Christmas by the Thames Estuary

by A warbler a day

As usual I spent Christmas week at my parent house in south Essex which meant plenty of opportunities to go birdwatching along the Thames Estuary. It started on the Saturday with a brief visit to Rainham Marshes. I managed to avoid the worst of the wind and rain. I got as far as the Purfleet hide where amongst the ubiquitous Wigeon and Teal, there were several Pintails and fleeting glimpses of a Snipe feeding. The next day I went back to Rainham marshes for a longer visit. I saw more Pintails and Snipe as well as large flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover and a probable Yellow-legged Gull.

On Christmas Eve I headed to Wat Tyler Country Park which was generally quiet except for a small flock of Teal, a solitary Redshank and the sight of a Sparrowhawk flying low in front of the hide. I then stopped off at Coalhouse Fort where I added some more waders, Grey Plover and Curlew.

The Staff at the RSPB centre in Wat Tyler Park told about a guided walk on Boxing Day morning around the new reserve at Bowers Marsh south of Basildon. This reserve forms a part of the larger South Essex Marshes reserve. It was too good an opportunity to pass up. The reserve was brilliant, a mix of fresh and salt-water lagoons and reedbeds. The first interesting sighting though was at the car park where there was a small flock of Corn Buntings. The freshwater lagoon held the usual range of waterfowl; Wigeon, Teal, Shelduck and Coot. In the reedbeds the distinctive pinging call of Bearded Tits. Some were even seen flying over the reeds, though unfortunately not by myself. A Marsh Harrier also drifted past before dropping out of sight. The wall ended with a view of the saltwater lagoon where there were flocks of waders but due to position of the sun they were all in silhouette.

On Friday I visited Thameside Nature Park which was very quiet and then Coalhouse Fort where there was another flock of Corn Buntings.

My week ended with jaunt south of the river to Cliffe Pools, another RSPB reserve. The pools held loads of waterfowl, including lots of Shovelers. A couple of skylark flew overhead as did some Meadow Pipits. I was always fortunate to get good views of a male Marsh Harrier.