Saturday, 9 January 2010

Ice station Rainham

It took half an hour to defrost the car and dig it out of the snow this morning, almost as long as it takes to drive to Rainham, which is where I headed shortly after dawn. The temperature was about -4 C, higher than I had expected. Having negotiated the ice rink of a hill on which I live, it was a breeze heading to the Thames, and I arrived well before opening time at the reserve to discover that Les Harrison was already on the milkman shift. We spoke on the phone briefly and he told me the lock was frozen solid, so access was via the gate near the main entrance. That gave me a chance to walk the verge on the approach road, looking for Woodcock, but there were none.

Once inside, I scoured the scrub and the cordite for more non-existent Woodcock, doing several circuits, and was eventually rewarded by flushing a large brown bird from the undergrowth - a female Pheasant. I finally moved on towards Aveley Pools, seeing very little en route and very little there, though the gulls looked great as they sat out a snow shower on the ice - there's almost no open water left now. I thought I glimpsed a third-winter Caspian Gull, but almost all the birds sat down as soon as the snow started. There were quite a few brutish argentatus above).

While there, I got a gripping text from Andrew Gardener to say he had flushed not one but two Woodcock at my other patch, Alexandra Park, where the species is barely recorded annually. Back at the reserve centre, Brenda - who'd just finished photographing a Water Rail under the seed feeders - told me she'd seen a Woodcock from the car as she drove along the approach road on the way in. It seems they are everywhere. I left to work the road again, but paused to scan the river and picked up what looked like a second-winter Caspian Gull on the Dartford shoreline - again, too distant to be confirmed. I birded the verges again but left empty-handed, except for a boot full of seed from the reserve shop and two year-ticks for the Rainham patchlist:
79. Ring-necked Parakeet.
80. Green Woodpecker.

Back home, I replenished the feeders and put out some ground seed and a few chopped-up apples. Amazingly, the first bird I saw was a Fieldfare - only the second occasion on which one has appeared on the deck in our small suburban garden. It proceeded to defend its territory, driving away several Blackbirds and Redwings for the rest of the day. It ignored the apples, however, preferring the remaining few pyracantha berries; it may even have roosted in our creeper.


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