Saturday, 28 April 2007


Fresh breeze all of Saturday 28th but at least the sun continued to shine. The highlight of the day was walking past an oak bush on the park cliff-top and seeing this beautiful green hairstreak butterfly fluttering around. This is the most attractive butterfly on the park with its irridescent sheen on the green underside to the wings.

Luckily the butterfly was extremely obliging for once and even if it folded its' wings, it was still easy to locate amongst the green foliage. The hairstreak name is a bit of a misnomer as the "streak" on the wing in this species is actually only a line of white dots(as seen in the photo).

The green hairstreak first appeared on the Island about ten years ago when it was first seen in the park. Sightings are scarce each year, so the population must be very small. This sighting is at least three weeks earlier than expected. The butterfly seemed very put out by a large group of newly emerged longhorn moths, which danced in the air, waving their very long antennae around.

Other butterflies seen were small copper, peacock, orange tip, large white, small white, holly blue and up to ten speckled woods.

Walking along the seawall there were two newly returned reed warblers who sang their lazy and effortless warble from the reeds. Bird numbers on the park grazing fields have dropped off as the water levels drop. At least three lapwings could be seen nesting, one redshank was shouting loudly at a carrion crow as if it had a nest too, while 24 shelduck snoozed as they waited for the tide to recede.
As well as the usual linnets, skylarks and meadow pipits there were 3 mistle thrushes, a grey heron, pair of stock doves and a male kestrel which hovered nearby on the seawall and successfully dropped onto a mouse.

At the Point there were three linnets and a couple of singing reed buntings but a sedge warbler doing its aerial display flight seemed a bit out of place.

On the saltmarsh lagoons below the Golfhouse there was the very unusual sight of three spotted redshanks wading through the water feeding up to their sooty-black chests. Two greenshanks, whimbrel, golden plover and 5 black-tailed godwits made it an interesting pool to look at.

On the main park two sand martins, swallow, 3 lesser whitethroats and three common whitethroats were noted. At the pond there were still 3 pochard and 2 pairs of tufted duck, while a cracking male yellowhammer lit up the opposite bank with its bright yellow head.

Evening walk to the Reevshall pool was a pleasant end to the day if somewhat chilly with the easterly breeze. Two brown hares sat in a field as I arrived but soon galloped off while on my return, I passed within ten metres of a very obliging or a rather petrified young hare crouching down on the bare earth. As I reached for my little camera, it made its' dash for freedom with its long legs carrying it rapidly away.

On the Reeveshall pool a pair of avocets were still showing interest in the site with an inquisitive carrion crow being subjected to a fierce aerial bombardment from one avocet. Three spotted redshanks bickered away with each other, while two pochard and little egret were also of interest.

A smartly marked male wheatear hopped along the nearby seawall and a yellowhammer spent some time perched in a bush. Amongst the vast sheep flock a few lapwings could be seen as were 10 golden plovers dodging the many frisky lambs.

As the day drew to a close, the cuckoo started calling from the plantation near the Oyster Fishery - bang on eight o'clock, as if timed like a cuckoo clock. Returning to Bromans Lane there was the interesting sight of the tawny owl dropping down into its nest-box - a good sign they're breeding.

On the moth front the picture above shows the tent web of the brown-tail moths whose caterpillars strip bushes of their leaves. They can be real pests and not just because of their appetite. Their hair can be extremely irritating on the human skin and as a result some big infestations in other public sites, are eradicated by spraying them off.
This strange fluffy looking little fellow is a male muslin moth - one of only a few species caught last night. Only 18 moths of 7 species seemed quite disappointing although bright-line brown-eye was the other new one for the year.


Had to do some fence repair in the field by the park pond on Friday 27th and it was a good opportunity to get a bit closer to some of the inhabitants on the pond. The mute swan continues to sit tightly on her nest with the male keeping a watch from nearby. Two coot families have already hatched out with parents tending to their red-headed little chicks.

Other ducks on the pond included two pairs of tufted ducks, male gadwall, pair of ruddy ducks and more interestingly three pochard. One was a female which bodes well for a possible nesting attempt of this rather scarce British breeder, later in the spring.

The first member of the dragonfly family was seen fluttering into a hedge, this being the common blue-tailed damselfly. Clinging to some rushes by the water were several caddis flies with their large smoky brown wings. Peering down into the water of the pond revealed it to be absolutely heaving with microscopic life - the very common and numerous daphnia.

Before the cattle are let loose in the fields for the summer, there is an opportunity for the dainty cuckoo flower or lady's smock to flourish in this meadow. It is the only place on the Island where it grows and only when the pale lilac flowers emerge, is the plant easy to find amongst the long grass. Called the cuckoo flower because it comes out at the same time that the cuckoo is heard. On this particular morning it may have been more apt to name it after the loud nightingale that was in full song from a nearby hedge.

Earlier in the day a search was made of the beach to see if a common seal was still around. Several dog walkers on the beach on Wednesday noticed the seal on the beach close to the high tide but seemingly it was quite content out of the water. It was seen heading back into the water and has not been seen since.

Ian Black on Thursday 26th had a good view of a hen harrier flying over fields near the East Mersea road in the middle of the Island. It has been a poor year for hen harrier sightings.

Friday, 27 April 2007


More sunny weather on Tuesday 24th and the spring marches on. Something different catches the eye every day and this carpet of buttercups in the country park is not a scene that has been eyecatching in previous years. Maybe the wet winter and the sunny spring have provided ideal conditions.

The surround-sound chorus of summer migrants on the park today included the regulars such as the two nightingales, one or two lesser whitethroats, blackcap, chiffchaff and the first of the common whitethroats back from Africa last night. The first view of one was from by back door as it perched up on a bush as it let out its scratchy little song.

The peace and serenity on the pond was rudely shattered briefly in the middle of the day. The resident crows spotted an approaching male marsh harrier which was out for a leisurely hunt around fields and ditches. This striking male had a pale sandy-coloured head and with pale grey wings that it flapped effortlessly.
The harrier disappeared behind the trees and out of view but there soon followed some very loud distressed coot calls as if an attack had taken place. The harrier soon flew past with nothing in its talons but interestingly the male swan looked very angry and flew across the water with some very deliberate beating of the water with its wings, as it "chased" the harrier off.

Moth trapping had a few interesting species such as several of these colourful brimstone moths. Also seen were lunar marbled brown, common carpet, first latticed heath, several brindled pugs, first two Chinese characters and a pair of spectacles!

Monday, 23 April 2007


A walk along the Strood Channel on the 23rd showed that all sorts of creatures have been arriving onto the Island - and not just the migrants from Africa. Washed up on the tideline along the seawall were the empty shells of thousands and thousands of shore crabs. As most of them are quite small and recent tides have been quite calm, these crabs look as if they have undergone a mass moult, shedding their old casings.

There were several migrants seen on the short walk with the noisiest being five common terns climbing high in the air, pursuing each other with lots of high pitched grating calls. There were few waders in the Channel although a greenshank flew off the mud calling, a pair of avocets stood motionless snoozng with their curved bills tucked under their wings and a couple of ginger coloured black-tailed godwits.

Of the small birds a colourful male wheatear was having a short stop-over on Mersea before continuing its migration north. A yellow wagtail and swallow that flew past may decide to hang around Mersea as some usually do each summer. At least two sedge warblers sang loudly from the reedbed along the dyke and there was also the jangling songs of a couple of corn buntings.

Several different kinds of white butterfly were seen including this male orange-tip butterfly seen resting on a stalk of grass. In flight it flashes its bright orange tips which make it very eyecatching. The underneath pattern is very different with this mottled green colour that makes the butterfly blend in with its surroundings. The Large white, Small white, Green-veined white were also seen fluttering along the seawall.

Later in the day a swift was seen flying around with a group of house martins over the houses of West Mersea. I know that the first swifts back were seen yesterday by two local birders, Steve and Martin from differing places.


Several fields such as this one near Meeting Lane in East Mersea, have a thick oil seed rape crop at the moment in full flower. It certainly adds some colour to the countryside but anyone who suffers from hay fever will not enjoy this time of year and the sickly honey smell is not to everyone's liking.
However on the sunny morning of Sunday 22nd there was a pleasant walk to be had around this field. It is a colourful combination where the vivid yellow crop stretches into the distance to meet up with the bright blue sky above.

I wonder if it was any coincidence that the two most striking birds on the walk had bright yellow markings. A male yellowhammer flew out of the crop with the sun shining on his yellow head whilst later on a male yellow wagtail flew low overhead with the bright yellow underparts highlighted even more by the yellow crop below it. Both species have declined a lot in recent years so it is always nice to see them still around.

Other birds noted was a common whitethroat newly arrived from sub-Sahara, where early indications from observers elsewhere in Essex suggest that numbers coming back are not the same as last year. A couple of lesser whitethroats, chiffchaffs and a blackcap were singing loudly from hedgerows, while a great spotted woodpecker was drumming loudly - a real sign of spring.
Eight shelduck flew away from one corner of a field as they prospected old burrows for nest sites.

Many of the hedges on the Island are elm - or rather were elm, thanks to the ravages of the Dutch elm disease during the 1980's. Elm still survives but only as bushes suckering from old stumps. Elm appears to get things done back to front with the round green seeds such as in the photo above, already ripening on the branches, well before any of its leaves appear.
A very rewarding evening stroll along the Reeveshall seawall on the north side of the Island was timed perfectly to coincide with the falling tide. Thirteen species of wader was the reward as many waders stocked up with muddy tidbits before carrying on their long journeys to their more northern breeding grounds.

Two avocets graced the Reeveshall pool checking out nesting potential while nearby two spotted redshank indulged in some ferocious pecking and kicking of each other. Of the ducks, three gadwall, three teal and three pochard were the most interesting.

Along the muddy Pyefleet 100 black-tailed godwits fed along the receding water's edge as did 100 dunlin, 70 turnstone, 50 grey plover, 3 knot - and a common sandpiper that could only be heard. Hawking up and down the Channel were the first pair of common terns to the area, recently arrived back from Africa.
It wouldn't be spring unless you're surrounded by masses of bleating lambs and this was one of those occasions on Reeveshall. There was also the sound of two cuckoos to be heard but very frustratingly neither could be seen. The first near the Oyster Fishery and the second started on Reeveshall and then appeared to fly across the Pyefleet to the mainland where it continued to call. Despite lots of scanning of distant bush tops and fence posts with the telescope, no cuckoo was seen this time.

There was the wonderful sight of at least five marsh harriers majestically quartering the fields, ditches and creeks both on Langenhoe and Reeveshall. Some even dropped onto the ground where they could be scrutinised more closely

Amongst the sheep were several waders probing the grass for food. Two whimbrels on passage fed alongside their larger cousin with an even longer curved bill - the curlew. A pale bar-tailed godwit stood out amongst 20 ginger-looking black-tailed godwits, while 30 golden plovers were well on their way to getting their full black summer bellies.

Small migrant birds of interest were two wheatears, a sedge warbler, yellow wagtail and a common whitethroat. A sparrowhawk was seen flying back onto the Island at dusk as it headed into the small Shop Lane wood.

Scanning the grass fields several apparent brown lumps turned out to be some of the elusive brown hares that were trying to maintain a very low profile while they grazed- eight were counted.

During a brief morning visit to the country park, there was the great sight and sound of two Mediterranean gulls hawking flying insects near the main car park. Their very loud and distinctive calls like a cat meowing drew immediate attention to their presence. Breeding adults have a jet black head and pure white plumage with wings that are almost translucent. This once rare gull has become a local breeder in recent years and this last week it has been heard on several different days.

The very eyecatching and aptly named orange-tip butterfly was seen for the first time this year flying along Bromans Lane.


Decided to walk to the local supermarket on Saturday 21st via the last remnant of woodland in the middle of West Mersea. Reymead wood is not a large wood and although it is well used and abused by the locals, it is a little oasis of peace and calm and this day was no exception.

The sun seemed to bring everything to life and two warblers - chiffchaff and blackcap have returned back from Africa to breed again. The local birds such as wrens, blue tits, robins, great tits and wood pigeons all added to the woodland chorus. The sunshine had brought out eight speckled wood butterflies into the dappled light both in the wood and just outside it.

The highlight was the sudden appearance of a pair of sparrowhawks into the wood with one flying after the other with lots of calling. Both landed high up in the separate trees with the male providing the best views as it sat still for over five minutes before flying off. Sparrowhawks have been breeding in West Mersea since the early 1990's but seeing them here at this crucial time of year is very exciting.
The ditch that carries a little bit of water along the edge of the playing fields seemed of little interest until my eye caught this short section where the sunlight shone onto the lesser celandines. The bright yellow flowers adding a real splash of colour beside the little tinkling brook. A little scene of tranquility in the centre of a little bustling town.

Saturday, 21 April 2007


Success on Friday 20th with finding the rare oil beetle on the Strood seawall in the early afternoon. This is the large female which was walking along the path in front of me and in previous years one or two sadly have been accidently trampled on. The beetle is only found in a handful of other sites in Essex and has a very complicated life-cycle.

It emerges on the first sunny days of spring usually early April and after mating the female excavates a hole to lay up to 4000 tiny orange-coloured eggs. Last year in mid May I found eight clusters of the newly hatched grubs coating the tops of some upright leaves. Ideally they should have been on flowers waiting for a passing tawny mining bee, onto which they must hitch a ride back to the bee's hole where it becomes parasitic on the young bee grub.
It has to be the right type of bee and there has to be a young bee grub in the hole if the beetle grub is to survive. No wonder so many beetle eggs are produced by the female in the first place.
The beetle gets its name from an oily substance which it produces if threatened.

The spring tide covering the Strood causeway onto the Island kept traffic queuing up at either end with no traffic passing for about half an hour as the water appeared to be over a foot deep. Even the bus driver got out to stretch his legs and "white van man" and several "Chelsea tractors" opted not to risk driving through.
The picture below is taken nearly at the same spot as an earlier photo taken at low tide on 9th April - see the earlier posting for comparison.

The tide did a good job in covering all the saltmarsh and apart from the black-headed gulls, the only waders around were on the drier and higher ground on Ray Island. Thirty curlew, a few redshank and one or two oystercatchers were seen.


Thursday's evening stroll took Monty and I along some of the footpaths, two or three fields inland in the area of Shop Lane. The intention was to find out whether the grasshopper warbler which possibly bred last summer in a young tree plantation had returned from Africa, but there was no sign.

A female sparrowhawk appeared from the plantation and after leisurely flapping away, it suddenly decided that a passing greenfinch seemed like tasty supper. The hawk steamed after the little bird and after a brief chase over 50 metres, just as the talons were reaching out for the bird, the greenfinch performed a desperate last gasp swoop upwards, which worked a treat as the sparrowhawk gave up the chase and continued on its way.

The little wildfowling pond has the regular spring visitation by a pair of swans prospecting for nest-sites. A pair of coots were there for company as well as a plastic decoy duck!

Greater stitchwort is adding little splashes of white to some of the hedgebanks on the Island. The field edges and roadside verges have little botanical interest but this plant catches the eye in the springtime. Apparently a preparation of stitchwort and acorns was a good remedy for "stitches". It is also known as the thunder flower as picking the plant could provoke thunder and lightning. Needless to say I left the plant alone!

As the sun set over Peldon village on the horizon, some birds were still having one last sing or fly around. The evenings walk produced 2 lesser whitethroats, 3 chiffchaffs, 2 yellowhammers, 2 pairs of stock doves and 100 wood pigeons gathering for the roost. The onset of dusk also got a grey partridge calling like a creaking door opening. In a bare field without a crop the pair of partridges flew away with fast whirring wing-beats and landed nervously in the furthest corner.

The moth trapping produced about 20 moths of 10 species with spectacle, early thorn, frosted green and cabbage the most interesting.
All night long the two nightingales at the country park sang their hearts out with their wonderfully loud and varied repertoires. It took me a long time to get to sleep that night what with the bright moth lamp shining outside the bedroom window coupled with the nightingale singing well into the wee small hours.
This is the head of the spectacle moth looking like Biggles wearing his flying goggles.
Below is the striking early thorn, a moth that looks like a butterfly with the way it holds its wings above its body. As the moth flew away, it immediately landed amongst the grass and stayed motionless, pretending not to look like something tasty for a bird.


Another sunny evening on Wednesday 18th meant another walk along the Strood seawall. Another failed attempt to find the rare and elusive oil beetle which normally appears in early spring. A crucial part of the beetles life cycle is dependent on small mining bees similar to the one pictured above. This mining bee is one of the Andrena family and all along the seawall path there are lots of tiny excavated holes dug out by them where they raise their young.

This oak bush proved to be a popular gathering spot for the bees as they sought some shelter from the evening breeze. Also out enjoying the evening sunshine were three small copper butterflies

One of the most noticeable spring plants spreading across the Island in recent years is Alexanders. It grows so fast in spring before any other plants get going and as a result has colonised verges, seawall, grasslands and even gardens. It is originally from the land of Alexander the Great's Macedonia, hence the name and maybe we should encourage people to eat the plant as a control measure, as the plant is very edible and tasty.

Bird-wise a lone sedge warbler was trying his hardest with his little display flight, as he sang his harsh and loud song above the reeds before fluttering back down again. Out in the Channel, the very low tide meant that waders seemed thinly distributed with only 50 redshank the most numerous.

The most unusual sight of the walk was a pair of Australian black swans flying low over the houses close to the Dabchicks as they headed north-west. As they were approaching me it was unclear whether they were cormorants or geese especially as the white wings confused matters. Passing overhead however, the black bodies, long necks and the red bills confirmed this very unusual sighting of black swans. The birds flew low over the Ray Island and seemed to be heading back to the nearby Abberton reservoir, where a couple have been present in recent months.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007


This spectacular emperor moth turned up in the moth trap on the Monday 16th mothing session at the park. This is a large moth with a wingspan over three inches and is beautifully patterned with great big false eyes on its wings. This is a female emperor and the first time an adult has been seen on the Island. Its' discovery in the trap was greeted with much rubbing of the hands with glee, as I've been looking forward to seeing one close up.

I managed to find an old photo of an emperor caterpillar which I took years ago in the park and discovered it was dated 1986, so I've had to wait 20 years to find the adult moth!
The moth was reluctant to show its hind-wings but eventually it flashed them open to reveal another pair of big eyes. It was stunning enough to bring the local moth twitchers to the park to tick it off before releasing it the next day.
The emperor moth is related to the moths whose caterpillars spin the silk.
Another interesting moth found was this pebble prominent presumably named after the large circular pattern on each wing resembling a pebble. There should be several more sightings this year of this moth.

Although the emperor made the evening a success, there were more moths and species on show. Nearly 40 moths of 15 species included brimstone, spectacle, shoulder stripe, common carpet, blossom underwing, angle shades as well as those that have been regular over the last fortnight.
The park pond is looking very spring-like with trees in flower and lots of waterfowl sitting on nests. There are four species of willow tree hanging over the water each with a different appearance and colour of catkins and fresh leaves. There is crack willow, white willow, weeping willow and goat willow in this photo.
Several pairs of waterfowl were on the pond today with 2 pairs of tufted duck, pair of shoveler, pair of gadwall, two pairs of mallard, pair of ruddy duck, pair of swans, two pairs of little grebe, four pairs of coot and about three pairs of moorhens. It is a busy little pond and perfect for breeding waterfowl.

Glyn Evans did his monthly walk from the park along the north side of the Island and recorded peregrine over the park, pair of avocets, 3 whimbrel, spotted redshank and Mediterranean gull near Reeveshall, a great northern diver off West Mersea and along the walk five lesser whitethroats.

He was able to tell me he had seen the rare oil beetle on the Strood seawall, which I have been looking out for in recent days.

Monday, 16 April 2007


On Sunday 15th this was one of the adders found along Bromans Lane not far from the main group in the country park. Two other adders were on show until late morning in the park.

On the park grazing fields, a female wheatear was present for most of the day, refuelling on its long journey northwards. Most birds were gathered to the rear of the fields close to the flooded creeks but staying out of view. Birds of note included 32 shelduck, 10 lapwing, 10 teal, 6 wigeon, 10 mallard, oystercatcher, 3 curlew and a pair of mistle thrushes.

On the migrant front two sand martins flew over the car park, calling loudly as they headed west. Blackcap called from Bromans Lane, willow warblers sang in the park and also two fields north, lesser whitethroat rattled in the park all day and the nightingale by the park entrance continued to sing sporadically.

The barn owl was burning the candle at both ends when it should have been sleeping. Martin Cock saw it quartering the fields to the north of Bromans Farm at 8am and then it was seen 12 hours later at 8pm from the pond-hide by Emma Simmonds. Steve Entwhistle driving away from the park at 8.30pm managed to see the tawny owl swooping along the Lane in his car headlights. A spotted redshank still in winter plumage was seen by Steve on the Reeveshall pool.

The moth trap was put out on Sunday evening and left on all night. Thirty moths of 12 species showed a bit more variety than recently. The most strikingly marked and the hairiest was this lunar marbled brown with it's distinctive "lunar" / crescent shaped marks located in the middle of each wing. Despite being quite widespread it wasn't recorded last year at the park, possibly due to less trapping done in April.

Another new one for the spring was this very descriptively named shuttle-shaped dart. This should turn up quite regularly in the trap over the coming weeks.
Other moths of note were angle shades, pine beauty, blossom underwing, grey pine carpet, red chestnuts, March moths with hebrew character and common quakers the most numerous.

Sunday, 15 April 2007


Sun shone all of Saturday 14th and the beach at Cudmore Grove was strangely appealing and attractive. Maybe it was because the beach was unusually deserted early in the morning. Blue skies, calm sea, high tide gently lapping on the sandy beach with the only sound being the happy song of a skylark high above the park. On the park all your senses were telling you that spring was in full swing.

The full sunshine must have helped power the solar batteries of several other songsters as both nightingales were in full flow during the morning. The latest arrival in from Africa was a lesser whitethroat near the car park singing its loud rattling type song.

A pair of sparrowhawks seen in the park together bodes well for the coming breeding season. After last year's success when two were raised, it will be good to have them back again.
A brightly marked male yellowhammer unexpectedly flew out of some long grass to perch on a tree. It's bright yellow head really catching the eye in the sunshine.

In the last few years the speckled wood butterfly has become a common sight not just in the park but all across Mersea and even in many gardens. They love to sunbathe in a sunny spot sheltered from any breezes by nearby trees.
Also seen sunning itself near the pond was one of the regular foxes, lying out in the long grass.
There are no big bluebell woods or extensive carpets of bluebells on the Island but there are small pockets of them such as in the country park. Sadly the bluebells that grew under the original Cudmore Grove have succombed to coastal erosion and there are now just a few clumps left, struggling to compete with brambles and long grass.
An early evening walk at the west end of the Island along the Strood seawall was very productive. This small copper butterfly seemed to be a very early individual, as it obligingly rested just below the top of the seawall out of the breeze. It is such a dainty and small butterfly but it makes up for this with an intense orange colour on its wings.
Small white and peacock were also seen on the walk.

A bit more variety this week along the mud of the Strood Channel with 3 whimbrel whistling to each other, 2 greenshank nervously surveying the scene, 5 knot busily feeding as were a couple of avocets. Although avocets have become a familiar sight in recent years, they have been rather elusive here in the last few months.
This apple tree laden down with blossom seemed rather out of place along this reed-filled dyke. Nearby the first sedge warbler newly arrived for the season sang from the thick cover as did a second bird further along.

Also getting ready for the breeding season were a handful of corn buntings very much in evidence. One group of four tussled with each other, the jangling song could also be heard whilst another flew over calling as it headed over to the mainland.
Near Firs Chase the resident pair of moorhens were tending to their four young chicks at the toad pond, while in the evening the tawny owl was heard calling - the first time for 2 or 3 months.

Friday, 13 April 2007


Murky and misty start to Friday 13th but no signs of any bad luck on this day. The sun came out later and whilst grasscutting three house martins flew across the park - the first ones for the Island. Sitting in my tractor I had to slow down while a male adder wriggled across the grass in front of me. Having stopped the tractor I then turned the front wheels towards it, forcing the adder to change direction and head back into the long grass and some sanctuary.

The last hour of daylight Monty and I had a quick walk along the beach as the tide edged its way in. The last group of waders to leave the mud were 50 turnstone and a handful of oystercatchers. Further out to sea 3 distant red-breasted mergansers flew out of the Colne and landed beside two others.

From the hide that overlooks the pond, the pair of ruddy ducks were quite active for a change, as they indulged in a bit of preening and diving underwater. The male even found time to do some of his weird rapid head-bobbing display to a rather non-plussed female.

The pond settled quietly down for the night with the swans and coots continuing to sit on their various nests. Little grebes always seem to have a lot to say to each other whilst the moorhens are kept as innocent bystanders by the more agressive coots.

Steve Entwhistle and I were just about to leave the hide when we heard the brief song of the nightingale - a second bird in the park today and the one presumably from the pond last summer.
We walked back to the park entrance to stand and admire the other nightingale's song as it belted it out across the park. The male tawny owl called from the copse behind the pond - this could be a different male from the Bromans Lane bird which was surprisingly quiet tonight.

Five small pipistrelle bats were watched with ease as they hawked back and forwards around the hide, swooping low over our heads as they scooped up gnats.


It's cheating a bit but this picture represents the first swallow seen at the country park this summer - a Swallow Prominent moth! More about this individual later.

Thursday 12th started off on a great note - a very musical one, with the welcoming song of one of the nightingales newly in from Africa during the night. At 8am the loud and rich song carried 200 metres across the car park where I was able to pause and admire the energy the little bird has when it has just got in from its long haul flight. This male turned up on April 23rd last year and bred successfully along with a second pair near the park pond. It is great to see this bird return back to the same corner of scrub to set up its territory again. I even managed to catch a fleeting glimpse of this small shy brown bird as it flew across a path and into another thick bush.

Elsewhere the sweet song of the willow warbler could still be heard and there was also the faint call of a yellow wagtail as it passed high over the park.
Swallows have arrived in small numbers with a pair seen near the village shop and three on wires near West Mersea. Newly arrived blackcaps were heard in Firs Chase and Mersea Avenue.

Local birder Richard Hull logged wheatear, sandwich tern, yellow wagtail, blackcap and chiffchaff along with a pair of Mediterranean gulls, on his walk along the beach from West Mersea to East Mersea.

In the evening Steve Entwhistle had good views of the nightingale, a badger near the hide but could only hear the resident tawny owl. Several pipistrelle bats were hunting the park.
The moth trapping session was disappointing with only 20 moths of 4 species - two swallow prominents being the most notable. The photo above shows the swallow-tail shaped wing profile and a keen eye may spot the little "prominent" tuft where these wings meet.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007


Sunshine on Wednesday 11th provided ideal conditions for bugs, beasties and birdees. The day started with the two corn buntings perched up on their song-posts on the East Mersea road and also the first swallow I've seen, hawking above the Haycocks riding stables.

The picture shows a peacock butterfly as it basked on some logs while I looked for some adders. A comma and two speckled woods were also seen enjoying the warm weather. A common lizard was basking on a dried grass tussock.
A special effort was made to try and locate some adders for Renee Hockley-Byam's Nature Trail programme on BBC Radio Essex. Whether it was the warmth, their hunger or their restlessness with regards to mating but they all seemed very edgy and mobile today. Maybe they were just publicity shy but they didn't like being looked at today.

Of five adders found, only one was still a brown colour as opposed to the fresh pale grey of the others such as this female pictured above crossing the track. These well marked individuals appear to have recently shed their skins which the've discarded under nearby bushes. All of them had moved away by late morning from their various spots and who knows where they headed off to.

Andy Field was back at the park and located two willow warblers singing, as was the first blackcap near the pond. There was no sign of the wheatear.

Over the park flew a female sparrowhawk in the morning and a pair of Mediterranean gulls in the afternoon, the latter two calling loudly to each other as they headed towards the beach.
An evening walk past the saltmarsh near the Firs Chase caravan site revealed one or two tiny splashes of colour in the form of the common scurvy grass flowers. April is the month to see them and I had noticed quite a few flowers at the weekend as I drove over the Strood causeway. This plant was well known by Capt Cook for preventing scurvy amongst his sailors as it is rich in vitamin C.

The sun is now at an angle in the evenings where the setting sun shines along the old houses in The Lane in West Mersea


After the hectic Easter weekend for visitors at Cudmore Grove Country Park, Tuesday 10th was a quiet sunny and warm day that allowed the wildlife to reclaim the park. There was the delightful cascading song of a willow warbler, heard all day during its brief stop-over here. The little warbler made its presence known to everybody with its continuous singing and while it perched on a tree close-by, you could see the all the physical effort that was being put into each burst of song.

Another welcome migrant to our shores is the wheatear and local birder Andy Field located one on the seawall near the Point. Later in the day, the smartly marked male was seen on the beach before flying onto the nearby pillbox. The combination of grey-blue upperparts, black mask across the eyes and the cinnamon chest all stood out in the evening sunshine.

There was a sizeable flock of 400 golden plovers on the fields, most with their summer plumage black bellies. When they took to the air, there was the wonderful plaintive whistling sound from them as they wheeled back and forwards in a tight formation. A male pochard flew away from the fields and although several teal and mallard were present, all the wigeon seem to have gone.

On the mudflats the waders were arriving for their evening feed. Some of the 45 black-tailed godwits are pictured above as they waded in the shallow waters with a few noisy oystercatchers. There were also 25 turnstones seen and 50 dunlin flew past as well.

They say that if your foot can touch at least 12 daisies, then spring has arrived. This part of the park is coated with daisies although some of the cars that drove across the flowers at the weekend have left their marks. Three speckled wood butterflies were noted as was a peacock, whilst the adder tally reached eight including two new ones near the cliff-top.

The moth trap run in the evening produced similar results as in recent sessions with about 30 moths of 10 species such as dotted border, angle shades, clouded border, double-striped pug, early grey, hebrew character, common quaker, small quaker, lead coloured drab, red chestnut. There was also a large brown caddis fly in the trap.

Monday, 9 April 2007


Another sunny day and an brief walk along the Strood seawall on Easter Sunday. There is a bit of a lull in the bird activity with a lot of the winter birds now gone and the summer birds still to arrive. It was perfect conditions for hearing distant skylarks singing although not much else. The wind was negligible and with the tide coming in, lots of waders were dotted along the water's edge.

By far the most numerous were about 200 redshank, although one very pale individual really stood out on the far side and turned out to be a greenshank. This is the first returning bird to be seen here on its passage north. Two bar-tailed godwits called out as they took to the air, before landing close to two brightly coloured black-tailed godwits. It was interesting to see the two species side by side - the bar-tails appearing very pale and no hint yet of their normal russet breeding plumage. Bar-tailed godwits appear to have become regular visitors to the Strood Channel in recent years.

Other birds seen were ten oystercatchers, five grey plover and 30 curlew, 3 shelduck, while reed bunting and a meadow pipit the only birds of note inland. The peacefulness of the area was only broken by the many black-headed gulls calling to each other as the tide carried them up the Channel.

The recent warm weather has brought out the white flowers of the hoary cress on the side of the seawall. This plant was introduced into Britain at the start of the 1800's by a very unusual method. British soldiers brought back with fever from the Napoleonic war, were carried back to Kent on hay filled mattresses. This hay was given to a local farmer on Thanet, who ploughed it in as manure. The cress has since spread all over Thanet and the south coast, giving rise to its other name of Thanet weed.

Butterflies of note in Firs Chase have been small white, peacock and the first speckled wood of the season. Yesterday the first holly blue was seen fluttering past a tall variegated holly tree.

Friday, 6 April 2007


Certainly a Good Friday with sunshine nearly all day and a light northerly breeze. A walk along the Strood Channel seawall was pleasant enough but few birds of note. The tide was coming in and the only waders on show were about 150 redshank, 5 black-tailed godwits, 30 curlew, 15 oystercatchers and a dozen grey plovers. One lone brent goose was all that remained of the big flock present all winter. One corn bunting flew off the seawall and flew across the Channel to Copt Hall, calling as it went. Single meadow pipit, male reed bunting and several linnets were the main small birds of note.

Birds were generally thin on the ground and one little egret was finally glimpsed on Ray Island. For once a grey heron flying overhead managed to provide a better view than an egret. In the distance over Old Hall two marsh harriers soared in the warm conditions.

One peacock butterfly was seen coming onto the Island having flown over from Ray Island. In Firs Chase a small white butterfly was seen while the regular chiffchaff continues to sing, as did a second chiffchaff near the Firs Chase caravan site.

Some of the blackthorn bushes are smothered in white flowers.