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.


Friday, 30 January 2015

Space-Time

In order to better myself and following my cinema visit to see The Theory of Everything and getting my nose stuck into Steven Hawkings A Brief History of Time, I managed to discover the complete formula that makes our universe make sense – birding. Somehow and with the aid of a fortuitous worm hole, I managed to bend time and get some serious birding in this week.

So a visit to Rainham Centauri.

Landing Craft.
With a landscape not dissimilar to the icy moon Europa, I found myself, alone, at Rainham. To be fair, the mother craft that is the visitor centre did open its lower hatch with a burst of dry ice and a figure almost human in the shape of HV-1 did invite me in with a pointing finger but I declined.

I took the opportunity to have a scan around the car park area and flushed a little green monster in the shape of a Green Woodpecker.

Little Green Man
Instead, I chose to traverse the rugged terrain of the the river path in search of life in the shape of Water Pipits and other undiscovered species.


Three Brent Geese grazed along side a flock of Canada Geese. There had been three White-fronts the previous day but alas, they had disappeared into a black hole.

Lift off
There were swarms of gulls over the tip; imagine one of those big space battles in Star Wars and you’ll get the picture. One or two Snipe flew out of cover and across the Thames as I progressed towards the barges. No sighting of any Water Pipits but plenty of Stonechats along the fencing along with Meadow Pipits.







Rather than go back on myself, I did the loop that brought me round to the dark side and a walk along New Tank Road where there was a Kestrel keenly watching for food from its high vantage point. Eventually I made it to Serin Mound. No Serins but loads of Linnets and Goldfinches. On the Marsh, many Lapwings and more gulls.



Not a UFO but a Pheasant.
A quick bite to eat in the RSPB cafe and then a walk around the reserve.

Lapwings

Little Egret

Little Egret

Shoveler

Pintail
From Rainham, I travelled at the speed of light or marginally under it in light of the speed cameras on the A13, and headed off to the place I like to call mission control in the Lee Valley.

I touched down amazingly beside the Bittern Watchpoint and looked for signs of life.
Bittern
Needless to say, the Bittern was playing hard to get which has been the norm this year. But a nice find were a pair of Bullfinches close to the Stubbins Hall Lane car park.

Bullfinch
Along the channel beside Walton’s Walk, a pair of Goosanders hung around long enough to get some attention from the camera.

Drake Goosander

Redhead Goosander
Well that was a brief history of my day. It’s only taken me a light year to blog about it.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

12 days ......a Slav.

This was a bit strange. Long-stayers don’t normally stay long enough for me. I’m usually at work or doing something that prevents me going even short distances sometimes to see a good bird. So I’m a little lost for words as I stole a couple of hours this morning to hunt down the Slavonian Grebe that has been pinging up on my mobile for a couple of weeks now.

I wasn’t expecting to see it. The stretch of water it resides on – The Heronry – was mostly covered in a thin layer of ice this morning. I started telling myself it would or should have gone somewhere else to find a bigger expanse to fish in. But needn’t have worried. I speed to distantly swimming happily about close to the waters edge and so I steadily worked my around the water, through a muddy path that led close to the bank.

I sat down amongst the brambles and frosty fallen leaves and waited. Coots came busily by and eventually so did the grebe but the grebes ganged up on it and sent it back where it came from. Another 20 minutes past and all I had were gulls, mallards and the occasional swan to enjoy. Should I move? but there wasn’t an 'easy' path through to  where the grebe was probably preferring.

Eventually after a couple of teasing glimpses, the Slavonian Grebe swam in my direction and boy can they swim. I got a few shots before it swam back again.




Wednesday, 14 January 2015

We go again...

Love 1st Jan. Love the idea of a year-long bird race. Love the fact these two things have come together at Rainham Marshes RSPB thanks to Mr H. Vaughan.

My 2014 scramble for species fell flat as I couldn’t get ‘out out*’ only just managed an ‘out*’ so ended with 153 species which is well short of average.

My team for the bird race is the Wildgoose Chasers. This name has stuck with me for years, ever since I used to team up with my dad and brother and do the Lee Valley Bird Race quite a few years ago now.

This BIG YEAR Bird Race for Rainham Marshes is quite a clever way to increase visiting birders and get a better picture of what species hang out on the reserve.

My Rainham ritual always starts with a walk along the river towards the Tilda Rice Factory that looms large above the Stone Barges.

My first target bird along the initial stretch from the reserve visitor centre was a Rock Pipit. These are usually found amongst the jetsam deposited on the foreshore and I wasn’t disappointed.

Rock Pipit on a rock of course.
The tide was high so I wasn’t expecting to see much in the way of waders in Aveley Bay. There were a couple of Curlew prodding the minute areas of mudflat and a piping flock of Common Redshank, seemingly annoyed by my untimely presence.

Brent Goose
Against the margins, Teal and Wigeon whistled and then a Brent Goose emerged from the shadow of the north bank. Overhead, a steady procession of gulls passed through.

Great Black-backed Gull
Approaching the small car park the telltale rattling of Fieldfare could be heard and small flocks of Redwing scattered back and forth nervously looking for places to alight away from me.

A rather nervous Redwing
I took the tarmac pathway towards the stone barges and passed a huge flock of Skylarks. I counted roughly 30 of these which is a healthy number of birds and they thrive on the grassy mounds left by the landfill site. On the fences, a couple of Stonechat worked their way along keeping a few metres from me.

Skylarks
Stonechat
Upon arriving at the barges, Curlew and Redshank roosted on the listing deck of one barge. I had hoped for a Spotted redshank but couldn’t locate any. I was then preparing to turn heel and work my way back to the RSPB reserve when the distinct cronk of a Raven stopped me dead.

High above the rice factory, the majestic sight of this huge corvid fought it’s way out of a belle of gulls and Carrion Crows that hassled and bullied the raven, never giving it any respite.

Raven

Raven
Normally, this would be a great sighting for London/Essex but a pair of Ravens have been frequenting the Marshes for a while now so every other team probably had the tick.

The walk back produced Snipe, Shelduck, Linnet and Meadow Pipit.

Entering the reserve, I already had 44 species in the book and this was quickly added to with the elegant pair of Pintail and Little Egret. The woodland was quiet and I only added Song Thrush here.

Shoveler
From the Ken Barrett hide, a few Shoveler dabbled and Lapwing roosted along the bank. Now, I have never had Water Rail at Rainham so it was with some surprise that I not only saw one but this particular bird defied the bird books by being quite at home in the open and close to human activity.

Move back can you?

Water Rail

It would have probably have said 'cheese' if I had asked it.
Further along the boardwalk I could see the familiar speck of a Peregrine perched high above the A13 on one of the pylons. But the real raptor action was happening over Wennington Marsh. A pair of Marsh Harriers were hunting with purpose white the peregrine, no doubt, watched on.

Marsh Harrier
Cetti’s Warblers called and Wrens rasped from the reedbeds. At the end of the circular walk, I again had a small wisp of Snipe and even a Canada Goose! Sometimes, the easy ones can be the hardest.

'You lookin' at me?
So a final count of 60 and although this was a modest total – the days total was around 84, it was a good start. I would like to thank Howard Vaughan and the team at RSPB Rainham Marshes for the foresight to organise this year-long event. It certainly focuses the mind and very soon, I (and my teammates) a chance to boost this total. 



Monday, 12 January 2015

Wallasea. A predator’s island paradise.

Who needs warm sandy beaches, softly swaying palm trees and the sound of a south sea tide rolling in and just touching your toes, when you can have a cold, lip -chaffing wind, a mile of uneven muddy pathway across a barren, bulldozed landscape?

Welcome to Wallasea Island folks.

Wallasea is certainly a birding paradise, at least, it is if you stick close to the entrance to the reserve and around the car park. With winter comes an array of raptor species with headliners in the form of Hen Harriers and Short-eared Owls. These two species are absent during much of the year in the south-east so it is wonderful when they can be easily watched, often together, quartering the wild bird cover areas of Wallasea Island.

And if that wasn’t enough, there were fine appearances from the scarce Rough-legged Buzzard although this is a particularly fine year for this magnificent bird. A Merlin made a brief sortie by the 'white gate' with Marsh Harriers, a Peregrine and a Kestrel or two took the species tally to seven.

'Ringtail' Hen Harrier
Short-eared Owl
Rough-legged Buzzard in dogfight with Peregrine Falcon