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.


Monday, 7 October 2013

Deja vu at Rye Harbour

I think it was two Octobers ago that there was a short spell of freakishly warm weather, and one of the things I did during it was go to Rye Harbour nature reserve. However, on that occasion I think I saw lots more wildlife than I did yesterday, not that it wasn't very nice to visit the place again on such a pleasant day.

Rather a blurry baby Swallow, photographed from the car park while Rob debated whether or not to lug the Sigmonster down to the nearest hide (he opted for 'not'). There were only a few hirundines around today, not long before there are zero.

We headed first for the only east-facing (and therefore promising good light) hide on the reserve, stopping on the way to take a few shots of this Starling in all its spotty festive finery. There wasn't an awful lot else to see on the way, apart from Cormorants, gulls and the odd Meadow Pipit and Skylark. One of the diggings just before the hide held a small gaggle of wildfowl, mainly Gadwalls and Wigeons.

There were plenty of birds on view from the hide, but they were all very, very far away. This little group of Grey Plovers were about the closest - there's also a Golden Plover on the island, just right of the Lapwing. Further back, lots more Goldens, then a layer of Lapwings, and right at the back is large white-headed gull zone.

The only birds that were any closer were of the grebe persuasion - a small group of Littles, and a pair of Great Cresteds, the latter fast losing their 'ruffs'.

We (especially Rob) were most diverted by several large crabs on the shore and in the shallows immediately in front of the hide. Still working on IDing them... ETA - it looks like it's a Shore Crab. Thanks, Greenie. I did wonder if it was a bit too big for that sp, but I also posted the pic on Birdforum (yes, I know it's not a bird but they have a 'marine life' section), and have had a reply also saying Shore Crab.

We didn't go into the west-facing hide opposite, but instead headed for the beach. The tide was in and only a thin strip of sand was available to waders, which is probably why there weren't any waders. Gulls drifted past offshore and Cormorants flapped purposefully overhead, but nothing more exotic/interesting made an appearance. We walked on towards the inland-bound path at the river mouth.

The sun was getting lowish now and the gulls were starting to look irresistably photogenic in the warm light. This Great Black-backed came so close that it actually made Rob duck.

Not a creature to be trifled with. Gull-wise, only Black-headed, Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls were to be seen today.

The three amigos.

On this side of the Flat Beach, the waders were a little closer, but much, much more badly lit. Migrant of the day was this nice autumn Wheatear.

And wintry spectacle of the day - a great big flock of Linnets swirling about by the Wader hide.

Lots of Starlings were assembling on the same tall mast where I photographed them two years ago. I decided to go over for even more photos.

Hmmm. Photographing a group en masse, I noticed that there was an intriguingly pale bird among them (it's third down on the far right in this shot). The old pulse started to race... could I have found a Rose-coloured Starling? Or a 'fawn yawn' as the more jaded birders call them when they're in their milky-tea juvenile plumage, which they retain much longer than our own Starlings do - all our lot are in first-winter plumage now so any 'juvenile starling' warrants a closer look. I hurried closer...

 ... to find that it wasn't one. But it's a very pretty leucistic Common Starling, probably a 'brown' mutant like the Greylag I posted the other day, and I've never seen one before, and it's just as good as finding a rarity. No, really it is.

And then it was time to go. Back at the car I grabbed a quick one of Herring Gulls playing musical posts before unpacking the gear.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Keeping it local

Apologies for the long gap between this post and my last one. I have two visits to Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve to report - neither yielded any astounding wildlife sightings but both were pretty enjoyable. The first visit was last Sunday, September 29th, on a pleasant day of hazy sunshine. But before that, on 23rd...

... I did get the camera (and macro lens) out to photograph this hemipteran that landed on my living room window. Not the most helpful angle for ID but I think it's a Dock Bug Coreus marginatus because of its sleek, waisted outline and assertive shoulder pads.

OK, on to Sunday. I spent most of my time in Willow hide (again). On arrival the Little Egret was perched high in a tree on the far side but it flew off without presenting me with any photo opportunities.

Every person who came to the hide was on a Kingfisher quest but there were only a couple of fly-bys while I was there. I was happily distracted by other wildlife, including this eclipse drake Shoveler, a new arrival for the winter.

The Wigeons are here too, just two of them today. I'd say they are late this year, but in fact my patch coverage has been so... well, patchy, that I could easily have missed their arrival date by two weeks.

The Wigeons again, hanging out with three Gadwalls and a confused Little Grebe. Which brings me to wonder what happened to the Great Crested Grebes that used to nest on this lake. Not seen one on here for ages.

At last, a visitor to the Kingfisher perch. I've noticed that some of the keen Kingfisher photographers aren't too hot on identifying other birdlife, but this time no-one was fooled.

A group of Egyptian Geese which had been on the far field came noisily overhead, and then did a couple of laps of the lake before settling.

That lot aside, there wasn't much going on here. No waders (still). The usual crowd of Teals. A few Jays to-ing and fro-ing overhead.

On the walk back, a bit of sunshine drew out a few late insects. These two look very much as if they're reaching the ends of their respective days. Though still being proudly territorial the Speckled Wood is almost worn down to its membranes, while the Common Darter looks like it's hanging its wings down in abject exhaustion.

And so on to Thursday. I was meeting Penny at the visitor centre at 9am, but arrived a little early. It was a sunny morning after some overnight rain, but the sunshine didn't last long, we had cloud then rain before the morning was out. Not that it mattered.

I had a quick look in Grebe hide before Penny joined me. Nothing but Blue Tits and Great Tits at the feeders today, but at least they were full up (the feeders, not the tits. Or quite possibly the tits as well).

We headed first for Carter hide. The usual tranquil scene greeted us, but little in the way of birds. A lone Coot was feeding in a desultory way in front of the hide, and a family of Long-tailed Tits were working their way along the left-hand shore. A Jay and a couple more Jays flew in above the Long-taileds and squawked loudly from their hidden spot. A pair of Mallards drifted along, the male fully out of eclipse and doing the courtship head-bobbing thing, which the female ignored. I can't remember if we saw a Kingfisher from this hide, but we certainly saw one (briefly) by the near shore as we continued on to Willow hide.

No sign of the Wigeons or the Shoveler from Willow hide. A few Black-headed Gulls were around and making a racket, while equally in evidence but keeping quiet were Gadwalls, Coots, Mallards, Tufties... the usual. And the Little Grebe was still there.

The Teal flock has grown to about 10 birds, most of them hanging round the exposed muddy bits near the hide. Some of the young/eclipse males are now beginning to show proper male-like plumage - hope they are still around when they have fully completed their moult.

This is, I'm almost sure, the last Migrant Hawker that will appear in my blog in 2013. It was hovering in one of the inlets halfway down Long Lake. As we stood watching it, a Kingfisher flew past. Then it went past again. And again. We had about five flybys in all, one of them very close. Great stuff.

Another Long Lake Odonata - a very late male Common Blue Damselfly. We went on to the big field, had a look (not a lot there) and retraced our steps. We called into the Willow hide for another quick look and I was pleased to see that the Wigeons had now appeared. What's more, they'd increased since my Sunday visit, to a magnificent three.

As we walked down from Willow to Tyler hide, it began to rain rather hard, and I was glad to take refuge in a deserted hide and spend a bit of time enjoying the view in dryness and comfort while the poor birds got rained on. The experience was considerably enhanced by a slice of truly superlative chocolate cake which my companion had thoughtfully provided :)

Among the Greylags chilling on the Serengeti was this rather gorgeous cream-coloured leucistic bird. I haven't seen it before, but two things have since occurred to me. 1) According to Howard Vaughan, the Sevenoaks Greylags sometimes go up to Rainham (presumably this is known by ring numbers), and 2) I have seen a leucistic Greylag just like this one at Rainham. Being something of a nerd when it comes to plumage aberrations, I feel compelled to tell you all that this is (maybe) an example of the 'brown' mutation, in which the black/grey eumelanin pigment is incompletely oxidised so comes out brown (and then bleaches with exposure to sunlight). But I'm not certain. Anyway, if you want to geek out over pigments and stuff then I recommend this paper.

We'd been here a while when Penny noticed a Kingfisher perched in a tiny tree on the far side of the Serengeti. It sat there for quite a while. Here it is being watched by an interestingly alba-like Pied Wagtail.

Then it took off and flew in a loop around the nearest island, coming quite close at one point and at another giving a fine show of hovering.

Again, no waders to be found here apart from the expected ones - plenty of Lapwings and a handful of Snipes, including one which was pretty close to the hide.

We went on to Sutton hide, from where we saw a pair of Great Crested Grebes, some geese and Cormorants on the foreshore, and after a short while this lovely Grey Wagtail, which landed by the little channel in front of us and made its way in the direction of Kingfisher hide. You can see by the extreme noise in this image how dark and gloomy the sky had become by this point.

Another dark and noisy pic to finish. I don't suppose anyone would care to venture an ID on these mushrooms? Cap diameter about 6-7cm. Lots of them growing out of a well-rotted log. I forgot to say earlier that there were also a couple of Fly Agarics in the woods by Carter hide.

ETA - thanks Greenie for ID - Sulphur Tuft looks like a good call to me.

So not the best day weatherwise but a really enjoyable walk around, and lots of nice autumnal stuff going on. Plus more Kingfisher sightings than I've ever had here. Thanks Penny for a great morning and excellent cake :)