Friday, 17 May 2019

Rainham Marshes

Yesterday unusually for me I spent the afternoon on the reserve, I'm normally there early mornings. But, I got to admit I found it so relaxing just wandering around in the warm sunshine and trying to photograph anything that came in range and some that didn't of my lens. At times I could have just sat the whole time either, watching the Lapwings and Redshanks chasing off intruders to their breeding area and some had chicks to defend. Or just watching the Swifts at times flying so low and making a subdues screech as they chased one another, but more about them later.

The first sign that breeding is well underway was soon after leaving the centre and came across this Coot feeding a very young chick. Some say the chicks of coots look ugly, but I like them with their colourful retro look.
The Cattle Egret reappeared quite distantly and obviously close to a Lapwing's nest who persistently harassed it until it flew off.

Warden of the marsh - This is one of the old names for the Redshank due to their loud noisy calls that warn every other denizen of the marsh of the impending approach of trouble.
Pair of Avocets seeing off a Canada Goose and her goslings just out of the picture who had ventured just too close to the Avocets nest.
Shelduck flies in front of The Butts Hide
And has a wash and brush up!

Feeling much better and cleaner now!
Just a final wing stretch and I'm done!
My first dragonfly of the year a female Hairy Dragonfly
I could sit and watch Swifts for hours

I was sat near the river wall taking these pictures of Swifts

To get these three Swift images I must have deleted 3x as many, they are so quick it's amazing how many times I just got blue sky!

Swifts - They truly are the masters of the air, which isn’t surprising as pretty much their whole life is spent on the wing. At the end of the day, as the sun slowly disappears below the horizon, you can watch the swifts circling higher and higher into the darkening sky. They quickly become indiscernible dots, barely visible with binoculars, then, they are gone, to spend the night sleeping on the wing. I can’t prove they sleep while they are up there, but I can imagine them catching forty winks. Early morning as the sun rises, they descend, and you can if you are looking be lucky enough to see them appear again, almost as if by magic.
Throughout the day they will feed on airborne insects, they are expert bug munchers, hoovering them up as they fly. I find it fascinating watching them do this. Although you almost never actually see their prey. The way they are able to manoeuvre tight turns so smoothly, at times they flutter their wings to stall themselves as they take the catch. Then, with still wings and without appearing to change their body shape, they accelerate, cutting through the air at speed, and in seconds they are out of sight. They do absolutely everything on the wing, including mating and I’m surprised with all the advancements in photographic technology, that this most intimate of moments have not been captured on film. Maybe it has and I have missed it, either way, there is a challenge for someone?
Often, you are aware of their presence, not by seeing them but hearing them. This for me is one of the key sounds of summer. A fairly high pitched short scream, often emitted as one chases the other during their courtship display, or really excited short screams as a group of them chase each other, and I’m sure they do this, simply because they can!

Masters of the sky, certainly, but on the ground, they are the complete opposite. If they ever do become grounded, they are literally helpless. Rather than feet and legs they have claw-like feet in the centre of their belly, these are perfectly adapted for nesting on cliffs and ledges, but useless on the ground. With their long wings, once grounded they literally cannot flap them without hitting the ground and therefore can’t take off from the ground. Some years ago, I was fortunate to find one grounded and so was the swift. I couldn’t see why it had become grounded, when I picked it up, it didn’t appear to be injured, so with my heart in my mouth, I tossed it into the air, without having any idea if it would fly or crash back to the ground. It flew! And I hope went on to have a long life.
 Note: Swifts need your help.
They’re some of the last spring migrants to arrive, but the first to leave. You’ve probably seen them speeding through the air, screaming their heads off, or swooping into crevices in buildings.
But they’re in trouble. Swifts are now on the Amber List – they’re birds of Conservation Concern. Their numbers have declined dramatically in the past 10 years; we’re not sure why, but one of the possible reasons is that their nest sites are being destroyed.
We’re working with swift groups around the UK. Your information will help our knowledge of swifts so that more nest sites can be provided and protected. Tell us where you see swifts and help us to help them. 

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Rainham Marshes

Arrived around 7am and had planned to stay until 10:30ish, but plans change. Started off with views of the Short-eared Owl in the enclosed bay area. It never really came closed hence the heavily cropped images. Amazing it is still around.

Short-eared Owl in the enclosed Bay

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl
 The tide was beginning to recede as high tide was just after 6am today. I walked the seawall from the small car park, there were a few swifts around and I tried to get a shot, but they are a bit quick!
My best effort at a Swift image
As it was high tide a number of species were flying along the River Thames which by the way looked like a mill pond, so flat and calm.


Mute Swan
A report of two Temminck's Stint on Aveley Flash had made up my mind, I will do a circuit of the reserve. Unfortunately, the Stints had flown towards targets and were not seen again, at least while I was there. Compensation though was a Barn Owl in its box and a Spotted Flycatcher in the cordite, both were new species for the year for me!

Green-veined White

Spotted Flycatcher

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Dawn Chorus and then a trip to Abberton

Well, my alarm went off at 4am this morning so I could arrive at Bowers Marsh for the RSPB's South Essex teams first dawn chorus walk this year.

It was a little chilly and we were all well wrapped up and there was probably a dozen of us, but for me, it was great to catch up with some former colleagues as well as listening to the birds. A hoped-for sunrise never quite happened and below is as good as it got!

Almost a sunrise!
A good selection of birds was heard including some of our residents, Blackbird, Robin, Wren, Chaffinch, etc. But it was even better to hear some of our summer migrants which have now arrived in good numbers. Many Whitethroats singing and performing display flights, at least 4 Lesser Whitethroats gave a great comparison of their different songs. In the reeds, good numbers of Reed Warblers sang and easily outnumbered Sedge Warblers. Good numbers of Blackcaps were heard across the reserve and a few Chiffchaffs.

Our penultimate stop was at the two benches overlooking the lagoon, Little Grebes were giggling, while Oystercatchers definitely shouting, they are probably our loudest wader. But best of all were three drake Tufted Ducks close in and with them was the drake Ring-necked Duck which showed extremely well (shame I left my big lens in the car!).

Looking for the Ring-neck
drake Ring-necked Duck

and again

Arrived at Abberton Reservoir on the Layer-De-La-Haye causeway just before 08:30, lots of hirundines flying over the water including House Martin my first this year. Two Little Ringed Plover and a Common Sandpiper were feeding very close just the other side of the reservoir wall. The sandpiper flew to the right-hand edge and joined three Greenshanks. Common Terns were also flying across the road feeding on both sides of the causeway.

Along the old entrance road was at least 5 singing Nightingales none of which I could see, lots of Blackcaps and at least one Garden Warbler.

On the reserve, there was five cracking adult summer White-winged Terns sadly always distant but great to see. The Bonaparte's Gull kept its distance but did make up an all-star cast. Slightly closer was an immature Little Gull.

Little Ringed Plover
Great Crested Grebe
Common Tern

Common Tern
Little Gull

Little Gull

Friday, 26 April 2019

Three Local RSPB Reserves

Yesterday was a funny kinda day, even the weather wasn't sure what it was doing at first I had a few rain showers finishing the day in warm sunshine. I wasn't sure myself how the day would pan out, but I started from the little car park on the seawall at Rainham. I was hoping the showers may have dropped a few birds in. There certainly seemed a lot more Whitethroats about.
 A Grasshopper Warbler was reeling but could not be seen, then news of a Ring Ouzel on the seawall in almost the place I was stood. But a search couldn't locate it. I tried from the serin mound passing Goldfinches as I went, no luck but there was a female Wheatear.
But still no luck, I walked up and over the landfill site, lots of Linnets, Goldfinches, Meadow Pipits and Skylarks. I could see from the top that there were forty odd Common Terns wheeling around calling on the river. As I descended back to the river path two Whimbrel and two Bar-tailed Godwits were feeding on the exposed mud over low tide, I could't find any other tern species amongst the terns. Now, this is when things became a little more interesting, over the next few hours I would see some quality birds but, all were very distant.

Sean Huggins had re-found the Ring Ouzel from the serin mound. It was in the field but, right at the far side and it was a cracking male, although I waited it never came any closer.
Ring Ouzel
News was coming from Vange Marsh that John Wright had found a Marsh Sandpiper. It was only 20 minutes down the A13 so off I went. I was soon stood on the middle viewing mound watching this elegant wader, which at times was with a Greenshank. Being able to see the difference was brilliant, smaller, more dainty with thin long looking legs and a fine bill. It also had the Greenshank dark on top pale below look, which is why I guess they sometimes get confused.
Marsh Sandpiper
Also present were at least three Greenshank, a single Little Ringed Plover, four Dunlin, one Ruff, Black-tailed Godwits, Avocets, and a Wood Sandpiper which showed closer than all the rest. Not a bad selection of waders plus we had a pair of Sparrowhawk displaying overhead.
Wood Sandpiper

Whilst chatting to my good friends Clive and Richard they mentioned a local Black-necked Grebe. Off I went again and found one but very distant.
Black-necked Grebe

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

South Essex Marshes

The last time I visited RSPB VAnge Marsh was August 2016 and RSPB Bowers Marsh August 2017. Far too long and it felt good to be visiting them again.

I arrived on Vange just before 6:30 am with a big orange sun rising in the sky.
Honestly it looked much more orange in real life!
Walking from the railway line crossing to the actual entrance to the reserve were 3 Blackcap, 6 Cetti's Warblers, 3 Chiffchaff and a Sedge Warbler. On the salinr lagoon were 4 Avocet, 1 Oystercatcher a summer plumaged Black-tailed Godwit, a Greenshank was feeding along the back of the lagoon and a Green Sandpiper along with a redshank were feeding closer. In the creek was a Little Egret, while a Song Thrush continuously seranaded me from the landfill site. A male Marsh Harrier was east of the saline lagoon before disappearing.

Out on the freshmarsh I counted at least 285 Black-tailed Godwits many attaining their stunning summer plumage. Also 2 Spotted Redshanks were moulting in to summer plumage. There were 2 Ruff at least 3 Common Snipe and 5 Oystercatcher while a Little Ringed Plover performed his flight display almost continuously. 2 Little Egret and at least 2 Sand Martins flew through.

Walking back along the hedge beside the railway line a Lesser Whitethroat was singing as were more Blackcap and Chiffchaff.
Marsh Harrier

Bowers Marsh 09:50 - 14:45
With the temperature rising and the sun shining brightly, butterflys were now on the wing pretty much all were Peacock with at least 30+ seen, a couple of Small White, 2 male Orange Tip and at least 4 Brimstone.
A male Marsh Harrier flew low across the field behind the barn, shame it wasn't ten minutes earlier when I was stood there. On the saline lagoon were 35 Avocet, 2 Oystercatcher, 3 Redshank and a Little Egret.

The freshwater lake was alive with birds, mainly gulls, Avocets and a variety of wildfowl. Amongst the Black-headed Gulls were 2 Mediterranean Gull in flight and in summer plumage.
One of two Med Gulls

One of two Med Gulls

A Peregrine Falcon near Great Pound I at first confused for a Hobby until I looked closer at my images!

Other birds seen were 2 Buzzards and 4 Swallows with a total of 67 species seen during the day.

Grey Heron


Reed Bunting

Sunday, 14 April 2019

A day on the marshes

After a bird filled week particularly on the Thames, I was looking forward to spotting a few scarse species. The truth though is that finding passage migrants was hard but I did manage Sand Martin and Sedge Warbler both in small numbers, although the warblers were singing well as were many other species as the breeding season begins.
Common Lizard warming it's self in the sun

Coot well on it's way to finishing it's nest



Common Lizard on one of the boardwalks

Heavily cropped Sedge Warbler singing, there were at least for songsters on the reserve

Shooting Butts with the number four now complete, just needs a bit of weathering

Can you spot the female Soveler in amongst the nine males? They were chasing her relentlessly hoping to be the successful suitor


Hoverfly Syrphus sp

Hoverfly a Syrphus sp