Beardies, Bugs & Bits – Rainham Marshes In July

Late July saw us make two trips to the excellent RSPB Rainham Marshes reserve. Not only does the cafe at Rainham do the best sausage sandwiches in London, but the team there are genuinely passionate about the wildlife in and around the reserve and arrange a myriad of events to maximise exposure and enjoyment of it all. Our first visit was for the late night opening event on the 22nd July. We arrived late afternoon and with sunset still around 3-4 hours away began a circuit around the reserve.

The feeders were frequently visited by House Sparrows, Starlings and Stock Doves, but it was the reeds just past the Purfleet Scrape that brought us our first photo opportunities with some busy but visible Reed Warblers.

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We also found ourselves standing right above a Cormorant hunting for fish and were both struck by the extraordinary, loud and strange clicking noise it made. Sadly the Cormorant was not willing to show for a clear shot but some local Linnets were slightly more amenable to a quick snap.

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The Marshland Discovery Zone allowed us to enjoy the sight of several Little Grebes taking their young ones out on watery excursions.

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As always, the warm summer months offer a surfeit of insect life to enjoy. Our first insect of the day was a first time sighting for us too, the Essex Skipper.

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At first we thought we were seeing the more abundant Small Skipper butterfly but closer inspection of our pics has revealed these to be Essex Skippers (the black tip of the antennae being one of the signifying differences between the species).

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Just before the Shooting Butts we found a small gathering of long lenses focusing on the green and yellow reeds and long grasses. The reason for all the attention soon became clear as a couple of Bearded Tits (or Bearded Reedlings) came into our view.

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Two juveniles were flitting between the tops of the flora and performing their distinctive balancing act as the stems bent and bowed with their weight. Lovely, lovely birds; Mrs Sausage takes all the photo credits here.

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Mrs Sausage next managed to spot a Marsh Frog in the water by the Butts, its dark-green skin lit by the late afternoon sun.

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I found this Black-tailed Skimmer just by the Shooting Butts Hide.

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Alongside was this Peacock butterfly.

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Also by the Shooting Butts hide, we found two birds that clearly still had nesting / chick business to attend to. First seen was this Whitethroat which was very busy flying in and out of a nook under the hide.

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Almost mirroring the Whitethroat in the same area was this Wren, a study in perpetual motion most of the time but we were able to capture a few shots.

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We assumed both these birds were nurturing second broods due to the time of year and there was no doubt that Rainham was hive of activity even as the sun was setting. We found out later that we just missed seeing the resident Barn Owl starting its dusk hunting. We did however see both a Marsh Harrier over the reserve and slightly closer, this Kestrel.

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Come 9pm, the late opening started with the mothing as Howard and the team set up two moth traps near the visitor centre. We were both taken aback at the sheer volume of flying nocturnal life that the traps attracted. Fortunately, we had donned sleeves by this stage in anticipation of being blood-banks for a myriad of hungry critters. Among the moths captured by the traps were Drinker Moths, Scarce Footman, Smoky and Fen Wainscot, Tree Lichen Beauty, Swallowtails, Ruby Tigers, Carpet Moths and a lot of Latin name only micro moths. The air buzzed or whined with Mosquitos, Soldier flies, May and Caddis flies. Howard Vaughan’s excellent RSPB blog has an excellent account of the whole day and some fine pictures that capture night-life. Mrs Sausage took these images of the late night haul just before we left.

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We were also shown around half a dozen Glow-worms around the car park of the reserve. Howard explained that Glow-worms are not worms, but rather are larvae of insects or beetles. Unfortunately our point and shoot cameras didn’t allow for a decent capture of these luminous larvae but Howard’s blog has a couple of excellent photos. The late night opening is a fantastic idea and was well worth our 120 mile round trip. A lot of thanks and much admiration goes to the whole RSPB team at Rainham and we look forward to going again next year.

We were not yet done with Rainham though. Mrs Sausage, ever the one for new experiences, had signed us up for the outdoor yoga session taking place the weekend after our last visit. We arrived nearly half an hour late but soon found that the yoga had been cancelled and the team couldn’t reach us to inform us. Well, here we were, at Rainham at 9.30 on a Sunday morning, what else could we do but go exploring again!! We began with this Gatekeeper butterfly just outside the visitor centre.

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Once again, the feeders were being dominated by the House Sparrows and Starlings.

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Out on the Purfleet Scrape were a good number of Little Egrets, some Lapwings and Black-tailed Godwits. We were also treated to a brief but welcome view of one of Rainham’s Water Voles as it made for green cover opposite the Purfleet Hide.

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Whilst not as active on the bird front as our early evening visit the previous week there was still plenty to enjoy. Large numbers of juvenile Starlings were topping the greenery by the Marshland Zone.

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The Little Grebes were still showing well and again, seemed to decide not to dive below the surface of the water once the camera had focused on them. An under-rated bird in my opinion, often overshadowed by the showier and more spectacular Great Crested Grebe.

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No Bearded Tits on this trip  but Goldfinches were noisily topping the Teasels on the reserve and occasionally posed for a portrait.

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Mrs Sausage indulged once again in her love of frogs and also with more Gatekeeeper butterflies.

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The Buddleia just before the Northern Boardwalk was alive with Red Admiral and Peacock butterflies and offered the opportunity for some very colourful images.

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As always, you need to have your eyes down as well as up at Rainham Marshes. As seen at Thursley, the warm weather brings the reptiles out onto the boardwalks and Mrs Sausage found these Common Lizards, big and small taking in some warmth.

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We also finally managed to find a Wasp Spider, my first sighting of one. A good breeze and awkward angle made photos a bit tricky but we persevered and between us managed these.

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Wasp Spiders have only been found in the UK since the 1920s so they are relative new-comers here. They attach their egg-sacs to grasses using their silk. The wide zig-zag or stabilimentum in the web is still an item of some debate and it is likely that different species use it for different purposes. It has been suggested that they could provide protection to the spider by either camouflaging it or making it appear larger. Another theory is that they make the spider more visible and therefore animals such as birds are less likely to damage the spider’s web. Originally the decorations were thought to stabilise the web (hence the term stabilimentum), though this theory has since been dismissed. One more recent theory is that web decorations attract prey by reflecting ultraviolet light.

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Dragonflies were also in healthy numbers, this one settling just long enough for me to focus in and I believe it is a Ruddy Darter.

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While I was concentrating on the dragonfly Mrs Sausage was taking interest in this Horsefly. We are certainly not entomologists by any stretch so any further ID on this would be gratefully received.

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Last sighting of the day was this hoverfly in the woodland area. I believe this one to be a Hornet Mimic Hoverfly or Belted Hoverfly.

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Another recent arrival into the UK, they have only been recorded in good number since the 1940’s and are the country’s largest hoverfly. And so we come to the end of our July jaunts to Rainham Marshes. Two visits that were jam-packed with a fantastic array of feathered and other wildlife and enhanced with some fantastic sandwiches and cakes and the excellent team of staff and volunteers. We’ll be back again soon no doubt, but our next report will be from the warm air of Singapore!

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