The balcony at Rainham that looks out onto the Thames is London's premier sea-watching location. Grays Beach and Northfleet, both a little further out, probably get more quality and quantity, as the final bend and bridge likely act as a strong deterrent, but neither of those locations has shelter, or a warm cafe selling coffee and cake.
I've yet to fully work out quite what weather conditions bring good birds in, though clearly an easterly wind, a rising tide and poor visibility in the estuary are all very helpful. Whilst this is probably sound thinking, sometimes though the best birds turn up irrespective of the weather. Strong westerlies for example can push many birds east, and in the following days they may and try and head back west, some coming down the Thames instead of following the Kent coast round and back out through the Channel. This is what happened with the Manx Shearwater.
Yesterday, had I gone to Rainham, I would have got a faceful of water, as the wind was directly from the south. In these conditions, any rain, of which yesterday there was a lot, gets blown straight into the balcony. I weedily stayed away, and instead went today, as the wind had turned easterly. My hope was that the south-westerlies in the Channel may have blown stuff up, especially combined with southerlies in the estuary, and that today's easterlies would then blow the gross London rarities on the rising tide up to where I could see them from the balcony. If you got here after searching Google for the weather forecast, I apologise. Try here.
In the event we didn't get any amazing sea-bird reorientation, though a drake and redhead RB Mergansers, incidentally both heading out west, were pretty good. Fifteen Brent Geese went upriver during the morning too, again good birds for Rainham. Bird of the day award though went to a most unusual bird to get on a river watch, when Phil picked up a male Hen Harrier over Crayford Marsh. He clearly wasn't concentrating much on the river, but we'll forgive him. He has a uncanny habit of picking up raptors at a distance, and this was his second Hen Harrier in as many weeks. This was my first anywhere in London, and most welcome, though it could have had the good grace to fly into Essex airspace for reasons that I'm sure you are not interested in. Neither am I. No, not at all.
Phil is one third of a stalwart Rainham trio. The other two-thirds are Andy and Dave. Together they are responsible for many of the good birds at Rainham, and many that I have subsequently seen. In no particular order, these include Montagu's Harrier, Manx Shearwater, Gannet, and Red Kite, and no doubt others I have forgotten about. Today, after yet another good bird found, Andy felt they deserved a mention for their sterling work. Specifically, and if I heard him right, he wanted them to be referred to as leg-ends, which I am happy to do. And seeing as I didn't get a photo of the Harrier to maintain your interest, and though they were perhaps not expecting it it, I can go one better and show them in action.
Action is perhaps stretching it, but anyway, the first photo is of Phil and Andy. Luckily Andy is sitting down and you can't see his legs, which he inflicts on us every year from about May to September. Phil is shown in typical pose, which is searching through his pockets for a light. As you can see, they are both quite old, and need to carry chairs with them so they can take frequent rests. The second photo is Dave, out on the boardwalk, presumably wondering where he has left his chair.
Of course I'm just kidding. Usually they sit on the balcony chairs. They work the site most days, and mostly all day, and as a result have absolutely whooped Hawky, Dave Mo and I in the Rainham year-list competition this year. They're at least ten species ahead of us, probably more, and the margin is only that narrow because I'm flexible enough to keep on twitching the birds they find. I'm amazed they keep calling me, though after this, maybe they won't in future! Surely they didn't think I could just give them a quick mention in passing on this blog though? Where's the fun in that? At least I've been good enough not to mention their hovering Merlin. Oh, whoops.
Anyhow, quality birds and a memorable day, if rather cold. I stopped feeling my feet at about 11am, and seeing as the heater in my car is perpetually ineffectual, didn't get them back until I was at home with the kids five hours later. But any day with a London and Rainham tick means I can bear the discomfort. Cheers for the company guys, top day!