Sunday, 27 November 2016

The Ouse Washes

Yesterday twenty five of us boarded the coach and headed north to Cambridgeshire, it was RSPB Havering Local Group's coach outing. This month's destination is the RSPB's Ouse Washes nature reserve right in the heart of The Fens, the Ouse Washes forms the largest area of grazing pasture that floods in the winter in the UK and attracts thousands of wildfowl. During the journey the fog enshrouding the countryside was getting denser as we neared our destination, we were all preparing for tricky viewing conditions. But as we arrived the sun broke through and very soon burned off the fog leaving a beautiful blue sky and a sunny day :-)
Tree Sparrow (right) with female House Sparrow
First stop after our coach driver was giving a round of applause for expertly manoeuvring the coach around the tight 'Ship Inn' bend was the visitor centre feeders. Good numbers of Tree Sparrow were feeding with House Sparrows, Blue & Great Tits, Goldfinches and Collared Doves, The UK tree sparrow population has suffered a severe decline, estimated at 93 per cent between 1970 and 2008. However, recent Breeding Bird Survey data is encouraging, suggesting that numbers may have started to increase, albeit from a very low point. They have all but disappeared from Essex, so very nice to see they are doing ok here.
Tree Sparrow (top) with male House Sparrow for comparison (Tom Bell)
Out on the flooded fens, where the flood water has only recently been let in, were hundreds if not thousands of wildfowl, the majority being Wigeon and Teal, but also good numbers of Whooper Swans. They never came particularly close to any of the eleven hides, but did provide spectacular views with their comings and goings and display antics. There were also Pintail and Goldeneyes seen, along with Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel. Some were lucky enough to also see Peregrine and Barn Owl. Kingfisher showed well near the pumping station at the entrance to the reserve. All in all a fantastic day with over sixty different species of bird seen.
Whooper Swan (Tom Bell)

Looking out from one of the eleven hides!

We had a huge blue sky all day!

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Wildlife Garden Conference @ NHM

Yesterday I attended the Wildlife Gardening Forum's conference in the Flett lecture theatre at the Natural History Museum. This year's theme was European wildlife and nature gardeners and learning from each other. There were speakers from Germany, Belgium, Holland, Ireland and Scotland. All doing really inspirational work with quite a focus expectedly on urban wildlife and a very strong focus on engaging the young. With a number of school grounds and local parks being transformed to encourage both wildlife and people.

A quick refreshment break
 During lunch there were guided walks around the wildlife garden at the museum, we know there are going to be massive changes to the garden as the museum develops the area to become more of an obvious entrance in to the museum. Not all of the changes will benefit the 3,000 odd species of flora & fauna recorded during the last 21 years of the garden's existence. And it was a shame that the guide had obviously been muzzled as far as the development goes having to stick to the corporate script. I think that actually says a lot!!!

An interesting way of keeping falling leaves out of a pond in autumn

Explaining the garden's development!

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Recent winter birds

Short-eared Owl - last winter at Rainham Marshes was an exceptional one for short-eared owls, there were at least seven throughout the winter period. Wintering numbers fluctuate, some winters you are lucky to see one, I don't know if it is the small mammal population that governs this, i.e. if they have had a good breeding year then there will be plenty of food for the owls. Or, if it is to do with how well the owls fared breeding, a good year higher number of birds. Or, perhaps it's a combination of both or something else completely. If you know message me @Branta_bernicla I'd love to find out.
Short-eared Owl at RSPB Rainham Marshes December 2015

Slavonian Grebe - a smart looking grebe even in winter plumage. Around 1,000 winter around the UK's coastline but they are pretty scarce inland. We have had a couple in recent winters which stuck around and delighted many in Wanstead and near Dartford. Let's hope for another this winter!

Slavonian Grebe at Wanstead Park January 2015

Slavonian Grebe at Wanstead Park January 2015
Great Northern Diver - All divers are the sort of charismatic bird we all love to see, and GND is a big one as well! In breeding plumage they are awesome, but by November they will all be winter birds or juveniles. with basically a black & white plumage. The bill is big and heavy, the crown often looks lumpy and there is a ghost of the neck band which helps to distinguish smaller birds from similar looking winter black-throated divers. A few thousand winter around our coast, particularly in the north. A handful stray inland, especially to the large inland lakes, such as Rutland Water or the London Reservoirs. And just occasionally to smaller lakes like the one below at Fairlop Water recently.

Great Northern Diver at Fairlop Waters November 2015

Great Northern Diver at Fairlop Waters November 2015

Purple Sandpiper - A cracking medium sized wader which often associates with turnstones around the rocky areas of the Essex coastline. Holland Haven & Frinton are favourite and regular haunts as was Southend Pier at one time.

1 of 4 at Holland Haven February 2014

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Coach Trip to RSPB Titchwell

It was wonderful yesterday to have a full coach for our outing to north Norfolk. We arrived at Titchwell Marsh at around 10.30. This popular reserve has something for everyone. A walk from the visitor centre down to the sandy beach takes you past reedbeds and shallow lagoons. You can sit on benches or watch from spacious, wheelchair-accessible hides. The weather was again kind to us, although overcast, the sun did threaten to appear on a couple of occasions, it was amazingly still and quite mild. There were many highlights from brambling and siskin around the feeding area behind the well equipped visitor centre. 150+ golden plover along with many other wading birds some feeding very close to the path on the fresh marsh. To gannets plunge diving and a few velvet scoters with common scoters on the sea, while sanderling, knot, turnstone and bar-tailed godwits fed along the waters edge. A few lucky people also spotted three shorelarks on the beach. Add to this marsh harriers, bearded tits and water rail and you soon see why Titchwell is such a popular attraction.

Just off the coach and ready to explore the reserve

There were signs of Halloween dotted around the reserve

A blurry distant shot of a brambling

There were an impressive 17 ruff on one lagoon


Redshank reflection

Sharing our lunch!


Common Gull


A quick cuppa before boarding the coach for home!

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

RSPB Rainham Marshes

Had a toil day from work yesterday and spent it at Rainham. Before the reserve opened I walked from the car park to the serin mound and back. The weather was overcast with short occasional showers, they were short because the strong south westerly was moving them through pretty quickly. It also meant that most things were keeping their heads down. Four Avocets in Aveley Bay were good to see and probably my first here this year, also Curlew and Redshank noted.

The twin towered visitor centre
a Redshank with a lot to say!
this Wren had found a sheltered spot near the serin mound
Mistle Thrush on one of the visitor centre's towers

Late morning and the sun had broken through so I spent a bit of time in the woodland area as it was sheltered from the wind.

there were a number of Common Green Shieldbugs on the bramble leaves

Blue Tit

Long-tailed Tit

a couple of Common Darters still around


male Common Wasp

Common Carder Bee

Comma butterfly


Comma again

young Marsh Frog on path near Butts hide, I moved him to the vegetation where he hopped off and disappeared before I could get a more natural looking shot!

From the Marshland Discovery Zone these two Little Grebes were munching their way through the sticklebacks and showing very well.