Thursday, 30 September 2010
The first lot of brent geese newly arrived from Siberia, will have enjoyed the sunshine around the Colne estuary on Thursday 30th. Having had several days of showers recently, the clear sky and warmth in the sunshine was a welcome respite from the dull and damp weather.
Five brent geese seen flying past the Point on Tuesday were the first ones seen off East Mersea this autumn. According to reports from the Frinton stretch of the Essex coast, at least 2000 brent flew past there yesterday. Here in the Colne today 100 birds were present, in 3 or 4 groups feeding out on the mudflats. As usual one of the regular spots to see the geese was at the freshwater outflow along from Batemans Tower at Brightlingsea.
At the Point the stonechat was still present on bushes as was a wheatear on the beach, while Steve Entwistle saw a curlew sandpiper with 4 knot in the early evening. Two days earlier Andy Field had seen the stonechat with a whinchat, while the curlew sandpiper was with some dunlin near the Point. There was also a noisy flypast the Point from a sandwich tern too. Twenty five linnets and 3 reed buntings were also present on Tuesday.
On the park pond on Thursday the kingfisher put on a very lively show, splashing into the water several times, whistling at every opportunity and then flying short distances to perch on another willow branch. The sunshine showed up the bright colours of the birds, especially the bright blue flash along the back. Also near the pond 12 jays seemed a notable flock as they flew high along a hedgerow. Four blackcaps were seen in one bush soaking up the morning sunshine. Along the clifftop trees 3 goldcrests were heard calling in the afternoon.
The late September sunshine gave this adder by the dell, one last burst of sunshine before it heads underground for the winter. Elsewhere amongst the long grass 2 common lizards were basking and a wasp spider was also spotted on her web in the grass.
It was a good day for small copper butterflies with a possible site record count of 16 individuals seen at the park. They seemed to be in most corners of the park especially around patches of sheep's sorrel plants. Also seen were 2 red admirals, 2 small whites, comma and speckled wood.
The moth trap was left running on the dry night of Tuesday which lured in 110 moths of 17 species including this barred sallow moth pictured above with its autumnal tint markings.
Another autumnal moth is this handsome black rustic pictured above, which turns up at this time of year in small numbers.
This feathered ranunculus in the photo above, is the first one of the season. Like the black rustics, there are usually several recorded each autumn at the trap.
Other moths noted from Tuesday night included autumnal rustic, lunar underwing, mallow, riband wave, turnip, L-album wainscot, frosted orange, white-point, snout, square-spot rustic, brindled green and the brick.
Masses of craneflies were swarming inside the moth trap by morning, attracted in during the night by the bright light. All over the park during the day there are thousands of craneflies, many following you inside your house too.
Hugh Owen reported from the nearby Langenhoehall marshes to the north of Mersea, that on Tuesday afternoon he saw a common buzzard, ringtail hen harrier and also an osprey sitting on a dead tree that got briefly mobbed by a marsh harrier. It was a rich reward for the long hours he worked hard earlier in the day gardening!
Sunday, 26 September 2010
It was a great weekend for looking out at sea and watching a great passage of gannets. The strong northerly wind on both days had brought a steady flow of gannets northwards up the Essex coast with many approaching the entrances of both the Blackwater and Colne estuaries.
The best day of the weekend was Saturday 25th when Andy Field counted 50 - 60 birds between noon and 3 pm looking from the country park, (as in the view in photo above). An hour at the end of the afternoon saw another 20 birds passing. The gannets continued to be seen on Sunday although not in such big numbers, with 20 being seen during an hour in mid-morning from the park.
Some gannets circled round a few times and flew along the shallow waters just beyond the low tide area. One or two landed in the water for a few minutes and could be watched through the telescope. Surprisingly all the birds seen were brown immatures with none of the white and black of the adults being seen.
The passage of gannets along the north Essex coast was also reported at a couple of other sites. At Frinton over 300 flew north on Saturday while 270 were seen on Sunday. Across the Blackwater estuary at Bradwell on Sunday, 177 gannets were counted during several hours in the middle of day.
From the park late on Saturday, at least 20 common terns were seen flying into the Colne, possibly to roost for the night.
Other birds seen at the park included several small groups of house martins flying west on Saturday while a grey wagtail and small groups of passing meadow pipits were noted on Sunday. On the mudflats 24 little egrets were counted but little else of note. Numbers of ducks are slowly increasing on the grazing field pools with 250 teal, 15 wigeon and 5 shoveler the main wildfowl on show. At the park pond 25 stock doves were looking to join the wood pigeons for the roost on Saturday evening.
An hour's walk along the Reeveshall seawall last thing on Friday provided views of one or two things although the wind was quite fresh. On the Reeveshall pool 70 teal, 10 wigeon, 10 greylag geese and a black-tailed godwit were present. Along the Pyefleet there was a Mediterranean gull, 2 common terns, the "summering" brent goose, while on Langenhoe 4 marsh harriers were seen.
A yellow wagtail and three swallows were the only small birds noted and a brown hare was on the seawall.
Thursday, 23 September 2010
The moth is a very rare visitor to Essex and the discovery of this caterpillar on the Island means that there was an adult female flying about West Mersea undetected earlier in the summer. I've never seen either the moth or the caterpillar before, so I was very excited to see this one in the hand. The death's head hawkmoth is the largest moth to be seen in the UK and the same goes with it's caterpillar too.
The caterpillar is unmistakable due to its size and markings with this one reaching in length to four inches (10cms). In the photo above the caterpillar shows the small yellow horn at the rear end (top in photo) and the pretty bluey-green diagonal stripes along the side of the body.
The caterpillar was given a small selection of leaves ranging from tomato, privet, buddleia and some lettuce. However the original discovery of this caterpillar away from its foodplant suggests that it was ready to pupate. After a quick read up on the internet, I filled up a large perspex box with soil, placed the caterpillar onto it and covered the box over with fine netting for the night. By the next morning, the jolly green giant had disappeared from view and had presumably burrowed down ready to spend the next few weeks turning itself into an adult moth.
I shall be keeping a close eye on the box in a month's time, and fingers crossed - I could be a proud dad! I read a comment on the web that every keen moth enthusiast should try rearing a death's head hawkmoth at least once!
The moth trap was checked on Thursday morning where a still and cool night had resulted in a lower turnout for moths. This dusky-lemon sallow pictured above, was the most interesting as it has a scarce distribution in Essex because of the decline in the elm, the foodplant of the larvae. One or two individuals are normally recorded here at the park each autumn.
This orange sallow has a similarly scarce status in Essex to the dusky-lemon sallow, so it was nice to see this recorded again at the park. Last year it was noted on a couple of dates in the third week in September, so a similar time of the year.
Nineteen species involving about 70 individuals included the brick, flounced chestnut, frosted orange, black rustic, beaded chestnut, brindled green and L-album wainscot.
Birdwise at the park two goldcrests were still foraging with the tits beside the car park for the third day. A few swallows and meadow pipits passed over the park during the day.
Martin Cock saw a late turtle dove at Maydays farm on Thursday and 2 late swifts over West Mersea at the beginning of the week.
Plenty of sunshine throughout Tuesday 21st made the day feel more like mid-summer rather than early autumn. The late brood of small coppers, one in photo above, were enjoying the warmth, with 5 seen along one of the grassy paths. This is probably the peak time of the year for seeing small coppers at the park. Other butterflies noted were red admiral, small white, small heath, holly blue, comma and speckled wood. There were lots of common darters about the park too.
Two goldcrests were amongst the tit flock foraging in trees near the overflow car park. Goldcrests have been thin on the ground on the Island this year although one or two pairs may've nested in gardens in West Mersea. There seemed to be several chiffchaffs around the park including one singing in the car park and a willow warbler called too.
On the park pond there was the usual selection of ducks with 25 mallard, 3 shoveler and 3 gadwall. There was the nice sight of another spotted flycatcher feeding at the side of the field near this pond on Tuesday. This continues the nice run of spotted flycatcher sightings in this general area of the pond, although not sure how many birds were involved.
On Wednesday the blue flash of the kingfisher was briefly admired, as the bird flew fast and low across the grazing fields towards the pond.
The moth trapped through Tuesday night included this smartly marked flounced chestnut, pictured above. Just under 100 moths of 14 species was a typical haul, although there was a clear sky overnight leading to fog at dawn, so not ideal for moth activity.
This sallow moth is one of the typical autumnal moths that turns up at this time of year, although normally just one or two of these individuals are noted each autumn. As the name implies its caterpillars feed on sallow, although there are other members of the sallow family that feed on other kinds of tree like lime or elm.
Some of the other moths noted were beaded chestnut, lunar underwing, broad-bordered yellow underwing, snout, frosted orange and L-album wainscot.
Monday, 20 September 2010
There were few birds of any note during the high tide along the Strood Channel mid morning. A sparrowhawk flew slowly over flushing a few waders off the Ray saltings. A few swallows passed over the fields while in nearby hedges lesser whitethroat and chiffchaffs were noted. Small heath and small copper butterflies were seen flying by the seawall.
Glyn Evans noted 6-7 sandwich terns during his monthly WeBs count around the Island on Monday but little else of note.
On Sunday 19th at East Mersea Point there was still no sign of the lapland bunting. However a common buzzard was seen circling over Brightlingsea church with some rooks for company. A pair of sandwich terns flew past the Point up-river and a few common terns were seen too. Steve Entwistle had earlier seen a kingfisher flying over the river from the Point towards Brightlingsea.
Coming back across the Colne in the opposite direction was a male sparrowhawk that flopped onto the beach as soon as it reached land.
Richard Hull visited the army ranges of Langenhoe and was rewarded with views of two pectoral sandpipers, continuing the excellent run of birds for the site this autumn.
Around the pools in the park grazing fields were 240 teal and 5 snipe with 5 wigeon and a few shoveler, while 68 curlew roosted in the fields during the high tide.
The sunny weather enticed a couple of adders out onto the regular track and amongst the butterflies were common blue, red admiral, speckled wood and comma noted.
Amongst the moths found in the trap on Sunday morning at the park were 40+ of these lunar underwings. This was the commonest moth and it's always interesting to see the variations in colours from the pale to the dark, as in the photos above.
The main notable moth in the trap was another red underwing, continuing the good run of sightings over the last month and this individual being the second one to actually drop into the trap (one also noted 6 days earlier).
Some of the other moths seen were white-point, frosted orange, rosy rustic, broad-bordered yellow underwing, turnip, snout, willow beauty and deep-brown dart.
This brindled green was found resting on the outside of the building and is the first sighting of the year here. The moth is an annual visitor to the trap each autumn in ones and twos. It's usually found not far from woods and scrub as the foodplant is oak, and there's a bit of that here at the park.
Saturday, 18 September 2010
At least ten snipe were skulking around the muddy pools in the park's grazing fields on a sunny Saturday 18th. This one above was feeding with a second bird, it's bill just visible behind, anxiously watching an approaching cow that was grazing it's way towards them. All the snipe and several teal flew away to a quieter part of the field. There were 100 teal , 5 shoveler and a few wigeon too.
Joined Andy Field at the East Mersea Point (with the old sailing barge Edme from Harwich in the background), where we had an unsuccessful search for the lapland bunting. The bird had been seen first thing yesterday morning by Martin Cock who had seen it fly off the beach calling loudly and then drop into the long grass of the nearby grazing field. It doesn't appear to have been seen since then.
There was the interesting sight of 6 common buzzards soaring high over fields and woodland near Brightlingsea church. Two of the buzzards managed to get enough height to fly high across the river Colne westwards, while the others continued to circle in the distance. On Langenhoe a male marsh harrier was seen quartering the marshes.
As the tide uncovered the mud, some of waders noted near the Point included 500 golden plover, 10 bar-tailed godwits, 12 knot along with many of the usual other waders. At least 20 common terns were seen flying past the Point with most coming into the river. Eighteen linnets were on the seablite bushes while 12 goldfinches were feeding on thistles in the field. Amongst the small group of 30 hirundines were 15 house martins, 20 swallows and a few sand martins.
Andy had seen a kingfisher at the park pond earlier in the morning, calling loudly as if there was a second bird in the area. This could've been the same bird seen along the dyke on Thursday evening by Andy and Steve.
An adder and a common lizard were basking amongst the reeds alongside the dyke. Dragonflies seen included lots of egg-laying pairs of common darters, migrant hawkers egg-laying and also a single small red-eyed damselfly. Amongst the butterflies enjoying the sunshine were red admiral, comma, small white, common blue, holly blue, small heath and speckled wood.
Thursday, 16 September 2010
The bunting was successfully relocated back on the beach in the early evening amongst the clumps of marram grass near the old pill-box. The poor photo above is a record shot of the bird with its head down as it was feeding. The chestnut panel on the wings can just be seen in the picture - one of the features of lapland bunting. The markings and typical bunting-type plumage suggested the bird was a juvenile.
Lapland buntings have been very rare winter visitors to Mersea and most previous views have usually been of individuals in flight. There was an exceptional influx in early 1991 when 60 were seen in a Reeveshall field. This autumn there have been several birds reported from various sites around East Anglia. Andy Field and Steve Entwistle managed to see this bird briefly on the beach in the last of the daylight, before it flew to the nearby grazing fields presumably to roost for the night.
Whilst admiring the clouds as they got darker over Brightlingsea with the sun still shining on the park, this rainbow got brighter and then doubled up. However a few spits of unexpected rain soon turned into a downpour followed by a brief heavy shower of hail.
Before the visibility got bad, 3 immature gannets were seen in the outer part of the estuary along with about 40 common terns that appeared to be heading west. Earlier in the day 3 gannets were also noted with two brown birds flying along the edge of the outgoing tide. A great crested grebe was also seen in the river.
The main sight in the morning was the big migration of meadow pipits with a continuous flow of birds crossing the estuary from Colne Point and passing across the mudflats beyond the park towards West Mersea. Fifty birds could be counted at any one scan during the morning and in the short spell of watching, there were probably 300 birds seen.
One of the garden escapes that has flourished on the beach at the Point for several years, is this yellow-flowered clematis. It seems to be able to tolerate being sand-blasted and having lots of salt in the air.
The spotted flycatcher was still present in the hedgeline in the field near this adder-track. The bird was also seen on Tuesday and two birds were seen on Monday. Also in the sheltered corner were a couple of chiffchaffs, a blackcap and a mixed tit flock which all had to dive for cover when a male sparrowhawk flashed past. A willow warbler was heard calling from bushes in the car park. Three snipe were on the pools in the grazing fields along with lots of teal.
Despite the cool breeze, some of the butterflies seen in the morning were holly blue, small copper, comma, small white, speckled wood, small heath and red admiral.
Joined Martin Cock late in the afternoon on the Shop Lane seawall with the tide covering most of the mud. The osprey was seen in the far distance on top of its regular pole on the Geedons saltings, feeding on a newly caught fish. A marsh harrier was seen over Langenhoe where a sparrowhawk was seen crossing the Pyefleet towards, while a kestrel made the opposite crossing back to East Mersea. A sighting of a common buzzard at the back of Reeveshall added to the small list of raptors for the short session. Also seen beside the Pyefleet were a green sandpiper and 4 common terns.
The osprey was seen over the weekend of 11th and 12th flying over the Fingringhoe / Geedon saltings and perching on it's favourite pole.
Numbers are dwindling in the moth trappng sessions as we head into the autumn. This broad-bordered yellow underwing in the photo above was one of the larger moths in the trap on Tuesday morning. Despite the breezey night there were about 150 moths of 20 species of which the most striking one was a big red underwing. It has been a good season here for red underwing sightings, capped off with the rare sight of one actually in the trap.
The L-album wainscot is a regular visitor to the trap in September / October, so this first individual should be the beginning of several more sightings. Some of the other moths noted in the trap included lunar underwing, white-point, turnip, common wainscot, frosted orange, flounced rustic, uncertain, square spot rustic, silver-Y, setaceous hebrew character, large yellow underwing and light emerald.
This big hairy fox moth caterpillar was crossing the path on the top of the seawall. It has probably been feeding on some nearby bramble leaves and has set off to find somewhere to pupate. The big moth is seen on the wing in July with one or two seen each year visiting the trap.
Friday, 10 September 2010
The moth trap was checked on Wednesday and Friday mornings and there was a typical showing of late summer / early autumn moths. This frosted orange pictured above is one of the regular ones seen at the park with the pale orange colouring typical of some of the autumn moths.
The most numerous moth in the trap at the moment is the square-spot rustic with around 70 noted on one of the nights. This one above had a richer brown colouring than many of the others.
hedge rustic with its black colouring was probably the most interesting record as it hasn't been noted at the trap over the last 3 or 4 years. As it is a grassland moth, it's surprising it hasn't been recorded more often here at the park considering the amount of grassland on site.
Tuesday, 7 September 2010
This young fox was out on the prowl in the early evening around the country park pond on Tuesday 7th. It had teamed up with one of its siblings as they alternated between play-fighting, territory marking and stalking rabbits. This photo was taken from the bird hide with the camera pointing through the 10x binoculars - a sort of "digi-binned" image! Two other foxes were also seen at opposite ends of the same pond.
Earlier in the day an osprey was seen flying westwards over the park, passing over the pond as it headed towards the East Mersea pub and seemingly west through the middle of the Island. One memorable sight, 11 years ago in early September, was seeing an osprey plunge down into this pond, and as it came back up shaking the water off it's body, the crows chased it away and it continued on its migration.
There appeared to be several osprey sightings along the mid-Essex coast during the day. The Cudmore one flew over at 10.20am, one was also seen flying from Tollesbury Creek towards West Mersea at 2pm, which may've been the same bird. One was seen from the nearby Fingringhoe nature reserve, just to the north of Mersea at 1.20pm and then later 2 ospreys were seen here at 5pm, while another osprey was also seen near Maldon at 1.30pm.
The main bird excitement followed a phonecall about an exhausted seabird in the garden of Toni Butcher, just up from the Strood causeway. The description seemed to match a great skua which appeared to limp along and flap its wings across the garden but didn't appear to be able to fly away. Despite searching the undergrowth and surrounding paddocks, there was no further sign of the bird. A spotted flycatcher and four partridges, possibly red-legged, were also seen here.
As the tide was coming in near the Point at East Mersea, pictured above, a black tern was seen flying around with 4 common terns and 5 little terns. It landed on the mud for a few minutes before heading off by itself and seemingly out of the river Colne. Also noted were 10 little egrets along the water's edge, one avocet, bar-tailed godwit and 50 ringed plovers. On the Point were 2 wheatears, 10 linnets, 2 reed buntings, while 2 whinchats were on the seawall near the Golfhouse.
In the fields 40 teal, 3 wigeon, 5 black-tailed godwits and 2 snipe were present, with 5 little egrets roosting in the trees and 10 yellow wagtails noted flying over during the day. A garden warbler was feeding on elderberries near the hide , 2 reed warblers were seen in a hedge near the entrance with several blackcaps, whitethroats, lesser whitethroats while the nightingale called again after a week's silence and a spotted flycatcher was also in the car park. A spotted flycatcher was also present in the car park on Monday evening, possibly the same bird.
On the Mersea mudflats at low tide in the evening, 70 avocets fed on the very southern edge and 16 little egrets were also noted on the mud, along with the usual selection of waders.
A slowworm was seen on a track to the north of the park, a common lizard was seen in the park as was a small copper butterfly, while a red underwing moth rested on the information room building and a small red-eyed damselfly was noted on the dyke.
On Monday Steve Entwistle spent some time staring out to sea from the beach near Seaview Avenue during a fresh south-easterly wind and was rewarded with views of a long-tailed skua that flew around and then settled on the water towards Bradwell. A sooty shearwater was also seen in the middle of the day as it headed eastwards out at sea.
Michael Thorley saw a whinchat at the Youth Camp at East Mersea on Monday. Fifty house sparrows were seen by Haycocks stables and around some of the arable fields near Rewsalls there's been almost 1000 starlings recently.
This big hornet hoverfly landed on a path along from the Dabchicks on Monday. Andy Field had reported seeing one in his West Mersea garden a couple of weeks earlier. This hornet-mimic started colonising the south of England in the 1940's and now it's regularly seen each summer on Mersea. Andy also had another visit from a hummingbird hawkmoth on Monday evening.
Sunday, 5 September 2010
No sign of any wheatears, whinchats or much other small bird activity. An adult Mediterranean gull was seen with some other gulls on the beach just as the tide was uncovering the mud. Waders were starting to arrive with one sanderling seen with a few dunlin and 10 ringed plover. Fifty golden plover flew past heading inland to one of the fields. A little egret was also seen flying along the shoreline.
Other birds noted were a kestrel, little grebe chicks calling from the dyke where 2 coots were also seen. A common whitethroat, chiffchaff, 20 swallows, 2 pied wagtails and a few greenfinches were seen near the Coopers caravan site.
There was quite a carpet of the prickly sea holly plants on the beach by the Youth Camp, although a few plants have been washed away by the sea.
Stopped to read some wildlife notices on the side of the Coopers reception building. This one has a reference for more wildlife information, to a particular Mersea Wildlife blog!
Whilst cutting the grass in the garden, this tiny toadlet had to be helped out of the way of the mower. Hopefully it will be able to cross the Firs Chase road safely next February on its way to breed in the nearby pond.
At the end of the afternoon, Steve Entwistle called me from the Reeveshall seawall to say he was watching an osprey perched on a post on Langenhoe. Unfortunately by the time I got there it had disappeared. The bird had first been found by Richard Hull on the Langenhoe Ranges in the morning and was later seen in the afternoon from Fingringhoe. Richard had also seen 7 wood sandpipers on the ranges in the morning.
In the early evening 4 marsh harriers and a barn owl were seen on Langenhoe with a greenshank amongst the waders on the Pyefleet and green sandpiper and common sandpiper on the Reeveshall pool. Five yellow wagtails were noted along the seawall.
Steve had earlier seen 2 hobbies at Maydays farm, 2 spotted flycatchers at Cudmore Grove (one at the pond and one just north of the park), also a whinchat and wheatear near the Point.
Saturday, 4 September 2010
This neatly marked small tortoiseshell was nectaring on clumps of golden samphire alongside the Strood seawall on Saturday 4th. The clumps of samphire were low enough down on the seawall that the strong breeze didn't blow the butterfly about.
The usual waders were present along the channel with a single greenshank being the only one of any note. By the nearby fields 50 swallows hawked low as did a house martin and a sand martin, while 50 linnets, 6 corn buntings and a reed bunting were also seen.
A group of five small, young lizards were basking in the sunshine on some dried grass cuttings at the Feldy cemetery. All seemed to have tails that were a blacker colour than the rest of the body. Their small size of about 5cms made them difficult to spot at first but once you got an eye-in, the other lizards were easier to locate.
Crossing the meadow at St Peters pictured above, on the edge of West Mersea, it was a surprise to see a number of wasp spiders amongst the grass. Although only about 20 were seen, every corner of grass had some and these were quite close to the paths, so I presume there'd be lots more hiding deeper in the grass. One or two were even on the saltmarsh with webs amongst the sea purslane. Another was on the edge of the saltmarsh not far from the houseboats where one had been discovered a fortnight ago by the Ekstein family.
Another insect noted on the meadow was a female long-winged conehead - a relative of the bush-crickets, playing hard to spot in the long grass. It's long brownish wings extending beyond the back of the slender green body. I don't think this species has been recorded for the western side of the Island.
A common blue and small white butterflies were seen on the wing here as was a silver-Y moth.
After the mayor had tasted and toasted the first freshly dredged local native oysters of the new season, the guests joined in, washing down the oysters with the traditional gin and gingerbread.
Not many wildlife sightings of any note to report over the last few days. A late swift passed over the park on Tuesday in the company of some swallows. Also on Tuesday and Wednesday a turtle dove was seen feeding in the corner of fields at the west end of Bromans Lane.
Butterfly numbers are tailing off although small heath, small copper, common blue, small tortoiseshell, comma, red admiral, large white, small white and speckled woods were noted in the last few days. A hornet hoverfly visited the buddleia briefly one morning and a small sub-adult reddish adder was seen on Tuesday. The highlight on the buddleia bush in the park was a fleeting visit by a hummingbird hawkmoth on Tuesday - the first park sighting for about 3 years.
The moth trap was run on a couple of evenings during the week with weather conditions a bit cool for moth activity. Both nights produced about 100 moths of 20 species each with this large thorn, pictured above, being the most interesting one. This is the first record for the park and is listed as a nationally scarce species, although it is frequently recorded elsewhere in the county.
The first orange swift of the season made an appearance. It's orange coluring and white markings make it quite distinctive.
Other moths noted included flounced rustic, setaceous hebrew character, uncertain, common wainscot, white-point, common carpet, brimstone, willow beauty, blood-vein, snout, Chinese character, yellow-tail, spectacle, lesser yellow underwing, large yellow underwing, yellow-belle and square-spot rustic.