Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Mound Bound

I Haven't been to Rainham Marshes for quite a while. In fact I haven't been anywhere for a while. The crap weather combined with my busy life has meant no birding for three weekends in a row. I was determined to get out and with nothing worth travelling for I headed to The Serin Mound at Rainham hoping to catch up with, er, one of the Serin that had been seen almost daily from The "Serin" Mound.

On site I first bumped into Hawky and Bagsy who had not seen a lot for their efforts and then Shaun, who had seen one of the Serin briefly. Before I could get to The Mound, Hawky called to say he had found a Dartford Warbler just up the road so we headed along to see it. Dirty Year Lister Jonathan Lethbridge was there too when we arrived, trying to work out which list he might need a Dartford for; his Sunday list or his seen whilst wearing this pair of pants list. The Dartford showed nicely through a fence, not allowing any good photos. For an example of a crap photo of it, see Hawkys blog;

Back to The Serin Mound, no sign and 40 mins later I was off to Berwick Ponds to look for Bittern. A couple of laps produced, well not much really, just a calling Water Rail and some common wildfowl.

It was good to get out and catch up with the lads, although briefly. Looking forward to a day out birding soon.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Fan Tailed Warbler - 3rd Time Lucky!

Thumbs up for the Fan Tailed!

It was 3rd time lucky as at last I caught up with the Fan Tailed Warbler at Pegwell Bay in Kent. Hawky and I arrived at first light to find a number of birders already in position waiting for the bird to appear from its suspected roosting spot in the reeds by the car park. After 40 minutes we could hear it calling and just few minutes later there it was (life tick #362). For 30 minutes it flitted about showing well but mostly with its back to us. We decided to be patient and wait for better views, and we were not to be disappointed, with the bird showing well in full view on and off for 20 minutes.

It may have been here for months but it is still a big draw!

Thursday, 22 October 2009

More Scilly Snaps

I bet we can get to the bird before you!

Look at the rump on that!

Shaun at The Parsonage (St Agnes)


Is that a pub over there?

The Camera Never Lies!

Cock Rock, St Agnes, Isles of Scilly, Oct 2009

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Scilly Trip Report 0ctober (15th - 19th) 2009

left to right: Shaun, Hawky, Dave Mo and me (Monkey)

For the third year in a row I found myself on Scilly in October, this time accompanied by Shaun, Hawky (our self appointed group leader) and Dave Mo.

Day One - we left Essex at 9.00pm on Wednesday 14th, picking Hawky up in Barking before heading through London to the M3. We decided not to take the easier M4/M5 route this time round, which turned out to be a mistake. With the A30 closed somewhere in Dorset we had to make a significant detour towards Bath to enable us to get back on track, adding well over an hour to an already very tiring journey. Somewhere along the route we had 2 Badgers feeding along side the road which was a life tick for Shaun. Hawky and Dave Mo slept most of the way leaving me and Shaun to chauffeur them to Penzance. We eventually arrived at the 24 Tesco in Penzance at around 4.45am, where me and Shaun managed to grab an hour and a half's sleep before we headed to McDonalds for breakfast.

We arrived at the airfield at Lands End around 8am for our 8.50am take off. The flight was smooth and 15 minutes later we were on St Mary's. We jumped into the waiting bus to be robbed of £6.50 per person (£26 for a trip that would have been £5 in a taxi back home) for a journey of less than a mile, off loading our bags at the small family run Haycocks B&B in Hugh Town, before heading to the harbour to get the boat to St Martins, to try and see the Raddes Warbler and Little Bunting that had been reported there over the previous few days. Not to be outdone by the airport bus the boat prices have risen again to £7.60 a trip.

Both birds had been reported at Arthur's Farm on St Martin, at the other end of the island. We took a slow walk, checking every field and hedge, adding Black Redstart to the trip list before news arrived that a Minke Whale was feeding a quarter of a mile off sure. We had good scope views for 20 to 30 minutes and a Peregrine Falcon flew over head.

We made our way down to the farm where a good 40 - 50 birders could be seen. There had been no sign of the Raddes Warbler for a number of hours but the Little Bunting had been showing intermittently. We didn't have to wait long for great views of the Little Bunting but the Raddes Warbler never showed. We headed back towards the harbour adding Common Redstart, Grey Wagtail to the list before arriving back at St Marys mid afternoon. We also had brief flight views over of possible Jack Snipe and Ring Ouzel.

We then headed up towards Penninis Head where a Common Rosefinch had been reported. Wheatears and Meadow Pipits were scanned hoping to be turned into something rarer until we spotted a large flock of Greenfinch in the first field off the head land. We scanned them hoping to find the Common Rosefinch in amongst them and we did! Hawky had it in his scope and managed to get us all on to it (life tick for Dave Mo) before the flock took flight and it could not be relocated much to the disappointment of those turning up to see it after we put out news. They included our fellow Essex birders H, dirty year listers; Bradders Junior and Jonathon Lethbridge, Sam Shippey, Sir Les Harrison of the Garrison and Bradders Senior. They had however been getting good views of Wryneck just below the turning circle on the airfield. With it now past 6pm and the light starting to fade we decided to leave the Wryneck for the following day and go and get a couple of well deserved beers and some sleep.

Day 2 - Today we stayed on St Marys and started off going for the Wryneck. We all had cracking views of the bird allowing some decent digi-scoped shots. When this bird showed, it showed very well but it did have a tendency to disappear for hours at a time. Today we struck lucky however.

We continued around the coast to Porthhelic where Jack Snipe showed well in front of the hide. There was also 7 Whooper Swans. Two Firecrests were in the large pine behind the hide.

Further along through lower moors we headed up towards Longstones for some lunch before birding the fields at that end of the island in the afternoon in the vain hope of tracking down the very tricky Red Throated Pipit. Redpoll called overhead on route. Just along the track from Longstones Cafe a Raddes Warbler had been seen early morning but not since. We caught up with some of the other lads who had just had the Red Throated Pipit over, heard only, we missed it by 15 minutes. After a very large (and expensive) cream tea we birded the fields and trees around and up to Newford Duckpond, when news came through that the Raddes Warbler had been relocated and was showing well. Just 10 minutes walk away it would be rude not to go and see it. There was already 30 to 40 birders at the site with most already having had good views they were leaving allowing us to get prime spots.

We sat down and kept quiet. The bird showed amazingly well down to less than 10 feet, too close to digi-scope but I still managed a few snaps on my digital camera.

It seemed like we had walked a lot of miles today so we headed back for dinner at The Bishop and Wolf. Great value and very good food. It was Bradders Jnr's birthday so we all got together for a few beers.

Day 3 - Hawky, Shaun and I headed to St Agnes. An R B Fly had been showing well in The Parsonage as well as a Pied Fly and a Yellow Browed Warbler. A quick stop at The Garrison didn't turn up the Yellow Browed Warbler earlier reported there but allowed us scoped views of 4 Spoonbill on Samson.

It started well on St Agnes with a Ring Ouzel after 10 minutes. Unfortunately there were no flycatchers at The Parsonage but we did turn up a couple of Firecrests in with the many Chiffchaffs. A showy Black Redstart allowed a few snaps, before we headed out to try and locate the reported juvenile Rose Coloured Starling. Despite covering a lot of ground and checking every field all we turned up was 2 Peregrine over. With only about an hour remaining until our boat back it had not been a great day. Continuing to check every field we lucky to have a Wryneck fly across one and disappear into the bushes, pleased with that, news came over the CB that the Rose Coloured Starling had been located at Troy Town Farm. A brisk 10 minute walk and we were in the area. We split up each checking a field and within a minute Shaun had located it. With time running out we managed a few digi-scoped shots in the 5 minutes it remained in the field before heading off back to the boat.
Dave Mo who had remained on St Marys called to say he had seen the Stick Insects at Old Town church Yard so myself and Hawky headed up for a look, via the Common Rosefinch which was just a 100 yards or so away from them. Superb fish and chips was followed by an early night.

Day 4 - Shaun and I decided to stay on St Marys on our last full day. Hawky and Dave Mo ended up on St Agnes again after missing the early boat to Bryer. First stop was again the Common Rosefinch which showed well in the weedy field at Carn Gwarvel, followed by another look at the stick insects.

We were sure the airfield would turn something up today as there we no flights being a Sunday so we made our way up to the turning circle via further great views of the Wryneck.

As we got onto the airfield news came on the CB of a Minke Whale feeding just off Pennines Head. We watched the whale feed for almost half an hour before fishing boats got too close and off it went. At one point it must have been just 100 yards off shore.

The airfield was quiet so we headed off back to the B&B for a cup of tea before deciding on what to do next. Back at the B&B news came through of a Cattle Egret at Telegraph, a good 20 to 30 minute up hill walk. This is when operation Golf Cart came into action. Mark at the B&B had told us that morning that they had a golf cart that should we want to borrow it we could. So that we did. We picked up the cart and zoomed up towards Telegraph passing many bemused birders on the way, to just catch the egret in flight. The bird then gave many birders the run around over the next few hours but we managed to catch up with it on 4 or 5 occasions in the birdmobile.

We spent the next 2 hours intensively birding the fields between Telegraph and Lower Moors. checking every field, but the best we could find was a Common Redstart.

We decided to again get onto the airfield. As we walked up to windsock we were told via the CB that a Richards Pipit was showing just 200 yards away, we were the 2nd and 3rd birders on the scene and after it initially disappeared for 15 minutes or so we had good but relatively distant views.

We spent our last night back in The Bishop and Wolf for a fantastic carvery.

Day 5 - We had the 1st flight off and were back on the mainland by 9.15am. With nothing much about in Cornwall or anywhere else in south west England we headed home.
2009 was a funny year on Scilly. There were no megas, no yanky warblers. We didn't even see a Yellow Browed, or Pied or an R B Fly but we still had a fantastic time. Scilly is a magical place where anything could happen. Just look at the previous October records. Hopefully we'll be back next year.

1. Big thanks to Mark and Sarah at the Haycocks B&B. We all agreed we would highly recommend it. The golf cart was an added bonus.

2. Recommended - The Bishop and Wolf - also run by Mark and Sarah. Great food at value for money prices.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Shrike It Lucky

Not the Greatest pics in the world
Wow! Brown Shrike! Last year I was gutted to dip one (with many others) at Flamborough Head but now that's all in the distant past. With 1 day till I head off to the Scillies with the lads I have added life tick 361 to my list. Superb bird and showed well. Unfortunately did not digi-photo that well for me. Who cares!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Fan Tailed.....Whatever!

For the 2nd time in 8 days I spent a few fruitless hours at Pegwell Bay looking for a funny foreign bird with a dodgy name. This time accompanied by Hawky and Dick we gave it our best shot but the Sodding Cisticola was nowhere to be found.

After a short stop at Grove Ferry which produced Peregrine, Marsh Harrier and Hobby we headed to Dunge to give the Glossy Ibis a go.

Passing H on the way in he informed us that the Ibis were tucked away in a gully and he had not seen them. Up we strolled to the viewing point to surprisingly find all 5 Glossy Ibis together out in the open. A quick call and H was back 10 minutes later.

Sparrowhawk and Merlin added to the impressive raptor species day list, before we headed over towards the main reserve. An hour or so spent in and around the Hanson Hide produce further Hobby, Common Buzzard and Marsh Harrier as well as Pintail and Ruddy Duck. We finished off with 5 Tree Sparrows in the car park.
Oh well, no Fan Tailed Warbler again. I'll just have to wait till it starts singing next Spring to go back again.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Tick as a Parrot - nah not really

Jamie and I spent almost 4 hours out in the warm autumn sunshine today in Kent. It really was a lovely morning spent walking around Pegwell Bay Country Park. The only thing that spoilt the walk was that it was not interrupted by seeing a Fan Tailed Warbler, but hey, you can't win 'em all.
Good views of Ring Necked Parakeet and Wheatear were had before we headed to Reculver to go for the Red Backed Shrike that had also been showing well (whatever!) the previous day. Birders in the car park at Reculver told us that they had spent 2 hours looking for the bird so we opted for ice cream and an early return home rather than a 3+ mile round trip walk to stare at an empty bush. Not the most successful of days tick-wise but a nice morning out with my 9 year old Jamie all the same.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Ticks out for the lads!

"Well found Hawky!"
Hawky came up trumps today when he found an Ortolan Bunting in Corton, Suffolk whilst on a weekend break with his family. Knowing both Shaun and I need Ortolan we had received text news by 8am and by 9am we were on the A12 heading north.

By 11am we were both enjoying stonking views down to 20 feet (life tick 360) as it fed on the path in front of us. The smart, well marked bird showed well for 30-40 minutes until we left.

Heading south we stopped off at Boyton Marshes for an even showier Glossy Ibis, it seemed completely unphased as it fed continuously just feet in front of us. I doubt I'll see one as well as that again.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Amazing Picture of Shooting Star in Kent

Me and Vic!

Had a great afternoon out with the family in Whitstable, Kent on Saturday, and look who we bumped into, comedy genius Vic Reeves, who was also taking a break from birding for a day out with his family!

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

The Tickfest continues - Pallid Harrier, Cambs

Hot on the heels of Sunday’s Alpine Swift another much sort after lifer, Pallid Harrier, was available on Monday. Although in work time, I was in luck. I could get a few hours off and the bird was not too far away, around 1.5 hours away in Cambridgeshire.
Doing a tad more research this time and armed with a map that Bradders Jnr kindly emailed me I set off up the M11. It proved a lot simpler this time to find the site and luckily the harrier was showing as I arrived. Jumping out and fixing my bins on it I had good views immediately. A kind birder let me have a look through his scope to provide even better views as it cruised over the fields in front of me for 5 minutes or so before settling in the field in front of me, out of sight. Here is remained for the next hour until I had to leave. Relatively brief views but I am not complaining, it was a stunner

Alpine Swiftly located (with just a little help)

Picture by Simon West - Many thanks.

Being an Essex/east London boy I have rarely ventured to sowf or norf London apart from attending the odd football match. So when an Alpine Swift turned up in Alexandra Park on Sunday it didn’t really gave a Scooby do where I was going. With my passport stamped, visa granted and making sure I had an up to date tetanus injection I ventured into norf London on Sunday with my 9 year old, Jamie. We arrived at Alexandra Park, parked up and set off to find the bird.

The bird was apparently showing well over the filter beds area of the park. I had a quick look on Google maps before we left home, which confirmed the park itself was quite small and there was one body of water. This would be easy. Jamie and I spent the following 40 minutes walking around the park, asking the locals about the “ well known” filter beds area only to be greeting with puzzled looks and a lot of shrugging of shoulders.

Completely stumped I called fellow birder Ray Parker Lethbridge (see below) for some advice and he activated his new Lethbridge Telephone WalkNav devise immediately. At this point I will refer you Jonathan’s blog for a detailed and almost accurate recount of our conversation. Obviously the bit about me being a tad unfit is not true. I am very unfit! (http://www.wansteadbirder.blogspotcom/).

After 10 minutes of guiding me to where we wanted to be, up hills, round bends, across cricket pitches, through streams, passed burnt out cars (only joking) etc we were there and so was the Alpine Swift (life tick 358). I have always wanted to see one so was chuffed. A superb powerful looking bird.

Anyway, in order to thank Jonathan for his gallant effort in getting us there I have composed the following. (Please read/sing to the tune of Ghostbusters, by Ray Parker Junior)

When you get lost
When you’re on a twitch,
Who ya gonna call
J Lethbridge

If the directions are crap
And you’ve got no map
Who ya gonna call
J Lethbridge

You’ve walked round and round
But it can’t be found
Who ya gonna call
J Lethbridge

I ain’t afraid of no dip
I aint afraid of no dip

If you’re lost and alone
Just pick up the phone
And call
J Lethbridge

He’ll use his IT skills
To direct up and down hills
Who ya gonna call
J Lethbridge

Be afraid not
He’ll pin point the spot
When you call

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Arctic Monkey's Landguard Gig Cancelled

Last night the chance of a 5th tick in a magical 5 day purple patch was scuppered by traffic mayhem on the A12 around Chelmesford in Essex.

News of an Arctic Warbler at Landguard had Hawky and I making plans to get there straight from work. We met at Tesco’s car park at Gallow Corner, Romford and were on our way in the Hawk-mobile by 5.10pm. Landguard being around an hour and 20 minutes away we were hoping we would have enough time to see the bird before dusk.

Unfortunately things did not go to plan. At around 5.20pm Jonathan “Dirty Year Lister” Lethbridge (who had already outrageously already ticked the bird rather than do the ironing) called to say the A12 ahead of us was blocked and at a standstill for 4 or 5 miles. We immediately diverted and zoomed along country lanes, over level crossings, though fields and hay stacks etc (slight exaggeration) until we got near Chelmsford when we realised everyone else must have had the same idea and we were as likely to move as a Frenchman living next door to a brothel (Blackadder Series 4).

We decided to give it until 6pm to see how far we progressed. 30 minutes and 400 yards later it was over. There was no way we would get to Languard before night fall. We turned round and came home. No Artic Warbler, no tick, no luck! Maximum effort and no reward. Bummer. :o(

Rumours are circulating around Essex than a man wearing a Tilley hat, surrounded by loads of small children, was seen along side the A12 in the Chelmsford area, mid afternoon chopping down a tree, insanely laughing, but they have so far been unsubstantiated.

Monday, 31 August 2009

The Fea's Factor

We arrived at Porthgwarra car park around 1am. Luckily JL has a Ford Galaxy that with the seats folded away creates a decent sized sleeping space. Stuart had brought a small tent that he set up on the grass and by 1.30am JL was snoring away and I was lying there wondering what mega we would see tomorrow. I always get a bit excited the night before a birding trip and can't sleep and this was no exception. I managed about an hour and a half before the alarm woke us too early at 5.30am so we grabbed another hour before getting up and ready for a day's sea watching. By 6.45am we had carried all our gear for the day up to our viewing position, seats, food, kettle etc and were in position and were staring out at the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. We had expected quite a crowd as the weather conditions looked promising but surprisingly there was only 1 person there.

The day started well with constant traffic of Sootys and Manxs. We didn't have to wait long for our first real excitement. Probably having been there less than an half an hour JL shouts "large shearwater!" But what was it? Well to be honest we are not 100% sure. Stuart having some experience of Cory's Shearwaters counts out Cory's. We decide it almost has to be a Great Shearwater (life tick 355) as it dwarfed the Manx is helpfully sheared past and was too dark for a Cory's.

The next four or so hours we were fed a constant procession of Manxs (150 ish), Sootys (30+) and Storm Petrels (35+) and a large Basking Shark feeding along the shore line below us was a life first for Stuart.

At about 10.30am experienced Cornwall sea watcher Martin Elliot joined us and we chatted about Black Browed Albatross's and what he thought our large shearwater was earlier from our description. He was pretty sure it sounded like a Great Shear too. The pleasant chit chat however all came to an abrupt end at just gone 11.20am:

ME (that's Martin Elliot not me) "Great Shearwater! Heading towards Runnel Stone from the left. Hang on, f*ck me, it's a Fea's! It's a f*cking Fea's Petrel! Is everyone on it? Fea's Petrel!"
(life tick 356)

Luckily we had all had our scopes trained on the very spot as we had been watching a steady stream of Storm Petrels in tha area. We had good continuous views for a couple of minutes as it slowly sheared over the ocean and eventually out of site.

After high fives were exchanged all round, calls and texts were made back to our birding buds back home so they could share in our good news! Well something like that

A "lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky bastard" according to Hawky

We were over the moon. All the effort to get there had paid off. Within 2 hours we were fog bound and sea watching was no longer an option. We twitched the Citrine Wagtail at Marazion which was just a 20 minute drive away. The bird had not been seen for a few hours so rather than stand there chatting we decided to go and look for it. This was almost a big mistake. We followed what we thought was a circular path which in fact took us further and further away from where we wanted to be. Eventually we climbed a stile and found ourselves on a main road a good 2 miles from where we had been. We started the long walk back when the pager bleeped to tell us "Citrine Wagtail showing well exactly where you had been standing, you idiots!" The pace quickened to by the time we got back to the entrance to the reserve we were jogging. Luckily we made it back and had very good views of the bird (life tick 357) for just a couple of minutes before it flew a short distance out of sight and I believe it was not seen again that day. Phew!
Pic borrowed from Surfbirds (not mine) With thanks to Brian R Field

It was time to head home. The weather was now very poor. We stopped in Devon (Beer Head) for Wryneck, but we could not even find Beer Head let alone a Wryneck. Anyway who cares, I had 4 life ticks that I did not have 2 days ago and one of them was a Fea's Petrel! My target of a 360 life list by the end of 2009 now looks much more likely after such a cracking weekend.

Ground Tern Day

Having been away for a few days in Wales I did not think that I would be leaving again for a sea watching trip to Cornwall within 2.5 hours of arriving home. Fellow birder Jonathon Lethbridge (see had hatched a plan to do a sea watch from Porthgwarra as the south westerlies looked promising. I must admit I felt a bid bad walking out the door just a couple of hours after arriving home but permission was granted and I was going. I had about 30 mins to get together everything I needed and by 5pm we were on the M25 heading to Farmoor Resevoir which I had left approximately 4.5 hours earlier. Joining us was Stuart a Wanstead based birder JL had recently met on the flats.

All 3 blackish terns were duly seen again and with the sun setting rapidly we continued on our way south west via a supermarket for essential provisions, beer and snacks, and a fish and chip shop.

Tern Tick Tastic

Last week I took the kids to Wales to see, feel and live some of their family history. Staying with Cousins in Neath we had a great couple of days in particular the visit to Big Pit. I know this is supposed to be a birding blog but just a few words about this great place first.

At Big Pit you get to see what is was like to be a miner over the last couple of hundred years and what terrible conditions they were forced to work in. Firstly you travel down 300 feet in the cage to the tunnels then take a guided tour of the mine shafts, it's really interesting and educational (especially if you have a family history based around mining).

Anyway luckily the evening before I was due to come home from South Wales to London the American Black Tern was located at Farmoor Resevoir in Oxfordshire, very conveniently about half way home. It was either stop at services on the M4 and pay £5 for a crap sarnie or knock up a packed lunch and stop off for the tern. Choices, choices!

By midday we were at Farmoor Res and ticking American Black Tern (life list 355). Seeing it with WWBT and Black Tern in the same scope view was a real help on the ID front. We continued home via the M40 and 11 Red Kites arriving home mid afternoon. Little did I know at this stage I would be back at Farmoor within 4 hours on the way to Cornwall!

"Which one of the dots is it Dad?"

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

I like this pic - Caper - somewhere in Scotland March 2009

No real reason for adding this digiscoped picture other than I really like it. Nice one Hawky.

Wood Sands at Dagenham Chase - Just!

Picture by finder Vince HF - thanks!

Luckily last night I had about 50 minutes spare between getting home from work and going out for the evening. Just enough time to twitch the pair of Wood Sands at The Chase, as I call it. A 10 minute drive and 5 minute walk later I was at The Slack but initial scans failed to spot anything resembling Wood Sands. Moving location I spotted Vince crouching low digiscoping so moved into position. I still could not see them though until they walked out from behind some reeds closer than where I had been looking. They showed well for all of 5 minutes before all of a sudden they were up and and off and obviously not coming back as they disappeared into the distance. Hawky missed them 5 minutes. Back to the car and home, the whole twitch took about 50 minutes. Phew.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Blast from the past - Oriental Pratincole Twitch

Me, Hawky, Jamie and Shaun

During the school summer holidays I had planned to take Jamie (9) out for the evening to look for his first Nightjar. We were to head to the Suffolk/Norfolk border with Hawky, Bradders Jnr and the Leth. Around lunch time however plans had to be hastily changed as the Oriental Pratincole originally found and ID’d as a Collared in West Sussex had re appeared at Dungeness, Kent. A few calls from Bradders Jnr to contacts were made to find a possible Nightjar site in Kent. By 5pm we were on the road. Shaun joined me, Jamie and Hawky in the monkey mobile for the one and half hour journey. Luckily the QE2 bridge was not too bad and the pager kept informing us the bird was still there. By 7pm we were ticking the Praticole and slapping each other on the back. Bradders Jnr and The Leth were not far behind. I tried throwing stones at it to scare it off before they could arrive but my aim was off that night.

Next we went in search of Nightjar. We had two in flight at dusk and as the light dimmed they could be heard all around us. We also had an albino Fallow Deer that freaked us out a bit at a distance but the highlight of the evening was hearing something running through the woods towards us getting louder and louder and it came closer and closer. There were a few squeaky bums as we all pretended not to be a little scared of the apparent mad wild killer two tonne bull that was approaching at 100mph. All of a sudden we realised it was not in fact a mad wild killer bull or an escaped lunatic from Broadmoor but in fact a badger. The night was rounded off with a glow worm and a calling Tawny Owl.

A lovely sssssssssummers day at Rainham Marshes

"Er, try closing the other eye"

Saturday afternoon saw the extended blow monkey family visit Rainham Marshes RSPB reserve. Our 3 year old nephew Bradley joined Jamie (9) and Sophie (11) on his first trip around the reserve. I knew it would be quiet bird wise but it wasn’t our feathered friends we were looking for. We were on the look out for Grass Snakes!

Jamie had seen his first Adder just a few days earlier when one rather stupidly slithered in front of the car whilst my wife Julia was driving down a country lane in deepest Essex. Luckily she avoided squishing it and creating the world’s thinnest Zebra/Adder crossing.
A smart Hobby was the only bird of note that we saw on route to the target pools where we guessed we would have the best chance of seeing a snake. And we were right!
All along the board walks to the south of the reserve fantastically coloured Marsh Frogs with golden eyes called and occasionally gave us a view. Reaching the targets I immediately l saw the head of a Grass Snake with its distinct white marking on the back but Jamie missed it. He didn’t have to wait long for another one. Over the next ten minutes or so we had five snakes all in the same area; four were pretty small with one much larger adult. Two Marsh Frogs also showed really closely in the open here.

Another lone Grass Snake was seen off the board walk around Aveley Pools to bring the total to 6 in one visit. The only other thing of note we saw was a lovely piece of home made cake back at the visitors centre that rounded off a great couple of hours out with the family.