Monday, 31 March 2008
At first the waders were close in, with this typical group showing a mixture of grey plover and knot with a couple of dunlin as well. Also in this area were 150 black-tailed godwits, 200 redshank, a few oystercatchers and turnstones and at least one bar-tailed godwit. In the Pyefleet Channel were 10 great crested grebes but not much else on the water.
On Langenhoe four marsh harriers were seen either perched up or quartering the marshes. A Mediterranean gull was heard calling as it crossed the Pyefleet.
On Reeveshall a female marsh harrier was seen by the reedbed, also 24 greylag geese, 6 Canada geese on the fields while 4 pochard were the only birds of note on the pool.
As the light faded 400 brent geese flew off the field by North Farm to roost in the river Colne and 2 little egrets were seen roosting for the night on the edge of the Shop Lane conifer wood. On the mammal front, 5 brown hares were seen crouching low in the grass field and the first pipistrelle bat of the spring was unexpectedly seen hawking over the saltmarsh.
Earlier in the day, Richard Brown and his father found a firecrest in the clifftop trees at the park. This bird was feeding with other small birds including blue tits, long-tailed tits and a goldcrest - which is slightly different behaviour and location to the firecrests seen on previous days. This could be the third firecrest at the park in the last few days. One firecrest was still seen close to the dell area near the car park yesterday. A siskin was also noted on the Saturday flying over the car park.
At the park pond the first willow warbler onto the Island was heard singing as was a chiffchaff. A female sparrowhawk was also noted as being close to the area where they nested last year.
The dull start delayed the adders coming out in the morning but eventually 3 were seen in the park.
Richard Brown saw the short-eared owl again at the Rewsall marshes, also a wheatear and 4 Mediterranean gulls on Saturday.
Friday, 28 March 2008
I walked along the path pictured above, hoping to track down the firecrest again from yesterday. Rather unexpectedly 3 brambling flew out of a tree calling, as they flew high eastwards. These are the first brambling of the winter at the park, presumably birds passing through on their journey back to Scandinavia.
The high pitched call of the firecrest was heard from nearby blackthorn bushes that were in flower. Without lifting the binoculars, the little bird could be seen close-by. It slowly worked its way along the bushes calling every so often. Whilst pointing out the bird to some friends, we watched a green woodpecker feeding on the ground that had to take evasive action as a rabbit ran straight towards it, apparently chasing it away.
Having stopped briefly to check the wildfowl at the pond, I carried on walking and heard a firecrest song again, coming from the area where the bird had been seen yesterday. The bird was seen at close quarters before the light started to fade. It is quite likely that there were two firecrests in different locations on the walk, as the first one was feeding about 100 metres away.
Thursday, 27 March 2008
The backed-up water in the photo above, has filled up the course of this old meandering creek. Two hundred years ago this field would've been saltmarsh with lots of creeks, before the seawall was built.
Birdlife was scattered across the fields in many of the pools and creeks. 300 wigeon, 50 teal and 15 shoveler, 20 mallard and 10 shelduck were the wildfowl seen. Ten redshank, 15 black-tailed godwits, 20 curlew, 8 lapwing and 5 snipe were the waders noted.
A pale male stonechat fed along the central ditch and 200 starlings fed amongst the grassland with the ducks. Three pairs of reed buntings were seen in different localities getting ready for the breeding season and so were a few meadow pipits with their parachute displays.
At the Point there was the brief view of a male snow bunting, its paleness providing good camouflage amongst the white shells on the beach. Two avocets were along the edge of the mud while in the river there was a male common scoter, along with 10 great crested grebes and one common seal.
Having enjoyed the sight of a snipe by the pond and 5 redwings and a pair of siskins along a nearby hedgerow,
However the real gem was waiting to be found on my walk round the park. My ears pricked up at the thin high pitched song coming from some nearby bushes. This was the barely audible song of the firecrest - one of Britains smallest birds. It is also has one of the most striking head patterns of any small bird. The bird flitted from branch to branch in bushes close enough so that the bright orange stripe on the top of the head could be clearly seen.
The firecrest is usually an annual visitor to the Island in the spring and in recent years has been regular at the park. It is best tracked down by listening for the distinctive song and luckily this time there were no leaves to obscure the views. The local bird-news grapevine flickered into life and before the end of the day, Andy Field, Steve Entwhistle and Michael Thorley enjoyed views of the bird near the car park.
The final bird highlight of the day was just before dusk when a barn owl was seen hunting along the East Mersea road as I drove along near Weir Farm. The bird perched briefly in the roadside hedgeline but flew off when I stopped to admire the close view. We both continued on our parallel journeys with the owl hunting along the opposite side of the hedge to the road, as I drove slowly along.
Wednesday, 26 March 2008
The cold weather has deterred many of the brent geese from departing for Siberia and this flock pictured above, are still continuing to graze the big wheat field next to the country park. Around 300 geese were in the field in late afternoon, enjoying the early spring flush of growth of wheat.
In the park a chiffchaff was singing from a blackthorn bush covered in blossom and may've arrived last night. A second chiffchaff was calling loudly from the willows by the pond, pictured below. There has been at least one chiffchaff by the pond for almost two weeks now.
Also at the pond were the familiar wildfowl of recent days - pochard, tufted duck, shoveler and mallard. The mute swan appeared to be gathering materials for a nest on one of the islands.
This picture of the pond is a slightly elevated one as it was taken while standing on the roof of the bird-hide! Running repairs had to be carried out to the roofing felt as recent strong winds had torn a section off.
The sunshine yesterday brought out 5 adders and 2 common lizards out to bask at the park.
On Monday 24th, a late afternoon walk along the West Mersea beach to the Waldegraves caravan site provided a couple of items of note. At least three adult Mediterranean gulls were seen on the mud and also occasionally flying round and calling loudly. There was also a fine view of a male marsh harrier seen coming onto the Island, having just crossed over the Blackwater estuary from Bradwell. The bird dropped down quite low as it headed north over the field to the east of the caravan site.
Michael Thorley had one or two things to report from recent days. First wheatear of the spring on the Island was seen at the Youth Camp on 24th, as were 40 sanderling. On the 23rd there were 45 knot on the mudflats at Rewsalls / Youth Camp, while also here on the 19th was a short-eared owl and 2 Med gulls.
On the 18th 2 Med gulls were by the beach at West Mersea while a barn owl was at East Mersea near the Golfhouse. A barn owl was also seen at Rewsalls on the 17th and a brambling was noted in his garden near Meeting Lane on this date and the day before.
Sunday, 23 March 2008
A quick walk around the edge of West Mersea during the snow-fall not surprisingly was rather unproductive for watching any wildlife. One or two greenfinches were singing from gardens, a goldfinch was seen in flight and a few blackbirds and robins were heard singing too. The cheeriest group of birds was the regular flock of house sparrows beside the Yacht Club with about 20 chirping loudly beside bird feeders in a nearby garden.
The tide was coming in along the Strood Channel and only a few waders were seen, although the visibility was poor, while it snowed. Some small groups of brent geese could just be seen, whilst several noisy redshank gave their presence away.
By the Dabchicks, 10 bar-tailed godwits were feeding along the water's edge along with some dunlin and grey plover. Two great crested grebes and a little grebe were seen in the channel.
A shag was fishing in the area of the floating pontoon by the Hard.
Some of the spring flowers such as this blackthorn blossom, will have got a shock with all this Arctic weather of recent days.
Saturday, 22 March 2008
One big band of sleet and hail divided into two before reaching the Island with the picture above showing the dark cloud to the west. The other wintry cloud headed east to East Mersea.
In between the showers, the blue sky brightened up the Strood Channel mudflats. The cold strong wind didn't make it easy to keep the binoculars steady. Redshank, curlew, grey plover, dunlin, oystercatcher, turnstone were the usual waders, while 10 black-tailed godwits, 2 bar-tailed godwits and 100 knot were also noted. In the nearby arable field, 10 ringed plover were seen feeding. The commonest duck were the wigeon with about 150 seen in various groups, also 25 teal and 20 shelduck.
On a couple of occasions, lots of waders and wildfowl took to the air in a bit of a panic, which briefly made viewing a bit easier. The first bit of panic was due to a female marsh harrier as it headed north-east up the channel. A short while later a sparrowhawk, crossed over from Ray Island, creating chaos underneath it, as all the waders and wildfowl scattered away.
The only flocks of brent geese that were seen were around the southern end of Ray Island, either feeding on the saltmarsh or flying into the Ray Channel.
A little egret was probably looking for toads in the borrowdyke before heading onto the saltmarsh. The only small birds seen along the seawall were 8 linnet and a couple of meadow pipits, but otherwise it was not a day for small birds.
Three magpies headed off island late in the day, probably to roost on Ray Island.
The only birds seen in the channels by the Hard were one great crested grebe and a couple of little grebes.
Earlier in the day a chiffchaff was heard calling by Firs Chase. I wonder if this little summer migrant is pleased he got here so early this spring!
Friday, 21 March 2008
Over 300 oystercatchers gathered at the Point, which had become inaccessible to walkers with the high water. In the grazing fields there were several compact groups of roosting waders including 150 black-tailed godwits, 50 redshank and about 50 curlew. Most waders were gathered around the large pools at the back of one of the fields. One or two grey plover and snipe were also seen.
A little egret sheltered side by side with a grey heron, up against a hedge. Fifty two shelduck was a reasonable count, whilst wigeon numbers seemed fewer than recent days with only 300 noted. Also seen were teal, mallard, shoveler and a few pairs of lapwing.
All the saltmarshes along the Pyefleet were completely underwater, such as in front of the Oyster Fishery, pictured above. The river Colne was too choppy to see any birds, except for several groups of brent geese and a distant great crested grebe.
A couple of pairs of reed bunting, some skylarks and meadow pipits were the only small birds seen along the seawall.
The main brent geese flock were feeding on the grass field at the north end of Shop Lane, where about 300 birds were seen. Also in this field near some pools of water were small numbers of shelduck and curlew.
Back at the park pond the only activity noted were the 3 pochard and 10 tufted ducks feeding out in the open water. No sight or sound of the chiffchaff which has been present for the last week.
Sheltering behind some bushes away from the chilly northerly wind were two adders in their usual spots.
There was the great sight yesterday over the park of a short-eared owl passing over, being mobbed by a carrion crow as it headed eastwards. This is the first sighting this winter at the park of one of these owls - always an exciting sight.
Andy Field saw the kingfisher briefly in flight near the pond yesterday.
Wednesday, 19 March 2008
It must've made it very confusing for the reptiles at the park, having to brave the clouds and hail showers, whilst waiting for the next spell of sunshine. This common lizard pictured above, minus its tail, was basking on a log close to the car park. A second lizard was also on the same log, scuttling over it, to reach another sunny spot for it to sunbathe. As the name suggests these lizards are quite common around the park and are often seen on logs, posts and other warm spots amongst the long grass.
Four adders were also seen basking in their usual spots in the park.
The park pond provided the setting for some interesting bird activity. A kingfisher was glimpsed sitting in a willow bush over the water, well concealed by the yellow catkins, except for its orange chest. It is not often that kingfishers are seen in March by the pond here, as they usually head back to the mainland for the spring to breed.
Also at the pond were the 2 pochard and the 10 tufted ducks, a pair of shoveler and a few mallard.
Paying a second visit of the morning to look at the pond with Andy Field proved a very wise move. The real action was just about to start! We were treated to fine views of a water rail wading in the water to feed. For once the views were quite prolonged by water rail standards, as it probed the shallows with its bright red bill. After it got chased by a moorhen, the rail called out loudly, which was answered back by a second water rail nearby.
Whilst watching the rail, a blur of dunnock wings was seen as it crossed the pond in a hurry. As it crashed into a bramble bush, a large female sparrowhawk was in hot pursuit and was within inches of snatching it. The frustrated hawk sat on the bush, unable to reach its lunch. It soon crossed back over the pond and perched briefly on a low branch, not far from where the water rail had been seen a little bit earlier.
After the rail and hawk excitement, the chiffchaff decided to make an appearance, calling loudly and feeding actively from the willows beside the water.
One little bit of colour along the park cliff, is provided by a few clumps of coltsfoot. This clump is on a rather mobile section of cliff, which has slumped down after recent rains and strong tides.
Out at sea a common seal was seen briefly sticking its head out of the water.
At West Mersea, Andy saw the great northern diver and shag earlier in the morning.
Monday, 17 March 2008
One of the chiffchaffs was still keeping out of the cold wind at the pond, feeding low down in the willow bushes. Also enjoying the sheltered conditions and feeding around the yellow catkins were some blue tits and long-tailed tits. On the pond were two pochard as well as a few tufted ducks and shoveler.
Waders and wildfowl continued to enjoy the flooded fields with 12 black-tailed godwits and 20 curlew seen. Several pairs of lapwing continue to display with some starting to practice scraping nests. Wigeon of course appeared to be around most patches of water.
The main brent goose flock spent the afternoon feeding on the wheat field near the park. It was quite a spectacle to see 1000 noisy geese fly over the car park in one big flock.
Despite the cold north-easterly wind and low cloud, the two chiffchaffs were still seen, keeping low down out of the wind in willow bushes over the park pond.
Conditions were so grey out on the mudflats, it was difficult to recognise the horizon with the mud and the sea the same colour as the sky. The tide was just heading out in the morning but the only waders of note other than the noisy oystercatchers, were eight very pale-looking sanderling. In the distance a pair of pintail were seen flying into the Colne - a surprisingly scarce duck at the park.
Martin Cock had four Mediterranean gulls by the Youth Camp and heard a singing corn bunting near there too. He also had his first chiffchaff of the spring in a garden in the Lane in West Mersea yesterday.
Richard Allen had a merlin along the East Mersea beach.
The most numerous moths were the common quaker and the hebrew character, both with about 40 moths of each. Quite a few small quakers and a dozen or so March moths were also in or around the trap in my back- garden in the country park.
The most welcome sound at the park today was the little chiffchaff, singing heartily from bushes near the pond. This is the first summer migrant to make it back from Africa and over the next few weeks, the mass influx of other migrant birds will be taking place.
During the walk round the park in the afternoon, a second chiffchaff was seen feeding beside one of the paths. It was very confiding at one point, perching in branches just above me, pumping its tail, occasionally calling whilst busily feeding on lots of small flies.
This section of the beach near the Point shows the damage done by recent high tides. The sea has eaten into the vegetation and ripped out the plants exposing the roots here of the sea sandwort, leaving it looking like great piles of spaghetti.
No sign of any late snow buntings or early wheatears on the beach. The Colne was quiet too with only a couple of great crested grebes seen.
Friday, 14 March 2008
New onto the pond were two female pochard, the first ones of the year here, possibly checking out potential breeding sites. Offshore three red-breasted mergansers were seen flying to the mouth of the Colne to feed.
On Friday 14th 600 brent geese were still feeding in the grazing fields along with at least 300 wigeon. A female sparrowhawk has been seen over the last two days flying to the corner of the park where the recently refurbished nest platform was installed last week.
The warm weather on Friday encouraged at least four adders to come out in their usual localities. The first butterfly of the year was a peacock fluttering over Bromans Lane.
Michael Thorley had a rewarding visit to the Youth Camp on Friday seeing short-eared owl, 5 Mediterranean gulls, great northern diver and a pair of stonechats.
Monday, 10 March 2008
This was the view along the seawall from Coopers Beach at high tide, during the strong winds and rain. The sea was pounding the seawall so much that I immediately abandoned the idea of walking along it. Constant spray showers and a very slippery surface meant it was safer and drier to stay away. As far as the eye could see, great plumes of spray were being flung up and over the wall.
There was one bird of note seen during the short walk. An adult Mediterranean gull plodded across the football pitch in the company of 40 black-headed gulls, looking for worms. The Med gull is in the centre of the photo facing right with the very black head. Through the binoculars, this bird had at least one coloured ring on its leg, a white one. In recent years there have been some birds ringed further round the Essex coast in Hamford Water, so this maybe one of them. Last week Michael Thorley saw two Mediterranean gulls on the sea near here at the Youth Camp.
Not much else to see in the rain and strong wind other than sheltering wood pigeons and a group of long-tailed tits.
Crossing the Strood causeway in the afternoon, at least 100 black-tailed godwits were feeding on the mud close to the road.
Sunday, 9 March 2008
Fifty brent geese took advantage of the flooded saltings to up-end to feed. A little egret perched on a nearby willow tree as the sea came in, filling up the creeks where it normally fed. Not much else of note although a dunnock in the sea-blite bushes must've been getting anxious as the tide rose quickly to cover much of its territory.
Very few birds were seen in the water from the Hard. Most of the Packing Shed Island was under water, except for the actual Shed on its stilts. A small number of herring gulls remained on the last tufts of marsh / shell mounds as the water lapped all around.
Offshore from Kingsland Road were the great northern diver and 20 great crested grebes - but little else. A shag had been seen by the power station outfall.
Graham Ekins had seen a peregrine, eider and red-throated diver on the previous day in the estuary.
Saturday, 8 March 2008
All along the Strood Channel, there were various small flocks of waders and wildfowl to be seen. Small groups of dunlin, redshank and curlew were the main waders seen with one or two oystercatchers.
There were about 400 brent geese feeding in the nearby wheat field before they got disturbed and headed out onto the saltings, where they joined some of the wigeon and teal.
The only small birds of note were 5 reed buntings and a rock pipit seen feeding close to the rising tide-line, presumably searching for seeds or insects pushed up by the tide.
Sadly the old wooden jetty in the background has seen better days.
On a grey, breezy day on the seawall, a little bit of spring was on show with this little cherry-plum / blackthorn bush.
Friday, 7 March 2008
At the beginning of the day there were a couple of redwings feeding in the car park as well as a couple of song thrushes. In the wheat field beside Bromans Lane, the 500 brent geese continued to feed at various times of the day. A pair of red-legged partridges were also seen here.
The main wildlife attraction for visitors at the moment are the adders at the country park. The early morning sunshine on the morning of Wednesday 6th, brought out 5 or 6 adders in their regular spot near the car park and along the central track.
Whilst admiring the adders, the rapid flight of a kingfisher was briefly glimpsed as it sped from the pond, across the car park heading to the beach. This is the first kingfisher record at the park this year. One of the local male great spotted woodpeckers was drumming loudly from trees just north of the park.
This ominous dark cloud was watched heading south towards the park on Tuesday 4th in the afternoon bringing a mixture of rain and some sleet. Just in the foreground are some small mounds of grass, raked up and ready for removal. This will prepare the grassland for the 1400 small wild flowers to be planted, to help enhance the flora of the site.
A common shrew was easily located amongst the short grass, whilst high above the areas of long grass, were a couple of singing male skylarks.
It was a sunny start to Friday 7th and around 5 adders were out basking as well as a different individual in the opposite corner of the park.
One of the signs of spring on Mersea is when the first corn bunting sits on its song-post alongside the East Mersea road near Bocking Hall. One was seen perched on the regular bushes as I drove past it.
Michael Thorley saw a short-eared owl on the Rewsalls Marshes near the Youth Camp on Wednesday 5th.
Sunday, 2 March 2008
As it was cloudy on the Saturday evening, the moth trap was put out in the park for the first time this year. By the morning 7 moths of four species had been caught. Several common quakers, pictured below, were found along with small quaker and the hebrew character.
This very pale looking grey shoulder knot was also seen in the trap on Sunday morning. Several of these were caught during March last year.
Whilst walking round the park I noticed this bundle of old twigs hanging on a low branch in one of the small woodlands. This is the old sparrowhawk nest which has been blown down in recent days by strong winds. The nest has been successfully used to bring up broods of young sparrowhawks over the last two summers.
Elsewhere on the park, it was pretty much the same sort of birds around as in recent weeks. On the grazing fields, 500 wigeon, 700 brent geese, 40 shelduck, little egret, a handful of black-tailed godwits and 25 curlew.
What was nice was the sight and sound of some of the lapwings going through their courtship displays with their tumbling flights and their loud peewit calls.
On the mud near the Point 400 golden plover all stood in regimented order facing the wind in identical plumage - except one! One plover stood out from afar and was already sporting full summer breeding plumage with a black belly and neck, whilst its companions still had their pale creamy underparts.
A red-legged partridge calling from the field near the park early in the morning, has been an elusive species in recent weeks.