Sunday, 30 September 2007


Another high tide on Sunday 30th but the weather was gentler today with little wind. There was a reasonable amount of blue sky especially in the morning and one or two insects enjoyed the sunshine. The big attraction at the moment for many of the park insects are the various clumps of ivy in flower. One big clump around a dead elm tree was buzzing with life as bees, wasps, flies and hoverflies visited all the flowers. Two red admirals and two speckled wood butterflies also joined in the feast.

On the seawall a peacock rested by the seawall, while lots of dragonflies such as common darter, migrant hawker and southern hawker, could be seen all round the park.

The most interesting bird noted during the day was a snow bunting that was flying so high and fast that I didn't even see the bird. It called out the "tew" and rippling call-note several times as it came in off the sea, heading north-westwards as it carried on its long journey.

Few migrants were noted although blackcap and two chiffchaffs were heard as was a goldcrest - the winter migrant arriving as the summer ones prepare to leave. In the grazing fields the pair of stonechats were still present for the third day running. Also here in the afternoon were 50 curlew roosting during the high tide.


Walked along the seawall to the Point with Martin Cock in the morning of Saturday 29th. For a change there were quite a variety of small birds to look at which was just as well as the tide was well out and the waders were too far away to enjoy spending any time looking at.

On the grazing fields at least 2 stonechat perched up on some thistle stalks near the cattle. Nearby a nice flock of 35 goldfinch circled round a few times before settling down on some thistles. One yellow wagtail dropped into the grass. which is a late summer sighting for here. One had also flown over the car park earlier in the morning. Six skylarks rose into the air calling while about ten meadow pipits were also noted.

At the Point we were surprised to find another pair of stonechats perching on the sea-blite bushes with 3 reed buntings nearby for company. It was good to see the flock of about 45 linnets were still feeding amongst the bushes too, as it won't be long before they move on.

No sign of any avocets on their pool but the first brent goose of the autumn was present here though. A lesser redpoll passed overhead calling and it actually treated us to some views on the ground when it landed further along the seawall. Most autumn redpolls noted on Mersea are nearly always flying past, so it was nice to see one that wasn't in a hurry to pass us by.
Over nearby fields a group of 25 house martins and swallows looked as if they were on the move westwards.

Out in the estuary 20 avocets could be seen feeding on the east side of the river Colne but generally most waders were tiny brown specks in the distance. There was a large group of 300 dunlin on the outer edge of the mudflats near to a group of 100 larger black-tailed godwits.
A scan across the distant mudflats revealed 22 little egrets dotted along the outer edge, which is a notable single count for this area but maybe not that surprising these days.

The first small flock of 8 brent geese were seen arriving back into the Colne for the winter in their single file formation. It only seems like the other week since we were last watching them and yet they have flown all the way to Siberia and back again. They will be pleased to see the estuary hasn't been changed or altered since they were last here.

Another group of recent winter arrivals to the Island are 7 wigeon who flew over our heads. Over the next couple of months they will be joined by the rest of the regular flock of 700 birds.

In the outer river Colne a common seal briefly poked its head above the water.

Another high tide in the afternoon saw the water cover all of the saltmarsh again but at least the wind wasn't as strong as yesterday. A couple of common terns flew past on their way south to warmer seas.

During the high tide three little egrets rested in the trees by the park pond while tufted duck, two shoveler, 25 teal and gadwall were noted on the water.

Friday, 28 September 2007


The wet weather has continued into Friday 28th but at least it stayed dry for a walk to East Mersea Point. There was plenty of evidence along the beach that there had been a very high tide just after lunchtime - apparently the highest of the year so far. The tide had been right up to the bottom of the park cliff and taken away a lot of previous slumps, leaving a very clean beach.
Luckily for the south-facing cliff, the wind was a northerly so didn't get the full force of nature on it.

Sheltering from the cool wind in front of the cliff was a wheatear with a pied wagtail. Further along the beach at the Point a second wheatear was seen and perching up on the sea-blite bushes were three stonechats. Also amongst the bushes was a flock of 40 linnets feeding on the seeds of the sea-blite. Every so often they would rise into the air and circle round before dropping back down to continue feeding. Five reed buntings were also seen perching on top of the bushes.

As the tide receded hundreds of waders were watched flying back into the estuary from their roost on the higher saltmarshes at Colne Point. Many dropped down onto the nearby mud to start their eager feeding frenzy. There was the usual rich selection of waders seen from this one spot on the Point including knot, bar-tailed godwit, black-tailed godwit, curlew, oystercatcher, redshank, dunlin, grey plover, golden plover, ringed plover, snipe, turnstone and sanderling.

There was a good close view of a common seal swimming past the Point, which was close enough inshore for it to keep staring at me every time it re-surfaced. The seal seemed quite inquisitive with its large black eyes and flared nostrils trying to suss out my motives.

The loud whistle from a kingfisher had me eagerly scanning a nearby saltmarsh pool in the hope that I could glimpse a splash of colour. I didn't realise till it was too late that it had perched very close to me on a bush less than ten metres away but at least I had a great view as it sped away, showing off its brilliant blue and orange colours.

A "charm" of 20 goldfinches were feeding on thistles in the fields, whilst in the main ditch a pair of gadwall could be seen with several mallard and two shoveler.

On Thursday 27th late into the evening a badger was seen in the car headlights crossing the East Mersea road near Meeting Lane.
On Tuesday 25th I was treated to a close fly-past of the scarce clouded yellow butterfly - only the third sighting on Mersea this year.

Richard Brown saw 4 swallow, 2 house martin, 3 wheatear, 3 stonechat, yellowhammer, whimbrel, little egret and 30 ringed plover between Coopers Beach and the Youth Camp. On Wednesday 26th Richard saw an albino house martin flying over West Mersea with good numbers of house martins.

Monday, 24 September 2007


Rather windy on the Reeveshall seawall on Monday 24th early afternoon but at least it had stopped raining. Autumnal colours are starting to appear including on the saltmarshes. The picture above shows the wonderful red colour of all the glasswort plants, providing a colourful backdrop to the Pyefleet Channel.

Low tide along the channel meant waders were scattered thinly across the mud. On the near side the main waders were 20 grey plover, 25 redshank and 15 ringed plovers all facing westwards into the wind. One cormorant tried a bit of fishing in the shoppy waters while a handful of others watched from a nearby bank.

It was noticeable how the water level had dropped on the Reeveshall pool since my last visit a fortnight ago. However the only wader noticed here was a juvenile avocet feeding in the shallows. A group of 30 teal rose up in the air and circled around a few times, some coming back down again. A little egret was the only other bird of interest other than a few black-headed gulls.

In the big grass pastures a whimbrel was seen feeding along with 30 curlews. A stock dove was seen flying onto the fields to feed, while a group of 7 swallows passed swiftly over the fields heading westwards. The windy conditions meant no small birds were heard or seen but one kestrel hunted along the seawall, using the strong wind to help it glide along into the wind.

In the shelter behind a hedge several common darters and a southern hawker were seen as was a red admiral butterfly.

On Sunday 23rd, Andy Field walked along the Reeveshall seawall in much better conditions and heard two bearded tits as well as seeing 14 wheatears, merlin, 30 meadow pipits, yellow-legged gull, 50 knot, 70 black-tailed godwits, 30 grey plover, 3 avocet and more unusually a hornet.
Martin Cock saw 2 stonechats near the Oyster Fishery.

Saturday, 22 September 2007


The gremlins had been interfering with the previous posting whilst I had a week away from Mersea. Not sure why the photos didn't show but normal service has now been restored.

Back into the swing of striding along the seawalls and on Saturday 22nd there was a fleeting sunset to catch the eye, rounding off a hot day on the Island where the temperature in mid afternoon was 24 degrees C.

It was a tranquil walk along the Strood seawall in the early evening with the tide creeping slowly in. A couple of common terns in the Strood Channel took a few minutes rest on top of some boat masts. The regular wintering group of little grebes is slowly building up with seven seen not far from the aptly named Dabchicks Sailing Club. A little bit more unusual for this spot was a great crested grebe in the Channel.

Although the light was fading, the familiar calls of the redshank, curlew and grey plovers could be heard across the marshes. Two greenshanks would've been missed on the opposite side of the Channel if their loud "tew-tew-tew" calls had not been noted. Towards the Strood causeway, there were lots of gulls gathering on the edge of the saltmarshes ready for the evening roost as the tide came in.

As usual around ten little egrets were feeding along the water's edge of the Channel in different places. One by one and occasionally in pairs, they flew off to roost but strangely in different directions. Some egrets headed west as if maybe heading for the nearby Abberton reservoir, whilst other egrets went eastwards in the direction of the old priory at St Osyth about three miles to the east of the Island, where there is a regular egret roost.

In the stubble field a flock of 200 golden plovers crouched low amongst the tussocks and blending in well. A similar sized flock of more golden plover were also resting on the mudflats and no doubt would be moving soon as the tide edged nearer.

It was pleasing to see the large corn bunting flock of around 50 birds were still gathering along the reedbed beside the seawall. They seem to arrive just as the sun sets but they seem very wary and nervous and take a while to settle down. In near darkness one corn bunting appeared to fly off the side of the grassy seawall as if it was going to spend the night on the ground.
Also in the reedbed ten pied wagtails dropped in once the sun had dropped below the horizon.
The only other small birds seen were 10 meadow pipits and a reed bunting.

The last bit of daylight along the Strood with the incoming tide starting to cover the brushwood breakwaters in the picture above.

Other recent news from the Island includes a hummingbird hawkmoth seen in Andy Fields garden in West Mersea on the 20th and a good variety of birds seen by Glyn Evans whilst walking along the north side of the Island on Monday 17th.
The most unusual was a long-eared owl at Reeveshall, a water rail near the Oyster Fishery, also merlin, 4 wheatears, whinchat, 2 whimbrel, spotted redshank, 310 golden plovers, 3 marsh harriers on Mersea and 3 on Langenhoe. Two common seals were seen on the mud near Maydays.


The last few days have been sunny and warm - our Indian summer, with a parched ground to match. There was a bit more cloud and breeze on Friday 14th and this rather tatty small copper couldn't decide whether to rest up for the day, or enjoy the last of the late afternoon sunshine. Only a few small white butterflies were seen in the late afternoon whilst southern hawker, migrant hawker and common darter were seen on the wing.

The very warm days recently and the light northerly breeze have made it very difficult to find any small migrant birds in any of the hedges. They all seemed to have headed south.
One tiny bird that always makes a big impression when it turns up is a real gem, firecrest. I was lucky to have the windows and back door open to enjoy the morning warmth, when I recognised the fast but faint high pitched song of the firecrest coming from a tree by the back door. There was no sign of the bird by the afternoon and without the song to hear, tracking it down was impossible.

I grabbed the bins and was able to quickly locate one of the smallest of British birds. As it hopped from branch to branch, it showed off its distinctive and colourful head markings. Firecrests are scarce migrants to Mersea with one sighting every other year or so. However most sightings are in the spring when the males can be located by their songs.

Talking of migrants, the first stonechat of the autumn was seen at Maydays farm on Wednesday.
There are still a small group of house martins and swallows flying over fields north of the park. Most of the large flock that was present last week seems to have moved on. Even the young sand martins from the cliff have moved out and vanished from the scene.

On the park pond, a male gadwall appeared to be nearly out of his moult as he looked very recognisable and smart. Most of the 20 mallard are still moulting as is a shoveler and 15 teal.

I was told about an adder that had been found dead on the seawall having been attacked by something. Not sure what could've killed this one and can't rule out an unsympathetic human.

Had a quick walk to the Point late in the afternoon where one or two plants were still catching the eye such as this Japanese rose above, with its large fleshy hips - the size of tomatoes. The pale pink flowers were all gone on the bush except for one last rather tatty looking one.

Along the top of the strand-line on the beach were one or two sea rocket clumps with their pale lilac flowers. The plants flourish where the high tides have washed up the seeds onto the beach.

On the saltmarsh the flowers of the sea aster are providing a little bit of late summer colour. This saltmarsh plant is usually recognised with the lilac petals but there are often plants without any petals as in the back of the photo above.

The tide was just heading out at the Point and a small selection of waders were seen including 100 ringed plovers, 30 dunlin, 3 bar-tailed godwits, 10 black-tailed godwits, 50 oystercatchers, 20 curlew, 10 turnstone, 20 golden plover and an avocet. There was no linnet flock although four birds were seen flying out of the sea-blite bushes. The usual little egret was seen too.

The moth trap was switched on late in the park and by the morning a hundred moths of 20 species had been noted. This pale moth above is the L-album wainscot, strangely named but it refers to the white L shaped mark on each wing. It used to be a scarce migrant moth in Essex but it has been a regular moth to the traps here in recent autumns.

The commonest moth at the moment is this setaceous hebrew character with its fine intricate markings and subtle colours. Around 40 were in the trap by morning which bulked out the haul. Also seen were frosted orange, latticed heath, rosy rustic, angle shades, canary-shouldered thorn, garden carpet, small square spot and lots of square spot rustics.

There were several of these cryptically marked willow beauties. This one headed straight for a thick wooden post and immediately settled down with its wings spread out, its markings matching the colours of the post. It was still present several hours later in the afternoon.

Monday, 10 September 2007


It was a bit breezy on Monday 10th and any butterflies such as this red admiral, that wanted to enjoy the sun, had to find a tall sheltered bush. The footpath near the Firs Chase caravan site has a very sheltered section with lots of ivy coming into flower. Ten red admirals, comma, four speckled wood, two holly blue and a couple of small whites were seen.
Walking along Firs Chase there was a painted lady seen on some ivy which is the first for a fortnight.

The wind was noticeable whilst walking along the top of the seawall but at least the sun was shining. Only one or two small whites and a small heath were seen flying here whilst the dragonflies kept a low profile with only common darter and southern hawker seen.

The only small birds noted were four reed buntings along the edge of the borrowdyke and 15 linnets over the stubble fields. Also in one of these fields were 400 golden plover that stayed well hidden until a large group circled briefly overhead and one of the regular kestrels perched up on a telegraph pole.

There was the eyecatching sight of a family of carrion crows near the caravan site with one of the juveniles having very white wing-bars. Over the years there have often been juveniles in their first year that have varying amounts of white in the wings, which seems to moult out when they become adults.

Lots of gulls and waders waited along the edge of the saltings for the tide to drop. Mostly redshank, a few curlews and grey plovers, while various gulls such as great black-backed, lesser black-backed, herring, common and black-headed gulls were all waiting patiently.
The yellow-legged gull has been seen recently on a few occasions at its usual spot on the Strood but there was no sign today.

In the distance east of the Strood a male marsh harrier could be seen flying low over the channel to the mainland. Around 10 little egrets were seen over and alongside the saltmarsh with some taking up their fishing positions on brushwood breakwaters that happen to trap fish as the tide recedes. The picture below shows some of these brushwood breakwaters - or polder scheme.

The channels and creeks don't always look brown and murky, especially if the sky above is blue - and toady was one of those blue days!
The best part about the Strood Channel at high tide today was the lack of speed-boats roaring back and forwards. The birds were able to enjoy the Channel for themselves.


Put a bit of thought into where I should walk on the Island on Sunday 9th where I might see some different wildlife. I opted for the south side between Coopers Beach and the Youth Camp as the timing of my walk was coinciding with the back of the high tide. This meant that I would have a good close up view of the waders feeding on the newly exposed mud. Those little brown confusing waders that scurry around and blend in well with the muddy background - that's what appealed to me today!

This section of coast is a favoured spot for sanderling and some of the largest counts for the Island over the years have come from the stretch, usually just as the tide is dropping. Sanderling are still arriving back from northern breeding grounds and so far, not many have been seen. Sure enough a small group of 8 sanderling scurried along the beach like wound-up clockwork toys. Some of the birds still had rich brown streaks on the head and back while others were already fading into their silvery winter plumage.

Ten dunlin snoozed while they waited for the tide to drop but it wasn't long before the first flock of other birds arrived. Fifty ringed plovers and 20 other dunlin timed their arrival perfectly and soon blended into the mud. I searched for more sanderling as more waders flew into feed but couldn't find anymore.

Having scanned through 100 ringed plovers, 50 dunlin and 300 golden plover, the patience was rewarded when I recognised two curlew sandpipers - an unexpected bonus. These are usually seen most autumns on Mersea in very small numbers and always along the Pyefleet. It was an unexpected sighting for here but as they're normally always with dunlin, it always pays to first find your dunlin flock. However the dunlin flocks have been rather hard to find so far this autumn.

I was getting close views with the binoculars of these juvenile curlew sandpipers as they fed only 30 metres from the seawall while I looked down on them. I watched them for about ten minutes as they plodded about on the mud and when they took a bath in one of the little pools, they flashed their diagnostic white rumps for me. They also let out an excited "chirrup" call too, just to remind me of their call-note.

Surprisingly there were few other waders seen, such as redshank or grey plovers, except for a few curlews and fifty oystercatchers further to the east on the mudflats.

Almost a mile offshore I strained my eyes watching a large flock of gulls and terns feeding on a shoal of fish at sea. About 200 birds circled round, dropping repeatedly onto and into the water after fish. One of the long shingle islands off Seaview Avenue appeared to have a group of around 100 common terns resting on it with many birds flying over to join the gulls feeding.

The little sandy beach by the Youth Camp has one of the best stands of sea holly on the Island with several hundred plants of varying size. Since my last visit a few months ago, the erosion has taken its toll and quite a few plants have been lost. The plants seem to have quite a long flowering season and one or two of the blue spiky flowers were still attracting insects such as this red-tailed bumble bee.

Whilst waiting for the tide to drop I scanned the grass fields, fence-posts and bushes of the Rewsalls Marshes for other signs of activity. The only wheatear seen was by the Youth Camp just where I decided I had walked far enough. A total of ten pied wagtails were seen on the walk whilst 12 house sparrows is worth noting for the area and four meadow pipits fed along the seaweed on the seawall.

There was a fleeting view of a male marsh harrier flying low over the back of the fields as it looked for prey. A kestrel perched up in a bush also on the look-out and one little egret flew high over the area as it headed off to the north.

The view back up the track alongside the Coopers Beach caravan park, looking towards East Mersea church. This track with its public footpath is quite unusual to walk along as the hedges on either side are still predominantly elm. Several ivy clumps are in flower and red admiral, small white and comma butterflies were noted. In the trees near the church were ten mistle thrushes and a great spotted woodpecker while in bushes at the south end towards the seawall was a tit flock including ten long-tailed tits.

Both Andy Field and Martin Cock had their walks along Reeveshall and had less to report than yesterday, although the whinchat and two wheatears were still present.

Also heard from Ian Black that he had close views of a harbour porpoise whilst he was in a boat in the Blackwater, Lorraine Cope was first to see it with the question - "What seal has a fin along it's back?"As reported earlier, there have been several recent sightings in the local waters of a porpoise, so it sounds like one is hanging around.


It seemed to be hard work trying to find anything of note along Reeveshall on Saturday 8th. Despite plenty of mud on show and little wind, there was very little activity. It was still quite warm although the sun failed to shine in the afternoon.

The main highlight was watching the male marsh harrier crossing the Pyefleet Channel three times in two hours from Mersea to feed its two well-grown chicks on Langenhoe Point. Each time the young would rise up to meet the adult, calling loudly for the food, which it would then lob over for the young to catch with its outstretched talons. When the young landed and lifted the prey in its beak it looked like a brown rat from Mersea that had been caught. The second prey item could not be seen clearly but the third successful hunting foray appeared to bring in a bird like a young moorhen.
An adult female marsh harrier was also seen in the distance flying around on Langenhoe and probably from a different family.

Waders were more thinly dispersed along the Pyefleet than usual. The wader tally for the walk just managed to reach ten species and without the ever present redshank, the mud would've been really deserted. Calls were heard from spotted redshank and whimbrel but neither were seen.

On the Pool 3 snipe dropped in to join 4 black-tailed godwit, 12 lapwing and a green sandpiper. A group of 20 black-tailed godwits fed in the nearby grass field with a few curlews. Also on the pool were a pair of dabchicks, just one teal and a little egret.

Perched on a bush by the pool was a whinchat who seemed happy to sit still for quite a time. On the ground nearby was a wheatear running about after some insects. Very few other small birds were noticed on the walk.

Out on the big grass fields at least 16 stock doves were seen feeding in scattered groups. The most bird activity on the fields belonged to the big regular group of crows, flying around and feeding on the ground. The mixed flock of around 200 birds involved mainly rooks and jackdaws but with a few carrion crows too.

On the mammal front two common seals were basking on their usual area of the Pyefleet on the mud, while my eager little companion Monty's keen sense of smell alerted me to a brown hare crouching down in the field fifty metres away.

Dropping down off the seawall there was the wonderful aromatic smell coming from the clumps of sea wormwood. The greyish-green clumps have a foothold along the lower part of the seawall, never any higher on top of the seawall and never any lower out on the main part of the saltmarsh. Positioning themselves just out of reach of the high tides, as in the picture above.

Andy Field visited Reeveshall earlier in the day and had a more rewarding walk. The highlight was a common buzzard which flew over Reeveshall, also a spotted flycatcher in Shop Lane was a good record. Also on Reeveshall he saw a second wheatear, two yellow wagtails, 100 grey plover and a marsh harrier hunting over Reeveshall.

Saturday, 8 September 2007


Went for a walk round the park and to East Mersea Point with Nick Green and the picture above is to prove that he's been spotted out and about after his self-imposed hibernation whilst helping to write a book. He showed me the amazingly detailed and authoritative new book about the Birds of Essex, which he has been heavily involved in editing with the author Simon Wood for the last nine years.
The brand new book has not reached the book-stores from India yet but having seen Nick's own advanced copy, I'll have to make sure I place an order soon as I won't be waiting for Christmas before I get my copy!

The book will be a valuable reference for many different aspects of birds that have been documented through the ages across Essex. Every species has been thoroughly researched and their status and fortunes over the years comprehensively documented. Mersea Island has contributed lots of useful sightings and counts too, all helping to provide a fuller picture of birds in the county.

In my brief flick through the book and recognising references to one or two personal bird records for Mersea , there is that little bit of satisfaction in knowing that all those hours spent out on the seawall, quite often provides a sighting of note in a county context.
Nick and I set out on our walk, eager to provide more interesting Mersea records for the second edition of the book!

Near the park entrance we admired a male yellowhammer which sat up on a bush, showing off his bright yellow head and overhead a yellow wagtail flew past. It was fairly quiet at the pond with a couple of tufted ducks, five teal and about 15 mallard on show. A chiffchaff could be heard calling and a stock dove was singing.
In the last couple of days up to 3 little egrets have been roosting here at high tide and a song thrush seen was the first for a month while two turtle doves were seen on a nearby hedge with a second couple in the car park.

At the Point there was still the large linnet flock of around 90 birds which is becoming a scarce sight in the county these days. Over the nearby fields there was a group of 15 goldfinches looking for thistles, 2 more yellow wagtails flew overhead and a lesser whitethroat was seen briefly.
On the mud 3 avocets from the local family were seen and 170 golden plovers were counted resting. Some distant black-tailed godwits and a small dunlin flock were also noted.

The moth trap was put out on Thursday night with plenty of cloud cover and no breeze, this big beast of a great silver diving beetle was attracted in. Finally after a poor mothing season there was a box full of moths to admire in the morning at 6.30am. This was the best night of the summer with about 300 moths of 36 species with the majority of moths being square spot rustics, setaceous hebrew characters and large yellow underwings.

A couple of pale orange treble lines were noted, as was centre barred sallow - the first one of the autumn. Amongst all the brown moths were several others noted with different colours such as the green carpet and this fresh looking brindled green pictured below.

Enjoyed an evening walk along the Strood seawall for the last hour and a half on Friday. Although the tide was already covering a lot of mud, there were still plenty of birds close to the Strood causeway at the eastern end. Up to 2000 gulls mostly black-headed gulls were flying in from the nearby fields to roost on the mud - or soon to be water when the tide reaches here. Fifty grey plovers were having one last feed amongst lots of redshank. Three greenshank were also seen and 10 little egrets stalked various shallows.

I was fortunate to catch the low-flying flash of blue belonging to a kingfisher along the borrow-dyke. I watched it perch for a minute on a metal rod surveying the murky ditch water, before it hurtled away along the dyke, up over the seawall and probably along the saltmarsh towards the Strood Hill reservoirs. This is the first post-breeding kingfisher that I have heard of this summer on the Island. Also heading to the reservoirs were 30 pied wagtails who dropped down into the reeds there for the night.

Tucked among the tussocks of the nearby stubble field were 200 golden plover settling down for the night, their presence almost went unnoticed except for a few calling out.

The sun dropped down with another golden sunset across the Strood Channel to catch the eye
Birds were still gathering to roost and in the borrow-dyke reedbed was a group of up to 40 corn buntings. Like the linnet flock earlier in the day, this is a scarce sight in Essex now, being able to see a late summer flock of corn buntings. Some of the birds were also flushed from the side of the seawall where they were possibly having one last feed amongst the old bristly-ox tongue plants. In previous years I have flushed corn buntings from the side of seawalls at dusk so I wonder if they roost on the ground sometimes.
Also in the reeds were a couple of reed warblers calling and the sight of a sedge warbler. The last bird noted was a local kestrel perched up on a telegraph pole in the fields.

Thursday, 6 September 2007


It turned quite muggy when the sun finally came out on Wednesday 5th at Cudmore Grove. Taking to the air were lots of these leaf beetles, off in search of a new life. They were easy to spot as they climbed to the top of any tall object and like flying ants, they could then launch themselves into the air.

When they opened their shiny dark olive wing-cases, out popped the bright red wings, exposing the colourful orange body. As you looked around the area of grassland just behind the beach, the air was filled with lots of beetles buzzing around.

On one of the wooden benches in the park there must have been about a hundred of these beetles pacing around, getting ready for take-off, or hiding-up inside crevices. Close-up the red-legs show up very clearly. This mass emergence has often been seen in previous Septembers on warm days but this year seems much more noticeable.

One creature that was on the move but came to rest on the park beach is this striking compass jellyfish. It has been seen here before but it is not as common as the moon jellyfish, which comes ashore in large numbers in June and July. The compass jellyfish is named after the pattern of rays like a compass. It apparently can deliver quite a painful sting to humans and the children that were with me when we found this specimen, luckily treated it with respect.

I was fortunate to be glancing out to the mouth of the river Colne and saw the brief glimpse of a creature rapidly break the surface of the water before it dived under again. Although I was over half a mile away, I kept watching the same area of water because the more regular and familiar cormorants and seals usually come up for air for longer and this "thing" didn't behave like either of them. Patience paid off and I could see it was a harbour porpoise swimming out of the river. The short and blunt dorsal fin quickly appeared above water as the porpoise surfaced for air, before diving back down again. I sat down and tried to follow its movements for about ten minutes, trying to guess where it would come up next, sometimes waiting for over a minute to re-locate it. There could have been a pair of them but I wasn't able to see two together surfacing at the same time as definite proof.
I had good views last year of a pair of porpoises swimming past the East Mersea Point and there have been a few corpses washed up on the East Mersea beaches in recent years.

Birdwise the outgoing tide in the morning meant lots of waders around - unfortunately they were becoming distant specks on the mud. Two groups of golden plover rested on the mud totalling 300 birds. Three avocets from the local breeding family had returned to the saltmarsh pools near the Point.

At the Point it was great to see a linnet flock of over 100 birds feeding on the sea-blite bushes and on the saltmarsh. Autumn linnet flocks used to be regular and long-staying but numbers have dropped fast in recent years and sizeable flocks rarely stay for long anywhere on the Island now.
A group of 18 common terns concentrated their fishing in the river where there appeared to be a small shoal of fish swimming close to the surface. Gulls and terns repeatedly circled round to swoop or dive into the water after the small fry.

For most of the day there has been a big flock of about 250 house martins and swallows flying over the fields and the park. It's difficult to tell if any were actually on the move during the day as the numbers seemed to be constant for the whole day but they did fly around a great deal.
A few sand martins were mixed in with them and some still have hungry mouths to feed in the nearby cliff. One hole had four young heads lined up in a row at the entrance waiting for a parent to come back with food.

On the warbler front there were still one or two whitethroats, lesser whitethroats, chiffchaffs and blackcaps in some of the hedgerows. In the reeds along the dyke a couple of reed warblers were seen but no whinchats or wheatears to be seen today.

Martin Cock reported seeing 3 turtle doves, sedge warbler and reed warbler in the park on Tuesday while Richard Brown saw whinchat and a couple of wheatears near the seawall the day before. The tawny owl was seen just inside the park entrance late on Monday night - the first sighting for two or three weeks.

The warm weather brought out a few butterflies such as speckled wood, small heath, holly blue, green-veined white, small white and large white. Dragonflies included southern hawker, migrant hawker, ruddy darter and lots of common darters.

Moths were checked at both ends of Wednesday with a reasonable haul in the morning to check. This frosted orange was one of 25 species caught and is one of the regular early autumn moths here. Of the 130 moths trapped, nearly half were setaceous hebrew characters. Others noted were oak hook-tip, white-point, latticed heath and treble-bar.

The evening ended with a failed attempt by members of the Essex Moth Group to survey moths on the army firing ranges of the nearby Langenhoe Marsh. Unfortunately our army contact failed to show up with the key as planned, so the four traps were set up outside and just inside the main entrance.

Apart from the expected moths attracted to the bright lights, we also managed to draw in the police who came to investigate this strange night-time activity at the end of a remote country lane. Like some of the moths in the area, they only paid a fleeting visit before allowing us to soldier-on.
Moths noted during the first two hours of darkness included lots of feathered gothics, tawny barred angle, bulrush wainscot, green carpet, marbled beauty and brindled green.

Monday, 3 September 2007


Sunshine on Saturday 1st September brought out a good variety of life, most enjoying the warmth as they sheltered from the cool northerly breeze. This comma was one of several butterflies on the wing, the first day for some time that it has been warm enough for them. Others seen included common blue, small heath, small white, green-veined white, speckled wood, red admiral and peacock.

Dragonfly numbers are getting to their peak here in the park with good numbers of common darters basking or resting on bushes, fenceposts, paths etc. Several of the larger southern hawkers were also seen and migrant hawkers too along some of the sheltered paths.

Two adders were seen in their usual spots in the park while my only view of a common lizard was in the collecting jar of one of the young local budding naturalists, young Finn aged about 7. He proudly showed me the young lizard before he gave it back its freedom.

One of the eye-catching bushes at the moment is this guelder rose with its very poisonous red berries.

The expanse of long grass in the park is ideal for many grasshoppers and crickets especially this very common Roesels bush cricket. This female with its long scythe-shaped egg-laying ovipositor, came into the house for a change of scenery. This little bush cricket is responsible for adding some life and atmosphere to any walk along the Mersea seawalls in summer with its constant buzzing sound like a sewing machine. The sunnier the day, the more these little buzzers sing.

One of the less showy crickets is the dark bush cricket which seems to come more to life at dusk especially along the hedgerows where it sits and chirps from the thickets of brambles and nettlebeds.

Locating bird activity in the evening was slow but the time passed in the hide watching the cows and their young calves munching their way across the pond-field. The nearby hedges and bushes during the day had only a few whitethroats and lesser whitethroats seen along with a chiffchaff and willow warbler too.

The little egret roosted above the pond during the high tide while below teal numbers increased to ten. Many of the 25 mallard are still moulting and nearby tufted duck, ruddy duck and shoveler were also present.

Up to 50 swallows, house martins and one or two sand martins flew around the park and neighbouring fields. Some sand martins were seen still feeding young in the cliff.

Two foxes were out on the prowl as the light faded with both of them appearing from the same corner of the field. After emerging into the grass field they stopped to survey the scene for rabbits as well as monitoring where the herd of cattle were heading.

Two moth traps were run through the night and for once the cloud cover didn't break and the breeze lightened. Over 120 moths of about 25 species was a lot better than recent cool nights produced. Despite the haul no new moths for the season were recorded. This suitably named blood-vein pictured above often turns up and is quite a widespread moth.

One of the most noticeable moths at the moment is the light emerald pictured below, with its washed out pale green colour. Along with the brimstone moth they are one of the easiest to see in the torchlight as they rest on the grass near the trap.
Other moths seen included frosted orange, burnished brass, canary-shouldered thorn, rosy rustic, latticed heath and a pair of spectacles.