Monday, 29 March 2010


The BBC TV's CountryFile team came to Mersea Island on Monday 29th, to film the creation of a hibernation refuge for snakes and lizards at Cudmore Grove Country Park. This hibernaculum will allow the reptiles to retreat underground in the autumn, gaining access through a handful of plastic pipes that extend down into a pile of logs and brushwood.

Matt Baker one of the programme's presenters, on the left in the photo above, is having the hibernaculum explained to him, by Jon Cranfield of the Essex Amphibian and Reptile Group. The big 5m long pit was dug out last Friday and then all the logs and brushwood were gathered around the edge ready for installing on Monday afternoon. Matt and Jon along with the help of young Shane out of school on official work experience, then filled the hole back up, covering everything with all the soil, leaving a raised bank. This south-facing bank should hopefully be a warm basking spot for the reptiles in the summer, especially when the vegetation has covered it.

The hibernaculum is located in long grass close to where several common lizards and adders have already been seen in the last week. Today one adder was seen although it wasn't the best day to be out sunbathing.

The programme is due to be broadcasted on Sunday 11th April in the early evening when there will also be a feature about Richard Haward and his West Mersea oysters.

On Monday morning there was the unexpected close view of a ringtail hen harrier flying over the car park. It flew swiftly westwards over the neighbouring fields turning northwards near Shop Lane. The song of the chiffchaff could be heard from the trees near the pond.

Sunday, 28 March 2010


The popular annual "Snake-walk" took place at the country park on Sunday 28th with sixty folk turning up hoping to glimpse an adder or two. It proved to be a successful walk especially as the sun came out in the morning and so did 4 adders.
In fact three other adders were located at the park, outside of the period of the main Snake-walk, bringing the day's tally to 7 for the day. The picture above was taken near the east end of the seawall, a spot where the occasional adder has been seen in previous years.

This adder was missed during the walk but appears to be the one that went "slither-about" from its normal basking spot near the car park. It was seen in the middle of the afternoon sliding through the long grass about 25 metres from its normal spot.

One of the adders has been very obliging this month, allowing all 60 enthusiasts ranging in age from toddler up to 93 years old, to admire it as it basked in the sun beside a path.
Also seen amongst the long grass whilst searching for the adders were up to 4 common lizards, while the warm weather also saw a couple of peacoock butterflies fly past.

The flooded field still provides the main bird interest with a roost of 50 black-tailed godwits and 150 redshank as well as 2 ruff. A little egret was finding one or two small shrimps or something in the pools. Ten pairs of lapwing were busy displaying noisily over the fields, chasing each other around the place. The ducks present included about 70 wigeon, 50 teal, 10 gadwall, 10 shoveler, a few mallard and shelduck.

Offshore 200 brent geese roosted on the mud at low-tide as did 100 golden plover. Two avocets were seen on the saltmarsh pools at the Point. There was a report of a marsh harrier flying passed the park and the resident sparrowhawk and kestrels were seen too.

The only migrant about the place at the moment is still the chiffchaff singing in the trees near the park pond. It's been present for over a week now.

Early in the morning the corn bunting was singing from its regular bush alongside the East Mersea road, while a brown hare and green woodpecker were also noted near the road.

Martin Cock had a chiffchaff singing from his West Mersea garden on Saturday and also a Mediterranean gull flew over.

Friday, 26 March 2010


This was the first common lizard to be seen at the park this spring, lounging on a pile of logs near the car park on Friday 26th. The pile of logs was a favourite spot for the basking lizards last summer and it would be nice to see them continue to use the area this summer. Also enjoying the spring sunshine on the same log pile was a peacock butterfly but it didn't hang around for long. Two new adders were discovered basking at the east side of the main part of the park, as were the regular two near the car park.

A marsh harrier flew past the car park in the middle of the day and there was the unusual sight of the pair of kestrels gliding together along the cliff-top. A green sandpiper was seen flying off the flooded field in the early evening by Ian Black and the chiffchaff was still singing by the pond.

A couple of groups of 40 brent geese in each group, were seen flying high out of the river Colne and out to sea, the usual way that the brent geese start their long migration over the North Sea towards Siberia. There was still the big flock of about 500 birds around the north side of East Mersea.

Thursday, 25 March 2010


Had a brisk walk along the park seawall late on Thursday 25th in very dull weather. The water level in the fields is dropping down and yet there's still a good variety of waders and wildfowl on the main flood.

A male marsh harrier managed to fly along the edge of the field without disturbing the main group of birds. A large roost of 270 black-tailed godwits was notable along with 150 redshank. Although the variety of ducks on the fields remains the same as the last few months, wigeon numbers have dropped down to 230 birds with 150 teal also present with several gadwall, shoveler, shelduck and a few mallard. Up to 10 pairs of lapwing seem to be scattered about the two fields.

On the park pond a pochard and 10 tufted ducks were present while a chiffchaff was heard singing from nearby bushes. Several stock doves came into the bushes to roost for the night. On the saltmarsh pools at the Point an avocet was present again, suggesting it might be looking to breed here later in the spring.

In the wheat field next to the park 500 brent geese were spooked off and as they headed towards the park, their flight-path crossed with that of a passing peregrine. The peregrine continued on by and flew rapidly west and high over the nearby caravan sites. Later a little egret flew west over the car park too.

The adders weren't seen today because of the dull weather but the regular two were out basking on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in thir usual spots.

First thing on Thursday morning a grey heron stood majestically on top of a cedar tree above the passing traffic over East Road in West Mersea - presumably pondering the next meal of goldfish from the nearby gardens.
A water rail was seen scuttling along the ditch by the park entrance early on Tuesday morning.

Sunday, 21 March 2010


Star attraction for these birdwatchers from the Clacton Birdwatching Society was actually an adder, newly located earlier in the morning at the country park on Saturday 21st. For some of the Group, this was their first ever view of an adder, so binoculars came in handy and cameras were clicking madly away. The adder was very obliging and rewarded everybody with fine views.

After the Group had moved on, I had my own opportunity to take a photo of the same male adder, coiled up amongst the grass and other low vegetation where it blended well with its surroundings. A short distance away the second male adder was also out basking in its usual spot. Earlier in the morning whilst walking along part of the clifftop, close to some scattered bushes, I found myself one pace away from stepping on a female adder. Luckily I glanced down to check my route, just in time to see the adder slipping away.

The best bird sighting of the day was a ringtail hen harrier seen hunting across the grazing fields. It was first seen passing over the car park by some of the Clacton birders, then it was seen flying past the hide before I then saw it as it crossed over the fields. Renee Hockley-Byam and myself watched it behave like a hunting sparrowhawk, switching sides of a hedgerow, before flying low and fast across the flooded fields scattering masses of wigeon, teal, gadwall, shoveler, mallard, lapwings and various other birds. After taking a second look at a patch of rushes, it flew off, being chased by a pair of carrion crows.

The ruff was still present in the fields after the harrier passed by as were 2 snipe and 5 greylag geese. Two pairs of pochard were still on the park pond and a redwing was noted near here. Amongst the 500 dark-bellied brent geese flock feeding in the nearby wheat field was a pale-bellied brent goose.

The pair of kestrels were seen mating in the tree where they nested last year in the box. A second female appeared on the scene just afterwards with lots of calling, so whether she was very jealous or spurned was unclear.

Chiffchaffs were heard singing in the spring sunshine during the day from four different corners of the park although it's difficult to say if these were all different birds. Maybe only a couple of birds were present with one being very mobile.

An avocet was seen on the saltmarsh pools near the Golfhouse late in the day, hopefully it was checking out the pools for nesting later this spring. Earlier in the day 3 red-breasted mergansers in the river provided good views from the Point.

Martin Cock watched a ringtail hen harrier at Maydays Farm earlier in the morning, which may've been the same bird seen crossing the park an hour later. There was also a spotted redshank seen there on the edge of the Pyefleet Channel. Later 3 great northern divers were seen close to the Monkey beach at West Mersea. The nice weather also saw the first corn bunting back on territory as it perched on the familiar bush along the East Mersea road.

There were several moths in the trap at the park on Sunday despite some light overnight drizzle. This pale pinion pictured above was the most notable as it's listed as scarce in Essex. This is the second record for the park as one was trapped here last April. There were quite a few spring records elsewhere in Essex last year, so maybe the moth is on the increase.

One of the regular March moths to visit the trap is the dotted border and about 8 were found in and around the Skinner trap. Also seen were chestnut, small quaker, March, common quaker, satellite, early grey and hebrew character.

A peacock butterfly was seen flying near the beach during the sunny morning at the park.

Saturday, 20 March 2010


Some more toads were on the move on Firs Chase in West Mersea early evening on Friday 19th. This pair were on the wrong side of the road from their pond, so after this photo was taken I lifted the pair across the road with the male still clasped tightly around the female.

At dusk the first pipistrelle bat of the spring at the country park, was seen flying around the park entrance. The slow increase in night temperatures has seen a few moths on the wing with several species seen at the park following trapping sessions on Wednesday and Thursday nights. Some of the moths seen were the March moth, hebrew character, common quaker and small quaker.

The most eyecatching moth was this fairly common oak beauty which normally turns up as a single individual but this time, three were noted early on the Friday morning.

The grey shoulder knot pictured above is usually recorded once or twice each early spring but only single individuals each time.

The shoulder stripe with its distinctive dark and light brown banding is another regular visitor to the trap in early spring but like the two moths above, just one or two noted in a season.

The first chiffchaff was heard singing quietly and sporadically from bushes from the rear of the pond on Friday morning. The bird couldn't be seen amongst the dense stand of willows and other trees. Apart from the firecrest here at the park two days earlier, the chiffchaff is normally the first common summer migrant to the Island and this date is about average for the first sightings of them here.

There were two ruff in the park grazing fields on Friday afternoon along with 3 snipe, several pairs of displaying lapwing, 200 wigeon, 100 teal, 20 gadwall, 20 shoveler and a few mallard. On the park pond there were 4 pochard and 10 tufted duck, while nearby a dozen fieldfares and the male sparrowhawk were seen. In the field next to the park 500 brent geese have returned to feed on the regrowing winter wheat crop.

The male adder was seen again on Friday in its usual spot near the car park, basking on bare soil

At West Mersea Martin Cock located the black-necked grebe offshore from the Esplanade early on the Friday morning.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010


"Hold-on, Spring's here!"
This pair of common toads were part of a small number seen crawling down Firs Chase early evening of Wednesday 17th. The smaller male pictured on top had a tight grip and wasn't going to let the larger female go, or let rival males take over. I don't know how far the poor female had had to carry this male on her back but she still had another 50 metres to go.The warm weather during the day must've encouraged the toads to make their way to the pond, although sadly quite a few succumbed to passing traffic.

The first adder of the year appeared in the regular spot in the country park, waiting to emerge from hibernation on the warmest and sunniest day of the year so far with temperatures reaching about 14 degrees. This small male was basking on some bare ground and seemingly happy to be photographed from a couple of feet away. Adders have been 3 weeks later emerging this year with previous first sightings being on 25th Feb in 2006, 21st Feb in 2007, 26th Feb in 2008 and 25th Feb in 2009. Despite regular checking of suitable sites in the park over recent days, it seems the cold winter has really delayed their appearance. Glyn Evans came across an adder on Monday on the seawall by Maydays Farm.

The other sign of spring was the discovery of a firecrest in the cliff-top bushes late on Tuesday. The weather had been sunny all day and this little gem of a bird was found during one last walk around the park at 6pm. If it hadn't been calling it wouldn't have been found and with the leaves absent from the trees, the bird could be seen just a few feet away foraging through the branches. Despite searching the park for it on Wednesday, there was no further sign of the firecrest.

Firecrests are uncommon passage migrants in Essex and although a few overwinter in the county, this bird is most likely a migrant. In previous springs, birds have often stopped off at the park for a day or so, before continuing northwards. Last year none were seen in the spring but four firecrests were found in the park in mid October.

The last hour of Wednesday was spent on the seawall north of Shop Lane in East Mersea. On Langenhoe Point 12 marsh harriers were watched gathering around the big reedbed lagoon, many sitting on the top of the seawall. A ringtail hen harrier was also seen heading into the area, just after the sun had set. In the Pyefleet 12 red-breasted mergansers were the main birds of note other than the usual variety of waders and wildfowl. A male yellowhammer called from a hedgerow.

The decision was made to start draining some of the water off the flooded field, unblocking the small drainage channel, in the middle of the photo above, allowing water to pour into the dyke. Hopefully the grasslands that have been flooded for months will still flourish in time for the cattle to graze next month.

The ruff that was found in the fields on Monday was still present on Wednesday, taking advantage of the dropping water levels. A handful of black-tailed godwits, 3 snipe, several territorial redshank and some very noisy lapwings were the main waders of note. The brent geese flock of 500 birds grazed the fields in mid afternoon before heading onto a nearby wheat field. The main flooded field again held a good number of wigeon, teal, shoveler and gadwall.

On the park pond 4 pochard and 12 tufted ducks were seen, the pair of kestrels were seen by the nestbox in the tree where they bred last year. A sparrowhawk flew away from trees where they bred last year, while a female yellowhammer seen in the car park is very unlikely to stay to breed here.

On Tuesday a marsh harrier flew high over the fields, scattering the wigeon below it as it headed south. A peacock butterfly near the car park was the first butterfly of the year here.

Andy Field watched a black-necked grebe from the Monkey beach at West Mersea on Saturday 13th . Also noted were 6 great northern divers, shag, 3 eider and a summer plumaged Mediterranean gull.

Friday, 12 March 2010


The cold wind was still blowing on Thursday 11th but that probably suited the two male snow buntings found on the beach by the Point. They haven't been seen for a few days and these two waited until I was just 4 or 5 metres away before they flew off. They blended so well I didn't spot them until I saw the flicker of white wings as they headed off to sit on the nearby mud.

Also seen were 800 golden plover, 200 knot, 4 red-breasted mergansers and 4 great crested grebes. On the grazing fields 200 brent geese including a pale-bellied brent goose, female pintail for the third day and 400+ wigeon. At the pond 15 tufted duck and 4 pochard were present with 3 snipe seen nearby. Thirty fieldfares were seen in fields beside the park and unusually a yellowhammer stopped off briefly.

On Wednesday a male marsh harrier flew over the mud and over the fields, scattering the waders and wildfowl as it went. A little owl was seen in Bromans Lane just after nightfall.

The previous day on Tuesday, 5 species of raptor were seen at the park with a ringtail hen harrier coming over from Colne Point and then over the fields, a male marsh harrier flying up river, a peregrine swooping over the mudflats by the cliff, male sparrowhawk in the car park and the female kestrel roosting in the nestbox at the end of the day.

In the fields on Tuesday the female pintail was feeding in the flooded area, 90 shelduck, 50 redshank, 400 wigeon were seen while 700 brent geese took off from North Farm at dusk.

The moth trap operated at the park through Wednesday night but the cold night temperature resulted in a zero catch. The cold weather has also delayed the adders emerging from hibernation as none have been seen yet, which is nearly 3 weeks later than previous years.

Monday, 8 March 2010


There was plenty of sunshine for a walk along the Reeveshall seawall on Sunday 7th, although there was still a wintry chill in the northerly breeze. The last visit here a fortnight ago was memorable for the thousands of waders and wildfowl feeding on the saturated fields. None of those big flocks were present this time.

The most interesting flock was a group of 140 stock doves on one of the big grass fields, probably feeding on clover leaves. We've got used to seeing much smaller numbers of these typical farmland doves in recent winters here on the Island. The last time there was this number of birds, was 20 years ago when 150 were seen on Reeveshall.

Also seen on the fields were 500 starlings, 30 golden plover, 2 brown hares and a male sparrowhawk plucking its small prey in the middle of the big field. A female marsh harrier was seen flying over the reeds of the Broad Fleet. There were no birds seen on the Reeveshall pool although a snipe was seen flying away and a little egret flew off from a nearby ditch.

In the Pyefleet 150 shelduck were dotted along the edge of the water in the channel along with small numbers of wigeon. A pair of goldeneye and a pair of red-breasted mergansers were also noted as was a marsh harrier on the Langenhoe marshes.

Yesterday at West Mersea a pair of eider were seen off St Peters, one of the birds a nice adult male. Also at St Peters were 10 redwing and 10 goldfinches seen in the trees.

Friday, 5 March 2010


The highlight of a walk on the Strood seawall on Friday 5th was watching a ringtail hen harrier hunting alongside the wall. The harrier crossed the Strood Channel onto the Island and I got a great view as it seemed to be heading towards me. It banked to the side and flew low along the dyke, rising every so often above the wall before dropping back down again as it made its way towards the Strood Hill. Before it reached the road, it dropped down onto the ground for a few minutes. It was then seen a short while later crossing back over the Channel towards the Ray Saltings, scattering a few birds away that were in its path,as it disappeared on the Peldon mainland.

There was a small selection of waders and wildfowl which included small numbers of wigeon, teal, shelduck, brent geese, curlew, redshank, dunlin and a handful of black-tailed godwits. In the channel there were 10 little grebes amongst the boats.

On the fields by the Strood there was a little egret and 25 golden plover at one end, while 15 corn buntings, 3 reed buntings and 5 skylarks were seen feeding in a rough corner of grassland in another field. A stock dove was seen by the Firs Chase caravan site along with a few goldfinches, green woodpecker and great spotted woodpecker.
At dusk a little owl was seen flying alongside Bromans Lane in East Mersea.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010


Richard Brown phoned me on Tuesday 2nd, to say 5 waxwings were back at the Legion car park in West Mersea. The photo above shows the bush in front of the silver car where the waxwings have been seen feeding on the rosehips. The birds have returned to the same spot, having disappeared 3 days ago on the Saturday morning.

The birds had been seen in this bush in mid-afternoon, retreating to the big trees behind in the school gardens. Six birds were watched, some of them dropping down to feed on some cotoneaster berries, before the flock flew up to a tree-top. We then realised when the flock flew over our heads back to a tree in the car park there were actually 11 birds. They perched up briefly but then flew west along Barfield Road trilling as they went and then perched high over the cemetery at about 3.50pm. I'm not sure if they were relocated anywhere after this.

On the way back to the country park, stopped by the side of the road to have a close look at this badger that was found a few days ago dead on the East Mersea road near Fen Farm.The local Badger Group have been notified about it in case they want to have a closer look at the animal. Strangely the animal was found with masses of wood pigeon feathers lying on and around it.

The distinctive calls of the Mediterranean gull was heard as it headed south-west past Shop Lane towards the Coopers Beach.

At the park 3 snow buntings were still present in the morning at the Point and 8 linnets were also seen here. Up river 8 red-breasted mergansers were seen and a marsh harrier over Langenhoe. The sunny weather inspired a few birds to sing and a meadow pipit performed its parachute display flight and a few skylarks were singing too.

On the grazing fields several lapwings were doing their tumbling floppy display flight to their rivals over the waterlogged meadows. During the high tide roost 200 black-tailed godwits were seen wheeling over the fields. Near the Golfhouse 50 redwings were seen flying between fields.

Monday, 1 March 2010


After all the rain of the last few days, it was great to see the sun and the blue sky for virtually the whole day. The parts of the park that had standing water on it yesterday had all soaked away. The wind had dropped and there was even some warmth in the sun. No sign of any adders out from their hibernation yet - but they should be out in the next few days.

A walk to the Point at the end of the day was worthwhile as 3 snow buntings were discovered crouching low down on the beach. Two adult males looking very white and a female blended well with the colouring of the surrounding shingle. These are the first to be seen here for almost a month and a half.

Other birds of note were 1000 brent geese flying over the Colne from fields near Moverons at Brightlingsea, while in the outer part of the river 4 red-breasted mergansers were seen. Fifteen bar-tailed godwits flew up-river and 800 golden plover roosted on the nearby mud.

The blue colour of the sky was really noticeable today after so much greyness recently. This scene pictured above caught my eye as it is taken inside a thick hedge at the park. The camera is pointing down at the normally dark and stagnant water in the ditch providing this unexpected bright and colourful reflection of the trees branches and the blue sky above.

This is the old oak tree whose reflection is shown in the earlier photo, standing over the ditch full of water.

The fields still have water pouring onto it from the overflowing pond at the western end, while elsewhere water from the flooded field overflows into the borrowdyke.
During the midday high tide 200 black-tailed godwits and 100 redshank were the main wader flocks standing in the flooded field. Not so many wigeon with about 400 noted along with lots of teal, shoveler, gadwall, curlew and lapwing. About 10 snipe were also seen hiding in the stand of rushes.

There was an obliging close fly-past by a barn owl over the rough grass field on the west side of the car park, just before the sun was about to set. The owl flew around the field for about five minutes in its hunt for mice and voles, before it disappeared over to the caravan site. Thirty-five fieldfares flew over the car park just as the sun was setting. A fox had been seen crossing a field near the pond, also as the sun-set.