Well that was an interesting day… I got into work early to go and do an interp check on the trails before opening and set off at 0745 in the grey gloom and murk.

I did have a target in mind though as with so many Hawfinches moving through the southern half of the UK I did not see why RSPB Rainham Marshes should be left out. Between us, we have been putting in the hours skywatching during the current finch immigration but had had no joy but I had noticed that quite a few of the local sightings had been in the first hour of the daylight – hence my early start.

What I did not expect was to connect with two single Hawfinches within the first ten minutes of heading out. Both birds came in from the south and circled and were giving the thin high call rather than the ‘tsik’ one. They landed independently in the woodland but I could not refind them.  Chaffinches were ‘pinking’ in from up high and Siskins and Lesser Redpolls called but all remained invisible despite me hearing over 20 during the day! Goldcrests were vocal and a Firecrest was heard ‘peeping’ in the Mardyke and a couple of Chiffchaffs were seen.

It was also very much a slug and snail day with some great photographic opportunities to be had!

An agitated male Goldcrest - Andrew Rodger

Migrant Song Thrushes and black-billed Blackbirds lurked in the brambles and small parties of Redwings and Starlings moved west. The juvenile Spoonbill was actively feeding on Aveley Pool and some of the Pintail are now looking very smart indeed. Two Spoonies were reported later on. Beardies pinged and two juvenile Peregrines and the male Marsh Harrier were already out hunting.

Spoonbill - Andrew Rodger

and John Humble

I was put in charge of the work party today as Jamie had his hands full with an energetic group from  Thames Tideway on cut reed removal and the regular team were thus seconded to me for some serious ‘vegetative management’ as Jules called it this morning.

Jamie of the Thames Tideway crew hard at work by the Purfleet Hide - they filled the huge green trailer three times with reed debris!

Over the years the view from the centre has slowly been dwindling behind the foliage of the garden fence line and along the river wall so some essential pruning was required to allow us to once more see the mighty Thames. 

An amazing job...

The seven of us worked incredibly hard all day with many bonus birds for company including a pair of Yellowhammers, various flyover finches, Skylarks, Redwings, Song Thrushes and pipits and even five late Swallows.

The huge line of 'bushes' on the top of the river wall is the brash we have removed but the river is revealed once again... still more to do

One thing we did not cut back was this beautiful Spindle

Phil and Dave popped in to lend a hand and during a much needed five minute cessation in activity suddenly Dave said ‘Flock of Egrets!’ I looked up and could see the lumbering flight and long legs with no bins and thought… mmm… seen that a few times this week already. All three of us suddenly realised that we were looking at a group of Great Whites! A quick count… 14! No way… and in this week of all weeks when I have already seen 25 of this wonderful heron in Norfolk and Kent.

13 of the 14 Great White Egrets at long range - HTV

I shouted the message down the radio and ran into the centre to try and get everyone on them and to try to get some sort of record shot as they slowly flew towards the tip and then up river and into London. A frantic disbelieving text from Marco asking if he had really just seen 14 Great Whites go over the Serin Mound was met with the affirmative.

In a mirror movement of the Grey Herons in Norfolk on Monday, eight Grey Herons shortly appeared high from the east and headed south west across the river.  Something is definitely going on on the near continent to push these birds across the North Sea.

Thankfully Jerry Hoare got this even better shot with all 14 in!

It was time to cease dancing with spiky Hawthorns and Sloe and a nice sit down for a cuppa was required but even this was interrupted by a very casual radio call from Alan Tanner to say that he and Jerry Hoare had just seen a Gannet head over the woodland!

I leapt outside and there it was, a pied, second year bird weaving in and out of the rooftops of Purfleet as it tried to get back to the Thames.

A suitably surreal end to a superb, if slightly unintentional, day out on the ranch…