Trip reports

Rainham Walk with Pat Hart

Rainham Walk with Pat Hart
Debbie Burkett - a view towards the numbered targets

Sunday, 27 January 2013

The first of our new programme of walks had an auspicious start as we were bathed in sunshine as we put our boots on in the car park. The rain the previous night meant there was no snow or ice and it was well above freezing. Pat told us this was an amazing change as two days ago we would have found most of the reserve frozen.

There were only six of us in total on the walk as some people had unfortunately had to cancel but it did mean it was easy for us to hear Pat's hugely entertaining and informative facts about the reserve. I have been visiting Rainham for years and hadn't realised how much there was about the site that I had just walked straight pass without noticing or being aware.

We met Pat at 9.30am in the Visitor Centre which is worth a visit even if you don't go out on to the reserve! The huge picture windows give a good view over the site and many birds can be spotted from there. The feeders attract the common garden birds and it's good to see a healthy population of House Sparrows around.

There were a good selection of ducks out on the water and grass including Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler, Shelduck, whistling Wigeon and a very smart pair of Pintails. We watched large flocks of Lapwing take to the sky accompanied by a smaller number of Golden Plover which formed a group above the Lapwing. Pat informed us that the more angular, pointed wings of the Golden Plover enabled them to get off the ground faster than the Lapwing and so gain height more rapidly. We searched in vain in case it was a bird of prey that had put them up but did not spot one.

We walked around the sheltered interior of what was the Cordite store during the war - we glimpsed an over-wintering Chiffchaff and a solitary Redwing briefly perched nearby. We continued the anti-clockwise circuit of the reserve out to the raised boardwalk that goes through the reed bed. (It's Reed mace not Bullrush - leading to another one of Pat's snippets of information as to where the confusion arose!)

We had some excellent views of a Stonechat - a bird that seems to be getting harder to see these days. As we walked along the far side of the reserve, we felt the strength of the wind and were glad of a stop in the Shooting Butts hide. This is a very large, modern hide design with large windows that can be opened totally so there is nothing blocking your view of the birds - so different from the tiny gaps in the small, familiar wooden hides. It gives views both ways and suddenly we saw a whirring flock of birds that one moment looked black and then brilliant white - it was a flock of around two hundred Dunlin.

As we carried on, Pat yet again had more fascinating snippets about the old rifle ranges and how they were used. We took the one-way exit out on to the sea wall and dropped down on to the foreshore. Here we had good views of Rock and Meadow Pipit almost side by side giving us a chance to see the differences in their plumage and calls.

Lunch was now definitely calling and on our return to the Visitor Centre we tried to settle down with a selection of jacket potatoes, paninis and homemade cake but there were always new birds being spotted through the windows - including a Grey Plover, Curlew and a lone Black-tailed Godwit.

Then someone came in and said 'the Waxwings are back' so we abandoned our table and dashed out to see a flock of about 16 Waxwings perched in a nearby tree. Excellent!

We thought that was a brilliant end to our outing but as we were leaving Pat put his scope on one of the pylons most favoured by the local Peregrines and there was a perched Peregrine surveying his territory - all in all a good start to our programme of walks with a species list of around 50 birds.