It has been an interesting week on the reserve so far with very un-spring like conditions on Monday when it remained murky and dull but perfect conditions for downing five Red-breasted Mergansers in the Bay. March is a regular time for this specialised fish eater to appear as it heads back north to the upland streams of Britain.
Mergansers - Andy Tweed
A Black-tailed Godwit in breeding plumage was seen and photographed by Clive Watts and was blinged up with some nice blue and yellow leg adornments. Hopefully we can trace its movements and see where it has been. Lapwings have been settling down on various nests and giving the Carrion Crows serious trouble!
BlingWit - Clive Watts
Lapwing - Tony O'Brien
Tuesday started with more mist and two Common Scoters on the Thames but as it lifted the sun came out and there were quite a few bumble and mining bees to be found if you sought a spot out of the wind and most of the commoner species were evident along with several energetic Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva) with the females in their bright ginger fur coat and the skinny males with the huge jaws! A couple of male Hairy Footed Flower Bees (Anthophora plumipes) were careening around the Primroses in the wildlife garden and Jerry Hoare and I even found a tiny male Little Blue Carpenter Bee (Ceratina cyanea) when the books suggest May at the earliest!
Tawny Mining Bee, Andrena fulva - Jerry Hoare
Little Blue Carpenter Bee (Ceratina cyanea) HTV
Brimstones and the first Small and Green-veined Whites were on the wing amongst the Small Torts, Commas and Peacocks and a single very early flowering Hawthorn was drawing in plenty of bees and hoverflies and I managed to id a few species of the latter before the sun went in again – Epistrophe elegans, Syrphus torvus (with the hairy eyes), Eupeodes luniger and Eristalis arbustorum so not bad for five minutes of sun on one shrub!
Peacock - Bob Cooper
Eristalis arbustorum - HTV
Eupeodes luniger - Lawrence Rogers
A superb Red Kite hanging above the centre as we were leaving was a fine way to end a stressful stock take afternoon!
Red Kite - HTV
The cold northerly wind was prevalent on Wednesday but I still had a look around the Serin Mound and Landfill early on and was rewarded by a fine male Ring Ouzel with gleaming gorget and silvery wings lifting out of the gorse and winging up and over the grassed tip. A real early spring bonus and my first one ever here in March. Two male Corn Buntings jangled on the Ridge and could just be heard over the glorious cacophony of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits while the other two regular species – Goldfinch and Linnet were still adding to the morning chorus.
Ring Ouzel... honest!
Corn Bunting - HTV
Male Linnet - HTV
I spent the first part of the morning helping teach some five years olds – the first time I have done this for nearly ten years having started in that role with the RSPB 14 years ago and I have to say that it was great. Purfleet Primary is seemingly full of little kids who actually feel some connection to wildlife. They knew the names (or at least the family) of many types of British wildlife and while out with me they actually queued up quietly to firstly all have an orb spider walk across their hands and then to watch a dozy cold Queen Buff-tailed Bumblebee recuperate in my hand before being positioned on some Sloe blossom. Brought a smile to my face.
Andy Reid and Max Hellicar had Jack Snipe and two smart Water Pipits in front of the Butts Hide and the Marsh Harriers were putting on a great display in the windy conditions.
And so to Thursday where the wall to wall sunshine may not have appeared but the temperature certainly rose into the high teens and as such there was another insect surge. Jerry identified several new small bees and as predicted the extra warmth caused the emergence of the first Holly Blue and Orange Tip butterflies taking us to nine species for the day! Bee-flies were zipping around and I found a funky Gymnocheta viridis Greenbottle on the inside of the centre window – my first of this spiky spring species I have seen this year.
Small Tortoiseshell - Jackie Thornton
Bombylius major - Bee Fly - Jerry Hoare
Gymnocheta viridis - HTV
ooooh what hairy legs you have got....
My early morning walk down the other end produced two more Mergansers heading up river and a couple of Wheatears on the Ridge while a low Red Kite at 0730 over Wennington that drifted off to the north once again suggests that we now have local birds. Coltsfoot, Dandelions and the first Cowsliips added low level yellow to the heavenly coconut scented Gorse up above.
Essence of Red Kite - HTV
Cowslip - HTV
Wheatear - HTV
The Bearded Tits were seen several times and Cetti’s Warblers are still being quite showy with a little patience especially the male on the approach to the Purfleet Hide as you walk down from the centre.
Bearded Tit - John Humble
Cetti's warbler - John Humble
One Water Pipit was still by the Butts and the first two Sedge Warblers were in periodic song from late afternoon along the Southern Trail where a Grass Snake was seen out hunting in the ditch. Lizards were very obvious today with lots of sun basking and the Marsh Frogs were being very vociferous!
Lizard - Tom Bell
Hirundines have been scarce with the odd Sand Martin and Swallow seen so I was pleased to see my first two Sand Marts this evening just before closing.
So it feels like spring is starting to get a hold and I wonder what me pre-work amble will hold for me tomorrow?
oh and look what was in a tree at the end of my road when I got home...
We have reached that time of year again when the breeding season is starting to get underway and we have to begin thinking about the welfare of the wildlife on the reserve during this sensitive time.
Back in the winter months the wardening team and their intrepid volunteers did a great job of clearing the vegetation in front of the Kingfisher bank in preparation of, hopefully, another season of flashing blue and orange.
In the last week we have set about improving the opportunities for you guys to have a better chance to observe these stunning little predators but without compromising the welfare of these Schedule One protected birds (and other wildlife on the MDZ Pool).
Kingfisher – Tom Bell
It is important to note these points – kingfishers are listed as a Schedule 1 species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and it is an offence to disturb them, their nest and their dependant young. You will also be observing these birds on a Site of Special Scientific Interest, also designated under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. It would be an offence to disturb the features for which the site has been designated, and this includes breeding birds.
But regardless of these legal requirements, we would expect all visitors to behave in a way which respects the wildlife here, and to display appropriate and good field craft – the welfare of the bird and other wildlife is more important than getting a picture.
The Army camo netting is not yet up inside the MDZ but will soon be in place across the window. It is put there to allow you to watch the birds without disturbing them and is not directly an aid to photography so please bear this in mind and do not move the netting aside to try and get a better view.
Two new eight foot branches on heavy bases have been installed in the pool that have left a couple of nice snags poking above the surface as perches.
So, many thanks to Ian Bloys for constructing them for us and masterfully rowing the dingy in strong wind across the pool to where I could lift them over the side and sink them into position. Thankfully we got no wetter than the rain falling on us! There is now one in front of the middle of the main window and another about half way along the slatted screen on the outside decking.
Transporting the perches and boat to the MDZ – Paul Wilson
Ian and I heading out with perch #1
Getting it over the side without tipping the boat up...
Rowing back to where we wanted to put it et voila –
Perch two was a bit bigger and a lot heavier but with Ian’s expert rowing we got it just where we wanted it. – thank to Dean Holden for these pics
‘But that is normally closed off with fencing during the breeding season’ I hear you say... well we are trialling something different and have screened off the whole length using a black out material. The four viewing slots are still available and you can see over the top of the screen. The area behind the metal Kingfisher sculpture has been completely screened off. This is a no go area for your own safety.
Hopefully this screen will stay in place and allow you to watch the Kingfishers, Little Grebes and Coots
And so to some simple requirements regarding etiquette at the MDZ this summer:
Keep noise to a minimum. Avoid loud bangs and knocks that will disturb birds, put phones on silent, talk and move quietly and respect the fact that a legally protected species is just outside and you are privileged to be able to get so close. Do not spoil it for others just because you have already seen the bird.
Camera shutters: If you are able to, set your camera shutter setting to silent or quiet mode.
Do not move the camo netting for any reason. If it is a picture you are after your lens should be able to focus through a gap with little trouble or go outside and try from there.
Respect the fact that this is a Family Zone for the reserve. Everyone is welcome and not everyone will be a birder, photographer or wildlife enthusiast. They may, however, have never seen a Kingfisher and we should all help each other to make this happen. Children are allowed in the MDZ and it will be up to the parents to supervise them but getting those kids to see a Kingfisher is well worth the effort.
Do not hog a spot. Give everyone the chance to get the best view possible. Stay for a while, cross your fingers and then move on and let someone else have a look... there will be other days.
Do not play any tapes or recordings to attract the attention of the Kingfishers. This has happened in previous years and is completely illegal.
Above all else, remember the welfare of the birds, and their ability to nest undisturbed, comes before anything else.
Addendum: Unsuprisingly in the howling north easterly today the black sheeting took a bit of a battering and it took four of us some time this evening to literally batten it down so sincere thanks to Ian Bloys, Jerry Hoare and Alan tanner for staying late to at least give us a chance of it being there tomorrow!