A couple of free hours became a quick trip to Rainham Marshes to see what the wind had turned up. THE PLAN was a walk round the reserve to the Target Pools to look for gulls and waders, and then to dive out of the reserve at the sea wall gate to look for gulls and waders from the river path. And this is largely what happened.
The first thing to distract from THE PLAN was a presence of a new hide within spitting distance of the Visitor's centre. While it's very pretty I don't see that it adds anything you can't already get more effetively by looking out out of the visitor centre window. Still, when winter comes it'll be an excellent place from which to see endless hordes of Wigeon, and that's a reasonable end in itself.
For now, the air was full of Swifts and Martins and nothing else was visible.
After this I did make it most of the way round to the Target Pools with very little distraction only to find that they were not, in fact, Target Pools. They were Target Dry-muds-covered-in-Cows. Disappointing, and entirely gull/wader-free. I took 15 minutes to sit in the newish Butts hide and look out in the opposite direction, but other than the omnipresent Swifts and Sand Martins there was very little to do except brush up on female Gadwall vs. juv Gadwall ID features and marvel at a single Lapwing staring into space.
MISTAKE: Thinking "Well that was a disappointment, where's all the water gone? This place is a bit rubbish without water."
A hundred yards short of the sea-wall exit the birding gods in their Wisdom declared "So the jumped up little tit wants water does he? We'll give him water." Out of nowhere came the most intense two minutes of rain I've seen in months, sweeping across the reserve from the direction of the river. I could have sworn that in places it was actually hail. This left me with a decision - Back to the Butts hide, onward to the Marshland Discovery hide, or take my chances by leaving the reserve - trapping myself outside on the sea-wall - and looking for a handy tree. I went for the tree.
"And lo I was repentant, seeing the error of my ways, and the birding gods are kind and forgiving gods and did stop the rain 10 seconds later, and did give their unworthy subject a Whitethroat as a sign of their forgiveness."
Gospel of a repentant birder Ch12:v86
Being soaked already (and having fortified myself before the circuit with a mug of tea and a bacon sandwich anyway) I stopped caring about rainclouds after that and did some gull sifting from the river walk. Lots of Black Headed gulls, and one Black Headed sized pure white gull, which was sitting with the BH flock, and which I'm fairly confident was just a leucistic Black Headed although it had me going for a good couple of minutes. The wind made phonescoping near-impossible, but I had a go at a video. I'll put that up in a separate post once I've edited it down to something approaching identifiable. In the meantime, here's a highly informative photo: