Monday 31 January 2022

Thirty Years Ago - January 1992

1st January:

After a totally naf evening spent by myself, I got up fairly early and dashed over The Chase which was not as productive as I had hoped although the Long-eared Owls performed well and a Chiffchaff was a bonus. My next stop was Connaught Water in Epping Forest where a raft of 24 Goosander was a surprise as I poked my head around the first corner! There were a few Pochard and Gadwall and two pair of Mandarins. The woodland was dead so I went round to wake up Roy Woodward but he did not want to come out and play so I headed for Seventy Acres where a pair of Smew, Goldeneye, Water Rail and Siskins were added amongst other species.

The Great Northern Diver refused to show at Netherhall but I did see a male Pochard hybrid while up the road at Amwell the silvery Red-necked Grebe popped up just on cue. A male Pintail was a surprise but Lapwing and Snipe were more expected year ticks.

Red-necked Grebe

The day was ticking on so I cut across to Gernon Bushes where Treecreeper, Nuthatch and Goldcrest were added before a brief pop into Hainault Forest where a pair of Willow Tits obliged but Woodpeckers were sadly missing from my 73 species solo effort. [Eds: Willow Tits were holding on tenuously by then with odd pairs at Hainault, Lea Valley and at the top end of Epping Forest and the Roding but sadly their days were numbered…]

2nd January:

A couple of hours well spent in Duck Wood in Harold Hill with Paul Hawkins where we saw three Hawfinches as hoped despite a guided tour by Colin Jupp we saw no more expected woodland species although a Yellowhammer was a year tick.

3rd January:

A quick look up at Hanningfield Reservoir in the late afternoon revealed lots of gulls including an adult Yellow-legged and an impressive flock of 112 Ruddy Ducks. A really impressive sight and my first three figure flock of this enigmatic little duck.

5th January:

A slightly overcast day well spend bimbling with Pete G along the north Kent coast. We started at Motney Hill where there were lots of small birds along the tideline and in the bushes near the sewage works. Tree Sparrows were milling around with finches and there were both Rock and Water Pipits to be seen. Several Mergansers were out in the Medway and amongst the usual waders were two Greenshanks.

A little sewage works at nearby Lower Halstow was checked next and was full of birds on the circulating beds with three Pipits and surprisingly three Wagtail species.  The Yellow Wagtail flew in calling and showed very nicely. [Eds: obviously now it would just have to be an Eastern Yellow Wag – but I can remember it quite clearly and even hear the call and it certainly looked ‘normal’!]

Yellow Wagtail

It was high tide at Funton Creek and there were no waders to be seen but up the hill there was flock of Swans which contained 26 Mute, 13 Bewick’s, and single Whooper and Black!  We wiggled from here down to Shellness where year ticks came thick and fast including many waders with Purple Sandpiper and Knot being the highlights. There were plenty of Linnets, Twite, Greenfinches and Corn Bunting on the saltings and a male Merlin dashed by. With nothing on the river bar a few Great Crested Grebe and three Red-throated Diver we packed up and headed round to Harty.

Raptors were everywhere with an adult female Peregrine being the highlight [Eds: they were still a novelty!]. Just how many times were have tried and failed to see this species here. She was huge and absolutely terrified everything in sight. Much to our delight she was joined by an immature female and they both sat next to each other in a field. At least four ring-tail Hen Harriers floating around and two pairs of Marsh Harriers with the former coming very close to the car.


There were quite a few grey geese out on the marsh with 85 Russian White-fronts, seven Taiga Bean and two Pink-feet which was a nice haul. We finished up at RSPB Elmley where a distant Short-eared Owl was seen distantly and two Lapland Buntings flew over calling. Lots of Grey Partridges and a flock of 500 Stock Doves rounded up a fabulous day out.

6th January:

A pre-Polyversity stop at Picketts Lock Sports Centre gave me good views of both the Red-necked and Black-necked Grebes present in the new golf course while on the way home I stopped at Sewardstone and saw the exquisite and rather nervous adult male Waxwing.

7th January:

While stuck on the way to Poly in the traffic between the KGV and Wm Girling Reservoirs an adult Iceland Gull amazingly flew over the car between the two sites!  My fluky gull day continued once I got home with an adult Kittiwake over my parent’s house in Ilford!

 Iceland Gull 

8th January:

I took Roy Woodward and Nigel Pepper for a walk round The Chase and thankfully five Long-eared Owls were seen along with a male Sparrowhawk.

9th January:

It was a bitterly cold and soggy day to be out in the Lea Valley and unsurprisingly there was little to show for the effort bar a Green Sandpiper and the head of a Jack Snipe at RSPB Rye Meads and a drake Smew and Water Rail at Fishers Green.

11th January:

Today I took Stewart Lambert to see the Duckwood Hawfinches and thankfully they showed well along with six Long-eared Owls at The Chase afterwards.

12th January:

Another failed attempt with Pete G for the Seventy Acres Bittern but we did see a fine drake and three red-head Smew.  The male was displaying and attracted the attention of a male and three red-head Goosander who likewise started to display frantically. 


Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were vocal and a Willow Tit was busily searching for food up near Holyfield Lake. Water Rails were everywhere and a female Scaup was found. Back at Picketts Lock the Grebe duo were still bobbing around.

17th January:

Pete and I headed off for our usual Essex route and started at Abberton Reservoir late morning [Eds: I do not thing we ever did proper early!] We could not find the Green Winged Teal as the Teal were too tightly packed but we did see 30 Ruff before heading off down to East Mersea.  Only one Snow Bunting was heard and the flock was missing but there were over 100 Twite in a flock drinking from puddles on the path. [Eds: Unthinkable now…].

A Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, two Mergansers, three Eider, female Common Scoter and lots of Goldeneye were see on the Colne before we moved around to Shop Lane were four Lapland Buntings were seen along with numerous Twite, Corn Buntings and Skylarks. A beautiful Short-eared Owl was quartering with Corvids in tow and soon Hen Harriers started to move about with three ring-tails and a fine adult male. A Rough-legged Buzzard was found perched up and eventually flew giving brief but clinching views and two more Short-eared Owls joined in the hunting.

There was still some light ;eft so we went back to Abberton and timed it just right as all the Teal flew and out popped the chunky Green-winged too who proceeded to display with the other drakes. A fine way to end the day.

Green-winged Teal

19th January:

A strange day twitch to South Wales that actually started in Uxbridge to see the Rockingham Ring-billed Gull once again but Stewart L was driving and Pete G and I were just passengers! With the gull quickly bagged (along with Kestrel and Sparrowhawk) we headed west on the boring slog to Newgale on the Pembrokeshire coast but by 12.30 we were on the beach and watch a flock of sixty Common Scoter bobbing just offshore and amongst them was the fine drake American Black Scoter.  He was startlingly black and felt heavier set than the Commons and appeared to sit higher in the water too. Obviously the huge orange yellow ‘egg’ on his bill was the most striking feature. [Eds: Being me, I added this straight to my list but it would take a good few years for the taxonomists to officially split it from our species and in fact this particular bird was a big blocker for quite some time as most birders never went for it…]

American Black Scoter

From here we headed on to Dale adding Stonechat, Fulmar, Greenshank and a brief Little Egret but with time pressing on we forwent the Choughs to allow us time to get up for the Tregaron Red Kites. The journey up was enlivened by numerous Ravens and Buzzards and a female Goshawk powerfully cruised through the canopy of a plantation. Stewart was taking us to the secret spot where the Kites are fed but we were not prepared for the sight of 26 Kites descending onto the pile of recently put out offal. A truly astounding spectacle especially when combined with the large numbers of Ravens and Buzzards also present. A profound birding experience. Some of the Kites and Ravens were colour wing-tagged. With that we started for home feeling privileged to have seen so many of one of our rarest birds. A Tawny Owl in the headlights as we crossed the Black Mountains rounded off a special day.

21st January:

I finished Poly early and popped down to Fishers Green with no bins or the key to the hide on the off chance that the Bittern would be visible just to the left hand side. I got lucky and there it was, standing with its neck erect and swaying at the edge of the reed bed before it saw me and stalked off.

22nd January:

On the trip to South Wales we met a birders called Steve Bale and he was attempting a big year list and had asked if I could show him around some south Essex sites. We started at The Chase where five Long-eared Owls got the day off to a good start before heading to scenic Rainham where all his targets fell quickly with Common Sandpiper, Kingfisher and two smart Water Pipits.  From here and with five ticks under his belt we headed south of the river to Cliffe Pools where a male Red-crested Pochard was seen on the North Quarry and a walk out to the Flamingo Pool [Eds: it was not RSPB then and you could sort of wander wherever you liked!] was very productive with a single Avocet [Eds: no big wintering flocks here then…], five Pintail, 150 Black-tailed Godwits and ten Scaup to be found. Three ring-tail Hen Harriers gave exceptional views around us and amongst the other waders were hundreds of Knot, Dunlin, Grey Plover, Barwits and Ringed Plover – oh and the Chilean Flamingo from which the pool acquired its recent name.

Red-crested Pochard 

From here it was onto Sheppey but Shellness was a little disappointing with just a spectacular Knot roost and a lone Slavonian Grebe.  We fared better at Capel Fleet where a ring-tailed Hen and female Marsh Harriers were seen while a very small agile ringtail was trying to take a Skylark from under the nose of a male Merlin. [Eds: I seem to remember some consternation amongst local birders about this Harrier but I can’t find anything else in my notes…] A Short-eared Owl performed well and the Corn Buntings and same Goose selection added to Steve’s growing year list.

23rd January:

I took Nigel Pepper down for the Bittern at Fishers Green and thankfully it showed really well as it stalked around the reeds noisily for half an hour with Water Rails for company.


24th January:

A quick walk around Connaught Water produced the impressive sight of 22 Mandarins up on the bank grazing like Wigeon. The woods were fairly quiet although the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers were on territory and I got Nuthatch at last for a year tick.

25th January:

The day was enlivened by seeing the Bittern at Fishers Green even better than the last time! Such a beautiful bird.

26th January:

A south Kent tour for Pete and I that had some good birds sandwiched between dipping the Gyr [Eds: or similar… cough cough] that had been patrolling the Tenterden, Hamstreet and Dungeness area for several weeks. We did quite well with 25 White-fronts, two Barnacles and a Taiga Bean Goose amongst the Canadas and Greylags on the ARC. A small flock of Scaup were sheltered against the bank while Pochard and Goldeneye braved the choppier waters.  The RSPB reserve provided me with another year tick with a female Velvet Scoter and ten Smew included two fine drakes.

A ring-tail Hen Harrier patrolled the edge of the pits and did not spook anything at all and an adult Med Gull floated around. Two Chiffchaffs were outside the hide and on looking more closely at the second bird I noticed a Red-throated Diver hiding (dying) in the bottom of the same bramble clump before we decided on one last fruitless attempt for the Gyr around Appledore on the way home.

29th January:

Three Long-eared Owls were still showing nicely at The Chase but it was the three pair of Bullfinches that stole the show that morning.

Thursday 20 January 2022

A recap of January 2022 so far and Kentish Nature Walk #24

It has been a slow start to the year with little time spent at anything other than work at RSPB Rainham Marshes but at least we are back in the Centre again and I can see out of the windows and across the marsh and Thames rather than just the car park.  My time actually out on the reserve is very limited nowadays but I do my best from in and around the building and I suspect that I am only missing a couple of bits and bobs that have been seen by others since New Year – Jack Snipe and Bearded Tit springing to mind.

With generally mild westerly conditions very little has changed over the last few months but the reserve is now nice and wet and the duck are certainly loving it.  The five Barnacle Geese from mid-December are still around but I had to wait over a week before they had a fly round from out on Wennington and I managed to pick them up in the scope. The winter duck look superb on the brighter days and one day all my scanning will surely produce a Green Winged Teal or drake American Wigeon? Pintail are my favourite though and always look so elegant an and refined.

Barnacle and Canada Geese - Paul Hawkins

Pintail - Ben Lucas

Three single Great White Egrets dropped in on the 1st with one again the next day and I suspect that I have surpassed the 50 mark for the reserve now after the first one way back in 2003 while an immature Spoonbill that spent pre-Christmas on the still threatened Swanscombe Marsh has now been with us for the last ten days or so.  The Cattle Egrets left in early December – a week before the cows but two are now just off site with the horses near Fanns Farm in the bottom of the Mardyke Valley so hopefully they will make it back to the marsh come the spring.

Great White Egret - Sam Levy

Spoonbill - Steve Knox

I have bumped into our very vocal pair of Firecrests in the Wildlife Garden a couple of times and even managed to get lucky and see the male Dartford Warbler on my only attempt this year where he is keeping company with his Stonechat buddies.  Fieldfares and Redwings have been along the river wall and Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps have been seen from the windows too.

 Firecrest - Henry Wyn-Jones

Dartford Warbler  - Henry Wyn-Jones

Dartford Warbler - Magnus Andersson

The Ravens have been a daily presence with up to four around although they all head back to Swanscombe at the end of the day and are seemingly not linked in with the birds seen in the neighbouring farmland to the north of the A13. There are no Owls of any sort on the reserve this winter which is odd but the Marsh Harriers have been magnificent with now seven birds at least on site and some fantastic close quarter hunting observed daily.  Two gleaming adult males and a rapidly maturing immature male are regularly to be seen.  Peregrines have been seen tearing into the Lapwings or high tide Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwit flocks and the pair of Sparrowhawks have been terrorising the bird feeders several times a day. The male is an absolute peach of a bird and often passes within inches of the public on the exit ramp as that is part of his attack route while Kirsty the ridiculously tames Kestrel is still entertaining and spends most nights roosting on the little plinth we made for her on the balcony.

Kirsty Kestrel - Ben Lucas

Marsh Harrier - Pete Woods

January is not renowned for its wealth of insect life but I still managed to find a few bits at work with the subtle little Agonopterix alstromeriana on the 1st and then on the 10th a delightful, tiny bejewelled Esperia sulphurella was fluttering against the window.  This cute little day flying moth is not normally on the wing until March at the earliest, so it was quite a find.

Agonopterix alstromeriana

Esperia sulphurella 

A routine check on one of the old MoD bunkers by the side of the Mardyke near our car park added the richly coloured Herald – a larger, oddly shaped moth.  This species habitually hibernates and I counted 14 lined up along the ceiling along with five Peacock butterflies and countless Mosquitos that all woke up as soon as I exhaled!




There have even been  one or two larger flies around but one on the outside window caught my eye the other day and even through the glass I could see that it had been killed by a very specific fungus.

The parasitic fungus is called Entomophthora muscae (I think) goes to great lengths to exploit the mating urges of house flies.  After taking control of a fly's brain it sends its host to die on the highest point it can reach (our main Centre window), the zombifying mould concocts a powerful aphrodisiac to complete its ruse which then attracts more flies to mate with it which are then also infected while the original fly releases the fungal spores into the wind (the white bands between the segments of the body)… gruesome but amazing.

The fungal victim

The Rainham sunsets have, as ever this time of year, been magnificent on occasion.

My days off have always coincided with the wettest, windiest days and I have stolen the odd hour in my Strood garden to do some light tidying up in preparation for the spring so that my woodland ground flora does not get smothered by a foot of leaves but they are all good for the compost so they do not go to waste.

I have actually encountered little wildlife while pottering but a look inside the Teasel heads for a moth larvae whose name I can’t remember (sorry Antony but still not found one) did reveal both Ten and Twenty-two Spot Ladybirds tucked up inside along with a tiny green spider that I think is Diaea dorsata.

Ten Spot Ladybird - Antony Wren

Twenty-two Spot Ladybird -  Antony Wren

Diaea dorsata

I looked to see if my Man and Bee Orchid rosettes had appeared in the lawn but as yet nothing but up the top end under my mature Elder I found the tiniest little nubbin of darkly spotted leaves that can only be from an Early Purple Orchid. It certainly never showed last year and I am intrigued to see what else comes up over the coming weeks.

Early Purple Orchid

On the 15th I actually escaped for the day and we headed up to visit the Wrens in Lowestoft but the fog going up was terrible and it only really cleared when we arrived. A generally lazy day was had and Antony and I headed out for a couple of hours walking while the ladies talked crochet and such like.  We took in a circuit from his front door that took us down through Blackheath Woods and Pakefield Park where a few expected mines of both fly and moths were seen with before wending our way down to Pakefield Church with clumps of Pellitory-of-the-wall, well, on the walls and some interesting stony inclusions within the largely Flint church facing that had a host of tiny Crinoid fossils with in them.

Stigmella aurella - on Bramble

Phytomyza chaerophylli - on Cow Parsley

Euleia heraclei - on Alexanders

Phytomyza ilicis - on Holly

Ectoedemia heringella - on Holm Oak

Phyllonorycter leucographella - on Pyracantha


Pakefield Church and Pellitory-of-the-wall



If I have been paying attention to Enid then the little cushion moss is Grimmia

From here we dropped down onto the beach which was covered in Tree Mallows, Lupin bushes and a zillion dog walkers and where a coffee and toasties beckoned.  

Tree Mallow

Yellow Lupin

The return look took us through Kirkly cemetery where Antony pointed out some of those funny little moth cases and cocoons that I found in my Frindsbury graveyard before getting back in time for another coffee and some quality paper plane making experiments with the kids.

Another week at work has whizzed by but I did at last manage to face up and reduce the height of the small bendy hedge outside the Centre which will encourage it to put on more new growth this year and thicken up further.  I was kept company by Robins, Sparrows, Wren, Cetti’s Warbler and even a couple of the more inquisitive and bold Brown Rats.  Hopefully the brash will all be cleared away by the workparty today…



And so just to break the mould of recent weeks, I actually woke up to a day off with clear blue skies and a thick frost and so by 8.30 was up at the end of my road for a walk around just a small section of the Ranscombe Loop.  I had anticipated mud and worn my wellies and it was a good move and the Blackthorn walking stick that my Dad had made me was an essential piece of my of my kit today.

Hazel catkins

As expected the woods were fairly quiet although I did encounter a few new birds for the first time this year with Coal and Marsh Tits, Nuthatches and Treecreepers and a few Siskins.  There were Meadow Pipits, Chaffinches, Linnets and a couple of Skylarks in the field opposite Sam’s Clary bench and Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were seen.


Meadow Pipit

Marsh Tit

The frost lingered long enough to allow for some arty leaf images and unlike at home I found several Bee orchid rosettes already poking through.

Great Mullein with the making of an Audrey II moment...

Three Fallow Hinds slowly walked into the stands of Sweet Chestnut and the White Hart was amongst them. They stopped to look at me and then melted into the seemingly impenetrable ghostly silver trunks.  

Invisible deer

The only invert that I saw was actually a very cool Harvestman but not one that I have ever seen before.  It was sitting sunning on a trunk with its legs (of varying stupid lengths) out parallel to the body.  I believe it to be Dicranopalus ramosus. Just look at those modified palps like Lobster claws! I found lots of Stigmella aurella leafmines but very few Coptotriche marginea on the Brambles unlike last winter.

Dicranopalus ramosus

Dicranopalus ramosus

Stigmella aurella

Sam's Clary bench

Both sides of Kitchen Field


I looped around towards Kitchen Field finding some nice flowering and fruiting Butchers Broom on my way before wiggling through the woods on a new trail past two huge Yew trees that I had never seen before and then popping out as I hoped, by the Mausoleum.  

Old Man's Beard

 Butchers Broom

An old Yew - I think these are first I have seen here


There was now a keen breeze blowing from the north so I dropped back down to the corner by Knights Farm before sloshing my way through on the flat to get back to the car. 

It was not an overly long walk but it as been months since I have been out here and I just needed a fix to remind me of what I have been missing.

The traditional Darnley Mausoleum image - a focal point of my walks