Sunday 23 February 2020

RSPB Rainham Marshes 19th-20th February 2020

Half term at RSPB Rainham Marshes inevitably means pond dipping but the inclement weather of the last few weeks has thwarted attempt by the wardening team and their vols to finish replacing the knackered old timber boardwalk with new recycled plastic boards.  

As such this has caused one or two trail circulating issues what with the woodland often being closed too on the windier of days.  And so to get the families to the MDZ required a little bit of gate work with someone lurking for a couple of hours down at the turnstile gate to let them on off the river wall whilst discouraging chance your arm dog walkers and cyclists.

On Wednesday I ambled that way in the grey and cold, checking the foreshore for any new interesting flotsam as I went before settling down to await the visitors being sent my way.  Once there I noticed some green plastic tree guards in the grass, dating way back to some failed tree planting, probably ten years ago.  They only reappear in the winter from the long grass and to be honest you would not have noticed them unless you lingered.

So I set about collecting them all into a big heap for future collection, evicting hibernating Snails and probably a few small rodents in the process (sorry all).

The turnstile bridge is not exactly the best of viewpoints for a winter loiter so i amused myself with some reedmace reflections, arty hedgehogs and a nice male Stonechat that briefly came to say hello. 


male Marsh Harrier over a mile away

Ciara and Dennis have given the Butts a battering...

I was frozen by the time I got back and the icy rain had just started as the next weather front arrived.

And so to Thursday for round two.  I had a feeling that my pile of tree guards would have been trying their best to escape with the ever increasing wind and so I took a couple of straps down with me and hastily collected them before they naturally dispersed  before hauling them back to the centre with the wind doing its best to thwart me.

Before too long the weather closed and it became one of those amazing sky afternoons.  Torrential squalls with wild winds raced through and the marsh flashed in a sequence of foreboding bruised blackness, the grey-out of lashing rain and patches of bright golden winter sunshine.

Tuesday 18 February 2020

Nine Days Not On The Ranch 1-9 February 2020: Day 7,8 & 9

7th February:

I headed out on another blue morning up to the coast in the hope of adding another couple of species to the ever growing break list.  I had started to get the feeling that the list was actually quite healthy and wondered if 150 was possible by simply going out birding rather than targeting missing birds.

As such I began my morning at Salthouse Church in the hope that the Waxwing would still be in attendance.  This smart first winter bird trilled past my head after ten minutes and then spent a few minutes salvaging the last of the Guelder Rose berries in the hedge around the plot alongside.  The light was in my face but the views were lovely and I managed to get a couple of pics too.  It always feels like a real bonus to get a Waxwing in a non invasion year down south.  



Grey Partridges called from fields and I could hear Curlews out on the freshmarsh.
I chanced my arm with a speculative visit to Kelling Heath afterwards in the hope that I might find Dartford Warblers  but although my walk was pleasant I could not locate any but was more than happy with encountering another singing Woodlark and a Chiffchaff.  

From here it was a short run down to Sheringham for a walk along the front.  I had the briefest of views of two Purple Sandpipers on the breakwaters but they had disappeared before I got any closer but I did see 12 Turnstone scavenging on the beach (and around my feet!) especially after I accidentally threw some bread for the gulls which brought the 1cy Caspian Gull to within touching distance.

Caspian Gull

A very smart bird and an education for the two lady birders looking with me. A Red-throated Diver headed east while my first Fulmar went the other way.  A quick stop at Tesco to pick up  lunch and then back to the Pod before the afternoon trip out back into the Broads.

After another tour of Lathams it was on to Billockby where there were no Cranes at all but I did find a single Corn Bunting before a slight wiggle down to RSPB Buckenham where I intended to spend the rest of the day.

Like many places this week, I had it almost to myself with just an emigrated Rainham vol, Peter Hale for company.  The Yare Valley looked magnificent with miles of lush wet grassland with thousands of mobile Wigeon scattered across it.   


Constant Marsh Harrier activity kept similarly large numbers of Golden Plover and Lapwing in the air while at least 600 Pink-feet and 120 Russian White-fronts formed mixed grey geese flocks with a smattering of Greylags amongst them. Taiga Bean Geese were long gone but I did find a family party of two adults and five juvenile Dark-bellied Brent Geese which was somewhat surprising.

Marsh Harrier

Cantley Beet Factory

Golden Plovers & Lapwings

Golden Plover
Russian White-fronts

Russian White-fronts & Pink-feet


Ruff were dotted around but I did not see one Snipe which was a little odd.  I suspected that a Peregrine must be out there somewhere and eventually found a female perched up on a gate where she seemed to be keeping an eye on a young Marsh Harrier (green wing tagged ZC) that was already on prey nearby.


There were the brown humps of Chinese Water Deer all over the marsh and my minimum count was 14 at once and an agile Stoat bounded past me up near the river wall.

Chinese Water Deer & Pinkfeet

Chinese Water Deer - look at those tusks!

The sky is full of birds...
As the sun dropped gulls started to head over east towards Breydon Water and two Barn Owls were out hunting, one of which caught dinner and flew back to hole in an old willow. Perhaps the mild weather has allowed winter breeding this year?

Black-headed Gulls
A few Corvids were starting to dribble in as I wandered back towards the roost viewpoint and a Little Owl yipped from the railway Alders.   

The sunset was epic...

No one else arrived to watch the roost and although the numbers were lower than some of my winter visits earlier in the season, it was still a memorable experience as the clouds of noisy Jackdaws and Rooks coalesced firstly in the old Oaks and then in the big ploughed field at the top of the road. One minute it would look like a large patch of oozing, moving tar and then they would rise, swirl and descend to create a new shape.  Eventually they started to head off toward the church wood to roost and create shapes as they drifted across the slightly hazy moon.  With the light finally fading I called it a night. It was now cold and the breeze was getting up.  

Another Little Owl was actually seen as I drove back up towards Brundall with a single Roe Deer became the fourth deer species of the trip. The Tawny Owls were making a fuss when we got back to the Pod.

8th February:

Time to pack up and head south with a great flock of noisy Siskins swirling around as we left Top Farm.  I wiggled across to Ness Point where once again there was absolutely nothing whatsoever to see. Not a single wader... And offshore was deathly bar a few big gulls and feeding Cormorants.   

I think they basically want you to stay away from Ness Point
With the weather greying up I pushed south and arrived at Abberton Reservoir mid afternoon where hopefully there would be an array of duck on offer.
Bradders had been on site a little while and confirmed that the Ferruginous Duck had not been seen since early doors and despite a good look we could not find it between the causeways with the large mixed Tufted and Pochard flock.  A scan the other side of the road gave me both Scaup (a pair) and Long-tailed Duck (two females) to add to the list. I reckoned that this brought me up to the 150 but I was just not quite sure!

Drake Scaup with Herring Gull in attendance

A Grey Wagtail flew around calling and a male Marsh Harrier was out hunting Teal up on the bank causing regular diddy-duck dreads.  Two female Smew, four Goosanders and three Great White Egrets were picked up round the edges and six Redshank suggested that spring is not really too far away.  

Rubbish Great White Egret

And no, not part of the trip list - but one day...
The day was getting on and I made the final stretch home to Strood in good time.

9th February:

Last night I totted up the list... 149... I was still off for one more day but could I get to that nice neat 150 before Monday morning work without actually going proper birding?  Storm Ciara was getting going but the cats had to be retrieved from Cliffe and some shopping undertaken so it would have been rude not to pop into the Chatham Outlet Centre and battle my way into the howling wind for a glance at Basin 2 and its actively jump diving Shag?

And thus ended a surprisingly birding and bird filled nine days in East Anglia with just over a thousand miles driven and nearly seventy miles walked and perhaps just a smidgen of ornithological mojo re-instated.