Saturday 2 March 2019
This reserve has an unusually interesting history; it had been an MoD firing range in the 1900s and for many centuries its grassland was used only for grazing. Because of that, RSP Rainham Marshes is a fascinating location for looking at birds. For example, Lapwings are drawn to this insect-rich unimproved grassland; 2,000 over the site at the time of our visit (according to the Visitor Centre board), with around 50 pairs staying to breed last year. Also, the thick blast-proof walls of the derelict explosives/cordite store make this area slightly warmer so it attracts many insects with small birds following (particularly warblers later in the year).
In front of the Visitor Centre is the fairly-shallow Purfleet scrape which provided us with an identity parade of dabbling ducks, including Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler, Pintail, and Teal. There were also Shelducks and several Snipe; easier to see later in the day than at the beginning. We saw diving ducks such as Pochard and Tufted Ducks, together with Great Crested Grebes, on the deeper Aveley Pools to the north. A woodland area, near the cordite store, gave us great views of a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming on a tall dead tree and of a singing Chiffchaff which may have over-wintered.
Next came perhaps some of the day's highlights: a Barn Owl perched in front of the owl box; many people seeing a Water Rail whose distinctive shape and red beak was clearly visible for couple of minutes in the reedbed before it dropped out of sight; 2 Cetti's Warblers not only singing loudly but seen, adding to the many Cetti's we could only hear; and Marsh Harriers flying low and fairly close over reedbeds to the west of the Shooting Butts hide. The nearby Target pools held Golden Plover, Dunlin and 2 Ruff although Water Pipits, there on my visit a week earlier, were not located by us or other birders and may already have left for Scandinavia.
The Thames flows along the south end of the reserve. On the foreshore about 2 hours before low tide were 9 Avocets, a Curlew, and several Shelducks and Redshanks. Gulls there were mostly Black-headed although Common, Herring, Lesser Black-backed and Greater Black-backed were also added to our list during the day. Some people also saw a Rock pipit. The south-westerly wind was fairly strong by this time so there were many more birds sheltering on mud on the south side of the river, Unfortunately, because of distance and very poor light, it was not possible to identify them. We did not see any of the harbour seals which are sometimes over near the Darent Creek barrier
68 Species with Bearded Tit being the sole 'heard-only' bird.