Thursday, March 31, 2016

Rainham Marshes Patch Listing 2016 March

March, the transition between winter and spring…..depending on the weather. March saw just four additions to bring my personal total to 107 as I waited for the start of the spring migrants at the month’s end. Our Bird Race team fared better with seven additions (including Goldeneye, Ruff & Bearded Tit) to 111. 

The Iceland Gull was still present on the mud on the 1st otherwise it was only the regular wintering species to hold the interest until mid-month. Up to three Jack Snipe (104) appeared and I eventually located one on the Purfleet Scrape on the 17th. Thereafter I managed to observe this species fairly regularly with one on the MDZ scrape on the 25th. In fact the 25th, Good Friday, saw some beautiful spring weather but the hoped for Swallow, Sand Martin or LRP did not materialise. Nonetheless I spent the whole day around there reserve, opening with nine Common Scoters on the river, and ending with a Great Egret (106) first found by Howard earlier in the week, and a singing Blackcap (107) at the visitor centre. Spotted Redshank, Jack Snipe, two Short-eared Owls and Water Pipit contributed to a memorable day’s watching.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Ruby Ruby Ruby Ruby

Being a fairly ‘green’ birder, mainly cycling and using public transport, I normally only travel long distances for one particular bird if it is exceptional and can be reached easily. I will make the 400 mile trip up to Scotland to add anything to my Ayrshire list, particularly if it is showing well for photographs. My last trek (unsuccessfully) was for the Glossy Ibis in October 2015. 

In mid-January a Siberian Rubythroat (Calliope calliope), one of the most-wanted of vagrants to the British Isles, was found by a non-birder in the village of Hoogwoud in Noord-Holland. Hundreds of Dutch birders travelled to see this ‘first’ for the Netherlands. Weeks passed and it was clear that the bird, aged as a 2nd calendar year, was wintering. I realised that this may be my only chance of seeing one in the Western Palearctic and I was really itching to go. 

Together with my wife and fourteen month old we flew from Southend to Amsterdam and stayed a couple of nights at the four star Van de Valk hotel in Hoorn. A couple of days would allow for extended viewing and also make a small family break without too much rushing. 

We arrived late on the 13th but the following day we were all up for breakfast at 06:30, ready for the short drive to Hoogwoud. As we approached the favoured site at Beukenlaan it was clear that area of gardens and greens held a lot of Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Robins, Tree Sparrows and a singing Blackcap. After about 30 mins of waiting and talking to a couple of Dutch birders I was beginning to get worried. One guy went off to look elsewhere after three birders from Devon arrived. Not long later we were all rushing around the corner to a small patch of scrub at the end of Het Achterom and there it was. Feeding in a small mossy clearing was this rather plain bird except for the glittering, red throat – almost hummingbird-like in iridescence – topped with a striking white supercilium and submoustachial stripe, black lores and a fine black malar stripe. When you finally see a bird like this that you’ve dreamed about for years, when you see it for real in the flesh, it’s a magical experience. I always think to myself: “so you do exist”. The rubythroat packs a lot of charisma into its small size and its shy, furtive behaviour while foraging in the undergrowth seemed at odds with its unconcerned and very approachable nature once it broke cover and hopped to within a few feet of the gathered observers. I guess the bird is just not used to humans in its remote breeding area. However, a Sparrowhawk passing overhead, the occasional approaching cat and flocks of noisy Jackdaws did see the bird becoming very alert and returning to cover. 

Over the course of the morning its routine alternated between periods of subsinging and preening undercover to feeding forays through the block of low scrub to the mossy patch at the pavement edge. By lunchtime we decided to head for a bite to eat and some general touristy sightseeing. The following morning I returned early to Hoogwoud on my own. Again the Siberian Rubythroat was keeping to the scrub at Het Achterom and while showing very close at times, its position did not allow for images with nice, clean, out-of-focus backgrounds. Still, the mossy patch it frequented provided some more natural looking photographs. I spent most of the morning waiting and observing and at times it was subsinging just a few feet away, concealed in the low scrub, but with the dazzling throat revealing the source of its soft, squeaky warbles. Then it was time to return to the hotel and collect the family. I had one last look. This one could possibly be the last one I’d ever see. The rest of the day we did some more touristy things, visiting Edam and Volendam before our early evening flight. We looked for no other particular birds though there were plenty of quality birds around including Bufflehead, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck and Pine Bunting. We did enjoy hundreds of geese along most of the drives and we had a flock of Barnacle Geese in the fields opposite the hotel. We also noted Great Crested Grebes in almost every canal with pairs displaying in small roadside ponds, even in urban areas. Information updates were obtained from and

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Friday, March 11, 2016

Winter birds in the Florida Keys

I've uploaded an annotated list for January's trip to the Florida Keys

This was the seventh field work trip to the Keys. Specific birding was restricted to a look around Keys Marine Lab on Long Key before breakfast and short visits to Blue Hole on Big Pine Key and Bahia Honda State Park. Everything else was just noted on the kayaking trips to the field sites in the mangroves around Long Key, Lower Matecumbe Key and Big Pine Key, and the drives along the Overseas Highway. 

Highlights included Roseate Spoonbill, Broad-winged Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Killdeer, Wilson's Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Spotted Sandpiper, Willet, Least Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Short-billed Dowitcher, Caspian Tern, Royal Tern, White-crowned Pigeon, Bald Eagle, and Cedar Waxwing.

A juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) hunting crabs at dusk

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Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Rainham Marshes Patch Listing 2016 – February

As expected after the initial rush of January to see all the regular wintering species, locate the scarcer visitors, and luck-in on the rest, February was always going to be a slower and steady month.  I personally added 12 species to bring my total to 103, with our Bird Race team (The Drift Migrants) reaching 104.

Cycling around the landfill on the way to work paid off when I located two Yellowhammers (92) in the scrub and grassland on the southern side of the concrete barge bay on the 2nd. It was actually a whole month before I eventually saw a Kingfisher (93) with one flying along a channel at Rainham West on the 3rd. Short-eared Owls and Water Pipits continued to be a regular feature on the reserve but continued searching of the river added Spotted Redshank (94) and Caspian Gull (95) on the 6th.

By the second week, Oystercatchers (96) started returning inland with one downriver on the 9th, however winter was very much still with us as a Grey Plover appeared on the river mud on the 13th. Later that day I found my first really good bird of the year, and a true sea bird. I couldn’t really believe I was seeing a Fulmar (98) but there it was drifting upriver on the rising tide past my living room window. I alerted Howard at mission control and several Rainham birders picked it up a few minutes later. This was only the third record.  After heading the short distance to the visitor centre upon news of a Brambling at the garden feeding station, which I failed to see, an adult Mediterranean Gull (99) was a welcome addition. On returning the following the day, the female Brambling (100) was more cooperative and showed very well at times.

The final weekend of February was all about the gulls. On the 27th I had ‘a nine-gull day’ including a 1st-w Iceland Gull (101), two Caspian Gulls (1st-w + 2nd-w), and a Mediterranean Gull (adult in summer plumage) and the following day, after many winter hours of observation, an adult (winter plumage) Kittiwake (102) flew downriver. February ended with an Avocet (103) in Aveley Bay on the cycle to work.