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Wednesday, 31 December 2008

RAINHAM MARSHES BIRDING - A TRUE DELIGHT

































































PENDULINE TIT IMAGES (top two by Jeff Delve, then all others and two of adult CASPIAN GULL today taken by Woodford birder Sue Cowie)

Spent an extremely enjoyable day at the reserve on this last day of the year, finally securing PENDULINE TIT for the year (UK334). It was great to see so many of you out today and once again, I must commend Howard Vaughan for his commitment and the immense effort he has placed in the reserve throughout 2008 - it is first-rate - and I congratulate him on recording 184 bird species at the site in 2008, making Rainham RSPB by far the premier birding site in the so-called 'London Recording Area'.

So for today...........

I arrived just before 0900 hours to find much of the reserve a frozen wilderness. A sharp overnight frost was still apparent and small birds were slow to make an appearance

Wildfowl included 263 Eurasian Wigeon, 9 Common Teal, 11 NORTHERN PINTAIL, 98 Gadwall and 3 COMMON SHELDUCKS, whilst a scan through the roosting gulls standing on the ice of the Aveley Pools revealed the presence of a superb adult CASPIAN GULL (LGRE, Les Harrison), 46 Scandinavian Herring Gulls, 23 Great Black-backed Gulls and a scattering of other commoner species.

CASPIAN GULL DETAILED DESCRIPTION (FOR RECORDING PURPOSES)

The Caspian Gull was roosting on the front edge of the group, often alongside a metal-ringed Argentatus, and was showing exceptionally well. After initially identifying it at 0925 hours, it remained on view until at least midday, allowing Howard and his large group to connect and some 25 others. Some excellent photographs were obtained. The bird was a 'classic' individual, with a clean white head (apart from a dark smudge in front of the right eye and a light rusty stain on the 'right' neckside) contrasting with the small, 'dark' eye. On closer study, the eye (with a dark brown tint to it) was encircled by a rich red orbital ring. The head shape was distinctive, with an aggressive feel to it characterised by the long-sloping forehead (giving a somewhat snouty appearance). The thick bill was very pale yellow-green in colouration with an obvious thin black bill-band and an orange-red gonys spot on the lower mandible. Both the bill and the size of the bird were comparable with the numerous Argentatus surrounding it, and the mantle colour too was the same shade of pearly-grey. What set it apart from the flock was its long legs, particularly that visible above the tibia, making it appear much longer-legged than all of the Herring Gulls in the flock. The leg colour too was very different - a sort of pale sepia-green or grey-green - and not obvious pink as in the assorted Herrings or yellow as in Lesser Black-backed Gull. In certain lights, Les and I noted a distinct greyer tone to the upper tibia, grading paler on the lower section of the leg and paling further on the feet. Otherwise, its plumage resembled Herring Gull, although there was an obvious white 'mirror' on p10.

Despite being present for so long, it was surprisingly active, often preening for long periods and swimming in the unfrozen section of the pool on several occasions.

From Aveley Lagoon, I pushed on to search for the Penduline Tits in the westernmost section of the main reedbed but they were not to be found. After 140 minutes, it was looking fairly bleak and several hardy souls decided to walk back to the centre to warm up! Compensation came in the form of two BEARDED TITS - showing well on occasions but only locatable when calling - up to 6 CETTI'S WARBLERS, a single COMMON CHIFFCHAFF, 3 COMMON STONECHATS (1 male), a Grey Wagtail and the odd Reed Bunting.

At 1125, Dave Smith and Mick Frosdick heard the PENDULINE TITS calling and watched them flight in with a Blue Tit from the north end of the reedbed. All three birds landed in the large crop of Reedmace just east of the first 'new' boardwalk Aveley Pool observation platform and endeavoured to feed on the bullrush heads. Within minutes I had been alerted and was shortly watching the birds. They showed absolutely fantastically, feeding at the tops of the bulrushes and vigorously eeking out seeds, with wispy pieces of the mace being pulled out and blowing away, often revealing their presence. Once on view, news was quickly disseminated around the reserve and within a very short time indeed, the tiny crowd swelled to at least 45. The birds were unaffected by the gathering and continued to show down to just 30 yards for the next two hours or so. In fact, they were still being seen when I departed the reserve at 1400 hours. It seemed like all and sundry were getting great images, even those with mobile phones.

In recent years, Aveley Reedbed has been THE site to see Penduline Tit in Britain and it looks as though 2009 will start with these two delightful birds in residence. Once again, thankyou RSPB, the Rainham staff and Howard especially for running and maintaining such a flagship reserve - truly magic