Walking along the riverwall from Purfleet station to Rainham Marshes RSPB in a gale in the dark on a Friday evening (29 Jan 2016) is perhaps not everybody's cup of tea. The purpose to take in Dr Mark Avery's Fighting for Birds talk being hosted at the centre that evening. It was a well received event and a fascinating account being split up into 2 parts - firstly the historical aspects and the shocking demise of the Passenger Pigeon, thought to be the most numerous bird in North America in the 1800s, with part two concerning the impact of driven grouse moors on Hen Harriers amongst other aspects. With thanks to all for a brilliant evening. Looking forward to reading 'Inglorious'. On walking to and from the centre it was certainly an eye opener to see the light polution of the metropolis to the west.
If you go to Rainham Marshes RSPB and do a riverwatch from the balcony you can get distracted by model aircraft being flown over the Kent side, especially on a quiet birding day. They do 'loop the loop' rising on the vertical as they break the horizon of the river wall chasing imaginary prey. Sometimes you think you've got a raptor only to be disappointed seconds later! No such aircraft spotted today, so why mention this? This Saturday (30 Jan 2016) about a mile or so west of the centre I witnessed a true avian equivalent. It was after arriving at the Serin mound before 4pm on the 'long walk' back to Rainham railway station. Target was to wait to see if the Bittern, that had been sighted over several days on the reserve, would fly over the marsh as dusk approached. I set up the 'scope and scanned the marsh through 'bins. Straight away a small dark bird of prey apparently in pursuit was flying over the first field. After a few quick turns it landed in the field and a lone pole helped as a marker in picking up the bird in the 'scope. A female/immature Merlin. I managed to rattle off some right at the limit phonescoped photos of it as the light was still reasonable, and got the message out on twitter/text. It stayed in view for several minutes and allowed for other birders/photographers newly arriving at the mound to connect. It flew off in pursuit and was lost to view. About 4.25pm I picked up the bird absolutely motoring along low over the marsh at mid distance, so low it was barely above the ground and easily lost against the fragments of reedbed occasionally blocking the view. It continued to show on and off until 4.45pm. During the time at the Serin mound it was in hot pursuit of passerines on 2 or 3 occasions forcing them up off Wennington Marsh and vigorously chasing them in mid air, reminding me of the rising of the model aircraft mentioned earlier. It appeared relentless in pursuit of supper but was only successful close to dark when it was plucking something on the ground in the falling light. It was great to see a Merlin hunt, especially being able to follow it as it flew low over the marsh and witness its tactics of forcing the passerines up into the air and continue chasing them over the skyline. First time I've definitely seen Merlin at Rainham Marshes RSPB, two probables in the past which both zoomed by in a blink of the eye and could not be nailed down. Two Short-eared Owls played second fiddle on this occasion as they patrolled the edge of the marsh, and there was no sign of the Bittern from Serin mound up until leaving at just before 5pm.
Other highlights from today was a Knot which we saw briefly in Aveley Bay in the morning and then again in the afternoon in flight over the reserve with a flock of Dunlin heading towards the Target Pools at high tide. Water Pipits continue to be showy with singles frequenting the Target Pools and the riverwall respectively, and Marsh Harriers took to the air as the dull grey morning turned to sunny spells.
Within the book 'Frontiers in Birding' by Martin Garner and friends Martin invites the reader never to lose the ability to enjoy the wonder of birds, and to go and discover new things for yourself and others. Watching the Merlin hunt and being able to study its tactics was such a wonderful moment. Martin sadly passed away recently and the tributes paid to Martin on the internet show how inspirational he was to birders and non birders alike, including birders who never met him but have been able to share his passion for birding through his work on pushing the boundaries of bird identification.
Birding highlights this Saturday just gone included connecting with a Bar-tailed Godwit roosting with Lapwings on the Target Pools at Rainham Marshes RSPB, a stunning Short-eared Owl patrolling the area between the hide and the pools with a Red Kite heading west over the tip. A good variety of species seen and double figures of Stonechat was certainly noteworthy, as was a Ruff playing hide and seek amongst the throng of Dunlin, Lapwing and Golden Plover. Water Pipits continue to be showy this winter, they will look good come March, as should their Scandinavian Rock Pipits cousins should they linger on the Thames shore. The Raven pair were pair bonding and throwing their weight around. Would have liked to have seen the Merlin and Bittern, can't have them all, but it shows the cracking variety of this excellent reserve.
Twitched the Great Grey Shrike at Edgware on foot, a nice couple of miles walk each way - Sunday morning. Elusive but showed well at distance (took bins and bridge camera only). Fieldfare and Redwing flocked and a Sparrowhawk enjoyed spooking them. A male Bullfinch brightened up a dull damp morning.
A couple of photos from the weekend below, more photos at 'Latest UK Bird Photos'.
First trip of 2016 to Rainham RSPB on Saturday 09 January 2016 and it didn't disappoint. Loads of Lapwings looking well in the neutral light were present at high tide on the Target Pools and were joined by about 80 Golden Plovers, 25 Black-tailed Godwits and a very skittish Dunlin flock (300?) that made their way back to the Thames as an adult Peregrine patrolled the marsh. A male Marsh Harrier quartered nearby Wennington Marsh. Despite the ever increasing showery conditions a Dartford Warbler was quite showy just beyond the northern boardwalk and off site a Water Pipit called in flight touching down briefly on the shore. About half a dozen calling Rock Pipits were more obliging and it was nice to study the subtle difference of the call- Water Pipit "wist" and Rock Pipit "weest".
The highlight for me though was chasing the Siberian Chiffchaff found by Paul H mid pm near the Serin mound. After a delay we got cracking looks at this bird as it fed along the bushy edge. It called several times, a clear distinction "peep", and from a later study spot on with the recordings on 'Xeno-canto'. Seeing this distinctive bird, tristis, whilst classified as a subspecies of Chiffchaff was as good as seeing a lifer! I'm sure I've heard one in Norfolk in the '90s and perhaps had unsatisfactory views of a couple in the Midlands one winter as well. Always wanted to have a good look at one of these and this bird was stunning. Dull in colour looking essentially brown on the upperparts and very pale underneath. Dark bill and legs and a white supercillium with a hint of dark line above. Chestnut/Warmer tinged ear coverts and green wing panel noted. Take a look at the excellent photos of Paul H and Shaun H for more plumage details.
Back home for Xmas and New Year, and lots of birding in the Barnsley Area.
Birded the uplands with my dad and we caught up with the adult Greenland White-fronted Goose near Ingbirchworth Res. and the short staying Brent Goose. A couple of Peregrine sightings on the moors, ringtail and a pair of Ravens.
Birding in the 'Barnsley area lowlands' was in the main restricted to watching the gull roost at Anglers CP late afternoon. Wind direction and dull conditions plus unpredictable roosting behaviour of the gulls put the roost watchers to the test. I saw the reasonably regular juv. Glaucous Gull on three visits (28/12, 31/12 and 01/01) and an adult Yellow-legged Gull, not Psycho, (31/12 and 01/01). The star was a 3rd winter Iceland Gull roosting on the Country Park lake (31/12). The lake held wintering duck including Goosander and Goldeneye. Twitched the Firecrest found nr Silkstone (03/01) as it mingled with Goldcrest and a Treecreeper. At one point it was pushed off by one of the Goldcrests. Also twitched a pair of Ring-necked Parakeets, connecting on the 2nd attempt (02/01) at Fleets Dam just north of Barnsley town centre, a Yorkshire and Barnsley tick!
Away from Barnsley saw the juv. male Surf Scoter at Filey (27/12) - Yorkshire tick. It was in company of a Great Northern Diver. Left Filey as news broke of a Richard's Pipit at Flamborough North Landing. Arrived at the cliff top site about 30 mins later and joined Brett R looking for the Pipit. He shortly located it in the long grass in tow with another Pipit, which quickly revealed itself to be "Dick's Pipit" number 2. A day birding Norfolk (29/12) produced an excellent 10 raptor species, primary target was the stunning Pallid Harrier at Flitcham which produced excellent views prior to 9 am. Connected with 2 wintering Rough-legged Buzzards east of Choseley and highlights from the north coast included Peregrine, Merlin, Red Kite and Hen Harrier.
Some images below. Much more photos uploaded at 'Latest UK Bird Photos' - http://www.jcwassebirding.com/p/latest-uk-bird-photos.html.