No Serpenties in Nature: three hours at Rainham Marshes

July 25th and we were on the road again, this time to Rainham Marshes on the eastern edge of London. Not only does it always seem to attract a great variety of birds and insects, the cafe there does the nicest sausage sandwiches and cakes! While we could rave on about the cafe, this is however our blog of all things wild and free and so on with the wildlife we shall go.

The feeders just below the visitor centre were dominated by Collared Doves. For all their ubiquity, these were the first ones I had seen this year, so I indulged in a few pics.



A good number of Black-tailed Godwits were showing on the scrape, and we made our way around toward the Purfleet Hide for a better view. Our journey there was interrupted by the sighting of some Red-eyed Damselflies. They were very mobile and getting a good, clear picture proved very hard.


Somewhat more sedate in manner and far more obliging was this Southern Hawker dragonfly. It made a floating reed a temporary resting place and despite being a good 7-8 feet below us, afforded some good views and photo opportunities.




The Black-tailed Godwits on the Purfleet Scrape were showing well. When the sun did manage to break through the grey cloud cover, it illuminated their rusty / orange summer plumage beautifully. The great shame was that whenever they were lit up by the sun, they chose to either turn their heads away and tidy their plumage or plunge those long bills into the water looking for food. No consideration some birds!



Mrs Sausage spied this caterpillar on our way along the circular route. It’s not just with eyes to the skies that one finds interesting things. Our rudimentary searching skills lead us to believe that this is a Large White larvae that, if not eaten by something else, will eventually turn into one of the most common butterflies in the country.


Our visit to Rainham then took a turn for the very interesting when we ambled into the Reedbed Discovery Area. With an arsenal of long lenses already present in the hide awaiting a sighting of the breeding Kingfishers, we decided this was as good a place to take a pause and see what would happen. We didn’t have to wait long as a family of Reed Warblers were very active here. Recent fledglings with very little sense of danger or fear were showing themselves very clearly on the open reeds with their busy parents making regular feeding visits to them.



Shooting was through some fairly dirty windows but this was a fair price to pay for the proximity the hide afforded.



We then had one of those moments when everything seems to happen at once. Adjacent to where the Reed Warblers were, someone had spotted a Grass Snake on the water. There was something wrong though as the snake was making no progress across the water despite some very vigorous undulations. It didn’t take long to realise that our legless reptile had managed to get its tail end stuck in the reeds and was well and truly wedged in.


Pics were hard to get as most of the action was happening almost directly below the hide.


We feared the worst for the Grass Snake as periods of intense tugging and straining would be followed by long pauses where it looked as if it had given up and was starting to sink. However, persistence was very much a character of this snake and the attempts would resume just when it looked as if all was lost.


Despite this being a natural state of affairs, it was still somewhat painful watching what many of us thought were frantic yet futile attempts at survival.

Things veered between the desperate and the delightful though. Whilst the snake was trying desperately to extricate itself from a potential watery grave we spotted a Water Vole only a metre or two away from the struggle. Oblivious to another creature’s desperate plight, it was calmly nibbling away.



We’ve been very lucky at Rainham Marshes and seen Water Voles on at least half of our vists there. They are pretty obliging subjects too, once they have found a food source to indulge in they seem to stay put until satiated.



With no sign of Kingfishers and the snake looking more and more likely to run out of energy before it could free itself, we left the hide. I think there was a part of us that didn’t want to watch the painful, slow death. We later read on the Friends of Rainham Marshes Facebook page that the plucky snake did eventually manage to work its way free and lived to slither another day.

Time was gaining on us however and we moved around the reserve at a fair old pace once leaving the Reed Bed Discovery Area. Bird action was fairly low-key, which certainly kept us moving, but there was the occasional interesting sighting at ground and eye-level for us to enjoy.

This Common Lizard came out from under the boardwalk briefly.



I just about managed to get a clear-ish picture of this interesting day moth. After seeking some expert help we now know that this is a female Cataclysta lemnata or Small China-mark. Another first for us on the moth front!


I was gutted to have not quite captured this Orchard Ermine moth though. Every time I managed to get clear focus it would move or a breeze would shift the leaf. This is the best I could get as a record shot though. Our second new day moth in a matter of minutes.


It was these familiar future moths that brought our sightings for the day to a close. Mrs Sausage spotted some ragwort-loving Cinnabar caterpillars as we made our way back to the visitor centre.


Despite being fans of nature in all it’s glory, we were happy to have missed what we thought would have been the demise of the Grass Snake, a case perhaps of nature in all it’s gory! It came as something of a relief when we read that it managed to break free eventually. A return to the wild east will definitely be something to consider when the autumn migration passage starts in the next few weeks. Rainham has a habit of attracting a fair old variety of departing visitors and we could really do with another sausage sandwich.

One response to “No Serpenties in Nature: three hours at Rainham Marshes

  1. Looks like a fascinating and productive day – in the right place at the right time. I would have found it too hard to watch the struggling snake too, happy it ended well!

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