Secret London: Part IX – Eastern marshes

On the very eastern edge of Greater London, just before the Thames flows under the Queen Elizabeth II bridge and over the Dartford Tunnel, the brackish water passes some important wetland: Rainham Marshes.

Thames from Purfleet

To a central Londoner, it feels like you are out in the sticks, but looking back up the Thames, the steel and glass towers of Canary Wharf, the City, and now the Shard, are visible although nearly 15 miles away (I took the shot below at maximum zoom)…

London

History on the marshes

Around 6,100 years ago, as our ancestors transitioned from hunter-gatherers to farmers, Britain became an island. A catastrophic tsunami (created by some huge land movements in Norway) turned marshland into what we now know as the English Channel and turned some low lying forest into marshland. Over time, as silt has shifted or been washed away, remnants of these ancient forests are exposed in the marshes…

6,000 year old tree stump

More recently, the marshes have played an important role in British military history. In the early part of the twentieth century, soldiers came to the rifle ranges and the antique target ranges remain to this day…

Target

Before flood defences were raised, blocking its view down the Thames, this tower (below) would have been used to to spot any U-boats/submarines sneaking up the river. It also used to have a machine gun on its roof to shoot down Zeppelins. Now it sits in tranquil retirement amidst the wildlife…

Tower

The nature reserve

Rainham Marshes has now been reborn as a nature reserve, maintained by the RSPB, and is an important site for wildlife.

The view below is from one of the bird hides…

View from hide

The Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) below are seen in front of some of the vast expanse of reeds the marshes are famous for…

Starlings

In winter, large numbers of ducks, such as these grazing Wigeon (Anas penelope) and sleeping Shovelers (Anas clypeata) flock to the marshes…

Wigeon

… and yesterday I saw huge flocks of Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) twist in the air as they rose time and again up from their feeding grounds (seen here with an oil refinery and other industrial structures in the background)…

Lapwing

Whilst often fiendishly difficult to spot wading, I also spotted quite large flocks of Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) in flight…

Snipe

Thames shoreline

Thames view

On the other side of the flood defences, boats and ships pass up and down…

ship

… and the heavily tidal Thames exposes muddy flats where more ducks and waders congregate such as the wonderfully beaked Curlew (Numenius arquata) that I actually photographed this time last year (I’m cheeky but honest!) beside a Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)…

Curlew

The Thames also washes up a disturbing quantity of rubbish…

Trolley

Rubbish

Plastic can obviously cause significant damage to wildlife and the environment, but animals also get on with their lives around it, such as this Wigeon…

Wigeon and bottle

… and this Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus) – sorry about the grainy photo – picking around seaweed and other, less natural, detritus…

Rock Pipit

Birds, birds, birds

Other than the grainy Rock Pipit, and a couple of the flock-shots I was pleased with (all above), I didn’t actually get to snap anything too out of the ordinary, but here are a few of the photos I did take…

Great Tit (Parus major)

Great Tit

Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) – posing

Blue Tit

Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) – also posing

Carrion Crow

The UK’s smallest bird, and one of my favourites, Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) – most definitely not posing!

Goldcrest

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

IMG_7065 copy

…which should not be confused with the black headed, Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) – taken at Rainham last year, as I only got blurry shots yesterday 😦

Reed Bunting

Talking of blurry shots, here is a distant snap of the worryingly declining Skylark (Alauda arvensis)

Skylark

A male Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)

Chaffinch

… and finally, Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)

Collared Dove

I am sure many London-based wildlife lovers would take issue with me describing Rainham Marshes as ‘secret’ London, but I am sure many more people based in the capital wouldn’t have thought about spending a day in a beautiful place to the very east of our capital.

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4 thoughts on “Secret London: Part IX – Eastern marshes

  1. Pingback: A Big Birding Year: Part XIX (good creature of mud) | iago80

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