Average Birding


The next weekend finds us further out along the Thames estuary in Leigh-on-Sea, where AB2's parents reside. There are plans for Saturday day, but there is a small window available for a bit of birding early on the Saturday morning.

Pronoun guidance: AB1 flies solo. This post covers the events of April 21-22, 2018.

An early start

I swoop out of the house around 6:45am. That should be early enough. Today's target is Cuckoo, and the venue is Two Tree Island, a landfill site that was filled long enough ago to have transitioned back into a nature reserve. It's either a forty-minute walk, or two ten-minute walks and a little wait at Chalkwell station to get there. It turns out I am lazy; it probably helps that the station platform at Chalkwell has a beautiful view over the giant mudflats that extend from the beach out into the estuary.

I alight at Leigh-on-Sea and march along the raised path alongside the waterway that separates the island from Essex proper (the Essex mainland?). I can hear a Cuckoo already. The reason I'm here is because Two Tree tends to be a place where you can see Cuckoos, as well; I've managed six before 8am on previous trips.

I cross on to the island. The Cuckoo is, by my ears, on the Eastern half, so at the first opportunity I turn left off the road and into the reserve.

The other good thing about Two Tree is that it is compact. Within a couple of minutes I'm near the main feature of the East side of the Island (a small pond surrounded by reeds; at one edge, a makeshift hide/blind sits). The Cuckoo sounds very close indeed from here, but I still can't see it.

A few Reed Warblers are making their uncomfortable little scritchy noise in the reeds; they're not friendly enough to make an appearance though, sadly. A Whitethroat jumps around in a tangle of bushes off to the right. "Cuckoo! Cuckoo!" yells a bird on the treeline behind it. Not a trick of the sound then; the bird is at most fifteen metres away - that's flat out confiding for Cuckoo. The bird poses for long enough for me to take a couple of photos of it, and to my surprise, is enough of a performer to cuckoo once or twice when I work out how to take a video of it, too (since lost; photo import process apparently fails to consider possibility of video; gutted!).


Target achieved, it's time to move on. The other hopeful I am after today is Grasshopper Warbler; I picked one up here the last time I saw Cuckoo here, so hopefully lightning can strike twice. I follow the path around the South side of the island and cross the road over to the West side of the reserve; the mixture of grassland and pockets of bramble and stubby shrubs feels like the right place to be.

Despite a lot of standing around, the sound of a Grasshopper Warbler reeling is remarkable only by its absence. It's a very distinctive song, and it carries a long way; if I can't hear one, there probably isn't one here.

I'm not too downhearted; there's a couple of other places I might be able to catch up with it over the next month or so. It's also very hard to be downhearted when, even without a Grasshopper, spring has arrived, and every other bird you see is a Whitethroat, having not seen any for seven or eight months. Even if none of them are Lesser, the pedant in me adds.

Lots of these around
Lots of these around

A migratory surprise

There are a couple of hides at the Western limit of the island; one of them looks out on to a scrape where there are often some excellent waders. I wander in to find a couple of folks already in residence. I settle down into a seat and have a good scan. There's a decent number of Avocets, and plenty of Redshank and Oystercatcher too. A few ducks are floating about; none of them particularly remarkable.

My two hide companions have questions: what is that bird over there? It's a redshank with a very muddy beak. What about that one? Oystercatcher. And that one? Canada Goose. Boom. I can cope with this level of questioning all day. The problem is this: I've found two waders at the back that definitely aren't Redshank, Oystercatcher, or Avocet. These two folks are not going to be able to help me work out what they are. A scope view would make things much easier, but I've left mine back in London.

Thankfully, the two birds in question aren't in a hurry to go anywhere. They poke about around one of the islands at the back of the scrape, gently circuiting it. A Redshank flies in to sit next to them. Excellent. Now I have enough size and colour context to give me the answer. My mysterious avians are just a tad lankier than the Redshank, but they are much paler. In the brief moments where they are well illuminated I'd say their legs were of a sort of grey-green hue. They can, therefore, only be Greenshank.

This is an excellent tick. Greenshank won't breed anywhere near here - they pass through once in Spring on their way to breeding grounds much further North (read: Scotland) and then again, in the Autumn, on the way back. I explain all of this to my hide companions and they make positive noises, but are otherwise unmoved. I make some excuses about breakfast and head out. After a third Greenshank is poking about in the creek as I round the North-Western corner (having seen two, this one is easier to pick out), the rest of the walk is uneventful; my attempts to transmogrify all Whitethroat into the Lesser variety all fail. Still. Two solid ticks and a very nice walk before breakfast.


There's a trip to Barnes on the Sunday. We do our usual route, the only bird of note is a Willow Warbler that we find around the back of the sheltered lagoon; the first of the year. It's all about the length of those primaries.