Friday, 30 November 2012

Rainham at the start of winter

... 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.

The clucking notes of Fieldfares overhead drew our attention to a small party of these lovely winter thrushes. They settled in the top of a hawthorn, but with typical jitteriness were soon off again.

One flew right over our heads, and I completely failed to get any sharp photos of it.

There was a fair bit of river foreshore exposed, and a few Skylarks lifted off from it and whirled around us. Down in the shallows, many Teals and a couple of Wigeons were feeding.

We turned back for the centre, and crossed the drawbridge to the visitor centre, where Howard Vaughan was present and greeted us with his usual big grin. So nice to see someone who really loves their job :) Then out onto the reserve. We had seen three different Reed Buntings before even reaching the Purfleet scrape hide, including this lovely female.

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.

This gorgeous female had more cojones than the rest and stood her ground as we settled in and wound down the windows.

As you can see, parts of the scrape were iced up, and the ice was thick enough to bear the weight of four well-nourished Wigeons. There were also a few Black-tailed Godwits here, feeding among the Wigeons, and a pair of Gadwalls.

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.

Up by the shooting butts we found this showy male Reed Bunting, sharing his isolated little tree with a female Chaffinch and a Robin. As we watched him, we noticed a large flock of geese coming our way and turned to take a look. They were mostly Greylags with a few Canadas.

Among them was a barnyard refugee, attracting attention thanks to its white bits, but keeping up with the others quite comfortably.

As the flock swung about, I noticed another oddity, but this is (I think) a pukka leucistic wild Greylag (well, as wild as any south-eastern Greylag).

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.

As if to prove a point, the Kestrel took flight, crossed half the reserve to come fairly close to us and then began to do its Kestrel thing.

More flight-shot fun - a Meadow Pipit. There were plenty of these around, plus a couple of Rock Pipits.

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.

A different selection of ducks were on the deeper water this side of the reserve, including Pochards, Tufties and Shovelers, plus more Gadwalls including this one.

We continued along the frost-covered boardwalk, scanning the stands of reedmace in hope of a Penduline Tit, but that was not to be. As we neared the wooded corner of the reserve, we found a pair of Stonechats. They were confiding enough, especially the female, but not so helpful in terms of where they chose to perch relative to the sun's position.

On to the 'carr' area where the reedbed starts to dry out. True to form, there was a singing Cetti's Warbler here, which adeptly dodged the cameras. The feeding station area at the edge of the reedbed where it meets the woodland has been revamped, and was busy with tits and finches, plus this not-very-busy-looking Collared Dove.

The main feeder was this sort of mesh pouch, full of black sunflower seeds and being enthusiastically utilised by several different species, including Great and Blue Tit and Dunnock.

There are several photogenic perches that serve as 'waiting rooms' for birds like this Goldfinch, coming in to look for a space on the feeder.

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.

A large flock of Starlings went by over the fields and I took some photos, not realising til later that the flock actually included a few Dunlins.

As we neared the visitor centre, we started to see more flyover passerines. I was pleased to get a not-too-blurry flight shot of a Redwing, to go with my not-too-blurry Fieldfare flight shot from earlier. On the grazing marsh, a couple of Curlews kept company with good numbers of Wigeons.

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.

A nice shiny Carrion Crow flew past at close range. A few Snipes flew past at not-close range. We decided to give the Purfleet scrape hide another look.

From in here, still lots of Wigeons, and some better views of the Black-tailed Godwits.

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.

The lone Waxwing was sitting quietly in the bush, as placid as it was beautiful. Every minute or so it would reach for a berry, swallow it, then resume its peaceful sitting. Shane and I got a little closer, on a parallel path, and took a few (hundred) photos. In the same bush were Greenfinches, a Reed Bunting and a Redwing.

I'll end with this Greenfinch, loitering near the feeders, nicely lit on its thorny perch. A top morning at Rainham, and a treat to be out in the sun after such a miserable, rainy week.


ShySongbird said...

It looked and sounded like a great visit Marianne with lots of interest. Love the photo of the Black-tailed Godwit and I'm very envious of the Waxwings, I was looking for them today with no luck.

Beautiful pic of the Kingfisher in the last post too.

Warren Baker said...

That was a superb mornings birding Marianne, love the photo's :-)

Rohrerbot said...

That was one incredible morning! Most of the birds would be lifers for me....but what a fun challenge to find them all! Thanks for sharing your work. I learn more and more:)