Sunday, 3 January 2010


A rare visitor to East Mersea Point on Sunday 3rd was this female harbour porpoise, (pictured above on a little airbed), having been stranded on the saltmarsh on the afternoon high-tide.
She had first been spotted at about 10.30am by members of the Colchester RSPB members group, close to the shore in shallow water although it didn't look very active.
As she'd remained in the same small area of the river for the next two hours, a decision was made to try and help the porpoise and a call was made to the British Divers Marine Life Rescue Unit who have a local response team. When they arrived in mid afternoon the porpoise had already been washed ashore on a very high tide onto the back of the saltmarsh

The team checked the harbour porpoise thoroughly for any possible signs of poor health but none were found. It seemed healthly enough and was placed on an inflatable bed to prevent damage to internal organs. The female was measured at 1.3 metres in length so virtually a fully grown adult.

Emma Webb of the Marine Life Rescue Unit, reassures the porpoise covered in a sheet that was kept constantly wet to prevent dehydration. It was carried down to the water's edge close to the deeper water at the Point. The bed was then placed on a small inflatable raft to help float the porpoise out into the open water. At first it didn't seem interested in swimming away and concerns were raised how weak and unusually quiet it was, so contact was made with a vet just in case the porpoise was about to die.

The light faded fast and it wasn't till 2 hours after dark that the harbour porpoise finally found the energy to swim off into the river Colne. During the 3 long cold hours that the porpoise was being cared for, about 15 folk ranging from the Marine rescue unit, locals and the Coastguard Team, all looked on with curiosity or helped out with the rescue by torchlight.

This was one of the first glimpses of the porpoise in the morning I had with the RSPB Group, in this digiscoped picture above, only about 50 metres from the Point. Some of the time it hardly seemed to move at all, while at other times it would swim about, turn round or raise it's tail out of the shallow water.

In recent years there have been one or two harbour porpoise records nearly every year from East Mersea. Some of these have been live ones normally seen swimming in or out of the river Colne. There have also been several dead ones washed up with 2 records for the park beach in the last 6 years and one near Coopers Beach about four years ago.

Although the sun was shining in the middle of the morning, it was still very cold and these two groups of birdwatchers were wrapped up warm as they 'scoped the porpoise just out of shot to the right. Offshore red-throated diver, 2 eider, 8 goldeneye, 20+ red-breasted mergansers, 2 pintail and a few great crested grebes were seen while on the mud 400 knot, 320 avocets, 500 golden plover formed some of the main wader flocks. Also seen in the river was at least one common seal.

Walking along the seawall to Ivy Dock we saw a ringtail hen harrier hunting on the Langenhoe ranges, while good views were had of 2 female marsh harriers flying past towards Colne Point.

On the saltmarsh pools near the Golfhouse one member had good views of 2 jack snipe while the rest of us had to be content with a dozen common snipe. Also seen here as the tide came in were knot, redshank, grey plover, dunlin as well as wigeon, teal and reed bunting. Other waders seen on the walk included curlew, ringed plover, oystercatcher, black-tailed godwit and turnstone,

A light dusting of snow early in the morning coated the ice everywhere in white such as the dyke and the frozen fields of the park. A female stonechat, 2 rock pipits, meadow pipits were seen during the walk as were fieldfare, great spotted woodpecker, kestrel and a few skylarks.

At the near-frozen pond there were 160 ducks, mostly mallard with 20+ gadwall, shoveler, wigeon, teal and 8 tufted ducks noted along with little grebes, mute swans, coots and moorhens. A male marsh harrier flew close by the pond early in the day as it passed eastwards. A fox was curled up on the grass near the pond in the weak morning sunshine.

At West Mersea a spotted redshank and greenshank were reported at the Strood.


Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Dougal Urquhart said...

Pleased to hear you like reading the wildlife updates. You never know what's going to turn up next!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting article! Porpoises are lovely animals, aren't they? It's good to hear about people trying to help out weak, and confused porpoises.