I've been trying hard to see as much of London and England as possible. I am just a visitor here after all, and every day there is a new urgency to see anything and everything. I'm probably not taking a transatlantic flight just to see a marsh in the future.
One sunny and hot afternoon, I headed out to Essex to Rainham Marshes.
It's right on the ever-widening Thames in Rainham, about a half hour outside of central London.
Here, the RSBP maintains what used to be a military training site turned bird sanctuary.
There are almost three miles of elevated boardwalk trails that meander around the marsh. The numerous duck blinds were closed while I was there, but there are several places to get views of the ponds (which are actually craters where the military had bombed).
It was really amazing how diverse this place was. Despite being close to a highway, a high speed train line, elevated powerlines buzzing overhead, power plants and wind farms all around, it was surprisingly wild once you got in there.
And just so many birds, many of them exclusive to reed and marsh habitats. Which, like all bird habitats, is fast disappearing.
Oh~ sorry about it so out of focus, but I totally saw a water vole. They shimmy up the reed stocks and flit around nervously. The entire time I was walking on the boardwalk over and through the reeds, I heard so many things scurrying around in the canes. It was almost creepy.
I couldn't get to the bird blinds so I had very limited views of the marsh, but even the glimpse I could see was pretty rich. Herons and egrets, ducks, coots and moorhens, lapwings, gulls, pipers and stilts.
I walked the 3 mile loop so slowly, I ended up getting locked in. There were subway-stile turnstiles on the Thamesside edge, so I could get out eventually. Hilariously, they have a drawbridge at the visitors center that they pull up at night, so you can't just hop the fence to get out.
No one chased me out, so I enjoyed an empty marsh and watched as all the birds came down in the late afternoon. The air was perfectly alive with bird songs; ones I had never heard before. I don't know if anyone would have said this about this site when the military owned it, but it was enchanting.
My one bird of prey sighting: a Marsh Harrier. It was enormous, and every time it swooped around the marsh, all the other birds cackled in alarm. Birds of prey are really easy to spot since any bird wanting to stay alive another day makes a racket any time one is anywhere near.
I finally made it back to civilization i.e. the towpath. It looked like someone had shot these house sparrows dead, but they were just flopping around in the dust.
It's worth a visit out here if you have the time or inclination. I saw maybe 40 different species of birds, and about 10 of them I had to go home and look up because I had never seen them before. It's a quick 10 minute walk from the Rainham train station, the visitor center is gorgeous and it has a nice cafe, and I would like to come back and sit around in the blinds overlooking the marsh ponds at some point in the future. I'm sure the autumn migration here must be spectacular.