Tuesday 5 June 2012

A weekend of bits and pieces

Just a quick update and a few pics from a long weekend spent pottering around various sites in the south-east. It feels as though the spring may be fading out now, with very little being found on the coast despite my hopes for one more major rarity. Though the weather certainly doesn’t feel like June, the birding does! That said, I’ve been about a bit, and seen a reasonable amount…

Saturday morning had a slow (and somewhat fragile) start, recovering from a well-attended set of London Birders’ drinks at Tower Bridge the night before. However, the Marsh Warbler at Rainham offered a suitably straightforward place to start, and sang really well at times with a Grasshopper Warbler and Corn Bunting nearby. After spending a while there on two occasions, I’m amused by the number of people who are so desperate to see the Marsh, however badly! Apart from proving that it really is a bird, not a well-hidden tape, I can’t see what the big deal is: on a poor view (which is all you’re likely to get), you’re not going to conclusively ID it, and, let’s face it, a Marsh Warbler sounds a hell of a lot better than it looks. I really don’t understand the ‘can’t tick it if you don’t see it’ mentality with birds like this…

On a more serious note, it’s pretty sad to see that some of the ‘must see it’ brigade have ignored instructions asking people NOT to go into the vegetation, and blazed a trail in from the usual viewing area to get a few yards closer towards the bird’s favoured area. It’s all too predictable, and to be honest another good reason why these potential breeding birds could (should?) be suppressed in future. Apparently some twats have tried tape luring it up, as well. Schedule 1 mean anything to you? No, thought not…

However, returning to the bird’s glorious song, there’s a cracking recording of the Marsh Warbler >here<, recorded by Dave Smith at 1.30am a few nights ago. Enjoy!

Anyway, post-warbler, I had a wander around the reserve – or tried to, before a Red Kite interrupted me almost immediately. It headed in from the north, almost flew directly over the visitor centre and then loafed around over Crayford way for a while. I ran back through the centre to stay on it, possibly scattering a few scones and lattes in the process… The rest of the loop was far less eventful, with just the regular female Peregrine of note.

Sunday morning was pretty foul weather-wise, and I spent a couple of hours back at Rainham checking the river. In general, there was next to nothing moving – but a couple of Sandwich Terns came through a few minutes after a timely text from Dave Mo via Rich (the latter not even having seen them!)

Late that evening, news came through of an adult Rose-coloured Starling in Gillingham – not far the other side of the bridge. It had apparently been there since 1030 that morning… so much for sharing news. A call to one of the news services would’ve cost, ooh, at most five-pence. Howard was especially pleased, given that he lives less than ten minutes away (and reports everything from Rainham, to many birders’ benefit). Needless to say, there was no sign when we looked the next day, and having reached the limit of our tolerance for housing estate birding, headed down to Elmley. The weather wasn’t great (grey skies, with a cold northerly blowing), but we got off to a good start with a Quail calling immediately from the carpark – bonus! And of course, the entrance track is great for good views of breeding birds – this female Lapwing posed particularly well:


Like those at Rainham, the pools in front of the first three hides all had pretty high water levels, but hopefully this means they’ll be in good nick for the return wader passage later on. We did note ten or a dozen Black-tailed Godwits – presumably Continential limosa birders lingering through the summer, though we didn’t get good views. A couple of Short-eared Owls are also still knocking about, one showing fairly well along the seawall. That evening, after dropping Howard back home, I popped back into Rainham, where a Black Tern was showing distantly over Aveley Pools from the Serin Mound while the Marsh Warbler sang vigorously.

And that brings us on to today! I didn’t make a particularly early start, but still opted for Lakenheath and a spot of oriole-hunting. Arriving around 9am, it didn’t take me long to hear one of the males singing – but in increasingly breezy conditions, they were playing hard to get, and I didn’t get views this time. Not to worry – the birding backdrop was excellent for a few hours, as usual, with a Bittern booming and giving a couple of flypasts, heaps of Marsh Harriers and a few Hobby, all the reedbed warblers and close Cuckoos. Those who knock the RSPB would do well to visit Lakenheath at dawn in the spring…


Next stop was the nearby Weeting Heath NWT reserve. To be honest I only stopped to grab a cold drink, but having got out of the car, decided I should really have a bit of a look round! A pair of Stone Curlews were showing from the West Hide, but passerines in the pines were much more photogenic. A family party of Marsh Tits were really noisy, and one or two occasionally showed quite close.


A Spotted Flycatcher also showed more fleetingly, darting around near the approach to the West Hide.


While watching these, I got a useful tip-off from another birder, who’d been photographing a pair of Redstart at a site nearby. Following it up during a rare sunny interval, I spent a pretty relaxed half-hour sitting around out of the wind, listening to the male sing and both birds feeding – cracking stuff, far more entertaining than any of the jubilee celebrations!

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