Myself, Debbie, Jane and Brian crossed under the Thames at Dartford on a morning of lovely October weather without any hassle and were soon enjoying the first Rainham Marshes experience – coffee and cake. Having satisfied that craving we left the centre and 2 minutes later were surveying wet pools and starting to identify ducks which were more or less out of their eclipse plumage. Mallard, Teal, Wigeon and Shoveler shared the water with Coots, Canada & Grey Lag Geese and for the eagle eyed a couple of Snipe were amongst Lapwing on the bank. We were already hearing Cetti’s Warblers and clocked up around 20 different birds during the day. Rainham obviously agrees with Cetti’s Warblers. We found our first Marsh Harrier early on and this was a superbly marked male which was later joined by at least 2 females who graced us with their presence for a good deal of the trip.

Eventually we had to move on and follow the path between trees and bushes but the sounds of the marshes never left us (especially the geese!) and Debbie picked up the sound of Skylarks with one passing a mere 150 feet over our heads. Robins, Blue and Great Tits seemed to follow us everywhere and an obliging male Chaffinch showed off splendidly in a Willow. The layout of the paths has changed a bit which momentarily totally confused us but once the radar was back up and running we arrived at what Debbie and I always refer to as Stonechat corner. Not only did the Stonechats oblige but a warden let us all look through his scope at a roosting Barn Owl in a box in a far distant tree. Bonus or what!

Next stop was a hide where we started finding our own special birds First up was a Kingfisher which seemed to do a circuit of the wet scrape in front of us before zooming up a reed fringed channel. Some Wigeon and Teal were minding their own business when a large bird dropped down on to one of the muddy islands much to their annoyance. A few tried to discourage it but frankly who can really win an argument with a Raven? I found it quite amusing to see its beak get muddier and muddier as it probed for food. Since we couldn’t totally sustain ourselves on Brian’s Extra Strong Mints we decided to head off towards the next hide for lunch. In any case we were feeling a bit annoyed with ourselves for having mutually agreed we were listening to a Water Rail and then realised it was Teal (any easy mistake when you are a bit over excited!). On the way we searched diligently for diving ducks but the only bird doing any diving was Little Grebe, although of course we all loved them. Cetti’s continued to bombard our ears and the hearers were possibly picking up the ping of Bearded Tits.

The lunch hide was not quite as productive bird wise as usual but we all loved a splendid Black Tailed Godwit who descended onto the water showing brilliantly in the sunshine. Shelduck and Gadwall boosted the duck count and a Kestrel joined the Marsh Harriers over the reeds. We commented on how the Little Egrets we were watching are no longer a mega surprise and we also agreed that a Heron can be a very good looking bird when he tries. Jane told us about a trip she made to France where one evening hundreds of White Storks came into roost in the village she was staying in. They stayed the night on rooftops, church spire and trees but by the morning had gone. Apparently each year they make this stop off on their migration. Come on Knepp Storks you’ve got some catching up to do. We had a brief taste of summer when Brian spotted 2 Swallows skimming over the marsh.

No time for post lunch nap so we trotted along the boardwalk with Skylark, Meadow Pipits and of course Cetti’s for company. A Reed Bunting put in an appearance and then Jane and Debbie started hearing pings again. A bird flew out of the reeds which Brian and I confidently ID’d as a Cetti’s Warbler due to the russet in its tail. Debbie dared to disagree. It reappeared an sat out on a reed mace for us to get a fantastic view – Bearded Tit!

We stopped off a 2 more hides in 1 of which a Bearded Tit turned up after Brian and I had left but Debbie and I think Jane saw it. Our last extravaganza was in the last hide where a small raptor suddenly flashed across in front of us carrying a vole which it dived into the reeds with. We put Sparrowhawk on our list even though nobody in the hide saw it well enough to be sure and Merlin was getting a mention but I think the former for no better reason than it was more likely. The word went round the hide that the cafe was closing at 3.30 which left us about 30 seconds to get there. Luckily it was just the kitchen that closed and a tired looking but cheerful lady ensured us we were ok for more coffee and cake. I found a half broken pencil and cadged some paper off the reception desk and were able to record our days tally which came to 54 species. A fantastic trip all round.