Thursday, 31 December 2009

MERLIN MAYHEM


The year ended with another dull and chilly day with some rain over the country park on Thursday 31st. There was a high tide late in the morning with the water flooding the saltings as in the picture above, taken at the Point.

The first glimpse of a merlin was seeing it in hot pursuit of a smaller bird like a pipit or lark over the seawall, the bigger bird stooping rapidly down on the smaller bird. The female merlin soon gave up the chase and flew low and fast over the saltmarsh, scattering the various waders and wildfowl in different directions. It perched on top of a tall post on the saltmarsh for several minutes, surveying the scene, before flying further along to sit on a lower post. It then crossed the Pyefleet Channel and disappeared amongst the big wheeling flocks of golden plover, lapwing, dunlin, godwits and brent geese that had risen into the air as the merlin approached.

Also from the Point was a close male red-breasted merganser with other mergansers further up-river, along with 4 eider drifting down the Colne. A water rail called from the saltmarsh at the Point and 3 rock pipits flew up calling. Offshore the big wigeon flock of 500 flew off when a boat passed nearby.

The wet fields held a variety of waders and ducks during the high tide with 100 black-tailed godwits, 100 teal and smaller numbers of dunlin, turnstone, lapwing, redshank, gadwall, wigeon, shoveler and mallard. The park pond held the usual small selection of ducks of recent days.

Ian Black watched a woodcock fly out of the wooded south-east corner of the park in the middle of the afternoon.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

GREY AND CHILLY AT THE POINT

Andy Field and I walked along the beach at the park to East Mersea Point on a chilly and very grey Wednesday 30th. Despite the cold north-east wind in the morning, it did manage to stay dry, contrasting with the afternoon when it rained again. Our efforts in the cold were rewarded with a nice variety of winter birds typical of the Essex coast.

A peregrine was watched leisurely flying eastwards over the sea towards Colne Point, scattering flocks of the 200+ wigeon that were resting on the water. In the Colne 23 red-breasted mergansers were seen, a single great crested grebe, while over Langenhoe Point 2 marsh harriers were noted, one later crossing the river to Brightlingsea marshes.

By the Point 130 shelduck were on the water, 2 sanderling were with some turnstones on the beach and amongst a small group of dunlin was one knot. Later in the afternoon a group of 200 knot fed close into the park beach.

There was a nice variety of waders and wildfowl on the flooded field with 100 black-tailed godwits, 50 dunlin, 10 redshank and few turnstones being the main waders. Amongst the ducks, 100 teal, 30 shoveler, 30 wigeon were the main ducks of interest with a few gadwall and mallard also present. Towards the end of the day there was the now familiar gathering of stock doves by the copse at the pond with at least 70 birds arriving for the evening roost.

During a short spell in the hide overlooking the pond and nearby fields, 40 species of birds were noted which helped brighten up the dull day. The birds were the typical ones of the area with sparrowhawk, kestrel, 18 goldfinches, 2 song thrushes, green woodpecker, water rail calling amongst the regular resident birds.
As night fell a little owl was heard calling from the nearby Bromans Farm area.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

DULL AND DAMP DAY


The thawing of snow and ice of recent days has left behind a saturated ground, especially on the park grazing fields, pictured above on Tuesday 29th. To add to all the water everywhere, it rained again in the afternoon and evening, making a dull and damp Tuesday.

The dull weather seemed to dampen down the bird activity about the park with the main interest being the waders and wildfowl on the pond and on the flooded grazing field. On the pond 50 mallard, 12 gadwall and 6 shoveler were the main ducks along with a recent influx of 6 tufted ducks. A snipe flew over the pond towards the flooded field nearby and a song thrush was the only other bird of note here in the afternoon rain.

Ducks were spread over the flooded field with 100 teal being the main species along with 10 wigeon, 10 shoveler and 6 gadwall. Also enjoying the wet conditions were 20 black-tailed godwits, 3 redshank and a grey plover. Most of the wigeon seemed to be on the sea with at least 200 birds bobbing on the water.
A quiet day!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

GRADUAL THAW

There was a very sharp frost at the start of Wednesday 23rd with lots of ice around such as on the park grazing fields in the picture above. The brief spell of sunshine helped thaw some of the ice and snow in the morning and then later in the afternoon it was mild enough to rain.

There were still a good number of birds on the fields despite the snow and ice. During the afternoon high tide, 300 wigeon, 200 golden plover, 100 black-tailed godwits, 50 lapwing were the main birds while other waders included 15 snipe and several turnstone and redshank. Other birds noted here were 100 starlings, 20 meadow pipits and 5 skylarks. Yesterday a sparrowhawk flew along the back of the fields and landed briefly in one of the oak trees.

At the nearby pond, 160 mallard, 20 gadwall along with a few teal were the main ducks gathered in or around an unfrozen section of water. A new family of mute swans have arrived at the pond with 3 adults and two youngsters making the most of the unfrozen section.
A kingfisher arrived and perched in a willow bush just as the light was fading, for the second cold night in a row. The previous night it flew over the car park in the near dark as it headed to roost at the pond. Also that night 2 foxes were seen brazenly crossing the middle of the pond by walking over the ice, causing consternation amongst all the nearby ducks.


This area of the park used as an extra car park in the summer, was last carpeted in white back in the spring, when there was an eyecatching display of flowering daisies. At the moment this area seems to be holding onto the snow with around 5 cms still lying, while many other areas on the park melt away.

Sixty fieldfares flew over the park calling as they headed north-east. Later in the afternoon a few were seen near the East Mersea pub in a field while Martin Cock saw some at Reeveshall. There were more finches around the car park than normal with about 20 greenfinches, 30 chaffinches and 20 goldfinches, all perched up on the tree-tops.

John Benns walking his dog near the clifftop just before dusk, flushed a woodcock from beneath the young trees. This follows previous sightings in the last 3 weeks at the park of 2 birds out of a hedge near the grazing fields and another one in Bromans Lane.

There has been no sign of the shorelark or any snow buntings at the Point in recent days. Offshore 4 eider were still present in the river as were 5 great crested grebes, male tufted duck and 15 red-breasted mergansers. Twenty sanderling fed along the beach at high tide with several turnstones.
On Monday 2 marsh harriers were seen flying up the river towards Langenhoe.

Martin Cock visited Maydays and noted hen harrier, 1000 brent geese, marsh harrier along with a water rail calling from a ditch and a flock of 30 chaffinches with a few yellowhammers. From the Esplanade at West Mersea there were 20 red-breasted mergansers and the great northern diver.

On Monday Glyn Evans and Brian Cooper reported seeing on their walk round the Island, 2 hen harriers heading along the Pyefleet to West Mersea, merlin at Reeveshall and another one at the Point, jack snipe in a field near Shop Lane, 25 snipe, 12 red-breasted mergansers, 8 marsh harriers on Langenhoe and 3 lesser redpolls over Cudmore Grove. From West Mersea the great northern diver and 2 shags were seen.

There were a lot of items frozen around the park such as this broom bush laden down with frost.

The spiky seed cases of the sweet chestnuts pictured above, on the trees in the car park were also frozen as were lots of the wild rose-hips, pictured below.


Even on the beach many of the shells were coated with frost as in the photo below.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

SNOW IN THE SUNSHINE

Another chilly but sunny day with plenty of snow still lying around for its third day since it fell on Thursday night, as shown at the park pictured above. There were a few more smaller birds to see foraging through and beneath the trees. One edge of the park had a mixture of long-tailed tits, blue tit, robin, wren, dunnock, blackbird, song thrush, chaffinch, greenfinch, while a small group of goldfinches fed in some nearby alder trees.

At the partially frozen park pond, 90 mallard, 20 gadwall, 10 shoveler, 3 little grebes and 10 coots were the main wildfowl present. On the flooded field nearby 12 snipe fed with 15 moorhens and a couple of lapwings. Three little egrets roosted briefly at the pond in the late morning while in the fields were 800 golden plover roosting during the high tide.
Late in the afternoon at least 50 stock doves arrived to roost at the copse by the pond.

The saltmarsh beside the seawall near the Point is still carpeted with snow, pictured above. There was no sign of the shorelark at the Point since its brief showing for an hour and a half yesterday. A dozen skylarks, 8 reed buntings, 2 rock pipits were still present and the male stonechat was seen by the seawall.

In the river 3 female eider, 5 red-breasted mergansers, 6 great crested grebes were noted as well as the usual good selection of waders on the nearby mudflats.

The sun setting across the sea in front of the park as in this picture above, is quite a rarity to admire. For most of the year the sun sets much further north and behind the park cliff. Getting the high tide combined with a clear sunny afternoon for this view doesn't happen too often either.

Martin Cock spent the last part of the day on the Shop Lane seawall and saw 12 marsh harriers coming into the Langenhoe roost. Also noted were 6 goldeneye, 4 red-breasted mergansers, 60 avocets, 100 bar-tailed godwits and 2 pintail along the Pyefleet. The jack snipe was seen again in the ditch by the East Mersea road near the shop.


The last glimpse of the setting sun was just after this photo was taken, dropping between the two reactors of the Bradwell nuclear power station on the south side of the river Blackwater.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

SHORELARK SURPRISE

These two images of the shorelark were taken by Sean Nixon, who was lucky enough to visit East Mersea and kindly passed these photos to me to display. He told me that he had to lie down on the snow to get these photos and at one point the bird came too close to photograph!




There was still plenty of snow lying around on Sunday 19th and with sub-zero temperatures overnight, there was plenty of ice that stayed around for most of the day. The search for some snow buntings on the beach at the Point proved fruitless. However the reward for slogging across the park and along the snowy seawall was stumbling into a shorelark on the beach, in the area pictured above.

Having glanced at a couple of skylarks feeding along the strandline where the previous high tide touched the snow, I noticed another small lark-like bird drop down onto the beach about 30m away, that looked like a shorelark. Although it spent most of the time facing away and into the chilly easterly breeze, occasionally it would turn round to show the distinctive black markings on the yellow face. There weren't any of the classic black horns on display on its head but it was still a well-marked bird.

The bird worked its way slowly along the tideline, picking at any seeds it could find. At one point it flew close-by and dropped down only about 15m from me, providing good views as it continued to feed on the beach. At times a couple of skylarks, appearing a bit dumpier, joined the shorelark to feed. Martin Cock managed to dash up to the Point to see the bird while Ruth Dence also enjoyed seeing the bird and then Sean Nixon arrived on the scene not knowing it had just been found but armed with his camera and long lens he managed to take a good photo which he posted on the birding website's photo gallery (scroll down to find shorelark photo) at -
http://www.surfbirds.com/cgi-bin/gallery/display.cgi?gallery=gallery12;


This shorelark may be the bird reported from the nearby Colne Point about 3 weeks ago. It is the first shorelark on the Island for several years with the last one at the Point staying for about a month between early December 2002 and early January 2003.

Other birds seen at the Point included 12 skylarks with another 9 heading south off the Island, also 3 rock pipits and 8 reed buntings. Offshore there were 3 female eiders in the river, 8 red-breasted mergansers and a common seal.






As the tide came in, half of the 1000 golden plovers that were gathered on the mud, flew to roost on the snowy grazing fields pictured above. As with the previous day 200 wigeon, 30 black-tailed godwits and a dozen snipe were seen feeding. The male stonechat was seen alongside the borrowdyke.

Despite the picturesque scene in the pictures above and below, there were few visitors to the park during the day. In the snow there were all sorts of footprints to follow especially lots of rabbit tracks. A fox was seen walking along a ditchline by the pond in mid morning, as one or two birds called anxiously above it.








Martin Cock saw 3 jack snipe beside the East Mersea road as he drove to the park around mid-day. Two of them landed in a roadside ditch near Bocking Hall farm and the third bird with its distinctive short bill, dropped into the ditch between the shop and the pub.




The sun set at 15.45 leaving behind this warm peachy glow to the sky and on the mudflats below. As the tide was heading out, there were masses of different kinds of waders arriving to feed as the light faded. However the peace for them was shattered when a female merlin went racing across the mud sending the big flocks of knot and golden plover in different directions. The merlin had its sights set on a turnstone which managed to escape the high speed chase and the stoops from above. The merlin gave up and raced over the seawall and headed low inland over the grazing fields.

Friday, 18 December 2009

GROVE UNDER SNOW

Winter fell out of the sky through the night of Thursday 17th, carpeting Cudmore Grove with up to 10cms of snow by dawn on Friday 18th. The northerly wind blew the snow up against the side of the bird hide, resulting in this wintry port-hole view of the park pond pictured above.

Most of the pond was ice free and the ducks were able to splash about as normal with the 50+ mallard the main species along with 16 gadwall, 8 shoveler anda few teal. At the edge of the pond beside the grazing field 2 snipe were aout feeding with several moorhens.


Not many visitors to the car park today except for a handful of hardy dog-walkers. Although the sun came out in the middle of the day, there was only a slight thaw. By the end of the day most of the snow remained and was freezing solid as night-fell underthe clear sky. The only birds seen in the car park area were a few blackbirds feeding on the cotoneaster berries.


No snow buntings could be found on the beach at the Point although the ten reed buntings and 4 rock pipits were seen as usual along with more skylarks than normal. A flock of 20 flew onto the grazing fields, 10 were flying around the saltmarsh while another 4 birds flew south over the Point and straight out to sea.

As the tide came in around the Point, 15 species of wader in 1o minutes were noted, which is probably the highest tally in one "stint" for this site. The selection included curlew, oystercatcher, avocet, black-tailed godwit, bar-tailed godwit, redshank, lapwing, grey plover, golden plover, ringed plover, knot, dunlin, sanderling, turnstone and snipe. Notable counts included 70 avocets, 700 golden plover, 500 knot, 4 sanderling and a couple of snipe that flew off the saltmarsh.
At least 10 red-breasted mergansers were seen in the river, along with one great crested grebe and a common seal.



The flock of 300 wigeon were still trying to graze in one corner of the fields, despite the thick covering of snow. Also in the fields were 30 black-tailed godwits, lapwing, golden plover, 12 snipe, curlew and a few skylarks, meadow pipits, goldfinches and starlings.


The wintering pair of stonechats were still present but were avoiding their usual fence and ditchlines because of the snow and instead fed low down amongst the reeds along the water's edge of the dyke. Several little egrets flew around looking for somewhere to roost during the high tide, their white plumage helping them blend into the white surroundings.



Much of the snow stayed on the sides of the trees and posts throughout the day, freezing quickly up at the end of the day after sunset.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

WINTRY WEATHER

It was a freezing start to Wednesday 16th with many stretches of water frozen including part of the park dyke pictured above. There were a variety of wintry showers during the day with rain, sleet, fine dusting of snow at East Mersea but larger flakes of snow falling at West Mersea in the early afternoon.

About 300 wigeon grazed a section of the field although on once occasion, they all flew onto the dyke and crammed into one unfrozen section. Also feeding amongst the wigeon were 45 black-tailed godwits, while overhead 8 snipe were seen flying past. In the field to the rear 40 curlew, 6 black-tailed godwits, 4 snipe, 25 lapwing and a fox were seen.

On the partially frozen park pond, 50 mallard, 12 shoveler, 14 gadwall were the main ducks while a single black-tailed godwit fed along one of the nearby boggy areas and a little egret roosted in a tree at high tide.

It stayed cold enough in some parts of the park that little patches of snow remained in place as on a log pictured above, although most of it never settled.

Despite the sleety / snowy weather, there were no snow buntings at the Point. There were 10 reed buntings, 4 rock pipits, 8 skylarks, 5 dunnucks noted and a pair of red-breasted mergansers few into the river. Amongst the usual selection of waders 6 sanderling were seen at the Point with a further 8 seen in front of the cliff on the mudflats, along with 200 knot.

At West Mersea a Slavonian grebe was seen on both Monday and Tuesday while the great northern diver was seen on Monday.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

DOWN BY THE HARD

A bright start to Saturday 12th with clouds gathering during the morning as seen at the West Mersea Hard pictured above. Despite the relatively calm conditions, there was little to see amongst the boats other than a couple of feeding cormorants and further up channel, 10 dabchicks. The familiar waders and wildfowl were along the Strood Channel feeding or resting on the mud with the tide on its way out.

Curlew, redshank, dunlin, oystercatcher, turnstone, black-tailed godwit, lapwing and dunlin were the main waders seen dotted along the mud in varying numbers. Along the side of the channel were 200 wigeon and several shelduck while the main flock of several hundred brent geese were west of Ray Island.

Andy Field couldn't see the smew from Coast Road that had been recently reported from Old Hall Point. However he did find a female mandarin duck later in the morning on the flooded grazing field at the country park. It didn't seem the sort of place to find one, grazing in an open field, when they normally prefer more enclosed watercourses like ponds and lakes.

Hugh Owen saw a short-eared owl flying over Langenhoehall Marshes on both Friday and Saturday, the latter sighting was after the bird was flushed by a couple of falconers.

Martin Peers reported a black-throated diver, great northern diver and a female eider off West Mersea on Sunday 13th. The black brant was with the main brent geese flock on Reeveshall, while 2 marsh harriers, 6 red-breasted mergansers, 40 avocets and 8 bar-tailed godwits were also noted.


Had a quiet walk along the Rewsalls seawall next to the Coopers Beach caravan site around the middle of the day on Friday 11th. The conditions were bright and there was only a slight breeze. After the overwintering 3 short-eared owls in these fields last winter, I thought it would be worth checking the area again for owls this winter but to no avail.

Two little owls briefly duetted together from the Youth Camp, a little egret flew along the seawall while in the dyke there were 10 mallard, 4 teal and a little grebe. There were plenty of waders scattered across the mudflats, although the only group to catch the eye were 200 golden plover.

In the trees by the East Mersea church were a mixed flock of 30 goldfinches and greenfinches. A song thrush was seen in one of the hedges on the marshes and a great spotted woodpecker flew over the caravan site.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

COASTAL BATTERING

It made a change to watch the sun-rise above the sea on Thursday 10th, instead of the recent cloudy mornings usually with the rain. It stayed sunny throughout the day but with a chill in the wind from the north.

The wet autumn has loosened the park cliff which the sea has brought crashing down in places such as this one pictured above, onto the beach. One of the roughest high tides was on Tuesday afternoon when the strong wind whipped up the waves giving the coast a real good battering.

At the Point a peregrine flew leisurely north-west over the grazing fields, creating chaos amongst the other birds as it passed by. Lapwing, redshank, dunlin, wigeon, teal and wood pigeons all flew off as the big falcon flew by.

In the distance further up the Colne on Langenhoe Point, something spooked all the birds into the air, before the peregrine got there. A huge flock of at least, and possibly more, 3000 golden plovers rose into the air in one huge mass and circled round a few times before they divided into two flocks. One half of the flock settled back down while the other headed off along the Pyefleet. No sign of any raptors that may've unsettled the plovers, although 3 marsh harriers had been glimpsed a few minutes earlier. A big flock of about 2000 golden plovers were seen resting on the mud by the Strood later on Thursday, around the middle of the day.

Despite the clear and sunny weather, the only birds in the river were a couple of great crested grebes and a cormorant. One common seal was seen briefly swimming down-river.
The main flock of several hundred brent geese were seen flying along the Pyefleet heading onto one of the fields on Reeveshall.

There was no sign of any snow buntings on the beach at the Point although they had been present early on Wednesday morning but not by the middle of the day. Three rock pipits, 8 reed buntings and up to 10 skylarks were seen on the Thursday while the pair of stonechats were along the seawall the day before.

Up to 50 black-tailed godwits were feeding in the flooded grazing field with a few hundred wigeon and teal. Also enjoying the wet conditions were 20 shoveler and 10 gadwall, some of these on the park pond too. At the park pond a pochard was noted on Thursday with a couple of tufted ducks while on Wednesday the fox was seen enjoying the morning sunshine by the pond.
On Tuesday a flock of 25 goldfinches flew past the pond, a bigger flock here for a while.

Martin Cock noted a common buzzard for the second time in a week at Maydays on Wednesday along with a kingfisher, 2 green sandpipers and 25 corn buntings, several of which were singing.

The bright red cotoneaster berries, like this clump pictured in the car park, look like they're being saved up by the birds for when the weather gets tougher in the middle of winter. Some of the finches and thrushes are still feeding on the sloes berries and the last of the rowan berries around the park.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

BRANT WITH THE BRENT

The sun managed to come out around the middle of the day after it finished raining on Sunday 6th. Along some of the hedgerows at the park there are still several blackthorn bushes with lots of sloes on them, as in the picture above. Some of the blackbirds and thrushes stripped quite a few bushes earlier in the autumn. It was a much better crop this year and the birds will enjoy eating them later in the winter.

In the field by the car park the black brant was on show on both Saturday and Sunday feeding with about 1000 brent geese. It can be quite a challenge trying to find the bird in amongst the other geese when all their heads are down feeding. However if it sticks it's head up, it appears much blacker with the very big white neck collar and if the flank is on show, this is much whiter.
The geese seemed to have spent most of the day stripping the field of its winter wheat crop undisturbed and without being scared off.

In the now flooded grazing field, waders were gathering to roost ahead of the afternoon high tide. About 100 black-tailed godwits, 60 redshank and 60 curlew were noted along with the usual 200 wigeon and 100 teal.

At the park pond on Saturday, 6 little egrets arrived to roost during the high tide, standing amongst the clumps of reedmace at the back of the pond. At least 50 ducks were present at the pond including mallard, shoveler, gadwall, teal and tufted duck.

There was no sign of any snow buntings here at the Point on Saturday but the group of 13 birds were back again on Sunday around the middle of the day at least. Having been seen on the beach to start with, they took off and flew across the river Colne towards Colne Point but returned back to the beach 10 minutes later.

Big flocks of waders were gathering on the mud by the Point as the tide came in. The biggest group were 2000 dunlin, while 200 knot, 50 avocet and 8 sanderling were some of the other interesting waders. The pair of stonechats were seen by the Golfhouse on Sunday.

On Saturday a sparrowhawk flapped slowly over the Point and glided across the water to Point Clear. Ten skylarks, 4 reed buntings and a rock pipit kept their heads down as the hawk passed over.

Martin Cock saw a ringtail hen harrier at Maydays Farm on Saturday while Andy Field counted 9 marsh harriers going into the Langenhoe roost later in the same afternoon. The tawny owl was very vocal in the Shop Lane wood for Andy but didn't provide any views as darkness fell.
Earlier in the day a
marsh harrier flew south over the East Mersea road heading in the direction of the Rewsalls marshes. Andy had another marsh harrier near the Strood also during Saturday when it put the big flock of 1000 golden plover into the air.
On Sunday night the
little owl called very loudly from the side of the car park once the light had gone and the last of the visitors had just about gone home.

Martin Dence reported the unusual sight of a grey wagtail feeding around the dung heap at the back of his Bromans Farm near the park on Friday morning.



Despite the drizzle on Saturday evening, 8 winter moths were sitting on the outside of the lighted windows of the park house. These are the first ones noted here this winter and as the name suggests, they are on the wing in small numbers during the winter months.


Thursday, 3 December 2009

WATER LEVELS RISING

Water levels around the park had risen noticeably on Thursday 3rd after the torrential rain of the previous evening. One of the park's grazing fields pictured above seems to have more water than grass on show. The borrowdyke in the foreground is also looking very full as some of the water pours off the field.

The ducks and waders are enjoying all the water although they're not concentrated round one or two small pools now like they used to be. Amongst the few hundred wigeon and teal were 20 black-tailed godwits and 50 redshank arriving to roost on the fields for the high tide.

At the park pond the kingfisher made a brief appearance, flying around calling loudly before perching on a sallow bush over the water. It stayed around for only 5 minutes before flying fast and low over the flooded grazing fields. There have been surprisingly few kingfisher sightings this autumn and winter on the Island.

Also around the pond and grazing fields were 40 stock doves, various thrushes such as singles of redwing, fieldfare, song thrush and a number of blackbirds. A male yellowhammer perched up calling from hedges by the pond and fields during the morning. A sparrowhawk flew low over the fields and sat up in a tree at the back.

At the Point 12 snow buntings were quite showy flying around several times and landing to feed nearby on the beach. Two or three of the birds had the bigger white wing panels of the males, which were very obvious when the birds were in flight. Ten reed buntings fed amongst the saltmarsh and 3 rock pipits were also noted.

As the tide came in there was the great wader spectacle of thousands of waders congregating on the last area of mud near the Point. Standing in the one spot there was the notable tally of 14 species being watched on and around the old East Mersea Hard. At the right time with the tides, this location at the mouth of the Colne estuary provides great views of all the typical wintering waders on the Essex coast all together.

Species noted were the avocet, oystercatcher, curlew, bar-tailed godwit, black-tailed godwit, redshank, lapwing, golden plover, grey plover, ringed plover, knot, dunlin, sanderling and turnstone. An impressive array of waders to admire and all within a few minutes of watching!

A marsh harrier flew high out of the river Colne leaving the Langehoe marshes and heading towards Colne Point.

Andy Cook knocked on my door late in the afternoon to let me know he had been lucky enough to see an immature spoonbill on the saltmarsh pools by the Point. Unfortunately the bird didn't stay around and it flew off to the north side of the Island. This is the first record for the park and we'll have to hope the bird makes a return trip.

As I walked along a short section of beach at the Point, my eye was caught by a number of these black "mermaids purses" recently washed up along the strandline. These are the egg-cases of the skate or ray fish, pictured above with some of the spongy egg-masses of the whelk.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

RAIL IN THE RAIN

A lot of rain fell during Wednesday 2nd both in the morning and then again late in the afternoon turning torrential in the evening. I missed the chance to get some fresh air around the park during the dry spell in the middle of the day.

Seeking refuge from the late afternoon rain in the hide overlooking the park pond pictured above, the light was fading quickly. Even in the gathering gloom, a normally elusive water rail was watched amongst the clumps of reedmace in the middle of the pond. It was first seen as it broke cover and swam a short distance between clumps, where it proded and probed the soil at the base of the stems with its red bill.

It was watched for about 10 minutes which seems like a lifetime for water rail views here. At one point it started to swim back to the edge of the pond but it decided that the 10 metre gap was too risky and it turned back to carry on feeding in a different clump. In the poor light it was lost to view amongst the reedmace.

Other birds on the pond included 40 mallard, 6 shoveler, 8 gadwall, teal, tufted duck, little grebe and the usual sprinkling of coots and moorhens around the place.

The other sighting of note was a good roost count of about 50 stock doves that settled into the trees at the back of the pond with some wood pigeons. There have been some higher counts than usual this autumn over the grazing fields but it now seems the stock doves are joining the regular wood pigeon evening roost here.

The dull weather of today was in sharp contrast to the fine start to yesterday Tuesday 1st, with the park beach pictured above, a warm place to be out of the way of the chilly northerly wind. Along the water's edge as the tide came in were several small groups of sanderling feeding with turnstones. One group by the cliff totalled 22 birds while another group seen a short while later at the Point totalled 25 birds - some of which were probably from the first flock seen earlier.

Four red-breasted mergansers flew into the river passing the Point but only one or two great crested grebes also in the river Colne.
No sign of any snow buntings on the beach although one rock pipit was seen along with 10 skylarks flying around. Also seen were reed buntings and the pair of stonechats by the dyke, while 8 meadow pipits fed in the pools in the field.

The pools in the field have now formed one big flooded area with several hundred wigeon and teal on show. Also seen were 2 foxes prowling along the back of the field with the ducks generally unperturbed, even when one fox waded into the water to drink. The two foxes then lay down beside each other and made their strange squabbling calls to each other face to face with all ears pinned back.
A third fox was seen a little further away, sunning itself at the bottom of a hedge by the pond.

The first singing mistle thrush of the winter was heard by the end of the East Mersea road, while at West Mersea a song thrush has been singing loudly in recent mornings by Firs Chase.

Richard Allen found a black brant goose with the dark-bellied brent at the north end of Shop Lane in the morning along with a peregrine, 1000 golden plovers and 4 marsh harriers on Langenhoe. At West Mersea a great northern diver was seen from St Peters.

Monday, 30 November 2009

EYGPTIAN EXOTICS

Andy Field found these two Egyptian geese on the park grazing fields on Sunday 29th. As far as we can recollect, this is the first record for the Island, so there was no hesitation in responding to the call to go and look at them. Although Egyptian geese are regarded as an exotic species, there are small numbers breeding in the wild in Essex and this pair could be wanderers from the nearby Abberton reservoir.

Andy had earlier managed to see 3 snow buntings at the Point as well at least 2 possibly 3 immature little gulls feeding in the Colne. There was also the big flock of 1000 golden plover on the mud.

Andy, Martin Cock and I then spent the last hour of daylight at the north end of Shop Lane in East Mersea, watching the marsh harriers coming into roost on Langenhoe. In the dull and breezy conditions, only six birds were seen flying around. Not much to report from the adjacent Pyefleet Channel except a male pintail amongst a group of wigeon. Two yellowhammers flew over one of the fields at dusk.

As we walked past the conifer wood the tawny owl was heard calling nearby. Returning the call back to the bird, it moved further away before coming back and somehow doubling back over us to some neighbouring trees, still calling regularly. Although the light had virtually gone, we backed up to some bushes and waited to see if the owl would fly past us. Amazingly the dark silhouette of the tawny then shot past us just above head height between us, before disappearing into the trees.

Begrudging congratulations to Martin who added two new species today for his year list on the Island taking his tally to the set target of 150 species. The rest of us are following closely behind him in the Island race and in my case, just two species behind. However the year's not finished yet Martin!


Managed to walk along the Strood seawall late on the afternoon of Monday 30th, as dusk descended. Whilst counting the 16 dabchicks just up from the Dabchicks sailing club, a common seal swam slowly down channel. There have been lots of reports of a seal feeding around the area of the West Mersea Hard in recent weeks.

Amongst the various waders and wildfowl seen were 200 knot and 500 dunlin together, 200 wigeon and 90 shelduck feeding or roosting on the mud. The big noisy flock of 1000 brent geese flew off one of the fields next to the Ray Channel at dusk. At least 3 little egrets were ready for the night perched in the Ray Island trees. Two marsh harriers flew south-west over the Ray to their roost presumably on Old Hall marshes.

Two corn buntings, 2 reed buntings and a rock pipit were the only small birds of note seen along the seawall.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

BREEZY AND BRIGHT AT MAYDAYS

Andy Field and I braved the chilly wind to visit Maydays Farm and walk along the seawall pictured above, on a sunny Saturday 28th. We had hoped to find the small flock of twite that had been seen twice over the last week here, but without any joy.

Although the tide was out and there was plenty of mud on show, the strong wind hindered the viewing through the telescope. Four marsh harriers were seen on Langenhoe along with two distant common buzzards. Along the Pyefleet 2 great crested grebes were seen and the only wader flock of note were 200 knot.

On Reeveshall, 1000 brent geese fed on a big grass field along with a big flock of 1000 golden plover and a few hundred lapwing too. A stonechat was seen by the seawall along with some greenfinches.

It was nice to see lots of small birds beside a young tree plantation and flying around the various hedgerows near to the seawall. A mix of 20 chaffinches, 20 greenfinches, 10 yellowhammers, reed bunting as well as 15 fieldfares and a redwing were all noted along with the commoner birds like robin, blackbird, song thrush and tits.
A little owl flew along a hedge perching up on one or two trees and a water rail squealed briefly from the nearby borrowdyke.

On the Maydays saltmarsh, the only small flock of finches were 30 linnets and 10 goldfinches along the seawall but no sign of the twite. At least ten little egrets were seen dotted around the huge expanse of saltmarsh, along with the usual curlew and redshank. A snipe flew over and dropped down onto the saltings.

Friday, 27 November 2009

MERLIN OVER MARSHES

Walked the length of the seawall beside the Strood Channel by West Mersea on Friday morning It stayed dry, the out-going tide had uncovered most of the mudflats but the chill in the wind meant you didn't want to hang around for too long.

Watching the 100 lapwing and 300 golden plover suddenly take to the air, two falcons appeared into view and spooked the roosting waders away. In the hurry to quickly identify the two falcons, the first bird may've have been a kestrel but I turned my attention to the second bird which luckily was seen to be a female merlin. I kept watching this bird as it dropped quickly down towards the field and then raced low across the ground where it then sat on a clod of earth for five minutes. The brown colouring of the bird blended in well with the colour of the field.

A couple of minutes later there was the nice view of a male marsh harrier flying east over the same fields. The merlin watched it pass by, with the harrier continuing on its way and passing high over the traffic at the bottom of Strood Hill. The merlin took off and raced fast and low over the grass fields but no small birds were flushed up in front of it as it went. It disappeared out of view as it passed over the seawall towards the Hard and the Mersea Quarters.
A kestrel was seen at the start of the walk near the caravan site and then later, a sparrowhawk glided over Firs Chase.

The brent geese were feeding in a wheat field and a brief count of the youngsters present revealed about 60 young birds from this summer, among a flock of about 400 birds. A slightly higher proportion of young than earlier in the autumn but not the signs of a good breeding season this year.

In the Channel small groups of wigeon, teal and shelduck were noted while amongst the various waders, a group of 100 knot seemed the most interesting for the area. In the actual channel 10 little grebes were bobbing up and down in the choppy waters and a handful of cormorants were feeding amongst the boats.

The only small birds noted were 10 linnets, and a couple of reed buntings that kept thinking about flying off the Island towards Ray Island

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

GOOSE GUESSING


Ian Black and I gave this brent goose standing up in this picture a good long look, as it fed in the wheat field next to the country park on Wednesday 25th. It was quite a clear view of this small group of geese seen through the hedge only about 50 metres away from the car park. It had the features of the black brant and certainly stood out from the other dark-bellied brent geese beside it. The white flank patch was brighter on the day than this picture shows and was the first feature that made you look at the bird.

The other striking feature was the big and bright white neck collar, which clearly shows up in this photo. Not only did the collar encircle the whole neck, there was some unusual white flecking down the back of the neck. This should make the bird easy to recognise during the rest of the winter. However the base of the chest didn't appear as dark black as the classic black-brant birds that have been seen here before, although its wings did seem to be slightly blacker than the wings of the other geese next to it.

Judgement might have to be reserved on this goose until a better view is obtained in some better light. The black brant is the vagrant race of the brent goose to our shores, that breeds in eastern Siberia and in North America. There have been a few other sightings in previous winters here on the Island of a black brant seen feeding amongst the dark-bellied brent geese.


The pools in the grazing fields continue to extend in size with all the recent rain. Wigeon and teal total about 500 birds with a few gadwall and shoveler. Also feeding in the pools were 10 black-tailed godwit and 4 snipe along with one or two curlew and redshank.

Three snow buntings were watched flying west along the seawall and beach, calling as they went.
On the mudflats at low tide a huge flock of golden plover were gathered in their usual spot with about 2000 birds clustered together.

Martin Cock saw the 10 snow buntings at the Point on Tuesday and 2 peregrines along the Pyefleet on Wednesday, while Richard Brown was lucky to see the 10 twite on the saltings near Maydays Farm on Wednesday.
Received an interesting report of a grey wagtail seen feeding around a garden water feature in a West Mersea garden. The yellow markings seen on this bird distinguished it from the more usual pied wagtail.

This herald moth unexpectedly dropped onto the floor in the house on Wednesday morning. No doubt it moved in recently to try and find somewhere sheltered where it could spend the winter before it gets back on the wing next spring.

Monday, 23 November 2009

AHEAD OF THE RAINS

Managed a walk along the beach at the country park on a sunny morning before more rain arrived on Sunday 22nd. The rain certainly arrived with a vengance around the middle of the day which even included a brief flurry of hail mixed in with the deluge.

Passing a pair of pied wagtails and a meadow pipit feeding on the beach in front of the cliff pictured above, I marched on towards the Point. One or two dog walkers and some fishermen were already on the beach there so it was a pleasant surprise to see 10 snow buntings fly overhead and land back down on the beach. The distinctive tinkling calls caught the attention as they passed by with their wing patterns flickering in flight. They were left to settle down to feed along the tideline. A couple of other birdwatchers were later rewarded with braving the rain, by seeing the snow buntings still present in the middle of the day.
Other birds noted along the seawall were the pair of stonechats still present and a couple of rock pipits by the saltmarsh and beach.

On the flooded section of the grazing fields there were still good numbers of wildfowl with 300 teal present along with 200 wigeon. Also seen were a few gadwall and shoveler, while 4 snipe were feeding in one of the pools.

In bushes near the pond 4 fieldfares flew off calling, otherwise there wasn't the same variety or number of small birds around the park as yesterday.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

FINCH FLOCKS

There was a lot of bird activity around the hedgerows and bushes near the park pond for a change on Saturday 21st. Sitting in the bird hide provided an ideal place to watch several flocks of finches as they flew around the area and perching up in the trees.

There was a mixed greenfinch and chaffinch flock with about 25 birds of each species, flying back and forwards between hedgerows and copses near the pond. A similar sized flock of goldfinches were spending a bit of time in the alders as well flying around several times too. A flock of 21 fieldfares perched up on several bushes and trees too, calling out with their harsh scalding call-notes whenever they flew off. It was nice to get the first close views of them this autumn as they sat up on a near hawthorn bush.

Later in the day a sparrowhawk flew out of the copse at the back of the pond scattering all the birds. Towards the end of the afternoon as the wood pigeons gathered to roost, 20 stock doves were noticed arriving at the copse to roost too. A water rail called briefly from the pond in the morning.

Earlier by the car park a redwing, reed bunting were in my back garden briefly while 2 lesser redpolls and 8 siskins flew over calling.
Andy Field wasn't able to find any snow buntings at the Point although 4 rock pipits were noted.

Martin Cock was lucky enough to see 7 twite perch up on a small tree by the Maydays seawall on Saturday morning. The flock was seen to fly west and disappeared out of view on the large Maydays saltmarsh. Another single twite was seen in a flock of ten linnets - its purple rump easily discernible.
Four fieldfares flew west over Firs Chase in the morning calling as they passed.

On Wednesday 18th Martin saw a ringtail hen harrier and a peregrine on Langenhoe, while ten marsh harriers were seen coming into their roost.

Despite the relatively clear night sky and heavy overnight dew, there were a few more moths noted than was expected. This scarce umber pictured above was the first of this early winter period. It's been recorded here before in ones or twos in previous winters.

This worn and rather plain looking moth is the sprawler which hasn't been recorded here before. It was one of several moths that were found in the morning amongst the dew-laden grass and leaves a few feet from the trap rather than inside the trap. Also noted were mottled umbers, feathered thorns, silver-Y, large yellow-underwing, yellow-line quaker and December moth.