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Monday 27 February 2012

London Peregrines

As some may know, I have for the last 12 years been involved with London Peregrines and there continuing colonisation of the Capital, unfortunately in an urban scenario they do clash with building owners, mainly due to their Schedule 1 status. In most cases I and others can work with them and a balance can usually be found to keep everyone happy including the peregrines.
Having to tell a manager that his roof is off limits for 3 or 4 month’s is not always received well, I can understand that, but by and large nearly all of them come round in the end and come to love having the peregrines on their building. They are a spectacular bird, all power and speed and I will never tire of watching them, nothing gives me a bigger kick than having a nest box I placed accepted.
Sad to say that in this country raptor persecution still persists and it is one big reason why sites in London are not publicised, it is a pity as the London public should have a chance to watch and be involved with these birds on their doorstep. It is an age old and awkward position, do you not publicise every site or publicise them with the view that, more eyes watching makes for a securer site. Parliament is publicised as it is secure, the Tate Modern is publicised as it is not a breeding site, in the end I think you have to judge each breeding site on its own merits and location, but is that right? If you get all the local people involved in each respective site there will undoubtedly be more security for the birds and that is what it is all about.

Tiercel Peregrine - more security?

Out of town across the country other urban peregrine sites are publicised and on the internet, no problem. America, in particular New York, publicises every nest site and the world and his dog are involved, would the same approach be better in London, get local people involved?
If a minority of Eggers or Pigeon Fanciers want to find them they will, a recent court case showed this, an egg collector named 9 sites in London straight off the top of his head. In a rural location they should be kept unpublicised, there is little security on a lonely moor or cliff face to a determined individual. I have always kept all the sites that I monitor apart from Parliament unpublicised, but I must admit to re thinking, is it the right approach to each pair when it comes to their security and safety?
I visited a site in London this morning, it is one of 3 London sites I know off where Kestrels and Peregrines co-exist with little interaction between them I am pleased to say, the little mouse hawk is a particular favourite. The Kestrels all stay low and the Peregrines high, I know that peregrines will and have taken them but on each of these sites there is no threat from the larger raptor. One big reason is the abundance of feral pigeon in and around each of the sites.

Kestrel - a particular favourite

I also witnessed an altercation between a Cormorant and a Grey Heron this morning, the Cormorant coughed up what I can only describe as what was left of a fish, as soon as it did so the Heron made a bee line for it.The Cormorant departed after putting up a bit of resistance and the Heron took the fish, little goes to waste in the bird world!

Grey Heron stealing remains of fish

Nothing goes to waste, Crow with pigeons leg

Stashing leg in scaffold tube

Thursday 23 February 2012

Rainham RSPB

As mentioned before I don’t get over here as much as I used to, I visited this morning whilst heading for a Peregrine site in Kent, the QE 2 Bridge was solid so I went to Rainham instead.
All the work is now nearly complete and the site at long last is holding water, electric fences are in place so Lapwing and Redshank should now benefit whilst breeding with the extra security and constant water levels.
I did my usual round robin walk starting at the sea wall, it was low tide but a good variety of birds were seen. A Single Avocet was on the foreshore with a flock of around 120 Dunlin, a surprise was seeing 12 Grey Plover together on the mud, these quickly headed up river.2 Curlew were present along with an Oystercatcher, they seem to have come up the river to breed early this year.
Despite scanning through all the Rock Pipits, which numbered 9, I was unable to find a Water Pipit.


Moving on , I entered the reserve, a good count of 14 Pintail were found on both the Target and Aveley Pools but the undoubted highlight was a female Merlin creating havoc amongst the hordes of Lapwing, on sight of her everything flushed. The Lapwing flush in defence, it would be unlikely that she would take one. Walking on and I found the Peregrines in the usual spot on the pylons and a pair of Stonechat were also present nearby.

Spot the Peregrines
Arriving at the pools and a good count of 75 Golden Plover were present along with at least 3 calling Cetti’s Warblers. They have now cut some rides in the northern reed bed, it is a cracking spot to get some photos of Water Rail, the sun is behind you, you just have to wait and one will eventually cross for a decent photo. I had at least 7 calling birds within the area so I suspect there is quite a high density here.
Female Merlin

Water Rail

Spring is in the air

To round the walk off I had views of 2 distant White Fronted Geese, roll on spring.

Monday 20 February 2012

Essex and Kent

The weekend found me surveying firstly in the Home Counties and then over on Sunday to the North Kent Marshes, both sites have their merits and both provide good birding with some top notch species.
The Essex site is land locked but very remote and goodies like Short Eared Owl, Marsh and Hen Harrier, Merlin, Corn Bunting, Woodcock and Bearded Tit have all made an appearance. On Friday I did witness a rather sad sight in the shape of 2 Foxes, I know they are classed as vermin but I do not like to see any animal suffer, obviously as these were doing.
As I scanned an adjacent field I picked up one, obviously in some discomfort and only able to use one front leg, progress was very slow and it looked as if the bottom half of the leg was broken. A sad sight, perhaps a natural occurrence whilst hunting, who knows. As it proceeded on its way I was surprised to see another appear about 40 metres behind and following the first fox, so presumably Dog and Vixen, one was definitely larger than the other. As I looked closer it was again obvious this animal was moving slowly and in distress as well, sadly looking closer its front leg was also broke.

1st Fox

2nd Fox

It is very easy to read more into this than there is, one possibly natural, but two together leads you along the lines of foul play, a very sad sight indeed.
Sunday found me and Paul heading for North Kent, hopefully for another crack at the Rough Legged Buzzard, en route we had Common Buzzard and a male Merlin perched in a low tree giving exceptional views. As per usual the bloody camera was in the boot but great to see one this close up.
We had a good survey, 6 Barnacle Geese were found in with the Greylags, possible candidates for wild ones given the cold snap? The pale Common Buzzard was also seen along with 2 more Commons, a female Marsh Harrier, 2 Peregrines and a distant flock of Dark Bellied Brent Geese probably numbered over 800.

Grey Plover, Dunlin and Turnstone

A mixture of waders

Drake Teal

Best bird of the day found by Paul goes to a female Snow Bunting in Egypt Bay, we both managed to get some half decent photos of this little cracker.

Snow Bunting

A very distant Red Necked Grebe
To round off the day we visited Cliff – Higham Marshes where we located the Red Necked Grebe, the bird was starting to show summer plumage, just don’t get to see enough of these. We also located a drake Scaup in amongst the Pochard so a good end to the day.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Old Haunts - Stubbers and West Thurrock Marshes

I headed for my old patch again at Stubbers after Paul and Shaun found a Drake Scaup late on Tuesday afternoon, on arrival I could see it straight away hugging the far bank with Pochard on Russell’s Lake. Walking round to the far side I managed a few digiscoped shots but it and the Pochard are very wary so I kept my distance. After having a good look at it, it is a cracking looking bird, we don’t get that many full plumage Drakes, most of the ones I have seen have been 1st winters or females.

Drake Scaup with Pochard

After this I scanned the rest of the lake, 2 female Goldeneye were diving together, the 3 Redhead Smew were still present and a new arrival was a Redhead Goosander. Now that I have a bit more time I will have to start covering this site again, the 2 lakes have never been fished so there is obviously a good food source.

Redhead Smew

Redhead Goosander
From here I headed to another old favoured patch, West Thurrock Marshes, I did this patch regularly for a good number of years, being a Thameside patch it was inevitable that it would turn up some good birds. Grey Phalarope probably topped the list, the site has not changed much, the graffiti still provides an unusual background on the sea wall and it looks like the scramblers still use the site.
In the past the site has come under threat from developers being Brownfield, I know it was due for development, I suspect the reason that nothing has happened is probably down to the recession. Whatever it may be it is good news that it is still here, long may it stay this way.
Being so close to Rainham RSPB I often wondered why the RSPB did not step in as it has the potential to be a good reserve. It has the old ash lagoons which used to pull in waders years ago along with good woodland, scrub, ponds and reed filled dykes, although relatively small it would have been a good reserve for the local community.
I suspect due to the access problems, remote parking and location by the 4 Weddings and a Funeral Church, the council have only supplied 3 parking slots, it is never going to pull people in like a good ‘ Country Park ‘ should.
Back to the birding – I went straight to the far end to check out the large mud flats, on the way seeing Curlew and good numbers of Teal, when I arrived I had a nice selection of waders, see below.

Black Tailed Godwit – 67 including a colour ringed bird
Bar Tailed Godwit – a single seen
Oystercatcher - 8
Knot – a single seen, probably the same wintering bird that has been around for a while
Curlew – 24 including the earlier seen bird
Lapwing – 214
Dunlin – 50
Sanderling – 3 seen feeding with a small lock of Dunlin
Grey Plover – 2
Redshank – 52
Avocet – 7 resting up
Common Snipe – 16
Jack Snipe – 1

A Snipe admiring the Graffiti

Common Snipe

The same bird

Jack Snipe

The same bird

3 Sanderling feeding with Dunlin


Colour ringed Black Tailed Godwit

Like Stubbers I think I will try and get over as much as possible, it can be a bit remote but the quality of the birding is too much of a lure.

Tuesday 14 February 2012

The Garden and the Valley

Like many others at the moment in the south east I have noticed massive numbers of Redwings and Fieldfares where ever I go, this is mainly due to the extreme weather and wind change. Where I live, in Hornchurch we have a large communal garden, bordered by trees, shrubs and bushes with a good number of Hawthorne’s, conveniently right next to my bedroom window.
Over the weekend they arrived en masse, mainly Redwings but also a good flock of Fieldfares, I was fortunate enough to be at home to get a few photos.


All though the weather was not ideal, little light and grey skies meant a high ISO, they didn’t come out too bad.


The whole flock of Redwings at one point landed in a tree outside of the gardens and I was able to get an exact count after taking a photo. We all estimate birds flocks and it will never be an exact science, but from the photo below how many would you say were in the tree?
No copying either and counting the dots.

Redwings all - how many would you estimate?

The Valley
I left it a little later than the usual dawn start hoping that I could catch up with Shaun’s Jack Snipe by the running stream, much of the land and water bodies are still frozen so I gave this area about ½ an hour. I did connect with 10 Common Snipe but unfortunately no Jack, with a thaw coming they will now probably disperse to their usual haunts.
I did get some distant views of a Kingfisher which are always a pleasure to see, trying to photograph the little bullets is another matter, I was lucky that it perched for a while.

I carried on with another bird in my head, Woodcock, with the extreme weather they have been making an appearance just about everywhere, again despite walking all the likely haunts, as with the Jack, it was not to be.
Fieldfare and Redwing were everywhere, 70 and 160 recorded by the end of the walk, I also got lucky with the White Fronted Goose, I saw it come in from the Belhus direction with a handful of Greylags. Where the other has gone who knows, moved on, Fox who knows?
I have also sussed out exactly where to see the Common Buzzard, mostly just listen to the Crows but it is favouring a section of woodland and is regular, 2 female Sparrowhawks also added to the raptor list.
Not surprisingly, few of the smaller passerines were seen, 4 Bullfinch and a calling Redpoll going over were the pick of the bunch. Still no Siskins, the Valley never holds big flocks but they used to be regular.
A single Golden Plover flyover completed an enjoyable walk.

Golden Plover overhead

Saturday 11 February 2012

In search of Smew

Every now and then you have a day birding when it all comes together, you can do no wrong and good birds trip themselves up trying to see you, today was one such day.
I had been trying to visit Grange Waters for a while now, basically ever since the wind shifted from the usual westerly / south westerly and came round to a northerly/north easterly; it is usually the cue for the rarer winter migrants to hop across the North Sea.
The Smew at Grange Waters usually arrive in the 1st week of December, due to the winds they have not, until the recent cold weather and the wind change.
I arrived pretty early at Mollands Lane hoping that the lakes would not be frozen, the 2 smaller lakes were partially frozen and the big lake with the island was 50% open, the 2 smaller lakes produced a 22 Wigeon and 2 Bullfinch.
Walking down to the end section of the large island lake and I came across a large circular raft of Shoveler doing there circular feeding routine, a total count of birds in the unfrozen water came to 47, a good start.
Whilst scanning around amongst the Black Headed Gulls I found a cracking Drake Smew, this was what I was looking for, views were distant and through trees but none the less a very good start to the morning. After some digi scoped shots I headed off to the other lakes, no other Smew were found but plenty of Fieldfare present with 185 seen along with 3 Lesser Redpolls. Given the weather I was expecting more on the 3 Grange Waters Lakes, in the past I have found Long Tailed Duck, Goosander and Goldeneye.

Distant photos of the Drake Smew

Arriving back, I thought I would take one more look at the Smew to try and get a better photo, no luck with relocating it but 6 Goosanders had took its place! There were 2 Drakes and 4 Redheads, this was the other bird that I had in my head, I was now on a roll, no stopping me now, I took some record shots and made my way back to the car.

2 Drake Goosanders

Redheads with a Drake


Thinking that Stubbers might be worth a visit I headed that way, booking in on arrival I walked over to Russell’s Lake. A good 70% was ice free and I could see Wildfowl in good numbers, one of the 1st birds seen was a cracking Drake Goldeneye. Scanning round and good birds started to show, more Goldeneye and also Redhead Smew, it was freezing cold but days like this make all the blank ones worthwhile.

Redhead Smew

After covering most of the lake I arrived at 3 Redhead Smew, 6 Goldeneye made up of 2 Drakes and 4 Ducks, again I took a few record photos for reference, again distant but not too bad.

Drake Goldeneye

3 Female Goldeneyes

2 Redheads feeding together

It was whilst I was reviewing the photos at home afterwards, in particular 2 Redhead Smew together, that I noticed a Duck in front on the photo. Blowing it up a bit showed a big white saddle, big head and bill, it looked very good for a Scaup, photo below. At the time I was so intent on digiscoping the Redheads I obviously overlooked it, even when scanning the lake. Later Dave Mcgouth saw it as well.
All in all a very good mornings birding with some cracking birds.

Large head and bill, white blaze, wide body,looks good for a female