Friday, 18 February 2011

Feb. 17th: a great day today!

The first page from my A6 pad shows some Hare pics carried over from yesterday.  But the main image, a superb view of an Otter along Spring Walk at c. 08.55.  Very elusive animals to keep track of.  Amazing how you could chart its progress by the gradual stream of bubbles of exhaled air in its wake.  I tailed it all the way past a weir and lost it as it sped off through some arches of a sluice.  Last year there was a dead Mute Swan washed up in an area of slack water just upstream of here.  Otters were seen feeding on this corpse on a couple of occasions, although I only managed to see rats enjoying the feast! 
It's hard to imagine that they are on every major river in England now, that's how much Britain's water quality has improved over the past 30 years.

Just after 11am news came through that the Slaty-backed Gull found by Dominic Mitchell back in January had re-appeared at Rainham Marshes RSPB again today for its second day.  Yesterday I just wasn't in the mood for thinking about it, feeling so low after the misery of the previous day's dip on the dove in Oxon.  Anyway today was a new day and was already off to a great start with the Otter.  I'm not really a gambling man, so it was with enormous trepidation that I set off at lunchtime with my colleague John Marchant on a mission to try and nail the gull before it decided to move off.  I was extremely sceptical that we might score - I've been here many times before.  John had the good sense not to park at the RSPB car park (saving a 30 minute walk), but to drive direct to the last car park on Coldharbour Lane, overlooking the Thames.  From here it was a mere 5 minute sprint to the place people were looking from.  Even so we were passing returning birders saying 'it's still there'; how many times have I heard that before and the bird flies off seconds before you arrive?  Well, this time it didn't fly, and we were able to enjoy superb scope views of it.  What a bird!  A couple of shades paler than all the adjacent graellsii Lesser Black-backs, but darker than nearby argentatus Herring Gulls.  It has a very obvious extremely broad white trailing edge to the secondaries, obvious on the ground as well as in flight.  At one point it was immediately adjacent to an adult Caspian Gull.  Structurally the Slaty-backed was bulkier than a Herring/LBB and with a curiously domed head, broader-based and stubbier bill.  It also appeared very long-legged relatively, too.  On one occasion it took off with a hundred or so large gulls, and I failed to get onto it; thankfully it wheeled around and landed again back on Wennington Marshes, although I couldn't work out from people's imprecise directions.  So I quickly scanned back through the flock (some 600 or so birds) and incredibly picked it out in less than 30 seconds!  After enjoying satisfactory views for 45 minutes, the bird eventually took flight with other large gulls, and headed out east along the Thames estuary.  In flight I couldn't work out the precise pattern of black in the wingtip, although the 'string of pearls' effect was noticeable on the underside of the wings.

It was not seen for the remainder of the day, and perhaps joined an enormous roost of several thosand other gulls on the south shore of the Thames, just west of the M25 bridge crossing.  Who knows what it will do next?  Maybe it will be back tomorrow to delight more larid-disciples, or maybe it will continue its nomadic path around the tips of the South-East?...

These sketches were all done in pencil in my A5 pad. 

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