During the afternoon of 7th September, a visitor hoping to connect with a Southern Migrant Hawker (or Blue-eyed Hawker), one of which had been photographed at Rainham Marshes RSPB reserve two days previously had seen, and photographed, a Baillon's Crake - a very rare bird in the UK, but possibly overlooked to some degree because of their very secretive nature. News was released late on Friday evening after arrangements had been made for volunteers and staff to open the reserve at dawn.
I arrived at the reserve at about 7 am on the Saturday (8th), but unfortunately reached the hide from which the bird had been seen too late after it had shown well first thing. Despite the fact that the hide remained full of hopeful birders all day, the crake was not seen at all after the early morning sighting.
It was a sunny day though, and even though the crake didn't show, there were plenty of other birds, and other wildlife, to see.
From the Shooting Butts Hide (built on the site shooting butts from the sites previous use as a Ministry of Defence firing range), which was where the crake had been seen, Little Grebes were feeding a late brood of chicks. The chicks did try and dive occasionally, but mainly waited for the attending adults to come up with small fish or aquatic invertebrates and then hurried over to beg to be fed!
Hobbys appeared early on, and as the day began to warm up slightly were soon snatching dragonflies from the air as the latter started to become active. Some came very close to the hide in pursuit of their prey, paying no attention to those gathered inside.
The majority of the dragonflies present were Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters, although there were also a few Brown Hawkers, Southern Hawkers, and Ruddy Darters around, as well as a few Common Blue Damselflies, Blue-tailed Damselflies, and Emerald Damselflies. The highlight among the dragonflies though was a male Southern Migrant Hawker which was briefly over the rushes at the edge of the water in front of the hide.
A handful of Sedge Warblers and a couple of Reed Warblers were seen in front of the Shooting Butts Hide, as well as a Water Rail, while elsewhere on the reserve Marsh Frogs posed for photographs at the dragonfly pools, waders including Black-tailed Godwits were on the pools, and Water Voles showed very well at the Marshland Discovery Zone (although they wouldn't come out of the reeds to allow a decent photo!).
I returned before first light the next day, and after picking up a volunteers radio to help keep staff and volunteers elsewhere on the reserve informed about what was happening in the hide, I made my way to the Shooting Butts Hide hopeful that I would have better luck this morning. A fair number of birders were already there, and I joined them to watch the sun rise, and scan the edges of the stands of rushes for signs of our quarry. Before it was properly light I picked up the shape of a crake creeping along the edge of the rushes. This has to be the Baillon's Crake, but unfortunately the light wasn't really good enough to confirm this, and all that I could really say was that I had seen a species of crake. Most of the other observers who managed to get onto the bird at this time said the same thing, although one or two were convinced. Fortunately though, the crake showed several more times during the day today, although usually only briefly, or obscured by vegetation
Hobbys were again hawking dragonflies in front of the hide, and Sedge Warblers were flitting about in the emergent vegetation, including one quite pale juvenile. Water Rails were more in evidence than yesterday with at least three seen, including a fully grown juvenile, and a Marsh Harrier and a couple of Yellow Wagtails also put in an appearance.
Elsewhere a Cetti's Warbler showed briefly and one of the resident Peregrines put in an appearance.
The Baillon's Crake continued to show on and off for about two weeks - but it was always pot luck as to whether it would show at any particular time.