After several weeks of being frozen we veered on the side of comfort this week and made for Rainham Marshes where there are hides to shelter in and an excellent cafe to provide some warmth and refreshment.
Dunnock, Robin and Collared Dove were joined by Blackbirds and all before we had left the car park. I counted over 30 Collared Doves in the area, mostly utilising the easy pickings around the feeders and then perching on the fence and lights in the area.
After a chat with the informative team inside the centre we were off in search of a cornucopia of species – all probably long-gone but nevertheless enticing. From the ramp we overlooked the feeders and scrapes and quickly added Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Starling, House Sparrow, Woodpigeon, Blue Tit, Great Tit and Carrion Crow at the feeders and Black-headed Gull, Wigeon, Mute Swan, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Shoveler and Lapwing on the nearest scrape.
We did the usual circuit (anticlockwise from the visitor centre) and Song Thrush was found by Sally and Irene perched high in a tree some way off. A Reed Bunting flew towards us as one of the reserve volunteers flushed it from the other direction. First a female was seen and then a male appeared some while later. A circuit of the old Cordite Store revealed little. This area has been quite disturbed by work carried out recently. Huge areas of buddleia appear to have been cleared and pathways have appeared through the brambles.
There were more Chaffinch and Tits at the reedbed feeding station, and here Coots and Magpie joined in, enjoying the bits dropped by other species.
By the fossilised wood we looked back at the treeline in an attempt to find a Barn Owl which had been seen in the area. Although we could see the two boxes which had been described to us, there were no birds in sight. We moved further along the path to get a better angle, but still no luck. The scrapes along the northern side of the reserve had Tufted Duck, Mallard, Shelduck, and lots more Lapwing. From the hide I found a Snipe – on the edge of a pool almost hidden in the reeds, but giving itself away as it preened.
More Lapwing (over 2,000 are estimated to be present), and a large contingent of Golden Plover stood on one of the raised banks in the scrape. Greylag and Canada Geese were in the far fields beyond the pools. As we had elevenses we watched Pintail, Great Crested Grebe and Moorhen. On the way back to the centre for lunch we added Pied Wagtail and Wren. I spotted a group of Linnet whilst scanning the bushes with the telescope but they eluded everyone else unfortunately.
Warmed and with renewed enthusiasm we took the clockwise route in the afternoon and determined to try for the Barn Owl again. A large flock of Black-tailed Godwits flew in off the river, along with a tight-knit group of Dunlin. Common Gull was spotted by Malcolm, Curlew by Sally and Irene. A Water Rail was heard by all, and spotted by Malcolm.
Marsh Harriers, Stock Dove, Kestrel and Pheasant were spotted, and finally, on our way back along the northern path we finally spotted one of the Barn Owls. It was well hidden in the roosting box with just the face showing – but regardless of the quality of the view, it was delightful to see.