A walk around Rainham Marshes RSPB nature reserve last week was a great pleasure. The weather wasn’t bad and the birds weren’t bad either.
There were supposed to be huge flocks of Marsh Harriers darkening the sky, but I didn’t see a single one. It was a day more for listening than looking, actually.
A Cetti’s Warbler was belting out its song from the swampy area.
A group of locals, one could tell by their accents, were loudly enjoying the birds from a hide and the squeals of delight escalated to ear-protector requiring proportions when a Kingfisher almost flew into the hide. It was a fantastic view and I took pleasure in their excitement almost as much as I did in the sighting itself.
A Water Rail was ‘chipping’ in the reedbed and occasionally breaking into pig-like squeals. The loud local ladies (whom I liked) were catching me up, I could certainly hear them coming, so I ‘shushed’ them and pointed out the interesting noise in the reedbed. They were kind enough to take the ‘shushing’ pretty well and to feign interest in a bird they couldn’t see – but I knew they had loved the Kingfisher but weren’t too bothered about the Water Rail.
Sitting later in another hide, I heard a noise I couldn’t recognise. It was a bit Coot-like or Water Rail-like but was neither of those. I looked around and saw that the beautiful male Pintail moving serenely across the water was the source of the slight rippling trill – I saw his beak was open each time the noise hit my ears. I don’t remember ever hearing a Pintail call before. I’ve probably heard it hundreds of times without noticing, or many times when it was just part of a mish-mash of sound. But for a few moments of peace and quiet at Rainham it was the main sound, the only sound, and it came from that gorgeous drake Pintail. I’ll always remember that hide, and that moment, for that sound.
A little later I heard a more familiar, and increasingly familiar, sound which I had been warned was on the cards today, although it’s not a call that is difficult. I’ve heard Ravens plenty of times, and as they spread eastwards, have heard them in more and more places, but apart from as a kid at the Tower of London, I have never heard them within the confines of the M25 (and no, the M25 wasn’t built when I was a kid). But this was a Raven – big, black, heavy-headed and very croaky. No doubt a denizen of the local landfill site as well as the rather fine nature reserve at Rainham, and no doubt an eater of discarded takeaways as well as more natural carrion, but no doubt a Raven.
Rainham is a superb nature reserve, and I’m privileged to have seen it develop over the years. A nature reserve that has the time and the space for mature Essex girls squealing with delight, a still moment when a drake Pintail’s quiet call is the main event, and then the sight and sound of a croaking Raven over the Dagenham skies is a treasure.
But from the Marsh Harriers – not a peep!