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Monday, 16 January 2017

Patches and Peregrines


After a good start on New Year’s Day at Rainham, the next excursion was the Ingrebourne Valley; I squeezed in a visit on January 5th.

A stunning morning greeted me as I approached Deadman’s Wood, the idea being to take in the Farm Trail, the Reservoir, Berwick Ponds and finish at the viewing area and then a cuppa in the Centre.

During the walk down to Deadman’s I recorded 82 Ring Necked Parakeets overhead in small flocks, no doubt straight out of roost and all heading towards Upminster. In the last year or so they have increased in numbers over the Valley.

The game crop on the Farm Trail was its usual Finch and Bunting magnet and produced good numbers of both, the highlight being 7 Yellowhammers.

Lovely morning

Canary Wharf as seen from the Farm Trail

With freezing temperatures, most everywhere was frozen; even a section of the Reservoir, good numbers of wildfowl present on the Res included 33 Wigeon and 74 Gadwall. The hoped for Goosander or Goldeneye failed to materialize.

With Berwick most definitely frozen but in sunshine, thoughts turned to Bittern or perhaps Bearded Tit, after covering the reed bed end to end, both failed to put in an appearance.

Not even sure the Bittern is there, from what I understand it has not been seen for a good while.

Finishing up at the Black Bridge and the viewing area produced the final tick of the morning – Common Snipe; this bought me up to 51, a nice steady start to the year.

Snipe and Teal

Since then I have added a few after a brief visit, now 58 so up and running.

A few recent visitors to the garden


January is always a hectic month when it comes to the peregrines, monitoring 10 pairs, nearly all bar one with nest boxes or trays to clean out, keeps me very busy come January.

All come under Schedule 1 licence as of February 1st so there is obviously a time limit to observe and make sure all the work is completed by the end of the month.

2 of the boxes I made 6 - 8 years ago, have now seen better days, over the course of the years, they are now weather /water damaged, they need replacing or a bit of an overhaul.

One I can just recover, the marine ply has flaked on the roof and sides, but some heavy duty plastic sheeting screwed onto it and sealed should do the job.

Hopefully good for another few years.

The 2nd box is from a site that I can name, Charring X Hospital, due to bad falls in the drainage on the balcony where it sits, means that the box has, for much of the year, sat in water.
Obviously the rot has set in and the underside of the box is, judging from last year’s photos, shown it is now past its sell by date.

Sunday afternoon (15th) we are, courtesy of Paul, delivering a new bigger box to Nathalie and the Hospital ready for replacement and installation on the Monday.

Will post on this in the future.

This year I am also going into new territory, last year’s juvenile male is still present at Battersea Power Station, the first time I have ever had one stay into the following year.
Before and just after Christmas, the Falcon showed some aggression towards him, but since then she seems to have mellowed and is now more tolerant.

I am watching this unfold on camera and when I visit site, he is not one of these juveniles who comes and goes, he is there every day.

Watching recently, a number of times, even yesterday, shows the Falcon on prey in the nest box with the juvenile waiting patiently right next to her, he is calling and begging and she is occasionally feeding him.

The bond between them both seems to be still strong, it’s not as if she has not had young before, this is her 4th successful breeding season.

I know he also takes his own prey as I have seen him hunt successfully.


I am researching information on this as I have heard of juveniles before staying into the following year but it brings forth a few scenarios’.

Will he be allowed to stay as we fast approach breeding?

If he is allowed to stay will he assist or hinder breeding?

Could it be that she sees him as less of a threat, for want of a better word, as he is smaller and a male as opposed to a bigger female who is possibly more dominant and imposing?

To note also, the long staying juvenile at Charring X Hospital is also a male.

Interesting stuff for me, time will tell.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Rainham Marshes RSPB

New Years Day

First of all, a very Happy New Year to everyone, I hope 2017 brings everyone good fortune and a great year.

Sticking with tradition and despite the rather gloomy weather forecast, grey skies with rain from mid day, pre dawn found me standing in darkness at 7.00am down by Aveley Bay car park.

Waiting for the Short Eared Owls to show

At this hour the plan was to try and get both Short Eared and Barn Owl as the light grew but I began to think it was not going to be as light rain started.

However it did not last, and before long, I was lucky enough to see 2 Shorties quartering briefly in the gloom over the Saltings.

By now I had racked up a few ticks as the light got better, no luck with the Barn Owl (I got this later) but did add the usual waders/wildfowl in Aveley Bay with Avocet and Black Tailed Godwit being the pick of them.

From here it was a drive down to the Centre where Howard had picked out some ‘scarcer’ waders on the Kent side, scanning through these produced Ringed and Grey Plover although it seemed no Golden Plover were on show.

Whilst scanning through these however, it produced a Dark Bellied Brent Goose, a good tick as I missed it in 2016.

Pressing on I entered the Reserve, by now the list was up around the 60 mark, Common Buzzard, Peregrine and Kestrel were all seen over or near the Target Pools, I was also keeping my ears open for any Beardies, another that was missed last year.

By now the time was marching on, my little legs were starting to move faster with the threat of the forecast rain but did add Water Pipit, Stonechat and a flyby Kingfisher to join the tally.

Aveley Pools with the Centre in the distance

Reaching the woodlands, I listened for a Goldcrest or a Chiffie, none materialized or were vocal but I did get a flyover Mistle Thrush as I neared the car park, they can be difficult to get at times here.

I finished the morning on 71 species, missed a few silly ones that you more or less take for granted over here like Marsh Harrier and Common Snipe, but all in all quite happy with the years start. It’s a sign of the times that you expect to see a Marsh Harrier every time you visit, good to see its fortunes have been turned around, a real success story, hopefully the same can be done for Hen Harrier.

As per last year, and like half the country, I have started my annual diet, the tummy has got to go, in 2 months time, or possibly sooner I will probably be unrecognizable and a shadow of my former self.

Remember saying the same last year…..

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Beckton Sewage Works

Boxing Day

It’s been a while since I have written a blog post; surveys, peregrines and other issues closer to home have kept me occupied with little spare time.

With most of the December surveys now undertaken I slipped out to Beckton Sewage works on Boxing day morning, I know it’s not the most glamorous of birding sites but I have been watching the site for a number of years now and love the place, I have even got used to the smell.

As it turned out it was a good visit, my early morning jaunt coincided with high tide and the weather was good with wall to wall sunshine.

At the Outfall 22 Redshank and 3 Common Sandpipers were roosting with 40 odd Cormorants keeping them company along with hordes of Teal and Gadwall. 2 Rock Pipits were working the remaining foreshore and the usual Grey Wagtails were present.

Redshank roost with Common Sandpiper

A walk along the track produced a loose flock of no less than 11 Chiffchaffs, 8 in a bunch with 3 slightly further on, it’s the largest count I have had in the winter. Not surprisingly, given the insect food it attracts, the Sewage works has always been a favoured wintering haunt of Chiffies. It could also be milder winters are encouraging more to stay?

I also added another 2 Common Sandpipers and another 2 Rock Pipits along the track and 6 Fieldfares and a Mistle Thrush near the Centre.

No sign of any of the Seals at the Outfall, it has been a while since I have seen one here.

It looks like I am going to finish the patch year list on 77, slightly down on 2015,as with the other patch year lists it’s a good bit of fun, not taken too seriously but enjoyable just the same.

New Years day will likely find me over Rainham RSPB to start the year off again, a bit of a tradition recently; I suspect I will not be alone, hopefully the weather will be good.

Happy Christmas everyone and all the best for the New Year.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

All Creatures Great and Small

For most of this month I have been undertaking Reptile relocation on a site down at Coryton, its enjoyable and rewarding work and it has been a learning curve to me having done mostly bird surveys over the past years.

Occasional Reptile surveys have been undertaken before but I only ever encountered Common Lizard, this area of land is producing the goods with Great Crested and Smooth Newt, Common Lizard, Slow Worm, Adder and Grass Snake.

Of them all, Great Crested Newts and Slow Worms I find are quite stunning with their detail and colouring; up close they are even more impressive. Both have been rarely seen in the past let alone in the hand.

Adders are another that are fantastically marked, to date I have caught 2 (with snake gloves on I might add), obviously treating them with a little respect, it’s the first time I have been ‘hissed ‘at.
A good opportunity to see them up close, the intricate markings were superb, never held one before, there usually at the end of my camera.

Below is a selection of photos.

Hope I have this right - Dark Bush Cricket

Wall Brown

Great Green Bush Cricket

Smooth Newts trying to make a break for it with there bigger relatives GCN below

Great Crested Newt

Smooth Newts

Slow Worm - lovely colouring and pattern

Adder - stunning

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Battersea Power Station Peregrines 2016

The 2016 breeding season was always going to be a challenge to the Peregrines, works have now begun in earnest on the Power Station itself and the skyline had dramatically changed with ongoing construction, new buildings, chimney demolition and Luffer Cranes.

With 3 successful seasons behind them due to our new female’s arrival in the winter of 2012/2013, 2016 heralded another new breeding season, the pair as ever took it all in their stride.

Would the works and the ever changing site perhaps send them off looking for pastures new?
It did occur to me many times, but the site faithfulness of the pair again reasserted itself and they laid their first egg on March 15th.

This year Battersea Power Station Development Company had installed CCTV, no less than 4 cameras watching their every move. It gave me a comprehensive insight to study the species even further, along with providing incredible live footage and images.
In total she laid 5 eggs with the last being laid on March 24th, this was also my first clutch of 5 in London. Laying durations between eggs were very consistent, 53 hours between eggs 1 to 4 and 55 hours between eggs 4 to 5.

The 5 eggs did create a problem for the Tiercel, his smaller size occasionally leading to one egg not being covered, sometimes for long periods in relatively cold weather.
This may have been a contributing factor in only 4 of the 5 eggs hatching, the first hatched on April 26th with the 4th hatching on April 30th.

On a diet of meat they quickly grew and all fledged in early June, one however did it the hard way and grounded on his first flight.
A Falcon Recovery Plan was in place particularly for this sort of occurrence; he was thankfully seen and located, placed in a box and then taken to a special safe area high up on the Power Station.

Battersea Power Station Development Company and construction contractor Skanska had set aside this non disturbance area on the Power Station specifically which I knew the adult peregrines used, it worked a treat and he was fed by the Falcon the same day.

Before long he joined his siblings, who also fledged shortly after, gracing the skies in and around the Power Station, by the end of the week all 4 had made it to the summit of the brand new south western chimney.

To have 4 screaming juveniles chasing an adult with prey around the Power Station construction site is truly a remarkable spectacle, obviously it has not gone unnoticed by the 3000+ workforce.

If you know peregrines, you will know how loud juveniles are when they are hungry; on occasions they even drowned out the noise of the site.
Many of the workforce have often stopped me to discuss the birds and get the latest, even on a major construction site there is a place for nature and it is good to see people taking an interest.

3 of the 4 juveniles on the new south west chimney

2 Juveniles in front of the new chimney

Adult Tiercel

Practicing on each other

A male and 2 female juveniles resting up on site

Practice makes perfect

Adult female

To date the 4 juveniles are spending more and more time away from site exploring and presumably hunting the adults territory, similar to teenagers they only return when they are hungry.

Pretty shortly I suspect the male juvenile will leave site, probably in September and then his 3 sisters will do the same, not long after him. Having said that, there is always one young one, as we’ve seen last year and in 2014, who takes a little longer to make their move.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Juvenile Mediterranean Gulls

July 27th 2016

Although still very early in the year I made a visit to Southend in the chance of seeing a juvenile Med Gull, in past years they have turned up quite early, sometimes in numbers.

With a peak high tide around 5.35am, I was down there just after hoping that the tide may have pushed them up on the beach.
Armed with some bread it proved so and worked out quite well, the only downside was the dark skies for photos but nonetheless I still saw 2 juveniles so all good.

Both were loosely associating with each other along with 5 other more mature Med Gulls in a large flock of Black Headed Gulls.

Also had a look along the beach for any Sanderling just in case but suspect it’s still a bit early yet.