Sunday, 24 January 2010

Day to remember

Images from top, all at Rainham today: Whooper Swans (with Pintail in foreground), juvenile Glaucous Gull, Slavonian Grebe and Tundra Bean Geese.

News came too late yesterday of a potential London tick in the form of five Whooper Swans on the Thames at Crossness - another great find on John Archer's patch. But a call from Dave Morrison just before dusk revealed that the birds had later flown east along the river and settled at Rainham, presumably for the night.

It's not every Sunday that I like to be woken at 5 am, but needs must today and within the hour I was on the road to Rainham. Already, two silhouettes on the seawall in the darkness indicated I wasn't the first - Andy Tweed and Howard Vaughan, who texted me the positive news, had already made out the Whoopers by moonlight. Gradually, as the sky lightened, we were able to enjoy superb views of these birds, though conditions were obviously not great for photography (hence this 'noisy' image). The birds briefly got out of the water and grazed, at which point a yellow darvic ring (code P65) was noticed on one of them, but then at 7.46 am they took flight and departed high to the north-east.

With the pressure seemingly off we checked the rest of the scrape, noting a very long-billed Bar-tailed Godwit, and then I walked the woodland and scrub, notching up my first site Jay of the year, before reaching the Target Pools, where Les Harrison had reported a juvenile Glaucous Gull. It was still on show, and seemingly the smaller of the two individuals reported recently. Funny how birding goes; I'd seen none here before this month, and yet this was my fourth Glaucous encounter in a couple of weeks. At least four Cetti's Warblers and a Common Chiffchaff showed in the reedbeds on the return walk, as did a male Blackcap in the scrub, but I left sharply to follow up a report of two Marsh Harriers over Wennington Marshes.

A Common Buzzard on the drive round was a bonus bird and it was on show again from the tip entrance, but despite assistance from Paul Hawkins and Martin Blow no harriers could be located. They moved on to look for Serins and I went to check Aveley Bay, where a Great Crested Grebe was showing distantly. Then I took a call from a breathless Paul, who had trumped the possibility of Marsh Harrier with a Slavonian Grebe in a nearby dyke - an outstanding Rainham. I was there in minutes, watching the bird fishing just a few metres away from the gathering crowd. Barely had we time to take that in than texts came in from Franko and Howard, the former having just refound two Tundra Bean Geese on the reserve. A hasty call home to warn of a delayed return, followed by a speed walk along the seawall, resulted in distant but satisfactory views of another major London bird.

Days like this don't usually come along too often, but that's three London ticks this month alone, all at Rainham. As for my 2010 patchlist for the site:
88. Whooper Swan.
89. Jay.
90. Common Chiffchaff.
91. Slavonian Grebe.
92. Tundra Bean Goose.

And a quick Alexandra Park patchlist update from yesterday:
53. Siskin.


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