the latter including several lazy Neomyia.

Speckled Woods

Rhingia campstris

Syrphus ribesii

Myathropa florea

Migrant Hawkers zipped around and a male Dark Bush Cricket chirped from the Cordite bridge where the overpowering, cloying scent of the flowering Ivy was attracting not only many flies and Wasps but the always cute, stripy Ivy Bees.
Dark Bush Cricket

Ivy Bee
The pylon workers were scaling the heights near the Ken Barrett Hide.  I may not fancy the job but the view must be fantastic.

The White Power Ranger suddenly remembered that he did not like heights....

The Pectoral Sandpiper was not present on the Tringa Pool (where the waters had risen once again) but the juvenile female Ruff was showing nicely along with a selection of Pied, White and Yellow Wagtails.
Yellow Wagtails
Bearded Tits pinged around me and the juvenile male Marsh Harrier spooked all the Lapwing and Godwits from Aveley Pool before heading languidly out onto Wennington.

More Beardies were encountered at the chicane and one male posed very nicely for me although I was facing a little in towards the sun and a juvenile Spoonbill surprised me by dropping into the pools.  I think that is our 9th one this year!
Bearded Tit
Aveley Bay played host to more Godwits and nine Avocets and two small dark grasshoppers along the concrete wall through me as they felt too small for Field but it appears that this is what they are.  That aside they did allow me to hunker down and get some nice shots!

Field Grasshopper

News broke at lunchtime about the sighting of a Beluga in the Thames just a few short miles away at Tilbury.  This incongruous sighting had us all on high window watch alert until the good news came through that it had turned back.

It became the talk of the day and as soon as we finished up at 5pm it was a quick dash to the cars and then a battle through the traffic to get to a viewing spot.  The driving fates were with me and the traffic forced me into the heart of Gravesend and then by following my nose I ended up parked in the car park of the salubrious Ship & Lobster pub on the riverside in the middle of an industrial estate.

The film crews told me that it was the right spot and I headed east to join the throng of birders, locals and film crews in the hope that the shining white Beluga would surface in just the spot I had chosen to look at and after four missed appearances it suddenly poked its glorious white head above the surface to have a look at the PLA boat that was pottering up and down with a film crew on board!

 The light was magnificent, the air still and the industrial landscape with the setting sun made for a memorable hour.  Familiar faces beamed alongside me and likewise there were some recognisable figures on the Essex side including my four energetic colleagues who I had earlier spied scampering along the river bank from where they had parked at Coalhouse Fort.
Beluga - Richard Heading

I returned happily to my car with an image of a large glowing melon, coal black eyes and the hint of a cetacean smile etched on my screen… a once in a lifetime moment for sure.

Monday 24 September 2018

The Day After The Storm...

RSPB Rainham Marshes 24th September 2018

This morning was the first proper cool autumnal start that we have had.  It was crisp and cold but without the frost and the early sky was so unhindered by cloud that the higher you looked the deeper the post-night-time blue became.

I headed along the river wall in conditions so different from the wonderfulness of yesterdays low cloud, murk and rain with the mist rising, steam-like from the Thames but only down river of the barrier. Harbour Seals were hauled out on the Kentish bank while Bob the bull Grey Seal did what he does best mid channel.

A Grey Heron perched up on the hand rail by the Purfleet Hide and Cetti’s Warblers were vocal from the ditch where Little Grebes trilled. I would go onto see eight and encounter 14 more Cetti's as I made my way!

Chaffinches and Greenfinches headed west along with many Meadow Pipits. Most were too high to see but a concerted effort to count the latter today past the 500 mark.

My first Skylarks of the season were noted on the greensward and just under 200 Teal squibbled noisily on the mud of Aveley Bay with 101 Black-tailed Godwits along the tide line and eight Avocets scything through the mud a little higher up. There were no terns to be seen but I did scan for any errant skuas that may still be stuck within the river system from the previous day.

Squibbling Teal
Cormorant sentinal by the MDZ

Stonechats clicked away in the Enclosed Bay and a female Sparrowhawk attempted to catch the Goldfinches and Linnets and spooked several Reed Buntings from cover.

Too quick for me...

I came off the river wall and through the turnstile gate to be greeted by one of our young Kestrels in an Elder while the first Bearded Tits of the circuit pinged from the reeds. I would go onto find at least 12 before the Butts Hide.

Bearded Tit - Nick Lay

A glance up towards the A13 had me looking at four large dark birds gliding west... ‘Cormorants’ I thought but something was wrong... oh yes I have binoculars... oh... Gannets...

Yep, there they were, four pristine juvenile Gannets cruising in formation, banking in unison and generally looking rather cool. They were not quite what I was expecting this morning but the day after a storm does indeed sometimes bring us some much appreciated leftovers.

I followed them due west towards the Winscanton building where they would rejoin the Thames on their journey.  I put the news out immediately in the hope that someone up river would pick them up but although at least one more was seen over London a little later this quartet were seen no more and I suspect that they gained height and sighted on the south coast.

Simply superb Gannets...

The Pectoral Sandpiper was not on the Tringa Pool which looked even better in the dry and although there were no waders, there were 14 White Wagtails, 5 Pied Wagtails and three Yellow Wagtails feeding across the extensive muddy areas while more Teal sucked mud around them.

White Wagtail

Yellow Wagtail

All three hirundines were scooting over Aveley Pool and Snipe and Green Sandpiper fed along the back edge.

Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps called in the woodland and six vociferous Jays were bouncing around while small groups of Chaffinches in the treetops looked fresh in.

Chiffchaff - Barry Jackson

A hearty breakfast set me up for the day but even looking from the windows produced good birds with two Buzzards and two juvenile Marsh Harriers spiralling north, dashing Kingfisher, more views of our stealthy Sparrowhawks and a steady passage of House Martins and Swallows.


Kingfisher on the move today - Tony O'Brien

I escaped again mid-afternoon as the Pec had reappeared and ambled through the woodland passing Red Admiral, Speckled Wood and Green-veined White on the way while the smell from the flowering Ivy was almost overpowering.

Needless to say it was occupied but countless Ivy Bees, Wasps and a multitude of flies.

Ivy Bee

The Pec was still present on the Tringa Pool and although the light was somewhat taxing, it was good to watch it in the dry in the loose company of an adult male and juvenile female Ruff

Pectoral Sandpiper - will try for better tomorrow

Pec with its huge Ruff buddy

That's better...  a lovely shot by Russ Sherriff
There were still a good scattering of all three Wagtails but the water level had risen a good couple of inches or so since my morning visit and much of the mud was now submerged.  This was not due to pumping but the natural way that the reserve fills up following rainfall. Perhaps it will not be too long till the scrapes fill up once again.

Amazing just how quickly the water rose...

Marsh Frogs, Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters filled the remainder of my second circuit in the now quite warm sunshine and Small Coppers basked in the grass but there was one last treat in store with a Short-eared Owl flying over the centre as we were locking up and flop flop flying away and up the Mar Dyke having spooked all the Woodpigeons in the Cordite.

Migrant Hawker

Small Copper

Sunday 23 September 2018

Half a chance...

RSPB Rainham Marshes 23rd September 2018
With tropical Atlantic storms tracking up the west coast during the last week, it has been painfully slow at RSPB Rainham Marshes where a due west is probably the most frustrating wind direction we can have.  Seabirds were dropping in across the country with Grey Phalaropes seemingly trying to get into very county bird report for 2018 but alas with almost no water to speak off we were missing out.

However the weather forecast suggested that during the course of Saturday night the winds would shift north easterly with rain and so we all got our hopes up for a push up the Thames this morning in the incoming tide.

We are by that bit marked Purfleet...

I arrived before half six to open up and Andy Tweed joined me not long afterwards and with Ruth, Phil and Vic we remained ensconced there for most of the day. The weather was foul and reports were soon coming in from the Kent coast of superb skua and shearwater movements so we stuck to our task and no sooner had I suggested to the newly arrived Stevenage RSPB group that we were looking for Skuas then they found three hulking Bonxies floating around mid river!

Essence of Bonxie

and three became four - Neville Smith

This trio bobbed up river until they were joined by a fourth and headed back out to the east.  A few terns past through in little flurries but it was not as good as we hoped with just 22 Common, 16 Arctic and possibly as many as eight Sandwich seen. However, we did pick up a juvenile Roseate Tern loosely with a group of Arctics which was a nice surprise and the first of this age any of us had seen here.

Two Sandwich Terns at a gazillion ISO - Paul Hawkins

Motley's and a Vagrant
Graham and his Stevenage crew scored again at lunchtime when they found a juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper feeding on the Tringa Pool.  We high tailed it round there in the rain and got some superb views of this immaculately marked juvenile as it fed in the rain on the now wonderfully muddy pool with a large male Ruff and several Pied and White Wagtails.

juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper- Andy Tweed

The sky was full of hirundines, mostly House Martins but with the other two present in smaller numbers.  We reckoned that at least 600 of the former went through during the day, sometimes in quite large spiralling flocks. Others were hawking at head height in the lee of the big poplar trees by the Ken Barrett Hide and around the chestnuts in the woodland.

There were definitely more Chiffchaffs around too with small groups around the centre all day where the juvenile male Sparrowhawk did its upmost to catch one all day although it did take out and unsuspecting Chipping Sodbury by the shop feeders.  He spent quite a lot of time perched on fences and such like, affording great views and at least by the afternoon he had dried out from his sodden morning appearance!
They the odd partially leucistic Great Tit was around the feeders on and off during the day and still catches me out everytime I see it!

leucistic Great Tit

Soggyhawk - Andy Tweed

As the sun came out and the blue skies and white fluffy clouds emerged, the Hobbies arrived out of nowhere and two juveniles put on a great show outside the window with both Sparrowhawk and the Kestrel for company.  Buzzard and Marsh Harrier unsurprisingly also started hunting but with fine weather the day of river watching was done but it was certainly worth the time and effort put in.