The Kids Birdwatching Club at Rainham has been around for at least twelve years now, thanks to the initial support of Peter Holden who encouraged me in my plan to set up an event for budding young ornithologists on the reserve at a time when an onsite Wildlife Explorers Club was not a possibility.
It has always catered for all ages and by involving the parents it has always been an eclectic group of likeminded souls with a love for being outside and learning about the natural world around them with a common passion running between them.
Some of those ‘kids’ are now at Uni studying the natural sciences while one is a semi pro cyclist with a bright sporting future – but still goes birding. Once bitten...
We run these sessions once a month exploring the reserve throughout the year discovering wildlife through the seasons - our next Kids Birdwatching Club (KBC) will be on Saturday 14 July, 10 am-12.30 pm.
And so after that little nostalgic preamble I will take you on the KBC walk that we undertook on a grey but sultry Saturday. We headed out along the river wall with the sound of alarming Redshanks and Lapwings out across the meadows as they gave chase en masse to one the male Marsh Harriers. It is a wonder that they can hunt at the Centre end at all! The local breeding Little Egrets were scattered all across the marsh collecting food for every growing young a few miles away.
Little Egret - Joan Chatterly
Redshank - Mark Vale
Common Terns fished along the line of the Tudor seawall that was just visible with its floating seaweed and you could hear the splash as they hit the water. Shelduck and Cormorants passed by and Starlings were foraging on the saltmash.
Common Tern - Mick Brockington
The banks were awash with swathes of purple Tufted Vetch interspersed with the yellows of Goatsbeard and Hawksbeard and the single spike of Common Broomrape that I found last week had now multiplied to 11 spikes with it host plant – Perforate St John’s Wort within a foot.
Perforate St John’s Wort
Black-tailed Skimmers quartered the path at about six inches and many Blue-tailed Damselflies were quite literally hanging around while the kids were fascinated with the tale of how a Robin’s Pin Cushion is created by the Dog Rose reacting to the alien presence of the tiny Bedagaur’s Gall Wasp larvae living inside it!
Robin’s Pin Cushion
Down through the seawall gate passing singing Whitethroats on the way to be greeted by a Cuckoo on the top of number one of the Shooting Butts and a cloud of Swifts careening around with their mouths open trying to hoover up flies.
Cuckoo - David Everingham
The Stinging Nettles were covered in spiny Peacock Butterfly caterpillars, Seven Spot Ladybirds and their larvae, shiny powder green Weevils and egg carrying Wolf Spiders.
Peacock Butterfly caterpillar
The Bearded Tits pinged around on the Dragonfly Pool and a Painted Lady was seen along with the first Large Skipper and Meadow Brown and a goodly number of Common Blues.
Painted Lady - Steve Drake
The Marsh Harriers put on a great show from the Butts Hide and a new Shoveler brood was found on the Targets as well as seven Teal and two Avocets. A Buzzard circled further back and several Kestrels hovered across the marsh.
Marsh Harrier - Bernard Bradshaw
Female Marsh Harrier getting grief from the Lapwings
As we reached the Northern Boardwalk we started to notice Drinker moth caterpillars – they were everywhere and you had to be careful where you walked as they had a penchant for just sitting in the middle of the path which is quite dopey really given the relish with which Cuckoos consume them!
Another male Bearded Tit bounced across and the resident Cetti’s Warblers and Reed Buntings were once again in full song as they reaffirmed their territories to help secure a second brood. The latter were especially obliging.
Aveley Pool was covered in independent Pochard ducklings and the first two Tufted Duck broods were also out but with attentive mothers still in attendance while the Great Crested Grebes and Mute Swans still had their respective families in tow.
Mute Swan family
Great Crested Grebes
The Marsh Frogs were now quite vocal but we could not find a Grass snake or Water Vole this time. Down towards the woodland there were some good insects on the Brambles with several hoverfly species including the first Volucella bombylans of the season, fluffy Eristalis intricaria and a couple of spotty eyed Eristalinus sepulchralis. Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps were singing well and I had to move a young Song Thrush from the path and pop him in a tree out of harms way.
I was intrigued to know why the current crop of young naturalists keep coming back so I actually asked them...
“I love the ambience of Rainham Marshes; it's incredible to be part of a bird watching club so close to London and still see an amazing range of wildlife, not only birds.” Clara, age 14
"I love going to Rainham Marshes to watch and learn about birds in a wildlife oasis on the edge of an urban environment." Robbie, age 11
“I enjoy the KBC because I always see something different, learn something new and everyone is really helpful – and I just love raptors!” Sam, age 9
“I have been going to KBC for almost 9 years, and even now I learn something new on every walk. It's something I look forward to every month and I really enjoy searching round the marsh to find as many birds as possible!” Ben, age 15
It would seem to be the desire to learn that drives them and the diversity of life on our reserve that keeps them coming back for more... I couldn’t ask for any more really.
A post-lunch look at the Bee Orchid in the picnic area and then it was time to prepare for the Late Night Opening which was quiet from a visitor point of view but relaxed from ours and those that came along had a great evening out on the marsh where even the Barn owl came out.
A circuit late on to lock up was peaceful despite the continuous croakings of the Marsh Frogs but was interspersed by the calls of Lapwing and Redshank and the kipping song of at least two inflated Water Rails...
The next Kids Birdwatching Club (KBC) will be on Saturday 14 July, 10 am-12.30 pm. To keep up to date with all the events throughout the year look at our website www.rspb.org.uk/rainham
Brilliant blog! Really nice to get an insight into how your marsh is run, and to be able to draw parallels between our marsh and yours. The bird watching club sounds fantastic and with such positive feedback from the kids themselves!