This article was first published in the Newsletter of the London Natural History Society, No. 240 February 2016
Ten people joined me on this walk. The weather was overcast and gloomy and there was a moderate to fresh SW wind, making it difficult to find small birds. As we waited for the start of the walk, there was a large group of about twenty Collared Doves near the Information Centre feeders. Over the Kent side of the Thames, a large flock of Lapwings were swirling around from time-to-time plus a group of smaller birds that were flying like Golden Plovers.
We started the walk anti-clockwise from the Centre by looking at the Scrape pools. There were a lot of Wigeon here, fewer Teal, one Shoveler and one Redshank, but then we found a nice group of 10 or so Pintails. Rainham Marshes is one of the few London sites where you can see Pintail for most of the winter. At the NE of the Reserve, there have been one or two Dartford Warblers reported for some time. We scanned the bushes where they’ve been appearing, but with the wind, no birds were showing anywhere. Through telescopes we could see the Barn Owl nest box in the trees east and a white blob which was a not very satisfactory view of one of the Barn Owls at the box.
We moved on to the Ken Barrett Hide where the area in front had been re-sculpted since my last visit so that more mud and water was visible. We added more duck species here, with Gadwall, Pochard and Tufted Duck in view. Eventually the combination of eleven pairs of eyes revealed three Snipe, well camouflaged and asleep and two Pied Wagtails feeding; a Kestrel bravely hovered in the wind in front of the hide.
Moving on to the board walk north of Aveley Pools, the wind made it hard to see but there were Shelduck and Lapwings on the pools. Some pipits flew over calling that sounded like Rock or Water pipits but they vanished west. Among the cut areas in the reeds one or two Stonechat were feeding out of the wind, but they flew as soon as we got near them. Alex saw a falcon fly up to the pylons which proved to be an immature Peregrine Falcon, with diagnostic stripes on its underparts, rather than the horizontal bars of adults. We also had a distant view of a Marsh Harrier W of the Reserve.
We stopped for lunch (and for welcome shelter from the wind) in the Shooting Butts Hide. Here we had very good views of at least four Marsh Harriers hunting over the old lagoons W of the hide. Two were female-types, with cream crowns and cream on the upper wing, one was all dark so probably an immature bird, and the fourth showed black wing tips – perhaps an immature male.
Amongst the Greylag Geese flocks there were four showing large areas of white on their underparts, presumably from Greylag mating with domestic white geese. Sonia saw a Short-eared Owl briefly but we couldn’t relocate it, although we saw a Little Egret.
There was a single Black-tailed Godwit bathing east of the hide and amongst the gulls roosting west of us at the Target Pools were Great Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Black-headed Gulls, one Lesser Black-backed Gull and one Common Gull.
Finally, we walked past the Dragonfly Pools and then some went back to the Centre while the rest went with me through the turnstile at the SW to check Aveley Bay and the marshes west. We were hoping for more waders on the mud at Aveley Bay and for Short-eared Owls over the marshes W, but we were unlucky. So we ended the walk going back to the Centre to join the others for warmth.