Monday, 4 May 2015

Ron Weasel(y) at Rainham!

RSPB Rainham Marsh - 8th April 15

Weather: Slight cloud, some sunshine. Very warm.

Bird Total: 52
Plus: Brown Rat; Common Lizard; Marsh Frog; Rabbit; Weasel.
Plus: 7-spot Ladybird; Alderfly; Bee-fly; Bluebottle; Buff-tailed Bumble Bee; Harlequin Ladybird; Hoverfly; Midge; Pond Skater.
Plus: Brimstone, Large White, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell; Small White butterflies.
Plus: Daffodils; Hawthorn.

Today I visited Rainham Marsh with good friends and fellow birders, Marianne and Shane. I had received a call from Shane the previous evening, inviting me down. I had intended to visit Fishers Green but was tempted by what was on offer at Rainham.

The weather had been nice and sunny all week and today proved no exception. Apart from a little more cloud it was just as warm as in previous days. My face even caught the sun again, as yesterday, so I will definitely have to dig out the sun tan lotion.

It was a packed commuter train on the way down. I had found out earlier that there were problems on the line and so headed over to the station a little earlier than I had intended. Luckily a train came in just as I arrived which eventually got down to the Reserve 30 minutes early.

I knew that Marianne and Shane were scouting along the river trail, so I headed up to meet them. Sure enough, there they were, in the bushes. Although I could pick out Marianne readily enough, Shane was partially hidden - his camo gear wasn't helping!

We soon entered the Reserve proper and decided to head around the Reserve anti-clockwise, walking towards the Woodland Discovery Zone. It was soon evident that there were lots of insects on offer, butterflies etc. First up were a few Bee-flies, my first of the season. A couple of Ladybirds were about plus lots of Bees, which were nice to see.

We had been hearing lots of Cetti's Warblers already and a few were showing. Chiffchaff were also calling and displaying, then Marianne heard and spotted a male Blackcap, again my first of the season. There was, in fact, lots of birdsong around the area, passerines; waders and wildfowl, all sounding off. It was magical to listen to.

The sun poked through the thin clouds every now and then, while the nearby trains whizzed by. It was warm out too, a nice change from the usual cold and windy weather. I had even dressed down to just 4 layers today.

We moved out in to the open trails, towards the Bog Wood Pools out to our left, where we had been told a pair of Garganey were to be found. After a few seconds scanning the area we spotted them swimming left to right, feeding as they went. They were a bit far out but were pretty spectacular through the Bins.

Then we found ourselves in the Ken Barrett Hide, the one with the comfy cushions. Although again, there wasn't much to be seen, apart from a few feeding Pochard, which sometimes ventured fairly close. But, with not much else on offer, we headed off.

We walked along the Northern Boardwalk, seeing the first of many Marsh Frogs, most of which were in their brown, winter form, although we did find one greenie. Then the first of the butterflies, a Peacock, landed and allowed a few photos. But, other than a few more distantly posing Cetti's, not much else was to be seen close up.

Having said that, while we were scanning the Aveley Pools lake, a female Bearded Tit flew past us and landed close by in the reeds. She bobbed up and down for a few seconds before disappearing. It's always nice to see my namesake!

Out on the lake we could see the usual fare. I was a bit surprised not to see any Great Crested Grebes, but all the dabbling ducks were out there, plus the odd Little Egret and Grey Heron, all foraging around. A little later Shane spotted a pair of Marsh Harriers flying away from the landfill site.

We eventually reached the end of this part of the trail and turned the corner towards the Shooting Butts Hide. Before that we tut-tutted at the brazen, if not scandalous, sight of the remains of a large buddleia bush that had been chopped down. This had enticed lots of butterflies in recent years. The reason for this was not immediately clear.

Then we searched for Water Vole on the river to our right. Marianne sat down to wait out another Cetti's which was singing out, just over the river, on a large patch of bramble.

Shane and I headed for the Hide. But, always on the lookout for Lizards, he eventually spotted one just before the entrance. He's not nicknamed the Lizard Whisperer for nothing! It was basking in the sun and was very sportingly lying there, allowing us all a few modest photos.

Once in the Hide we concentrated on looking out over the Target Pools, where a juvenile Spoonbill was feeding. Three others had been present in the area the previous day, but had moved on. Junior was quite distant but you could see it quite clearly through the Bins. The Pools were doing a roaring trade, with what must have been hundreds of birds out there.

But from the other side, looking out over the Butts Scrape area, we were looking almost directly into the sun. Birds of note seen out here were a pair of Redshank, which looked like they were nesting and several Shelduck and Little Egret. Lots of Lapwing were continually going up in noisy display or mobbing Crows which chose to inadvisedly fly by.

After a spot of lunch in the Hide we moved on. We made slow progress, moving through the Reedbed Discovery Zone and the Marshland Discovery Zone, not discovering particularly much, when Shane, who was a few yards ahead of us, started gesticulating wildly. Marianne and I rushed up to discover a little Weasel had appeared.
Instead of quickly vanishing, as they do, it decided to run around in front of us, possibly trying to get past us. It didn't look like it knew what to do. But we did, all 3 of us started clicking away. It actually hung around for a few minutes, entertaining us as it ran and jumped about. That is, until a family wandered up and scared it away. It was a magical moment!

It had been quite a good day up until then but after witnessing the Weasel display it turned into a fantastic one. We carried on, trying to spot the Yellow Wagtails; Spotted Redshank and Sedge Warblers that had been reported earlier. But we were still elated at the Weasel display and settled for more Redshank and Snipe. Skylarks were rising up and singing their hearts out. Earlier, Marianne had spotted a Wheatear, sitting atop the MDZ, but it flew off before I could focus on it.

Just before we arrived at the Purfleet Hide I spotted a Kingfisher fly-by. We sat down in the Hide and looked out to survey the area. There were quite a few birds out there but nothing ventured in close. Possibly because of a crying baby in the Hide, which the mother soon took outside. Actually there were quite a few families around the Reserve today. The good weather bringing everyone out, of course, but the Easter holidays were still not over yet.

We moved on to the bridge, to look for Water Vole, but saw nothing. A quick walk past the feeders, passing a particularly docile Brown Rat, who only moved off the path when a little girl decided to try and stroke it and then we found ourselves back in the Visitor Centre. After refreshments, where I was sorely tempted by the Carrot Cake, we decided to head back to the Woodland, mainly for insects.

More butterflies were about here, as were Bee-flies and Hoverflies. But so were more Midges. Thousands of them and I found myself again walking into clouds of them. Why do they have to fly in swarms on the trails?

One thing I found mysterious about the Peacock butterflies. Both here and at Amwell, every time a bird or another butterfly flew past one, it rose up and chased it. Possibly territorial behaviour?

From here we decided to pay one more visit to the Purfleet Hide, again not seeing a great deal close up. After that we decided to head home, with Shane kindly giving me a lift to the Station.

A brilliant days birding!

'Sadly butterflies seem to become smaller as one ages.'