Tuesday, 27 February 2007


More rain on Tuesday 27th seemed to suit plenty of waterfowl such as this male/cob mute swan with its wings puffed up, swimming along the borrowdyke by the park. As spring approaches, the swans are already very territorial and with another pair nearby, they have to be vigilant. So much water now lies on the fields, and the creeks and ditches are as full of water as I've seen for several years. The persistent drizzle did not make for easy viewing.

Not as many waders on the fields in the afternoon but maybe the low tide had drawn the waders onto the nearby mudflats. However there were still several hundred wigeon scattered across one of the fields with teal, mallard and a handful of shelduck. About 70 common gulls and black-headed gulls could be seen around many of the pools.

Monday, 26 February 2007


Brief walk at East Mersea on Monday 26th February along the seawall to the Oyster Fishery building belonging to the Colchester Oyster Fishery Company. The photo above shows the huge mound of discarded oyster shells on the edge of the Pyefleet Channel. The actual oysters will have been prised from their shells long ago after being driven up to London and served in some of the top restaurants.

Despite plenty of mud on show, there weren't many waders to see at first. However the incoming tide seemed to bring more waders back into the Pyefleet such as 250 redshank, 700 dunlin, 50 grey plover, 3 bar-tailed godwits and one knot. A large flock of 50 shoveler seemed to have been flushed off the army ranges on Langenhoe as they circled above the lagoon. There were several shelduck and wigeon along the edge of the mud. Also in the air were three marsh harriers with the familiar well marked male tussling with a female as she passed nearby.

On the seawall near the Oyster Fishery was an unexpected and an increasingly scarce group of five very colourful yellowhammers. They had been feeding amongst the grass before flying into a nearby bush. Grazing one of the grass fields near here were 400 brent geese.

The day ended with another picturesque sunset at the West Mersea Hard.


Sunday 25th was another wet day and at least 30 toads still making their way to the pond near Firs Chase. The count of ones that didn't make it across the road on the 100 metre stretch east of the pond amounted to about 20. However there was still plenty of action at the pond itself with lots of pairs of eyes just breaking the surface.

The high pitched zee-zee-zee call of the tiny goldcrest was heard from a big cedar tree. It was probably the same bird which a few days earlier had stunned itself when it flew into our window. This is the picture that Nolly took of the dazed bird after she picked it up off the ground. After leaving it in a box to recover, it must have regained its strength and flown off. Such a fragile bundle of feathers at the healthiest of times without smashing head first into a window. It has the equivalent weight to a paper envelope and is our smallest British bird.

Down by the Dabchicks, there were the usual 10 dabchicks(little grebes) in the channel as well as a pair of red-breasted mergansers.

Sunday, 25 February 2007


One of Mersea's more handsome local residents!
One of thirty common toads found on Saturday 24th slowly crawling along the muddy footpath.

This is the garden pond which is hosting its annual toad festival, pulling in our warty friends from far and wide.
The view towards Packing Shed Island with a few obliging brent geese in the foreground grazing the green algae off the mud. This was one of many groups of up to 300 brent seen around the West Mersea Quarters. On the walk from the Dabchicks to Seaview caravan site, there was a good selection of estuary birds on show although many ended up being distant specks, closer to low tide-line.

In the creeks, 10 red-breasted mergansers, a male goldeneye, several little grebes and cormorants were swimming amongst the moorings. Two female eiders feeding in one distant channel were rather unexpected. After some underwater feeding they emerged to preen on the edge of the mud. Also along the water's edge was the now familiar egret sight with at least three little egrets to be seen, with one feeding within a few metres of the floating causeway.

The usual waders on show were roughly 300 redshank, 100 grey plovers, 150 oystercatchers, 50 dunlin, 10 ringed plovers, 50 turnstone, 100 curlew, 12 bar-tailed godwits with one in russet summer plumage. The real estuary atmosphere is provided by the hundreds of gulls in the area with the most boisterous and loud being the herring gulls. They've been nesting in the area for at least ten years and several of them today could've been getting territorial with all the fuss they seemed to be making.

Opposite the beach huts of the Esplanade were two great northern divers and a distant red-throated diver. The great northerns appeared larger, thicker-set, darker back and with a thicker head with a chunky bill. They always seemed to keep a low profile in the water and they like to stare into the water below them before diving below. Also offshore were six great-crested grebes and the glistening shiny head of a common seal when it surfaced.

In the distance two marsh harriers could be seen circling above Old Hall Marshes, while earlier a huge flock of 2000 golden plover were disturbed off the reserve and passed overhead in their distinctive formations.

Friday, 23 February 2007


Two hour walk along the Reeveshall seawall, Monty and I almost had the place to ourselves. Even the local flock of sheep seemed bemused and curious enough to come right up to us to get a closer look. Recent rains have filled the Reeveshall pool but only two coots were on show.
An attempt to get closer to a group of 200 brent geese feeding on the saltmarsh was thwarted by a marauding marsh harrier which appeared out of nowhere to lunge at an unsuspecting redshank feeding on the nearby mud. As the harrier was seen to continue on its way, that poor redshank must have felt mightily relieved to have escaped its attentions.

The breeze was starting to pick up and dotted along the Pyefleet Channel were 18 red-breasted mergansers being gently buffeted by the waves. The incoming tide was moving the wader flocks up the Pyefleet and in one area there were 500 dunlin, 100 grey plover and 200 redshank all plodding though the very soft mud.

Continually flying around on the north side of the Pyefleet over the Langenhoe Ranges were at least six marsh harriers. Along the full two mile length there was a different harrier to be seen with the most striking being a beautifully marked male, flashing its grey wings with black tips, as it quartered the marshes. Every so often a harrier would venture over the saltings and all the birds would take to the air including one large group of 500 lapwing.

One large brown harrier-type of bird hung in the stiff breeze as it scanned the ground below it. The view through the telescope revealed this as a common buzzard which was unexpected although one was seen only five days previously in this area, so possibly the same bird. Buzzards maybe common thoughout most other parts of the country but the Essex marshes are not one of their regular haunts. In the last two or three years buzzards have started to become an established bird of the more wooded parts of Essex.
After one or two more hover-type hanging forays in the wind, it flew over to a bush where it sat for some time. When the sun briefly came out and shone on it, the very pale underparts and black belly markings showed up well, even from a distance of half a mile.

Marching back along the seawall a peregrine was seen causing panic and mayhem on the Ranges as it flew swiftly along before climbing sharply upwards. I couldn't stay around to watch any more of the great raptor display on the Ranges but this brief visit had certainly been well worthwhile.


Wednesday 21st was another spring-like day with plenty of sunshine. Warm enough for the first adder to emerge from hibernation at Cudmore Grove CP. in their usual spot near the car park. Judging by the large size, this was a female that was photographed as it moved between bare patches of ground amongst the bramble bushes. The date is the earliest recorded at the park but only by a couple of days which, considering how mild the winter has been, I've been surprised not to have seen one before now. The first adder emerged last spring on the 25th Feb with the last one noted during the third week of October.

There will be more photos to take over the next couple of months and if last spring is anything to go by, there could be a veritable nest of vipers to admire with possibly up to seven snuggled up to each other. They like this area because they can bask on the south facing slope, on the warm sandy soil and if danger approaches, then they can slink into the brambles.

Sadly the Dartford warbler was not seen today which disappointed many local birders. The overnight conditions were not the usual ones for birds to fly away as it was overcast and drizzly.
The sunshine at the Point brought the reed buntings and dunnocks to the tops of the shrubby sea-blite bushes to sing. The regular wintering pair of stonechats provided nice views as they too perched up on the bushes. However there was no sign of that elusive warbler. There had been the earlier sight of a male sparrowhawk hurtling along the saltmarsh, doing its usual style of low level attack. It seemed to be heading to the Point and luckily for the small birds in that area, it veered away to perch on a small bush before flying northwards.

In the late afternoon thousands of waders were gathered on the mud beside the Point, feeding on the recently uncovered mud. The largest group was about 2000 dunlin which suddenly took to the air, wheeling sharply one way and then the next, as if a bird of prey had been spotted nearby.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007


Rather unexpected in the early evening of February 20th was finding part of Firs Chase the scene of carnage with the newly emerged toads trying to make their way to the local pond to breed. The toads obviously feel winter is over and it's time to run the gauntlet to cross roads and streets on this mild and drizzly evening.

By 7.30pm Nolly and I had found ten were already dead on the road, ten were collected in the blue bucket and carried closer to the pond while a further 50 were counted along a little muddy path leading to the nearby garden pond. There was the soft continuous chirping sound coming from many of the toads as their excitement mounted as they met up with more of their mates and they got closer to the pond.

There was the cruel sight of several males clinging tightly onto the backs of the large females as they struggled to make their own arduous journeys across roads, along paths and crawling through wet ditches. Desperate males couldn't wait for the females to reach the pond or maybe they're just down-right lazy and wanted a piggy-back ride.

At East Mersea Point, the Dartford warbler was seen and heard even at the end of the afternoon as the light faded in the dreary conditions. Within a few minutes of searching, the quiet scolding calls of the warbler were heard. For over 20 minutes the bird called occasionally and was seen a few times but only once did it perch up. It did provide flight views a few times but the little dark bird was quickly lost in the darkening conditions each time it landed in a bush.
A couple of red-breasted mergansers flashed past the Point as the tide went out, a little egret looked as if it was heading to its night-time roost, while on the mud 70 knot were seen feeding.

Monday, 19 February 2007


Great excitement from the pager late on Sunday with the news of the first Dartford warbler to be seen on the Island. Don't know who reported it but it sounded genuine, reported in the shrubby sea-blite bushes at the East Mersea Point. Monday morning met up with Michael Thorley and we waited and scanned the thick bushes with keen eyes.

After a few minutes of straining ears beside some bushes at the far eastern end, the very soft and barely audible sound of a scratchy and fast Dartford warbler song could just be made out. It was very close but in typical Dartford fashion it stayed low and skulking. Luckily it called regularly and for several minutes it could be traced from bush to bush but never stopping long enough to see it through the bins.

It disappeared for half an hour and dunnocks and reed buntings occasionally confused matters by flying between bushes. The scolding calls of the warbler started up again and the bird was seen perching briefly up to finally provide a front-on view with its raised head feathers, red-eye, white flecked throat and the dark red chest. It quickly dropped back into the bush. A pair of stonechats appeared and seemed to come over to check this new arrival onto their patch. The warbler was seen one more time as it looked down into a bush with its long tail pointing skywards. The bird was not seen again despite sevaral other birders looking during the day but the dull weather has not been good warbler weather.

The Dartford warbler has been talked about as being a potential visitor in this very area and we have been waiting patiently for one to turn up. The recent run of mild winters has helped the Dartford warblers to spread rapidly into East Anglia and there is a thriving population on the Suffolk coastal heaths now.Let's hope this bird stays around here.

Nick Green and Glyn Evans doing the winter wildfowl and wader count round Mersea had an unsuccessful look for the warbler but they did locate a great northern diver offshore and a slavonian grebe flying into the Colne. There was also a red-throated diver seen offshore.


The local lads Martin Cock, Andy Field and Steve Entwhistle were busy scouring the western end of Mersea on Sunday and were rewarded with views of three great northern divers, 4 red-throated divers, slavonian grebe and a Mediterranean gull - all seen from the Esplanade around high tide. Martin was also lucky enough to see a buzzard flying across Reeveshall in the morning.

Sunday, 18 February 2007


Saturday 17th started as another glorious sunny and still day. Looking across the Colne from East Mersea Point towards Brightlingsea and Batemans Tower, the river was as flat as a mirror. Very little to look at in the river on the incoming tide except for 30 shelduck, seven red-breasted mergansers and a common seal. However there was the great sight and sound of thousands of waders flying rapidly past the Point, as they swopped over roost sites. It seemed like frequent gusts of wind were blowing until you looked up and realised it was another group of 1000 dunlin or another mixed flock of knot, grey plover and a few bar-tailed godwits hurtling past.

The spring-like weather brought out an early red admiral and also stirred a meadow pipit into a brief song at the Point as did a male reed bunting.

On the grazing fields the waders and wildfowl continued their grazing, dabbling and probing of the waterlogged pasture. Numbers still the same as a couple of days earlier.

At the park pond there was the usual fleeting glimpse of a water rail lurking in the reeds. Its drab grey and brown plumage would have kept it unseen were it not for its bright red and wet bill glistening in the sunshine.

The evening brought out the Skinner moth trap with some rewards to admire with the bright mercury vapour light running all night. Two previous sessions in mid January and early February proved fruitless. This session produced only five moths of four species but at least the year list is up and running. As well as these pictured below an early moth and pale brindled beauty were also recorded.

Dotted border - as the name implies showing the fine line of dots along the rear wing-edge.

Two male spring ushers with very different markings.

One of two great diving beetles attracted to the moth light, except this rather olive-coloured one was picked out of a nearby bush! This inch long water beetle hasn't been found at the park before.

Thursday, 15 February 2007


Chilly start to Thursday 15th soon gave way to another bright sunny day. It doesn't seem right to refer to the birds as wintering here, when the weather is so warm.

The grazing fields are still saturated after recent rains and all the waders and wildfowl are loving the flooded creeks and flashes of water. With so many pools across the fields, there seemed to be bird activity everywhere. Lots of different sounds and calls came from each of the feeding flocks bringing the fields really to life.
The wigeon were scattered across the fields inviting themselves to be counted and after five minutes my little hand-held clicker stopped at 750 which is a record flock size for these fields. Up to 200 teal dabbled, upended and even displayed to each other in many of the wet flashes. The most obvious and loudest of the flocks were the 600 brent geese. Tucked in the western corner were a group of 15 gadwall happily dabbling in the shallow pools and regularly calling with their distinctive mechanical-like quacks.
Around many pools were lots of pairs of bright orange legs that caught the eye, these belonging to about 50 redshank, making the most of the rich pickings while the tide was in. There were about 200 black-tailed godwits mixed in with 70 curlew, whilst 100 dunlin could also be seen joining in the flooded field fiesta.
A group of 500 golden plover huddled together in the middle of one field taking the chance to have a break from feeding.

The bright white outline of a little egret gracefully stalked one of the pools. It was even entertaining watching a group of about 150 jumpy starlings trying their best to have a good feed in the grass. They don't seem to do prolonged settled feeds, as every few seconds they are up in the air again before dropping down nearby to resume their noisy chattering and feeding.

Nearly 25 species of bird totalling about 2500 birds is an excellent display and these few days will probably end up being the peak of bird activity for these fields this winter. In another month many of the waders and wildfowl will start returning to their breeding grounds, so we have to enjoy their time with us as much as we can.


Wednesday 14th February and the only love on show at the park was that shown by the ducks for the water on the fields. 500 wigeon, 100 teal were joined by 17 gadwall, 20 redshank and about 10 black-tailed godwits. There were also small numbers of curlew, mallard, snipe and shoveler too. It had been raining all morning and the fields seemed as wet as they have ever been.

As the sun set, it cast its reflection across all the different pools in the fields. This was the sunniest part of the day but sadly it was heading for sunset time. At the park pond the fox came out at dusk to survey the scene which included a reasonable tally of 10 tufted ducks.

Wednesday, 14 February 2007


Zoe Ringwood and Andy from Writtle College came to Cudmore Grove to help plant the rare hogs fennel. If the rabbits stay off them and the 200 plants flourish then we hope to introduce the nationally rare Fishers estuarine moth caterpillars to the area. Fingers crossed.


Walk on Monday 12th was along from the Dabchicks Sailing Club at West Mersea onto the seawall beside the Strood Channel. Not surprisingly there was the regular group of 15 dabchicks in the Channel, seen from near the Dabchicks.
Feeding in the grass and winter wheat fields were huge flocks of plovers and wildfowl. The field pictured is supposed to have a thick green winter wheat crop but the ravages of the brent geese have turned the field into a real quagmire. It was difficult to tell whether there were more birds on the mud inland or out on the mud of the Strood Channel.

There was the spectacular sight of 1000 brent geese, 2000 golden plover, 500 lapwing and 50 wigeon. The plovers especially found the muddy conditions perfect for feeding. As I left the area I had one last glance back to the fields and noticed all the birds in the air. The culprit was a low flying sparrowhawk which did a good job in scattering all the birds into small flocks which promptly dispersed away from this end of Mersea.
The regular pair of stonechats were still perching on reedmace in their favourite dyke, while nearby a rock pipit flew off the saltmarsh.

Sunday, 11 February 2007


More blue skies on Sunday 11th for the walk to the remotest part of Mersea shore - the upper stretch of the Pyefleet Channel.

Even found time to admire the ancient archaeological remains of one of Mersea's old Red-Hills, pictured above with Monty. The red soil on the saltmarsh is the remains of the salt extraction process that was widespread round the Essex marshes at least 2000 years ago. The red colour is the remains of fires used to evaporate the seawater off to produce the valuable salt. There are probably about 10 Red Hills on Mersea, most of which are in fields that were reclaimed from the saltmarsh 200 years ago.

The tide was rapidly rising up the Pyefleet and many of the waders and wildfowl don't usually get to see any humans in this secluded corner. A passing female marsh harrier helped to disturb some of the birds into view such as 300 wigeon, 100 teal, 100 redshank, 50 grey plover and a few ringed plover, dunlin, curlew and black-tailed godwits. The vast expanse of marsh here was hiding several little egrets, lots of noisy redshank and one green sandpiper.

A brief visit to the seawall corner of Maydays revealed 6 goldeneye in mid-channel and the unusual sight of a green woodpecker crossing onto the Island from Langenhoe. Its low, fast and very direct flight meant that it made the crossing in a matter of seconds. Watching me survey the scene was a common seal that I got the feeling was waiting for me to disappear so that it could clamber on some nearby saltings on the high tide. At one point it slapped the water with its hind "flippers" reminiscent of a whale, as if it was annoyed I was holding it up.

By the Maydays Farm, the large corn bunting flock was still around, this time close to the buildings. At least 100 birds were seen either feeding on some oats tailings, recently discarded by the farmer, or perched up on some wires. Ten yellowhammers, 10 reed buntings, 20 chaffinch and 10 linnet were also in the area. A male marsh harrier quartered the nearby Reeveshall in the late afternoon.

Friday, 9 February 2007


Friday 9th started off with freezing fog and only improved marginally as the day progressed. An hours walk along the seawall between the East Mersea Youth Camp and the Coopers Beach caravan site produced one or two highlights. Luckily the tide was coming in and a good selection of waders were feeding on the mud up to about 50 metres from the seawall. This section of seawall gets the full force of the sea against it at high tides and its concrete face is the nearest Mersea has to a rocky coastline.

All sorts of typical sounds came from the mud with the whistling curlews, the piping oystercatchers, the mournful grey plovers all getting restless to fly to their roosts with redshank, dunlin and turnstones. A group of 45 bar-tailed godwits picked and probed the mud with their long straight bills. Their pale plumage matched the grey brown surroundings except for one stunning bird in bright russet summer plumage. Recent mild weather must have confused its body clock.

Out at sea there were two pairs of slavonian grebes which for once outnumbered any great crested grebes on show. The slavonians were probably 2-300 metres offshore and both pairs were diving regularly with the incoming tide.

At the Youth Camp 25 moorhens fed on the waterlogged field, 10 blackbirds perched in the trees as did the great spotted woodpecker and the sound of one or two goldfinches jollied up the area. No sign of the regular little owl and no small birds around a wild bird crop although a pair of stock doves sat on some wires overhead.

Thursday, 8 February 2007


Brief hint of winter this week with calm conditions, a calm sea, frosty Wednesday morning with bright sunshine and then a dusting of snow on Thursday morning which had melted by lunchtime.
Tuesday late afternoon with the tide just turning back, two red-throated divers were seen offshore and a good count of 35 red-breasted mergansers, many flying out of the Colne in small groups. Hundreds of gulls streamed onto the sea for the night-time roost. Close in on the mud nearby were 24 sanderling and nearby on the tops of posts were 120 turnstone waiting patiently for the mud to become exposed.

On the park in the last half hour of light the ghostly figure of the local barn owl was seen coming towards me before banking sharply away over a nearby hedge near to the park pond.
On the clear and crisp frosty Wednesday morning, many of the waterfowl had deserted the dykes and creeks because of ice. However 13 little grebes were huddled together in one unfrozen section of dyke. The big mute swans lumbered down into the water and the sound of cracking ice made them sound like big Russian ice-breaker ships at work.

The 400 brent and 100 wigeon were grazing one edge of the field and one goose had some green coloured rings that looks like a long lost bird seen in previous years that was ringed in Siberia about ten years ago.
Elsewhere 24 snipe had decided to stop lurking in thick cover and get out for some action. Feeding in a part of the field warmed up by the sun but sheltered from the frost, the snipe were tucking into a cold worm breakfast.
Nothing to report from the snowy morning except for a flock of 20 meadow pipits and about 5 skylarks that flew out of the long grass in the park. A handful of lapwings made use of the deserted park to feed.

Monday, 5 February 2007


Coastal light on Sunday 4th returned back to normal weather with grey skies all day. The only similarity with yesterday was the lack of wind. At high tide the sea was flat calm and conditions for scanning out to sea were excellent as there was no sun to stare into. The last few days the wigeon have taken to spending long periods at sea and a good count of 460 was made. Even more surprising was seeing three pairs of pintail amongst them - the males with their striking long pointed tails.

Scanning round with the telescope a red-throated diver was picked up in flight and when it alighted, it landed beside another red-throated. More scanning revealed three others which will make this a good count this winter. The telescope made viewing easier and although one diver came close enough to see it's eye, the bird was still about 300 metres away.
Probably even further away to the south west from the park was a pair of slavonian grebes, happily drifting on the incoming tide. Compact small grebes with a shorter neck than the great crested, they spent quite a bit of time preening and for once not seen diving under the water.

Further out were four red-breasted mergansers joining in the raft of ducks, divers, grebes and brent geese. Straining the eye towards the very distant Colne Point almost two miles away there were several hundred ducks took to the air. Passing overhead was a marsh harrier that looked as if it had crossed over the water from Bradwell.
The distinctive shape of a couple of common seals stuck their heads above water way out to sea.

Late afternoon saw the mudflats fill up with waders and gulls all eager to see what treats the receding tide had left them. My favourite are the tiny silvery sanderling that blended in so well with the grey silvery mud. The group of 24 were easy to spot because they ran around so fast. If us humans ran around that fast on the mud we would be falling over the whole time. Joining in this Mersea mud feast were oystercatchers, redshank, dunlin, curlew, turnstone, grey plover and ringed plover.

Sunday, 4 February 2007


Frosty start to Saturday 3rd but the sunshine was incredible for winter. The bright blue sky was reflected off the water surface like mirrors in every pool and creek as well as the sea. Wind was non-existent and the sea was as flat as a mill-pond. The calm conditions were in contrast to recent days when the cliff at Cudmore Grove suffered another major collapse. Mersea Island continues to shrink.

Low tide in the morning and few birds to see on the mudflats. In the late afternoon it was the complete opposite and as the great assortment of waders prodded and probed the recently uncovered mud, hundreds of black-headed gulls and common gulls arrived from their inland feeding grounds for their night-time roost. Throughout the day several hundred wigeon that were resting at sea, drifted in with the tide and then drifted back out again.

The sunshine seemed to activate the skylarks into song as if they were solar powered and walkers to Cudmore Grove were serenaded by at least two birds singing high in the sky. A couple of song thrushes also continued to belt out their songs since starting up in mid January. Earlier in the morning two great-spotted woodpeckers were engaged in a distant drumming competition just beyond the park.

The grazing fields as usual had the 500 or so brent geese and about 200 wigeon grazing. It was perfect conditions for admiring the wigeon as they came whistling into land, their colourful plumage combination really stood out. At least 16 snipe could be located in the bright sunshine, as they hid in the dead grass, their golden stripes showing well.
On the seawall the regular pair of stonechats enjoyed the late afternoon sunshine and the male at one point puffed out its bright orange chest as if absorbing all the sun's rays and sunset colours.
The river Colne has never stayed so calm for a whole day before and apart from 14 red-breasted mergansers and a handful of great crested grebes, very little to see.