Saturday’s group outing should have been at Stodmarsh, but due to a weekend closure of the M2, it was decided to change venue and go to Rainham Marshes instead. Ten of us met in the car park on what seemed a very pleasant sunny morning after some heavy rain had fallen back in Kent earlier. As usual we checked with the reserve what had been seen recently and set out to see if we could spot them also.
On the feeders were many house sparrows who would dive into the adjacent bushes at anything that might spook them. Also visiting was a juvenile great spotted woodpecker. The feeders no doubt being an easy source of food. Looking past the feeders over what would normally be scrapes filled with water only to find a very dry landscape with few birds unfortunately. At this time of the year when rainfall is a lot less the reserve is unable to top up the scrapes and therefore, they tend to dry up. Some greylag and canada geese were happy enough to graze around the area and we heard plenty of goldfinch as they flew about the reserve. Birds might have seemed thin on the ground, but the butterflies were flying. In the cordite store we found a southern hawker dragonfly and we carried out a butterfly count for 15 minutes as part of the Big Butterfly Count which is running from 17th of July until 11th of August.
Peacocks and whites were the most numerous but also seen were commas, red admirals, gatekeepers and skippers to name just a few. We made our way slowly to the first hide with only a few birds seen, a family of whitethroats and some linnets. Here, despite there being plenty of water, there was still a dearth of birds. Just a few coots and moorhens with young. We proceeded on to the boardwalk and the first viewing platform where at last there were avocet with fledglings, little egrets and herons, black-tailed godwits, ruff, redshank and shelduck and of course the cormorants drying their wings. It had been noticed during the morning that dark clouds had been gathering and our bright sunny day was rapidly looking decidedly ominous. As we moved quickly on, but not quickly enough, the heavens opened . We had never travelled so rapidly to the shooting butts hide as we did then but despite our haste, we all arrived extremely wet. Eating our lunch as we dried off, we had chance to watch three little grebes busily diving amongst the mallards, tufted ducks and mute swans. One lone pochard also was diving for food. A lot of the ducks are going into eclipse and are becoming hard to recognise. Like the shovelers that were only recognisable by their large shovel shaped bills. Sand martins were also seen hawking over the pools. No doubt feeding up before their long journey back to Africa. Two distant marsh harriers were watched flying high up and were our only birds of prey other than a hovering kestrel later on. Having dried off and the sun reappeared we left the hide to continue our way around the reserve.
The path was partially blocked by a mute swan, which had clearly been sitting there for some time! But it was quite friendly. More whitethroats were seen, and bearded tits were heard. We visited the remaining hides but with little to add to our lists before returning to the centre. Well, you ask, did we see the recent sightings we were told about, the spoonbill, the greenshank, the cattle egret? Unfortunately, they must have been along that stretch where we were hurrying to get out of the rain. Next time, perhaps.
Thanks to Terry, Steve and Sally for the photographs