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Friday 31 October 2014

Hoo Peninsula

October 30th

Good weather greeted me as I headed into Kent for the 2nd survey of the month, cloudy but unbelievably mild for this time of year with 14 degrees showing at 8.00am.

The anticipated drive out to the starting point, over a mile, produced a number of good birds, the pick of which had to be a high distant skein of Geese going west. Smaller than Greylags with a faster wing beat they were way up and in a perfect V.
I managed to stop the car and eventually got the scope on them, even then very distant, they weren’t Brent’s quite obviously due to colour but would put them down as Pinkies or Whitefronts. You can’t identify them all, for all I know they could have been Beans, extremely unlikely I know.

Other birds seen going out were 4 Brambling in with Chaffinch, 2 Marsh Harriers and 2 Common Buzzards, a good start.

          Came across these in one of the Fleets, suspect Carp, surely too early for spawning?

About an hour into the survey it was quite obvious that both Starlings and Dark Bellied Brent’s were on the move west, Starlings were coming through in 50+ strong flocks, however I then witnessed a ‘mugging’ of a Common Buzzard.
I actually heard it before I saw it, the agitated stress/alarm call of a Peregrine is quite unmistakable, it was a pair and they were both attacking a Common Buzzard. I have seen both species over here on numerous occasions, they have the odd talon’s up and then they usually go on their way. Out here with no nest site or territory to protect and nearly into November, they were going at the Buzzard hammer and tongs, repeatedly diving on it, wisely it turned over every time and offered talons.

However it was losing height and in the end the Tiercel clipped it and they forced it down into some long grass, both peregrines then retired to a 5 bar gate nearby and sat watching it, one or both still calling.
I was a bit mystified as to the sustained level of aggression in the concerted attack, dealing with peregrines I have seen them go up after Buzzards before but it’s always been at a nest site. I can’t see a Buzzard trying to take their prey unless they just took offence for some reason and saw it as competition for food.

Marsh Harriers are far more numerous over here and they more or less ignore them, the odd dust up but nothing like the aggression that was directed at the Buzzard, I suspect started by the female peregrine.
Having said all that it is Peregrines, unpredictability and aggression seems to go hand in hand.

Carrying on, all this was seen through Bin’s, I eventually reached the sea wall, it was low tide and it was just on the turn.
Over the next 1 ½ I had some good birds, some movement up river was noted by Black Tailed Godwits, Grey Plover and Knot.

Black Tailed Godwits heading up river

Pick of the birds seen though were 3 Red Breasted Mergansers sitting on the river coming in with the tide, 3 Great Skuas going west way up in a bright sky and 26 Pintail sitting on the river preening. A good number of the Pintail were preening so it could be that they were fresh in having flown a ways.

The Skuas being way up had me going, they seemed a bit taily and I was leaning towards Pom’s, length of tail seemed a little too long for Great’s, in the end though I settled for Bonxies.

Record shots of the 3 Red Breasted Mergansers and the Great Skua's

Dark Bellied Brent Geese reached over 200 birds with various flocks seen during the course of the morning, both inland and up the river, all were going west and were no doubt part of a larger movement, I understand that 29,000 passed Frinton.

Brent's having a rest

An enjoyable and interesting survey, nearly November and Skylarks were singing overhead, crazy!

Friday 24 October 2014

Rainham RSPB

October 23rd

Popped in on the off chance and spent an hour or so along the River Wall, which considering the overcast skies and strong wind was quite productive.

I also walked along the Dyke inside the Reserve and had 3 Stonechats which were quite posy for the camera, there seems more about this early in the winter, good to see.

Covering the river wall and Aveley Bay produced 2 Curlew, Kestrel, 6 Black Tailed Godwits and 4 Harbour Seals on the Kent side.

6 Rock Pipits completed the walk, and from the Centre I then got a year tick in the shape of an Egyptian Goose flying with Greylags distantly, the wing bar stands out miles away.

Rock Pipit

6 airborne Golden Plover rounded off a quick visit, also saw the Reimerswaal Dredger, behind it were at least 200 Gulls, unfortunately no Med’s, Kittiwakes or late Tern's  following, still need both the Gulls for the year list.

Reimerswaal Dredger - despite 200+ Gulls, no Thames 'goodies' 

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Hoo Peninsula and Coryton

Hoo was up first on the Sunday, both myself and Paul were looking forward to returning to last winter’s haunts with this being the first visit of the 2nd winter period.

With a very strong south westerly wind, expectations were not that high for smaller species and being so mild, and still early in the year, we were not expecting high numbers yet of any Waders or Wildfowl.

Dawn coming up with hundreds of Rooks leaving the Northward Hill Roost

As ever the site never disappoints for Raptors and on starting my transect I immediately had 3 Marsh Harriers interacting over towards the Sea Wall.Allthough a bit distant, checking them all showed slightly darker plumage and perfect feathering so looked good for this year’s juveniles, great to see them doing so well.

One day hopefully the fortunes of Hen Harrier can be reversed and it can become established like the Marsh Harrier, the illegal persecution of the Hen Harrier on Grouse Moor’s has got to stop, otherwise there never going to recover.

Many years ago I can remember seeing up to 8 wintering at Rainham Marshes, sadly a very rare sight these days.

Moving on and covering the sea wall heading down to Paul’s section, just over a mile away, Paul rang to say he had a Great Grey Shrike, an excellent find. It was on my route so I eventually came to it, as ever stunning looking birds and a real pleasure to see one.

A little stunner

A good survey, as I have said before it is a very wild unspoilt site, probably under watched as it is so far out and has always produced good birds; during my survey I had seen the following.

Wheatears - 4
Short Eared Owl – 1st one this winter
Rock Pipits - 2
Marsh Harrier – at least 5 birds
Merlin – female chasing a Pied Wagtail along the sea wall with a Kestrel chasing it as well.
Common Scoter - 2
Green Sandpiper – 3 together

A good start to the winter surveys which then got even better as we walked off the site, 2 Lapland Buntings flew right in front of us and were last seen heading towards Cliffe.

An excellent day.

Clouded Yellow


Monday morning it was the turn of the Essex side, I was covering my usual patch Coryton, again very windy so not expecting much on the passerine front.

After finding 3 Ring Ouzel’s on the 14th I was not hopeful, given the wind, of catching up with any others but have to say pleasantly surprised to see another on the survey. Along with another birder we watched it briefly, even managed to get some distant photos.

Distant Ring Ouzel

For the first time I didn’t pick up any Corn Buntings but suspect that was down to the wind, very little was airborne, the only highlights were a single Marsh Harrier, 10 Black Tailed Godwits and 3 Stonechat together.

Saturday 18 October 2014

A Good Birding Day

October 14th

Today was the start of the winter surveys on the Essex side, this coming Sunday myself and Paul will be over the Hoo Peninsula covering the Kent side.
From past posts you will know that my section for the last few years has been Coryton, it is a good area and pretty rich in bird life offering a wide range of species.

On starting my transect on Tuesday, very overcast and grey I was not expecting too much from my 1st visit but have to say it turned out a very good survey, the undoubted highlights being 3 Ring Ouzels.

Highlights below

Ring Ouzels – 2 males and a female type seen, heard them clacking first. Heard later of major fall at Dungeness with 500 birds dropping in.
Corn Bunting – 21
Redwing – 400 made up of around 10 flocks, big arrival on the day on the East Coast.
Stonechat – 2
Green Sandpiper – 1
Dark Bellied Brent Geese – 14 east
Fieldfare – 2 in with Redwings
Yellowhammer – 3

An excellent start to the day as I finished the survey and then headed down to East Tilbury to pick Paul up, more good birds followed from a brief River Watch, these included –

2 Great Skua’s loafing on the river
Red Breasted Merganser – a redhead upriver
Dark Bellied Brent Goose – 28 upriver with 6 seen coming back down
Little Stint – 1 feeding on the mud
Swallow – 3 seen
Pintail - 1
Common Seals – 2
Rock Pipit – 1 but more likely 2 birds present



Other birds of note on view were both Godwits, Grey and Ringed Plover and Avocet.

Time was marching on so we vacated Tilbury but decided on a brief stop in Aveley Bay Car Park, as luck would have it, Andy and Dave were still there and on some good birds in the Bay.
With their help I then added 2 Common Scoter, Bonxie and a Black Tern to the year list, moving it on very nicely to 134 for the year, all 3 of these were needed so a good result.

Still a long way to go to match my best year at Rainham – 160 for the year but still over 2 months of the year left so who knows?

As I said a very good day and with the Hoo Peninsula on Sunday, hopefully more good birds could be added, from past surveys Hoo has always delivered.

Saturday 11 October 2014


October 9th

With all the goodies coming up on the 8th, 100 Sooty Shearwaters no less, I was down there at the crack of dawn sea watching from 7.15a.m.

As I passed the Arc Pits in semi darkness I could already see that the wind was strong, unbelievably a Barn Owl was quartering the side of the road no doubt heading for it's roost, in that wind it had little chance of hunting.

Although very windy, it soon became very bright which was not ideal; I gathered from a local fisherman that the previous day’s conditions were pretty overcast and stormy.

Soon became too bright

You can’t win them all but I persevered even as the light got brighter and the sun and the glare came out.
2 hours of solid sea watching until 9.10am produced the following:

Sooty Shearwater 1 – close enough to identify but also 3 other sp seen way out, too far to id.
Bonxies 3 – 2 together and a single.
Arctic Skua – 1
Little Gull -1 adult
Sandwich Tern – 54
Common/Arctic Tern – 18
Guillemot – 14
Swallow – 60 including a flock of 40
Gannet – 88

Of them all the Sooty stands out just wished it was a bit closer, despite a strong south westerly not much came in close, must have seen my camera waiting for them.

From here I headed off to the Arc Pits for a Gander, I firstly picked up the Great White Egret from the side of the road before moving onto the Hide.

Great White Egret

This held a good selection of waders which included 3 Black Tailed Godwit, 2 Ruff, 2 Dunlin, Ringed Plover and 4 Golden Plover.

4 Pintail and Little Egret added for a nice variety of birds.

Previous to this I met a chap who told me of the location of the Cattle Egret, so after this I headed for this site; the Egret could be viewed from the entrance track of the RSPB Reserve. As you go past the entrance house with the Tree Sparrow nest boxes, there are some Cattle immediately on the right, the Egret was in with these.

Saying that it took quite a while to see it and it is elusive, it took me ¾ before I saw its head and neck and that was the best I got.

Cattle Egret - it's in there somewhere

However I had seen, all within ½ a mile of each other, Great White, Little and Cattle Egrets in the morning, of course a first and very welcome.

I wonder if both the rarer Egrets will become as successful and relatively common as Little Egret’s are today, let’s hope so.

A good morning seeing the 3 Egrets, the sea watching did not quite live up to expectations but no complaints with what I did see.

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Dick's Photos

Let me start off by saying the photos below are not mine, I wish I could claim them but my equipment (or me) is not up to this standard.

All were taken by Dick Jeffries who has kindly let me post them, as you can see excellent photos taken over in Ireland with the Nightjar being the recent stayer in London.

Sunday 5 October 2014

Southend Pier

October 4th

I have not visited in this 2nd winter period so opted for a couple of hours out on the end of the Pier, do a little bit of sea watching and grab a few photos of the ever present Mediterranean Gulls.

A little bit too bright and not a lot of strength in the wind produced very little, at the end of an hour I had a single Guillemot, Red Throated Diver and an immature Gannet to show for my efforts, twas not to be.
The 2nd hour was spent trying different settings on the camera and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, the Med’s give themselves up pretty easily and are willing subjects, wish they were all like that.

Most of the shots are 1st winters Med’s, there were around 9 present, 4 of which were adults.

A selection below.

1st winter Med Gull

1st winter Common Gull 

Common Gull

Med Gull

Turnstone roost - no Purple Sandpipers as yet

Juvenile Ringed Plover

Thursday 2 October 2014

RSPB Vange Marshes and Bowers Marsh

October 1st

With a morning spare I opted for a visit to the above sites, not great weather wise, overcast and grey but pleasant enough.

There’s always a good selection of waders at Vange Marshes so I decided on there first, the main reason being that Bowers Marsh does not open until 9.00am.You can get in earlier but it involves leaving your car in a very remote section of the Lane, so if you do visit, keep this in mind if you arrive early. Be good one day to see the RSPB opening it up at dawn?

Getting back to Vange Marshes, I had the place to myself at this early hour so set up on the mound and viewed around.
100+ numbers each of Lapwing and Wigeon spread out well, and I quickly located 4 Bearded Tits pinging away in the reed bed, got some brief views as you do with these.

Elsewhere after scanning for about 45 minutes I can up with the following;

Spotted Redshank - 5
Black Tailed Godwit – 19
Ruff – 1 male
Green Sandpiper – 1 seen in flight
Avocet – 10
Curlew – 2
Whimbrel – 1 heard but not seen
Common Snipe – 3

A nice selection of waders, albeit very distant, could go into it but have mentioned it before so won’t go over it again – Hides?

Other than the waders I had a single Swallow heading south to round off the visit.

From here I headed to -

Bowers Marsh

Again all to myself, on the walk out 7 Corn Buntings gave themselves up feeding in the set aside and I spied a distant peregrine sitting on one of the pylons. The main Lagoon was teeming with Wigeon and a count produced 46 Avocet, I also had a flyover Grey Plover which was a new bird for me for the site.

In amongst the Wigeon were also 11 Pintail, some of the Drakes just starting to show their colours from eclipse, good to see them arriving for the winter.

Bearded Tits again put in an appearance with 3 seen; other birds of note were Ruff, 2 Green Sandpipers and 12 Black Tailed Godwits.

Avocet and Wigeon - the Peregrine effect

The walk back produced a soaking as the heaven’s opened up.

Further to my recent posts on dieting and getting fit bike riding, I have now hit 14s 10lbs, it’s not dropping off as fast I thought, weekends are bloody hard, there’s just too much food about.

I had hoped to have lost more but can only presume that the fat that I burn is now being turned into muscle bike riding – hence a good reason why I am only dropping slowly,I'm bulking up,

At 57 the beginnings of a six pack are starting to appear over the reducing stomach, again I suspect a side effect of all the bike riding.

The circuit I cover Hornchurch – Ingrebourne Valley – Aveley Bay Car Park is around 10 miles, have now started to mix it up a bit as well and undertook some late afternoon rides.
There is method in this; I need Short Eared Owl for a year tick at Rainham, they should start showing soon.

Looking forward to the Saracens- Bath match Friday evening, Sarries have started well but it’s the best Bath team I have seen for a few years, Eastmond in particular is buzzing.

I still think the best centre pairing for England is Tuilagi – Eastmond, time will tell.