Whenever I’m asked by other birders what my ‘home patch’ is I always say Rainham Marshes, even though it’s a good 90 minutes away by train and Tube. In the past I’ve always either gone directly to Purfleet Station and walked to the RSPB reserve from there, often taking the long walk back to Rainham Station in the afternoon via the Silt Lagoons in case there are any Short-eared Owls around. Sometimes I do the reverse, walking from Rainham all the way to the RSPB reserve in the morning, getting to the Visitor Centre just in time for lunch. One thing I’d never done before was to take the Ferry Lane route around the outskirts of the landfill site and alongside the Thames shore. There are some old WWII concrete barges there which are known for attracting various species, so Jem and I decided that this time we’d get the train to Rainham and then take that route directly to the river’s edge.
We weren’t disappointed. We’d just reached the river where the commemorative plaque for the Pilgrim Ferry is found when a dark-coloured bird fluttered past us and perched on a beached piece of driftwood. We recognised it instantly as a Black Redstart – a species that I’d previously only seen abroad – and one that although not ‘rare’ is certainly not the easiest to find. It took us both by surprise and it caused me a bit of a panic as I desperately tried to get my camera set up in order to fire off a few record shots. The river wall is a bit high for me, and certainly too high for me to get a decent angle with my tripod, but I persisted and walked back along the pathway, following the bird as it made its way amongst the rocks. Eventually I managed to get a few fairly decent shots and then announced the sighting on Twitter. A very good start to the day.
As we made our way past the Tilda Rice factory we also got sightings of some Pied Wagtails and a Common Sandpiper, before watching a large flock of Common Redshank and a Common Snipe on the concrete barges. As we made our way along from the barges we also saw several Water Pipits, including one that perched obligingly on a piece of wood for me (until a family with noisy children scared it away). More Redshanks, Teal, Wigeon, Snipe, Lapwing, Shelduck, Gadwall and a flock of Linnet, as well as various gulls fighting against the wind, made the rest of the walk an interesting one.
After a sandwich, hot chocolate and piece of tasty cake in the RSPB Visitor Centre, we decided to have a quick wander around the reserve. The highlight was a male Kingfisher showing nicely in the stream that runs alongside the car park, and then various small birds on some feeders amongst the reeds. These included both male and female Reed Buntings. Had we not needed to get back to South-west London for a prior engagement we may well have done the marsh-and-lagoon walk all the way back to Rainham Station, which may well have brought us the added excitement of two Short-eared Owls, a Barn Owl and the male Hen Harrier which were reported later in the evening. Not to worry, given what we’d seen earlier in the day it wasn’t like we felt we’d really missed out…
Male Reed Bunting
Female Reed Bunting