Saturday, 28 March 2015

EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES

After an eight month wait, the first of a batch of emperor moths were released at the country park, having completed their pupation through the winter. This large stunning male posed for this photo above before it fluttered across the car park. It had already taken the opportunity to mate with a female the previous evening while they were still captive in their tank.
Previous emperor moths recorded at the park over the last ten years have all been females, so this was the first close-up view of a male.

The female emperor may lack the bright colours of the male, but it's patterning is just as striking. This one was was happy to splay her wings out wide to show off all four "eyes".
One other female was also released although with a large nick in one wing, possibly cut by a bramble thorn whilst emerging from its chrysalis.

The moth season has hardly started at the park this year but it's unlikely any other pair of moths will be as spectacular as these in the rest of this year.



The chilly breeze had died down by the end of Friday 27th, with the sun setting across the Strood Channel at high tide. It was fairly quiet during the last half hour of light with a few brent geese and shelduck on the water. Four reed buntings roosted in the reed-bed, while on the mainland a distant barn owl hunted over the Feldy marshes.
A pipistrelle bat hunted over the bushes beside the caravan site at dusk.

Earlier in the day a common buzzard flew south-west past the Firs Chase caravan site and on towards the Hard and another distant one soaring above Copt Hall Grove on the mainland. A newly arrived chiffchaff sang from a tree in the borrowdyke.
A pair of red-breasted mergansers were in the channel near the Dabchicks, while 30 black-tailed godwits were of interest on the mud nearby.

At the pond at the country park on Thursday 26th the Cetti's warbler for the first time this year, finally allowed itself to be glimpsed at the end of the day, no doubt provoked by a fox on the prowl along the edge of the pond.

One common buzzard and a marsh harrier were seen soaring high to the north west of the park on Wednesday late morning. Three adders and a common lizard were basking in the sunshine at the park.
In the grazing fields the pale-bellied brent goose was seen amongst a big flock of about 800 dark-bellied brent geese.

The pair of red-legged partridges were seen again from the park, as they walked about the grass field to the west of the car park on Tuesday 24th.
Also on Tuesday from the park were seen a red-throated diver, 2 common scoter, 2 Slavonian grebes and 11 red-breasted mergansers, noted by Andy Field. The following day 2 Slavonian grebes, Mediterranean gull, 6 red-breasted mergansers and 25 great crested grebes were offshore late afternoon.

Two chiffchaffs were singing at the park, one by the pond and another near the car park on Tuesday. A water rail was seen briefly feeding along the edge of the pond on Tuesday and the Cetti's warbler was heard singing near here. Three redwings were feeding in the car park at the beginning of the day along with three song thrushes.

This engrailed moth was discovered resting on the outside of the park office building during Wednesday.

Monday, 23 March 2015

MUNCHING MUNTJAC

It was nice to see a female muntjac deer appear at the back of the park pond on Monday 23rd to eat the grass for a few minutes. It's the first sighting of one at the park for a few months, although the footprints have been spotted recently around the park.

Having spotted the muntjac deer in the morning, it was then seen again at the end of the day in the nearby field behind the pond but with a small fawn keeping company. The first youngster spotted from the park.

The regular curlew was feeding in front of the hide at the park, as it has been for the last couple of months.

The sunny morning provided ideal conditions for raptor activity with five species seen from the bird hide in the morning. A common buzzard was seen first circling high over the grazing fields. The female kestrel flew back to its nest box and was briefly chased off by a stock dove, before the kestrel called out angrily at it.

A merlin appeared high over the fields drifting slowly west but in large circuits taking its time to pass by. It made a change seeing a merlin hang about in the sky for a few minutes rather than a bird in hot pursuit providing just a fleeting glance. Three sparrowhawks soared high in the sky to the north of the park, as did at least one marsh harrier. Also looking to the north, a male marsh harrier could be seen displaying high in the sky over Langenhoe.

A chiffchaff sang a few short bursts near the park pond in the morning while both Cetti's warblers also burst into song at either end of the pond in the morning sunshine. A pair of long-tailed tits were busy carrying mouthfuls of feathers for their nest-building in the bramble bush in front of the hide. Two redwings were seen in some alders near the park pond.

A male pochard was asleep at the pond and 3 little egrets roosted in the trees here.

At the end of the afternoon a water vole swam across the park dyke and one adder was seen in the park earlier in the day.

Three common buzzards were seen by the East Mersea church by Martin Cock on Monday morning.
In a neighbouring garden in Firs Chase in West Mersea, a flock of 25+ redwings were seen just after daybreak on Monday.


Great excitement at Firs Chase as the first of the captive brood of emperor moths hatched out today. Four of the seven pupa kept here, hatched out although one is a very unhealthy looking runt. The healthiest two were a male and female straight into the mating game, pictured above, the orangey wing of the male just visible below the wings of the greyer female.

These are the offspring from last spring when a female caught at the park on May 6th, soon laid eggs which were carefully reared up during last summer. In total fourteen caterpillars went into pupation last July and then split into two lots spending the winter in small tanks in the garage, so we await to see how many successfully emerge.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

SUNSET OVER REEVESHALL

After the grey skies of recent days, it was nice to finally see the sun for the last part of Sunday 22nd. The last hour of daylight was spent on the Reeveshall seawall with the sun slowly dropping down to the horizon.

Half an hour after the sun had disappeared, there was a nice pink hue to the sky.
Bird-wise it was worth the hour spent here, joining Steve Entwistle in seeing what was about. Just as this photo was being snapped a small snipe flew low from the nearside margin without calling and soon dropped back down further alongside the pool - typical of a jack snipe.

A ringtail hen harrier was the main bird of note, watched crossing over the big field at Reeveshall in a very determined flight across the Pyefleet channel and onto the Langenhoe Point where it soon dropped down to roost at 6.20pm. Also around the Langenhoe point were at least six marsh harriers while a peregrine sat on a post on the Geedons and a barn owl seen hunting.

On Reeveshall 2500 brent geese were feeding on the big grass field as was a pale-bellied brent although no black brants could be seen. A dozen greylag geese and at least six Canada geese were also on Reeveshall.At least four red-breasted mergansers were in the Pyefleet along with many of the usual waders and duck.

A barn owl was hunting the field near the Oyster Fishery, a yellowhammer was singing, chiffchaff called from near the wood while 6 brown hares became active at dusk on Reeveshall.

Earlier in the day the pale-bellied brent was seen on the saltmarsh by the Golfhouse along with about 200 other brent geese. It was also seen the previous day near here on the mud by the Point.
A marsh harrier flew along the seawall near Ivy Dock and then crossed the Colne to Brightlingsea marsh.

In the river Colne were six red-breasted mergansers and five great crested grebes and a common seal too.

Numbers of wildfowl and waders have been gradually dropping on the park's grazing fields with 400 wigeon, 150 teal, 400 brent geese and 50 golden plover the main flocks on Sunday morning. Up to 12 tufted duck have been in the dyke while up to 20 shoveler were noted on Friday. One snipe was seen on Sunday with three flying around the day before.

Chiffchaffs have been noted each day at the park for the last five days, one today at the east end of the main park, while the others have been near the pond, either calling, singing or seen flitting amongst the sallows. The first chiffchaff song of the new season was heard on Wednesday morning by the pond.

There was the nice surprise of a firecrest feeding in a sallow amongst the catkins, along the hedge from the pond. It was seen in two different parts of the hedge during Friday morning but was not seen after this.
The Cetti's warbler was also heard singing from the back hedge on the east side of the pond while a goldcrest was seen on Saturday.

Twelve fieldfares were heard calling from the top of a tree to the north of the park, while a passage flock was also seen the day before in the same place with 60 fieldfares seen flying north-east.
A pair of red-legged partridge was watched by Steve in the big ploughed field to the west of the park on Sunday.

At least one Mediterranean gull was feeding in the ploughed fields next to Bromans Lane on Thursday 19th and Friday 20th. The pair of kestrels were on their tree on Saturday 21st and a sparrowhawk later on flew over the grazing fields and into the copse at the back. A female pochard was on the pond on Saturday 21st. A barn owl was hunting alongside the East Mersea road near the pub early in the morning of Wednesday 18th.

From Coopers Beach on Sunday, a red-throated diver, two common scoter and a Slavonian grebe were seen by Steve Entwistle and earlier a common buzzard at Maydays.
A red-throated diver was seen flying into the Colne on Saturday by Martin Cock.
The Strood kingfisher was seen beside the dyke by Mat Larkin on Thursday 19th.


The moth trap has been out a couple of recent nights with nearly fifty moths noted after Thursday night. This clouded drab pictured above certainly didn't seem as drab as the name suggests, although they do vary a lot.

The shoulder stripe is another early spring visitor to the trap although usually just the one or two individuals noted.

There are usually two or three twin-spotted quakers noted in the early spring too, here the pair of black spots particularly prominent.
Other moths noted were common quaker, small quaker, hebrew character and March moth.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

BRANT BACK WITH THE BRENT

Walked the length of the Strood seawall with Andy Field on Monday 16th.
The most obvious birds were the large numbers of brent geese feeding in the fields. Here  the flock of 2000 geese seemed to have stripped the field down to hardly any crop at all. The bird scaring gas-gun in the background hasn't been working recently and the geese have almost eaten the winter wheat underneath the scarer itself.

Amongst the brent geese was one of the black brants, just visible in the photo above on the left hand side facing left and showing a whiter flank.

Earlier in the walk the geese were spooked off the fields by a passing sparrowhawk which drifted over the flock having crossed the channel from Ray Island. The black brant had been found in the flock and then again picked out on the Strood channel, pictured here on the left alongside a dark-bellied brent goose on the right.
Also seen in the flock was a brent goose with lots of white in the wings, very easy to pick out in flight and there was also a goose with a speckled grey head.

The female kingfisher was back on the section of dyke where it was seen on Friday, both at the start of the today's walk and despite flying to the far side of the field, was back here an hour later. It stayed around long enough for a few pictures to be taken of it before it flew over the seawall and sped low along the Strood channel.

The only waders of interest along the main channel were 50+ knot, 30 black-tailed godwit with 5 bar-tailed godwits near the Dabchicks. A spotted redshank called briefly but couldn't be located along the channel. A red-breasted merganser was seen flying amongst the moorings from the Hard.

Later on Monday a green sandpiper and a Mediterranean gull were seen at Coopers Beach by Andy.

On a cold Sunday 15th I joined Andy on the seawall near Shop Lane to help carry out the monthly harrier roost count for Langenhoe. We watched eleven marsh harriers gather at Langenhoe Point at dusk but there was no sign of any hen harrier coming to roost.

There was the nice sight for Andy of a short-eared owl seen hunting over Langenhoe mid afternoon, the first one reported here for about three months. Also seen were ten red-breasted mergansers along the Pyefleet and 2000 brent geese heading off Reeveshall at dusk.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

CONFIDING KINGFISHER

An obliging female kingfisher was the highlight of a walk along the Strood seawall on Friday 13th. The bird spent some time at one section of borrowdyke at the southern end being seen at the start of the walk and was still there at the end of the walk an hour later.

This kingfisher didn't seem too bothered that myself and another walker were watching it from the nearby seawall as it perched in this tree, at the same time as a big dog ran into the field right behind this tree.

At one point the kingfisher caught a small tiddler and flew away with it, with the bright blue back showing well in the sunshine, as it disappeared along the dyke.
This time of year seems quite late for a kingfisher to still be on the Island as a winter visitor, as they normally head back to the mainland to breed a few weeks earlier than this.

Before the dog ran into the field, a black brant was seen amongst the 2000 brent geese. They all then took off and landed in the Strood Channel. The only waders of note on the mudflats were 30 knot and 50 black-tailed godwits.

A kestrel, little egret, grey heron and 2 reed buntings were the only other birds of note in the fields along the walk. A distant common buzzard was seen on the mainland circling over Copt Hall Grove, where one or two grey herons nests could be seen at the top of the trees.

The mimicking jay sounding like a Med gull was heard again, this time calling near the Firs Chase caravan site.

There haven't been many butterflies this year yet, the cold temperatures keeping individuals still in hibernation. This small tortoiseshell is the first one I've seen this year that's actually dropped down to rest, rather than just a fly-past, here by the Firs Chase caravan site on Friday morning.

A handful of goldfinches have been frequenting the country park in recent days with this one perching up beside the path near the bird hide on Thursday 12th. In nearby bushes a goldcrest was seen flitting amongst branches late afternoon but not sign of yesterday's firecrest.

At the end of the day the barn owl put on a prolonged display of hunting especially over the grass fields to the north of the park, seen from the hide. Earlier in the day a marsh harrier flew past the car park.

This curlew has been a regular to the small grass field by the pond, here seen from the hide, as it probed the soft mud for worms.
 The pond has been quiet for birds with 8 tufted duck dropping in, pair of little grebes duetting, family of mute swans all still together with one or two gadwall, shoveler and mallard present too.

This was my first glimpse of a common lizard at the park this spring, newly out of hibernation. Five adders were also out enjoying the sunshine on Thursday at the park

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

MARSH OVER THE MARSH

A female marsh harrier quartered the park's grazing fields on Wednesday 11th, here the bird banking sharply before dropping down.

Having flushed lots of the teal, wigeon and a few black-tailed godwits away from the marshy pools in the fields, the bird dropped down to survey the scene. After a couple of minutes, the bird took off and headed north over the fields.

The bird highlight of the day was the finding of a firecrest by Andy Field along the horse-ride path on the north side of the park. The bird was seen in the hedgerow trees briefly before flying over to the copse at the back of the pond where it remained hidden and not seen again.
This bird will be an early spring migrant just passing through. Although firecrests are often seen at the park most springs, none were seen anywhere on the Island last year.
Two goldcrests were also in bushes near the pond, one singing its high-pitched song.

A pale-bellied brent goose was with 100 dark-bellied brent in the fields on Wednesday as were 200 golden plover.

Another surprise sighting was this water rail, a bird that has been very elusive this winter at the park pond. The bird emerged from the thick stand of reedmace, to feed in some shallow water for half a minute before heading back to cover and not seen again.

The Cetti's warbler sang faintly from cover near the pond, the male pochard remained well hidden in the clump of reedmace in the middle of the pond while 8 tufted ducks were busy diving for food.

Two little egrets were walking over the wet meadow alongside the pond but the sight of one egret swallowing a small fish was intriguing as it wasn't clear where the bird had actually caught the fish. The meadow is certainly waterlogged in places but it can't be that wet to support fish!

Three adders were basking in the sun at the country park during Wednesday morning, these two were coiled up together.
A small tortoiseshell flew past the adders in the middle of the day.

Two green sandpipers were seen near Coopers Beach on Wednesday by Michael Thorley.

HARRIERS AND THE HARASSED

The ringtail hen harrier was seen twice during Tuesday 10th, here at Reeveshall photographed late morning by Andy Field. The bird perched on a fence post for some time and took the opportunity to preen itself.

The hen harrier was also seen at the end of the day flying eastwards along the length of Langenhoe to roost at the Point. It circled a few times over the reedbed before dropping down about 6pm, just after the sun had set.
This is only the second time the hen harrier has been seen this winter coming into the roost, despite several watches being made of the roost over the last few months.
Also seen from the Reeveshall seawall were eight marsh harriers and a barn owl over on Langenhoe.

Andy also saw a merlin over Reeveshall, common buzzard, 2 marsh harriers, goldeneye, 4 yellowhammers and 3 corn buntings during his visit from the Strood to the Maydays area.

In recent months the back of the Island has not been as quiet as before with several local paramotors flying low over the area. Here one comes in low towards the 2000 brent geese on Reeveshall on Tuesday evening.

Not surprisingly all the brent geese take to the air as the paramotor flushes them off the fields and they disappear off to the Geedons.

Other birds noted were a barn owl hunting the grass field near the Oyster Fishery, which later seemed to cross the Pyefleet towards Langenhoe, 10 teal and a pair of mute swans on the Reeveshall pool.

Enjoying the late afternoon sunshine were some of the rooks at their rookery in Shop Lane.

Earlier from the country park two red-throated divers, eight Slavonian grebes, 30 great crested grebes, eight red-breasted mergansers and a Mediterranean gull were seen offshore. Glyn Evans saw a red-throated diver from the park two days before on the 9th.

A marsh harrier flew over the park pond in the morning, a pair of Canada geese were in the fields as was a wisp of a dozen snipe.
A common seal was in the river Colne and five adders were seen in the park. A small tortoiseshell flew across the car park and a red admiral was seen by the pond.