Thursday, 31 May 2007


How grumpy can a chick look? On a day like today - very! I nearly stood on this motionless bundle of feathers in my front garden at the park on a very sodden bank holiday Monday 28th. This very young great tit chick had only just flown the nest with its fellow siblings a few minutes earlier, as it had only managed to get about 7 metres away. I could hear its young brothers and sisters calling from the bush close-by.
What a miserable introduction to the big, wild and very wet outside. It had rained almost continuously over the weekend, finally dumping around 3 inches of rain here at East Mersea.

The picture below shows the delightful "bijou-res" where the tits successfully raised a family this week. Down inside the hollow breeze-block, in the rear column supporting my fuel tank. Last year chaffinches managed to rear their family here and the year before another great tit pair were the first to use this site.
In my rear garden another pair of great tits who had evicted the regular blue tits from a nest box earlier in the season, got their young brood up and out a few days ago. Meanwhile the homeless blue tits came round to the front garden and raised their brood under the red roof tiles, just out of picture. This family chose to leave their roof over the heads on this wet day too.
It was not a day for being out and about and not surprisingly, there were neither many visitors to the park or even much wildlife to watch. A group of about ten swallows were hawking low down along some trees that offered them some shelter from the driving rain. Surprisingly the garrulous nightingale by the park entrance was even heard singing in the rain.

On the park pond the usual ducks such as tufted duck, ruddy duck and mallard revelled in the downpour. They were joined by a male pochard when I peered through the rain drops in the middle of the afternoon.
Visibility was poor for the whole day and even the opposite side of the river Colne was difficult to make out under the big grey skies. Here at East Mersea Point even the sea scouts had packed up their sailing gear and gone back to their sodden tents.

Out on the mudflats apart from the usual oystercatchers, one lone bar-tailed godwit was seen while 8 turnstones took advantage of a deserted beach to search through the seaweed on the strand-line. Many of the turnstones were sporting their bright white heads which always seems so eye-catching probably because we get so used to seeing large flocks daily here during the winter when they all have brown heads.

Thursday, 24 May 2007


Thursday 24th was party night for members of the local Mersea Wildlife Forum at Cudmore Grove Country Park. We know how to have a good time while we watch our wildlife - washing down various snacks with a glass of shiraz.
The local rabbits came out in their usual waves from the long grass to indulge in their own evening party, snacking on the green grass.

This is the only outdoor meeting of the Wildlife Forum held during the year and 24 members had to endure a leisurely evening stroll around the park to build up an appetite. We saw a couple of red admirals catching the late evening sun, a couple of skylarks pouring their rich songs out as tiny pin-pricks high in the sky, the swan family with cygnets, ruddy duck, tufted ducks and mallard with three ducklings. Sadly neither of the two nightingales sang for us although one did call out repeatedly and a few of us managed to catch a brief glimpse of a fox cub dashing for cover.
The warm sunshine earlier in the day brought out several butterflies such as this pretty holly blue with its ice cold blue colour to the underwings. Speckled wood, peacock, orange-tip, small heath and small white were some of the other butterflies seen. Few dragonflies have been seen so far although there was a second sighting of a black-tailed skimmer flying low over the grass.

Back to Thursday evening. After the last of the members of the Forum left, the moth trap was set out in my back garden in cloudy, warm and still conditions - perfect for moths. In fact it was the best night for variety so far this year and by the time the light was switched off at 4.15am, 37 species of "macro-moths" totalling 120 individuals had been noted. The highlights as usual were the big boys - two poplar hawkmoths and 8 cream-spot tigers. Also of note were oak hook-tip, pale tussock, silver-Y, white ermine,Shoulder-striped wainscot, common marbled carpet, blood vein, clouded sliver, white-point, 20 marbled minors, snout, willow beauty, common wave, shears, sandy carpet and treble lines.

This moth below has an easy way to remember the name as the white scribbled mark on its wing has given it the name, figure of eighty - as if it has been branded on.
This lively but eye-catching little moth below has the long name, cream-bordered green pea. The green colour makes it stand out from the other moths but amongst the foliage it is perfectly camouflaged. I think this is the first record for the Island.


After a few dull days recently, Tuesday 22nd turned out to be sunny and warm. The beach at Cudmore Grove has been relatively deserted both for birds and people. High tide in the late afternoon saw one or two common and little terns flying past.

The moth trap was put out on Monday night and being overcast and still, it was rewarding with 30 species noted such as this common moth pictured above - the burnished brass. This average sized moth looks brownish at first glance but a second glance especially with a torch, reveals an incredible brass sheen on its wings. This dazzling shine is a marvel of nature and would beat any brass rubbing enthusiasts hands down - all without the aid of Brasso.
Other moths included two poplar hawks, four cream-spot tigers, pale oak beauty, green carpet, clouded border, Shoulder-striped wainscots, common wainscot, silver Y, peppered moth, willow beauty and light emerald.

Several vertical columns of pink stood on the cliff in the shape of foxgloves. Just coming into flower they should add some colour to the area over the two or three weeks.

In the park two green hairstreaks were seen tussling with each other near the hide, spiralling round and round in a frantic pursuit of each other. When they settled on nearby bushes, their green undersides instantly blended in with the foliage. The cuckoo was seen perched in a bush near the pond calling loudly. Four avocets were still present on the pools near the Point.

Just before dusk a fox family with the vixen and three cubs, were watched behind the pond. The cattle grazing nearby seemed to be hugely fascinating to these two-thirds from full-size cubs. They sat down with their typical upright posture, staring intently at the big cows. Every so often they would pin their little furry ears back and race round in circles as they tried to inspire their siblings to play.

Apart from the usual pipistrelle bats flying around the park at night, I was pleased to find the droppings of the lone long-eared bat in its usual night-time resting spot in the ladies toilets - where else?

Martin Cock saw the continental race of yellow wagtail called blue-headed wagtail, near Rewsalls Farm.
Martin Dence reported that he watched a spotted flycatcher near his pond at Bromans Farm- the only report of this species on the Island this spring. Also a reed warbler there and a pair of yellow wagtails in his horse paddock. The kestrels and barn owls appear to be nesting again in boxes in his barns.


An evening stroll on Monday 21st along the Pyefleet may have been under dull skies but there were plenty of highlights to make the walk enjoyable. Walking along the Reeveshall seawall provides you with a tranquil setting where almost as far as the eye can see, you have the place to yourself. Even the sheep and the cows seem surprised to see anyone in this area.

The tide was out and the amount of passage waders seen were counted on just the one hand - one grey plover and four dunlin. The other waders seen such as redshank, oystercatcher, ringed plover and lapwing will all be local breeders. Two pairs of great crested grebes fishing in the channel is unusual for this area in the spring. A pair of Canada geese clambered into the water keeping an anxious watch over their three very young goslings, swimming them across to Pewit Island to safety. Dotted along the Pyefleet were up to 50 shelduck feeding on the mud.

On Langenhoe, the marsh harriers were very active even up until almost dusk. On a couple of occasions up to four harriers could be seen together in the same field of view through the binoculars. One female seemed to relish upsetting the vast gull colony on the nearby Rat Island whenever it flew over. Upwards of 3000 birds all rose as one huge white-out, like shaking one of those toy snow scenes. The harrier dropped onto the ground on several occasions but never seemed to rise up with any gull chicks or other food.

Reeveshall was almost silent except for the sporadic bleating of the lambs. Thirty grey lag geese and 12 Canada geese had a whole pasture to themselves with one or two brown hares keeping a low profile. A male corn bunting sang from one of the very remote hedges near the Maydays / Reeveshall seawall, so remote there didn't seem to be any other corn buntings around to admire his song.

As dusk approached 20 sand martins and a few swallows dashed back and forwards across the Pyefleet as if checking out suitable reedbeds to spend the night in. The best bird was saved till last when the ghostly sight of a barn owl was seen flying high over the seawall, heading over the water to hunt on the Langenhoe side. I watched it for several minutes as it made the crossing safely although one gull was brave enough to mob it half-heartedly.

Driving past the field at the south end of Shop Lane, a vixen fox was seen trotting back to the woodland where I realised three young cubs were exploring their surroundings.

The previous day Steve Entwhistle had a whinchat and two wheatears here at Reeveshall, both migrants on their way north.

Monday, 21 May 2007


The Sunday morning walk along the St Peters area of West Mersea was brightened up considerably by this immaculate looking small tortoiseshell butterfly, seen basking by the path. Few were seen last year but already it seems a slightly better year for them. This one is very fresh looking with no faded markings or corners of wings missing.

The sunny day brought out the usual holly blues around the gardens, small whites and orange-tips as well as the ever increasing speckled wood butterflies.
Only one reed warbler was heard from the reedbed and there was a brief song from one of the two whitethroats in the area.
High tide in the Mersea Quarters provided a very tranquil scene with all the yachts and boats. The islands of Cobmarsh and Packing Shed were where most of the bird activity was concentrated, especially those breeding. Usual suspects seen were the numerous herring, lesser black-backed and black-headed gulls, the noisy oystercatchers, one or two ringed plovers and flying nearby the common and little terns.
On one section of beach is this very colourful sea spurge in flower. It seems an unusual combination of deep red stalks, green leaves and yellow flowers. This plant of sandy beaches used to have quite a restricted range along the mid Essex coast, partly because most of the coast is saltmarsh. It has recently been extending its coverage and certainly on Mersea it is now dotted along several beaches on the south side almost to the country park at the eastern end.
The warm weather and an afternoon high tide tempted Nolly, Monty and myself onto the water to do a spot of island hopping. Our little dinghy carried us over to the nearby Ray Island, a large expanse of saltmarsh and scrub sandwiched between Mersea Island and the mainland.

Ignoring the sound of the jet-skies and the water-skiers roaring up and down the main Strood channel, the more peaceful Ray channel offers a tranquil setting unique to the Essex marshes.

The vast flat expanse of saltmarshes were still saturated from the recent high tide and as you scanned the marsh, little patches of thrift caught the eye. The dense network of creeks, channels and pools stretch as far as the eye can see and trying to find the one and only access path from the nearest road seemed daunting. Luckily we could use our small dinghy to get home.
Ray Island is unusual in Essex in having scrubby woodland right on the edge of the high tides. This extensive thicket is still home to all sorts of wildlife and many birds often fly between the Ray and Mersea, or often use it a staging post to the mainland. At least two cuckoos were seen together being chased by meadow pipits and a possible third one sat in a bush close to us calling loudly away. Only a singing blackcap, two chaffinches and some linnets were noted during our brief stay.

As we rowed back down the channel, the little terns and common terns continued to patrol up and down, occasionally plunge-diving into the water after small fish. A greyish male marsh harrier crossed over the channel being chased by a crow, whilst later a second harrier could be seen passing over a nearby farmer's field.

Bird calls travelled a long way in the peaceful surroundings and a lone whimbrel whistled his distinctive seven note call as he flew past. High up an avocet flew fast calling loudly as it went. As more mud became uncovered the gulls and oystercatchers got more and more excited.

Saturday, 19 May 2007


Never mind Sunset Boulevard, Mersea has it's own memorable walk when you stroll along the seawall in the evening. Here the sun is setting behind Ray Island having delivered some reasonable sunshine for most of Saturday 19th. The last hour of the daylight was peaceful except where the birds were concerned.

There weren't many birds singing but what ones there were, provided a constant musical accompaniment for the whole mile-long walk. Whitethroat first on top of bush and then at least four corn buntings jangling merrily away from various bush tops, four reed warblers chattered endlessly from the reedbeds, whilst skylark, reed bunting and meadow pipit added to the chorus.
A yellow wagtail joined up with some pied wagtails while hopping along the path in front of me were two wheatears. The gentle breeze blowing from the Ray Island carried the song of the cuckoo loud and clear.

There was little to see along the Strood Channel as the tide was right out but two little terns hawked up and down and a little egret was seen flying off to roost.

Friday, 18 May 2007


We've always been proud of our sunrises and sunsets on Mersea. Now the word is out and the recent Sunday Times article listed a Mersea sunrise as the number 98th way to make this summer memorable. "See The Sun Rise - on the beach at Mersea Island, near Colchester, Essex with a flask of hot tea."

This dramatic sky pictured above, greeted me when I rose early at 4.45am as I checked the moth trap. It seemed as if the sky couldn't decide whether to give us a nice sunny day or more miserable skies. The clouds low down reflected a deep red glow contrasting with shades of grey and black higher up. A few minutes later the bright red orb beamed out setting the tone for blue skies all day.

The milder and drier end to Thursday inspired me to put out a second moth trap with the result being a very productive night. Sixty moths of about thirty four species has been the best evening so far this year. Even the little pipistrelle bats were watched at about 1 am swooping low after incoming moths, without any luck.

Star moth was this spectacular large Eyed-hawkmoth which was first spotted fluttering along the ground towards the light. It is a bit shy about showing off its' best feature - the brillantly marked and colourful hindwings,each with a large blue"eye".

In the daylight the moth stands still as it imitates some loose bark, holding its wings at a very unnatural angle to its body, as in the photo below. Most moths tuck their wings up close to the body, helping them to remain compact and inconspicuous.
The poplar hawkmoth was also seen again and like the eyed-hawk, it too holds its wings stiffly out.
Two cream-spot tiger moths came in early in the evening and this one obliged by holding open its wings, whilst resting inside the trap. The black and yellow tiger markings show up well.
Other new moths for the year included pale tussock, pale oak beauty, common swift, pale brocade, pearly underwing, clouded border, green carpet, flame, cabbage, nutmeg and lime-speck pug.
Mersea can still do colourful fields of wild flowers - although you have to be quick to spot them!
This blanket of yellow just north of the country park is beaked hawksbeard taking over a grass field. The flowers are at their most striking when the sun shines on them in the morning. The warm weather brought out about a dozen small heath butterflies along the edge of the field.

This saltmarsh pool near East Mersea Point seems to offer some good feeding for waders and it was a pleasant surprise to see two pairs of avocets feeding in the pool. Standing up to their bellies, the birds swept their curved bills from side to side in a sort of synchronised feeding. It would be nice if they stayed around and thought about nesting for the first time here.

At the park pond, it is difficult trying to keep tabs on all the young wildfowl around. Are all the youngsters present in each brood and are there any fresh broods newly appeared? Mallard ducklings have dwindled to five from thirteen whilst female ruddy duck, tufted duck and pochard, still have plenty of time to raise their families.

Two mistle thrushes got very agitated over the presence of a male sparrowhawk in the area and soon chased it off. A willow warbler singing was probably a migrant just stopping off, while the nightingale continues to sing loudly from the car park.

Butterflies in the park of note were a pair of green hairstreaks tussling with each other in the car park, the first common blue by the hide as well as the usual peacock, speckled wood, small white, green-veined white and large white.


Weather in recent days has been unsettled with lots of showers. We've had to make do with short bursts of sunshine and normally with a fresh breeze thrown in for good measure too. The mothing has been poor despite offering the moths a roof over their heads and shelter from the rain if they visited my trap in my garden at the country park - as pictured above.

Sadly few took up the offer although there was this colourful red and black cinnabar moth that made it through the drizzle on Tues 15th. This moth is sometimes seen in the daytime looking for ragwort plants to lay eggs on.

Out of the darkness came this apparition pictured below, spiralling round and round towards the bright light. This ghostly looking moth is the light emerald, which usually has a very washed out hint of green colour to the wings.

The moth which has made the national news in recent days has involved the brown-tail moth and especially its caterpillars, like the one below. Various communities have been affected and worried, about the nasty irritations that these bristles can cause to people's skin. Here at the country park there have always been several bushes dotted about the place with the caterpillars stripping the leaves.

A few years ago I watched a cuckoo in the park having a great feast on these caterpillars for several minutes, hopping from branch to branch, picking them off with ease. Cuckoos love bristly caterpillars and suffer no ill effects from eating them.

The first dragonfly of the year was seen on Wednesday with a black-tailed skimmer doing a bit of sunbathing on a bush.There haven't been many opportunities for insects to enjoy the sun recently, although many just seem to be enjoying the rapid growth of all the different plants. One clump of nettles that was given a cursory glance had all sorts of life such as scorpion flies, cardinal beetles, tiny bush crickets, azure damselflies, drinker moth caterpillar, blood-vein moth and various spiders.

Birdwise, the second family of swans have now hatched out with six cygnets from the nest by the dyke. The parents were gingerly trying to walk the cygnets' tiny feet across the grass field, whilst hoping the nearby herd of cows wouldn't notice. The worries were obviously too much, as the parents turned the little fluffy grey balls around and headed back to a nearby creek. I trust they kept them away from a heron that was on the prowl.

Over the fields flew 12 sand martins, the largest group this spring. A meadow pipit rose up into the air singing his heart out before holding his wings out and parachuting slowly back to the ground. The incoming tide meant few waders on show although four whimbrel whistled overhead.

The nightingale in the car park has been putting on a great display during Thursday. Early on I had brillant views of the bird high up in a bare branch singing with such gusto that you could see the pale feathers on the throat puffing out with each burst of song. In the evening Ian Black stopped his car to listen to the bird as he drove out of the car park and was amazed that the bird came and landed on his car bonnet. It then flew to the nearby hedge to continue singing.
The second nightingale beside the pond was also heard singing. He hasn't been as vociferous as last year.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007


Lots of rain on Sunday 13th kept many visitors away from the country park. The local bunnies had the place to themselves and all the recent rain has provided them with plenty of fresh grass growth. Everywhere you look there are rabbits of all ages and sizes with good numbers of young ones to keep the population probably far too healthy.
The car park here is deserted in the middle of the afternoon as the rain pelts it down. Earlier in the day I had stood just left of centre in the picture above, admiring the rich and loud song of the nightingale singing his heart out from the hedgerow. The male was serenading a mate who was quietly calling from a nearby bush. You could almost feel the intensity of the sound waves being broadcast out by the male bird. Like normal nightingales it stayed well hidden and out of sight.

Whilst enjoying listening to one bird so quintessential of the countryside, my ears latched onto the song of another bird typical of English springs - the cuckoo. I looked up to see not one cuckoo flying over the field towards the park calling but two others with it too. A rare sight to see three together and maybe this was one female being pursued by two rival males, each one eager to be the successful suitor.

Whilst talking to Martin Dence a hobby flew over the park and headed west with occasional glides but when it beat its wings the distinctive rakish swift-like flight helped power it into the distance. Martin also reported seeing a wheatear on the beach.

Late in the day the weather improved and the sun shone onto the mudflats as the tide came in. There was a surprisingly large number of dunlin feeding with about 300 having to keep changing their feeding grounds as more mud got covered. Noisy as ever were 70 oystercatchers also forced closer to the shore.

On the park pond the six cygnets stayed very close to mum as she pulled up algae for the youngsters to pick at. Three pairs of tufted duck snoozed to one side whilst a second male ruddy duck has joined the resident pair. Seven young mallard ducklings foraged amongst the shelter of some tall reedmace. The loud fluty song of a blackcap was sung with great gusto from the top of a bush near the pond as if reinvigorated after the persistent rains earlier in the day.

Saturday, 12 May 2007


Despite the current spell of wet and windy weather, the moth trap was put out at the country park on the night of Friday 11th. Most creatures obviously had the sense not to fly around, so there was little to see in the trap in the morning - except for....a poplar hawkmoth. This chunky and large moth has a strange wing profile, which probably resembles some loose tree bark. It is very docile to handle and clings on tight to anything it is standing on. If it feels threatened it flicks open its wings so that it can flash a chestnut patch on each hind-wing.

The moth was caught regularly last summer and as the name implies, the foodplant of the caterpillars are poplar leaves. A few years ago one of the caterpillars was seen on a white poplar tree, only 15 metres from the site of this light trap.
A couple of these intricately marked latticed heaths were also found, their finely traced chequered patterns show clearly both above and under the wings. It is a dainty and delicate moth but very flighty and eager to hide away from the bright daylight.
Only two other moths were seen, the swallow prominent and a shuttle-shaped dart.
During some mid morning sunshine a holly blue fluttered around some trees away from the strong wind.

During a quick morning walk round the park, I stopped beside a thick plantation of 30 year old oak and pine trees. I could just make out the pine tree where sparrowhawks nested for the first time in the park last year. Peering and squinting through the twigs and branches, there was a female standing on the same nest it used last year. I could see the fine dark barring on her chest and after I shuffled a step to the side, there was the bold yellow eye, staring hard at me and watching my every move.
The birds are expert at keeping their nest sites secret during the first part of the nesting season. Last year the nest was only discovered late into the season, despite walking regularly along a nearby path on numerous occasions previously.

There appeared to be a small influx of birds arriving onto the Island during the morning. A willow warbler sang from my garden, which is unusual enough to suggest it arrived overnight. Several swifts and swallows came over the sea heading westwards, as did a yellow wagtail and more interestingly a corn bunting. Several house martins and swallows hawking over the fields may have been local ones already settled in.

On the saltmarsh pools near the Golfhouse, two little terns crouched down in the strong wind. Three dunlin and a ringed plover fed here as they waited for the high tide to recede. Nearby a group of ten dunlin flew past with many showing their black bellies.
Chattering from the reeds lining the dyke were three reed warblers, also keeping a low profile in the wind, while a male pochard struggled to get airborne as it flew off the water.

Big excitement at the park pond today with the arrival finally, of a brood of five cygnets. It seems like the female swan has been sitting forever, although it will have been only 35 days. The long patient wait is over for the parents but now the real hard work starts in protecting the youngsters.

Yesterday on Friday morning the welcome purring sound of a turtle dove was heard coming from overhead lines beside the car park. Nice to welcome back a summer migrant that is decreasing in numbers each year.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007


Tuesday 8th was a breezy day with grey clouds keeping the sun at bay. At least it was mild enough and a brief walk around the Cudmore Grove Country Park revealed several items of interest.
The first bright yellow flowers of goatsbeard, or Jack-go-to bed-at noon, were opened wide to the skies. These are the cousins of the purple salsify seen a few days earlier.
Keeping very low to the ground and out of the breeze were a couple of tiny small heath butterflies. Only when they fluttered across the grassy path with the little orange wings flickering rapidly, could you spot this diminutive butterfly. Upon landing it would face its wings towards the occasional bursts of sunshine, so that they would receive maximum warmth. Other butterflies seen were red admiral, speckled wood, small white, holly blue and orange tip.
The park seems to do wild yellow flowers in a big way and everywhere you look, no matter the season, there are splashes of yellow at every turn. On the beach there was this eyecatching clump of the very widespread and quite common beaked hawksbeard.

More substantial masses of yellow line the cliff-top with all the broom bushes in full colour. This follows last months showing of the yellow gorse bushes. The broom bushes seem to have pulled all the stops out this spring in giving us such a colourful display.
Another widespread plant around the Island is the cow parsley. Many roadside verges that are usually green throughout the year, are proudly displaying great swathes of white. The approach to the country park in East Mersea is along Bromans Lane pictured above - and this is the prettiest time of year when it looks like a typical rural country lane.
Even corners of fields do not escape the cow parsley and it just so happens that the newly released cows into this field, will soon be making straight for these plants Providing them with easy pickings at a convenient height.
No visitor to the park at the moment can fail to see one of the great grass-munching machines - the rabbits. The mild winter and warm spring appears to have resulted in a huge bunny explosion with masses of the little furry animals everywhere. At dusk about 70 of them scuttled from one small area for cover as Monty did his last tour of duty.
Amazingly four domesticated rabbits that were abandoned in mid March have survived and this one pictured above, has built up enough confidence chasing away the other baby ones off his patch.

Bringing the whole scene to life were the rich and varied songs of birds like the cuckoo in the car park, the nightingale by the entrance, couple of skylarks high in the sky and a meadow pipit performing his parachute display song-flight and several whitethroats from the hedgerows.

Monday, 7 May 2007


Typical bank holiday weather on Monday 7th meant big black threatening skies. Being such a flat county, Essex does big wide skies well. Every shade of dark sky was on display from the menacing black, through shades of grey to the pale white with the sun trying to shine through. Despite the threat of rain, the very blustery wind and the tide covering the mud, the walk along the Strood seawall was a surprisingly productive one.

Two new summer migrants were noted for the year with the first being several little terns, battling against the wind as they flew up channel. At least five were seen in total with three of them resting on a bank, their gleaming white bodies and little yellow bills easy to pick out in the dark surroundings. Two larger common terns were also beating their way amongst the boats and channels.

The second new migrant was the surprise of the walk with a wonderful but typically brief view of a hobby flying across the Channel onto the Island. The slate grey upperparts of this dashing falcon reflected the mood of the sky - menacing, and this bird seemed to know where he was heading, to the nearest group of house martins. Seeing the bird crossing the Channel early, provided good views of its' white face and the red thighs, which it showed as it banked this way and that way in the strong wind.

Scanning the fields of the mainland revealed a female marsh harrier being harassed by a crow. On the Ray Island the long slim grey outline of a cuckoo was watched flying low over the saltmarsh. It perched in a tree and soon after the faint call of the bird could be heard through the wind and over the sound of the lapping waves.

The lack of mud on show meant there were few waders about but three avocets flew up channel with their black and white wings flickering in the dark light. Two grey plovers stood out on the distant saltmarsh because of their bright silvery upperparts and their black summer bellies. The brilliant white wings of a little egret were a great contrast to the black backdrop of the skies behind, as it flapped its way onto Ray Island.

On the landward side of the walk, there was the pleasing jangle of four different corn buntings including two males who were dueting every ten seconds with each other. Three sedge warblers sang low in the reeds and two whitethroats, one reed bunting, meadow pipit, yellow wagtail and a couple of skylarks all managed to make themselves heard in the windy conditions.

Hawking over the fields and a pool at the rear of the fields were up to 50 house martins, 25 swallows and about ten swifts, all showing off their aerial manoeuvring in the wind with great ease.

Black clouds continue to threaten distant lands such as the Langenhoe ranges where Richard Hull spent some time today. He saw 3 snipe drumming which is unusual for Essex, also 3 nightingales, 16 whimbrel, greenshank, 2 little ringed plover and 30 reed warblers. Also a common sandpiper at the Strood.


The weather on Sunday 6th was overcast and breezy. Not used to looking at grey skies.
The morning walk was along West Mersea's Coast Road beside all the yachts, the houseboats as well as the St. Peters area with its interesting wildlife to admire. Even on a grey day there are plenty of little stars to look out for in this local wildlife show.

The first star to look at was this striking purple flower called salsify. For a grassland flower it seems rather out of place alongside this busy road, sharing its home with traffic whizzing past and lots of walkers. It is normally found on the grassy seawalls on the Island. It shares another name, Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon with its yellow cousin - the goatsbeard. Both plants have the habit of closing their flowers up around mid-day and sure enough when I did my time-check, it was still only 11.15am!

The path along St. Peters meadow provides a good vantage point across the saltmarsh to the houseboats as well as into the Blackwater estuary. All the tamarisk bushes are covered in pale-pink flowers at the moment, making them easily identifiable.

One of the interesting flowers growing on the grassy bank is the salad burnet, the only place on the Island where it grows. The several remaining clumps that are clinging on in this area are just about to flower - except that these flowers are round and red but without petals. The red male part appears first, scattering pollen, followed later by the yellow female parts waiting for pollen from other plants.
One of the delights of being surrounded by saltmarshes is the spring display of the thrift or sea-pink. Several patches could be seen scattered across the St. Peters Marsh, although sadly all lacked the bright pink colour that many of these wild plants can show.
The most interesting and unique habitat in this area is the reedbed which is fed by a freshwater spring from the St. Peters Well, but is subject to occasional tidal inundation by the very high spring tides. I had a walk along the edge of this ditch to check for the scarce water vole as they have been seen here previously but no sign today. There was a moorhen and a pair of mallard though.

There was just one reed warbler singing quietly away and I'm sure it will be joined by several more in the next few weeks. A male reed bunting flew across the reedbed as did one or two house sparrows and a group of five linnets. In the bushes the scratchy songs of two whitethroats could be heard.

Around the muddy creeks and islands at the entrance to the Mersea Quarters, the tide was almost covering the mud. At least 50 oystercatchers were noted with some getting very territorial and noisy. Everywhere you looked there were the large and conspicuous herring gulls, which have become very well established since first breeding here about 12 years ago.

A dozen cormorants gathered on a muddy spit and overhead four whimbrel whistled to each other as they headed north on their migration. Two common terns hunted up and down the channels but there was no sign of any little terns. I'm not aware of anybody seeing these summer migrants around here yet.

Richard Hull saw 27 whimbrel in two flocks flying north-east over West Mersea and also 3 greenshank by the Strood.
His visit onto the nearby Langenhoe army ranges produced 2 hobbies, 3 pairs of barn owls, 3 ruff, 2 little ringed plover, 6 spotted redshank, pair of sparrowhawk, 5 greenshank, 2 pairs of avocet, 63 whimbrel, common sandpiper, 12 singing blackcaps, 3 turtle doves, nightingale and garden warbler.

Saturday, 5 May 2007


One of the Mersea's best botanical secrets is the annual spectacle of hundreds of green-winged orchids - all hiding away in the back garden of a very lucky lady who lives in Victoria Esplanade.
The orchids are at their peak at the moment although this season has probably speeded them up with the very dry April. The "green wings" refer to the green veins on the pale petals on the sides of the "hooded" part of the flower.
I have had the pleasure of seeing the garden twice before and each visit still takes your breath away at seeing such a stunning sight. No-one else on Mersea has this treat of having their own naturally occuring carpet of wild orchids just feet from their back-door. None of the surrounding gardens have any orchids as their soil has been tampered with, and many houses are sitting on newer plots.
My wife Nolly is chatting to the owner (just out of shot), as we all stood admiring the annual flower show. The bulk of the orchids to see are in this picture and may not look many - until you start to count and my guess was around 500 flowering spikes.
This compact clump stretching for about two feet had about 70 spikes on show. Incredible.
This patch of orchids is the last remnant of green-winged orchids still flourishing in this area. Up until nearly twenty-five years ago a small quarter hectare size of grassy wasteland about 100 metres away, contained 15,000 orchids which tragically were cleared to make way for housing.
Having seen the orchids in the garden, we headed to Willoughby car park to look for orchids there as some have been seen in the past. After about ten minutes of pacing back and forwards, the distinctive leaves of the common spotted orchid were found (Green winged orchids leaves are plain and without spots). This one pictured above had really broad and big leaves, making it easier to spot amongst the long grass. Only the leaves were on show but the flowers should be out in about two or three weeks time.
Elsewhere on Willoughby, there was the eyecatching display on one side of these very agricultural weeds that look like oil-seed rape. In fact the white flowers belong to wild radish and the yellow flowers are black mustard.

The most interesting bird here was the smooth purring sound of the first turtle dove to have returned back from Africa. Unfortunately I shall have to wait another day to actually see one. Also some mistle thrushes sounded anxious s if they had young nearby they were feeding and a pair of goldfinches was a good record for a nearby garden.

Elsewhere in West Mersea, the screeching calls of five swifts wheeling high above the village may have been due to a sparrowhawk soaring beside them.