July - were we in the summer birding doldrums or was it the start of the birding autumn?
To be honest it was a bit of both at the start of the month as a couple visits to Rainham Marshes RSPB over the first two weekends produced southbound Whimbrel and Green Sandpipers, and yet plenty of time was spent taking in breeding Bearded Tits and the Lepidoptera and Odonata of the season. Always wanted to see the aptly named Scarce Emerald Damselfly, but despite the Thames estuary being a hotspot for this recent coloniser from the continent it's not easy to connect with along the public trails at Rainham Marshes RSPB. Tried to convince myself of one Damselfly on site being of this type, but following a RFI and further thought I reckon it was probably the Common Emerald Damselfly. Please judge for yourself, it's shown below.
A mid-month wandering to Kent as I've wanted to see the next twitchable (for me) and within reason 'local' Marsh Sandpiper. Not seen this rarity for many a year, checking up and it's just shy of 9 years. When an opportunity arose with a very good supporting cast it was one not to refuse, even if twitching by train, bus and Shank's pony were the only options.
Firstly using a return train ticket from London town to Faversham (for Oare Marshes) allowed me to break the journey at Rochester (for Cliffe Pools RSPB). The Marsh Sandpiper at 'Cliffe' was showing at distance soon after arrival, but it spent most of this one hour visit out of view. Then it was time for some but not all of the breeding Black-winged Stilts to steal attention (3 ads and 4 juvs of varying sizes). Not to forget the mass of passage Black-tailed Godwits and scattering of Mediterranean Gulls. After leaving the site I sadly made no time to take in the delights of Rochester Castle and this picturesque town/city on arriving back there by bus, was soon on the train heading east to Faversham. It was now mid pm but timing was good as I did not have long to wait for a bus at Faversham Railway Station to Oare. I was soon walking down the lane at Oare village to Oare Marshes which lies opposite the Isle of Sheppey to the north. First impressions was that this could be and probably is a gem of a birding site. A group of birders were watching and 'papping' the visitor from North America I was chasing after, the returning adult Bonaparte's Gull. It showed very well to the backdrop of camera clicks and a 'purring' Turtle Dove from a distant hedgerow. I hope future conservationists will not be writing about this Dove species in 100 years time along the lines of Dr Mark Avery's excellent yet sad summary of the plight of the North American Passenger Pigeon. The odds are not looking good though! Back at the flood lots of roosting Black-tailed Godwits (300+) surely all islandica. Begs the question 'Have I ever seen the limosa subspecies in the UK?' A couple were colour-ringed, but I could only get partial readings due to the annoyance of their one-legged synchronised roosting technique! A Black-headed Gull sporting a yellow colour-ring (2FPX) had the hallmarks of a Thames Estuary ringed bird. It had been ringed by the North Thames Gull Group at Pitsea, Essex in December 2014 and seen on one other occasion at Oare Marshes in March 2015. A female-type Garganey swam by one of the islands minding its own business. Another day this could have been the focus of attention, so I tried to give it equal viewing. Not a bad day's twitching.
Secondly, a week later on Sunday 23 July saw me do a similar double whammy this time taking the train to Southend but stopping off at Benfleet en route to twitch the beautiful Southern Migrant Hawker, a recent Thames Estuary visitor and potential coloniser. A ditch south of Benfleet Railway Station over on Canvey Island and just to the north of the A130 held double figures of this stunner. Personally they played second fiddle as the same ditch was home to similar numbers of the Scarce Emerald Damselfly. Nice to have close and prolonged looks, but after a good hour or so on site I left for Southend as shower clouds approached.
Arrived at Southend where the mission was to take a walk down the pier to check out its Mediterranean Gull offering. Turned out not too bad, approx 20 birds present mainly adults with a couple each of juvs, 1st summers and 2nd summers. One adult with a white colour-ring was probably of Belgium, Dutch or German origin. Details just in - 'E494' ringed in Belgium in 2010. A dozen or so Turnstones in an array of partial summer plumage supported the notion that the birding autumn was here.
A quick visit back home to see mum and dad at the end of July. Birded the South Yorkshire moorland edge with my dad and we bumped into loads of locals giving the area good coverage. The decent numbers of Kestrels on view throughout thee weekend was pleasing to note, 3 sites covered yielded double figures at each. Also, a young Peregrine was already mastering the glide forever technique characteristic of this wanderer, before showers kept raptors low. A couple of upland Hobby sightings with one taking a dislike to a Red Kite patrolling one site. Buzzards and Sparrowhawk were present and evidence of the start to autumn passage came in the form of a juvenile Marsh Harrier. It dropped in from high to the east at one site. Away from the raptors an adult (prob 3rd winter) Mediterranean Gull was elusive amongst Black-headed Gulls feeding in fields near Ingbirchworth Reservoir. Elsewhere Little Owls had bred well as a family sunbathed in the shelter of the prevailing winds.
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