Tag Archives: Rock Pipit

Two fuzzy firsts and the call of a Water Pipit

My weekend’s birding began pretty poorly with very little of interest showing on the Patch. So, hearing about Black-throated Diver – found by Lol Bodini – on one of the Walthamstow Reservoirs gave me more than enough excuse to try and get a London tick after lunch. This really was an excellent find by Lol and we are always willing to put aside our friendly patch rivalry when rarities like this appear – the first in East London for a few years.

When I arrived at Walthamstow I was lucky to bump into Lol (not ‘literally’ as we actually stood next to each other at the urinals in the visitor centre, so ‘bumping’ would have been problematic) who gave me the gen. With a bird like a diver on a reservoir, the thought didn’t really enter my mind that I might miss it, so I didn’t even rush.

Lockwood Reservoir is a big body of water, but much smaller than the giants like William Girling and King George V further north in the sequence.

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Lockwood Reservoir, Walthamstow

I was a little perturbed to find a birder who had been scanning for ten minutes with no success. I walked up along the east shore scanning the other shoreline in case it was tucked up against the side. I met two more local regulars coming the other way who passed on some more bad news; they had been watching the Diver (they even showed me some great back-of-camera shots) but then it had dived and hadn’t been seen again. That either meant it had drowned (pretty unlikely for a … err… diver), or that it had come  up a little way off and flown before they had noticed. Dipping a diver that had been seen only a few minutes before now seemed likely and galling.

But then my knight in shining armour appeared in the form of Stuart Fisher (wearing more of a tracksuit than a suit of armour, to be honest), zooming around the reservoir also looking for the recently departed Diver. We met Lol again as well and agreed that our best, but slim chance was to check Banbury Reservoir up the road. The only glitch being that Banbury is locked and inaccessible. But this is where the local knowledge of Stu Fisher was absolutely golden. He knew a spot on a housing estate on a hill where a sliver of the the reservoir was visible. Slim chance, but this was our only chink of hope.

We schlepped up there with me carrying my scope and peered through gaps in blocks of flats to look at the water in the background. By absolute luck, there it was – a whopping great diver with white flashes on its sides. Stu spotted it first and I was almost incredulous, and then elated. I felt a bit creepy and intrusive standing in front of people’s houses and staring through a telescope through gaps between buildings.

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Black-throated Diver (Gavia arctica)

On Sunday I went to Rainham Marshes to try and see the Bittern that has occasionally been showing to people viewing from the Ken Barrett hide. As I sat in the hide I chuckled to myself about my patch colleague’s experience in here the week before, humorously (and rather controversially) recalled on his blog.

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View from the Ken Barrett hide

The Bittern didn’t show, and nor did much else of interest from the hide so I couldn’t bring myself to follow Jono’s lead and sit in there for hours waiting.

The sea-wall of the Thames was much more productive. Almost as soon as I arrived in the morning, I spotted the Black-bellied Brent Goose floating down (and later back up) the Thames (here comes another distant phone-scope record shot).

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Black-bellied Brent Goose (Branta bernicla bernicla)

Two days, and two London firsts under my belt. But the sea wall had more to offer. Good numbers of Dunlin and Avocet occasionally took flight and whirled around the sky when something disturbed them.

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24 Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)

By something, I mean like the Marsh Harrier which came in off the Thames and swept low right passed me (sadly while my camera was packed away). Or like the Short-eared Owl which pounced on something right on the water’s edge before slowly flapping away low along the shoreline.

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Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)

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There were plenty of Meadow Pipit, as usual at Rainham, but I also saw and heard Rock Pipit moving up and down the shore. And occasionally a slightly different-sounding single call was heard (as I was able to hear both calls close by at roughly the same time, this is the first time I have been able to distinguish their calls in the field) and eventually a Water Pipit landed a little way off in front of me and fed in the grass – its white tail streaks showing clearly as it flew in and with a much paler breast than the Rock Pipits which also occasionally showed well.

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Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta)

Finally, I also managed to get a year tick in the form of a single Ringed Plover on the Aveley Bay shoreline. I say finally, but it was actually one of the first birds I set eyes on when I arrived, but I never promised to tell my stories chronologically.

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Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula)

And because I can’t bring myself to sign-off a blog post with a terrible phone-scoped record shot, here was my view for much of the day:

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Looking down-river at Rainham

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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)

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…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.