Todays' blog is going to be long, and it deserves to be, due to the great day we all had.
The 'we' were Duncan, Sue B and myself.
It was an early start. I met up with Duncan about 8am at Purfleet and we walked to the reserve along the Thames. It was low tide, and although the Thames Barrier had been closed since midnight due to the predicted tidal surge that was making its way down the east coast, Rainham was relatively safe.
The low tide meant we could see at least one Common Seal on the other side.
The early morning light showed the Dartford Crossing in all its congested glory.
It was fairly overcast at first, with a biting chilly wind, and very little light. We watched three Redshanks feeding on the mudflats knowing that within a few hours, the tide would be right in and flushing up these lovely waders.
There was also a lone Shelduck picking its way through the mud.
Further on up the wall boundaries we found a huge Great Black-backed Gull, or at least I think it was. My photo does it no justice except to compare it in size with a Black-headed gull.
Back at the entrance to the reserve whilst we waited for it to open, I had to grab this shot of the Collared Doves on the sign to the garden.
We also sadly saw this gull below, with a plastic bag caught around its legs.
After a warming cup of coffee in the café, and Sue B joining us, we started to make our way around the reserve. Goldfinches and Chaffinches were abundant.
And we got our first (of many) close up views of one of the many Kestrels that now frequent the site.
There are hundreds of Wigeons around.
From the 'Shooting Butts' hide we could see three drake Pintails, and at least one female.
There was also a solitary Lapwing, which seemed quite odd, as from the other side of the hide we had great views of around 100-150 other Lapwings and Golden Plovers.
By this time our bellies were telling us it was lunchtime, so we made our way back to the café.
En route we got some lovely views of some Reed Buntings hopping around in the grass.
We also found what we think to be some sort of pellet on the board walk. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. It was the width of a twenty pence piece at its widest, and about 4-5cm long.
Whilst in the café, the high tide started. Flocks of Dunlin, Redshanks, Godwits and Curlew started flying over from the Thames on to the site, and all were viewed with the comfort of a hot drink and food ! Sometimes birds are very obliging.
It didn't make for great photography during that time through the café windows, but just watching the birds coming over was enough for me. Three Grey Plovers were also seen though I wasn't lucky enough to witness them.
After our lovely filling lunch, we were soon back out watching the now incredibly busy and bustling waterways. The next few photos really don't do justice at all. The whole of the birdlife on the marshes was continuously being flushed up, the sky was sometimes full of various birds from ducks through to waders, and when they did settle it was a pure luck in trying to photograph them before they flushed up again.
I always count myself lucky to spot one Curlew or Godwit, but to lose count of how may we saw today was amazing.....
Although I could have stayed in that one spot all day, we had set ourselves an itinerary, so off we went through the woodland and cordite area, briefly stopping off at the bird feeder station and getting some cracking views of the Great and Blue Tits.
From the Ken Barrett hide we firstly watched a Shoveller.....
and then spotted a Marsh Harrier in front of, and over, the Shooting Butts hide. Whoever was in there at the time must have had some great views !!!
We watched the Harrier for some time before realising we weren't going to be lucky enough to have the views that the others were having, so decided to make our way round. However, we then got distracted by a 'wall' of Lapwings along one of the channels. I cannot think of any other word to describe it. It was just a 'block' of birds.
The afternoon sun was in our eyes, but it back lit the birds superbly, and this is just a small fraction of the Lapwings that were gathered there.
And this is where the story of our stalker Kestrel begins......
Whilst walking from the KB hide, along the boardwalk, and feeling chuffed with seeing a Marsh Harrier, we spotted a Kestrel being flushed up by a couple walking towards us. The Kestrel settled on a pipe underneath the bridge.
We briefly chatted to the couple and they confirmed the view of the Marsh Harrier had been really good from the SB hide. They also said they had accidentally disturbed a Kestrel eating on the boardwalk. We pointed out the same Kes, who was by now, watching us with the same interest.
We carried on walking hoping for the Harrier to come across again, and were completely unprepared for what happened next.
I spotted something on the boardwalk, closer inspection showed it to be a dead, and headless, bird, about the size of a Starling. None of us knew what it was, so we decided to put it in a bag and to show Howard when we got back to the café.
Within seconds, we caught sight of the Kes by the motorway bridge, flying in low and on a mission. It landed out of our sight range, around a bend on the boardwalk, but soon came 'walking' round the corner. I cant describe it in any other way, the bird really did just 'walk' around the corner. And it was obviously looking for something.....
Duncan, Sue and I soon realised that the bird remains we had found, was the same prey the Kes had been feeding on before being disturbed by the couple walking in the opposite direction to us.
Kes had come back to reclaim its prey.
Problem was, its prey was now wrapped in a plastic bag and safely placed in my rucksack.
At first, Kes was about 12-14 feet away from us. We all froze. And Kes hopped, walked and almost flew, nearer and nearer, all the time concentrating on finding that prey, and completely unfazed by the three of us watching him......
It was almost comical at times. Kes appeared completely baffled as to the disappearance of its prey. He really did look everywhere. He walked from one side of the boardwalk to the other, continuously looking behind him, looking over the boardwalk edges and staring at us.
If he could talk I'd swear he was saying 'where the duck did that meal go ????'.
It was such a surreal few moments. Kes actually got to within five feet of us towards the end, and all the while, he was still looking for his prey........
Eventually, after what felt like hours but was probably only about twenty minutes, Kes finally gave up and took back to his perch under the bridge, and we continued with our walk. However we hadn't gone that far before he swooped low in front of us and proceeded to hunt.
For the rest of the walk around, we joked that Kes was stalking us, and it really felt like he was. We encountered him several more times. Part of me wanted to take his prey out of my backpack and give it back, but I was also intrigued to know what bird it was, that Kes had found was so tastefull, that he was prepared to come back for it, even with an audience.
Despite the now low light, we still found some great beauties on the way back to the centre. I had been complaining all day that we hadn't seen any Stonechats, so was mildly amused when I found a pair topping right alongside a path. My photos are no where near as good as Bill Crooks pics from the Rainham FB pages, but I was chuffed anyway.
and a Pied Waggy joined in too...
before all three birds were flushed by a rather magnificent looking Fox. He wasn't bothered by us just being feet away, nor by the couple with a pushchair that went past us.
The perfect finish to a great day out, was sitting on a table next to the author James Lowen, after being treated to coffee and cake by Duncan. One autographed book now has a new home in my bookcase.
And the poor dead headless bird we found, was confirmed by Howard as being a Common Snipe.
It is doubtful that Kes had caught this bird, but very probable that a Sprawk had, and that Kes was a chancer who had stolen the prey away.