Monday, May 31, 2021

That's not a Wood Pigeon! Twitching in Kent

Collared Pratincole. Cliffe. Been there a week or so. A suitable gap appeared in my schedule so I set off and arrived in sunshine just after 10 to find loads of cars already on site but the car park just opened, largely empty.

The walk down to the pools was to a soundtrack of Lesser Whitethroats and Nightingales and a pair of noisy Mediterranean Gulls high overhead,  Returning birders recommended good if intermittent views from the path by the Flamingo pool so I headed down there and found myself alone looking north towards the black barns where through the scope I could see a couple of throngs of birders, mainly on their phones. The target bird clearly not showing yet.

Whomever was going on about disappearing insects on the radio recently clearly hasn't been to Cliffe. Swarms of flies were all over the place. If Kent is the garden of England, The Cliffe peninsular is the messy bit behind the garden shed. Clearly more insects were out over the pools and estuary as Swifts were present in number.

A scan of the opposite crowds revealed a change in their behaviour, all were looking west, so I tracked back west and there it was, all swept back wings and pointed tail, like a large brown swallow hawking over the pools, a bird of considerable grace and style. A species I haven't seen since sometime last millennium in Kos. 

It disappeared. By that time a few birders had assembled, and we chatted as birders do, exchanging local information (Yellowhammers disappearing in east Kent apparently. Like Hen's teeth. Still common on my side of the Thames). Then it was back, and we watched it perform again. It favoured the far bank of the pool and whatever it was that was just over the hedge. I suspect the crowds at the Black Barn didn't get much better views. We filled our boots with prolonged if distant views of the bird in flight hawking over the pools. 

It was very relaxed overall. Most people seemed to be back for their second views. Nice easy birding, and when it eventually disappeared out of view I'd had my fill and it was time to go. One said 'When we saw it we thought - well that's not a wood pigeon!' which tickled us all, particularly me given the number of times I've seen distant rarities that eventually turned out to be wood pigeons, or Stock Doves'

On returning home I got the spreadsheet up to add the Pratincole to my British list which now stands at ... well, I'm not going to put that out here, with you lot reading it. It is embarrassingly low. Looking through the list of recent additions I was surprised at how little the birds meant emotionally. Good days out, but not much more. I mean I'm glad I went and saw it, but that Lisbon trip a couple of years ago definitely knocked my perceptions - because there are bucket loads of UK rarities available in number on just one morning's trip out from any southern European city or town. 

Us men need a stage, a place where we do our thing and say "This is me, this is what I do, if you are going to judge me, judge me on this." For some it is twitching. See how many birds I can tick if I put all my effort into it! But my subconscious seems to have decided twitching is not the place I make my stand. I can take it or leave it. I had a nice morning, but if I hadn't seen it I'm not sure I'd have lost much sleep over it. 

Monday, May 17, 2021

Rainham Marsh on Grand Opening Up Day.

Monday 17th May. A day for the ages. A day when we take another step to freedom.

Unfortunately no-one seems to have told RSPB Rainham Marsh. The gate was closed. Mike was following so I texted to say go to Coldharbour Lane / Ferry Lane at the west end of the reserve.

From Ferry Lane a quick scope scan along the shoreline produced an Avocet, a couple of Redshanks, 4 Dunlin and a year tick in the form of a Great Black-Backed Gull. A couple of Common Terns went by on the river.

Then up to Serin Mound. A photographer said he'd had a Gropper up there - needless to say we didn't - but we did get a male and a female Marsh Harrier distantly, and a Heron being bombed by a Lapwing.

There was a large creche of about 30 Canada Geese chicks still at the fluffy stage. But elsewhere there were families of just a few chicks. Mike thought from previous reading that the creche was the offspring of first year female Canada Geese and they were being looked after by old Geese. So the other families were more experienced breeding geese looking after their own. That would make sense. 

A Cuckoo called. My experience is to look for a prominent high point to find it, and bingo there it was on top of a large bush. Excellent views. The effort these birds put into calling is quite noticeable. 

The air was full of gulls and Swifts, and amongst them 2 Hobbies cruising around. We got a great display form them as they stooped and chased. One was bringing its claws up to its mouth in flight so I guess they were finding some insects to feed on. 

Bumping into photographer again and he mentioned Wheatear and Corn Bunting from the grass-covered landfill mound. Back we went but before we got there another Wheatear along the river wall scrub. It went round a bush then completely disappeared. Anyway on we went, and after a lot of scanning found a Corn Bunting and indeed heard it singing, and another Wheatear briefly popped up.

That was it. A decent total despite, or perhaps because the reserve itself was closed.

Things you only say on local patches

Walking your local patch is a very different experience to doing a day trip to a hot spot. Unless your local patch is a hot spot, which mine isn't. Here's some things that I say to myself on my local patch walk but not on a big day trip.

1. Reed Bunting. Fantastic. What a bird a spring male is. I'll take 5 minutes to have a good look.

2. That's 4 Song Thrushes. Perhaps that's 4 pairs.

3. House Sparrows in the bush by the bridge. Just like last year. Guess they'll breed then disappear again.

4. I wonder what species that hoverfly is.

5. Please God just something for the list. A Whinchat, a Wheatear. Just something I haven't seen every day for the past month.

5. I wonder where those gulls are going.

6. What a great bird a Grey Wagtail is. I can see every feather.

7. six Swifts. That's an excellent total.

8. Little Owl not in its tree again. Wonder where it goes.

9. Bullfinch calling again. Not visible again.

10. That's 7 Whitethroats singing so far, and 3 Chiffchaffs.

11. Lapwing. Fantastic. Great record. At last something for the notebook. 

Rarity chasing in Cambridgeshire part 2.

Last post left you on the edge of your seats as your intrepid birders ticked off the first of three potential rarities and headed off in sea...