Saturday, 16 January 2010

On target

Stuart and Gaz at Aveley Bay, after another memorable Rainham visit.

There was a sense of déjà vu about this morning's routine. For the third consecutive change between day and night I was patrolling the wooded margins of the approach road to Rainham Marshes RSPB, only this time in company with Gareth Richards and Stuart Harrington.

Our target, once again, was Woodcock. Am I becoming obsessed with this species this winter? I hope not, but for a bird usually very difficult to find in London which is right now temporarily numerous, I wanted to make the most of the opportunity. Hence once again I was happy to have twigs flick back into my face in the half light as I stumbled helplessly into foxholes and the remnant foundations of wartime blockhouses, all in the name of Scolopax rusticola.

And then it happened. Not with any fanfare, but with an audible whirring of wings and disturbing of vegetation somewhere not far away. I emerged from deep cover to find that a Woodcock had flushed ahead of me, but been glimpsed only by Stuart. Further scouring of the area led to nothing, so instead we checked the woodland and scrub around the old cordite store. Logging a Cetti’s Warbler but otherwise drawing a blank, and now with the sky properly illuminated, we headed back to the reserve centre via the play area.

And then it happened again. A dumpy brown wader rose out of a bank of dry grass and brambles as we approached, kept silent, low and purposeful, and disappeared within a second around the corner. It was so quick that we almost had to pinch ourselves to register that it was indeed the second Woodcock of the morning. Not the most satisfactory encounter, granted, but enough to enable us move on to the second target of the morning, a juvenile Glaucous Gull reported again on – appropriately enough – the Target Pools. A text from Paul Hawkins signalled our chances were good, and in due course I managed to pick up the bird fairly quickly, though very distantly, from the ‘mound’ overl0oking Wennington Marshes.

This was also the site for target number three, Serin, which we had to work harder for but eventually located in the rain – this time it was the duller of the two wintering individuals. The fourth and final target, however, didn’t give itself up in the same way; we trawled the saltings and got Rock Pipit and several ‘exploding’ Common Snipe but no definite Water Pipit, the sole candidate flushing too far for a firm ID. Nonetheless, it was a successful morning, despite the grim weather. One Rainham patchlist addition for the year:
87. Woodcock.

At home in the afternoon, a casual eye on the garden was rewarded with five Redwings, a male Blackcap (which also appeared two days ago) and, scarce here, two Coal Tits. I was surprised to note while photographing them that one was sporting a leg-iron, and a quick text to Gerry Rawcliffe revealed that it was probably one of the birds he had ringed previously in his garden nearby. Without a mistnet of my own, though, its exact history will remain a mystery.

Below: Redwing, the ringed Coal Tit and Great Tit.

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