Monday, 28 April 2008


The moth trap was checked early on Saturday 26th where about 28 moths of 11 species were found. The distinctive looking chocolate-tip moth pictured above, is the first one to appear at the park this year. There should be several more records of this widespread moth over the the next few weeks and also again in late summer when the second brood appear.

The main moth of note was this lunar marbled brown, pictured above with a bald patch on its head.There should be one or two more appearances of this reasonably common moth over the next few weeks.
Other moths seen included pine beauty, red chestnut, hebrew character, streamer and brindled pug.

For once the weather stayed sunny and warm throughout Saturday and one or two butterflies were out enjoying the sunshine, such as peacock, speckled wood and small white.

There was a newly arrived willow warbler singing near the park entrance, competing with the resident nightingale for the local airwaves. The second nightingale was also singing near the cliff-top and seems to have settled down for the summer.

The weather on Sunday 27th wasn't as sunny as the previous day and a quick morning walk to the Point didn't reveal much to look at in the river Colne, other than admiring this old Thames sailing barge as it headed out of the river.

One great crested grebe flew out of the river, 20 black-tailed godwits could be seen on the Brightlingsea side of the river and a handful of dunlin on the near side were the only birds noted on the mudflats, other than the resident oystercatchers and redshank. The regular two pairs of avocets were still present on the pools near the Point. Two whimbrel whistled their way up the river Colne.

On the grazing fields several of the lapwing got rather anxious when 4 rogue lapwings strayed into the local airspace and were quickly escorted away with much calling and displaying. Two pairs of greylag geese appeared and checked out the site for nesting potential. Three reed warblers sang from the reeds alongside the dyke, 3 sand martins flew over the fields as did a couple of swallows.

At the park pond there was the usual group of 12 pochard and 4 tufted ducks while a blackcap and whitethroat could be heard singing from here. Around the park there appear to be 3 singing lesser whitethroats and at least 4 common whitethroats so far.
At dusk a little owl flew across Bromans Lane to land halfway up a telegraph pole.

Simon Wood and Russell Neave reported seeing a common buzzard flying up the Pyefleet, as well as 12 little terns on Saturday evening. They also had a male Montagu's harrier on Saturday afternoon to the south of Mersea, as it headed west from Colne Point towards Bradwell

Friday, 25 April 2008


The warm weather on Friday 25th enticed almost a handful of butterflies out to enjoy the sunshine. This speckled wood pictured above was seen tussling with a second one along a path in the park. No sooner have they emerged in the spring, than they suddenly get very territorial.
Also seen during the morning were 2 peacocks and a green-veined white.

Birds of prey were out enjoying the sunshine too with two sparrowhawks seen soaring together over the park, on a couple of different occasions. A kestrel was out hovering over the neighbouring weed field. Appearing as tiny dots high in the sky were a pair of marsh harriers to the north of the park, with a smaller male mobbing a larger female.
Later in the day a male marsh harrier was seen flying low over a yellow oil-seed rape field beside the East Mersea shop. A siskin was seen flying over the shop here too.

The only new migrant noted near the park today was a house martin circling around a house just to the north of the park. Five sand martins were also seen by the cliff and a couple of swallows hunted over the park. Ian Black reported a second singing nightingale singing close to the resident one by the entrance. However the clifftop nightingale was less vocal during the day but then he had been up all night singing!

The pochards returned back to the pond today after a day missing, with 12 males and 2 females being a rather uneven sex ratio. Three pairs of tufted ducks were still around and the female mute swan is still sitting tight on her nest.

This delicate pink flower found growing along the bottom of the park cliff is the common storksbill - the first of several clumps to flower around the park.

Around the park on Thursday morning were 8 sand martins beside the cliff, singing lesser whitethroat, 3 singing common whitethroats, 2 nightingales, blackcap and the first two reed warblers along the dyke.

On the saltmarsh pools near the Point were still the three pairs of avocets, which is a good sign for the forthcoming season. On the grazing fields were a couple of pairs of redshank, one male getting so excited with the onset of spring, rapidly flapping his wings and calling loudly before jumping onto the back of the female to mate. At least 3 pairs of lapwing are still present on the fields.

There was the familiar tell-tale sign left in the park toilets in the morning of tiny droppings from the regular long-eared bat, which rests up overnight in the building in-between hunting forays.

In Firs Chase a hedgehog was seen trying to decide if it was safe to cross the road in the late evening.

David Nicholls saw and heard his first cuckoo on the Island on Thursday at Bower Farm near West Mersea. Martin Cock saw the short-eared owl flying between fields at Rewsalls Marshes on Wednesday, also three whitethroats heard.

The moth trap has not been used much this spring because of the poor weather. This small moth is the relatively widespread streamer, which was resting on the outside of the house in the morning. The only moths found in the trap this week have been several hebrew characters, powdered quakers, early thorn and dotted border.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008


It stayed sunny for most of Tuesday 22nd although there was still the cool easterly breeze. Spring flowers are continuing to make the most of the sunshine with the bluebells in the country park starting to reach their peak. This little group pictured above is in the last remnant of what used to be the Cudmore Grove on the clifftop, before the coastal erosion removed much of the grove.

Also sprouting up in the same shady spot were some lords and ladies, or wild arum, pictured below. These strange flowering spikes can be seen along some of the cool hedgerows and wooded areas around the park.

It was great to hear the loud and rich songs of two nightingales singing from opposite ends of the car park. The original male that returned last week to the park entrance, may've sung with a little more energy today, as a rival male was singing from a hedge near the cliff-top. My house is half-way between these two birds and one appeared in my back garden in the afternoon singing loudly whilst I worked studiously at my computer. I guess I must be very lucky that I can open my window and carry on working while a nightingale serenades me!

I have been eager to find out if the nightingale that bred last year by the pond has returned from Africa yet. One bird was seen and heard calling briefly this morning by the pond but no song from the male as yet.

Other summer migrants noted included a couple of common whitethroats, a lesser whitethroat, blackcap pair, usual singing chiffchaff, one or two swallows and a sand martin.
The pair of sparrowhawks appear to be showing interest in the park again this spring and one was heard calling close to the nesting tree.

At the park pond 10 male pochard were squabbling with each other while two females looked impassively on. Also 2 pairs of teal, 3 pairs of tufted duck and a water vole swimming around the edge.

Two adders were seen in a cursory look at their favourite spots but two peacocks were the only butterflies seen.

The last hour of daylight was spent along the Strood seawall as the sun dropped down over Ray Island. The tide was out so a few waders were scattered along the channel. Sixty black-tailed godwits, 2 greenshank, 4 whimbrel, 2 knot, 20 dunlin, 40 grey plover, 20 oystercatcher, 30 redshank, 10 curlew and snipe were the main waders noted.

Along the seawall and dyke were one singing corn bunting, 2 reed buntings, 2 sedge warblers, while 15 pied wagtails and a yellow wagtail waited on the saltings to roost in the nearby reedbed. A fox was seen sprinting back up a wheat-field, disturbing a yellow wagtail as it ran away.

Closing the park up for the night, the cliff-top nightingale was seen in dark silhouette against the sea behind, singing loudly - as was the other male near the park entrance. Flying over various corners of the car park were a handful of pipistrelle bats - surprisingly the first ones noted for the park this spring.

Sunday, 20 April 2008


Once the breeze had blown away the morning mist and gloom, the afternoon of Sunday 20th turned into a sunny and very spring-like day. This small tortoiseshell was one of at least six, flying around the sheltered area of St Peters Meadow. There were also 3 peacocks, small white and a green-veined white butterflies in the same area.
The birds of interest here were a singing blackcap and a subdued reed warbler singing from the scrub, also some cheery house sparrows and a couple of linnets.

The main bird interest today centred around the garden of Martin Cock who had found a nice male redstart during the morning. The bird was seen perched up in some of the trees as well as coming down to the lawn. This is the second male to have stopped off on Mersea this spring. Also in the garden was a willow warbler and the male sparrowhawk.

Martin also did well to locate a grasshopper warbler singing briefly at the country park in the morning. The first common whitethroat was also seen by him on his walk past the Oyster Fishery, also whimbrel and blackcap noted.

Also in East Mersea today, Richard Brown reported seeing 2 short-eared owls and 2 whitethroats at Rewsalls, while Michael Thorley saw 2 wheatears and a lesser whitethroat at the Youth Camp.

Decided to join Richard Hull and Andy Field on one of their walks around the nearby army ranges of Langenhoe, just to the north of Mersea Island. The area is normally out of bounds but Richard has a permit to visit, as long as the army aren't firing.

The four and a half hour visit was very productive despite the gloomy conditions with several summer migrants newly arrived. The session got off to a good start with a male wheatear noted near the entrance. At the western end where there are some pools and reedbed, we noted one bearded tit pinging, reed warbler singing, two cuckoos, male yellow wagtail, little egret, singing snipe, spotted redshank, pair of avocets, 4 female pintail, 3 swallows and a peregrine sitting on a post on the saltmarsh.

In the wooded and scrubby section at the western end, close views of a short-eared owl were had perched up alongside a track. It was seen several times both perched up and in flight, the latter carried out with the slow deliberate wing-beats of a display flight. A little owl was also seen but no sign of any barn owls.

Of the migrants a brief purr of a turtle dove, two lesser whitethroats rattled, while blackcap and chiffchaff sang. A few yellowhammers and linnets were also seen .
The loud and distinctive songs of two Cetti's warblers were heard in their regular south-west corner amongst the scattering of scrub and reeds.

The lagoon at the eastern end of Langenhoe was holding lots of water, so only a few wildfowl but no waders. Ninety brent geese dropped in, four shoveler, two wigeon passed over as well as five red-breasted mergansers flew over. At least 20 pochard were seen during the walk as well as a handful of gadwall.

There was a group of 70 summer plumaged black-tailed godwits feeding in the Geedon Channel along with 3 bar-tailed godwits. Nearby Rat Island was alive with the nesting colony of a few thousand black-headed gulls, along with some herring and lesser-black backed gulls too.

Marsh harriers were everywhere with at least ten birds seen, several males and several females all very active. One male performed a dramatic display flight by stooping rapidly with wings tucked in, down to the reedbed below. In other places the weak call of some of the females were heard.

Also noted on the walk were a stonechat, 4 singing sedge warblers, 2 more reed warblers, green sandpiper, whimbrel and at least fifty reed buntings being the commonest small bird.

A few of these mink monitoring rafts were seen along some of the ditches. Inside the small box is some wet clay that animals such as mink can walk across, leaving their footprints as they pass through. The rafts are part of an Essex campaign to establish if mink are present in an area and if they are, then mink traps can be set up to capture them.

Back on Mersea, had a report that a muntjac deer was seen about a week ago near Shop Lane. It will be interesting to see how many other sightings there are of this muntjac in the coming weeks.

Saturday, 19 April 2008


One or two items of interest during a walk along the Strood seawall on Saturday 19th. Unfortunately the tide was well in and so very few waders were noted. However some of the saltmarshes were splashed with patches of the white-flowered common scurvy grass, pictured above. Despite the delayed start to normal spring weather, this scurvy grass has come out as normal and April is the best month to admire the flowers. On a grey day like today, the scurvy grass added a little bit of colour to the marshes.

Sitting low in two different bramble bushes were two singing sedge warblers - the first ones back onto the Island this spring.The cool breeze kept them well hidden but their loud songs easily betrayed their presence. Sedge warbler numbers on the Island have decreased in recent years, so it's always great news to welcome back familiar friends back to the same bushes they occupied last year.

The only other migrants noted were 2 yellow wagtails flying over the fields and a chiffchaff singing in bushes along from the Dabchicks. At the east end of the seawall a corn bunting was singing, a male reed bunting perched in a bush and there was a small group of six skylarks. Six linnets were also noted along the wall, while a corn bunting was seen flying back onto the Island from Ray Island.

Along the Channel 10 very ginger looking black-tailed godwits were the only waders of note other than the usual sprinkling of oystercatchers, redshank, curlew, turnstone and grey plover. Ten brent geese were still in the area and a great crested grebe was the only bird of note in the Channel at high tide.

Meeting up with Richard Hull at the Hard at West Mersea, we watched up to five marsh harriers in the air in the distance to the west, over Old Hall Marshes. They seemed to be very active around midday with one or two harriers constantly in the air over the reserve.
Geoff Wass, the local boatman told us he saw the first common tern on Thursday amongst the boats.
Andy Field had the great sight of a pair of siskins to his niger bird seed feeder, his first record of siskins to his garden in High Street North on Saturday.

There was the nice sound of the nightingale in my back garden at the park on Friday morning. It stayed well hidden in a thorn bush but hopefully it will become less shy over the next few days, so that we can catch a glimpse of it.

Thursday, 17 April 2008


It has been cold enough in recent days for this photo to be of snow lying on the ground. In fact it is the eyecatching carpet of daisies growing in the country park, as seen on Wednesday 16th. The grass has been slow to grow here but the daisies have decided that spring is here. They say that if you can place your foot on the ground and it can cover more than 12 daisy flowers, then spring has arrived!

One or two migrants continue to trickle onto the Island in recent days despite the chilly breeze blowing. The first blackcap at the park was heard by the pond on Monday, while a willow warbler was heard singing from the car park. The same birds were still singing from the same areas the following day. A different willow warbler was singing from a different corner on Wednesday morning.The couple of swallows from Bromans Farm have been hunting over the park in recent days too, sometimes perching near the car park.

It was great to welcome back from Africa, one of the male nightingales back to the same spot that it has frequented for the last two summers. As I opened the park up on Thursday morning, the rich and very recognisable song was being belted out from a thicket of ivy and brambles. The bird had obviously just arrived during the night but still found the energy to sing out loud in the morning.

The sunny weather on Wednesday brought good numbers of adders out with a peak count this year of ten being seen in the park. Three of the adders had recently shed their skin and so their markings were really bright and very silvery-grey in the background colour. There was a much larger gathering of them in the traditional spot, so it would appear that some have come back to find a mate.

Butterflies have been hard to find this spring so far, although most recent days there have been one or two peacocks flying about in the warm, sheltered spots.

The Thorleys have seen male and female wheatears near the Youth Camp on Monday and Tuesday. Andy Field saw a whimbrel and a pair of avocets near the Point on Thursday.

Sunday, 13 April 2008


More April showers on Sunday 13th interspersed with sunny periods and also the chilly breeze.
Following Andy Field's observations yesterday, checked out the saltmarsh pools near the Golfhouse, pictured above. Sure enough there were the avocets here again, except there were 6 birds present, so maybe three pairs may think of breeding here, as opposed to the two pairs last summer. Ten brent geese were seen flying over the saltings.

On the grazing fields a pair of swallows hawked back and forwards. A small group of 20 golden plover were hard to spot in the tussocky grass while other waders seen included 6 redshank, black-tailed godwit and the usual 3 pairs of lapwing. The mute swan looks as if she is sitting on her nest alongside the central ditch, the other swan at the pond has been sitting for about a week now.

Also in the fields close to the pools were 20 shoveler, 15 shelduck, 8 wigeon and 20 teal, while a kestrel hovered above one corner.

In the park there was the familiar sparrowhawk sighting of one flying over a nearby field. The only migrant of note was the singing chiffchaff by the pond.

Michael Thorley reported the first cuckoo for the Island near the East Mersea church.


Managed to fit in an evening walk along the Reeveshall seawall without getting wet on Saturday 12th. The dark clouds weren't far away with the photo above showing the rain clouds passing to the north of Mersea.

The tide was just starting to uncover the mud along the Pyefleet and lots of waders were arriving from their roosts. Both species of godwit were present with 30 very pale bar-tailed godwits mixed in with about 50 black-tailed godwits - many in their ginger plumage. Also gathered were 100 dunlin, 30 grey plover, 100 redshank and 20 knot. It wasn't long before the waders had dispersed along the Pyefleet as more mud became exposed.

The biggest group of waders were about 1500 golden plover feeding in the nearby field of cattle. Many of the plovers were sporting the black bellies of their summer plumage. When something disturbed them, there was the slow whooshing sound as the birds passed overhead.

The only birds seen in the Pyefleet were 3 great crested grebes and a cormorant.

On the Reeveshall pool there were 15 shelduck, 6 teal, lapwing and some mallard. A green sandpiper flew around several times calling as it headed into some nearby ditches.
The presumed resident female marsh harrier was sitting on her favourite Reeveshall bush, getting ready for the breeding season. A male harrier was seen flying around on Langenhoe.

In one of the large grass fields a brown hare was seen running around as dusk approached.
At the back of Reeveshall a huge flock of 1000 wood pigeons flew around before many settled back down into a rape field.

Three little egrets were seen flying into the conifer wood at Shop Lane to spend the night. It seems as if this may be a regular roost site for the local egrets.
Earlier in the evening a chiffchaff was heard singing from this wood.
The last bird of the evening was a little owl that flew across Bromans Lane and perched up on a telegraph post in the fading light.

During the morning at the park, a willow warbler and chiffchaff were heard singing near the pond.Three adders were seen in their usual places.
Andy Field had a pair of swallows and 2 pairs of avocets near the Golfhouse.


Walked to the East Mersea Point, photo above, on Friday 11th and met up with Michael Thorley. We quickly stopped our conversation while we watched a male marsh harrier flying over the nearby saltmarsh by the Golfhouse. The bird was beautifully marked with its pale grey wings contrasting with black wing-tips. As it slowly passed over the saltings, a group of 50 brent geese took fright and headed quickly away. The harrier slowly headed out into the Colne and drifted south-east towards Colne Point.
Michael reported seeing a red-breasted merganser in the river.

Numbers of wildfowl on the grazing fields continue to drop and there are no flocks of brent geese or wigeon (other than a handful), left in the fields. Several small groups of shelduck can be seen along some of the hedgerows as they prospect nest sites. Three or four pairs of lapwing continue to display over the fields.

The first swallows for the site were seen flying low over the fields on Thursday with a pair swooping low over the pools. There was the colourful sight of a male yellow wagtail that landed briefly to feed with some pied wagtails. The bird soon took to the air and headed off. The first small tortoiseshell butterfly of the spring was seen in the car park on Thursday.

A Mediterranean gull was heard calling from the mudflats offshore from the park on Wednesday morning.
On Tuesday afternoon a male marsh harrier was seen hunting over a wheat field near the East Mersea road.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008


It was a sunny but chilly start to Tuesday 8th but there were a couple of signs of the start of spring. Two swallows perched up on roadside wires along the East Mersea road by Blue Row. Although several swallows have been seen for some time now at the nearby Abberton Reservoir, these are the first ones I know of on the Island.

Later in the morning whilst walking around the park, I discovered a male redstart amongst the scattered bushes on the clifftop. Finding this colourful summer migrant in the park was a real bonus and again, another sign that spring had started.

The bird was first seen flying across the path showing off its bright orange tail as it headed into a bush. As it perched up, the tail could be seen quivering in typical redstart fashion. The chest and belly were bright orange, contrasting with dark grey upperparts and a black face. On the forehead was a small patch of white. The bird was watched flying from bush to bush, keeping low down as it paused to look for food.

Although the occasional redstart stops off briefly on Mersea each year, this is the first male here in spring for many years. The bird was not seen again despite searches in the late afternoon.

The only other summer migrant in the area was the now familiar singing chiffchaff by the pond, seen foraging in the willow bushes. Also at the pond were the usual 5 pochard and 10 tufted ducks, whilst nearby a fox snoozed in the sunshine.

In the grazing fields, pictured above, the main birds were 25 teal, 20 shoveler, pair of greylag geese, 15 shelduck and three pairs of lapwing. Skylarks and meadow pipits sang out loudly along from various places along the seawall. One avocet was on the mud near the Point.

In the park a trio of green woodpeckers passed over the car park, 3 adders and a common lizard were also seen.

Thursday, 3 April 2008


There was a real sense of spring in the air with lots of sunshine on Thursday 3rd. The first butterflies of the spring were seen at the park with 4 peacock butterflies and one comma seen in various spots. This peacock above is looking a little faded and worn round the edges after its hibernation.

Eight pochard were present at the park pond which is a notable count for the area, as there are never more than a couple of pairs seen here. Also present were the 10 tufted duck, so it was a good day for seeing diving ducks on the pond. Hopefully some of them will breed in the area later in the spring / early summer.
The mute swan has made her nest on one of the islands and will be thinking about laying eggs shortly.

One of the large sallow trees near the pond was alive with bees visiting the catkins. It was almost deafening standing beside the tree, hearing the continual buzzing from the bees. Most were honey bees but a few were mining bees and bumble bees too.

Also in the area of the sallow at the back of the pond was a chiffchaff singing loudly, with two others heard calling from nearby hedgerows.
Flying high over the pond were two adult Mediterranean gulls, calling to each other, their very white wings showing up well in the bright sunshine.

Seven adders were seen basking in their usual locations with a further two missing from their regular spots.

The moth trap was run through Wednesday night at the park and in the morning a slightly better haul than recent nights with about 30 moths of 11 species. The red chestnut pictured above, is quite common but it really lives up its name when seen in the sunshine.

This is one of two early thorns seen, a typical time of the year for this moth that holds its wings more like a butterfly. The only other new moth for the season was the shoulder stripe.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008


It wasn't a complete shock to find a bucket of frog spawn left on my doorstep at the park on Wednesday 2nd, as I had been warned. The photo above shows some of the as yet, undeveloped spawn appearing as masses of tiny black dots in a thick mass of jelly. Having failed to persuade the lady from West Mersea to keep them in her garden pond, I offered them a refuge in the park pond.

The sunshine was warm enough to have the park 's sandy cliff swarming with thousands of mining bees. Sunny days in spring is the peak season for the bees and a close look at the cliff reveals thousands of tiny holes where the bees will have their young.

The sunshine also brought Nigel Cumings, one of the Essex experts in beetles, to the park. With great excitement he showed me a very rare beetle he had found at the bottom of the cliff. I shared his excitement but was a little bit disappointed at the rather tiny specimen in the container. No bigger than a capital letter in this written text, the little black ground beetle with a couple of orange spots on the abdomen scurried round and round while I stared at it through a hand-lens.

This little beetle is nationally scarce and is listed in the Red Data Book. It is apparently found in sandy areas in the south-east of the UK near the coast and in Essex, is only known from one or two other sites. I try to avoid using long complicated scientific names on this blog but I'm happy to supply the beetle's name on request for other beetle enthusiasts out there!

Nigel managed to find time to glance skywards and noted the first sand martin back from Africa along the cliff.

The sunshine brought five adders out in their usual spots in the country park.

Both male and female sparrowhawks were seen separately during the day flying over the park. At dusk a pair of little owls were watched hopping from telegraph post to post along Bromans Lane, as I drove along in the fading light.

The moth trap was checked on Wednesday morning and 18 moths of 8 species were noted, which was an average number considering the night sky was clear and chilly. The pinky-brown moth above was one of a few blossom underwings to be found, along with common quaker, hebrew character, March moth, small quaker, red chestnut, clouded drab and grey shoulder knot.

Martin Cock on Monday morning saw a buzzard fly over his garden in West Mersea and also noted by St. Peters, a wheatear, eider and a shag.