Sunday, 11 January 2009


Several members of the local RSPB Colchester members group wrapped up warm for their annual birdwatching visit to East Mersea on Sunday 11th. There was another sharp overnight frost and most of the ditches, ponds and fleets remained frozen except where wildfowl were gathered. During the day the weather improved and warmed up with the thaw setting quickly in.
At the start of the day a corn bunting was noted on a bush alongside the East Mersea road and in the Cudmore Grove car park a sparrowhawk passed over.

Most of the country park pond was still frozen although six species of duck gathered in and around the section not covered with ice. Of the 70 or so ducks present, most were mallard with a few shoveler, teal, gadwall, wigeon and one tufted duck, along with several coot and a little grebe.
A water rail was seen briefly on a couple of occasions scuttling across the corner of the nearby grazing field.

As we walked beside the hedgeline bordering the grazing field, a woodcock flew rapidly away towards the opposite side of the field, dropping down out of sight. Later on the walk, one of the members reported that the woodcock was seen again in the same area in flight. The few other birds seen on the grazing fields included at least 11 snipe feeding out in the open, 24 curlew, a few golden plover, black-tailed godwit, 5 meadow pipits and a small flock of goldfinches. There was the brief view of a sparrowhawk along the back of the fields and one fox was seen sprinting across two fields. One of the nearby pastures at Ivy Farm had a few more birds in it with at least 6 snipe, 20 golden plover, green woodpecker, fieldfare and 30 starlings.

Along the seawall the group had very good views of 3 snow buntings feeding on the beach closest to the main park. This group of buntings which appears to comprise one male and two females, has been frequenting this area for nearly a week, happily feeding on seeds amongst the grass and the strandline. Whilst walking the seawall we had views of rock pipit, stonechat, 10 skylarks and a few reed buntings.

The high tide meant there were no big flocks of waders feeding out on the mudflats, although a good variety were seen either in flight or dotted along the saltmarshes. Turnstones fed along the beach as did some ringed plovers, whilst redshank, dunlin, knot, grey plover and black-tailed godwit were seen in various small groups on the saltmarsh. On Langenhoe Point lots more waders roosted mainly oystercatchers and a few godwits. One striking ginger-coloured summer plumaged bar-tailed godwit flew around the Pyefleet.

This lagoon along the Pyefleet beside the Oyster Fishery had 3 little grebes feeding in it presumably because it hadn't frozen. Five turnstones fed nearby on a big heap of discarded oyster shells. There was a good number of shelduck seen between East Mersea Point and the Fishery with about 200 birds noted. Several red- breasted mergansers were seen both in the Colne and in the Pyefleet but only a handful of great crested grebes. One grey heron was noted in the Pyefleet although the only little egrets seen were in the distance.

Next to Pewit Island in the Pyefleet was a big group of about 1000 wildfowl, mainly shelduck and wigeon, however 2 or 3 drake pintail were of note amongst the wigeon. In the middle of the Pyefleet at least four goldeneye could be seen in the distance with a group of other ducks that looked like gadwall. In the Colne there was another group of 18 gadwall seen later, in the middle of the river. Over the Langenhoe Point, two marsh harriers were seen quartering the reedbed.

As the tide receded more waders appeared with a couple of avocet flocks totalling about 50 birds flying down the Colne or into the Pyefleet. Several hundred dunlin were also seen heading along the Pyefleet. The main flock of brent geese in the Colne seemed to be feeding in a field on the east side near Brightlingsea. A couple of hundred brent also fed in the wheat field to the west of the park.

An attempt was made towards the end of the afternoon to watch short-eared owls on the Rewsalls Marshes in East Mersea. Sadly no owls appeared in the last hour up until the sun set. Needless to say after the visiting birders had decided to head home, a barn owl appeared over one of the fields to the west. I walked along the seawall and was rewarded with some close views of the owl flying low over the grass field. Also of interest a short-eared owl was glimpsed briefly on about four occasions including one binocular view with both owls seen in close proximity at the same time. Also seen was a female sparrowhawk hunting late in the day along the back of the fields.

Offshore the outgoing tide allowed lots more views of waders on the mud with 10 sanderling seen close in while to the east, at least 1000 golden plover were noted on the mud. Feeding on one of the pastures were 150 brent geese.

Andy Field visited Reeveshall and noted 10 corn buntings by the pool, also one or two pintail seen in the Pyefleet. From West Mersea at the entrance to the Mersea Quarters, 4 eider and a shag were noted.
Nick Reynolds reported having a very good view of a woodcock that he saw from his house on Saturday in Meeting Lane, East Mersea. Woodcock are rarely seen on the ground but he was able to see it resting and moving about in his copse by the house.

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