Monday 7 January 2019

End of Year Birding

Winter birding at Rainham Marshes RSPB is focussed on the replenished pools and any movement along the Thames. The gathering of whistling Wigeon and elegant Pintail joining many noisy Teal are some of many duck species that visit the site found just inland of the Dartford crossing to the east of London. It's easy to take the winter spectacle for granted at this well watched RSPB reserve. The rising tide force waders either onto the marsh or up river to known roosts on a daily basis with such protagonists include Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew and Redshank. Avocets being the exception as a small group of 20 or 30 have different ideas and it is comical to see them swimming out the tide in the relative shelter of Aveley Bay instead of jumping over the river wall onto Purfleet Scrape or one of the other pools. Lapwing numbers are building up and the occasional Ruff and Golden Plover are found amongst them. A group of '17 'Goldies' present before Christmas was noteworthy, hope they linger and increase. This may paint an idyllic scene but the peace is usually shattered by raptors in particular Sparrowhawks and Peregrines patrolling the marsh. An immature Peregrine has caused panic within the inhabitants of Aveley Pools, when it is not busy tormenting one of the several Marsh Harriers to be found on site. A couple of Buzzards tend to mind their own business as do Kestrels. Speaking of which an absence of a cold snap to date means they are not competing with this season's wintering Short-eared Owls for rodent prey along the river wall. These disagreements do look spectacular when seen previously, but could be a matter of survival for the Owl or Falcon in such cold weather. No rarities seen on or passing through the site in my end of year visits, but a Brent Goose in Aveley Bay was noted and of the gulls I've only come across 2 or 3 Yellow-legged Gulls, away from the common five, but a candidate LBB x Herring Gull hybrid was a bit of a head-scratcher.

Elsewhere in London a Peregrine watched the public along the South Bank from top of the Tate Modern as the year drew to a close, and it's now not unusual to see Red Kites drifting over gardens in the NW of the capital.

Back home to Yorkshire over Xmas taking the indirect route of the North Norfolk Coast. These expansive salt marshes held hunting Hen Harriers, including a 'grey ghost' as our North American birding friends like to refer to the nearctic equivalent. Red Kite is now a regular sight here alongside the more common Buzzards and Marsh Harriers. The fields and marshes joining Burnham Overy with Holkham were full of Pink-footed and Brent Geese although, but perhaps the 50 or so Barnacle Geese also present had probably never been to Spitsbergen?

Finally back home and the moorlands remained magical. Buzzards are less numerous and less active in the uplands than in warmer months, but several lingered. Ravens were more noticeable and a a couple of pairs reinforced bonds by 'tumbling' regularly on their sorties. Also looking skyward skeins of Pink-footed Geese were a regular sight crossing the Pennines but in no clear pattern. Some days small groups headed west, the others either out east or north. Crossbills moved locally between moorland plantations that typically cloak hidden reservoirs, and towards the end of the stay at least two males were singing at a couple of sites. Only connected with a single Brambling flying over a moorland Beck, whereas Siskin and Redpolls were more noticeable moving around the uplands. The feeders at Broomhead Reservoir were packed with Coal T and other woodland visitors. The once in a lifetime sighting of the group of Two-barred Crossbills is now over 5 years ago. I still remember that distinctive trumpet call as well as the fast Redpoll-like chatter. I still listen out for them in ridiculous hope of them reappearing, but failing that here's a photo from Memory Lane... adjacent to Rushy Lane!

Don't worry - from 2013!

A couple of visits to South Gare just beyond Redcar and on the 2nd attempt connected with the winter plumaged Black Guillemot as it swam and fed close inshore (Yorkshire-side). Not going to get into a debate on political boundaries but from a birding perspective to follow the old Vice Counties, namely VC62 (North-east Yorkshire) this became Yorkshire tick No. 339 (337 BOURC). Guillemot present nearby and the Tees mouth also held both single Common and Velvet Scoters, a handful of Eider and Red-throated Divers. The beach in the seaward side yielded a flock of Snow Buntings (28) and a dozen or so Twites occasionally joined a similar sized group of Linnets.