Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Desperately Seeking Serins at Rainham Marshes

I'd been keeping an eye on reports of one or two first winter serins that had been seen regularly at Rainham Marshes RSPB reserve for a couple of months. With the end of my enforced confinement due to the snowy weather I felt keen to undertake a longer birding trip and so I decided to have a crack at these birds. I left the house at around 7:30am and braved the rush-hour traffic on the M40 and M25 which actually wasn't too bad and the journey took ten minutes over two hours, about twenty minutes longer than without the traffic. I arrived to find conditions very overcast with low level cloud and a bit of a breeze. I asked at the reserve reception about the serins and was given instructions on how to find "serin-mound", the main viewing point where the birds could often be seen. I set off on my journey which involved walking along the sea wall and I kept a keen lookout for finches as I went. There were plenty of greenfinches, chaffinches and goldfinches around at the beginning but as I progressed so the number of finches decreased and soon there were very few to be seen at all. On the other side of the wall the tide was going out and this was exposing a nice area of mud which was increasingly attracting birds. There were several dozen shelducks, a single curlew and a few redshank all feeding away. A few rock pipits were working their way along the rocky parts of the shoreline. There were some ducks, mostly wigeon as well as plenty of gulls on the river itself.

A curlew feeding in the mud. This bird was actually quite far away so
I'm pleased with how well this videograb came out.

One of a number of feeding shelduck on the mud

I walked round the bend and soon found the mound on which a fellow birder was stood. He told me that normally the serins were in the company of goldfinches but that he'd not seen any finches at all whilst he'd been there which tallied with the dearth of birds that I was experiencing. Soon after I arrived he decided that he'd had enough and departed, leaving me to survey the scene. It was indeed a good vantage point but there was a bit of a chilly breeze blowing into the slope on the mound and I wondered if this had driven the birds off to a more sheltered spot. I had read that they could often be seen some distance from the mound itself so I decided to walk a bit further on to see if I could track down any finches at all. About 400m beyond the mound I found a flock of linnets feeding close by and a young stonechat flitting around in the bushes.

One of the linnets. The background here is actually a passing lorry but
the darker colour brings out the birds lovely tones more than the pale sky would have done

Given that it was rather chilly I decided that rather than just standing around I would walk back and forth in the general area in order to maximise my chances of tracking down the serins. I walked part way back along the sea wall and back to the mound with no luck and no additional birds so I decided to walk back to the sea wall to see if I could track down the water pipit that had been reported in amongst the rock pipits. I spent a pleasant hour or so walking along the sea wall photographing all the pipits but I didn't see any that were water pipits though some of the rocks were unusually pale with comparatively unsullied undersides compared to more typical rock pipits. With the tide now at its lowest there were a total of forty redshank and thirty dunlin to be seen either on the mud or flying around.

A rather pale rock pipit though the under-feathers aren't white enough nor
 is the supercilium strong enough for it to be a water pipit

Having had my fill of pipits I decided to do one more circuit to look for the serins though by now I'd mentally accepted the dip. Up on the mound there was a kestrel posing in a tree and the stonechat had moved down into a field on the other side of the stream. A lovely female marsh harrier was hawking over the scrub and I endeavoured to take some video of it though trying to digiscope a flying raptor is nigh on impossible and I was quite pleased even to get anything out at all. I did get rather excited when I found a flock of goldfinches feeding on the slope. Would there be an elusive serin in amongst them? No, was the answer, just a meadow pipit lurking in the undergrowth.

The stonechat. I quite liked the composition of this with the twig and the fence in the background

The kestrel
The female marsh harrier just in the frame!

 A big ship going down the river

By now it was time to head back home. I'd not managed to see the serins at all which was most disappointing given the effort involved in getting there. I'm not in the same league as hard-core twitchers who are used to travelling hundreds of miles only to dip out and I do comparatively major trips like this only infrequently so to miss my target bird was a "waste" of a day off in some senses. On the other hand I'd managed some surprisingly acceptable photos given how gloomy it was and how far away the birds had been and it is always nice to visit a different type of habitat from what one can encounter back home. I'd enjoyed "rummaging" amongst the rock pipits for a water pipit and as waders are my favourites it had been great to see some out on the mud flats. I fully expect the birds to be reported again at Rainham in a day or two's time so it will be just one of those things when a bird goes awol for a while. There were also a few more ticks to add to the year list.

National Year List 2010
077 shelduck 19/01/2010 Rainham Marshes
078 reed bunting 19/01/2010 Rainham Marshes
079 curlew 19/01/2010 Rainham Marshes
080 dunlin 19/01/2010 Rainham Marshes
081 rock pipit 19/01/2010 Rainham Marshes
082 stonechat 19/01/2010 Rainham Marshes
083 marsh harrier 19/01/2010 Rainham Marshes
084 little egret 19/01/2010 Rainham Marshes
085 green woodpecker 19/01/2010 Rainham Marshes

Oxon Year List 2010
072 jay 18/01/2010 Radley
073 pochard 18/01/2010 Radley
074 yellow-legged gull 18/01/2010 Port Meadow
075 green woodpecker 20/01/2010 Port Meadow

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