Thursday, 2 May 2013

Rainham, and a long-awaited photo-tick

I spent Wednesday getting my nose sunburned at RSPB Rainham Marshes, in company with Shane and Graham. Please take a look at Graham's brand new blog here, to read his other birding adventures at home and away.

We began with a look over at the riverside along Ferry Lane, where up to four Black Redstarts have been seen on the rocky shore in recent weeks, but I think we missed out by a few days. There was plenty of exposed mud, but no waders to enjoy it, just a few Black-headed Gulls (all in first-summer plumage, the adults have moved off to breed now), and a few Mallards, Gadwalls and Shelducks. On to the reserve itself.

We walked clockwise, calling in at the first hide but seeing very little from it. The reedbeds were alive with Reed Warbler song, but none of the little blighters would show well for us today. We had a little more luck with the equally numerous Sedgies.

This stretch of trail brought us our first sighting of Kes, the very approachable female Kestrel who is regularly seen hunting in this area. She was carrying the only Common Lizard we saw all day.

There were a few Skylarks singing high over the grassland. Then a few more came over the wall from the riverside.

As the temperature climbed, we began to see good numbers of butterflies. They included a couple of Small Tortoiseshells, a fine male Brimstone, a Green-veined White and a couple of Orange-tips, but by far the most numerous species was Peacock. All of those we saw were feeding from the curiously stunted Dandelions that line the trails. All Peacocks around at the moment are overwinterers, with seven or eight months of adult life under their belts, and some had clearly had a more wearing time of it than others.

By the dragonfly pool this male Reed Bunting sang and posed. We saw several other males but no females, presumably they are incubating eggs at the moment.

At the far end we found a distant Hobby, which wheeled about over the Target Pools but refused to come any closer. Then we were diverted by this fabulous male Wheatear, feeding near the outside classroom area.

We'd just moved on from here when this Grey Heron came over, causing us all to do a double take as it went into an incredible Peregrine-style dive towards the pools, accompanied with a loud, angry call. The subject of its ire was another Grey Heron, which it chased away.

Along the creek behind the Tower Butts hide, we spotted a Water Vole disappearing into its burrow, and after a short wait had a few more, similarly brief views. I made a mess of the photo opportunity when one swam briskly across the creek, much to my annoyance. We opted to go into the Tower Butts hide, and try again for the voles afterwards.

There wasn't much to see from this hide, apart from more first-summer BHGs, swimming about rather aimlessly and bickering among themselves. A Little Grebe fished nearby, and in the distance a Little Egret flew in to join another.

We went back to the creek and sat on the bank for a while. I didn't see any more voles but did notice this spider's web, full of mosquitoes. That spider has some serious eating to do.

From the Ken Barrett hide, we saw this Mallard pair with a trio of ducklings - presumably there were a lot more than three a few days ago. It's unusual to see a dad Mallard accompanying the female and youngsters. No bad thing in this case, as the poor female was soon being hit on quite forcefully by two other drakes.

We carried on, via the feeding station where Collared Doves, Reed Buntings and the usual tits and finches were coming and going, while a Cetti's Warbler sang from its magic invisible hiding place. Then into the woodland, which is a real suntrap and consequently felt very warm indeed, certainly at least 20 degrees C. Here we heard our first Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs of the day, and then the Yellowhammer-esque rattle of a Lesser Whitethroat.

Because I have had a primal, passionate longing to get photos of Lesser Whitethroat for several years now, I insisted we wait for a while, though I was sure it would be pointless. The song was coming from deep inside a huge, dense tangly brambly clump of stuff. But then to my joy and delight the little bird popped out and sat in full view. I managed three sharp frames before it disappeared again, and there was much rejoicing.

Just before we reached the visitor centre, I noticed a feeding web of Browntail caterpillars in a hawthorn bush.

We revived ourselves with cake - I can really recommend the ginger cake with ginger fudge icing, it's amazing. Then we opted to walk down the clockwise path as far as the one-way gate, and come back by the river.

The Marshland Discovery zone hide currently has its windows draped with netting, as there are Kingfishers possibly nesting in the bank very near to the corner of the hide. We went in and peered through gaps in the mesh, but the RSPB person in the hide said there had been no sightings today. I opted to go back outside and try again for that Reed Warbler shot while I waited for the others. No luck, but Kes made a return and obligingly hovered right in front of me.

We went through the gate and up on to the riverside path. On the river, a parade of sailing boats went by one way, a couple of Cormorants the other. Looking back across the reserve, we spotted a Hobby wheeling about above the Purfleet hide.

The Hobby earned itself lots of brownie points by flying towards and then past us at close range. Thanks, Hobby.

We finished by walking down to where the Mar Dyke comes in off the Thames, as this is said to be one of the Kingfishers' haunts. No KF, but Graham spotted a wader out on the mud which on close inspection proved to be a Whimbrel. Then he found another, this time a Common Sandpiper.


Warren Baker said...

I see you're enjoying your passion for flight photo's Marianne, you got some beauties today, not to mention the Lesser Whitethroat ....nice :-)

Greenie said...

Marianne ,
Apologies , but only just found time to do justice to your multi posts on your Sri Lanka trip .
A place I would love to visit , even more so having seen your pictures .
The birds are so colourful , but the dragonflies and butterflies were my favourites .
Impossible to pick a favourite shot , but if pushed , that Giant Wood Spider looked awesome .
Very envious .

Graham Canny said...

And a very good day it was too! Hope to do it again sometime!
Best wishes, Graham

Ken. said...

What a good read. I haven't been there for quite a while now but I will be going in a while, always seen some good ordanata there.
Nice photos.

ShySongbird said...

Hi Marianne, I came over on the off chance as it seemed, according to my blog list, that you hadn't posted since March 20th with your 'Speyside' post! I don't know what on earth went wrong but your posts definitely haven't updated on my sidebar since then :-( I will try uninstalling it and reinstalling after this comment.

Anyway it means I missed lots of your posts including the ones of your trip to Sri Lanka. Wow, what a place to go! You saw and photographed so many lovely, interesting things that it's difficult to pick favourites but I particularly liked the Indian Roller, the gorgeous Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, the Coppersmith Barbet, the Shining Gossamerwing and all the lizards!

Sounds like you had an enjoyable day at Rainham. Lovely to see the Lesser Whitethroat, well done on the photo, and the very nice Hobby photo. I've missed all this lovely weather :-( as I'm not too well at the moment.

ShySongbird said...

Just popped back to say I removed you from my blog list and then reinstalled and it's fine now. I've no idea why it happened but I just hope it hasn't happened with any other blogs...and that it doesn't happen again!

Marianne said...

Thanks everyone :) Songbird, I'm sorry to hear you're poorly, and am wishing you a speedy recovery x