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Sunday 28 November 2010

Cold Weather movement -Barking Outfall November 28th

A massive increase in Wildfowl due to the extreme weather, the Thames locally offering the only source of food due to many of the water bodies being frozen up.

Part of the Outfall

 In particular Tufted Duck in a week have gone from 3 birds to a staggering 387, no Scaup but with the continued cold spell, definitely a possibility.

Tufties on the edge of the mud

 Shoveler, Gadwall and Teal have all massively increased but surprisingly Shelduck numbers were quite low with only 26 birds seen, very likely packed out at Barking Bay.

Black Tailed Godwits were again present with 11 birds feeding on the mud, also had a very high flock of Golden Plover going south west @ 11.45am, numbering around 200 birds, in 2 V formation flocks.          

 Totals from the morning were:

Gadwall – 116

Shoveler – 202

Teal – a massive 515, 400 on the Thames with another 115 down the creek

Mallard – 118

Curlew - 1

Redshank – 129

Also around 40 Pied Wagtails and 5 Grey Wagtails were seen on the Sewage Works.

Grey Wagtail


Cold Weather November 27th

There are times when I question my own mentality, It is 6.45am, just getting light and the temperature is - 4, I am standing up on the Silt Lagoons at Rainham Marshes RSPB.

It is Saturday day morning, should be laying in, my fingers are numb and my toes fell off through frostbite 5 minutes ago, all this to see an Owl. It all became worth it at 7.10am when I got onto a hunting Short Eared Owl at the northern end of the Lagoons. It was closely followed by a 2nd bird seen briefly down at the western end, both distant views but good to see none the less.

Aveley Bay looking towards Littlebrrok Power Station

 From here I headed down to Aveley Bay, big build up of Waterfowl and Waders due to the harsh weather and everywhere but the river being frozen up. Went through most of the waders, as follows, counts were both sides of the river, could just about see the other side through the fog.

Redshank – 174

Lapwing – 350

Curlew – 1

Dunlin – 200

Wigeon – 112

Little Grebe – 1, this had me going, it was on the Thames and distant, tried my hardest to turn it into a Slav or Black Necked. Unusual to see a Little Grebe on the Thames.

Pintail – pair in the Bay, unusual

Teal – 240

Common Snipe – 18 all up from the rocks

Jack Snipe – seen later on the return leg, up from the rocks and over to the Reserve.

Grey Plover – single seen on the return leg.

Redshank, Curlew and Grey Plover in the Bay

 The Reserve was pretty quiet with just about everything frozen over, birds seen were

Peregrine – a pair on the pylons

Stonechat – 4 dotted around the site.

Ring Necked Parakeet – 4 over

Redwing – 12 in the woods

Redpoll sp – 1 overhead.

Met Les and he had around 20 Bearded Tits at the Dragonfly Pools, decided it was not the weather to get the big camera out, fingers still not working,
Ingrebourne Merlin

Walking my daughters dog paid off after a visit to Rainham, a female Merlin was seen well on the Farm Trail. First picked up low over the field heading for the game crop , this is alive with Yellowhammers and Reed Buntings, she then landed in a tree after missing her target.

There then was a bit of a stand off as 30 odd Yellowhammers/Reed Buntings sat in one tree alarm calling and the Merlin in another, she was eventually seen on her way by a Carrion Crow.

Had my little Panasonic Digital camera with me, got a couple of very distant shots, unfortunately they are just an outline.

Female Merlin, once regular in the Valley

Monday 22 November 2010

Dagenham Riverside November 21st

Could not locate the Fox that usually shows, as in earlier visits, whistled for all I was worth but no luck.    

Roosting Redshank

 The high tide roost already held good numbers of birds, pick of the bunch being a Bar Tailed Godwit amongst the Redshank, possibly fresh in as I had not heard of any being seen at Rainham RSPB or Crossness for that matter. Just as I was going to get a photo of it, they all spooked due to a low flying female Sparrowhawk gliding through the treeline.

Got onto it as it headed down river, very likely to join the Black Tailed Godwits that roost on the Stone Barges.

Curlew, Shelduck and Lapwing roosting

 Everything else then returned, as follows –

Redshank – 142 in there usual spot

Lapwing – 214 – building steadily as you would expect at this time of year

Curlew – 14 – a record count for the site, given that I had already seen 5 earlier going to roost on the jetty in Barking Bay, this gave a minimum count of 19 birds, a good total this early in the winter

Dunlin – 100 seen going up river to roost, presumably Crossness or the Jetty in Barking Bay

Teal – 66 in with the Redshank

Shoveler - 4

Shelduck – 19

Stock Dove – 19 – strange sight of seeing these tucked in with the waders, its not the 1st time I have seen it either.

Great Crested Grebe

Additional species of interest seen were a flyover Redpoll, presumably Lesser, a Green Woodpecker and a Rock Pipit, a Great Crested Grebe fishing in the Bay gave good views.

Great Crested Grebe, especially  for Sarah, hope you like it.

Barking Bay November 21st

Rising tide visit, poor weather again so wasn’t expecting to get many decent photo’s.

Linnet flock

 The large expanse of mud showed good numbers of waders, could also see large numbers on the Crossness side. Also came across a decent flock of Linnet numbering around 160 birds, Brownfield sites like the Bay become very important to them in winter as you get closer to London.                                                                                                                                                        


 As I scanned the low bramble, ever hopeful for a Shrike like the Woodchat many years ago, I got onto a Stonechat, good to see one as there numbers were decimated a couple of winters back.

Looking through the waders and wildfowl produced –

Curlew – 5

Common Sandpiper – 1

Black Tailed Godwits – a good flock of 87 tucked around the corner, could see even more over the Crossness side.

Dunlin – 144,small group initially then joined by a larger group from Crossness

Oystercatcher – 1 seen amongst the Black Tailed Godwits at Crossness

Redshank – 112, many more Crossness

Ringed Plover – 4

Lapwing – 63 again many more Crossness side

Shelduck – 48 on the mud

Teal – 18

Rock Pipit – 1 on the foreshore rocks

Brent Goose

 Halfway through I got onto a lone Goose that came inland and then landed briefly, rather unusually it turned out to be a Brent. A good record for the site, certainly the 1st I have had here. It was obviously very spooky as it only fed briefly, last seen flying onto the river and looking as if it was going upstream.

Brent Goose over

 A very good morning so I headed for Dagenham Riverside for a high tide count.


Barking Outfall November 20th

The first Tufted Ducks have arrived, only 3, but these are the first for this 2nd winter period, numbers will steadily build as the weather gets colder, especially when they get frozen out of other areas.

Black Tailed Godwit

 Located a small flock of 13 Black Tailed Godwits feeding on the mud at dawn, although present in good numbers a couple of miles down river, they rarely come up beyond Barking Bay.                                    

Black Tailed Godwits sitting on the river, unusual sight

 With a rising tide everything was feeding manically, it also bunched waders and wildfowl and gave me a chance for some good accurate counts. Totals seen were-

Redshank – 207, good numbers this early in the winter

Curlew – 1

Green Sandpiper – 1 flyover calling

Common Sandpiper – 1 on the foreshore rocks

Teal – 410 – Outfall and the Creek

Mallard – 58 Thames Water Outlet

Shelduck – 63 Outfall and foreshore

Shoveler – 31 Outfall

Additionally a Chiffchaff was heard, 130 Linnets feeding in the Sewage works, 2 Rock pipits seen on the foreshore and good numbers of both Pied and Grey Wagtails in the Sewage works.

Grey Heron waiting for a meal, not only Fish, Frogs and Voles but small Birds also

Saturday 20 November 2010

Dagenham Riverside November 14th

A low tide visit to see if any waders are starting to show, winter is just starting to take a grip with a drop in temperature over the weekend, from long range forecasts it looks as if we are in for some snow in the south.

I last visited here on October 24th when a very confiding and tame Fox came up to me, on arrival on site I parked up in exactly the same place and whistled, as you would for a dog.

Foxy emerging from cover

 Blow me down, didn’t the Fox come running out of the undergrowth and walked straight up to me, he then stood about 5 foot from me and was sniffing. Obviously checking me out to see if I had any grub on me, I didn’t, but did have some in the car, chuckling to myself I walked back to the car, the Fox following like a sheepdog. Gave him some grub which he wolfed down, except for some ham, I saw him walk into the undergrowth and bury it.

 The odds on him being in the same place 3 weeks later are rather slim, so I expect he has an earth in the undergrowth, if the same thing happens on my next visit, I would not be surprised if he barks and wags his tail.

Left him to it and headed for the foreshore to look for waders, on the way I found 3 Lesser Redpolls and 2 Siskins feeding in an Alder tree, a good start.

Black Tailed Godwits

Black Tailed Godwit showing the tail
 Also seen were –

Redshank – 48 on the mud

Black Tailed Godwit – 17 also on the mud feeding

Rock Pipit – 2 foreshore rocks

Curlew – 1 in with the Blackwits

Common Snipe – 1 foreshore

Sparrowhawk – female trying to take a Blackbird

Yellow Legged Gull - 2 adults on the mud

Goldcrest – 1 in the foreshore treeline

Rather poor photo’s I’m afraid, typical English day, overcast and grey with little light for photography.

Female Peregrine with feral pigeon prey taken early morning in Central London

Saturday 13 November 2010

Ingrebourne Valley November 6th

Bit of a hangover from the birders drink the night before, bit of a light weight nowadays, so decided to walk over the Valley at dawn. Walked up a Woodcock just past St. Georges Hospital , had one on the last visit, hopefully a sign of many more to come. From here I went to Berwick to try and catch up with the Bitterns, there are now definitely 2 birds, as per last visit, no luck.

I did see a Great Crested Grebe on the main lake, having caught a large fish, was trying unsuccessfully to swallow it, it was obviously too big for its throat and it was not going to give up, see photo’s below.

Great Crested Grebe with large fish

Down the hatch

 Plenty of Water Rail calling from the main reed bed,5 in total but the little gem was waiting at the other end. As I was scanning through a Long Tailed Tit flock, I got onto a small Crest which I managed to get 2 or 3 glimpses of in thick cover, just enough to confirm a Firecrest, couldn’t get a photo unfortunately.

Drake Gooseander
 From here I headed off to the Farm Trail, on the way I had a site first for me in the shape of a Drake Gooseander, only the 2nd record ever for the site after Les’s and Shauns birds earlier this year.

The game crop as usual was alive with Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers and good counts were had of both.

Long Tailed Tit
 Additional species seen were –

Goldcrest – 5 good to see them after last years poor showing

Cetti’s Warbler – 7 tip of the iceberg

Lesser Redpoll – 8 in Alders

Siskin – 4 flyovers

Yellowhammer - 26 In the game crop

Reed Bunting – 40 game crop

Fieldfare – 9

Redwing – 44 over in 3 flocks

Red Legged Partridge – 1 Glades

Sparrowhawk – 2 overhead

Green Woodpecker – 3 ground feeding

Little Grebe

Sunday 7 November 2010

Peregrines and Crows

As some of you may know I have been monitoring and assisting the London Peregrine Falcon population for the last 10 years, I am a self confessed Peregrine and Raptor nut as many of my mates will tell you. Peregrines are incredible hunters and at the top of the chain when it comes to Birds of Prey in London, I have seen many stirring sights whilst watching them and quite recently witnessed a confrontation between a pair of Peregrines and 4 Carrion Crows.
Carrion Crows are the bully boys in the bird world, big, intelligent, full of attitude and quite a formidable adversary, they will mob many raptors especially Kestrels and Sparrowhawks but rarely mob Peregrines. The Crows know that the Falcons are very aggressive and mobbing can become dangerous to the health of the Crow. The Crows will ‘ bait’ Peregrines when they have prey and are feeding on a structure, always 2 or more but rarely seek them out up in open sky as they do with Kestrels and Sparrowhawks.                         

In open sky Peregrines are in there element, they are also extremely territorial and hold to territory all year round, much of this is due to the threat of losing there territorial site to other Peregrines and also losing prey remains to Crows.

Recently, I arrived at a regular site at dawn as I normally do and watched the pair come out from roost from the ‘core’ structure, looking at both, I was aware that both Falcon and Tiercel were showing full crops. As I knew that this pair hunted at night, it was very likely that they had hunted and fed during the nocturnal hours. Both birds flew to a nearby structure, the Tiercel to the top with the Falcon slightly below him, I call this ‘profile’ perching, it is more or less advertising territorial presence on his part to other Peregrines.               

Shortly after this 4 Crows appeared, they could obviously see the Peregrines on the nearby structure but additionally, it was likely that they could see prey remains on the ‘core’ structure, they circled highish but none landed. This carried on for about 5 minutes, in the meantime the Falcon had started to call whilst watching the Crows, I have seen this before, it signals agitation and usually aggression .As it looked like all 4 Crows were going to leave, 2 suddenly broke off and landed on the far side of the structure, near the top, they could not see the Peregrines and visa versa.
It was too much for the Peregrines and as one they attacked, flight was direct and powerful, the usual scenario was that the Crows would see them coming and they would dive straight down low to the ground where they know the Peregrines are unlikely to target them. In this case the Crows were not aware of the approaching Peregrines, as they cleared the top of the building, both flicked over and went for the Crows.

 One of the Crows soon appeared with the Tiercel on its tail, his usual tactic is too hit the Crow too reinforce the territorial message. As I was watching this, I heard a Crow calling in alarm, into view came the 2nd Crow but unfortunately for it, the Falcon had caught it and was attached to its back!                                            

As both were losing height rapidly, I could see Falcon bending her head down through binoculars trying to give the neck bite. The Crow was now screaming with fear and trying hard to defend itself from the enraged female, she had a good hold and was obviously intent on killing it. Having also felt the strength and depth of the talons, I sympathized with the crow as I knew that those talons were around ½ an inch long and very likely doing damage.

The ground was now rapidly approaching with both birds still locked together, at the very last minute the Falcon disengaged and gained height, the unfortunate crow was moving too fast and hit the ground quite hard. As I got the telescope on it, it righted itself and stood upright, it was quite obviously in shock, it was not calling but was rooted to the spot and staring. It stayed this way for a good 3 or 4 minutes before I took my eyes off it, when I looked back it had gone, it did not look as if it was in any condition too fly, I suspect it may have moved to cover.                                                                                                                  

Crows so often dominate other species, this time they were on the receiving end.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Rainham Marshes RSPB November 1st

Was hoping that the Hen Harrier had stopped off at Rainham which I had previously seen at the Ingrebourne Valley on the 29th, in the past they have wintered here on a regular basis.
Started my walk along the sea wall on a falling tide, good numbers of waders were present with a good flock of around 60 Black Tailed Godwits seen briefly heading up river, very likely Crossness bound.

Cant see the metal for the birds - Starlings flocking

The foreshore held
Dunlin – 143 mainly Kent side
Ringed Plover – 46 all Kent
Redshank – 41 Kent and 27 Essex
Curlew – the usual 2 birds
Rock Pipit – only 2 seen
As I came to the isolated reedbed at the end of concrete path, I could hear the pinging of a Bearded Tit, eventually it showed itself, a fine looking male, seems to be a good year for them at Rainham.
Did not expect too much on the reserve owing to all the ongoing works but did record –

This ones for Sarah - Bearded Tit
 Peregrine – female on the usual pylon
Stonechat – 2 together
Bearded Tit – another 2 calling
Golden Plover – 19 in with the Lapwings
Cetti’s Warbler – 5 calling

Golden Plover coming in
Could not locate the Pinkfeet Geese, very likely still there, easy to miss in all the cover.


Goldcrest 2