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Sunday 25 August 2013

Black Tern Bonanza

Against my better judgement on Saturday I went to Canvey Point, the overnight rain was very evident with flooded roads on all the approaches to the Point and added to this the forecasters had given even more rain. The roads, and not just a few, were flooded all over the island, after seeing the news later I gather Southend was the same.

High tide was around 2.30ish but due to the weather I decided to go even earlier than my usual 2 hours before, I turned up at 11.10am in the hope that there may well be some movement with the low visibility. I didn’t have long to wait before a large flock of Terns (40) seemingly dropped out of the cloud and murk distantly at 11.16am, an excellent flock of 40 Black Terns heading up river.

The first flock materialising out of the gloom

From then on up to around 14.45pm when I left they came in, sometimes larger flocks right down to 2’s.
All though rain was present for most of the morning, at least an hour was lost to heavy rain and low visibility where it was just impossible to watch.

Another flock


I also met Tim, good to meet you, he came along slightly later but saw a lot of the Terns also, his counts will no doubt be higher as he stayed. Below is a record of the morning of what I saw going upriver, I took photos of the Black Terns where possible for more accurate counts for review later.

11.15am - 41
11.34am - 2
11.52am - 40
12.26pm - 28
12.44pm - 60
12.55pm - 27
13.43pm - 2
14.20pm - 4

Without doubt the largest count I have had there with 204 Black Terns seen, as I said Tim’s counts will be even more, added to this I did not see one bird come back out.

Supporting cast

I saw 10 Arctic Skua’s including a flock of 8 which landed mid river and included a couple of pale phase birds, very nice. A single Little Tern was seen early as were a flock of 3 Whimbrel.
30 Black Tailed Godwits, 7 Golden Plover, 2 Mediterranean Gulls and 6 Common Scoter made for a cracking morning.

Friday 23 August 2013

KGV - Red Necked Phalarope

I know its not exactly a frame filler but with grey skies and the bird keeping out towards the middle of the Reservoir this was about the best I could do.
Thanks goes to Bradder's for hanging on and getting me in there, as my mates know I am not a twitcher but this bird was not only a London tick but also a UK tick so was well worth the visit and the long walk round the Reservoir.
Other birds present were 2 Black Terns and good numbers of Common Terns including a number of juveniles, also at least 5 Common Sandpipers around the fringes.

Thursday 22 August 2013

Hoo Peninsula

August 20th

A very welcome return with my last visit being around March time, I did do a survey in July further east but the western side has always been a favourite.
As always the entrance track drive never disappoints with a Hobby and 2 Common Buzzards seen working the fields, it was also quite obvious that Hirundines were present in numbers; the fields were covered with them hawking.

I was here for the Reptiles but managed about 40 minutes birding in the lunch break, of course I was trying out the new lens. I have found out that the settings I applied for the Sigma do not work with the Nikon, good shots will come but I have got to start using the old brain matter a little more. For an old so and so like me who finds all electronics challenging at the best of times, trying to remember all the settings brings me out in a sweat, sometimes I really miss automatics.

Scanning round produced a pair of distant Marsh Harriers thermaling and interacting them was an even bigger Bird of Prey, this turned out to be a Red Kite, a Hoo first for me.When you have the 2 together it make you realise how big a Red Kite is.Not knowing if it is a regular bird or a bird moving through I tried to put it out on Twitter, as in the past no signal, Vodaphone never has been good here.
I had earlier walked up 2 Whinchat out in the fields so I went looking for them, this proved negative but I did find the next best thing, 3 Wheatear. The sheep and flies had also attracted good numbers of Yellow Wagtails, many juveniles as well which was good to see, at least 14 were in one field.

Moving on produced a flushed Little Ringed Plover which was on a dirt track, no doubt a migrant on the move.

Talking of migrants there seemed to be Migrant Hawkers everywhere; the next challenge will be to photograph one on the wing as waiting for one to land in the heat was never going to happen.
A good lunch.

Friday 16 August 2013

Juvenile Mediterranean Gulls

For a long while now I have been debating over a new lens, my old lens , a Sigma 120mm-400mm has served me well since 2008.Last weekend I part exchanged it for a new ‘prime’ lens, a 300mm F4 from Grays of Westminster. The Sigma was a good lens, albeit the Auto Focusing was too slow but by and large it gave me some good photos over the years, especially in bright weather.

On Friday morning myself and my wife Christine headed down to Thorpe Bay to catch the high tide early a.m., it’s probably a little premature but I was hoping that there may be a Sanderling or 2 knocking around. I had coaxed her down this early with the promise of a breakfast, I was itching to try the lens out but as usual the weather was trying to put a dampener on it.It was grey and overcast at first, then it rained so I had to shoot on a higher ISO, on top of this I couldn’t find a single Sanderling.

What I did find though, and in reasonable numbers were some juvenile Mediterranean along with a number of 1st winters, 2nd winters and adults, in fact the whole range. I don’t mind admitting they are my favourite Gull and will likely always will be, unless Sabine’s start becoming commoner and start flying up and down Thorpe Bay.

One of the worries I had was that the 300mm F4 did not have VR on it, the main reason being that I knew I would be taking a lot of peregrine flight shots, would I get blurring from camera shake? Having talked to a number of people, some were of the opinion that you would be ok without it and some were – it’s a must, get it. If I could afford it, that’s another matter, the VR 300mm equivalent comes in at F2.8 and will set you back £4039.00, I bet it’s a stunning lens but that is a serious amount of money.

Below is a selection of shots taken in not too good light and at a higher ISO, due to this I was not expecting bowl me over shots but am quite relieved that in those conditions they came out relatively sharply.

Out with the old and in with the new, I am now a prime man, further to that it works great with a 1.4x converter, that is next.

Tuesday 13 August 2013


August 12th – Barking Outfall

An early start as the tide was still high but just starting to drop, going on past years I was hopeful due to the time of year for a good Tern, they like the Outfall for obvious reasons – food.
It’s not only them, Black Headed Gulls work it along with up to 50 Cormorants, as far as I can work out the food for all seems to be some type of Prawn.

Going through the hordes showed a peak count of around 40 Common Terns, many were juveniles; the hoped for Arctic Tern did not materialise immediately but was eventually found and seen well going out of the River. One good Tern deserves another but not to be, I looked for a Black Tern but unfortunately negative. I am hopeful that with the shutting down of the Crossness mid river Outlet they might just be attracted to Barking, the trouble being at low tide it is not ideal.

Common Tern - light was not great

Juvenile Black Headed Gulls

Other birds present were 6 Common Sandpipers including one rather amusingly watching a scrap between 2 Black Headed Gulls, 2 Oystercatchers which have again failed; I wonder how many do actually succeed in fledging young in the Inner Thames?

Common Sandpiper watching a dispute between 2 Black Headed Gulls

The other highlight was a Little Egret, rather surprisingly a little bit of a rarity at the Outfall, this was only the 3rd site record.

Barking Bay

After finishing up at the Outfall I then made tracks for the Bay, again hopeful of a migrant, this time Wheatear or Whinchat were the targets.
As is my habit I walked a little way along the green sward and then scoped the mudflats, virtually the 1st bird seen was the Ruddy Shelduck Hybrid, it looks again if it will winter in the area. Moving on produced 2 year ticks, a Ruff and a Greenshank, the Ruff in particular is a bit of a rarity in the Bay and I think is only the 2nd site record, it’s not a bird you see on the mud.

A good start so I moved further down to get better scope views, as I did the mudflats erupted and a Tiercel Peregrine came through low, not hunting but his presence was enough to cause panic. Saying that It did give me an opportunity to compare the Shank and Ruff in flight, both were still together so a good comparison.
I then worked the scrub, plenty of Whitethroat juveniles and a single Blackcap, I then had a single calling Yellow Wagtail over.
Turning for home after checking the river, there were at least 60 Common Terns up and down with the breeding jetty still active, I then got lucky half way along, Whinchat!

There were 2 birds that looked good for juveniles, I managed a couple of long range photos and then headed for home, not a bad morning.

Wednesday 7 August 2013

Rainham RSPB

August 6th

As we are now getting into migrant time I paid a visit to the Reserve hoping to catch up with some waders starting as per usual on the sea wall.

I also had in the back of my head perhaps an early Wheatear along the concrete wall or path, the tide was still well out, it was only 6.45am so I gave Aveley Bay an hour.
During this hour I recorded 16 Common Terns all going out, additional to this there was also a group of 7 present up near Erith Yacht Club working the Bay.

Leopard Slug - 1st one I've seen at Rainham

On the wader front I had 3 Whimbrel, 5 Ringed Plover, 2 Dunlin, 5 Oystercatchers and 2 Green Sandpipers, not bad for a start so I headed into the Reserve. Met Howard and as we were chatting we both heard Grey Plover calling, thinking its more and likely in summer plumage I went back out to look for it.Despite a thorough search of the Bay mud and foreshore it must have buggered off, I even checked the Kent side.


I was now feeing quite optimistic for more waders so I retraced my steps and headed back into the Reserve, on arriving at Aveley Pools there was no mud, water levels had risen, no chance of any waders. Hopefully they will be able to reduce the levels to make it more attractive for passage birds, to reinforce the fact it was not ideal, a summer plumage Black Tailed Godwit flew in, had a look and then flew straight back to the Thames.

Black Tailed Godwit

Painted Lady

Heading back to the centre showed a single Greenshank on the new scrape, sod’s law; this looked as if it could do with more water as it appeared to be drying up.
The same happens over Ingrebourne Valley, just when we thought it was starting to look very inviting for waders the river burst its banks and flooded all, you just can’t beat the unpredictable English weather.

Sunday 4 August 2013


A good morning 
August 4th

Myself, Lee and Paul decided on the trip a few days before for a bout of sea watching so we headed down there leaving home at 5.00am.Due to the bright weather and barely into August, expectations were not high for anything notable or numbers of birds moving through.
Parking ourselves up near the beached boats we eventually started watching at 6.40am, the early hour, as we have found in the past is usually more productive.

Right from the start we started to pick up birds, Gannets and Terns as usual were moving through in numbers with the latter, mostly Common Terns, seemingly everywhere, it was also apparent that there were a lot of Porpoises around.

Porpoises - plentiful

We then started to pick up Common Scoter flocks going through, mostly going west, and then picked up our first ‘ goodie’ a Fulmar going west also @ 6.58am.
From here on we had a steady flow of birds before it quietened down at 8.15am.

The undoubted highlight and best birds of the morning went to 2 Balearic Shearwaters heading west at 8.05am, these also afforded good views being not that far out and hugging the deep water line where it goes from light to dark blue.

Prior to these 2 crackers we also saw 5 Manx Shearwaters, 2 west at 7.09am and 3 east at 7.22am, these were a lot further out with the 7.22am birds found while we were watching a Bonxie giving a Gannet a hard time.

Other birds of note included

Arctic Skua – 1 east at 7.49am
Arctic Tern – 1 at 8.02am
Whimbrel – 3 birds seen
Kittiwake – 3 adults and a very confiding juvenile seen
Common Scoter – 120 seen, largest flock around 45
Little Gull – 1 east at 7.47am
Mediterranean Gull - a juvenile seen

Not that many Sandwich Terns seen with the total number only around 10 birds.

Juvenile Kittiwake

An excellent morning so after popping down to the Power Station we then headed back down past the lighthouse to the car.En route we also recoded 16 Painted Lady’s with 6 in the Lighthouse garden and 7 in the Birders garden, I expect the southerly/south westerly winds had helped these over.
We hung around here for a while searching the skies as an Osprey had been seen over Scotney,unfortunately this proved negative, we later heard that it had been seen going out to sea.

Ruddy Darter

Migrant Hawker

From here we decided on a visit to the Arc Pits, no waders on show from the side of the road but we did pick up a Black Necked Grebe and a distant Green Sandpiper. Deciding to try and get better views we then headed around to the hides to try and get better views, this proved very productive when Paul found 2 Garganey.
A handful of Golden Plover were seen amongst the Lapwing and 3 Little Ringed Plovers were buzzing around, the Golden Plovers were still in partial summer plumage unfortunately too far for a photo.
The last port of call for the day was the Tree Sparrow colony, this rounded of a very good and productive morning, Lee had got himself 10 Lifers so happy faces all round.

Saturday 3 August 2013

Canvey Point

August 2nd

5.45am to 8.15am

I know its early days yet for sea watching and it was simply too sunny but regardless, it’s good to be out and I enjoy sea watching despite numerous blanks in picking the wrong time to go. I will try not to talk about the weather but know I will fail miserably, checking the forecast the night before showed cloudy conditions and showers.

Too sunny

Nonetheless I always enjoy visits to the Point visit although expectations were not too high for a ‘good seabird’ with the wall to wall sunshine.
During the course of the morning around 7 large ships went upriver and they were surprisingly light on Terns following, the total for Commic’s was probably around 40.Only 2 Sandwich Terns were seen close by and this included checking the roost at the Marina, not surprised really as it is was still early, with the tide not yet high, the mud held just 6 Turnstones.

An early morning Greenshank

2 Mediterranean Gulls were seen, a juvenile and a 1st winter both going up river, again even in sunnier conditions I would have expected many more around given the recent numbers in Southend.
Best birds of the morning go to 2 Black Terns heading upriver at 6.17am and a Little Tern seen going out at 7.55am.The Blacks in particular were not following a Ship but were on their own around a 1/3 of the way out flying pretty strongly up river.
Before the tide started to cover the mud the pick of the birds feeding on it were 3 Greenshanks, 4 summer plumed Black Tailed Godwits and 6 Ringed Plover. I did have 5 distant waders heading over towards the Creek, in shape and flight they looked good for Golden Plover.


Sandwich Tern

A good morning, off to Dungeness on Sunday for some sea watching, an early Pom wouldn’t go a miss.