Sunday, 27 February 2011

Saturday 26th February 2011 - Rainham Marsh

Bit of music for you to listen to while you read this one

Well, there had been a few sightings of the SLATY-BACKED GULL at Rainham this week, but not many, and there were mumblings on the forum that some sightings were possibly "a bit unreliable". We discussed the pros and cons of going, but in the end wise old PJ said "you ain't gonna see it sitting at home". We also realised that time was probably running out to see this gull, as dispersal would be starting soon. We had not much to loose, resigned ourselves to possibly dipping and headed off. To be honest, I thought that maybe we had a 50:50 chance of seeing it - surely some sightings in the week were genuine?

We arrived at about 0830hrs and went straight to the tip and we were pleasantly surprised to see 15+ birders already on site.

The crowd at the tip on our arrival

The tip....again

We watched the tip until about 1100hrs but we felt that there weren't that many large gulls present and so with the constant rain that was to last for the next five hours we headed back to view the marsh. So now the birders were split between two sites. Here we heard a rumour that a named birder had seen the SBG on the tip during the morning, but those around him couldn't get onto it. Now bearing in mind the line of birders at the tip was c20 at that stage, we knew nothing about this sighting at all, but our hopes were raised a little - maybe it was still around? We carried on viewing the marsh and then we had the next message saying the gull had been seen flying away from the marsh and over the tip. Oh we thought. And then another message came on that the SBG had been present on the tip from 1120-1150, but this message came out about an hour too late.
So by midday, we were slightly confused and we had met no one who had seen the gull. We also heard from a local that the gull has been present everyday this week on the marsh up to Thursday.

Phil enjoying himself in the fine weather

Then things hotted up. The SBG was showing at 13-50 from the Shooting Butts hide. We all went to the Serin mound to view over the reserve. Fortunately, a voluntary warden was there and he immediately rang the centre. They knew nothing about the sighting but they named the birder who had reported it (he didn't know him though). We all then headed for the Shooting Butts hide, about a 20 min walk from the mound. Just as we were getting close to the hide, a birder came out and shook his head. It had already flown and no one knew in which direction.
So we headed back to the mound, slightly knackered, quite gutted, and we stood in the rain again and our spirits were getting lower and lower. There were very few gulls flying onto the marsh (1430ish) but a few trickling away, and so we thought we'd had our last opportunity to see it.
Then I noticed a bloke in a blue coat walking quite quickly in the direction of the tip, pointing towards the tip as he walked past birders. I sensed something, and suggested we headed in the direction of the tip. Soon we got the message on the pager that the SBG was on the tip. En masse everyone headed for the tip. PJ managed to do a bit of running and he reached the bottom of the slope and it was still on show. By the time he stood next to the finders, the SBG had walked out of view and down a slope. Soon there were 40+ birders looking at the tip again but despite the feeling that it would suddenly walk back into view, it never did. Then all the gulls went up, and no one was able to pick it out in flight. Most birders headed back to the marsh as most gulls were generally heading that way, but by the time we arrived, there were only a handful of large gulls still roosting - it was by now 15-45hrs. We just couldn't believe we had missed it again.

So to summarise, we stood in the rain for at least 5hrs today, and out of the 40+ birder on site today, I would guess at c5 saw the bird today. At the final showing, we did meet someone who had actually seen the gull, and this was at his 4th attempt.

Unfortunately, as far as the Clayheads are concerned, we are still firmly in the hybrid camp, and maybe for sometime to come!