Thursday, 21 June 2007


Word has got out. BBC Essex Radio came to Mersea Island on Thursday 21st to find out for themselves what makes Cudmore Grove such a unique and special place. As part of BBC Essex's Planet Earth day looking at environmental issues, most of the main breakfast show was broadcast live from the country park.

After a cloudy dawn, the sun soon broke through and spurred all the birds to sing and the butterflies to perform making it a memorable morning for those special few who had come along.
There aren't many places in a busy county like Essex, where you could gaze across a meadow in full flower, where the only sounds you hear is the birdsong and in the distance the sea sparkles with the bright morning sunshine.

The BBC Essex presenter Sadie Nine along with your local blogger at her side, trying to convey to the listeners all the different kinds of wildlife that we had just seen on our short walk. Birds such as two great spotted woodpeckers, skylarks, meadow pipits, sand martins nesting in the sandy cliff, oystercatchers, curlews, meadow brown butterflies and a selection of moths kept over from the nights moth-trapping.

Local Mersea schoolchildren were invited to ask two of the main local politicians live on radio a variety of environmental questions such as what they personally were doing to help the planet.

Finally managed to catch our little furry friend, a brown long-eared bat having his midnight snack inside the ladies toilet. His long rams-horn shaped ears are very striking and pronounced. Underneath him was the tell-tale evidence of his recent snack with the discarded wings of a large yellow underwing moth scattered on the floor. Most recent nights he appears to fly around at night to catch a moth, retreating to the cool interior of the toilet building where he can tuck into his moth-meal in peace. This bat has been doing this here for at least the last six or seven years and is probably the same moth involved.
If any ladies are squeamish about bats, then they need have no fear about sharing their moment of need with this furry friend as he only visits at night.

The moth trapping was a great success with two traps run for the very short period of darkness. Well over 200 moths of 45 species were identified of which the main stars as ever were the hawk-moths such as this lime hawk above, dressed in its special army combat markings. Also on show were a privet hawk, poplar hawk and the pretty pink elephant hawk.
The moth trap wasn't just full of dull brown moths but a good variety of colours made it very interesting. The red and black of the cinnabar, the yellow of the brimstone, the green of the common emerald, the white of the brown-tail, the speckled of the peppered, the bronze of the burnished brass and the black and white combination of the magpie moth.

This rather uninspiring looking moth the bordered straw, probably deserves the medal for travelling the furthest to get to the trap having originated from mainland Europe. His long journey across the sea probably explains the buckled antennae, as it battled its way head-first here. The bordered straw is a scarce immigrant to the Essex coast with a few managing to reach inland.

A couple of other interesting moths was the first Archers dart, a mainly coastal moth but first record for the Island and the bird's wing moth with its strange pale markings on its black wings.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007


It was worth being up at dawn on Tuesday 19th just to admire the pink sky from the country park. The moth trap had been running all night and it was important to switch it off and clear the trap away before the jays came looking for breakfast. They could have had quite a feast as the tally was about 190 moths of 40 species.
A few new ones for the year included the swallow-tailed moth, dusky brocade, brown silver lines, bordered pug, broad-barred white, white plume, small magpie and the magpie moth pictured below. There was also a privet hawk-moths and a couple of elephant hawk-moths.

Several lime trees are in full flower at the moment and you can certainly notice the sweet fragrant smell whenever you walk close to one of the trees. If you stand under one of these lime trees it feels like it's starting to rain, as the tiny drops of honey-dew drop from the leaves.
During the day there is a constant buzzing sound from the tops of the trees as the bees, flies and other insects are busy visiting all the flowers.

The insect night-shift takes over after dark and below is a large yellow underwing probing its long proboscis-tongue after the sweet nectar. Several pale arches were also busy visiting the flowers after dark and in one flowering clump, a red admiral butterfly was spotted in the torch-light looking well camouflaged as it snoozed with its wings closed.

As the day started to brighten up, the familiar sound of the turtle dove could be heard beside the car park. Sightings of turtle dove this year have been very poor with very few returning from Africa to nest here. The occasional one that is seen in the park appears to be the one normally seen along the nearby Bromans Lane.

The nightingales showed well in the car park early in the morning, calling out loudly to each other. Although the birds stopped singing about two weeks ago, they can still be located by their "wheet-wheet" calls. They seem to get quite agitated if you can mimic the calls and one of the birds perched in the hedge providing really good close views even without binoculars. The bill opened really wide as the bird put lots of effort into each "wheet" call, whilst cocking its nice orangey tail upwards at the same time. Occasionally one of the birds would croak with its strange frog-type call.

A pair of common whitethroats are frantically trying to feed their demanding chicks with enough food, flying back and forth across the car park. The nest is in my front garden hedge so the birds are rather anxious if anyone interrupts their flightpath or loiters too close to the hedge.

Sunday, 17 June 2007


I was able to enjoy the Maydays area on the north side of Mersea on Sunday 17th thanks to the farmer giving me permission (saving me a much longer walk otherwise). The clouds parted in the middle of the day and it felt like a summer's day. The photo shows the Maydays saltmarsh at high-tide. I walked along the seawall to meet up with Andy Field who had walked from the eastern end. It was a good time to look out for birds of prey as several were out hunting, perched or enjoying the thermals.

There were the usual handful of marsh harriers that could be seen on Langenhoe Marsh but our interest was in the female over Reeveshall. She has been seen recently favouring one section of the reedbed which is promising for a potential breeding attempt. The male is already paired up with a female on Langenhoe, as he has been seen flying regularly across the Pyefleet.

Whilst scanning the distant Langenhoe, we could see two or three kestrels hovering and flying about. One falcon appeared dark grey and with thin rakish wings, beating deeply as it flew, this was a hobby. Shortly after a large pale falcon could be seen in the distance stooping several times onto a flock of waders, the pale buff wings showing up in the bright sunshine.

About ten minutes later Andy shouted out that there was a large bird of prey directly opposite us, hurtling along the Pyefleet low over the water in hot pursuit of a grey plover. The plover looked exhausted and several times flopped onto the water to escape. Each time the falcon came back and at the near moment of contact, the plover dropped again with the falcon surprisingly not willing to pluck it from the surface. In the end the plover made his very lucky escape and hurriedly disappeared west along the channel.

What was puzzling about this big falcon was that it had the size, shape and flight of a peregrine but was otherwise a very pale buff bird that had us thinking of some type of escaped falconers' bird like a lanner. However it seemed to stocky for a lanner falcon. The forehead of this bird was cream, the wings brown with lightly streaked underparts and the face was a buff colour with dark brown moustachial stripes. We decided to leave the identification as a pale brown peregrine although this may be the same mystery falcon seen in this area a couple of times last summer.

We continued to watch the bird as it headed back along the Pyefleet, then turn onto Reeveshall closing its wings tight for a low level, high speed surprise attack along the reedbed. To our surprise the one bird that got the fright of its life and desperately needed to take evasive action was another hobby! The big falcon soon realised he had met an equally fast flying raptor and they both spiralled on a thermal high into the air, where they soon vanished as tiny specks in the sky.

Other birds of note seen were a pair of Mediterranean gulls, cuckoo, pair of grey partridge, 4 singing corn buntings, 3 singing yellowhammers, little and common terns, 10 grey plover, dunlin, knot, 5 turnstone, turtle dove and a dabchick chick on the farm pond.

Striding along the seawall lots of butterflies and bees wafted into the air as I passed and there was the lovely warm honey-like smell coming from the numerous sea beet flowers. The pink common mallow flowers added the splash of colour to the walk and the meadow brown butterflies were busy with lots of the bees visiting the flowers.

Butterflies such as this small skipper were out feeding along the seawall, this one feeding in a clump of ox-eye daisies. The orange tips to the antennae help separate this species from the black ones of Essex skipper but as in this photo, you have to get close-up and personal to sort them out. Several large skippers were also seen on the walk, as were red admiral, painted lady, small tortoiseshell small heath, common blue, holly blue and the small white pictured below.

Keeping low to the path were three or four Mother Shipton moths, pictured below - a day flying moth over meadows and grasslands. With a bit of imagination you can just about make out the facial markings of the old lady on its wings!
The sunshine brought out a few dragonflies with the first ruddy darter of the year and also a black-tailed skimmer and an emperor were seen.

The tide filled all the creeks and channels at high tide and a glance to the Strood causeway in the distance showed the water covering the road making Mersea an Island again. (I would've loved to have seen the look of horror on the face of the driver in a red open-top car as he approached a fast moving white van sending a 6 foot wall of water up in front of him!)

Lots of black-headed gulls, a few mallard and several little egrets scanned the incoming water as it crept along narrow creeks and rills, hoping to pick up some of the small fish fry that appeared to make the water bubble near the surface in some parts.
Appearing in lots of areas of the saltmarsh are pockets of sea lavender. Sometime next month all the saltings come alive with the carpets of lavender buzzing with the sound of insects visiting the flowers.
Red stalks of glasswort provide a nice contrast with the sea lavender.

Saturday, 16 June 2007


It was a bit risky going out for a walk with such big rain clouds around on Saturday 16th. One tall bramble bush provided some shelter but after ten minutes of standing around, Monty and I felt very soaked and bedraggled. We visited the section of beach on the south side of the Island between the caravan sites of Coopers Beach and Fen Farm. The high tide was being whipped up onto the beach and the blustery conditions had lured a couple of hardy windsurfers onto the nearby sea.

One of my favourite beach flowers is the sea bindweed with its small kidney-shaped leaves and large trumpet-shaped pink flowers. The flowers looked in a rather sorry state today with lots of petals bashed and flattened by the recent rains, whilst other bindweed flowers stayed tightly shut in the dull inclement weather.
Each summer I look out for this sprawling carpet wondering whether the previous winter's spring tides have washed it away, as it flourishes precariously along the high tide-line and also just above it. This is the only clump that I have been able to find left growing on the Island. There used to be a patch near the East Mersea Point but that got washed away by tides in the late 1980's.

Other interesting plants here typical of sandy beaches included two or three sea hollies, good numbers of sea spurge and plenty of the low sea sandwort plants.

There was an interesting mix of aromas along the beach with the most pleasant coming from this Japanese rose. It always comes as a surprise how powerful the fragrance is even when your nose is getting ready to breathe it in. This is such a contrast to the normal salty seashore smell of wet sand and rotting seaweed. The last smell to hit the old olfactories whilst walking along the beach was the very distinctive smell of fry up breakfasts wafting in the air from the caravan site!

Three tiny caterpillars of the cinnabar moth clung tightly to this little ragwort plant, shortly after one of the downpours. This is the first sighting this year of this widespread and quite toxic caterpillar. It picks up its alkaloid poison compounds from the foodplant, which in itself is poisonous to livestock. The bright yellow and black stripes serve as a warning to any potential predator.

Despite the weather a red admiral and painted lady butterflies were also seen along the beach.

Birds of note included three ringed plovers that were behaving as if they had a nest on the shingle - as they often do along this section. A pair of rival skylarks tussled with each other on the beach with brief flurries of song delivered between showers. A reed warbler and common whitethroat brought some life to a small reedbed with their songs.
In the Coopers caravan site, a pair of mistle thrush were feeding their young at the nest in a tree, just above van height over one of the roads. Pied wagtails, greenfinches, linnets, house sparrows, blackbirds, kestrel and wood-pigeons were also seen in the area. Feeding along the borrowdyke near the seawall was a mallard with seven ducklings.


Received a phone call on Thursday 14th from an excited neighbour who lives near the park, telling me they had discovered a bee orchid growing on a corner of land recently cleared. Torrential rain prevented me from going that evening but when I visited on Friday, these two photos show the orchid in flower.
There was just the one plant with its distinctive orchid flowers sprouting near the top of a very fragile looking tall stalk. The flower is supposed to mimic a bee to help in its pollination but actually this one looks more like the face of Coco the Clown with a yellow nose! The little yellow object in the centre of the flower is cleverly designed to brush the back of a visiting bee with pollen.
There have never been any previous records of bee orchids occurring naturally on the Island before, although there has been one that flourished recently near the East Mersea church that originated from the mainland. The nearest bee orchid colony is at Fingringhoe nature reserve about three miles to the north. Bee orchids are well known for springing up on waste ground and disturbed land as well as on old established meadows. This East Mersea site had just had some trees cleared from it early last year and apparently the large oval leaves of this orchid were first seen last summer.

The sunny Friday morning was a good opportunity for watching butterflies such as this large skipper pictured above. It did a bit more than skip from flower to flower and it took several attempts to find one that settled long enough for a photo. Just as the camera was ready to click, the skipper tore off at great speed to ward off rival large skippers who were intruding into their airspace. The first of the even smaller skippers either the Essex skipper or the Small skipper were also seen today, flitting low over the ground.

Other butterflies seen during a sunny hour in the morning included small tortoiseshell, red admiral, painted lady, common blue, holly blue, speckled wood, meadow brown and small heath - all along one side of the park. The day flying yellow shell moth and the Mother Shipton moth were also enjoying the sunshine. In a yellow clump of birds foot trefoil, a couple of green and black coloured six-spot burnet caterpillars were seen munching away.

Also busily munching away but on several clumps of stinging nettles were masses of the black caterpillars of the peacock butterfly. Not shy about being out in the open, these little spiky fellows were crawling all over each other in their search for more tasty leaves.

One or two black-tailed skimmer dragonflies were out on the wing including over the pond which they were sharing with an emperor dragonfly and lots of azure and common blue damselflies.
The pond has lots of green algae on it but that doesn't seem to bother the six swan cygnets, young coots or young moorhens. The ruddy duck pair and five tufted ducks enjoyed some underwater feeding.

In recent days it has been great seeing a dozen or so sand martins flying around the sandy cliff by the beach prospecting it for nesting holes. The large colony of over a hundred dwindled over the last two or three years to none here last year. Now there is the welcome chattering sound again above the park as the sand martins fly back and forth.

The damp and slightly muggy feel to Thursday night was just too tempting for the moth trap. It was doing great guns in pulling in a good selection of moths before the rain unfortunately started again at two o'clock in the morning. Had to hurriedly get out of bed, throw on a few clothes which confused Monty the dog as it was still pitch dark! There was a very quick inspection of the moths in the trap, before the light was switched off and the trap moved to shelter.

In the four hours of operation about 150 moths of 30 species were noted of which the biggest stars are pictured above. The poplar hawk, eyed hawk and the elephant hawk shown above were also joined by 2 other eyed hawks and another elephant hawk, making it an impressive sight in the trap.
Other moths included peppered, willow beauty, riband wave, bordered white, barred straw, marbled brown, barred yellow, shark, pale prominent and good numbers of large yellow underwings, marbled minors and heart and darts.

The only new moth species for the season were a couple of common emeralds, one shown above. Perfectly camouflaged amongst the green leaves but a little more noticeable when it rests on the side of a tree.

Other sightings of note on the Island in recent days included a hobby and brown hare seen at Bromans Farm while Martin Cock saw sandwich tern, 15 pochard, 9 knot, two avocets, first shelduck brood with 10 young and two marsh harriers at Reeveshall.

Monday, 11 June 2007


A late Tuesday 12th evening march along the beach was perfectly timed with the high tide and a near deserted beach. Against the sandy cliff backdrop, it was just the sea, sand and sky to occupy your attention. The only sound to be heard was the continual gentle lapping of waves onto the beach. There didn't appear to be any moments of silence in between the small waves crashing onto the shells and shingle at various points along the beach.

A group of 25 black-headed gulls were hanging about waiting to inspect the beach and the first uncovered mud for any interesting morsels washed in by the sea. What I noticed along the strandline were quite a lot of common moon jellyfish washed up amongst some of the seaweed. It is normally during June when the jellyfish start appearing on the beach and sometimes in very large numbers.

Dusk walks smell a lot more fragrant than during the day. You can tell when you are passing a honeysuckle plant in flower well before you see it. Several clumps of wild honeysuckle are in full flower at the moment and their evening boost in smell production will get those night-time insects homing in on them.

A brief stop-off in the hide provided a view of a vixen fox starting out on her hunting expedition where I reckon rabbit may well be on the menu again for her three young cubs. Glancing across the field there was the fine view of one of the local barn owls hurriedly flapping his way over the grass. I was amazed to see it fly right in front of the hide. A rapid and brief fly-past but a wonderful view of those dark eyes amongst the white face staring intently ahead, before the bird disappeared over the hedge. After five more minutes in the hide, when I emerged the barn owl was making a return flight back to the grass field in front of the hide, so I was treated to another great close view.

As I drove away from the park I spotted the silhouette of another owl perched on some wires by the East Mersea road. It flew over the road and I was able to see the very brown wings which confirmed it as a tawny owl.
The previous evening I had seen a little owl also by the East Mersea road at dusk flying to a nearby hedgerow.

On the subject of nocturnal creatures, I have been trying to get a good view of the brown long-eared bat which rests inside the public toilets in the car park during the night as it feasts on captured moths. His recent preferences recently have switched from angle shade moths to large yellow underwing moths. The remains of his midnight snack are strewn across the floor in the morning. I managed to see him / her indoors one evening recently but he was wary of my presence and after lots of circling around I stood to one side to let it fly out the door.

Another batty incident I witnessed was also a few nights ago whilst watching moths come to my trap. Two or three small pipistrelle bats were also attracted to my back garden because of the incoming moths. Bats were swooping low down to head high and a fleeting glimpse of a passing bat out the corner of the eye were all the brief views they gave. I watched one bat at roof height home in on a moth which managed to escape by spiralling rapidly downwards and out of the way. The bat tried to follow but gave up so this moth must have picked up the echo-locating sonar of the bat to help it escape.

Earlier on Tuesday morning I saw three great spotted woodpeckers near the park entrance. Two of these were the young recently fledged and most likely from the nesting tree near the west end of Bromans Lane. I also enjoyed watching a large family of long-tailed tits in a white poplar tree beside the car park. I reckon there were at least 15 birds in the tree but it was difficult trying to count all of them as they hopped from branch to branch, all calling to each other.
As I walked across the park I saw the dark grey shape of a falcon in fast flight. This was a hobby in a hurry and with a very focused mind, although it did change tack suddenly to swoop unsuccessfully after a skylark.


The weather took its time in warming up on Sunday 10th although by late afternoon the sky was covered with large swathes of grey- as in the photo above. The yellow flowers of the black mustard add some colour to the top of the sea-wall although it seems to be spreading like wild-fire each year, blanketing out all other plants. Together with the alexanders, both plants have dominated the plant-life with little else getting a look-in.

Two avocets were still present on the saltmarsh pool near the Golfhouse, both feeding actively with fast side-ways sweeps of the bill through the shallow water. Two reed buntings sang from the tops of saltmarsh bushes, whilst in the reeds in the dyke were three reed warblers happily singing away. The incoming tide forced the usual 45 oystercatchers close in as well as a handful of ringed plovers.

One of the national papers recently commented on the increasing popularity of elderflower cordial in the UK. There are lots of wild elder bushes around the park still laden down with big white flower-heads. I met one friend who had filled a carrier bag of flowers to take home to process into cordial.

Most of the flowers in the park seem to be yellow with one or two exceptions such as this extensive clump of germander speedwell. Little sky-blue flowers tucked away in the grass provided a nice alternative hue to admire.

For some reason the leaves of the common cow parsley seem to be very purple this spring. The plant finished flowering a month ago and is now going into its autumn very early.

At dusk the barn owl came into the park to hunt over the long grass. Perched beside the East Mersea road was a little owl, also ready for a night-time of hunting.

Sunday, 10 June 2007


Still conditions overnight into Saturday 9th resulted in a rich assortment of moths. Up with the lark at 4 o'clock to check both traps that had been running in the park overnight attracted 170 moths of 45 species. Whilst sorting out one of the traps I glanced up at a barn owl passing just a few metres from me as it made one last sortie into the park during the early daylight period. It carried rapidly past me and silently flapped its way over to the areas of long grass. I was also pleased to hear the soft purring sound of a turtle dove from the car park whilst in the distance I could hear the cuckoo calling.

The most striking moth found was this very colourful elephant hawk-moth with its near day-glow pink markings. When you rise bleary-eyed early in the morning, finding this big gem of a moth makes you open your eyes wide with admiration. It is reasonably widespread and was caught several times last summer in the park. The fully grown caterpillars with big "eye" markings, have a passing resemblance to the trunk of a elephant.
Two poplar hawk-moths and a privet hawk-moth were also found in the morning.

This moth above is the six-spot burnet - and he's one moth that hasn't read the rule book about the difference between moths and butterflies. Moths are supposed to be dull, brown, night-fliers and with feathery antennae. Butterflies have bright colours, fly during the day and have knobs on the end of their antennae. The six-spot burnet is a colourful day-flier amongst the long grass at the park during the sunny days of summer. Compare this burnet's antennae with the last picture below - now that's real feathery! I was surprised to stumble across this burnet resting in the long grass, as I don't normally see them here until later on into July.
Two other day-flying moths seen in recent days has been the yellow shell and also the interestingly named Mother Shipton whose markings resemble the face of the famous witch.

The large areas of long grass are perfect for butterflies and the sunshine brought out lots of meadow browns. Within a couple of weeks they should be at their peak here of a few hundred individuals all fluttering over the grasslands. There was a colourful sight on some tall cotoneaster bushes in the park of at least 12 painted lady butterflies. This is probably the best spring count at the park and it bodes well for the next generation that should be on the wing in late summer.

Back to the moths that were found in the early morning. Above is the green silver lines which certainly stands out in a trap full of brown moths. Watch it fly into a bush and it becomes instantly camouflaged amongst the green leaves.
This big brown moth is a female fox moth, in the process of rapidly beating its wings ready for take-off. This is the first time I have seen the adult although I normally see every September, one or two large black hairy fox caterpillars crawling across paths.
This elegant and almost fragile looking moth is the bordered white holding its wings in typical butterfly fashion. Four were caught during the night and no sooner had this one posed for a photo, he was off rapidly heading for the nearest spot of cover.

Friday, 8 June 2007


Friday 8th started off with loud rumbles of thunder and bright cracks of lightning passing over the park. The accompanying downpour lasted for a couple of hours so it wasn't surprising to find the park deserted during the morning.

When the weather brightened up in the afternoon I noticed these two common lizards basking on a small stick poking out of a hedge. Their colouring blends in well with the colour of wood so that they are often very hard to spot. There is quite a good population in the park amongst the long grass and with luck and patience, they can often be found. They do like to sunbathe and so the best places to look for them are on the top of logs, the bottom of fenceposts or maybe just on a tussock of dry dead grass.
The warm conditions brought out a few insects of interest such as this blue-tailed damselfly. This dainty and delicate cousin of the dragonflies is the commonest species at the park. It is regularly found resting alongside hedgerows or sunbathing amongst the low vegetation such as nettles. Most of these damselflies can be seen close to the water of the ponds and ditches where they rest amongst the rushes and reeds. The azure damselfly is also common at the park and is often seen alongside the blue-tailed damselfly.
Enjoying the afternoon sun on the beach was the first painted lady butterfly of the year. Across the park there were several meadow brown butterflies flitting amongst the long grass with the first one being seen on Tuesday. One or two small heaths were also seen as was a red admiral, holly blue and speckled wood.

Birdlife on the park included one of the resident sparrowhawks hurtling across the car park, several skylarks and meadow pipits bringing life to the airwaves above the grasslands, whilst in some of the bushes, whitethroats and lesser whitethroats can still be heard. During the early morning deluge the fluty song of the blackcap added a cheery note to the proceedings.


This gentle giant of a moth was discovered in the Cudmore Grove moth trap at 4.30am on Thursday 7th (the early start is to ensure the crows and jays don't gorge themselves on the vulnerable and docile moths).
The big spectacular moth pictured above is the privet hawkmoth - the largest resident moth in the UK with a wingspan of four and a half inches. It normally rests with its wings folded close along the body but this one above kindly obliged in showing off the wonderful pink bands on its abdomen. It is quite a widespread moth and last summer several were trapped here on a number of nights in June and July.

It was a good night for moths with 160 moths of 35 species being a worthwhile session. The most interesting ones found included poplar hawk, peppered, green silver lines, shark, light brocade, several dark arches, buff-tip and poplar grey. The most numerous were 30 marbled minor, 30 heart and dart, 15 shoulder-striped wainscot and 15 hebrew characters.

Many moths have very descriptive names and the scorched wing above is no exception. The charred colour on the wings make the moth look as if it has flown too close to the flame of a candle. The moth when it rests amongst the leaves has the strange behaviour of curling its "tail" over its head, as in the photo above.

The scarcest moth to turn up was this water ermine pictured below. It looks similar to the commoner white ermine but with hardly any black spots on the wings. The ermine name refers to the white fur appearance of the moths with their fluffy heads. This moth is only found on coastal areas of the south-east of England and is listed as nationally scarce. There is an old record of this moth for East Mersea. The caterpillars feed on a variety of marshland plants such as water dock, purslane, water mint and yellow iris.

In the evening it was time to make tracks along the Pyefleet - almost like the shelduck footprints in the mud pictured below. In the two hours on the seawall with Monty in tow, two people passed me and it made it seem like rush-hour in comparison with the usual remoteness of the area.
At the Reeveshall pool, there were a few more birds than normal. A green sandpiper and greenshank seemed unusual for early June as they should have been much further north on breeding grounds. At this time of year it is difficult to tell whether these birds have aleady been north, or are just very late heading north or maybe just not bothering to head to their breeding grounds in northern Scotland or Scandinavia at all.A black-tailed godwit, oystercatchers, redshank and lapwings have been regular recently. A group of 8 pochard and three drake teal were also noteworthy while a little egret stalked the shallows to the rear.

Along the Pyefleet Channel on the mud, waders of note were 14 knot, a group of 18 grey plover and one dunlin. One great crested grebe, little tern and common tern were all trying their luck with the fish in the Channel.

At least four marsh harriers could be seen flying around over the Langenhoe Marsh and towards dusk a barn owl was also out hunting.
On Reeveshall a female marsh harrier sat on the ground briefly and then one of the male harriers from Langenhoe came over late in the evening. One corn bunting was heard singing but generally there wasn't much small bird activity. Four brown hares seemed very excitable as they chased each other around in one of the fields.

The sun which had stayed well hidden for most of the day behind the clouds, shone a little beam of orange-light across the Pyefleet.

I was shown this unusual and very beautiful shell by a regular dog-walker to the park Marianne Jones, on Tuesday. Neither of us have seen such an eyecatching shell before on the beach with its broad pink bands on the side and red spots underneath. Measuring an inch and a half it appears to be a big common topshell(sometimes called painted topshell). I've since walked the section of beach by the park a few times but not found any more examples although smaller and duller topshells are often found.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007


It was an ideal Monday 4th afternoon to get the dinghy into the water and get into the nearby creeks. After Nolly, Monty and I had tucked into our picnic, I wasn't going to argue with Nolly when she offered to do the rowing. I used my time constructively by scanning the marshes for any interesting birds nesting on the saltmarsh islands.

We visited the Packing Marsh Island and admired the old Packing Shed built in 1887 for packing up the oysters in barrels ready for market. Although oysters are still farmed in the creeks today, the old shed is no longer used.

The very top of the shell ridges were the only parts that are above the high water mark unless there are exceptionally high spring tides. Sitting tight in various places were about ten herring gulls incubating their eggs. Also sitting and prospecting suitable sites were about ten pairs of oystercatchers who seemed rather nervous at setting up home so close to the big predatory gulls.
There was a good vantage point from the steps of the Shed and it was interesting surveying the surrounding gull colonies. The nearby Cobmarsh Island had predominantly herring gulls with up to 70 pairs and several lesser black-backed gulls and a few black-headed gulls, oystercatchers and at least one pair of displaying redshank.

The low lying Sunken Island at the mouth of Salcott Creek had possibly up to 400 pairs of black-headed gulls nesting with only a few herring gulls. If the colony were agitated (as happened when a large coloured beach ball drifted towards them), all the birds would rise in near silence, then flap around for a short while and then there followed a great cacophony of squawking from every bird as they tried to settle back down again. Peace would resume when all the birds were back on the ground.

Although common and little terns were seen hunting along the creeks, there was no indication they were nesting in the near vicinity. The only Mediterranean gull we saw was a smart looking adult that flew almost over our boat, showing off its near translucent white wings. Despite scanning the gull colonies, there was no sign these gulls were nesting near here.

Other birds noted were a pair of yellow wagtails, kestrel passing overhead from West Mersea, lots of starlings feeding on the saltmarshes, a pair of avocets calling loudly as they passed high and in the distance two male marsh harriers were seen with a female over Old Hall Marshes.

It was interesting to find that the main shell banks on Packing Marsh were nearly all comprised of slipper limpet shells. These are alien shells introduced into the UK from America in the 1880's where they soon spread round coastal waters smothering and competing with the native oysters. Huge efforts were made in the past to remove these shells and the evidence of the deliberate dredging can be seen with these thick shell banks.

Slipper limpets lead a very peculiar life where they form a cluster on top of each other with the oldest at the bottom being female and the youngest at the top being male. These males over time soon change into females with an intermediate phase in between. The complicated life of shells!

As part of a special Essex survey looking for corn buntings across the county, I had been asked to look for them on farmland just to the north of Mersea. Sadly in the three hour walk I found none but the interesting wildlife seen included a flock of ten turtle doves, brown hare, painted lady, a very large green and noisy marsh frog calling from a farm pond.
The picture shows the view from the western end of Langenhoe Farm towards Maydays Farm on Mersea looking east with a water outflow structure in the foreground.