Friday, 27 August 2010

Silver linings

Adult Cattle Egret (below) with two Little Egrets at Aveley Pools.
This week was meant to be very different. We should have been in Italy by now, soaking up some culture, sun and the occasional ornithological diversion (a Moltoni’s Warbler would have been appropriate), but instead had to cancel our family holiday the day before departure when my mother-in-law was taken seriously ill. It's been several hectic days of changed arrangements, hospital visits, hundreds of miles behind the wheel and a fair dose of stress, but she is now thankfully making a determined recovery.

With the pressure off for a couple of days, I took some time out on the patch this morning. While I’d be the first to admit that the Rainham foreshore is not a straight swap for the Italian Riviera, on days like today it has its plus points. I decided on a dawn raid to try and see the Cattle Egret which had taken up temporary residence while I was out of town. Duly nabbed soon after dawn in wet and murky conditions at Aveley Pools, I also managed to dig out a Garganey – a decent start to proceedings.

At last: a Garganey (right) sails into view at Rainham.
By 8.30 am, with rain becoming heavier and visibility poor, I side-stepped the woodland and headed round to Aveley Bay to check the river. A text from Andy Tweed brought welcome news of a Common Scoter, so I scanned downstream towards the Dartford Crossing in the hope of finding it. Instead, I picked up something else: even in the murk, the distant brown shape swimming offshore from the visitor centre was surely a Great Skua. Conveniently, a wing-flap confirmed its identity, and I was hollering the news down the line to Andy within seconds. He alerted birders in the centre, but in the meantime the bird absconded.

Find of the day was this hooligan - a fine moulting adult Great Skua.
After an anxious wait followed by a rubber-burning drive to Coldharbour Point, I relocated it upstream. It then flew back towards the centre and, thankfully, showed to those on the balcony. Result! Back in the bay, 17 Ringed Plover, eight Dunlin, three Sanderling and six Black-tailed Godwits had dropped in. The Common Scoter, a smart drake, also drifted past on the incoming tide, while the Bonxie reappeared, circled, gained height rapidly and headed off. Other birds were on the move too, as evidenced by a Sandwich Tern and a steady passage of Common Terns upstream on the far side of the river.

An extraordinary 19 Sandwich Terns were on the move on the river.

I sped round to the visitor centre to join the others for a London-style ‘seawatch’, during which brief interlude Dave Smith did well with three Little Terns heading upriver. From the balcony, Common Terns were still moving west at a steady pace, and in total over the next few hours the list included eight gull species, five terns (including Dave’s Littles) and one special skua. Jono Lethbridge was with me from mid-morning until 4 pm, and at various times so were Dave Smith, Ruth Barnes, David Campbell, Phil, Pat, Mike Dent, Joan Thompson and several others, with Andy Tweed watching from further west at Aveley Bay.

Highlights as follows:
  • Great Skua: moulting adult from 08:55-09:33.
  • Kittiwake: juvenile west at 12:03.
  • Little Gull: juveniles west at 13:38 and 15:35.
  • Yellow-legged Gull: several individuals along the river.
  • Common Tern: 300+ west from c 09:00-16:00, very few east.
  • Arctic Tern: total of nine (including high-flying flock of seven) west, none east.
  • Sandwich Tern: total of 19, including three groups of four, mainly west, but at least two east.
  • Black Tern: four west with Common Terns at 11:00.
  • Common Scoter: drake on the river from c 08:50-09:40 at least.
I was pleased to pick up the Kittiwake, which was not only a London life tick for Jono but a capital year-tick for me, while my Rainham bogey bird of Little Gull finally bit the dust to become my 12th gull species for the site. Other species of interest at various times today included the following: Common Buzzard (heard while in the woodland), Hobby, 3 Green Sandpipers, Common Swift, 4 Yellow Wagtails (others had more), six Northern Wheatears (dump east slope), 2 Lesser Whitethroats, Spotted Flycatcher (woodland school zone).

A Spotted Flycatcher foraging at ground level at Rainham today.

Rainham patch-list update (my previous all-time annual site record is – was – 142 species):
142. Cattle Egret.
143. Kittiwake.
144. Little Gull.
145. Spotted Flycatcher.

London year-list update:
194. Kittiwake.

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