Saturday, 8 September 2012

Something special

On Wednesday night, I noticed a blog post from Howard Vaughan (of RSPB Rainham Marshes fame) saying that a Southern Migrant Hawker aka Blue-eyed Hawker had been found on the reserve. Alas, I had to wait in for my new sofa to be delivered on Thursday (but it IS nice to have something to sit on). So it was Friday morning that I headed Rainham-wards, going by train for the first time.

Train journey is pretty simple - to London Bridge, Jubilee line to West Ham, then overground to Purfleet. From here it's a short and pleasant walk by the river to the visitor centre. Mr Vaughan himself was at the desk, and said that there had been no further sightings of the SMH since Wednesday. He advised me to check every hawker I saw...

I set off clockwise, as this looked a quicker option to get to where the SMH had been seen. It was soon evident that the reserve was alive with Migrant Hawkers (of the non-Southern variety). Every bit of water, every stretch of  path, had a patrolling male or two. I checked each one carefully (apart from the ones that scarpered before I could) but no sign of old Blue Eyes.

At least the Migrants were photographable. They do have a habit of hanging in mid-air on the spot, sometimes long enough for pics. I didn't see any females apart from a few that were already firmly attached to males.

I reached the large pond crossed by a boardwalk, and paused here for a while, as I could hear something rummaging in the reeds. Eventually I discerned a small orange object moving up and down a reed stem, and after intense squinting I further discerned that this object was in fact the orange incisors of a Water Vole, munching away. It had climbed about 50cm up into the reeds and didn't seem to have noticed me. Sadly the view was too obscured for decent photos.

Family of Little Grebes. They were most entertaining to watch. The parent would pass over a fish to the most insistently begging chick, and then watch closely as the chick grappled with it. More often than not the chick would drop the fish and the parent would dart in to grab it, then give it back to the chick for another try.

Birdwise, it was really quiet. A couple of Kestrels hunting by the river. The usual scattering of common waterfowl, including a few Little Egrets.

Waiting for a better look at yet another hawker over a ditch, I noticed a large shoal of fish in the water (pretty much where you'd expect to find a shoal of fish, really). I think they were Roach but please correct me if I'm wrong... ETA - I WAS wrong, and Phil's kindly corrected me - it's a Rudd :)

There were a fair few Common Darters around, though the Ruddies seem to be finished or nearly so. The only other Odonata I saw were a few Blue-tailed Damselflies.

With no success at the SMH spot, I wandered on in a desultory way, thinking about turning back rather than completing the loop. Then I met a chap who said he'd had good views of Hobby from the Tower Butts hide, so I decided to go on at least this far. From the hide there were indeed several Hobbies on view, all busily eating hawker dragonflies like there was no tomorrow. I suppose there is a fair chance one of them put paid to the SMH.

After a while the Hobby action petered out. I was watching another Little Grebe family in the nearest stretch of water when I noticed a stripy-flanked something furtively moving along the reeds on the far side. I took a few shots, although the bird was distant and the light rubbish, and looking at the pics on the camera screen I could see I'd got something a bit... different.

I puzzled over the images. Clearly this wasn't a Water Rail, the likeliest option. So... what else was there? Spotted Crake? I didn't really consider either of the tiny/super-rare crakes, because this bird had looked too big, and because I never find anything super-rare...

So I went back towards the visitor centre, to find someone to look at the pics. On the way I took a lot of photos of this extremely confiding Kestrel...

... and a couple of this rather fabulous Marsh Frog.

Back at the visitor centre, I found Howard Vaughan and showed him the pics. He became rather quiet and short of breath, went off and got a copy of Collins, and after some scrutiny of my horrible photos on the camera screen informed me that he thought my bird may well be a juvenile Baillon's Crake. We went up to his office, looked at the photos on a PC screen with the Collins at hand, and I had to agree. Well, blimey. And of course the fact that it is a juv indicates local, if not on-site, breeding. ETA - been corrected on this, apparently crakes can and do migrate while still in full juv plumage so it could have come from further afield. The crake was seen again later that evening, the news is out and it was refound this morning. A couple more pics...


ShySongbird said...

Wow, how exciting! By the time you'd got back to the visitors centre I'd forgotten all about 'old blue eyes'. What an amazing find Marianne especially the fact it is a juvenile!! And to be the first to spot it, very well done!

A most interesting post altogether and some lovely photos too. My favourite is the beautiful one of the Marsh Frog.

Shaun harvey said...

Well done on finding the Baillon's Crake. Also the Kestrel was still there on the same post Saturday morning!

Marianne said...

Thanks for the comments :)

I've read in a few places that I cheerfully asserted that I had 'great shots' of a 'Water Rail'. Just to set the record straight... I know I'm not the best birder or photographer around, but I do know what a Water Rail looks like, and I also know what a great shot looks like, and I knew that my photos were emphatically neither of these things!

Alan Pavey said...

Who needs Southern Migrant Hawker anyway!! :-) Fantastic Marianne what a great find, I saw the report of your Baillons Crake on Birdguides, it'll be interesting to see f anyone finds an adult with a bit of increased activity there no doubt.

Warren Baker said...

Thats a fantastic find Marianne, and any shot of a Baillons Crake is great! Well done :-)

Mike H said...

Well spotted Marianne any kind of photo of a Baillons is one to be be congratulated on. No doubt your discovery has made a lot more people very happy. Shame the SMH was not there but if it was you probably would have missed the big one!

Greenie said...

Marianne ,
Mega or what ?
Brilliant find , very well done .
As Alan said , would make it really interesting if an adult were to be found .

waldlaeufer68 said...

Hello Marianne,
a great series of images with a great description you set here ... Photo of the flight of the dragonfly is my Favoriet .. it certainly was not as easy.?
greetings Frank

Marianne said...

Thanks again, everyone :)

Howard V just emailed me, he's having trouble posting a comment on here but this is what he wants to say:

'Very very grateful to Marianne for showing me the back of her camera on Friday afternoon and for being so patient while I ran round like the proverbial headless chicken trying to sort what her mystery crake was! Oh and by the way Marianne never said it was a young Water Rail!? Happy Howard from Rainham'