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Wednesday 26 February 2014

Rainham RSPB

 February 26th

With some sunshine showing I popped into the Reserve to bolster the Year List, currently standing on 80, I had an hour or 2 to spare so decided on quick visits to the river wall and the Stone Barges.
I had in mind to try and get some photos of the Rock Pipits, additionally trying out the settings and driving myself nuts as usual as I walked along the river wall.
One of the first birds seen was a Spotted Redshank flying upriver with 5 Redshank, the distinctive chew it – chew it call very audible, I watched it go up river presumably to roost.

Wigeon were present all along as were Teal and 3 Curlew were seen to go to roost on the rising tide, half a dozen Redshank completed the waders seen.
I did manage to get a few shots, a little bit of glare where I think I should have gone down another notch but not too bad. If I start doing too good a shots the big boy lens chaps (Jono, Russ etc...) will start feeling a little threatened by myself so I will keep them average and just throw in a good one here and there.

From here I headed down to the Barges, met Russ on his way out, no sign of the Iceland Gull that has been seen recently but I gave it an hour looking along the Pipeline, no luck but did add Oystercatcher on the Barges.
I also got brief views of a single Water Pipit which refused to come anywhere near the camera.

On the way out along Cold Harbour Lane I picked up a Stonechat, the Oystercatcher was the only new bird and moved the list up to 81.
After this I visited the roost at Dagenham Riverside, this held 10 Curlew, 30 Redshank and an Oystercatcher.

The 4 of us make for Scotland on Friday (Mart, Shaun and Paul), with luck when you next read this blog, Ptarmigan will at last be on the list and even better photographed, just heard that the Highlands are experiencing the worst snow in 69 years, should be interesting. This is where I come into my own, short legs, low centre of gravity and good balance,large stomach which spreads my weight, I am made for snow.

Thursday 20 February 2014

South Weald C/Park

February 19th 

This was once a pretty regular site but these day’s I’m lucky if I get over there twice a year, it was and likely still is a good place to catch up with migrant Spotted and Pied Flycatcher in August. If I remember correctly I also had a Wood Warbler here a good few years ago found by Colin Jupp, to this day I have not had better views of one.
Today’s visit was on a whim, I had a couple of hours spare so headed down there in the hope of some Goosanders, they are pretty regular in the winter.

A high pale Common Buzzard

I will try not to talk about the weather but will fail miserably, basically it was overcast and pretty dark and when the sun did show, all to briefly I have to say, I was on the wrong side of the lake for photography so not ideal.
None the less I got a few shots, trying to get close to them was another matter, very elusive to say the least. I could not get near at all. Added to this there were people everywhere so they were constantly on the move and wary.

I ended up with 3 birds, 2 Redheads and a Drake and also recorded a daytime calling Tawny Owl which was rather unusual. I still have not had one at the Valley this year, unlike some other sites they are hard to connect with at the Valley for some reason.
6 Siskin were also seen in an Alder tree and I finished the visit with 5 Common Buzzards thermaling very high, this included a rather pale bird which was seen lower.


Despite the weather I can’t complain even though I like to, it’s an age thing, it was good to see the Goosanders and I am now thinking of a visit next week on a good day, I think I know where to put myself for a decent photo.
As I write this I am thinking of Scotland and Ptarmigan - now only a week away.

Monday 17 February 2014

All quiet on the Hoo front

February 16th

For once we got the weather right, the whole day was wall to wall sunshine, the land is still saturated and flooded but the sun, even though still cold made you feel that better days are to come.
With no wind to contend with either the survey was very enjoyable although the brighter weather did not bring species out like we hoped.

The usual pre Hoo visit to Cliffe RSPB before the mid day start revealed all the commoner wildfowl, a minimum of 10+ Goldeneye and Pintail numbers that were well over 100 birds.
2 Marsh Harriers were also seen, female types rather distant and a single Curlew was on the mud, 3 Oystercatchers were also on the island kicking up a fuss.
A good scan around revealed no goodies like Scaup etc… quite a difference from last year.

Moving on after a good walk we headed to Hoo, heading out on the entrance track revealed Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard and a cracking male Merlin. The flooding is still present but is just starting to drop slightly but many fields are still impassable. With the brighter weather and March just around the corner thoughts turn to Wheatears, one particular area has always been good for them with a flock of 11 recorded last year.

My walk was pretty quiet, Skylarks were still pretty low due to the flooding, I had expected many more but other than the resident Greylags and the odd Marsh Harrier the fields were fairly empty, even the Lapwing were absent.

A distant male Merlin

With all these flooded fields it is heaven sent for Wild Geese or Swans as in past winters, the milder winter this period and the ever present westerly’s/south westerly’s have stopped many migrants arriving unfortunately. The obvious good side to this is that it is easier on our resident winter birds so can’t complain, Stonechat numbers are recovering which is great to see.

March 9th 2013 - Bewick's Swans on the floods, can't see it happening this winter

Arriving at the river showed enormous numbers of Wigeon and produced my highest total of Pintail - 27, perhaps reflecting the high numbers seen at Cliff in the morning. Great Crested Grebes numbers were high also with a flotilla of 22 seen pretty close in, most in full breeding regalia.

Starlings - bunched up by a Peregrine

A super Tanker at Coryton - what keeps the Containers on, Gravity?

Wigeon and Shelduck

Despite 3 or 4 passes of the assembled Duck I could not find any other rarer wildfowl etc.. A good end to the afternoon was seeing the male Merlin again, presumably the same one and a Tiercel Peregrine bunching the Starlings up high, in the end he gave up.

Thursday 13 February 2014

Spoonbill - Coryton

February 13th

A good survey made all the better by catching up with a Juvenile Spoonbill seen battling the wind heading west at 11.10am, it passed inland of the Refinery and more or less flew over the Dam at Holehaven Creek.

Last seen still flying strongly over Manorway and despite other Ecologist’s all along that route right up to CoalHouse Fort, it was not seen again so may have set down somewhere in between for a rest.
A good bet I suspect eventually would be Rainham RSPB, with its water levels and Spoonbills having dropped in before, it’s a possibility.

Elsewhere on my survey area the same particular area of long grass continues to attract even more Corn Bunting, after a few counts I eventually reached 53 birds, added to the 8 seen after in another distant area I ended up with 61 birds.

Good numbers

A good Essex flock and a very welcome sight.

Monday 10 February 2014

Black Redstarts and Scotland calling

Black Redstarts

My peregrine monitoring keeps me on my toes in London and this time of year, the birds are now under licence as of February 1st, is going the same way as previous years, pretty manic. Nest boxes have to be cleaned out, flooding and roof access have all become issues which are covered on my other Parliament blog linked to the side of this, Urban Peregrines and Schedule 1 inevitably leads to various issues as you can imagine.

One thing they do lead me to covering the various sites around London is Black Redstarts, on 3 of the sites that I monitor, both Schedule 1 species co exist, the Peregrines presence benefiting the Black Redstarts breeding program by keeping the Corvids away from said site.
As long as the Black Redstarts don’t go flying up into open sky in the concrete jungle they are pretty safe, the urban habitat on all 3 sites happens to suit both species for breeding, it’s not an intentional thing on the Black Redstarts part to gain protection from the Peregrines. That's not to say that Peregrines in London don’t take small birds, we know they do, it’s just that other birds flight patterns like Starling and Ring Necked Parakeet suit the open sky hunting techniques of an urban peregrine.

The little chaps, Black Redstarts, are a rarity in London and the UK for that matter and it is always good to see them. Below are a section of photos from past years.


On February 28th myself and my mates, Shaun Harvey, Martin Blow and Paul Hawkins are undertaking a weekend whirlwind visit to Scotland based at Aviemore as in the past.

I have been there twice before on birding trips, in 2008 and 2010 if my memory serves me properly, it’s not what it was so hopefully right. In both cases Ptarmigan eluded us on the trip up the ski lift where they are usually seen, this year with photography in mind and 2 possibly 3 of us needing them for a life tick, we have got ourselves a guide.

The itinerary is roughly shaped like this, we are still discussing it but obviously with a guide we hope to get some good photos, this means my dots on the horizon should be closer you will be happy to know.

Friday 28th – Fly from Luton arrive mid day, clear Airport as fast as possible and get a certain Coot if it doesn’t do a bunk, any other known rarities in the area nail down if possible like King Eider/White Billed Diver etc… or if time permitting possibly visit Findhorn Valley for Golden Eagle or possibly visit Caper sites. All this is yet to be discussed between the 4 of us I might add so it’s likely to be totally different and not set in stone.

Saturday 1st – with our guide Marcus for the day for photography – main course Ptarmigan and Crested Tit, hopefully stunning in your face photos that knock you over backwards, after these 2 crackers who knows more Highland speciality species, Caper? Itinerary yet to be decided.

Sunday 2nd – we fly back late afternoon so this one has got to be planned like a military exercise, there are a number of courses available to us but as it stands, and yet to be decided, the West Coast route looks good.
This would entail driving out in the dark to be at the Black Duck site for dawn, again this is if it is still present. From here work our way back along the coast looking in particular for Golden and White Tailed Eagle, along the way basically check everything including harbours for white wingers. This route should also give us good photo opportunities and hopefully net us some good birds like Red Throated, Black Throated and Great Northern Divers, Velvet Scoters, Red Necked and Slavonian Grebes, Long Tailed Ducks and Black Guillemots.

Taken on the last trip, not a good photo of one but I would settle for it, especially that blue sky as well.

Would settle for views like this also.

Much depends on the weather and how much we drink the night before, of them all I must admit I wouldn’t mind seeing a Drake Long Tailed Duck up close in all its finery, even better getting a photo of it.

Friday 7 February 2014

Rainham RSPB and more Glauc

Rainham RSPB

Looking at the scenes in other parts of the country, especially the Somerset Levels makes you realise how our weather is changing, you can only sympathise with those people who have been flooded out. I have been visiting Rainham now for more than 25 years and I cannot recall it being as flooded as it is at present, it makes you wonder what the future holds in regard to the weather, with global warming and melting icebergs I do wonder where we are heading.

With all the surplus water on the Reserve, I know its a flood plain, it’s a pity that it couldn’t have been utilised /stored/pumped up to refill the Silt Lagoons (New and not Old Lagoons) from the adjacent dykes and possibly bring the Lagoons back to their former glory. It’s been a long while now since the RSPB took them over, they acquired the Reserve in 2000, it would be nice to know what plans, if any, they have for them in the future.

Flooded Footpaths

Flooded Reserve

Only 17 miles from Central London

Otherwise you can’t help thinking that the Reserve and its undoubted potential is under achieving, I know it’s had some brilliant birds but if you ever saw the amount of Waders and Wildfowl up there on the Lagoons in past years you would know what I mean.
In short its a great Reserve but it could be even better if the Silt Lagoons were bought into play.

More Glauc

Below are a few more Glaucous Gull photos taken from last weekend’s trip to Dungeness, no apologies for putting more on, it really is a very showy bird.

Steve catching up with the Gull