Trip reports

Week-end Walk Rainham Marshes on 23rd February 2019

Week-end Walk Rainham Marshes on 23rd February 2019
Cetti's warbler - photographed at Arundel in April 2016 (Peter Hambrook)

Sunday, 3 March 2019

This trip to Essex was the third outing of the week for the North West Surrey Group following the midweek visit to Barnes and the extra visit to Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire. This brought up an astounding total of eight separate counties (including the above and Surrey) visited by our RSPB group in just twelve months; the others were Middlesex, Berkshire, Hampshire, Sussex and Kent. If you want to explore the bird reserves of the South East, join our group!

After a drive round a foggy M25 we arrived to find a clear reserve but very limited visibility on the River Thames. This was unfortunate as we could not survey the shore on arrival but by early afternoon as we left the tide was up and then the foreshore had disappeared. On arrival in the car park the resident house sparrows showed that they continue to thrive in healthy colonies in some places, and a pair of dunnocks also appeared.

From the path down from the Visitor Centre the view across the reserve as the sun broke through the mist was superb with a wide variety of wildfowl on display. Canada and greylag geese and large groups of lapwings on the grassy banks were surrounded by a wide variety of ducks. Tufted duck, wigeon, shoveler and mallard were well represented but closer inspection revealed over a dozen pintail. Although only a few gadwalls were seen here they were in evidence in other parts of the reserve.

Continuing through the busy woodland area blackbird, long-tailed tits, gold finches, chaffinches and a greenfinch were seen. Above the path we noticed a great-spotted woodpecker and a collared dove perched high in a tree. A friendly robin tried to join our group and leaving the woods for the reed beds we saw a pair of reed buntings around a feeder.

Cetti's warblers have a reputation for frustrating birdwatchers by singing from the depths of bushes and rarely allowing more than occasional glimpses of their chestnut brown backs. Clearly their PR department on the north side of Rainham Marshes had decided it was time to update their image. One was heard from the left of the path followed by others on the right which then broke cover and put on a lively display chasing through the tops of the bushes and calling vociferously at each other. A knowledgeable member of the group, (thank you Peter) explained that this atypical display was probably due to successful breeding during the warm Summer of 2018 leading to the new adult birds fighting for territory.

Continuing along the northern side of the marshes brought us to the Ken Barrett Hide which is an aged and rusting old shipping container, although comfortable inside. It looks across several ponds and snipe were lurking in the long grass on the far bank with Canada geese and mallard on the mud banks and water. Little grebe and great crested grebe were fishing on a pond to the right. Walking along the boardwalks towards the eastern perimeter of the reserve we noticed plenty of activity beyond the boundaries. Dunlin and lapwing crowded the shallow ponds and at least two Marsh Harriers were performing aerobatics in the sky above.

Gulls were plentiful all over the reserve with black-headed gulls in the majority although common and lesser black-backed were also seen, and one member of the group also saw a great black-backed gull. The spacious and modern Shooting Butts Hide offers views through three hundred and sixty degrees. A ruff had joined the dunlins and lapwings on the Target Pools to the East while a large flock of lapwings and a smaller group of dunlins wheeled and swooped overhead. It now became apparent that at least three Marsh Harriers were hunting over the marshes and fields displaying their aerobatic skills.

Continuing around the southern perimeter skylarks were heard and seen over the meadows and a curlew patrolled a small pond. The unseasonably warm weather had brought a small orange butterfly out, probably a comma, and it displayed well in the bushes beside the path.

Sparrows and starlings were active in the bushes behind the Purfleet Hide which gave the same fine. view over the reserve that we had enjoyed earlier with the addition of a small group of redshanks.

During the morning a total of 50 different species birds had been seen, by our group of seven, and once again we had been blessed with perfect weather conditions.

Although a visit to Rainham Marshes reserve depends on a clear M25 the journey in each direction was trouble free. We would probably all agree that it should stay on our regular list of reserves to be visited.