Autumn has arrived and a merry band of seven well prepared group members met at Rainham Marshes on a very wet Sunday morning. It seemed as if the house sparrows were feeling in a similar mood – as we gathered in the shelter of the visitor centre, they were gathering under the bird house feeder nearby, there were around a dozen individuals packed together.
There had been reports of great skua moving upriver past Oare Marshes earlier in the day so we decided to stay around the visitor centre hoping the rain would ease. From there we could scan the River Thames in case the skua decided to move in our direction, we could also keep an key on the reserve and enjoy a cup of tea.
Within minutes we had a call of three great skua floating up the river – although a murky view we could see the notable white wing patch as they preened. They continued to float on the incoming tide for several minutes, then great black-backed gulls started to mob them and they flew a short distance before floating out of sight towards London.
From the centre we managed a reasonable list with crow, magpie, little egret, mallard, blue and great tit, goldfinch, collared dove and wood pigeon. Once we had exhausted both the birds and teacups it was time to venture outside. As the pools along the first part of the walk have hardly any water we didn’t stop to scan, but carried on towards the more sheltered area of woodland and the cordite store. Here jay and dunnock were seen by some. Robin were giving their autumn call as we continued, with blue tit keeping in contact with their short calls.
Once away from the woodland area, there were two grey heron, two kestrel and a marsh harrier flying over the field. As we trained our telescopes and binoculars on the barn owl box presumably the rain being blown into the box was as unpleasant for the owl as it was for us, there was a hint of feathers low down but that was all. We moved along to the Ken Barrett hide. Earlier in the year the scrape in front of this hide had been re-profiled, now it is full of reeds and sedges and is a great habitat for water birds, little grebe, coot and tufted duck were enjoying this area. Swallow, house and sand martin were feeding over the pool here, and a grey heron joined them for lunch with a large fish. See the film of it here.
Nearby we heard Cetti’s warbler, and in the distance we could see starling, lapwing, black-tailed godwit and the occasional redshank being spooked by marsh harrier and kestrel, so we decided to continue further round towards the viewing platforms.
We were only there long enough to register shelduck, cormorant, teal and the previously disturbed black-tailed godwit and lapwing, when Howard (rspb staff) dashed past telling us there was a report of possible pectoral sandpiper further along. We decided that this was an opportunity not to be missed and went off in pursuit.
As we approached the area, the bird was visible right in front of us, and we had great views through the rain, there was also a ruff and it was good to be able to compare the two. Film of the pectoral sandpiper can be seen here. Pied wagtail with young were feeding on the mud at the edge of the pool.
Lunch called so we moved to the Shooting Butts Hide. Here we added shoveler, mute swan, meadow pipit, and moorhen. As the rain eased we decided to carry on along the sea wall but on the high tide there was little except herring gull and black-headed gull. No sign of the skua, but on the reserve we had great views of kestrel perched on posts looking for prey. A flock of up to 50 goldfinch with a lone linnet were flying from bushes to the path and then back again, three arctic tern flew up river and a flock of canada geese flew in to join the already large groups of greylag geese feeding on the marshland in the reserve.
A curlew was seen roosting on one of the fields, whilst a second was seen later feeding on the river bank as the tide receded. Eventually the sun showed and we even found a red admiral butterfly and a group of hairy shield bug which seemed to be using a mullein plant as a safe place to hide.
We finished the day with views of at least two hobby, sparrowhawk, pheasant, chiffchaff and blackcap in the scrub around the visitor centre.
Thanks to all who braved the weather – we were well rewarded by the quality of birds seen. Thanks also to the staff at the reserve who helped us have such a great time.
Our next outdoor meeting is at Dungeness on 6th October – look forward to seeing you there.