... or the end of autumn, if you prefer. Anyway, it's the last day of November and it was fiercely cold at 8.30am when I set off to meet Shane at the station for our trip to RSPB Rainham Marshes. With blue skies and little breeze, we were in optimistic mood. We arrived before the reserve opened, and so went for a short jaunt along the riverside. Birds seemed to be everywhere - Greenfinches and Linnets carpeting the tops of the trees and bushes, Blackbirds moving furtively around in the thicker vegetation.
Entering the hide, it was pretty obvious that we were the first to go in that day as the windows were all shut (and pretty steamed up) and there were numerous Wigeons feeding very close to the windows. As anyone who knows this hide will recall, the windows are HUGE and there's no way we could avoid being seen by the ducks. They began to edge away as we sat down, but happily didn't go very far back.
On we went. As we got further from the visitor centre the number of flyover small birds dwindled, and in fact this stretch of the walk, up to the shooting butt, was very quiet.
We carried on towards the Shooting Butts hide. Here we met a couple walking the other way, who said they'd seen a Peregrine by the railway line. They pointed it out, saying it was perched on a very distant post, but I couldn't get onto it - all I could see on any of the posts was a Kestrel. It turned out that they were talking about the Kestrel. Oh well.
There was little to see from the Shooting Butts hide. A Little Grebe among Teals on the water. Waves of Lapwings flying overhead. Our first Grey Heron of the day. We didn't stick around too long but moved on to the next hide.
The woodland area was quiet, we'd hoped for a Redwing/Fieldfare fest here and did see a couple of shy and flighty Redwings but little else. Then it was back out into the open for the final stretch alongside the grazing marsh.
We went back into the visitor centre and refreshed ourselves with tea, coffee and cake. As we sat there, facing the big windows, a fine show of waders was underway, the Lapwings to-ing and fro-ing and a tight ball of Dunlins flashing dark and white as they circled around, looking for a suitable place to land. We made short work of our drinks and went back out to walk another short loop on the river side of the reserve.
We walked on along the path as far as the one-way gate through to the public footpath by the river, and took this gate to make the return trip along the riverside path with a great view across the sunlit reserve. Down on the river, there were still a few ducks in the water but the tide was right in so no exposed mud.
As we neared the visitor centre we noticed a small knot of people on the path ahead, aiming their scopes at something. They told us very happily that there was a Waxwing in one of the hawthorns near the centre, and kindly gave us a look through their scopes.