Average Birding

A Soggy End To August

August is not traditionally a productive birding month - towards the end of the month, however, things start to happen.

Pronoun guidance: AB1 fails to traverse the Thames. This post covers the events of well, bits of August in 2018. Mostly the 26th. Cover image lazily stolen from a trip earlier in the year - the main locations in this post weren't that photogenic!

August in summary

We've already collected most of what could be August targets in a monster July performance. Very few attempts at increasing the total occur, as a result.

Two fine friends marry out of doors in the Shropshire Hills, and set a record for 'most birds of prey visible during a wedding', with Buzzard, Red Kite and Peregrine all making an appearance. A nearby wooded area of Wenlock Edge has young flycatchers and warblers galore, but nothing new for the year. The valley below has poorly maintained paths and, by the end of Sunday, my ill-advisedly short trouser adorned legs are somewhat scratched, and my shoes decidely wet.

A late Black Tern opportunity?

Several Black Terns are repeatedly reported off Gallions Reach. I've been looking for an excuse to acquaint myself with that area of the Thames for a while - the penultimate weekend of August seems like a good one.

The weather has other ideas. It's a very damp-looking day even as I head out. An hour on the tube and DLR only worsens conditions - it's a borderline downpour as I touch out at Gallions Reach DLR. Here's hoping my telescope's jacket is waterproof - it certainly claims to be.

Access to the Thames on the North side is, to start with, quite simple - there's what feels like the start of a promenade area next to some new build apartment blocks. It isn't exactly welcoming (the promenade abruptly ends as the housing development stops and becomes a heavily fenced off patch of rough undeveloped land), but it does offer a good view of a decent section of river.

A quick scan with the bins finds a maelstrom of gulls and terns a couple of hundred metres downriver. Enough of an excuse to try the scope, at least.

The usual faff with the tripod quickly dispensed with, I now peer at the gull/tern cloud. They're almost exactly far away enough to make this difficult - even with the scope, the number of eye pixels taken up by each bird makes it tricky to differentiate between gull and tern, never mind between gull and tern species.

Thankfully, even at this time of year, Black Tern should still retain enough of its naming plumage to be differentiable. This should just be a waiting game if the birds are present, and, before long, I find a couple of birds flying around in a tern-like fashion, while being altogether too small and dark to be Common Terns. An annoyingly crappy view of Black Tern, but Black Tern nonetheless.

Not the Thames Path

It would, I decide, be good to have a better view. A brief look at Google Maps' satellite view suggests that may be possible. Ideally, one would use what looks like a perfectly serviceable riverside path, but it is locked up behind a serious-looking fence. We must be far enough East that the Thames Path is no longer a thing - a real shame! I make a mental note to write to someone about this and complain.

To go downstream then, we'll have to go in, along, and out again. I turn right at the show house for what the inaccessible wasteland will eventually be covered with. Would it be so hard for them to keep access to the river open?

This road is pretty miserable - Buddleia-strewn abandoned concrete lots on both sides, with no sign of the river at all. A roundabout that once offered a road towards the river now offers more giant fencing and gates equipped with very serious notices (and, more importantly, locks and spikes). I am repelled.

The next option is a small retail park, which looks as if it may have, from its rear, a path that eventually allows river access. All trace of it has disappeared under a thicket of brambles.

The retail park does allow a brief break for lunch. The outlet of Boots as at the "we're going to throw these sandwiches out in ten minutes" stage, so it's a high calorie, high value, mediocre quality (2 sets of sandwiches: £1.50 total) affair.

Refreshed, I am ready for my final assault on the river. A marked footpath is available from the exit of the retail park. It has users - I see four other people and a cyclist using it. It looks like I may be able to enter Beckton sewage works from this path; which ought to avail me of a better view of these terns. Dave Morrison often birds from the sewage works, so that must surely work.

Once again though, I am stymied. This is not really a path, and there is no way through these giant gates. The only other access options are another twenty minutes through what my SimCity trained brain is now labelling as 'low density commercial/industrial zoning, i.e minging' areas. And these first few attempts have taken their toll, not least upon my coat, which is feeling rather brambled. A crappy view is going to have to do.

Having vainly pursued a better view without a real plan, I'm now a forty-minute bus from useful transport. I console myself by eating sandwich number two, and then start the journey home. Next time I'm going to try this from the other side of the river.

A rather relaxed August with only a single tick. 204.