Friday, 31 December 2010

FINAL FLOURISH



The fog of the previous few days cleared away enough on Friday 31st, so that some of the birds such as this woodcock pictured above, could be seen at the country park. This very obliging woodcock was feeding along the edge of the pond, providing good views from the hide. The striking feature of this bird was the light colouring, much paler than the typical dark brown plumage. For comparison a second woodcock was seen further along from the pond feeding beside a hedge and there was also a snipe in the grass by the pond too.

Most of the park pond remained frozen with 35 gadwall the main ducks, also 3 tufted duck seen, a water rail called and a fieldfare perched up nearby. A goldcrest and a yellowhammer were noted during the morning in the park.

Offshore a female long-tailed duck was feeding with 4 common scoter, while 2 Slavonian grebes were seen with 10 great crested grebes. Also seen were 10 red breasted mergansers, goldeneye, 3 pintail along with hundreds of wigeon and teal waiting to fly onto the grazing fields.

At the Point a snow bunting circled round several times before landing briefly on the beach nearby. At the same time 25 white-fronted geese flew high and south out of the river Colne, disappearing in the direction of the Thames. Nineteen greylag geese were also noted on the grazing fields.

At West Mersea a great northern diver, Slavonian grebe, 11 eider, 8 common scoter and 5 red breasted mergansers were seen offshore. Martin Cock saw a brambling at Maydays Farm in with lots of chaffinches.

The slightly milder temperature of 5 degrees in the early evening brought out a good number of 20 winter moths to the lighted windows of the house in the park.


The fog has been thick on the previous couple of days as seen in this view of the park pond on Thursday. The only birds that were noted were ones heard calling especially the wigeon on the grazing fields. A water rail was heard calling on Thursday and 10 redwings flew over, while a sparrowhawk flew past the pond on Wednesday. A woodcock flew over the car park on Tuesday in the middle of the day.

Monday, 27 December 2010

BUNTING DOING A BUNK

Checked out this weedy Strood-side field on Monday 27th, as it had been a month since my last visit. Just as I arrived at the side of the field, a lapland bunting rose up and called loudly, passing overhead it soon disappeared westwards high and fast towards the West Mersea Hard and Old Hall marshes. This was the only glimpse of a lapland bunting I was able to get during the walk, so it was fortunate I arrived when I did.

There was an impressive flock of 100+ skylarks feeding in the field, flying around every so often and then disappearing amongst the plants. Also present were 70 linnets 3 reed buntings and 6 stock doves feeding in the field, while on the saltmarsh a rock pipit was seen.

Lots of the usual waders and wildfowl along the Strood Channel during low tide. Several hundred wigeon and teal gathered on the mud as well as 70+ shelduck. The main brent flock appeared to be feeding on fields alongside the Ray Channel. Amongst the lots of waders noted, small numbers of both black-tailed and bar-tailed godwits were seen, 100 knot, one snipe and a single avocet.
The closest bird of prey seen was a marsh harrier hunting over the saltmarsh and seawall on the Feldy side of the Ray Channel.

In the West Mersea grassland of Feldy View, two lapwings, green woodpecker 2 reed buntings and 2 stock doves nearby were noted and two grey herons flew over the fields towards the Strood Channel.

Driving off the Island in the early afternoon, there was a nice view of lots of waxwings perched on roadside telegraph wires about 200m north of the Peldon Rose pub. Unfortunately the birds were feeding in roadside bushes beside a busy section of this Colchester road and so views were hurried. Steve Entwistle and Andy Field braved the busy traffic later and counted 36 birds present here.

Steve and Andy also confirmed that 6 swans seen on Langenhoe fields initially by Martin Cock whilst he was at Maydays farm, were 6 Bewick swans. The swans appeared to be a family group comprising two adults and 4 youngsters. Also seen at Maydays was a black brant with 500+ brent geese and a common buzzard noted too.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

BURNING THE CALORIES


Burnt off a few calories on Boxing Day with a good long walk along some of the East Mersea footpaths. It was a brighter day today but still chilly with some of the ground still frozen, as in this field at Rewsalls Farm.

A peregrine flew over the fields here disturbing some of the golden plovers, lapwings and wood pigeons feeding in the fields. On the frozen Rewsalls marshes, 40 curlew and golden plover were roosting during the high tide along with a few lapwing. Three corn buntings perched on a dead tree and a reed bunting was also noted near here too.

The tide was just starting to turn early in the afternoon and along the beach by Coopers Beach, were 50 turnstone, 15 sanderling as well as a few redshank, oystercatcher and grey plovers. There was nothing of interest at sea other than a number of gulls, one great crested grebe and 4 mallard.

There was a very impressive flock of 200+ skylarks flying about the rape field to the east of Coopers Beach. Helping to scatter these larks was a sparrowhawk, hunting slowly around the field, hoping to surprise a small bird out of the crop. Two hundred brent geese were also feeding in the rape field, occasionally flying out to land on the nearby sea if they got disturbed.

There was no sign of the waxwings near the East Mersea pub today, although 25 waxwings were seen feeding on the bushes by the road near the Peldon Rose pub, just off the Island, in the afternoon.

One coal tit was visiting the feeder by the Shop Lane conifer wood in the afternoon. Two swans flew over Shop Lane in the late afternoon and could've been Bewicks, heading to Reeveshall. Earlier in the day Martin Dence reported seeing a barn owl hunting again at Bromans Lane in the morning and also the kingfisher was seen at their farm pond again.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

WAXWINGS FOR XMAS


A pleasant surprise on Xmas day morning was finding a small flock of waxwings as I drove along the East Mersea road. Fourteen birds perched up in some of the bushes opposite the Dog and Pheasant pub.



The waxwings were feeding mainly on some hawthorn berries in one of the gardens but if you were in the pub pictured above, you could've had a nice warm view of them in the bushes on the opposite side of the road. The flock that was seen three weeks ago was very near to this spot and comprised about the same number of birds, so this could be the same flock come back again. Needless to say, some of the local birdwatchers this morning managed to escape from their kitchens ahead of Xmas lunch to come and view the waxwings.


Most of the country park was obscured by freezing fog early in the morning and visibility was poor - and it was very cold. The only birds seen on the frozen fields were 30 lapwing. At the park pond 100+ wildfowl were still occupying the little bit of exposed water with gadwall, mallard, teal and shoveler the main ducks present. A female sparrowhawk flashed along the hedgeline and perched on a post briefly. One fox was hunting over the park in mid morning and another one was curled up sleeping on the frozen ground near the pond.

Not much could be seen at a very foggy Point although the large outline of a female marsh harrier was seen flying low over the saltmarsh before crossing the river.

Both Helen Mussett and Martin Dence saw the barn owl hunting near Bromans Lane at different times during the morning and also a kingfisher was also seen at Bromans Farm. Martin Cock saw a spotted redshank at Maydays Farm feeding beside one of the outflows in Maydays creeks.

Yesterday Andy Field noted from Reeveshall 2 hen harriers and at least 22 marsh harriers going into the Langenhoe roost. Also noted in the area were 1000 brent geese, 16 goldeneye, 6 red-breasted mergansers and 100+ avocets.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

RELUCTANT THAW

It was still very cold on Thursday 23rd with a fresh northerly wind blowing in the occasional snow flurry during the day. Most of the snow has melted at the country park, as shown in the picture above. However yesterday's slight thaw turning snow to slush, all froze solid overnight.
The lack of visitors to the park in the last few days has allowed up to 50 golden plover and a few lapwings the rare opportunity to fed undisturbed on the main field.

The park pond and surrounding area seemed to have the greatest variety of birds to look at. Most of the pond is still frozen with 100+ wildfowl gathered round the open water section. Forty gadwall were the most interesting ducks busy in the water. Close to the pond a redshank dropped down onto a part of the field to feed near a snipe and some moorhens. A well-marked male sparrowhawk with a bright peach-coloured chest, perched on a hedge by the pond for a few minutes.

The nearby grazing fields still looked frozen although a scattering of waders were present such as black-tailed godwits, curlews, lapwings, golden plover, grey plover and redshank too.

On Wednesday a woodcock flew over the park, heading towards the field behind the pond. As it flew over a hedge, lots of the tits could be heard calling anxiously as if concerned they'd seen this as some sort of owl passing by. A female sparrowhawk was busy hunting all over the park and surrounding fields, panicking all the birds in its flight-path. Meanwhile a female marsh harrier was slowly checking the saltmarsh near the Point, scattering wigeon, teal and lots of waders as it flew slowly along.



The park was still covered in plenty of snow on Monday 20th and the appearance of the sun was a welcome sight. Not many cars have ventured into the car park, pictured above. Four fieldfares flew over the car park on Tuesday and later, 2 redwing were seen too.


The pond never froze completely over with the area close to the willow trees staying ice-free helped by all the ducks swimming around. Fifty gadwall on Tuesday was the highest count for the pond and outnumbering all the other ducks present.




The sea from the park on Monday morning was calm which made a change. There was a notable passage of 100+ red-throated divers well offshore, seen flying east towards Colne Point from the direction of the Dengie. The birds presumably making their way north up the Essex coast, taking in a circuit round the outer reaches of the Blackwater and Colne estuaries. Two big flocks of the divers were seen flying, with one 35 birds and another 45 birds.

Very little else has been seen in the estuary during the week other than 15 great crested grebes, 10 red-breasted mergansers and a skein of 28 greylag geese, which I tried to make into white-fronted geese.

Martin Cock had the unusual sight of 2 taiga bean geese flying over Maydays on Tuesday, circling over some fields with brent geese before flying off west. There was a good view of a male hen harrier hunting there and also lots of small birds seen including 100 corn buntings. A barn owl was reported hunting over fields near the Strood Hill on Thursday morning.

Maybe the last moth sighting of the year - four winter moths resting on the lit window at the park on Tuesday evening, even with the temperature only one or two degrees above freezing!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

BACK IN THE GRIP OF WINTER


There was at least two inches of snow covering the country park on Sunday 19th. It stayed grey and overcast all day with a very cold breeze that meant you didn't want to stand around outside too long.


High tide in the morning, and these three redshank were ready in place for the sea to uncover the mud underneath them. Facing into the cold easterly breeze, they had their eyes tight shut as they perched on the posts next to the country park beach.

The most unexpected sighting for this time of the year was an immature gannet seen flying fast and straight towards the mouth of the river Colne, before turning round and heading back out to Colne Point. As it flew back out, the two velvet scoters appeared in the same field of view as they bobbed on the surface of the choppy sea. Occasional glimpses of the white on the folded wing were seen but both birds remained as distant black ducks. Also seen were 2 goldeneye, red-breasted mergansers as well as small flocks of wigeon and brent flying well offshore.



The grazing fields were a bleak winter wasteland covered in ice and snow. A roost of 200 golden plovers and 25 lapwing waited in the fields. It looked very chilly and exposed for them as they stood snoozing in the snow.

Thirty skylarks were seen flying over the park, as they headed for easier feeding elsewhere. In a field by the East Mersea pub another 100 skylarks were seen. More eyecatching was a barn owl out hunting in mid afternoon the rape field opposite the pub. The whiter-than-white underparts of the owl reflected the brightness of the white snow on the ground as it flew low across the field. It looked like more like a very white seagull rather than an owl, especially flying around in broad daylight. Finding food must be very hard, especially with frozen, snow-covered ground.



As usual the foxes were out on the prowl around the park pond as dusk approached and this one was snuffling after something in the snow A second fox ventured confidently out onto the ice towards the 100+ wildfowl gathered around some open water. The ducks quickly dropped into the water as the fox approached and the fox then sat down on the ice beside the wildfowl. It eventually saw this fox pictured above, over near the hide and quickly chased it away.

In the water-hole were 40 gadwall, 30 mallard, 12 coot, 25 moorhen, little grebe, 5 shoveler and 10 teal. Scuttling across the ice under the willow bushes were 3 water rails. In bushes nearby, 40 greenfinches waited to drop down to roost for the night.

A woodcock flew away quickly from under some trees near a path close to the hide. As the park gates were being closed at nightfall, a second woodcock swooped overhead, nearly dropping down close-by to find somewhere to feed. Also making an appearance was a little owl that sat on a tree on the edge of the car park, staring at me for a minute or so, before flying to the far side of the car park.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

OUT BEFORE THE SNOW

It was so cold on Saturday 18th that the waves lapping onto the beach by the country park were leaving behind ice. The high-tide line was covered with a mass of ice that looked just like snow. The morning stayed dry but with a very cold wind. Early in the afternoon the snow arrived and by the end of the day an inch of snow carpeted the park.

Offshore two velvet scoter were seen from the park bobbing up and down in the choppy sea, occasionally diving down, they were hard to keep a track of. After a while the birds took off, displaying their white wing-bars as confirmation of the scoter species. They flew fast and low further out to sea, heading towards Colne Point before turning back westwards towards the Dengie.

Joining Martin Cock, we braved the cold to walk to the Point. A female common scoter drifted out of the river with the tide. Probably the first time both scoter species have been seen from the park in the same day. Also seen in the river were 6 red-breasted mergansers and 4 great crested grebes.

Lots of waders were gathering on the mud by the Point ready to feed as soon as the tide started to recede. Ten sanderling fed close in on the beach, 10 bar-tailed godwits and 50 avocets joined the familiar flocks of dunlin, knot, grey plover and redshank along with a few of the other species too. A rock pipit called out from the edge of the saltmarsh.

Around the saltmarsh and edge of the river were groups of wigeon and teal. In the distance on Langenhoe, more ducks could be seen including a small group of 10 pintail, probably disturbed by one of the 4 marsh harriers flying around.

The park fields were frozen with 70 lapwing and 50 golden plover the main waders seen here. On the park pond one small corner remained unfrozen where 30 gadwall were feeding with mallard, a few teal and shoveler. One snipe fed on the grass by the pond beside some of the moorhens.


The bushes are quickly losing their berries during this cold weather although in some places a few can still be seen such as these sloes on a blackthorn bush at the park. Not many groups of birds around the park with 15 goldfinches in alders by the pond the biggest flock. A couple of song thrushes and a few blackbirds and chaffinches were also noted but not much else. A sparrowhawk was seen crossing the field on the west side of the park.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

BRIEF THAW

Although it has stayed cold in recent days, a partial thaw has been taking place with some of the watercourses ice-free. There was quite a bit of rain on Thursday 16th which helped to saturate the already wet ground.

There were quite a few waders and wildfowl on the wet grazing fields, pictured above, although not as many birds as before the cold snap began. Around 400 wigeon were back on the fields as were some of the 100 teal. However there was still a group of 100 teal resting on the outer edge of the nearby mudflats. Also present were 20 shoveler, 25 mallard, 8 gadwall, 50 black-tailed godwit and 4 greylag geese.

At the half- frozen pond, 14 gadwall and 20 mallard were noted along with some coots while 20 moorhens nibbled the grass on the nearby field. In the park one of the regular goldcrests was seen near the car park, while 14 long-tailed tits worked their way along the cliff-top trees. Ian Black saw a woodcock fly out from the trees on the clifftop in the afternoon, for the second day running.

In the estuary 8 red-breasted mergansers and 6 great crested grebes were the only birds noted in the river. There was an unusually high number of shelduck feeding along the outer edge of the Mersea mudflats with at least 270 birds seen.

Martin Cock walked the Strood seawall on Tuesday 14th and saw 2 or 3 lapland buntings as they flew around the fields before landing in the arable field. Still present in the area were 40 linnets and 40 skylarks mainly in the weedy field. A ringtail hen harrier was also seen in the area as were a couple of marsh harriers too. From the Esplanade a Mediterranean gull was seen, the first for a while in the area.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

WINTER DUCKS AND SWANS


It was a bright sunny winter's day on Thursday 9th although there was still lots of ice around such as at the park pond pictured above. Here a small mix of coots, gadwall, mallard, shoveler, little grebe and moorhen were making the most of the only bit of unfrozen water. Three green woodpeckers were seen around the field just to the north of the pond.

To the west side of the pond a fox was curled up beside a hedge enjoying the winter sun, while on the east side of the pond 3 more foxes were also lying against the hedge within 50 metres of each other. A sparrowhawk flew past the pond in the late afternoon upsetting the 30 greenfinches that were gathering to roost. In recent days it has been nice seeing a group of 30 golden plover feeding on the main field of the park, taking advantage of the lack of dog-walkers to the park.

Earlier in the afternoon a flock( or herd?) of 12 swans was seen flying high over the car park, heading north-east. The flock were flying in a long line and were probably Bewicks swans. By the time the birds were noticed they had passed overhead although no calling was heard but they appeared to have shorter necks than mute swans. The only mute swans normally seen flying about are small family groups, so this flock of 12 is an unusual sight.



The old stepping stone path near the Point in the picture above, is not snow but a thin cover of ice left behind by the high tide during the night. At the Point there was an unusually good view of a female long-tailed duck which flew from the opposite side of the river and then landed only 30 metres from the Point. The bird was spending a lot of time diving underwater spending more time below than on the surface. After a few minutes the bird disappeared and presumably flew back upriver.

Also in the river were 5 red-breasted mergansers with two males going through their very eye-catching display in front of the 3 females. At Langenhoe Point the bright white flock of 250 avocets were gathered.


The ice was thick along the borrowdyke and will take a while to thaw through. Twenty skylarks, 4 reed buntings and a rock pipit have been seen in recent days in the adjacent fields and around the seawall.


The sun finished shining for the day with a colourful sunset enjoyed along the frontage of the country park beach, pictured above.

Martin Cock had a good view on Thursday morning of two Bewicks swans flying north-west over Reeveshall and Maydays as if heading towards Abberton Reservoir. He also watched a velvet scoter feeding in the Colne with a couple of herring gulls for company. The scoter flew out of the river and past East Mersea Point when a boat approached it.

Steve Grimwade reported seeing a velvet scoter in the river Colne off East Mersea Point which later flew towards Colne Point. A male and female marsh harrier were seen in the afternoon at the country park while at West Mersea, 5 Slavonian grebes were seen offshore from the Esplanade. Ian Black saw a merlin flying over St Peters Marsh at West Mersea in the morning.

Martin Cock watched a peregrine fly along the saltmarsh by the Point flushing all the waders which included at least 50 avocets. Six goldeneye were seen feeding in the river Colne along with a few great crested grebes and a couple of red-breasted mergansers.
Hugh Owen reported seeing the distinctive profile of a spoonbill in flight near the Strood causeway on Tuesday.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

THAW BRINGS IN WAXWINGS

Andy Field managed to generate a bit of brief excitement along the East Mersea road near the pub on Sunday 5th when he discovered a small group of waxwings perched at the top of some trees. At first it seemed that eight birds were present with some of the birds staying at the top of the tree while others fed on berries below and also drinking at some puddles on the ground. When the waxwings all took to the air, it turned out that 13 birds were present.


The waxwings were viewed for only about 15 - 20 minutes during which time they flew around a couple of times before returning back to the same hedgeline. They also called out loudly with their distinctive trilling sound. Along the same hedgeline were some fieldares and blackbirds feeding in the field and along a track. Something spooked all the birds and as birds dived for cover, the waxwings took off, circled round a few times but disappeared westwards and not relocated.


It has been well documented over the last month that there has been a huge influx of waxwings into the UK this winter. Up until recently Essex seemed to be missing out on the big flocks but small numbers have been turning up within the last week and this Mersea flock was probably just passing through.

It stayed dull and cold all day on Sunday at the country park with a lot of the watercourses still frozen. A peregrine was seen briefly flying away from the grazing fields carrying a bird it had caught. A few waders were in the fields during the high tide including black-tailed godwit, curlew, snipe, lapwing, golden plover, turnstone, redshank, ringed plover and even a single knot. There have been much fewer wildfowl during this frozen snap with most wigeon, brent geese and teal feeding on the saltings. Two green woodpeckers were foraging far and wide in the cold, feeding on the seawall and together in the far corner of the grazing fields, nearest the Point.

Andy Field reported that a boat trip on Sunday morning around the Mersea Quarters and into Salcott Creek and Tollesbury Creek provided views of great northern diver, male smew, 3 eider, 40 goldeneye, 30 red-breasted mergansers, peregrine 3 marsh harriers and a shag. The two coal tits were seen in the Shop Lane wood on Saturday by Andy and then by Adrian Kettle on Sunday.

This aptly named winter moth was resting on a lit window at the park on a cold early evening when the temperature had already dropped to half a degree above freezing. Another winter moth fluttered in the car headlights near the park entrance.


There was still lots of snow at the start of Saturday but a lot melted away during the day. The pools in the grazing fields remained frozen and the only birds seen were a few moorhens and a couple of snipe.

Three foxes were out on the prowl near the pond or at the back of the fields. One ventured onto the ice and crossed the pond as it tried to flush some moorhens from the reeds. A water rail emerged into view under the willows as a fox walked round the back of the pond, a second bird called from a nearby ditch. Twelve gadwall, 3 shoveler, a few mallard, little grebe joined the coots in the small unfrozen pool. At dusk 100 greenfinches gathered again in the bushes by the pond for their roost.

Six pintail flew over the park, two fieldfares were in the car park with blackbirds and a song thrush as was a sparrowhawk first thing in the morning. Another sparrowhawk crossed over the Colne to the park from Point Clear and from the Point 5 red-breasted mergansers and 150 shelduck were noted.

Martin Cock watched a red kite flying south-west over fields near Coopers Beach as it headed towards Bradwell on Saturday. There was also a big flock of 250 skylarks feeding in a snow covered field near here.

Friday, 3 December 2010

GRIP OF WINTER

The Island was still in the grip of winter with no thaw taking place during Friday 4th. At least it didn't snow today but there was still a good six inches of snow around the country park. The picture above shows the creek near the Point where the remains of the high tide lies in big chunks of ice.


There was a good variety of waders and wildfowl at the Point eager to see the tide uncover some mud, so they could start feeding. There was the usual mix of 15 species of wader gathered in the area and nearby saltings, with hundreds more birds arriving as more mud became uncovered.

Waders seen were curlew, oystercatcher, avocet, bar-tailed godwit, black-tailed godwit, redshank, lapwing, grey plover, golden plover, ringed plover, dunlin, knot, sanderling, turnstone and snipe. Ducks and geese were gathering here too with wigeon, teal, shelduck, mallard and brent geese. Two pintail flew over the fields and landed on an unfrozen section of the dyke, along with some wigeon and teal.


The snow lay thick on the shrubby sea-blite bushes at the Point where a dunnock, 3 reed buntings and a meadow pipit were noted. There was a slow trickle of skylarks noted crossing the river Colne as they followed the coast south-westwards.

In the river 4 red-breasted mergansers flew up the Colne and 5 great crested grebes were seen offshore, but not much else.

Other waders of interest were 2 coloured-ringed knot amongst a group of 500 birds feeding close to the beach. A roost in the snow-covered grazing fields of 400 golden plover and small numbers of snipe flying around. A woodcock was spotted probing amongst the snow in a ditch at the park, before it scuttled off to hide. Another woodcock had been seen first thing in the morning feeding alongside Bromans Lane.


Any bush that still has some fruit on it has been popular with the birds with 2 fieldfare, 3 song thrushes, 20 blackbirds seen about the park. One tiny goldcrest was so tame as it flitted around a low bush I could've reached out to touch it, as it fed at one point only a metre away from me. By mid afternoon 100 greenfinches were gathering to roost in some thick bushes near the pond, while 50 stock doves joined the nearby wood pigeon roost.

More of the park pond was frozen than yesterday with one small spot under the willow bushes crammed full with 40 moorhens, 10 coots and a little grebe towards dusk. The most interesting sight was a very anxious water rail perched up a tree calling nervously while it watched a fox on the ice below it. The water rail dropped down into some reeds but had to fly back up 3 metres high to the top of a bush as the fox went on the prowl again. A second water rail was also seen scuttling around underneath the willow bush as the fox approached. Later the fox sat on the ice just a few metres from the nervous-looking group of moorhens and coots, working out how it could catch its supper.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

BLANKET OF SNOW

It snowed for most of Thursday 2nd on the Island with at least 6 inches in places at the country park. The park pond pictured above was partially frozen but still remained the main spot where birds could congregate.

Most numerous of the ducks were 100 teal, paddling about in the unfrozen sections, along with 50 mallard, 12 gadwall, 10 wigeon, little grebe and a few coots. A fox was out foraging near the pond in mid-morning and lunged at some birds along the edge of the reeds. It managed to flush out a group of snipe and moorhens who escaped at the last second. A short while later 12 snipe were seen feeding in the snow at one side of the pond, while at the east side a couple of snipe fed amongst 24 moorhens.

Flying over the pond were 100 skylarks, on their way to find easier feeding further west. A couple of goldcrests were seen picking over the twigs and branches of bushes and trees. In a deserted car park a green woodpecker probed amongst the snow, while in nearby rowan trees a song thrush, two fieldfares and blackbirds fed on some old berries.

A woodcock flew away from under some bushes in one corner of the park, before it landed back down again further along the path. It was then seen to fly off again with a clatter of wings through the trees and then dropped down in its original spot.

Ian Black had a good view of a jack snipe crouching in the snow in the middle of Bromans Lane, as he drove to the country park.
In Firs Chase in West Mersea earlier in the morning, 3 redwing, fieldfare and a snipe were seen.



The scene along the park seawall was very wintry and bleak. The fields were deserted although one greylag goose was grazing alone in the snow. A few wigeon appeared to be gathered at the far end of the borrowdyke, where there was probably an unfrozen section. It seemed too far for me to trudge into the fine falling snow.


Half the beach was covered in snow, leaving the lower half snow-free where the high tide had reached up to. A bar-tailed godwit, redshank, turnstone and lapwing were noted flying past.



There was a bit of snow in the car park on Tuesday morning, although not as much on the park as fell in other parts of Essex. The thin layer of snow on the grazing fields didn't deter the flock of wigeon from feeding, with around 800 birds noted. A marsh harrier was seen flying low over the fields upsetting all the wigeon as it passed by. A woodcock was seen briefly flying across a field to the north of the park. A group of 20 red-breasted mergansers flew south over the bus-turning circle presumably on their way out of the Colne.

Monday, 29 November 2010

FIRST SNOW



The Island woke up on Monday 29th to the first fall of snow, although as this picture of City Road shows it was just a thin coating of snow. With the sun shining and a light wind, it wasn't too cold for a brief walk near the Dabchicks Sailing Club in the morning.

Around the boat moorings opposite the Dabchicks was a scattering of 20+ dabchicks and probably if I'd looked harder, I might have had a similar count of the 30 birds that were present yesterday. The only other birds in the Mersea Quarters were a few cormorants and some brent geese. Typical waders noted on the mud were black-tailed godwits, bar-tailed godwits, curlew, redshank, oystercatcher, grey plover, lapwing, turnstone and dunlin.

Amongst the bushes near the caravan site were 25+ blackbirds, single redwing, also a few chaffinches, goldfinches, greenfinches, green woodpecker, reed buntings and a great spotted woodpecker.



Although there was no snow on the previous day, Sunday 28th, it was still very chilly and it appeared that it had been cold enough in the early hours of Sunday morning, to freeze some of the water at high tide. Along the side of the seawall there was a thin layer of ice where some parts of the high tide had frozen, as pictured above.

Returned again to the weedy field by the Strood to see what else could be seen here. The main highlight was watching an adult peregrine stooping and divebombing a ringtail hen harrier as it flew low over the fields. As both birds parted I couldn't decide which bird to continue watching but choose the peregrine as it headed towards me as I stood on the seawall. It provided a nice fly-past as it flew towards the Mersea Quarters. The hen harrier was lost to view in the general area of Strood Hill. A cursory glance beyond the Strood causeway on the mainland side, revealed 3 marsh harriers flying over the rough waste field.

The lapland buntings were still feeding in the fields with several sightings of birds as they flew around calling. At least three birds at various times were noted with one bird rising up and calling very loudly close-by. Whilst walking away from the field along the seawall, four more laplands flew towards the field from the direction of Copt Hall / Old Hall, meaning that there were at least seven birds seen. Sometimes the buntings mixed with the other flocks, where 100+ linnets, 50 skylarks and 10 reed buntings were feeding.

The squealing sound of a water rail was heard from the ditch beside the weedy field, whilst overhead one or two snipe were seen flying about. There were still small flocks of golden plover and lapwing in the nearby fields, and little egret and grey heron were also seen.

A spotted redshank flew high along the channel calling loudly as it headed south-west. The only other waders of interest in the channel were 200 knot near the Strood causeway. More teal were present with 300+ birds seen, along with lots of wigeon too. Nearly 1000 brent were seen flying off Peldon farmland into the Ray Channel.

Also on Sunday, at East Mersea two velvet scoter in the river seen from the Point was a rare sighting for here, presumably the same two birds seen further up the Colne the day before. At the country park a male hen harrier was seen by Steve Hunting flying over the fields and across the river to Brightlingsea. He also noted a water rail by the pond, 2 rock pipits on the saltmarsh, an eider, common scoter and 8 great crested grebes offshore. A Slavonian grebe was seen by Frank Keen offshore from the park.

Martin Cock found a small flock of 6 - 8 bearded tits again in the borrowdyke at Maydays Farm on Sunday, whilst Steve Entwistle saw the two coal tits at the north end of Shop Lane and also a woodcock here too.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

WINTER WADERS


There was a good selection of waders and wildfowl along the Pyefleet section of Reeveshall at East Mersea on Saturday 27th. This group of waders in the picture above were snapped by "digi-binning" - pointing the camera through the binoculars. Most of the waders in this picture are the small dunlin with a few grey plovers too. The waders were gathering as the tide came in with 200 redshank and 150 avocets forming the main big flocks. The usual other waders curlew, bar-tailed godwit, black-tailed godwit, knot, oystercatcher and turnstone were noted too.

In the Pyefleet 14 red-breasted mergansers, 5 great crested grebes and 2 little grebes were seen along with a few hundred wigeon and teal dotted along the saltmarshes. Consorting with the Eurasian teal was the drake Australian chestnut teal, first seen at the country park in September. This chestnut teal is much more colourful than the previous sighting now that it has finished moulting, with its dark chestnut body and dark green head.



The pool at Reeveshall pool was frozen over and the only birds seen here were one grey heron flying away and a pair of mute swans feeding on grain put out by the farmer. Two marsh harriers were seen flying from Reeveshall to Langenhoe, where there were already a couple of harriers waiting for the late afternoon roost. A male sparrowhawk flew low along the seawall looking for small birds although the only ones seen were 5 linnet, 10 skylark and 5 meadow pipits.

On the Reeveshall fields 300 brent geese were feeding in one field and 50 greylag geese fed in another grass field.

Alongside the conifer wood at the north end of Shop Lane, lots of small birds have been feeding in one of the nearby gardens. Amongst the blue and great tits were two coal tits that were very obliging as they picked up seeds and then perched up in a bush to eat them. Coal tits are only scarce winter visitors to the Island with one or two previous sightings at feeders in West Mersea as well as one or two sightings here at this Shop Lane conifer wood.

Martin Cock has seen these two coal tits earlier in the morning as well as a woodcock flying over the wood. Richard Brown reported seeing one too during the East Mersea pheasant shoot.




The weedy field still with lots of black mustard flowers by the Strood was visited earlier on Saturday where I wanted to check the status of the buntings and finch flocks. I didn't have to wait long before the sound of a lapland bunting was heard as it passed over calling. Two other laplands were also present and all three birds dropped down amongst the weeds. The birds were later heard several times as they flew around, although one bird was later seen flying away from the Island towards Copt Hall.
Still present in the fields were 150 linnet, 50 skylark, 10 reed buntings and 2 rock pipits.

A female peregrine flew over the fields scattering all the birds including the 100 lapwing and 300 golden plover in the nearby fields. A short while later 2 marsh harriers were also seen around the Strood channel with one bird quartering the weedy field.

More snipe were noted flying around the fields with about 10 birds seen during the walk, while 10 little egrets and a grey heron were also seen. There was the usual variety of waders and ducks along the Strood channel although the 500 brent geese were in the Ray channel.

Friday, 26 November 2010

FIRST TASTE OF WINTER


It certainly felt like the wind was coming straight from the Arctic as it blew across the country park on Friday 26th, prviding the first taste of winter. However if you could find a sheltered spot out of the northerly wind, there was still a bit of warmth in the sunshine. Most of the pools in the fields had a thin layer of ice over them so there weren't many ducks to be seen.

The numbers of snipe were still catching the eye with 50+ around the pools including a group of 10 birds by the pond. The golden stripes along their bodies showed up well in the sunshine. A flock of 100 wigeon grazed one corner of the fields with a few brent and black-tailed godwits feeding alongside. Numbers of golden plover built up gradually in the fields as the tide came in with about 400 birds present by the middle of the day. Flocks of curlew and lapwing circled round a few times from nearby fields as if a raptor was flying past.

At the Point a red-throated diver was a surprise sight, drifting only about 20 metres from the beach. A few great-crested grebes and a common seal were the only other things of interest in the river. The two main wader flocks to catch the eye on the mudflats were 70+ avocets and 500+ knot.

Other birds noted around the park included several siskin near the pond, some mixed in with some goldfinches, a fieldfare near the fields while near the seawall were rock pipit and 2 reed buntings. Two foxes were enjoying the sunshine, curled up beside the hedgerows at the back of the fields.

Birds noted during the week have included 30 sanderling near the beach, 4 redpolls past the pond and 60 snipe around the pools on Thursday 25th. On Monday 22nd a merlin scattered all the waders at the Point including the little stint, as it flew west across the river. In the fields a pale-bellied brent goose was seen with 400 dark-bellied brent geese. A female pintail was seen flying over the fields while by the river Colne, 10 red-breasted mergansers flew up-river.

The alders by the park pond have had a small flock of siskins and goldfinches feeding on the cones, although often hard to spot. A male sparrowhawk was seen perching in one of these trees as all the small birds dived for cover. Two redwings were seen flying away from the bushes by the pond on Thursday. On the pond 12 gadwall and 3 tufted duck were seen on several days with some shoveler and mallard.

David Nicholls has seen at least two blackcaps in his West Mersea garden in the last few days.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

STINT AT THE POINT

A hundred brent geese were feeding on the green algae on the mudflats just off from the country park, early on Sunday 21st. First thing in the morning the beach is usually deserted with nobody around, so the geese feel safe to come close to shore. As the tide came in 14 sanderling were seen along with a few turnstones, redshanks, grey plover and dunlin.

Further along the beach at the East Mersea Point, the incoming tide was just about to cover the last part of the mud where some fifty waders were still feeding. A casual scan of the dunlin and grey plover revealed an unexpected little stint picking its way over the mud. This would've been a more usual sight in late summer or early autumn when these stints stop off on their way south to Africa. Even in the autumn months they're not easy to find out on the huge expanse of mudflats around Mersea. A greenshank flying over the park was also of interest as most of these birds are already wintering in Africa.

Other birds noted from the Point included a marsh harrier flying high upriver, 5 red-breasted mergansers, 10 great crested grebes, 10 skylarks, 2 rock pipits and a sparrowhawk that scattered all the birds off the mud when it landed on the nearby saltmarsh.

Birds in the grazing fields were similar to previous days with 300 brent geese, 350 wigeon, 250 teal, 40 shoveler, 45 snipe, 50 redshank, 50 black-tailed godwit with one or two dunlin and grey plover also present during high tide, as were 2 greylag geese. At the park pond, 12 gadwall and 4 tufted ducks were noted with mallard and some of the shoveler. Six siskin were seen flying east across the park in the morning.

At the end of the day after the last car had left the car park at dusk, a sparrowhawk was seen clutching a squawking blackbird on the ground, whilst nearby other blackbirds were very agitated because a little owl was perched up on the bungalow roof.

Andy Field had earlier seen 5 Slavonian grebes offshore from the East Mersea Youth Camp and also 6 siskins in alder trees there too. Another Slavonian was seen from Coast Road in West Mersea. Martin Cock had enjoyed views from the Maydays seawall of a nice male hen harrier flying over the Langenhoe ranges. Also 11 red-breasted mergansers and 4 goldeneye seen in the Pyefleet.
On Saturday Andy had seen 4 common scoter, red-throated diver, eider and 2 goldeneye off West Mersea.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

FORAGING FLOCK

There was a very vocal tit flock moving through the trees at the park on Saturday 20th. There seemed to be about 20 long-tailed tits foraging through with lots of blue and great tits. A couple of tiny goldcrests were very obliging and came down low to give close views as they picked over some shrivelled oak leaves. A fieldfare was also noted along this path as were a few of the regular chaffinches, goldfinches and greenfinches.

The main ducks on the pond were 80 mallard, 12 gadwall, 20 shoveler and 5 tufted ducks. The water rail was heard calling briefly from the back of the pond and the fox was curled up resting a couple of feet off the ground on a willow tree.

On the grazing fields 45 snipe were dotted across the pools along with the 50 black-tailed godwits and 50 redshank that had gathered here at high tide. There were the usual big flocks of several hundred wigeon and teal around the pools while a group of 400 brent geese fed in the other field. The river Colne was surprisingly quiet although 10 great crested grebes were on the sea from the park.

At West Mersea Andy Field noted a red-throated diver, 4 common scoter and a goldeneye on Saturday. Later alongside the Strood, there was no sign of the lapland buntings although 50+ linnets and lots of skylarks, corn buntings and pipits were seen as were 250 knot, greenshank and 300 brent geese.

Earlier in the week a marsh harrier was seen flying past the East Mersea Point late on Tuesday afternoon and there was a common seal in the river. Sixteen red-breasted mergansers flew past the Point so close that it was the sound of them flying that made me look up at them, as they headed out of the river to feed.

In the grazing fields on Thursday a sparrowhawk flew along the central ditch and perched on a fence post to survey the birdlife. There were about 600 brent geese still feeding in the field towards dusk and 50 snipe was the best count so far this autumn. On the park pond 40 shoveler were seen and a little egret thought about roosting in a tree over the pond.

Monday, 15 November 2010

BACK ALONG THE STROOD


It was low tide in the Strood channel during the mid-morning walk along the seawall on Monday 15th. The early morning fog had lifted and the rest of the morning was still, providing clear views of waders and wildfowl such as this family of brent geese pictured above. This group was some of the 100 brent seen resting on the water. A few had been feeding briefly on the winter wheat. A greenshank and a snipe were the waders of note along with a good selection of all the regular wader species. A total of sixteen species of waders had been noted along the channel over the previous 3 days, which seemed a reasonable tally for here.

Despite lots of small birds flying around the fields, there was no sign of the lapland buntings to begin with. After almost half and hour watching and listening to the various finches, larks, pipits and buntings as they flew about, two laplands were seen circling a couple of times over the fields, calling out their distinctive calls. They dropped down into the weedy field and out of sight.

Even when a sparrowhawk had earlier flown low across the fields, the laplands had remained silent and still, although 100 linnets, 50 skylarks, 12 corn buntings, 3 reed buntings and a few meadow pipits and a rock pipit were all seen.

The previous morning one lapland was seen flying over the fields calling and there were lots of small birds got into the air when a marsh harrier crossed the field. A greenshank was noted in the Strood flying about noisily.




As I passed this entrance to the Firs Chase caravan site on Monday morning, I noticed several birds in the tall alder tree behind this house in the picture. Having seen a small flock of goldfinches feeding on the alder cones, a much smaller and more active bird caught the eye as it flitted through the tree. Lifting the binoculars up, it was a very colourful firecrest - a very pleasant surprise.

Whilst watching the bird for several minutes I was surprised how easily I was able to locate the bird in both the alder tree and also a nearby holly tree stuffed with bright red berries. I soon realised there were two firecrests and it was a colourful sight to see them both feeding together amongst the berries.

A firecrest had been seen a fortnight ago feeding with a big tit flock in Firs Chase, only a quarter mile away so one of these birds may've been seen earlier. We shall have to see if they stay for the winter.

Other birds noted around the caravan site included 30 blackbirds, 5 song thrushes, 2 redwings and fieldfare - signs of a recent thrush influx.

Martin Cock noted 2 lapland buntings by the seawall at Maydays farm also on Monday. There were also 5 marsh harriers, short-eared owl and a common buzzard seen over the Langenhoe ranges from Maydays. Liz Huxley saw a red-throated diver from the West Mersea Hard in the morning.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

LAPLANDS STILL PRESENT


Walked along the Strood seawall on Saturday 13th and was rewarded with views of 3 lapland buntings which was nice. There were still a gathering of various small birds in one corner of the weedy field since I was last here two weeks ago. The distinctive "tew" call of the lapland bunting rang out across the field as it circled around a few times before landing back again.

Amongst the 100 linnets, 30 skylarks, 12 corn buntings were two other lapland buntings that were seen on the ground a few times. The two laplands were feeding with some of the linnets sometimes on the near edge of the winter wheat field and also feeding on top of the seawall path. They were easier to pick out in flight amongst the linnets as they were always calling. Also seen in the area were rock pipit, reed buntings and a few meadow pipits.

Along the Strood Channel the tide was out and there were plenty of waders on show with 14 species noted. Three spotted redshanks standing together along the central channel was an interesting sight for early winter. Other waders noted were a green sandpiper, 100 knot, 500 golden plover, 200 lapwing, 30 black-tailed godwit and a bar-tailed godwit along with many of the othe regular waders.

More shelduck were present since the last visit with 60 birds and also 200 wigeon roosting on the mud. Twenty little grebes were in the shallow waters and there were 5 little egrets seen too

Scattering all the waders along the channel was a peregrine chasing briefly after a wood pigeon. The peregrine soon gave up and headed over to Ray Island where a kestrel briefly flew with it, showing the difference in size. The peregrine continued over to the Ray Channel where it stooped unsuccessfully down on another bird.

Martin Cock watched a short-eared owl flying over Langenhoe, during his visit to Maydays Farm.

Friday, 12 November 2010

MUDDY MARSHES

Visited the Rewsalls marshes on the south side of the Island on Friday 12th for a change as I'd not looked at the area for couple of months. Recent rains have transformed two grass fields into mud-baths, as the picture above shows. My visit coincided with the high tide which meant that lots of waders were gathered on the muddy fields for roosting and feeding. This was an unexpected bonus seeing 1000+ birds in the area with waders, brent geese and gulls to be seen.

Of the eight species of wader, most were plovers with 400 golden plover, 25 ringed plover, 50 lapwing and 10 grey plover, along with 250 dunlin, 20 turnstone, 50 curlew and 10 redshank. The dunlin were scuttling about as if they were out feeding on the tidal mudflats. Every so often all the birds rose into the air and circled round a few times beore settling back down. In the nearby wheat field 300 brent geese were happily chomping their way across the young crop.

Other birds noted included 23 mallard, 2 teal, 4 meadow pipits, great spotted woodpecker and a kestrel.
Along the East Mersea road there were hundreds of gulls, rooks, jackdaws, crows, starlings, pigeons feeding in the fields near Bocking Hall. At least fifty skylarks were also seen flying around these fields too.

The country park has been getting its fair share of autumnal weather over the last few days with heavy rain and strong winds although Wednesday brought a brief respite with lots of sunshine. There were also some high tides to contend with last weekend and into the start of this week and the beach and park cliff have taken more pounding from the sea.

In the park's grazing fields on Wednesday the first big flock of brent geese were feeding for the first time here this autumn. Around 600 geese were enjoying the autumnal flush of grass growth on a sunny afternoon, as was a group of 200 wigeon. Also in the same field was a flock of 400 golden plover feeding while the tide covered the nearby mudflats.

Around the muddy pools 30 black-tailed godwits, 50 curlew and 10 snipe were amongst small numbers of teal and wigeon. On the park pond 6 gadwall, 25 shoveler, 3 tufted ducks and 30 mallard were the main ducks present, while a fox snoozed in a nearby corner. In the nearby hedge 4 redwings fed on some rowan berries and 5 siskins flew off some alder trees. Still foraging along the hedgerows in the park are at least 4 goldcrests, often with the main mixed tit flock.

Martin Cock reported 4 bearded tits along the Maydays borrowdyke on Wednesday, the second sighting for this area in the last fortnight. Amongst the small bird flocks were 200 greenfinches, 50 linnet, 4 yellowhammers and several corn buntings too. In the Pyefleet there were 4 red-breasted mergansers and a goldeneye as well as a greenshank. From the West Mersea Esplanade the great northern diver was still present along with a common scoter and an eider.

David Nichols was lucky seeing a coal tit on his feeder in his garden in Queen Ann Drive at the beginning of the week. This species isn't resident on the Island although there have been one or two winter records at various feeders over the years.