Many of you will know that I and a few friends regularly go out on Wednesday and I had got in the habit of writing about our trips. Although this did cause a bit of confusion as some thought it was an official group walk that they had missed! Having had a couple of holidays recently, I “got out of the habit”, but I had such a great time on Wednesday this week, I couldn’t resist telling the tale.
Irene and I went off to Rainham Marshes, mainly because it was close by and we hadn’t been there for while. Although it was foggy in Gravesend, by the time we had negotiated the Dartford crossing the sun was coming out and blue sky was appearing. We spent some time on arrival on the slope overlooking the feeders. Always good for house sparrow, collared dove and other familiar garden birds, today our attention was taken by a rather persistently calling sedge warbler. The eye-stripe showing very well as it shot into the air and then parachuted down in display, to land back in the perch it had previously left. We watched this for some time until we could prevaricate no longer and moved off along towards the wooded area. From the trees we could hear whitethroat calling.
As we passed the pools there were many lapwing with several mallard, little grebe – with a couple of fledglings, tufted duck, mute swan and little egret. A family of coot with two young fed in a quiet corner. By the “bus shelter” we could hear reed warbler, and with a little patience we had soon located a pair of them, building a nest just opposite where we were standing. I used Irene’s telescope to digiscope a photo – and although not the best picture in the album, you can just about make out the nest with a beak and gape showing.
When we eventually moved on we quickly added the calls of chiffchaff, dunnock, cetti’s warbler, greenfinch, great tit, robin, blackcap and a cuckoo. The cuckoo sounded quite distant to start with, but as we moved along it got quite close. By the time we were in open country it had gone silent though and remained unseen. Great to hear though. As we moved along the paths, butterflies were appearing, presumably encouraged by the lovely sunny weather and increasing temperature. Orange tip with gloriously deep orange wing-tips, large white, peacock both fresh and worn, brimstone and a few irridescent holly blue all showed really well and were fluttering along around us. We found a blue-tailed damselfly too.
Our next highlight was reed bunting perched nearby on a reed-mace and calling well. Along the northern end of the reserve we added a few more birds on the water with herring gull, moorhen, pochard and shoveler. A pair of linnet also gave us great views with the male showing a fantastic bright pinky-red chest as he held territory from the front of a willow, the female keeping a more considered stance nearer cover. We scanned the sky for raptors or swallow and martin, but none were in evidence over the reserve. We did, however, spot a very distant raptor which, with a process of elimination, could only have been a hobby, and three marsh harriers which were almost over the Houses of Parliament they were so distant!
However, back to nearer sightings, and the delight of the day – bearded tit – a pair of them frantically feeding young, flying to and fro with food and faecal sacs every couple of minutes. As we stood with others watching in rapture, a reed warbler was getting increasingly agitated,even standing on the edge of the duck boarding we were standing on. We were obviously too near its nest, so everyone dispersed and moved away. At one stage we had reed warbler, reed bunting and bearded tit all in sight within feet of us – absolutely marvellous!
Lunch in the hide at the west of the reserve gave us the chance to enjoy an overview of the scrapes and watch the lapwings fighting off any other bird that came near. Coot nests seemed to be everywhere, and black-headed gulls in non-breeding plumage were gathered in loose flocks. We also saw a few redshank, oystercatcher and skylark.
The final highlight of a day which seemed to contain so many was kingfisher. The reserve is lucky to have a breeding pair right outside one of their hides. Camouflage netting and barriers prevent the birds from being disturbed and everyone was keeping quiet as they watched the busy pair feeding their young deep in a hole in the bank just feet away. The male sat on a perch nearby with a fish in its bill, but wouldn’t come in to feed the young until a mute swan moved out of the way. Then it was all systems go as both male and female appeared, sometimes they perched together nearby, at other times they simply swapped duties, either guarding or feeding their vulnerable young. We spent some time just watching and enjoying these two diligent parents working hard to feed and tend their young. Whilst watching Irene also managed to spot a lapwing chick, another great first for the year.
We had to move off eventually, and continued to the final hide on the south of the reserve. Canada geese with seven goslings were a lovely sight here, and we spent some time just enjoying the sounds of the birds and marsh frogs and watching nature getting on with the business of survival.
A fantastic day out – thanks Irene for your company, spotting skills and telescope!
and if you’d like to see more of the kingsfisher, check out the links below