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Saturday, 30 November 2013

Rolls Farm - Tollesbury

November 30th

It has to be said I don’t get here as much as I want to, it is an old haunt along with Old Hall Marshes and Tollesbury Wick, I used to visit these sites regular in the pre- peregrine and survey days.
I had been keeping an eye on the tide and Saturday did not look too bad, a dawn rising tide peaking around 9.30am, ideal so off I went.

Arriving in semi darkness I was hoping for a Shortie or a Hen Harrier, the latter now seemingly getting harder and harder to see unless you go to favoured sites. No luck with either,mind you I did have 4 Marsh Harriers upstream no doubt from roost in between 7.20am and 8.00am so not a bad start to the day.
It was also obvious that Dark Bellied Brent’s were around in numbers and some were very confiding and kept the camera entertained throughout the morning despite the rather harsh grey skies. Occasionally I would get snatches of sunshine, unfortunately in regards to photography I was on the wrong side of the Estuary and against the sun when it did come out.

Waders amassing

I watched the corner of the Estuary up to 10.00am, during the morning I had some very good birds, top of the list would go to 3 Slavonian Grebes located mid estuary, this used to be a bit of a hotspot for them with double figure counts not uncommon during the winter months.
The supporting cast also included some more goodies, 4 Goldeneye, 9 Red Breasted Mergansers, similar numbers of Common Scoters and also a flyby Red Throated Diver all added to the tally, all though were distant unfortunately.

By the end of the morning I had recorded 480 Dark Bellied Brent’s going out along with 7 Pintail seen sitting on the Estuary, good numbers of Knot, Bar Tailed Godwit, Dunlin and Grey Plover were also seen so all in all a very enjoyable if bloody cold visit.

Still a great place to visit, next week Old Hall Marshes hopefully, a long walk if I remember correctly.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

The week in photos

Needless to say the weather has been drab to say the least, photos below are from various locations in Essex this past week.

Bearded Tit at Coryton

Fox kill - possibly Hen Pheasant/Bittern?

Backlit Common Sandpiper and Redshank

Impressive looking animal - at distance

Would you go in a field with him?

Backlit Curlew and Lapwing on Fords roost

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Hoo Peninsula

Hoo Peninsula

November 23rd

An early morning start in bitterly cold weather, 2 above showing but feeling even colder with the Northerly.

Both me and Paul set off straight away, it was quite evident that the colder weather had bought in more birds, good numbers of Lapwing and Golden Plover were picked up straight away on the Transects. Raptors it seemed were everywhere, male and female Merlin, Common Buzzard, Female Peregrine and at least 6 Marsh Harriers made for a lot of movement around site.
No sign throughout the day for either of us for the mid week sighting of Hen Harrier, hopefully still in the area, they are becoming a hard bird to see unlike Marsh Harriers, a great success story.

Female Merlin on Sea wall

Marsh Harrier

Common Buzzard

My bird of the morning undoubtedly goes to a Lapland Bunting, initially called as I flushed it along with 6 Skylarks, all landed and I had decent views for about 6 seconds of the Lap before it was lost to view. Unfortunately it was on private land.

Taken mid week in Essex

Wader numbers at low tide had gone through the roof on Blyth Sands, Knot were seemingly everywhere.
Highlights from the river were 9 Eider, looked like adult and 2 immature males with 6 females, Gannet and 5 Pintail, I also had a very distant Diver fishing, too far to id unfortunately.

A good morning, roll on December.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

High Tide Boat Survey

November 18th

One year I am going to get it right with the weather, Monday was awful, grey, drizzly, misty and overcast all day, much the same as in the surveys of 2011/12, nonetheless we pressed on with the now annual November boat survey.
As part of the on-going High Tide Project the Environment Agency very kindly supply a boat which they launch from Crossness, the boat takes 4 of us and is skippered by Tom Cousins of the E/A. Supporting him were Peter Gray, also E/A and Jemma Shoobridge the E/A Biodiversity Officer.

Tom about to drop the boat


The plan is to record and survey as many roosting waders on known or unknown structures/jetties from Tilbury down to Galleon’s Reach, peak tide for Tilbury was just after 1.00pm and was a relatively high one at 6.37m.A shade under 7.00m at Silvertown also meant that the whole stretch would be covered ensuring that all waders went to roost and would not be able to carrying on feeding on any exposed mud.
After launching we headed up on the Kent side to take position literally at the last port of call, Tilbury, to be more precise the old repair jetty, once a favoured roost site. Not strictly within the LNHS area which finishes at Northfleet, I check this any way every year as it was once a large roost. It was empty as other years and it now has 4 Wind Turbines overlooking it, these were not here last year, a necessary evil?

What I did not mention was that whilst we were heading out of the river at a rate of knots to get in position, we checked the odd site if it already held birds, this proved dividends and gave us 7 Turnstones on the rocks by the lighthouse at Broadness Point. Good birds for the London area and a bit of a winter rarity unless you’re lucky enough to pick one up on passage, a good start.

From Tilbury we headed up and our next stop was West Thurrock, one of the big roosts but rather surprisingly empty today, the only birds present were 2 Oystercatchers. Stone Point however held 11 Curlew and a half dozen Redshank. Scanning round I saw some Redshank heading across the river so we headed over to the Crossways Roost, this was empty but a nearby derelict jetty near Johnsons Wharf held 120 Redshank and 40 Lapwing. This jetty was a new roost site and shows the importance of having alternative sites relatively close, say if they were disturbed at West Thurrock which possibly could been the case why they were on it.
Another reason being that, close by they would not have to expend too much energy flying around looking for somewhere else to roost, in extreme cold weather for old, young or sick birds this can prove fatal.

Repair Jetty at Tilbury - old roost seemingly not used anymore?

Jemma looking at the Repair Jetty

Redshank roosting on Jetty at Johnsons Wharf

The sole occupants of the West Thurrock Roost - 2 Oystercatchers

From here we moved up to the next roost, a regular site at Littlebrook Power Station, this held 72 Redshank and 3 Lapwing, a good count so we carried on firstly shooting back across the river to record the known Purfleet roost. Another good count of 60 Lapwing greeted us, as we know, a bird in decline and quite recently added to the Red List.

Moving forward it was onwards and upwards as we passed Rainham RSPB, this year Howard had kindly agreed to record the birds going to roost on site, including the Reserve gives us a far more accurate count for the Inner Thames of the number of waders on the River.
He added a further 12 Curlew, 200 Dunlin,35 more Redshank,200 Golden Plover and 700 Lapwing, all these were recorded flying from the Thames to the Reserve when the mud disappeared..

Over then to Erith Yacht Club, this another known roost, it did not reach the figures of last year but still produced 32 Lapwing and 50 Redshank, I looked for the wintering Spotted Redshank but for not wanting to get too close and also the bad light I could not pick it out.

Redshank roosting below Gulls at Erith Yacht Club

The next stop was the Stone Barges, I had been wondering where the Black Tailed Godwits were as they hadn’t roosted at Rainham, it was likely the Barges or Fords, I had seen a good number on the way down to Tilbury on the exposed mud.

Stone Barges

Sure enough, they and a good number of Redshank were present when we arrived; this one is very hard to count due to all the different levels and unseen edge/faces of the Barges. In the end I arrived at 180 Blackwits, 12 Dunlin and 200 Redshank; it’s not an exact science and if anything most counts are always going to be under. You can only count what is on show and visible from the boat and in many cases you are below the structure jetty and cannot see the middle, which can obviously hold more birds.
As we were on the point of leaving I saw a bird in flight, with some Black Tailed Godwits coming in, first thoughts were Redshank then as it got closer I realised it was a male Ruff due to size, a good bird, talking to Howard later it has been seen before and is possibly wintering.

We pressed on, next stop was the derelict jetty at Fords, Dagenham, a particular favourite of mine and one I have been monitoring and recording since 2005, birds on show were another 12 Curlew, 40 Redshank and 60 more Lapwing. Of them all I know this roost slips away and there is a large open flat area which cannot be seen, it is also out of the wind so this roost likely held more than what was on show.

How Fords Roost looks on a better day - wall to wall Black Tailed Godwit

We moved onwards holding to the Essex side, we were going to record the Crossness roost when we docked, so on to the Barking Bay Roost, this unfortunately was empty. It is now a working Jetty and although one section has been screened to allow for roosting waders, it is fencing and completely see through. This means that nervous waders at roost are susceptible to any disturbance on the other side of the fence, the whole thing needs to be screened and covered.

Dolphin Jetty at Barking Bay - Common Tern breeding site, 20+ pairs in 2013

Disused Dolphin Jetty - haunch board round the side, pea shingled out, the perfect nest site

Another disused Dolphin again Barking Bay - perfect nest site for Terns

Next stop was the roost at Galleon’s Reach/Beckton, this has provided good numbers in the past so we were optimistic of a good count, however on arrival a ship had berthed at an adjoining jetty and we couldn’t get in there to record it. Unfortunately there was no other way to see it so that one went by the wayside, a pity.

Time now was pressing on so although it would have been good to have checked the Woolwich roost and possibly the Bow Creek roost we headed back to Crossness. On the way back as we crossed over to Margaret Ness we came across a flock of 19 Great Crested Grebes sitting and diving on the river pretty near the bank, by far the largest flock I have seen on the Inner Thames.
Tom mentioned that they are always in the same spot as he has seen them a number of times, an area worth keeping an eye on when the real cold weather comes.

I had already noted that the Crossness roost was active on the way up to Beckton and so it proved with a good number of birds present, a minimum of 600 Dunlin were present along with 100 Redshank and 9 Lapwing. This is a big Teal roost as well with around 40 birds lining the wall along with at least 8 Grey Herons.
This was the finish of the survey and Tom and Peter then hauled the boat out onto the Jetty, a very good survey despite the foul weather.

A big thanks go to Tom, Peter and Jemma, good company on the day and very educational learning about other aspects of the river.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Hoo Peninsula

November 16th

Wall to wall sunshine greeted us this morning, a rare event out on the marshes but did it bring the birds out. Myself and Paul set off on our independent transects and basically we meet up again 4 hours later, covering various areas of the marsh and sea wall.
It is a wild place with plenty of passerines present, this brings in the raptors and today didn’t disappoint as usual with female Merlin again present along with a pair of Peregrines, 2 Common Buzzards, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and a good number of Marsh Harriers.

Distant Peregrine and Common Buzzard catching rays on the sea wall

Peregrine and Marsh Harrier

I had some good birds other than this also recording both Water and Rock Pipit, Stonechat and 4 Green Sandpipers on one of the Fleets.
The Water Pipit, seen briefly and scoped sitting on the sea wall is my first record for the site, most likely a migrant moving up river as it flew over heading west, Rocks were well represented also with 3 birds seen together,

Paul did even better recording a Dick’s Pipit on the deck and flyover Wood Lark and Lapland Bunting on his transect, good birds, the Dick’s follows on from the one we both saw in October.

The river not surprisingly yielded very little, high tide so no waders and far too sunny for any movement.
I did have a very photogenic flock of Turnstones land in front of me as I watched the river; they never disappoint and as ever took little notice of me and posed for the camera.

A pleasure today to be out on the marsh, the cold stuff is coming so I hear so hopefully like other winters it will bring in the goodies, need more Easterlies.

After the survey when I arrived home I watched the All Blacks game, some of you may know I follow Rugby Union and am a staunch Saracens man, although sadly I don’t get the chance these days to watch them as I once did.
Today England played better but still lack the centres unfortunately, Manu Tuilagi’s attacking threat is missed as there seems to be little coming from Twelvetree’s and Tomkin’s to top flight teams.

We badly need an elusive runner like Guscott, it’s time for a change to the centres and we need Christian Wade on the wing, little is coming from Ashton these days, I would give Yarde more time on the other wing.

Quite looking forward now to the 6 Nations.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Abberton Reservoir

November 13th

I have not been here for a number of years, it was once a favoured haunt in winter, visited regularly as I toured the Essex countryside with my 2 daughters when they were young, I like to think that they enjoyed it, good times, they both now have families of their own.
On a whim I decided to visit, one reason being is that I now have more time having retired from construction, the other, with the sunshine, I was hoping to catch up with the Glossy Ibis. I am yet to get good views of one, and this bird as I understand it has been a star.

I decided on firstly Layer Breton causeway and scanned around, the light was great and for the next hour a good few birds gave themselves up. Bittern was seen twice in flight, female Red Crested Pochard, 2 Goldeneye, Bearded Tit, Peregrine and Water Rail were the pick of the crop.
No sign of the Glossy Ibis.

A Bittern was sunning itself the day before in this section of reed bed.

After this I drove round to the new Visitor Centre, the Layer de la Haye causeway has totally changed and is unrecognisable from years ago, as yet it is still closed but looks like it will open shortly, parking will be a lot better also.
To say the whole landscape has transformed is an understatement as I drove into the centre, it took me a little while to get my bearings, the new centre being of modern design was quite impressive.
Walking down to one of the hides, a new one, I wondered why it has been set back so far from the water’s edge, probably around 80 metres, all becomes apparent when you read the leaflet from the centre.
The Reservoirs storage capacity is being raised by 58%; this will mean that the top water level will increase by 3.2 metres – hence the distant hide. Islands are being created also for foraging and breeding habitat along with other new hides including a tree top hide in the woodland, again very impressive.

New Hide - island in distance

New Hide - as you can see a long way off.

Visitor Centre

Map and info

I had a scan around from the hide, I was looking for the 3 Bewick’s Swans that have been present, unfortunately I could not locate them, I did find a pair of Peregrines sitting out on the island enjoying the sunshine, also added 5 more Goldeneye and located 2 Goosanders hauled out on the far bank.
Heading back to the centre I had a final scan towards Wigborough Bay and located the 3 Bewick’s Swans, distant but unmistakable even at that range.

Rock Pipit on Layer de la Haye

Pair of Peregrines catching rays on the island

A good morning, all seen were rather distant views but no less enjoyable especially with the sunshine.