Welcome to my birdwatching blog. This blog will contain stories about my bird watching trips, interesting bird news and other tales that may or may not be bird related. I want to make it useful to the avid birder as well as those who may only have a passing interest in bird watching. I enjoy photographing bird life, common and rare through a spotting scope, not that they always sit still long enough for me. Being on the outskirts of North East London, my reports will not only cover my local patch of Redbridge/Waltham Forest, but also dip into deepest Essex, Suffolk, Kent and Norfolk.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Fog and Iceland Gull at Rainham

Remarkably, the only place I haven’t been to is the pub.
Saturday’s weather had been glorious and now it was Sunday morning and BST and I was greeted by thick fog. As you can imagine, fog isn’t that clever when you want to watch birds. But I knew the veil of pea soup would lift and burn away as the morning sun warmed the air. In the meantime, I thought it would be better to walk along the river path towards the Concrete Barges – something I hadn’t done for a few years.

Concrete Barges
There wasn’t much to see on the 2.5 mile walk to the Barges. Aveley Bay was dotted with Shelduck, Redshank and Black-headed Gulls. On the river, Teal and a few Cormorants could be seen. On the path itself, a couple of Linnets and some singing Dunnocks and Skylarks kept me company.

Iceland Gull
Now I don’t know if you know this but in the past 3-4 months, there has been a higher than usual influx of white-winged gulls. Usually it’s the very large Glaucous Gull that is seen most regularly but at the moment, the numbers of the smaller, more elegant Iceland Gull have exceeded them.

A couple of these Iceland Gulls had been seen at Rainham RSPB reserve and Rainham landfill site. My little walk to the Concrete barges wasn’t just for the exercise.Although there is no public access onto the landfill site (why would there be?) you can view small mounds of rubbish from the footpath by the Barges. Luckily this patch of trash is also favoured by gulls who absolutely love our rubbish.

When I arrived, there were already two other birders there watching an Iceland Gull. It was like shooting fish in a barrel not that I have ever tried that or indeed am likely to. Mind you, there were old barrels on the tip and the smell from it did possibly resemble dead fish so maybe someone else had.

Iceland Gull
Don’t you dare fly off!

Having got my fill (get it?) I turned heel and set off back towards the RSPB reserves a couple of miles away. By now the sky was beginning to show small pools of blue and the temperature was going up. There was a large number of Common Redshank on the foreshore as well as a few Oystercatchers and Curlew.
Common Redshank
The RSPB reserve was now bathed in sunshine. Chiffchaffs were singing in the woods and there were two Little Ringed Plovers on the Flash, the first proper summer migrants I had seen this year.
Little Ringed Plover
All the other usual species were about. Shoveler, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe, Lapwings and Snipe all frequented the pools while Reed Buntings were everywhere almost getting under my feet a few times.
Common Snipe

Monday, 19 March 2012

Brilliant birthday birding

I know life begins at forty but what happens at fifty? Well I can tell you, nothing bad. Okay, it’s only been one day but what a day it was.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I like an early morning wander along the seawall at South Fambridge. So at 7.30am with the sun warming up the chilly early morning air, I took the usual route west. There wasn’t much about. A few skylarks were singing somewhere up in the heavens (not long for me now) and a couple of corn buntings played birds on a wire. Along the river, Brent geese were collecting and getting ready to leave these shores for the summer and the usual waders, oystercatchers, curlews and redshanks added the atmospherics with their echoing calls.

On the way back, a few reed buntings flitted about in the narrow reeds that margin the fine strips of water that run parallel to the path. Just before you get to the entrance to the bridleway, there are a few old buildings that have seen better days. There were robins, dunnocks, blackbirds, chaffinches and house sparrows but one other bird caught my eye. The flickering tail and restless nature of this small bird didn’t quite fit in with the other birds.

It was a black redstart. There has been one at Shoebury in recent weeks but I didn’t expect to see one here. I thought I’d better get moving as the journey to work from here is a gauntlet run past some of Essex’s most jobsworth lollipop people (Easily five along the route into Rochford)

Black Redstart
However, a minute further on and a short-eared owl decided to put in a show along the seawall before pouncing on some poor unsuspecting vole or similar in the long grass by the entrance. Now I’m going to be late. Still it was my birthday and I was sure no one would mind. Managed to get some distant shots of the owl but it spent most of its time munching away on the rodent.

Short-eared Owl
A brilliant start to being 50. Can’t wait for tomorrow.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Water Pipits at Rainham Marshes

Spring has arrived. The garden is on the verge of bursting out in blooms of Cherry and Apple blossoms, Daffodils, Camellias and Bluebells. But it’s not what you see that tells you spring is here, oh no, it’s the birds or to be exact, the dawn chorus. For the lucky ones, this heralds in the spring and is a joy to listen to and doesn’t require covering you head with the pillow because it woke you up.

Because the weather was so nice, I decided to take a leisurely trip down to Rainham. Although spring has arrived, Rainham still seems to have traces of winter stubbornly refusing to leave. With a 2nd winter Iceland Gull and a single snow bunting around, it was an ideal place to catch a few lingering winter birds as well as catch up with some early spring ones.

As with every trip here, I always start with a walk along the Thames path. Always a chance of wheatear or whinchat but not today. Instead, I came across about three water pipits. The Thames foreshore has always been good for these birds and I have usually found them closer to the stone barges so this was a nice surprise.

Water Pipit
What you looking at?
So from here I went onto the reserve itself. The bearded tits were still around although not for me. All the wildfowl you could ask for were here though; pintail, wigeon, teal, gadwall, pochard, mallard, tufted duck, shoveler and shelduck ranged over the reserve. Little egrets, all the usual gulls and herons were on show. A peregrine watched from one of the electricity pylons eying up the flocks of stock doves on the grazing marsh. There is though one bird that is always here and rarely gets a mention. Birders don’t really watch or even notice them and frankly, no one seems to give a stuff about them. Say hello to the carrion crow.

Carrion Crow with an arty reflection
They’re actually quite entertaining. They hop comically around; they pick fights with anything bigger than then (usually herons or raptors. The latter is a useful indicator if one is looking for a raptor) and they are bright. This one had learned to feed like a wader, probing the mud for food, it’s head nearly  disappearing under the water.

Food. Who knows, one day the ornithologists and nature scientists will find a way to feed waders in the same way we can feed smaller birds like tits, finches and sparrows. There’s a great feeding station at Rainham that allows you to take good images of birds at close range. Today we had reed buntings, chaffinches, dunnocks and rats, yes rats.

Reed Bunting, male
Reed Bunting, female
And if you don’t like rodents, look away now. The bird feeders with all their goodies attracts some of the less savoury critters at Rainham but at least they don’t wake you up at 5am with their singing.

Brown rat
Rainham Marshes