Click on photos to enlarge, please do not copy photos without permission

Monday 27 January 2014

It's a Small World.

 January 26th

I suppose our luck with the weather in regard to rain had to go one day, since October we have not had rain on any of the weekend days we surveyed Hoo Peninsula on, well that certainly changed on Sunday.

With strong south westerly’s driving the rain it was not pleasant, quite cold in fact, with the site even more flooded there was very little activity, especially on the Passerine front, Lapwing were also strangely absent. Other than this the ever reliable Marsh Harriers were not that active with only a single seen on the Transect, additionally a Tiercel Peregrine and a Common Buzzard completed the Raptors, given the weather they were pretty brave to be out in it.

When I eventually reached the river, it was low tide, it did produce some high numbers, in particular Black Tailed Godwit, after going through them a few times, there were 3 large flocks, I arrived at a figure of 1300.They seem to have left the Inner Thames, of late over the last 2 or 3 weeks I can’t seem to find any, previous to this around Christmas, there was a roosting flock of 400+ on the Stone Barges.Rainham RSPB has not seen them either, odd, I suspect much is down to the milder winter weather, not that it felt like it today.
As you could imagine, the camera stayed in the bag, I tucked myself away out of the wind and rain and for a couple of hours monitored the river.

During the course of the survey I spotted a Range Rover coming over the field towards the sea wall, parking up near it, 6 occupants emerged. We know the Farmer, Paul was about a mile away towards Egypt Bay, my first thoughts were bloody shooters, what they doing out here but I was wrong as they disembarked and walked towards me.
As they reached me I could see it was a mixture of people both young and old, a family, it looked like they had just come out for a visit to see the Thames, I naturally introduced myself as they enquired what I was doing out in the middle of nowhere in this god forsaken weather.
They were getting quite wet as we chatted and one chap in particular asked had I seen much, as I replied, I thought I know you as you do, the memory is not what it used to be, and the thought ping ponged around my brain before the light bulb came on in the shape of New Years Eve and a Piano.

“ Your Jools Holland aren’t you” he confirmed and said that they had just come out to look at the river, I told him about Peregrines, Wild Geese and Swans and shortly after they went, the weather or more likely my speech driving them back to the sanctuary of the Range Rover.

It brightened a wet survey as it’s not every day you get to meet a celebrity, especially out in the middle of nowhere, hopefully I converted him into becoming a Raptor nut like myself.

Tuesday 21 January 2014

Rainham RSPB and Lists

January 20th

With the promise of a sunny morning given out by the Met which turned out overcast as usual, I headed over to Rainham for my 2nd visit of the year, this year after a prolonged spell of non year listing at the Reserve I am having another go.
With a little more time on my hands now I can grab a visit here and there and try and match, or even top my highest year total for the Reserve of 160, like many birders I do keep Lists, it’s a bit of light hearted fun isn’t it?
I am a bit competitive, even at my age, I try not to take it too seriously otherwise I will be out the front door charging after the next local tick but I do keep an eye on my Lists, my London list in particular should be higher but have always been too busy in the past.

As it stands I do 5 Lists, they are as follows:

My Hornchurch Garden – this currently stands at 84 – top birds being Ringtail Hen Harrier over, Waxwing, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in the garden, Woodcock over and probably the strangest a Moorhen walking round the garden in a bad winter, we are very urban.

Ingrebourne Valley List – this comes in at 169,too many to mention but includes goodies like Cattle Egret, Honey Buzzard, Osprey, Wood Warbler, Temminck’s Stint, Pectoral Sandpiper, Great White Egret and Spotted Crake. Missed some good ones as well like Red Necked Grebe, Penduline Tit, Spoonbill and Golden Oriole.

Rainham Marshes – this stands at 218, I won’t even start listing some of the goodies, as you know there have been many over the years.

British List – in today’s terms very low at 328, as you know I am not a Twitcher, a lot of my mates are and do go charging round the country very often, they get a little touch of the sun when it comes to a national rarity and some openly break out in cold sweats and open depression if they can’t reach said bird.
Having said that I have charged round the Scilly Isles and had a great time and enormous fun, the little old legs pumping well, chin up and overtaking many youngsters to see the bird, I also twitched the Snowy Owl at Felixstowe and the Ivory Gull at Aldeburgh so occasionally I do get a rush of blood if time permits.

London List – again this is another list that should be considerably higher, it stands at 265 to date and many birds that I should have gone and seen I just didn’t get round to, Grey Cheeked Thrush for one.

I must admit I do enjoy it and dare I say if I wasn’t so involved in London’s Peregrines, I would very likely twitch more but you simply can’t beat Raptors and in particular Peregrines can you?

Anyway back to Rainham and my 2nd visit, I added another 11 species on my usual walk round, no sign of the 2 White Fronts which seem to have moved on.
The year list now stands at 73 so proceeding nicely, the place is still water logged in a few places and wellies are essential.

I added Marsh Harrier to the list and half way round I saw a distant dot quite high going south over the river, a raptor but too distant and far off to ID, as is my habit I just about got a lock and blasted away with the camera, wrong settings but one shot came out.

As you can see below the build is slight and Harrier like, slim wings with under wing barring which rules out Marsh Harrier which to me makes it very likely a Hen Harrier, the only thing which I found odd is a lack of a white rump although this is probably the angle.

I know the photo is crap and my usual dot but one I have darkened up and just about shows the barring.

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Hoo Peninsula

January 12th

A nice morning greeted us at dawn as we arrived for the surveys, very cold with 0 degrees showing on the gauge but well worth the frozen hands and feet just for the sunrise alone.
Without a shadow of a doubt it is the wettest I have ever seen it, the irony is that with ideal conditions, everywhere is flooded, it is simply too mild for wild Geese and Swans, constant westerly’s/south westerly’s have not helped either.

Sunrise over a flooded Hoo

My transect did not produce much in the way of passerines, the flooded areas and hard ground gave little habitat for foraging, hardly any Skylarks or Reed Buntings were encountered. Marsh Harriers however seem to be going from strength to strength, I saw at least 5 individuals and Paul very likely had more. Staying with Raptors I added a Tiercel Peregrine, Common Buzzard and a Kestrel before I got to the sea wall.

Common Buzzard looking for a meal

The only other highlights were 2 Green Sandpipers and large numbers of Greylag Geese going over high due to the attentions of local shooting, examining each skein did not produce any smaller ‘ wild ‘ Geese.
Arriving at the river for high tide showed massive numbers of Wigeon sitting it out, easily over 2000 birds but very little else in the way of Sea Duck, Auks or Divers.


Other than the Wigeon the only other birds of note seen were a single Rock Pipit and 142 Curlew at roost.

Sunday 12 January 2014

Swale NNR

December 11th

Arrived at dawn in the car park, one reason for the visit was to try and catch up with the Snow Buntings that I understand had been seen recently.
I headed out to the Pillbox after waiting out a rain shower, along the way I scanned for Short Eared Owls, getting hard to see this winter it seems, again no luck heading down the track in the half light.
Shortly later the sun broke through and it promised to be a good day, and it was.

Arriving at the shoreline showed the tide in, hundreds of Waders roosting, in particular Oystercatcher, numbers were likely approaching a 1000 birds, the Swale produced around 150 Dark Bellied Brent’s, 6 Red Throated Divers and 4 Pintail.
No Snow Buntings found, decided to go no further than the Pillbox for fear of flushing all the waders so retraced my steps back to the car park and headed out to the distant hide.

Enroute I got lucky enough to pick up the Hooded Crow and managed to get a few distant photos, as I got nearer the Hide I could also hear White Fronted Geese calling amongst the hordes of Greylags. The Hide although rather distant, probably over a mile gave good views over the Reserve, it also has the sun behind it which helped a lot.

It took me quite a while to pick out the Pinkfoot, a single bird as far as I could see; of the reported Bean Goose I could find no sign. In total after a count I reached 94 Whitefronts, certainly a good number for this mild winter, also got some flights views as they were on the move quite often from Peregrine and Marsh Harriers patrolling.

Distant record shot of the Pinkfoot

Greylags and White Fronted Geese

I ended the morning with at least 5 Marsh Harriers seen, a Tiercel Peregrine after a Wood Pigeon, 4 Common Buzzards, around 300 Golden Plover and a Ringtail Hen Harrier.

I still have not seen an adult Male Hen Harrier for a good while now, a sign of the times I expect, hopefully its fortunes can be turned round.

Thursday 9 January 2014

Coryton and Rainham RSPB


January 8th

The rain at last relented and the winds were pretty moderate, around 3, the milder temperatures and occasional sunshine was also encouraging some species, I had singing Corn and Reed Bunting!
Still no Short Eared Owls after 2 frequenting the site last winter, temperatures seem to be too high as I have always picked them up in the colder periods.

As expected the whole area is pretty flooded and many of the Dykes to deep to cross, unusually though with the added water I didn’t pick up any Duck, Geese or even Snipe.
The highlights were again a pair of Bearded Tits, these 2 birds, a pair are being seen in the same stretch of reed bed every survey and quickly make themselves known as soon as I appear, the pinging call becomes more rapid. You never tire of watching them, little characters, I managed to get a few shots but never a clear one.

Sadly another high winds casualty

Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting

Always a reed in the way

Other highlights were 15 Corn Buntings, 2 Little Egrets, 17 Yellowhammers along with 3 Stonechats, a good survey, another one later in the month so hopefully catch up with a SEO then.

Rainham RSPB

January 9th

Popped into the Reserve early, the idea being to get the site list for the year up and running, a nasty old morning with a westerly 7 coming in strong with dark cloud cover.
Ended the morning on 55 species, with the high winds my expectations weren’t too high, best birds of the morning go to the 2 White Fronted Geese, these were tucked down with Greylags in front of the Butts Hide.

Flooded Boardwalk

Birds of note supporting were 17 Pintail, 5 Curlew, 140 Golden Plover and 4 Rock Pipits on the foreshore, a good visit.

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Ringing Return

I have just got the report back on the 1st year Mediterranean Gull seen on January 5th, the same day as the Iceland Gull on Southend Pier.
Incredible service, e-mailed in the morning and report recieved mid day the same day!
A big thanks go to Camille Dupocheel, also Simon Cox for putting me on to Camille.
As you can see the 1st winter is from Belgium and was ringed as a pullus on 15/06/13.

One I missed, took a photo of these without even noticing the top left bird is ringed


Life histories of one individual bird

Sincères salutations,
Req Colour: White
Req Ring Code: 3ERN

=> Individual: 35574


Summary of rings for individual: 35574

Colour Code of ring Leg Ringing scheme Metal ring Age of bird Ringing date Ringing location Ringer

White 3ERN left Bruxelles E938900 pullus 15/06/2013 Beveren, Prosperpolder, Oost-Vlaanderen, BELGIUM 51,2N 4,13E De Smet, Geert

Sightings for individual: 35574

White 3ERN p 05/01/2014 Southend Pier, Essex, GB 51,31N 0,43E Morrison, David

Total number of sightings : 1

Sunday 5 January 2014

Iceland Gull - Southend Pier

January 5th

Below are photos taken of the 1st Winter Iceland Gull seen just before 2.00pm at the end of Southend Pier, the bird did 2 circuits of the end of the Pier and then continued west.
After checking the photos I am quite happy it is one, at the time I thought it was a little on the small side, presumably this may be the same bird that I saw on December 27th and possibly seen just recently again at Canvey Point.

Saturday 4 January 2014

More Dungeness

January 4th

With the forecast again showing S S Westerly winds gusting up to 50mph, myself and Paul again headed down to Kent for another bout of sea watching early a.m.

First port of call was the Arc Pits, it was raining so straight into the Hansen Hide, as the light got better we picked out 4 Goldeneye, Kingfisher, 1st winter Kittiwake, Redhead Smew and Goosander, also 2 Water Rail as per previous visit. A Bittern was  seen all too briefly.

After this we checked the causeway and had a single Great White Egret on Arc with Gadwall numbers far increased since our last visit of New Years Eve, from here it was down to the sea.

1st winter Kittiwake

No not the Gannet, the blob on the horizon looked good for a Conning Tower of a Submarine.

This was what all the Kittiwakes were eating

Parking up near the Boats and out of the wind we began a sea watch from 9.00am until 12.30pm, this was intermingled with some photography so the estimated numbers of birds below are probably undercounts, the goodies though were not. We were also joined by Shaun, Redsy and Mart; they arrived a little later, good to meet Mick Southcott also.

Estimated counts were as follows

Razorbill – 2 seen
Guillemot – 120
Gannet – 58
Kittiwake – 160
Balearic Shearwater – 1 west @ 9.27am
Dark Bellied Brent Geese – several flocks east totalling 360
Fulmar – 10 birds seen
Bonxie – 1 west @ 9.38am
Red Throated Diver – 1 west @ 10.02am
Black Throated Diver – 1 west @ 10.08am
Little Gull - 1 seen

The Balearic Shearwater I would say was the best of them and unusual to see one in January, if I remember correctly we had 2 back in November.

Balearic Shearwater

Passing Fulmar

To round off the day on our way out we stopped off again at the Arc Pits and had 2 Great White Egrets, Black Throated Diver and a Redhead Smew, Dungy never disappoints.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Dungeness - New Years Eve

A stormy morning comes good

Myself and Paul ventured out leaving home at 5.40am and heading down to Dungy, the weather on the way down was constant rain and not looking too good. Arriving at Scotney Gravel Pits first of all we disembarked and were hammered by a very strong SSW wind, somewhere in between a 7 or 9.With the accompanying drizzle it made for watering eyes, a red face and distorted facial features straight away, on the plus side my lack of height and low centre of gravity kept me upright.

Like us many of the birds were trying to seek shelter, Wigeon were present in large numbers along with around 6 Greylag Geese, the highlights were 3 Goldeneye just about visible amongst the whitecaps.

From here we made for the Arc Pits and the sanctuary of the Hansen Hide, by now the rain was steady and getting heavy, the wind relentless, we picked up a sideways flying Marsh Harrier en route and then scanned the Pits from the Hide. Another 7 Goldeneye and a Drake Goosander were seen amongst the many wildfowl, many hugging the bank to keep out of the wind and we also picked up 3 Dark Bellied Brent Geese. Additional birds of note were 2 calling Water Rail but unfortunately no sign of a Bittern, can’t say I blame it given the weather.

After a while the rain stopped and we headed for the Causeway Road, we had both been hoping to see a Great White Egret, did we get lucky. We managed to see an unbelievable 5 birds, 2 on Arc and 3 on the New Diggings, it was quite a sight and one that we won’t forget for a long time, the strong wind it seemed was moving them around quite a bit. In addition to these 5 crackers, up against Little Egret you realise just how big they are, Paul found 3 Redhead Smew so things were really picking up.

Great White and Little Egrets

Great White Egret

We moved on to the Sea, now very optimistic and if we thought the wind was bad at the Arc Pits, arriving at the foreshore showed it to be even stronger, this time it appeared more southerly. Gulls were present in their 100’s and were feeding all along the shoreline in massive flocks presumably on food blown in by the Gale. This also gave us the chance to fire off a few shots, Kittiwakes were trying to take your head off and Gannets were passing as close as I have ever seen them. In the end over a 90 minute period we both fired off around 500 apiece, camera shake from the wind and dark skies was a challenge but at least it wasn’t raining anymore.

Enormous flock of Gulls feeding in the storm

In this period of time I recorded very roughly what went past, around 60 Gannets, 10 Guillemots, Paul had a Razorbill, 60 Kittiwake, 5 Fulmars, 6 Red Throated Divers and a female Peregrine in off, I suspect hunting for Auks.
Paul also picked out 2 Caspian Gulls, both 1st winters.

Time was marching on so we headed after this to Walland Marsh, here we saw 37 Bewick’s Swans, rather distant but a good end to a stormy morning.

Happy New Year to all and good birding for 2014 - Dave