Monday, 31 December 2007

END OF YEAR FLOCKS

The large and noisy brent geese flock made their presence known to the visitors to the country park and adjacent fields in East Mersea on Monday 31st. I was looking forward to having a close look at the geese grazing in the park's grazing fields but as I slowly approached along a nearby path, a carrion crow spotted something and its concerned calls spooked the whole goose flock. Over a thousand geese rose into the air calling loudly as they disappeared off into the distance.

After lots of flying round East Mersea, the geese settled down in fields near the Oyster Fishery, which is where the photo above was taken from the seawall. There appeared to be about 1200 geese present and a scan through this flock of the dark-bellied race of geese, revealed one pale-bellied brent goose.

I could see there were good numbers of wigeon in the fields too, so I looked forward to having a close look at them. However before I got anywhere near them, something else spooked them into the air and within a few seconds, hundreds of birds were fleeing in all sorts of directions. Some birds flew away from the fields but most appeared to return.

After twenty minutes or so, the wigeon were back onto the grass and I was able to count nearly 600 birds which is the most for this winter here. Also in the fields were 100 teal, 2 snipe and a stonechat.

The sun came out for a short while in the early afternoon and the calm water of the borrow-dyke emphasised the deep blue colour of the sky above.

Despite the calm river Colne, there was little of interest except for 15 red-breasted mergansers and a common seal. On the mudflats 50 avocets were seen on Langenhoe Point along with 1000 golden plover and 500 lapwing. A female marsh harrier sat on a bush on Langenhoe.

Usual waders close to the Point with 10 bar-tailed godwits and 20 black-tailed godwits, 2000 dunlin and 100 knot being the birds that caught the eye amongst the regular 12 wader species seen.

On the park pond 14 shoveler, 5 tufted duck, 12 gadwall, 40 mallard were the main ducks on show.

Andy Field noted a huge flock of golden plover with 2500 birds seen near the Strood. Meanwhile Glyn Evans had a very productive visit to the old grazing marshes just opposite the Island at Langenhoehall Marshes. He was treated to views of 2 short-eared owls, ringtail hen harrier, 3 marsh harriers, female merlin, barn owl, 2 green sandpipers, pair of stonechats and 3 corn buntings.

Sunday, 30 December 2007

THE TWITE TWITCH

A very productive walk along the Pyefleet seawall on Sunday 30th with part of the walk being joined by Martin, Ann, Lyn - and some furry friends who weren't as keen at staring at mudflats!
Viewing conditions weren't as sunny as yesterday but at least there was no wind and as the tide was well out, there were plenty of waders around.

The first bird of the walk was a water rail flying across the dyke letting out a squeal as it landed(Steve Entwhistle told me that he also saw this bird later in the day).
At the eastern end of the Pyefleet 25 avocet were seen on Langenhoe Point, 12 red-breasted mergansers, 4 goldeneye and a pair of pintail. All along the edges of the Channel were good numbers of ducks with 1000 wigeon, 500 teal and 300 shelduck.

More waders arrived into the Pyefleet as the tide slowly came in during the course of the walk. The full scale of the birds in the area was appreciated late on when something spooked everything into the air at the eastern end of Langenhoe. Huge flocks rose into the air with 1000 lapwing, 2000 golden plover and 300 black-tailed godwits. Many of the regular waders headed up channel, joining up with existing birds bringing rough numbers to: 2000 dunlin, 400 knot 200 redshank, 150 grey plover, 50 oystercatcher.


This common seal was one of two seen along the Pyefleet. It spent all morning lounging on the mud on the far side, occasionally hauling itself round to lie in the opposite direction. The other seal was seen swimming towards us with its eyes staring at us from just above the water line.
While on the mammals, a fox was seen standing on the Langenhoe seawall and one brown hare crouched low in a Reeveshall grass field.

Wherever you looked, there was a marsh harrier to be seen both on Mersea and on the nearby Langenhoe Marshes. At one point eight birds were counted in a quick scan of Langenhoe and the final tally for the day was at least ten.
Whilst standing at this viewpoint at the seawall corner of Maydays pictured below, I was able to see a ringtail hen harrier on a field on Langenhoe. This is the first one this winter that I've finally caught up with. Twenty years ago the local wintering harrier scene was very different with marsh harriers very scarce but up to a dozen hen harriers roosting on Langenhoe.

I spent a bit of time scanning the distant Langenhoehall Marshes for short-eared owls without any luck. Four marsh harriers and the same hen harrier as earlier, four green woodpeckers perched up and a small flock of fieldfares could be seen.
Received news after my walk from Hugh Owen on Langenhoehall Marshes, that he didn't see the short-eared owls until 3.45pm when one was flushed by a marsh harrier. A further three short-eared owls appeared around 4 o'clock.


One of the birds that I was hoping to catch up with on the walk was the twite - making this a sort of twite twitch!They weren't on the Reeveshall saltings of recent days, so maybe they had moved to the Maydays saltings - a mile to the west. No sooner had I arrived at this point pictured above, when I found a dozen small finches feeding on some saltmarsh plants. They flew off to feed further away but I managed to get the telescope on them, to confirm them as twite, seeing their distinctive cinnamon throats and yellow bills. They soon disappeared from the area but this group may've returned to the Reeveshall saltings as I flushed a small finch flock off and later Steve Entwhistle also saw what he thought were the twite here.

A very unexpected find along the seaward side of the seawall were a pair of snow buntings. These could be the same birds seen at the park last month. Scanning the seawall on the north side of the Pyefleet, a tiny flash of blue beside a sluice outfall turned out to be a kingfisher.
Seven stonechats were seen in several locations close to the seawall, while at least 3 green sandpipers were noted flying out of various ditches.


The muddy creeks and channels of the Maydays saltmarsh were popular feeding grounds for several little egrets, some very nervous and noisy redshank, a couple of rock pipits and a flock of 25 linnets.

The view to Maydays Farm looking along a strip of game cover between some thick bushes. This area was teeming with small birds such as finches, buntings and thrushes. Just before I reached this spot on the seawall, there was the bittersweet moment of seeing all the birds suddenly scatter and disappear from view - but then there was an excellent view of a peregrine that was checking out the birds before I did.

The peregrine banked sharply away and flew over the fields, picking up speed as it reached some tall trees. It lunged at a small bird which was probably a fieldfare, catching it with the talons and then proceeded to pluck it as it flew along. Feathers could be seen dropping down and after a minute or so, the peregrine appeared to discard it, as it then carried on flying normally onto West Mersea.

The small birds slowly returned to the game crop and bushes with rough counts for this site and adjacent fields being - 100 fieldfare, 10 redwing, 2 song thrush, 20 blackbird, 50 chaffinch, 20 linnet, 30 corn bunting, 20 reed bunting, 5 yellowhammer and 10 greenfinch.

Flying over set-aside fields were a couple of sparrowhawks tussling with each other. It may have been one of these birds an hour later that crossed high over the Pyefleet. Two kestrels were also seen on the walk, bringing the raptor tally to a noteworthy five species for the day.
At the end of the walk, a duet was heard between two little owls as they called to each other near ShopLane.

Nick Green reported that he had seen from West Mersea 2 great northern divers, 3 red-throated divers, Slavonian grebe, common scoter, 2 eider and 5 shags.

Saturday, 29 December 2007

HARRIER HARASSMENT

Last hour of daylight was spent on the Reeveshall seawall on Saturday 29th. There was no mud on show along the Pyefleet as the walk coincided with high tide, pictured above.

What was really handy were all the marsh harriers flying over the marshes and saltings of Reeveshall, also along the Pyefleet but mainly over Langenhoe Point, disturbing all the other birds wherever they went. The main concentration of marsh harriers was just at sunset when six female / immature birds circled and tussled with each other above the reedbed of Langenhoe Point. Not quite sure what the collective term for harriers is but a "harassment" of harriers sounds very suitable. The harrier tally for the afternoon was probably about eight birds.

One of the early harriers to cross over the reedbed flushed out about 50 shelduck into the air. On Reeveshall a female crossed over a field where 1000 golden plover and 500 lapwing had been roosting. Up they all went with big flocks dispersing over to the nearby Pewit Island in the Pyefleet Channel. A little while later, a second harrier over Reeveshall was pursued by some carrion crows which was eventually forced to drop the small prey item it was carrying. In this case the harrier was being harried!

There was only a brief view of a single male marsh harrier quartering the reedbed at the back of Reeveshall, before it disappeared over some fields. Another female harrier was seen leaving Reeveshall for the evening roost on Langenhoe and on its way, it just happened to pass over Pewit Island where lots of waders and wildfowl were gathered.

The golden plover and lapwing made up the bulk of the birds but small flocks of dunlin, redshank, oystercatcher, wigeon and teal, all rose into the air as the harrier passed by.
There were several small groups of wigeon and teal scattered along the Pyefleet during the high tide.

The Reeveshall pool was deserted although a dunlin and redshank were seen checking the area out. No sign of any twite on the nearby saltmarsh and the only small birds noted were 3 skylarks, one rock pipit and a reed bunting.

Walking through the Shop Lane wood at the end of the walk, a sparrowhawk swooped swiftly into the cover of the trees as the light began to fade.

HARD CIRCUIT

Breezy but bright on Friday 28th for a brief visit to the Hard at West Mersea. The main concentration of birds was on the Packing Shed Island, pictured above, where 1500 golden plovers stood along the muddy edge. This little muddy island appears to have become a favoured roosting site for them this winter.

Despite scanning of the channels there was little of interest seen, other than the usual scattering of about 12 dabchicks amongst the various boat moorings. Along the channel fringes were groups of brent geese and one or two shelduck.

Most of the regular Hard wader species were noted without too much difficulty, feeding on mud at various points adjacent to the Coast Road. Waders seen included curlew, oystercatcher, redshank, bar-tailed godwit, black-tailed godwit, dunlin, grey plover, ringed plover and turnstone.
Roosting on the mud at the southern tip of Ray Island were 200 lapwing.

From the path alongside the Firs Chase caravan site, 500 brent geese could be seen further along the side of the Strood Channel feeding in a wheat field. A dozen curlew were seen feeding in the field at the top of the slope near the houses, whilst 3 meadow pipits dropped down to feed in the long grass of Feldy View field.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

WINTER WALK

It was grey and overcast at the country park on Thursday 27th, a change from the bright sunshine of yesterday. One corner of the park in recent days that has been favoured by various thrushes has been alongside this path pictured above. The regular group of a dozen blackbirds were joined by five fieldfares and two song thrushes, who have been looking for food amongst the thick leaf litter.

At the park pond there appeared to have been an influx of shoveler with 25 birds present with the white patches on the males, making them stand out on the dull day. Three tufted duck were also present amongst the regular mallard, teal and gadwall.

In the grazing fields there was the regular flock of 200 wigeon feeding on the grass with a dozen black-tailed godwits for company.
On the mudflats near the Point 25 avocets were noted, some snoozing in a small group while others continued to feed along the water's edge as the tide came in. In the river Colne 12 red-breasted mergansers were either involved in a bit of diving for food or displaying to each other.

On Langenhoe Point a mass of waders were gathering for the high tide roost with 1000 lapwings being the most numerous.

Along the seawall near Ivy Farm dock were a pair of yellowhammers, the regular pair of stonechats, while over the saltmarsh flew 8 skylarks and 2 rock pipits.

BOXING DAY

Ideal weather for a box-ing day walk along the Strood seawall, walking off the excesses of the previous day. At the start of the walk a sparrowhawk swooped around the bushes near the Firs Chase caravan site, flushing out ten fieldfares and a few blackbirds in the process.

Most of the mud was already covered by the incoming tide so there weren't many waders on show. The regular large flock of golden plover could be seen squeezed onto the last patch of mud near the Strood causeway with at least 1000 birds present.
Small numbers of both black-tailed godwits and bar-tailed godwits were seen with the bar-tails looking very washed out in the bright sunshine.

Along the edge of the Channel were scattered groups of brent geese feeding as well as a few wigeon too.

Feeding amongst the various weeds on the side of the seawall were 20 linnets, while 10 greenfinches were seen feeding on the clubrush seedheads in the dyke. Two corn buntings crossed onto the Island from the Feldy Marshes direction and two rock pipits were seen flying about.


This part of Coast Road by the Hard was inaccessible at the peak of the high tide. Just as well the weather conditions were calm today! There was little birdlife amongst the boat moorings other than the regular dozen or so dabchicks. One male goldeneye could be seen at the back of one of the channels and I was informed later by Andy Field that the great northern diver was present near the floating pontoon.

It was still calm at East Mersea in mid afternoon, as seen with this yacht at Ivy Farm dock. A water rail was heard squealing from one of the ditches near the seawall here.

The section of borrow-dyke near the Golfhouse reflected the blue sky onto the calm water, except when for the couple of dabchicks busily diving under and then coming back up again.

Not the clearest of pictures but it's the closest I could get to a clump of wild mistletoe sprouting up a poplar tree near the Golfhouse. Several white berries can be seen in this clump - and it wasn't surprising to see a hungry looking mistle thrush perching in the neighbouring tree, watching over this clump and another one nearby. Mistle thrushes are credited with helping this parasitic plant spread from tree to tree because they love eating the white berries.
At the top of the lane another mistle thrush was noisily trying to ward off starlings and other birds from a variegated holly bush that was laden with bright red berries.

Hugh Owen reported that he had fantastic views of the short-eared owls again on the Langenhoehall marshes with 6 flying about or resting on fenceposts in the middle of the afternoon. He also saw a hen harrier and 3 marsh harriers yesterday over the same marshes.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

BUILDING AN APPETITE

Managed to fit in a morning walk to East Mersea Point to help build up an appetite for the lunch on Tuesday 25th before the rain set in. There was still an area of mud not covered by the incoming tide where there was a large concentration of waders. The picture above shows some of the golden plovers flying around . Twenty avocets caught the eye as they stood along the edge of the water. Ten sanderling were seen along the beach at the Point and a couple of red-breasted mergansers in the river Colne.


Having just savoured the spectacle of masses of birds on the mud, the whole lot suddenly went flying off in panic with lots of anxious calling. The only clue as to the cause of the mass disturbance was given by a carrion crow which had pursued a small raptor. There was a split-second glimpse of what may've been a sparrowhawk diving into the thick cover of the sea-blite bushes at the Point, clutching a small bird. The crow gave up the mobbing once the raptor had dived into the cover and it appeared to stay down for some time after, presumably enjoying its hard earned Xmas lunch.




In the grazing fields the usual flock of 150 wigeon and 10 black-tailed godwits were feeding close to one of the flooded creeks. There were a few more wigeon at the rear of the fields and also a small group out at sea. Twenty goldfinches were also seen on the fields as the drizzle started to set in for the day.

RATTY'S RIPPLES

The bright red berries of the guelder rose bush provided a little bit of colour to the walk around the country park on 24th December. Any bush with any sort of berries, has been paid a visit by the birds in recent weeks. However the glistening and sticky guelder rose berries are not the most popular food source and normally end up withering on the stalks.
Various thrushes have been feeding on many berries along the hedgerows and today a couple of song thrushes were noted amongst the blackbirds.

At the park pond there was the regular group of ducks with mallard, teal, gadwall, shoveler, wigeon, along with one tufted duck. A lot of the ducks were gathered near the back of the pond and seemed vaguely concerned at something. The noisiest bird was a water rail calling out anxiously with lots of "kip" calls. However its concern was suddenly appreciated when a female sparrowhawk flew out of a nearby tree.

Along the borrowdyke, ripples could be seen spreading out over the calm water. When I scanned the opposite bank, the dark brown outline of a water vole was seen swimming along the edge of the muddy bank. Ratty's little snout and eyes held just above the water, it paddled swiftly along the edge, checking out many of the small holes and burrows close to the water surface. It's always nice to see one of these increasingly scarce mammals, although the views of them here never seem to be long enough.

Even with relatively calm conditions, there were still waves breaking gently onto the mud as the tide went out in the afternoon.

Ten sanderling were still close to the beach with some turnstones, while some of the bigger flocks of waders included the 300 knot and 500 golden plover near the Point. Also here were 100 shelduck bobbing in the sheltered water, waiting for more of the mud to show.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

SLAVONIAN SUNRISE

The best part of Saturday 22nd at the country park, was the beginning of the day when the sun appeared over the sea at 8am. As the tide was close in, there was the colourful sun-beam across the calm water, providing a real picture to savour.

Bringing the scene to life were several hundred brent geese enjoying the deserted beach and mud - until I came to join them! The geese stayed around and it was great just watching them swimming past or flying around in small groups - against the backdrop of the rising sun.

The calm conditions looking out to sea made it easy to pick out any birds on the water. I noticed a group of six small grebes diving some distance out, which looked interesting. Through the telescope I could see they were Slavonian grebes, the sun highlighting their white faces and little black caps. It was very unusual seeing so many Slavonians here as most records in recent years have just involved one or two birds. The largest group of Slavonians that I have seen from the park was only nine birds - 24 years ago!

Also on the calm water were 11 red-breasted mergansers with most of the males in a tight group all frantically displaying to each other.


Around the park three redwings perched up on some bushes and a song thrush was seen feeding with about ten blackbirds. Along the seawall the regular pair of stonechats were perched up amongst some reeds. The only group of birds on the grazing fields in mid afternoon were 120 brent geese.

By mid afternoon the light was fading quite quickly under the dull and grey skies. Across the vast expanse of mudflats there seemed to be huge gatherings of birds along the low tide mark as dusk approached. The frozen ponds and ditches inland may have driven 1000 wigeon and teal to gather onto the mud.

Several large and dense wader flocks flew out of the Colne to feed on the outer mudflats. They appeared to be a mixture of dunlin and knot with about 1500 birds flying around like wisps of smoke, before settling down. The easier birds to spot in the gloomy light were the white ones and 100 shelduck was an interesting count here along with 10 avocets. Also gathering for the night-time roost on the mud were hundreds of gulls - mainly black-headed gulls streaming out of the Colne from their daytime feeding haunts.

Spent the last few minutes of daylight by the park pond where there was a good collection of wildfowl despite half the water being covered by ice. All the bird activity on the ice especially the charging about by coots and moorhens, was leading to regular creaking and cracking of the ice.

Seventy mallard, 10 gadwall, 6 shoveler, 20 teal and one tufted duck were the various ducks noted. A water rail was heard squealing from the reeds and one other was heard calling too.

The regular fox appeared from the hedge behind the pond and twice was thwarted in being able to forage for food because of his wariness. He didn't trust me keeping still in the nearby hide and both times he turned and ran back to a safe distance where he sat down and stared back at me.

Richard Allen and Chris Poole had a very productive visit onto the Island on Saturday. Offshore from West Mersea there was Slavonian grebe, eider, common scoter, red-throated diver, great northern diver, 2 shag, 25 great crested grebes and 2 goldeneye.

Their visit to Reeveshall at East Mersea provided some rich raptor rewards with a ringtail hen harrier, 10 marsh harriers, peregrine, merlin and sparrowhawk. Thirteen twite were seen on the saltmarsh and in the Pyefleet were 5 goldeneye and 20 red-breasted mergansers.

Martin Cock on the Saturday had a good view of the ringtail hen harrier at Maydays Farm, probably the same bird seen by Richard and Chris. Also a green sandpiper and a pair of stonechat noted here.

Friday, 21 December 2007

DOZY BARN OWL

This barn owl was found snoozing in the sunshine, on a bramble bush at Rewsalls Marshes at East Mersea on Friday 21st. Having first spotted it from the seawall nearly 300 metres away, I was able to get close to it using a little used public footpath and take one or two photos before it took off.

Although the owl looked as if it was snoozing, I could see it open its left eye very slightly so that it could watch what was going on. After getting as close as 25 metres, the barn owl lifted off from the bush and headed swiftly over the fields towards the Youth Camp. I don't think I've come across a barn owl like this, snoozing in a bush in the middle of the day before. It's also the first barn owl I've seen on the Island for several months - sightings this winter have been very scarce.


Shortly after seeing the owl, there was the unexpected view of a female marsh harrier that appeared along the beach from the west and crossed onto the marshes. It perched on a fencepost near the dyke for a few minutes before slowly crossing over the rough grasslands. The group of 300 grazing brent geese all stopped feeding for awhile as the harrier passed them close-by.

Other birds of note included 2 stonechat, 25 fieldfares, green sandpiper, snipe, 6 shoveler, 2 little egrets and a flock of 20 chaffinches feeding on various weeds on the seawall.

There were plenty of waders that quickly descended onto the mud as the tide went out. What was impressive was the variety of waders around with 15 species being logged for the walk. The most notable being 20 sanderling and at least 100 bar-tailed godwits with one individual in striking ginger summer plumage.

Brent geese were all along the coast with many starting the day on the sea, waiting to fly onto the nearby fields. As well as the Rewsalls flock, another group of 500 fed on the wheat field near the country park. This is part of the flock, pictured below, flying over the car park - always a magical sight.


Wednesday, 19 December 2007

FROSTY START


Another frosty start to Wednesday 19th soon gave way to a bright sunny day. By mid morning most of the frost had gone from the ground but ice remained on the ditches and ponds. Most of the dyke at the country park, pictured above, had a thin layer of ice except at the eastern end where a group of wigeon, coot and little grebe had kept it ice-free.

The frosty coating to the grazing field meant that no wildfowl were present while the grass was still frozen. By mid morning the first flock of brent geese arrived onto the fields from the nearby mudflats. Dotted along the mudflats were several flocks of geese, nibbling away at the patches of green algae that coat some of the mud. Once the first flock took off for the grazing fields, all the others soon made their way too and within fifteen minutes over 500 geese had gathered on the fields.

The sun shone onto a stock dove that was feeding in the grazing fields close-in with it's irridescent bright-green neck-patch briefly sparkling in the sunlight, before it flew away. The grass field on the slope behind the grazing fields must have thawed out earlier as there was a group of 70 curlew all probing the grass for food.

Despite the park pond being mostly frozen, there was quite a gathering of ducks either standing on the ice or paddling about in the little patch of open water. The pair of mute swans dominated the open water while forty mallard and fifty teal were the main ducks with a few gadwall and a pair of shoveler.

Around the park there were small pockets of bird activity with 10 blackbirds, 10 chaffinches under the trees while near the seawall were 12 goldfinches on thistles. One fieldfare flew over the car park early in the morning.

Along the Pyefleet Channel, Martin Cock noted a sizeable flock of 2600 knot, also 300 wigeon and 300 teal. A jack snipe was flushed from the Reeveshall saltings and 12 twite were still present while on Langenhoe there were 6 marsh harriers. At Maydays a merlin, green sandpiper and 41 corn buntings were seen, while on the army ranges 100 goldfinches could be seen.

Various bits and bobs were seen on the Island over the recent weekend. Early on the Saturday morning, there was the very rare Mersea sighting of two pomarine skuas, seen by Graham Ekins flying around and harassing gulls at the mouth of the river Blackwater. Also 5 red-throated divers, 2 great northern divers, 5 Slavonian grebes, 14 red-breasted mergansers, eider and peregrine seen from Victoria Esplanade. From the Dabchicks, there were 5 shags, hen harrier and 4 marsh harriers, while at the Strood 4 twite were seen.

Andy Field on Saturday saw the group of 14 twite on the Pyefleet saltmarsh near Shop Lane, also 135 knot, 2 red-breasted mergansers and a pair of stonechat. Close to the floating pontoon at West Mersea was a great northern diver (one of the same seen earlier by Graham), pair of goldeneye and 17 little grebe.

Graham Ekins revisited West Mersea on Sunday morning but noted less birds of note than the previous day. One great northern diver, 2 red-throated diver, 11 red-breasted merganser, 2 marsh harrier, peregrine and 2 Slavonian grebe. At the Strood there were no twite seen although 7 little egrets flying off Ray Island, 87 cormorant, 200 knot and 300 golden plover were more than yesterday.

Daryl Rhymes visited the Pyefleet near Shop Lane and noted 12 twite, 4 marsh harriers and a pair of stonechat over Reeveshall. On Langenhoe there was a merlin, hen harrier, 3 marsh harriers, 40 linnet and a pair of stonechat seen.

Steve Hunting had a better count of twite on Sunday with 20 seen in two flocks with 12 and 8 birds in each.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

WINTER SUNSHINE

Frosty start to Wednesday 12th and even although the sun shone all day, some shaded parts of the ground never thawed. This is the view from the park looking across the mudflats as the sun first pokes its head above some clouds. For the rest of the day, it was non stop sunshine and bright blue skies all over.
The still conditions meant that all the sounds travelled a long way and several groups of brent geese could be heard calling from the outer edge of the mudflats.

A view looking through the trees of Cudmore Grove at the early morning sun, just above the horizon.

Everywhere was crispy-white with the frost on the ground, covering all the grasses, twigs and the leaves on the ground.

Whilst stuck in front of the computer, I noticed this green woodpecker flitting from bush to bush in my back garden, along with several blackbirds. Seconds after this picture was taken, the woodpecker flew off followed by the blackbirds. Suddenly this large brown bird hurtled into this tree and as soon as it perched, I could see it was a female sparrowhawk. That woodpecker had a very narrow escape!

Driving along the East Mersea road I noticed the fieldfares again near Fen Farm perched on top of a tree plantation. Around 150 birds seemed to be present here and some others seen near the road were busy feeding on the hawthorn berries.
Also along the road were two kestrels rather unusually perched on some hedgerow trees almost side-by-side. A third kestrel was seen a little further along the road in Bromans Lane.
Two great spotted woodpeckers headed away from the trees of West Mersea, flying over the fields near Chapmans Lane with their distinctive undulating flight.

Roving reporter Nolly- my wife, was enjoying the wonderful winter sunshine along the Strood seawall and took these three photos - one above and two below. No wind today was a real treat.

The view of the Strood Channel beside the rickety jetty in front of the Firs Chase caravan site.

No winter walk round Mersea is complete without admiring the large flocks of brent geese. It is quite a spectacle seeing them rise into the air and hearing them call out loudly. Against the bright blue backdrop, the geese in flight are quite a sight and makes any seawall stroll quite memorable.

Martin Cock had a walk along the Shop Lane seawall beside the Pyefleet and was fortunate to see 14 twite sitting up on a fence on the saltmarsh. Twite used to be a regular wintering finch along the saltmarshes here but numbers have declined sharply in recent years. Hopefully this group will stay around, although another small group had been seen by the Strood at the weekend.
A peregrine was also seen, as well as the usual marsh harriers on Langenhoe and the regular pair of stonechats by the seawall.

Having started the day admiring the sunrise off East Mersea, it seemed that the day would only be complete if the sunset was admired too, here from the Hard at West Mersea.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

GRAZING GEESE

Tuesday 11th was a fine sunny day although the light cold northerly breeze kept some of the sheltered parts of the park frosted until late morning. It was perfect conditions for seeing and hearing birdlife around the park.

The brent geese flock were busy feeding in the park's grazing fields, as pictured above. Around 500 birds here is the largest flock to be seen in the fields this winter. At least there is plenty of grass for them so there should be lots more visits by them in the weeks to come. At one end of the flock was the resident group of wigeon joining in the grazing frenzy with 2oo birds at least.
As always, something spooked all the birds in the fields and everything got up into the air with 100 teal flying about and several black-tailed godwits flying around too.

One of the other delights at the park was a small group of 14 siskin that came and landed on a nearby alder tree that I had planted 15 years ago, hoping one day that some siskins or redpolls might feed on it. The noisy little group landed in the outer branches and started to feed straightaway on the masses of little cones. Their yellowy-green chests showing up well in the bright sunshine. After some excitable chattering amongst each other, they took off and headed east. A short while later another siskin landed in a tree close-by, wondering where the rest of the flock disappeared to.

At the park pond the usual mix of ducks with the 14 gadwall being the most noteworthy. Lurking at the rear of the pond was a fox trying to pretend he was snoozing in the sun, although he was keeping a watch on his surroundings through narrow slitted eyes.

At dusk a dozen fieldfares were seen heading towards the pond where they may've roosted in the nearby copse. About 50 fieldfares were seen on the hedges near Fen Farm, just to the west of the park.
Two reed buntings calling in the car park briefly was an unusual location for them.


Dotted along the sandy cliff are lots of smooth sow-thistles with striking purple leaves, as in the photo above. Some of the plants have got their small pale yellow flowers enjoying the sunny disposition with the south-facing slope.

A little egret standing on the beach was a little unusual but it too was enjoying the warmth. Overhead a group of 26 cormorants headed inland, presumably forced off their shingle ridge on the mudflats by the incoming tide.

Nearer to West Mersea there were 500 golden plover and 200 lapwing in fields near Chapmans Lane.

Monday, 10 December 2007

BATTLING WITH ELEMENTS

The weather took a turn for the worse during Sunday 9th and venturing outside meant battling with the elements. The blue skies in the photo above from East Mersea Point were short-lived and the clouds soon rolled in with showers for the afternoon.

The high tide had brought the group of 30 sanderling onto the beach to feed along the water's edge with 70 turnstone. There was a good view of the female eider flying out of the river - the regular bird that has been around a few days in the mouth of the Colne. Six red-breasted mergansers were also seen in the river, otherwise there was little else on the water.

A quick walk along the seawall to Ivy Farm proved to be worthwhile. I was able to get two brightly coloured species in the same field of view for a split second but enough to make an impression. A kingfisher appeared on the scene along the dyke and perched briefly on a bush. It then turned inland to follow a ditch where a brightly coloured male yellowhammer was perched on the hedge. The sunshine highlighted the colour combination of blue, red and the yellow which brightened up a dull brown bush.

There was a reasonable sized flock of 70 greenfinches feeding on the seeds of the club-rush in the dyke. Feeding in the same area were at least six yellowhammers that occasionally flew onto the bushes. Two rock pipits were also seen along the saltmarsh and the male stonechat perched up on a bush near the dyke.

The wind had picked up noticeably by late morning and was whipping the waves onto the beach by the park. The light deteriorated too and the grey clouds were soon bringing more rain.

It was just as well that there wasn't a high spring tide predicted as these strong waves with the fresh south-westerly wind would've done a lot of damage to the saltmarsh and especially the cliff. The sea conditions were too rough to see any birds and there was virtually nothing flying about.

Some of the waders sought refuge in the grazing fields where the 200 wigeon and 70 teal were feeding. Seventy black-tailed godwits were present again as were 10 turnstone, 50 lapwing and 50 golden plover. In the nearby grass fields, 70 curlew could be seen looking for food during the high tide. There was one avocet feeding in the "avocet-pools" where they had bred earlier this year near the Point.

On the park pond 14 gadwall, 4 shoveler, 40 mallard, pair of mute swans and a tufted duck were noted. During the dull and wet afternoon, a group of 30 fieldfares passed over the park.

On Monday morning had a walk to the Point with Andrew Thompson although the viewing conditions deteriorated with us having to battle through some showers blown onto us by cold northerly winds. The female eider was seen on the choppy waters and a pair of red-breasted mergansers were seen in flight. Very few waders to see at the Point although 25 sanderling amongst the group of turnstone were the highlight. A handful of knot flew past the Point and the pair of stonechats were seen close to the seawall.

The numbers of waders and wildfowl on the grazing fields were only appreciated when something spooked the 500+ birds into the air. The various species separated out into various flocks - black-tailed godwits, wigeon, teal, lapwing, golden plover and starlings all went in different directions.

Scanning out to sea from the cliff-top a distant male common scoter was seen and a very distant diver in flight. One distant great crested grebe was the only other bird on the water.

Two flocks of fieldfares were seen with one group of 40 over the car park around noon and then 80 perched briefly on bushes near the hide in mid-afternoon.

Nick Green and Glyn Evans battled their way along the north side of the Island from east to west in very poor weather as they carried out the monthly wildfowl count. They were rewarded with sightings of a male velvet scoter in the Colne, a male goosander in the Pyefleet, also snow bunting, peregrine, male marsh harrier, 13 red-breasted merganser, 900 lapwing, 700 golden plover and 10 rock pipits.


Graham Ekins visited West Mersea twice over the weekend and reported 2 shags, Slavonian grebe, 11 great crested grebes, kittiwake, 3 common scoter and 8 red-breasted mergansers on the Saturday.
On the Sunday he saw 5 twite and a marsh harrier by the Strood and then great northern diver, red-throated diver, eider, kittiwake, 9 red-breasted mergansers, 2 Slavonian grebes and 3 common scoters all offshore. There were also three huge flocks of golden plover totalling 4000 birds over Old Hall Marshes, along with five marsh harriers and a hen harrier.

Andy Field and Richard Hull finally managed to get the all clear after more than a month and a half of waiting, to visit the army ranges on Langenhoe to check the birdlife on Sunday. Highlights included hen harrier, 6 marsh harriers, sparrowhawk, common scoter, goldeneye, 300 wigeon, 300 teal, 8 red-breasted mergansers, 3 green sandpipers, 250 black-tailed godwits, kingfisher, 4 stonechat, 70 goldfinch, 30 chaffinch, 30 greenfinch, 36 fieldfare and 10 redwing.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

BEFORE THE RAIN

Managed to fit in a walk along the park seawall on the morning of Saturday 8th, before the weather turned wet and windy. The grey skies seemed to match the colour of the water in the dyke, as pictured above.

From the seawall there were views of the grazing fields where 200 wigeon were grazing in one corner while in another corner 50 teal were gathered in one of the pools. Fifty black-tailed godwits, 70 lapwing and 30 golden plover were the waders seen feeding in the fields.
No sign of the stonechat anywhere but 25 goldfinches were seen in the fields.

The tide had nearly covered the mud near the Point but there was the nice sight of 40 avocets in the shallow water. Some were wading up to their chests as they fed, while others snoozed as the tide inched higher around them. In the river a pair of red-breasted mergansers were bobbing up and down in the water as were 50 shelduck.

Had a pleasant surprise of watching two snow buntings fly along the beach and apparently drop down amongst some of the scattered plants. However when I walked through the area where I thought they may have landed, there was no sight of them. The search was only half-hearted as I didn't really want to flush them away. There had been a report of these snow buntings in the area four days previously.

Earlier in the morning three hundred brent geese grazed the algae on the mudflats in front of the park as the tide came in. Closer scrutiny of this group of dark-bellied brent, revealed a pale-bellied brent goose with its whiter sides to the body. This isn't the regular race of brent goose here but there have been one or two seen in recent winters.
The brent geese appear to be spending most of their time in recent days feeding on nearby wheat fields.

Fieldfares continue to be seen with a couple in the car park early in the day and then around noon, a flock of about fifty birds battled their way through the wind and rain over the deserted car park. Three redwings and a great spotted woodpecker also flew over the car park.

Friday, 7 December 2007

EXPOSED TO THE WIND

I was able to enjoy a walk around the country park on Friday 7th in the sunshine and didn't have to worry about any dark rain clouds. The wind and the rain in recent days has knocked all the leaves off the blackthorn bushes exposing all the sloe berries, some pictured above. It seems to have been a reasonably good crop this autumn judging by all the sloes about. Some of the blackbirds have been seen recently plucking some off the bushes to eat.

Five fieldfares and a redwing dropped into some bushes near the car park in the middle of the day. Yesterday two groups of fieldfares were seen along the East Mersea Road with one of about 70 near Bromans Lane and another of 50 near Weir Farm. Both flocks seemed unsettled and were flying over the fields.

At the park pond a siskin flew past calling while on the water there were 40 mallard and 12 gadwall, pair of shoveler and the pair of mute swans flew across very noisily and deliberately to show everybody that this was their territory.

As always the most pleasant place to enjoy the park was on the beach, sheltered from the strong north-westerly wind by the sandy cliff. In fact the bright sunshine seemed to emphasise all the orange coloured sand layers in the cliff contrasting with the deep-blue sky above.

The tide was still high but just beginning to turn back during the late morning. At the Point there was a group of 30 sanderling scurrying along the water's edge in the company of 70 turnstone. The first flock of waders seen flying back into the river from their roost were 15 bar-tailed godwits and about 30 knot.

The river Colne was very choppy with the wind whipping up lots of small "white-horses" - probably more "white-Shetland ponies!" A distant female eider in the mouth of the river kept bobbing out of sight amongst the deep waves. Whilst watching this, a red-throated diver flew out of the Colne, passing close-by before flying westwards to the Blackwater. A male red-breasted merganser also headed out of the river although one female merganser was seen feeding in slightly calmer waters near the shore.

Near the Point two little egrets flew about, as did a rock pipit calling and two reed buntings in the sea-blite bushes. One male stonechat enjoyed being out of the wind beneath the seawall as it fed along the saltmarsh.

In the grazing fields 300 wigeon happily grazed away in one corner along with 20 black-tailed godwits who were probing for worms. In the neighbouring field another 50 godwits were also feeding, taking advantage of the rain sodden fields and the easy worm pickings.

Other recent points of interest include the very late sighting of a pipistrelle bat hunting over the car park at dusk on both Wednesday and Thursday nights. In previous winters the bats have always been in hibernation by December. It has stayed quite mild at night although the moth trap only managed to catch one solitary moth during Tuesday night - a winter moth.

On Tuesday two snow buntings were reported feeding beside the seawall near the Point.
Just north of Mersea Island Hugh Owen has had some good counts again of the short-eared owls on Langenhoehall Marshes. On Tuesday he counted six in the area with five in the air together, while on Friday he managed to see only four in ten minutes of looking.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

THE FLY AGARIC

My colleague at the country park, David Nicholls, drew my attention on Sunday 2nd to this very colourful fly agaric toadstool growing in the car park. On such a dull winter's day, this small toadstool added an unexpected splash of colour to the park. This one pictured above was quite a small one at about 6cms wide but a larger decaying one nearby had managed to flourish undetected in recent days. There haven't been any previous fly agarics in the park and I've not heard of any others growing on the Island.

It seems rather timely to see the fly agaric in December as this toadstool has been linked with Santa Claus. Fly agaric is probably man's oldest hallucinogenic and the history of Siberian folk using the fly agaric is thought to have helped develop the legend of Santa Claus and his flying reindeer!

The weather was blustery with showers during the morning and not many visitors to the park. However one group of 20 fieldfares flew over the car park a couple of times. Another small flock of 10 fieldfares were seen along the East Mersea road.

Whilst looking at the flock of 300 wigeon busy feeding in the grazing fields, the tranquility was rudely disturbed by something that sent all the birds scattering. I was lucky to quickly glance upwards to see a male peregrine hurtling overhead in a very determined hunting mode. It rapidly passed over the fields, ignoring all the ducks and confusion beneath as it made a bee-line for the waders on the mud near the Point.

It swooped sharply down twice before climbing back up with a small bird in its talons. Having caught probably a dunlin, it flew around and appeared to be trying to feed on the bird in mid-air. Three times it dropped the bird and each time it successfully re-caught it well before it hit the river. The peregrine then raced eastwards over to Point Clear.

The tide in front of the park was coming back in during the afternoon and the bright sunshine seemed to highlight all the oystercatchers. There was a sizeable gathering on the mud with nearly 300 birds having one last feed before heading over the river to roost.

Had a quick walk along Coast Road on Sunday morning before the rain set in. Looking over to Packing Marsh Island, pictured above, I noticed lots of golden plovers gathered on the mud. When a large gull disturbed the flock of about 500 birds, there was the wonderfully musical chorus as they all settled back down.

A short while later I glanced over and saw huge flocks of the plovers in the air. A presumed bird of prey was in the area and sent 2000 golden plovers and 1000 lapwing from surrounding marshes high into the sky. It was quite a spectacle seeing all these birds flying around in several large groups, with the two species staying in their own separate flocks as they flew around.

In and also near the entrance of the Mersea Quarters there was a female / immature eider, female common scoter, 7 red-breasted mergansers, 4 great crested grebes and four little grebes.

A sign of the mildness of the winter was the sight of a hedgehog trundling slowly across City Road in the early evening. In the good old days, hedgehogs would've been well into their hibernation by early December.
On the topic of mammals a weasel was seen by Firs Chase on Friday morning carrying a mouse.

SHANKS ALONG STROOD


Wrapped up warm for a walk along the Strood seawall on a sunny but windy Saturday 1st. The tide was well out by late morning and there was the usual good selection of waders and wildfowl to see. Having the sun coming from behind me made the viewing conditions easier along the Strood Channel.

Fourteen species were seen along the Channel in varying numbers, which seemed a worthy tally. The most notable being the good views of a greenshank and two spotted redshank feeding along the narrow band of water in the middle of the channel. Having stopped to watch the first spotted redshank busily feeding by itself, a second one called nearby and then flew closer to team up with the first bird. Both birds waded through the water doing some synchronised feeding, dipping their heads right under the water as they walked.

Most spotted redshank spend the winter in Africa so it was nice to get good views of two feeding together here. Similarly greenshank aren't common in winter here, so it was great to see a green, a spotted red and plenty of the usual redshanks all on the mud together.

Godwits were hard to find with only three black-tailed seen and five bar-tailed godwits located. Surprisingly oystercatchers were nearly absent from the upper part of the Channel beyond the boat moorings with only five noted . The only turnstone in this area was seen feeding along the seawall, although there were others feeding around the Hard.

As always the most striking flock was the large golden plover roost of about 800 birds on the mud, close to the Strood causeway. Something disturbed all the waders here sending everything into the air, including 200 lapwing. The golden plover flock twisted and turned in the bright sunshine, flickering brown and then white as they decided when to come back down.

Some of the golden plovers headed down the Channel in the direction of the Feldy Marshes. Some time later, the size of this flock was seen when around 1500 birds rose into the air along with 300 lapwing.

The other waders of interest were the 200 knot feeding in scattered groups on the mud. Knot have become more numerous along the north side of the Island in recent winters. This was never a wader that could be seen during the winter along the Strood Channel.

Other waders also noted on the walk were the usual large numbers of dunlin, several grey plover, curlew and ringed plover.



Enjoying the winter sunshine along the Channel were various groups of wigeon pictured above, with about 200 noted. The wonderful colours of the wigeon were really appreciated as the sun shone on them. There were about 150 teal, also seen snoozing in the middle of the Channel in various groups as far as the Strood. The 50 shelduck on the mud were the only other ducks seen.

The main flock of brent geese appeared to be feeding on the wheat fields beyond Ray Island. When a helicopter passed overhead, 500 geese flew into view, before settling back down again. Several smaller groups of brent were seen on various mudbanks around the Hard.

The little grebe count was at least 25 birds with the majority of them visible from the suitably located Dabchicks Sailing Club. One cormorant by the Hard was the only other waterfowl seen in the water.

The resident pair of stonechats were by the seawall halfway along, while in one of the wheat fields 20 skylarks were seen feeding. Rock pipit, meadow pipit and reed bunting were also noted.

Along the East Mersea road a redwing was seen as was a sparrowhawk, while in Bromans Lane there were 10 fieldfare and a great spotted woodpecker in trees by the road.

Graham Ekins reported that he saw offshore from West Mersea on Saturday morning, great northern diver, eider, 3 common scoter, 2 Slavonian grebes, 15 great crested grebes, 5 marsh harriers over Old Hall and 2000 golden plover.

Friday, 30 November 2007

PLENTY ALONG PYEFLEET

The weather may have been dull along the Pyefleet Channel on Friday 30th but the variety of birds seen, certainly made the visit worthwhile. Only 200m section of seawall was walked but the Pyefleet didn't disappoint with plenty of bird activity in all directions.

A check of the tide-times suggested that the early afternoon visit would see the incoming tide, bringing waders closer to the shore. The incoming tide also brought one or two interesting birds swimming into the Pyefleet. The least expected was a red-throated diver which after one or two dives, flew further into the Channel. There was the added bonus of being able to see a marsh harrier in the background over Langenhoe, in the same field of view.

There was lots of marsh harrier activity with five birds seen mainly over Langenhoe, including one nicely marked male which at one point crossed high over the river Colne, sending flocks of waders beneath it into panic. I watched one female harrier fly low over the saltmarsh towards me before suddenly banking sharply away when she probably decided she had flown too close to me on top of the seawall.

Most of the dozen red-breasted mergansers seen, drifted in with the tide and one group of males were seen displaying very energetically to each other whilst bemused females looked on. A dark brown diving duck seen in the distance, was probably a female common scoter - one had been seen here yesterday.
Lots of the usual wildfowl seen included 200 wigeon, 100 teal and about 50 shelduck. For once brent geese were conspicuous by their absence with only two seen briefly in flight.

The timing for wader watching was perfect with thinly scattered groups across the mud, coming together into large concentrated flocks on the nearside of the Channel. Black-tailed godwits, pictured above, caught the eye with at least 100 feeding close in. Closer inspection revealed at least three paler-looking bar-tailed godwits alongside and a couple of avocets too.

The biggest concentrations were 500 knot and 1500 dunlin that congregated on the mud to have one last feed as the tide swept in beside them. Other waders gathered here were 70 grey plover, 100 redshank and a small group of turnstone. On Langenhoe Point there was a sizeable group of about 500 lapwing, which were forced onto the nearby saltings when the tide came in.
A green sandpiper was heard calling from the Reeveshall pool direction.

Small birds of note included a grey wagtail that crossed the Pyefleet, passing overhead as it flew westwards, a pair of stonechats and a yellowhammer. A flock of 12 finches flying along the saltmarsh were probably linnets but I did wonder if I heard one call like a twite. In a nearby hedgerow there were 10 fieldfares perched high on some bushes.

Beside the Shop Lane wood four siskin flew overhead calling and following some poorly imitated calling back to them, I was treated to close views when they landed in a tree above my head. At least three goldcrests were also heard calling from the wood and a green woodpecker was seen too. A couple of fields away a duet from two little owls yelping to each other, sparked a third bird to answer back from nearby hedgerows.

Richard Allen visited this section of the Pyefleet yesterday and noted 4 marsh harriers, peregrine, common scoter, 12 pintail and a green sandpiper. Later from the West Mersea Hard, 3 shags, red-throated diver, 20 great crested grebes and two merlins were seen by him too.