So, I’m doing a Big Year! Ok, so not like in the movie but a year long list at RSPB Rainham Marshes. As well as my own personal year list for the site, I’ll be bird-racing all year long along with around 40 other teams.
January the 1st dawned and I was out before sunrise. Howard opened the reserve at 07:00, still in darkness, but with mid-winter songsters ushering in the New Year: Robin, Blackbird and Song Thrush. I initially spent too long hoping to find a Woodcock and after checking off all the regulars on the Purfleet Scrape (including singing Cetti’s Warbler and Marsh Harrier) and hearing Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker along the woodland trail, I arrived at the Ken Barrett hide to see the wintering Dartford Warbler and Stonechats. The Barn Owl was in its regular box and Common Chiffchaff was calling. Further waterbirds and wildfowl were added at Aveley Pools plus a Water Pipit and Short-eared Owl. A Water Rail was seen briefly in a channel at the Shooting Butts Hide and a further two Water Pipits were ‘scoped in the Target Pools. After a long session here I made my way up on to the river wall to view Aveley Bay, finding Rock Pipit and more waders including Black-tailed Godwit and Ringed Plover. A look at the mouth of the River Darent/Dartford Creek provided Yellow-legged Gull. The short winter day was progressing all too fast so I headed to the raptor watchpoint at the Serin Mound but added only Linnet and Pheasant. Then it was back to the reserve centre for a coffee with some other team members where House Sparrow was reliably located at the garden feeders. We then headed back along the river wall, finding Raven, Jackdaw and Grey Wagtail, bringing the first day’s total to 76 species.
The next few days before the return to work were slow but the 2nd saw five Dark-bellied Brent Geese (77) on the reserve with another in Aveley Bay followed by even more interest shortly after when four adult Little Gulls (78) passed close by me. They appeared to come off the reserve and fly straight into the bay. At the landfill I added Feral Pigeon (79). Why did it not record this yesterday? On the 3rd a Peregrine (80) flew over the River Thames from Rainham to Dartford Marshes in Kent. Monday the 4th dawned and it was back to work. Cycling along the river wall to catch the train at Rainham I picked up a Sparrowhawk (81) dashing low over the salt marsh at Aveley Bay and then eventually caught up with the Egyptian Goose (82) from the Serin Mound. A pair of Mistle Thrushes (83) were to be the last birds to be added for a while. I was then out of the country for a couple of weeks (in Florida Keys) and by the time I returned, several good birds had been found by others. The rest of January was obviously a slow but steady catch-up. The 23rd provided Lesser Redpoll (84) and Corn Bunting (85) at the Serin Mound and Goldcrest (86) in the scrub along Coldharbour Lane, followed by Bullfinches (87) in the Cordite on the 24th. After a few blank days I eventually saw a Buzzard (88) on Wennington Marshes and two Green Sandpipers (89) over Coldharbour Lane on the 28th. The last weekend of the month saw the fine spectacle of a female Merlin (90) terrorising every small passerine over Wennington Marsh, followed by a wintering Common Sandpiper (91) at the mouth of the River Darent.