Saturday, 26 December 2009

More questions than ansers

The last jaunt of the year to the Thames coincided with a significant improvement in temperatures, and the snow of a few days ago has all but gone. No time to do the RSPB reserve at Rainham today, so instead I headed to the riverside car park at the stone barges. After at least 40 Fieldfares and a Redwing on the way in and a welcome from this remarkably confiding female Kestrel in the car park, I birded the edge of the tip by the riverside path.

Other than the usual Redshank flock, some Common Shelduck and a single Black-tailed Godwit there was little of note along the foreshore. Numerous Pied and one Grey Wagtail consorted with a sprinkling of pipits - mainly Meadow, though two Rock/Water Pipits also flew over, calling. I've been listening to these last two species calling for years now and, no matter what others claim, I find it impossible to separate them with confidence on call; I'm in good company, as Per Alström declared the two effectively inseparable on call in his scholarly Pipits and Wagtails identification guide. While there do seem to be some subtle nuances, occasionally the odd bird calls more like its sibling species, and I still feel a good look is advisable to clinch the ID.

On the dump side of the footpath there were many more passerines to enjoy. A gathering of up to 40 Skylarks and 15 or so Linnets was notable, and there were a few Reed Buntings, Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Meadow Pipits around for good measure too - though no sign of the Yellowhammer or the small party of Corn Buntings which have been reported from here intermittently (the rain didn't help). More interestingly, I flushed two separate Common Snipe and a single European Golden Plover from wet grass at the foot of the slope - presumably birds displaced by the recent freezing spell finding their way back to better habitat.

A charm of at least 60 Goldfinches, along with several Greenfinches and a Reed Bunting, decorated the thistles along Coldharbour Lane, while round at Aveley Bay numerous Northern Lapwings, 100+ Dunlin and a Eurasian Curlew were in view distantly on the mud. Two Yellow-legged Gulls - an adult and a third-winter - were on the river in mid-channel (often a good place to look for them), but gull numbers were well down as the tip wasn't in operation today, so I cut my losses and headed round to the viewing mound.

From here there were a few more scattered groups of gulls, with nothing special on view, and also a decent flock of Greylags and some tag-along Canada Geese. I checked the Greylags more in hope than expectation for other species, finding none but spotting a couple of colour rings in the process. Details have been sent off to the WWT - more anon if and when I get any feedback. Interestingly, out of 105 Greylags counted, 11 also had orange rather than pink legs. Why? The key difference between subspecies is between orange (nominate anser) and pink (rubrirostris) bills, but aren't both subspecies meant to show pink legs? Perhaps domestic influence is a factor, but then as most domestic geese are often said to be descendants of Greylags, shouldn't they still be pink? More questions than ansers, as it were.


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