Thursday 29 April 2010

Rainham Success

Up at stupid o'clock on a day laden with promise. I had the morning, or at least some of the morning, to go birding. I've done Wanstead every day this week, so I felt that Rainham needed some love. The alarm jolted me awake at 4:55 and a mere ten minutes later the snooze function woke me again. And Mrs L again. I am very popular in this house.

I was on site by about half five, expecting Cuckoo and Turtle Dove to fly over any minute, just like they had done for Dave Mo yesterday. I wasn't expecting to see any Sandwich Terns flying up the river. Andy had five yesterday, all heading east, and on a low tide with the water still receding, I didn't rate my chances. Idly scanning the river, which up until then had been dead, I picked up a slow-flying tern. As it came nearer I noted the heavy wingbeats, purposeful flight, and habit of looking down all the time, bill vertical. I have no idea whether this is an ID feature, but it's one of the things I look for in a Sandwich Tern. And when it came closer still, the bill was black, and in fact there was another bird a little way behind it. I couldn't believe it - two Sandwich Terns, a Rainham and London tick. As I watched them fly though slowly up the river, I recalled that my camera was lying on the ground next to my feet. I "quickly" took the scope off the tripod and mounted the camera in its place. Then I turned the camera on, changed it to AI SERVO mode, and selected the centre focus point. The terns meanwhile had reached their breeding grounds and were busy feeding their newly-hatched chick....

Bugger. I assume they continued west, so texted Kev and John upriver, but neither of them were on site, and at least one of them might have been in bed! Still, I know they'd do the same for me. The Sandwich Terns signalled the start of a fairly exciting river-watch. All of a sudden there were loads of gulls heading against the tide, and every now and then a Tern. The first two I saw I felt were Arctics. I'm not good at separating them in flight, but they appeared to have long streamers, no neck to speak of, and I couldn't detect and obvious contrast in the wings. I saw Arctics at the weekend with people who knew what they were talking about, so I suppose it doesn't matter too much. Subsequent birds, to my eyes at least, were all Commons, and a small group ended up feeding mid-river for over an hour, until I had to leave.

As I walked back along the Sea Wall, a funny looking Wheatear caught my eye. No, not funny looking like that - it was still a Northern Wheatear. There was something not right with the bill. Either the upper mandible has a slight extension, or the tip of the lower mandible is missing, not sure which. I managed to get quite close to it by crouching down and creeping forward, thus allowing a decent enough close up, but I still can't make my mind up.

So, a pretty good morning. Not a huge amount of variety, but I don't get a self-found London tick very often, so I was very pleased. Mrs L couldn't believe it either. That is bird #130 for this year at Rainham (equalling my best ever), and 165 for the site. Listing, it's where it's at.

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