Friday, 13 May 2016

The Taming of the Shrew!

RSPB Rainham Marsh - 5th May 16

Weather: Very hot. Slight breeze.

Bird Total: 58
Plus: Cattle; Marsh Frog; Rabbit; Shrew.
Plus: Brimstone; Orange Tip, Peacock, Small White butterflies.
Plus: 7 and 22-spot Ladybird; Alderfly; Banded Snail; Bee-fly; Bluebottle; Crane Fly; Dock Bug; Flesh Fly; Green Shield Bug; Hairy Shield Bug; Hoverfly; Midge; Nursery Web Spider; Red-tailed Bumblebee; St. Mark's Fly.

It was time for my first trip of the year down to Rainham Marsh. Ron had again graciously invited me and I was duly picked up and so we headed south. Although the journey wasn't an easy one. We were caught up in a few traffic jams, notably on the M11 and the M25.

However, we were soon arriving at the Reserve. It was another hot, sunny day, with hardly a cloud in the sky. There was no breeze, at first, until we found ourselves in the open areas, where a chilly wind blew in from the estuary.

As we tooled up and headed upstairs to the entrance, Ron spotted a huge Cruise Ship heading towards the open sea. It looked very intimidating and large, making the estuary look smaller than it was. We could already hear lots of bird-song, mainly the common stuff. House Sparrow; Starling; Collared Dove and Goldfinch were all on or near the feeders, in the adjacent gardens.

We decided to take the anti-clockwise route, heading for the Woodland. As we started our walk, we could see a few Shelduck and Shoveler, out on the lagoons in front. We could also hear Redshank calling.

We stopped off at one of the reed-bed areas to look for Warblers. We could already hear lots of them. Both Reed and Sedge Warbler appeared briefly. However, a Cetti's Warbler sang out nearby and then we spotted it fly past.

Soon, we were entering the Woodland maze. After spotting a lovely Hairy Shieldbug, a Dock Bug and a few 22-spot Ladybirds, we split up. Ron after Warblers, me after insects.

I walked around the paths for a few minutes, not seeing anything particularly interesting, until a pair of Bee-flies suddenly flew up. There were conjoined and obviously doing the dance of love. I froze and fortunately they landed back down to continue their dance.

A little further on and I came across a very fruitful patch of bramble and dock leaves. Here I found several more Hairy Shield Bugs and Dock Bugs. Then I found the only Common Green Shieldbug of the day. Orange Tip and Peacock butterflies flew past.

I managed to change to my macro lens without dropping anything and proceeded to document everything I could. People passed me by, giving me some strange looks. Time passed quickly and I was concerned that Ron might be impatiently waiting for me, so I headed back to our meeting place. He hadn't seen much to excite.

We headed off up the boardwalk. We could hear Warblers everywhere around us, but not many showed themselves. It was now very hot in the sun, possibly the warmest day of the year, so far. I only had on a shirt today, dressing down a lot more than last week. Did we really have frost and snow last week?

We wandered slowly on, keeping our eyes open everywhere, up and down, left and right. However, there wasn't much to be seen, despite the cacophony of bird song. It was quite disappointing. I was also keeping an eye out for more insects, plus any possible sightings of Lizard or Snake.

Then we arrived at the Ken Barrett Hide. I had heard that some improvements had been done here, outside the Hide. When we entered and sat down, on the cushioned seats, we could see that it had been turned into a scrape outside.

That was the good news. The bad news was that there still wasn't anything out there. A few Mallards; Coots and Geese, but that was it. We gave it 15 minutes before moving on. We did see a pair of what we thought were Linnet, but weren't too sure. The only other bird of note was a lone Pied Wagtail.

We arrived at one of the main lake viewpoints and looked out. Although plenty of birds were out on the lake, they weren't very close to us. They were so distant even my Bins were struggling to identify anything.

Fortunately, a man with a scope was also present and he asked if we could confirm some Wader IDs on the far side. I peered through and could see a few Little Ringed Plovers and 4 Dunlin. Then I could see a pair of Greenshank behind them.

Elsewhere out on the lake, a pair of Great Crested Grebes were doing their head-shaking thing. Frustratingly though, everything was distant. We moved on, trying to listen out for Bearded Tit.

We passed another couple, with a scope, who pointed out several more Linnets, atop the bushes and the adjacent pylon. We carried on around the circuit, eventually ending up at the Shooting Butts Hide. We had earlier tried to spot any Water Vole on the river, but were unsuccessful.

It was a little more fruitful from the Hide. Outside, we could see Lapwing with chicks, Redshank with chicks, while Marsh Harrier, Hobby and Buzzard were distant spots on the horizon, towards the Dump. It was another case of as you were, as regards the rest, notably Shoveler, Teal and Shelduck. Just before we left, a Kingfisher flashed past.

After lunch, we continued our circuit. Unfortunately, there were no Beardies to be seen, in any of the usual places. In fact, not much of anything, until we spotted all the Lapwing go up. Almost immediately, we spotted a Hobby flying low over the marsh, scaring everything. It looked like it had caught something, but I couldn't make out what it was.

We walked on, past the Firing Range. The '4' was still missing. Lots of Marsh Frogs were calling out and we finally managed to spot a few, in the adjacent streams. A lone Swallow flew past. Ron stopped to photograph some Skylarks, flying up and down, while I continued on to the Turnstile exit. I looked out over the bridge, both sides, seeing more Frogs.

Then something caught my eye, to the right. A little mammal plopped into the water. I could already see that it wasn't a Water Vole. Maybe a Bank Vole? No, the nose was too pointed. I guessed, correctly, that it was a Shrew! I wasn't sure if it was Common, Water or Pygmy, but it was tiny. It was also the first 'live' Shrew I had seen. I managed to get a few photos.

Ron caught up to me and we spotted several more Swallows flying underneath the bridge. Ron suggested that they had a nest underneath. Then a lone Swift zoomed past.

We then arrived at the Marshland Discovery Zone area, where a nesting pair of Kingfishers were in situ. We hung around for about 10 minutes but decided to head off. There were several people already in there and we would be photographing the Kingfishers through glass anyway.

We were accompanied by more Warbler song as we approached the Purfleet Hide. Looking out we could see a Redshank fairly close in. It appeared to have an injured leg. Another one was further out. Several Lapwing were flying around. A Kingfisher flashed past us, again.

One of the never-ending stream of trains sped past, in the distance. Ron casually cried out, 'Another Train full of immigrants arriving!'

A Little Grebe appeared in front of the Hide, ducking down every few seconds, feeding. Time was getting on, the Reserve had a 5 o'clock closing time.

We passed through the Visitor Centre but no one was able to confirm my Shrew photos, so we decided to take a walk along the sea wall. It was windy here, with the sun in our eyes and, although we could see some waders, probably more Redshank, they were silhouettes. So we called it a day and returned to the car.

After a few more traffic problems, Ron got me home just before 6. No train delays here!

Another good day out, but again the RSPB Reserve could have been so much better. Maybe it was another case of 'absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.'

'So it's Trump vs Clinton. What can possibly go wrong?'