Thursday, 1 January 2015

A New Year's Day tradition (of sorts)

First-winter Brent Goose at Rainham Marshes RSPB today - a welcome lingering bird from 2014.
Except on the rare occasions I'm away at New Year, I always like to spend 1st January on my patch at Rainham Marshes RSPB. Straddling the London/Essex border on the north side of the Thames, it is sufficiently large and diverse enough in terms of habitats to rival many sites in more rural areas and even coastal settings. Today it did well, delivering an above-average crop of locally interesting species and a day list to match - to be precise, 72 species personally for me between dawn and dusk, and somewhere between 80 and 90 for the combined site list generated by all observers (total TBC).

Water Rail - quizzical ...
This year's kick-off on the patch also coincided with a new competition devised by Howard Vaughan, the reserve's information officer. Teams of up to four are competing to see who can log the highest number of species by the end of 2015. Team members can do this together or separately - something that should work well for a group of birders with differing commitments and availability. I've joined the team established by Dave 'Peregrine' Morrison and Paul 'Hawky' Hawkins, both of whom were also out on site today, and our other team member is Shaun Harvey. Together, the four of us aim to give the other teams a serious run for their money, though perhaps first on the to-do list is to come up with a team name (polite suggestions only please!).

... confiding ...
My tally today included Brent Goose, Marsh Harrier, Peregrine Falcon, European Golden PloverSpotted Redshank, Yellow-legged Gull, Rock Pipit, Bearded Tit and Raven, all decent enough species in the London Area, yet bird of the day had to be a Water Rail which has not read the field guides - I have never seen such a fearless, indeed bold, individual, as these photos show. This is normally a shy and retiring species, so to watch one for so long as it fed in the open was a real treat. If you're planning to visit Rainham RSPB, take a camera in case it sticks around. Try for the bird as follows: take the loop trail anti-clockwise from the visitor centre, continue past the Ken Barrett Hide in the north-east corner and, just as the tarmac footpath heads west onto the boardwalk at the start of the reedbed north of Aveley Pools, check the small reed-fringed pool on the right. The bird was feeding out in the open, sometimes less than 10 feet away, on both occasions I checked today (thanks to Sam Shippey for the tip-off).

... and in fact utterly mad.
You can follow the progress of all teams in the competition on a board in the visitor centre at Rainham Marshes. Wish us luck!

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