Friday, 18 October 2013

It's all about the wind direction at Rainham

Today Phil and I went to RSPB Rainham Marshes - Phil's first trip to this reserve. There are some advantages to having a nature reserve in the middle of a pretty built-up area. One that I discovered today, courtesy of Howard Vaughan, is that you can tell the wind direction at Rainham Marshes by what you can smell on it, indicating which of the nearby factories the prevailing wind is passing over on its way to the reserve. I've often noticed a hint of coffee and toast on the breeze at the far end of the reserve, and apparently that means a north-easterly. But what you really want to smell at Rainham, at this time of year, is Lenor (or some related cleaning product) as that means there's an easterly.  Howard reckoned he could detect the merest suggestion of Lenor-esque fragrance on the breeze today but I couldn't, and there wasn't an awful lot of avian movement. Plus it was a very grey and overcast day. So don't expect anything much in the photo department...

We kicked off proceedings with a quick look from the Purfleet hide. The scrape, viewable from the bottom of the path up to/down from the visitor centre, held a few wildfowl including Shovelers and Wigeons, but from the hide the only bird within camera reach was this Teal, almost fully out of eclipse. It realised its mistake and hurriedly swam out of view.

I received a call from Shane at this point, saying he was on the reserve with his wife, Karen. Having established that Shane and Karen were going clockwise around the trail, Phil and I set off anticlockwise so we would meet S & K en route. The woodland and cordite area was very quiet, apart from quite a lot of shouting-their-heads-off-from-impenetrable-cover Cetti's Warblers. Insect numbers are really low now but we did find a Green Shieldbug, what looked like a Browntail caterpillar, and a few Common Darters still hanging on in there.

Part of a large Goldfinch flock that was whizzing about near the Wasp Spider fields. With teasels, thistles and so many other tall wild flowers now in seed they are spoilt for choice with places to feed.

We met Shane and Karen as they were leaving the Ken Barratt hide, from where they had just seen a Kingfisher. They also reported a Wheatear and a couple of pairs of Stonechats at the far end - encouraging news. We did give the Ken Barratt hide a go but there was little to see - a few wildfowl going back and forth, a crowd of Lapwings on the grassy ridge between the lakes. We carried on.

On Aveley flash there were many wildfowl, including - to my joy - at least eight Pintails. None were close enough for photos, really, but here is one of the females sneaking past a Mute Swan in full kicking-bottom mode.

The Pintail needn't have worried, as the swan's target was its own hapless offspring. The poor juvenile swan kept being forced into flight, but wouldn't take the hint and continued to return to the flash, only to get chased away again. Time to cut those apron strings, young'un.

A flock of 20 or so Black-tailed Godwits arrived, landing on the far shore among loafing Wigeons and Pochards, and a few Snipes flitted hectically overhead.

A little further along the northern boardwalk we found one of the two Stonechat pairs, cavorting around a lone leafy bush in the reedbed. They were a good way off, sadly, so no nice pics, but it's good to see them back on the reserve for the winter.

We did go in the Tower Butts hide, but it failed to yield anything much in the bird line, just a Little Grebe, a handful of Teals and a few Coots. Across towards the Target pools, the scene was similarly quiet. Something put up what must have been almost all the Lapwings on the reserve, along with the Blackwits and a few Golden Plovers that we hadn't spotted on the deck, but we couldn't find the raptor (if it even was a raptor).

Just outside the hide we found the Wheatear, a lovely vivid orange individual (Greenland? maybe?) which trotted ahead of us on the ground for quite a way before flying up to the fence to pose properly.

The walk back from here was rather uneventful, though there were a few drifts of Skylarks overhead and a couple of Kestrel glimpses. We also saw the only two Marsh Frogs of the day on this stretch, near the Purfleet hide.

Three dodgy flight shots - male Kestrel, Meadow Pipit and Skylark. We also picked up a few Linnets going over, but nothing much else - I thought there had to be a chance of Redwings and/or Fieldfares but then it is still very mild.

We had tea and cake (no ginger cake available though! Rainham, I am Disappointed!), and decided to do the half-loop with a return along the riverside. With the tide now in, a few waders had turned up on Purfleet scrape, so we spent a short while perusing these, distant though they were.

The majority were Redshanks, a couple of dozen of them. There were also three little ones which I confidently told Phil were Dunlins, though he did point out that one was clearly smaller than the other. Having checked my pics that showed this group, I can reveal that the smaller one (and the only one I'd looked at properly) was indeed a Dunlin, but the other two were Curlew Sandpipers. Nice. And sorry about that, Phil. They're at 3 o'clock and 8 o'clock in this pic, the Dunlin's in the middle.

The walk back by the river was quiet - a few Wigeons and Teals moving along the shoreline, Redshanks and Golden Plovers overhead. Then at the far end, looking across the Mar Dyke, Phil noticed a cat lurking close to the riverside.

The cat was clearly in stalk mode, and its target was a Kingfisher that was moving between various perching spots on the riverside.

We crossed the bridge and managed a closer look at the Kingfisher, before it spotted us and flew away. Because being looked at two birders is MUCH more frightening than being hunted by a cat, apparently. Still, at least the cat didn't get anywhere near its intended prey. As readers of this blog may or may not know, I love cats, but I wouldn't have been happy to see one munching a Kingfisher.



Phil said...

Hi Marianne
Thanks for accompanying me on my first visit to Rainham. Although possibly not action packed it was most enjoyable nevertheless.
Good result with the Curlew Sands. One day I might be able to ID waders myself:-)
I like the second to last picture, as the saying goes " a cat can look at a King".

Phil said...

That should be the third to last picture.........

Warren Baker said...

That made me laugh Marianne! My kind of humour about the Kingfisher preferring cats to Cameras :-)

Penelope Pearce said...

Oh bless. Naughty kitcat indeed. I am just gutted I missed out on the day (sneeze). No ginger cake and no lemon cake from me... It's almost enough to make the pintails less exciting ;). (Btw, if ginger cake is one you really like, I will have to egg tinkering with some old recipes).
Anyway, I may have missed out, but I had a pleasant surprise when I noticed a familiar pretty face in my RSPB mag that came thru' the door. Lovely pic, lovely wee article! Xx