Monday, 29 June 2009


Went back to the pool at the country park grazing fields on a hot Monday 29th for another look at the very colourful ruff. This poor shot through the telescope of the two ruff was the only one I could take as the birds were frightened off straight after I took this photo by the herd of cattle coming to drink at the pool. The birds flew off high to the north and didn't return, so it was a bit rough that the cattle got thirsty when I arrived with my camera.

The bird on the right was briefly glimpsed through the telescope and the bright sunshine revealed it to have some amazing irridescent navy blue feathers on the back of the neck. Both birds must have been stunning to look at a few weeks ago, as they jousted with rival males at their lekking site, trying to woo and impress the watching female birds.

The three kestrel chicks newly fledged from the nestbox, perched on the same oak tree waiting for a parent to come back with food. One of the young made a short flight over the field before returning back to join its siblings. At one point a male sparrowhawk flew right over the tree with the kestrels watching it closely as it passed by. The female sparrowhawk was also seen earlier flying over the fields being mobbed by sand martins.

The pools are shrinking fast in the recent dry weather and the cattle are valuing the water for drinking. Four lapwing, redshank, 10 mallard, 4 shelduck and a few black-headed gulls and starlings were the other birds around the pools. A reed warbler sang from the ditchline at the back of the fields.

On the pond the female tufted duck was with at least five small ducklings while nearby 10 adults were snoozing. A young little grebe chick was noisily being fed and the mute swans are still present with 4 cygnets. The other pair of swans on the dyke still have their lone cygnet. Amongst the several mallard and lots of young coots a moulting male shoveler was noted.

Butterflies noted included a painted lady, comma, small tortoiseshell, large skipper, small skipper, meadow brown and a red admiral. On the pond several emperor dragonflies were seen while lots of blue-tailed damselflies and azure damselflies were present.

At the end of the day a barn owl crossed the East Mersea road near the Dog and Pheasant pub.

Sunday, 28 June 2009


It was a hot walk around the busy country park in the early afternoon of Sunday 28th. The main area of interest is still on the pools in the grazing fields, as it has been all through the spring. On this occasion two very colourful ruff, still with a fair amount of their breeding plumage on show. These males had very similar colour markings with a general black body and wings but with a ginger ruff still very visible around the neck.

Both birds waded through the shallow waters, picking at insects on the surface as they walked across. These ruff are returning from their breeding grounds probably in Scandinavia, stopping off here to refuel before continuing south for the winter.

The other bit of bird interest focussed on the oak tree in the hedgeline behind the pools, as in the picture above, where the young kestrel chicks were perched on a branch outside their nestbox. It's satisfying to see the specially designed box being used by them having been put up in the tree about 4 years ago with barn owls or kestrels in mind. The adult male arrived back with some food with the chicks calling out loudly as the prey was quickly passed over to one of the youngsters.

There were good numbers of sand martins flying around many of the surrounding fields and beach with at least 100 birds seen. Many of them perched on wires to the north of the park.

The first small skippers were skipping low over the grass with this one pictured above stopping briefly enough for a closer view. Several large skippers were also seen as were lots of meadow browns along hedges and amongst the long grass.

Along some of the bushier paths there were several speckled wood butterflies, one pictured above, defending their section of path from rivals. Any other speckled woods that got too close were quickly chased away.

Adrian Kettle saw 2 yellow-legged gulls by the Strood early on the Sunday morning, one of the birds an adult, the other bird a younger bird.

Saturday, 27 June 2009


After a few days off Mersea, returned on Saturday 27th and managed an evening walk along the Strood seawall as a thunderstorm passed close-by to the west of the Island. At one point the clouds darkened as in the picture above and briefly threatened to head towards West Mersea. It stayed close and muggy during the evening with little wind blowing to freshen the air up.

The tide was out along the Strood Channel and a few more waders were seen compared with the very quiet period during mid May to mid June. Two greenshank, green sandpiper, 20 curlew, 30 redshank, lapwing and 12 oystercatchers were seen on the mud while flying down channel were 3 avocet and 10 black-tailed godwits.

Two marsh harriers could be seen hunting over marshes in the distance at either end of the Strood causeway. Four little egrets were seen as were several little terns and common terns along the channel.

The sun peaked briefly out from behind the big cloud, just before sunset, providing a colourful view across the Strood Channel to Ray Island, pictured above.
There was still a nice selection of songs from various birds along the seawall such as sedge warbler, 3 reed warblers, 2 corn buntings, reed bunting, common whitethroat and skylark.
Several meadow brown butterflies were still fluttering along the grassy side to the seawall as the sun set.

Andy Field in recent days has seen a hobby by Chapmans Lane and the little owl at Weir Farm. On the pool in the park grazing fields 2, possibly 3, wood sandpipers were seen on the 26th, which seems very early for the return passage here on the Island. A hobby, marsh harrier near the fields, 56 black-tailed godwits on the mudflats and a badger in Bromans Lane, 2 adders in the park have all been seen recently.

On the park pond 9 tufted ducklings, little grebe chick were noted as was a young redshank chick by the pool in the fields. Two kestrel chicks emerged from the nestbox to perch in the oak tree.
Martin Cock saw 7 sandwich terns along the Pyefleet Channel at the beginning of the week along with the yellow-legged gull by the Strood.

Friday, 19 June 2009


An evening walk around the park on Friday 19th provided views of lots of sand martins around the beach and the surrounding fields with 100 birds seen. Many are still nesting in the cliff by the beach pictured above but other birds will have come from elsewhere. Peak counts are often in late June early July when several hundred are often seen.
A number of swifts mingled briefly with the martins as they drifted west over the Island. Earlier in the day one group of 50 birds passed over the car park.

On the pools in the grazing fields 4 teal, 6 shelduck, 2 shoveler, 15 mallard, 4 lapwing, redshank and a pair of oystercatchers were noted. The male kestrel returned to its nestbox in the tree at the back of the fields to feed its hungry and noisy chicks. A stock dove flew over the area and a fox was seen in the field behind.

Not much activity at the pond except for the swan family, several young coots, moorhens, 3 mallard and a pair of tufted duck. A male sparrowhawk flew low over the field and into the hedgeline, while green woodpecker, whitethroat were seen and the nightingale was still singing by the park entrance.

A little owl perched on a sign in the car park at dusk on Wednesday evening and another one perched by the East Mersea road on Tuesday evening. The avocets have returned to the saltmarsh pools near the Point with 5 birds on Tuesday and 6 seen on Thursday. A pair of Mediterranean gulls flew over the field on Tuesday and then an adult was seen flying over the car park on Tuesday evening.

Steve Entwistle saw a turtle dove and a little owl by the East Mersea church on Tuesday while Martin Cock watched the cuckoo flying low over the reeds in the dyke at Maydays. A marsh harrier flew over fields near the East Mersea road on Monday.

The main focus of insect activity in recent days has still been around the flowering cotoneaster with 2 red admirals, 5 painted ladies, meadow browns, large skipper and even a black-tailed skimmer being seen on the blossom.

Just over 30 species of moth were found in the trap at the park on Friday morning with this small barred yellow catching the eye. One individual came to the trap last week and its a moth that deserves a second look, to admire the yellow and brown markings.

Several of the moths including the ones shown here, were collected into containers and taken into the local Mersea Primary School for the children to admire. Having had the life-cycle and habits of moths explained to them, the children then spent a session drawing some of the 10 species taken in. These included the white ermine, buff ermine, mottled beauty, barred straw, pale prominent, cinnabar, green silver lines, large yellow underwing as well as these ones pictured here.

The most colourful moth in the trap as always was the elephant hawkmoth with 3 found in the morning.

The very distinctive magpie moth with the pied markings is the first of the year here. There should be a few more in the next few weeks but only ones and twos.

Probably the last cream spot tiger to be noted for the year, this one rapidly beating its wings as it prepares for take off, showing its colourful underparts.

Sunday, 14 June 2009


Spent the last part of Sunday 14th at Reeveshall admiring the sun set behind the Pyefleet Channel pictured above. The Reeveshall pool had the usual variety of waders and wildfowl as in previous days. However the interesting addition to the scene were five very smart spotted redshanks, also known as dusky redshank because of their black breeding plumage with white speckling on the wings. It's always a treat to see these elegant waders in their near jet-black plumage, especially if they're mingling with other drab coloured brownish waders.

Seeing this group of spotted redshanks here in mid-June is an early return journey for them as they head south from the Arctic on their autumn passage. This early group will be the females as they will have left the males behind to tend the broods. Spotted redshanks pass Mersea in small numbers during early summer with numbers often reaching double figures along the Pyefleet during July.

The other main group of waders on the pool were the non-breeding group of 24 black-tailed godwits, a few with ginger necks but most having dull plumage. The pair of avocets were still present and a curlew joined the resident lapwing, oystercatcher and redshanks. Also on the pool were teal, grey heron, little egret, shelduck and a pair of non-beeding mute swans.

Along the Pyefleet 5 grey plover were noted and at least 8 little terns hunting up and down the Channel. On Langenhoe 5 marsh harriers and a barn owl were seen flying about.
On Reeveshall the female marsh harrier sat on a bush for long periods and it was also nice to hear the songs of yellowhammer and a corn bunting in the area.

As the light faded the insect activity decreased too and this common blue butterfly pictured above, was spotted clinging to a plantain flowerhead for the night on the top of the seawall.

Several meadow brown butterflies, one pictured above, continued to fly about in the cooler evening air. One or two had already settled down for the night amongst the long grass. At least a handful of painted ladies were still flying late into the evening along the seawall.

At the end of the day a fox was checking out the park car park after all the visitors had left, while also at dusk near West Mersea a little owl sat on a telegraph post along Chapmans Lane.

One of the big attractions for insects at the park at the moment are the flowering cotoneaster bushes that I planted nearly 20 years ago. I didn't appreciate at that time how much the bees, butterflies and many other insects would enjoy this profusion of flowers. On a quick glance during the morning at least 10 painted ladies were counted, there was the pleasing sight of the once common small tortoiseshell as well as a few meadow browns. There was a report of a late green hairstreak butterfly on the bushy part of the cliff behind the beach.

The best night of the year so far for moths was confirmed when these four species of hawkmoth were found in the two moth-traps when they were checked at dawn on Sunday morning. Top left is the poplar hawk with privet hawk to the right, while below eyed hawk sits alongside the pink elephant hawk. In total nine hawkmoths of these species were noted.

The weather conditions were touch and go during the night as some light drizzle stopped play twice briefly with one of the traps. However by dawn before the crows and blackbirds were up looking for their breakfast, nearly 60 species of macro moths were being noted, a better night than the previous one.

There was a similar variety of moths as the previous night although there were a few extras such as common emerald, figure of eighty, maidens blush, barred yellow, small yellow wave, scorched wing, bordered white, swallow prominent, common footman, poplar grey, grey dagger, marbled brown and shark.

This birds wing moth with its strange bird's wing-like markings was found in the trap. It has been noted each year but only with one or two individuals showing up at the trap.

The oak hook-tip is a regular visitor to the trap and like other hook-tips, has the distinctive tip of the forewing drawn into the shape of a hook. This is the first individual in the trap this summer.

Saturday, 13 June 2009


There was a good haul of moths in the trap at the country park at 4am on Saturday 13th with this privet hawkmoth, pictured above, the biggest. Although the biggest in the trap, this individual appeared only two-thirds the normal length of privet hawks. This is the first one of the year and it's always impressive to admire the colourful pink banding on the abdomen.

This eyed hawkmoth was also making its first appearance at the park this spring. Although this individual appeared a bit worn on the wings, the bright eye spots on the hindwings were still colourful. There was a good showing of the colourful elephant hawkmoths with five seen in and around the trap. A cream spot tiger-moth was also another colourful addition.

Nearly 50 species of macro moth were noted which is certainly the best night of the year so far. Other species seen included buff-tip, light emerald, riband wave, blood vein, barred straw, mottled beauty, single dotted wave, buff arches, white-point, cloaked minor, burnished brass, snout, satin wave, dusky brocade and light brocade.

This rather worn puss moth has been an elusive visitor to the trap here at the park in recent years. However one or two of the very distinctive caterpillars are usually found on the white poplar leaves in the park every June / July.

The starwort moth pictured above is listed as a nationally scarce moth and is found mainly along the south and east coasts of England. The caterpillars feed on various saltmarsh plants such as sea aster. One or two of the moths have turned up at the trap here in recent years.

Whilst watching the resident sand martins flying about over the fields near the park pond, I noticed a hobby carrying out some high speed chases and stoops, as it tried to catch one of the sand martins. The sand martins managed to escape the pursuit leaving the hobby to fly off west.

One of the mute swans on the dyke had the misfortune to have got entangled with some hooked fishing line deliberately and unauthorised, anchored into the side of the dyke. Concerned visitors were able to cut the fishing line and remove some of the hooks embedded into the body and bill, resulting in some bleeding. The swan was set free and went to join its partner and cygnet. Its recovery will be monitored over the next few days.

At dusk a little owl perched up in a deserted car park, the nightingale sang briefly and a fox ran for cover. A different little owl was also seen perched on a telegraph pole along the East Mersea road at dusk.


The sunshine on Friday 12th at the country park provided ideal conditions for insect activity. Four large skippers, one pictured above, flitted alongside one of the paths, basking on some of the nearby nettles, with the first individual of the year only seen yesterday. Several meadow browns and speckled woods were also seen, also six painted ladies on the flowering cotoneaster shrubs in the car park.

Other insects noted were black-tailed skimmer dragonflies and a neatly patterned Mother shipton moth.

This female adder came to a sad end by being accidently run over by a car as it crossed the car park. I received a call from a visitor who alerted it to me and when I was shown it, the adder was in its last throws of wriggling. Although the adder in the photo appears in good nick, the underside of the snake about two-thirds along, was unfortunately split open.

After I was convinced it was actually dead, I was able to stretch it out for measuring and find it was just over 60cms long. Having abandoned the adder in a quiet corner of the park, it was curious to find it had disappeared within an hour later, no doubt taken by a crow, jay or magpie.

An evening visit to the Reeveshall pool, pictured above, for the last hour of daylight provided views of a few interesting birds as usual. There were 12 lapwing, 14 black-tailed godwits, pairs of avocet, redshank, oystercatcher, as well as 3 pochard, teal, shelduck and a pair of mute swans.

Male marsh harriers seemed to be everywhere with individuals on Reeveshall being seen in three different directions. The same was true on the nearby Langenhoe Marshes with three males also seen flying about. As the males interchange and fly around a lot, there was probably only four birds seen in total. A female harrier was seen on Reeveshall and a couple on Langenhoe.

One harrier ignored the thousands of mobbing gulls on Rat Island and swooped down to pick up a young gull chick. A short while later another harrier was seen flying away with something small, with up to five oystercatchers in hot pursuit of it.

Along the Pyefleet 30 black-tailed godwits fed on the mud, while a few common and little terns hunted along the Channel. Earlier in the evening Ian Black watched five sandwich terns fly west across the country park, as they headed away from the Colne.

The sun set behind some grey clouds but provided an orange glow just before darkness fell. Five little egrets flew east to roost and 30 sand martins flew overhead to their own roost. Three Mediterranean gulls crossed north over Reeveshall as they headed back to the gull colony.

This painted lady had settled down for the night against this fence post, well camouflaged against the wood.

Thursday, 11 June 2009


Andy Field took this photo of two common seals lazing on the mud along the Pyefleet Channel on the north side of the Island. The seals are often seen throughout the year here and occasionally in the summer they've bred here too, although no sign of any pups here so far this year.

The weather has been a mixed bag in recent days with sunshine in between the clouds and showers. There was a real deluge during the morning of Sunday 7th at the country park which soon cleared away to leave a warm and sunny afternoon. A group of 50 common swifts headed across the car park during the wet and blustery conditions.

The usual mix of birds have been seen around the park in recent days with the two nightingales still surprisingly singing loudly. The male by the park entrance has been singing heartily while the female has been calling regularly and croaking lots but stayed resolutely hidden inside bushes. The clifftop male was belting out his song at midnight a few nights ago, shattering the peace of the park. Both nightingales will stop singing soon, now that the breeding season is well advanced for them.

Other birds still singing around the park include common whitethroat, lesser whitethroat, blackcap, chiffchaff, skylark, meadow pipit along with many of the other common resident birds. The sand martins continue to nest in the beach cliff and the birds are often seen swooping low over the park grasslands and fields hawking after insects. Cuckoo sightings at the park have been very few this spring although in the last couple of days the male has been calling from the edge of the grazing fields.

The pair of mute swans at the pond finally showed off their new brood of 4 small cygnets on Thursday. The youngsters stayed close to mum as she swam across the water, while dad beat the water loudly with his wings during a short low flight. This was definitely a loud warning to any other swans nearby that this area was his territory. The other park swans with their 3 week old cygnet were seen ungainly plodding across the fields to the lapwing pools.

There don't appear to be as many young lapwing chicks as a week ago but as some of them can fly, it's unclear whether they've flown away or the young have been predated. A fox ran across the pools in the middle of Thursday, upsetting some of the lapwings as it went.

The male sparrowhawk flew around the car park carrying a small bird, as it headed towards to trees on the clifftop. The kestrels have been seen hunting over the park every day and should still have young to feed in the nestbox. The most exotic bird seen recently was an escaped cockatiel flying over the park, screeching as it went before landing in some trees.

Martin Dence reported that barn owls and little owls are still nesting at Bromans Farm at the moment. A different little owl was seen by the East Mersea road on Wednesday evening, perched on a telegraph post. Two corn buntings are still singing from bushes on the same stretch of roadside. Martin Cock saw a hobby and turtle dove near Meeting Lane last Sunday.

The cloudy weather recently has not been ideal for insects but this brightly marked lackey moth caterpillar was about to risk it's life by inching its way across the car park. The adult moths are a bright brown and are often seen in the moth trap later in the summer.

The warmth during Thursday saw a handful of the first meadow brown butterflies amongst the long grass and also the first large skipper along one of the paths. A couple of painted ladies are still around the park but nowhere near the numbers of a fortnight ago. A couple of black-tailed skimmer dragonflies were also noted, as well as azure and blue-tailed damselflies.

An evening walk along part of the Strood Channel on Tuesday, threatened rain with dark clouds nearby. Swifts, house martins and swallows hunted over the fields and nearby houses and the common and little terns hunted along the Channel. A distant marsh harrier could be seen hunting over the fields on the mainland at Feldy Marshes.

Friday, 5 June 2009


The moth trap was left operating at the country park through the night of Thursday 4th and was checked just after 4am on Friday morning just as it was getting light, as the picture above shows. A couple of carrion crows and a blackbird were already hopping over the grass beside the trap and a skylark was singing overhead. The weather turned out to be quite good for moths as the wind died down and it stayed cloudy through the night. In the end about 200 moths of about 40 macro species was a good haul.

The most unsual moth was this white-colon moth which is listed as nationally scarce and is included on the Essex red data list. It is a mainly a coastal species around Britain and in Essex there have been several records along the north-east Essex coast in recent years. The pair of tiny white spots in the middle of each wing resembles a punctuation mark which gives the moth its name.

The first peppered moth of the year was found in the trap, a regular visitor in late spring and early summer in previous years. The black form is also recorded here most years too.

This pale tussock moth is the second sighting this spring, a moth that is larger than most others in the trap and noticeably furry.

Buff ermines have been turning up at the trap in small numbers over the last fortnight along with the white ermine moths.

Other moths noted included elephant hawkmoth, 4 cream spot tigers, 25 cinnabars, 75 marbled minors, 30 heart and darts, white point, light brocade, light arches, dark arches, treble brown spot, mullein wave, lychnis, shoulder striped wainscot, clouded border, green pug, scorched pug and willow beauty.

Not much to report birdwise from the park on Friday although the nightingale continues to sing loudly beside the car park. Ian Black reported seeing a female bullfinch at the park which is a notable sighting as bullfinches disappeared from the Island about 8 or 9 years ago. The cuckoo could be heard early in the morning calling to the north of the park.

Two red-legged partridge were seen at the top of Bromans Lane, a little owl flew past the village hall at dusk and a brightly marked male sparrowhawk perched by the East Mersea road earlier in the day.

An evening walk along the Reeveshall seawall on Thursday evening provided good views of brown hares with at least 15 seen in various fields. There was the unusual sight of 7 hares together, with the picture below showing four of them in the distance. Although there was some chasing of each other going on, there was no boxing matches between them.

Two pairs of avocets have returned to the pool with a fifth bird in the Pyefleet, also 12 black-tailed godwits, pair of redshank, 6 lapwing and an oystercatcher nesting on the side of the seawall with 2 eggs. Also seen were pairs of pochard, shoveler and gadwall. Three great crested grebes, and several little terns and common terns were the only birds of note along the Pyefleet Channel.

The male and female marsh harriers were seen over Reeveshall while five others were seen over Langenhoe as was a barn owl and a Mediterranean gull.

Other birds noted were a singing corn bunting, yellowhammer, calling turtle dove, 2 green woodpeckers and a group of 20 sand martins gathering to roost.

Martin Cock was pleased to hear a turtle dove and a cuckoo from his West Mersea garden on Thursday morning.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009


This swarm of wild honey bees were seen along the Strood seawall on Wednesday 3rd and appear to have taken up temporary residence amongst the grass. The swarm has been present for at least a couple of days already although it's not exactly clear why they've selected this particular spot. There was also a report last week of another swarm of bees on the move in West Mersea.

Not too much of note during the brief walk in the late afternoon as the tide came in. Three distant waders appeared to be curlews and there were a few pairs of oystercatchers flying around too. In the Channel a cormorant fished amongst the boats and several common terns and little terns were also seen fishing. On the Ray saltings 2 little egrets and a pair of Canada geese were seen.

Along the dyke and nearby fields 3 reed warbers, reed bunting, corn bunting, meadow pipit, whitethroat, some linnets and a pair of mistle thrushes were the only small birds seen. A few swallows and swifts hunted over the fields.

One bramble bush along the side of the dyke has had to produce a second growth of leaves after these caterpillars of the brown-tail moth stripped the first spring growth. A few caterpillars could still be seen on the rather bare bush, although most appear to have moved on. The hairs on these caterpillars can cause major skin irritations if touched, so I was making sure we didn't make contact!