Friday, 31 August 2007


Went for a Friday evening walk on the 31st August along the Reeveshall seawall. The area not quite as desterted as usual as I had sort of company in the form of this tractor cutting the long grass down. Since other sections of the field have been cut down, various waders have taken to probing for food amongst the short grass, making them easier to see.

This evening 60 black-tailed godwits were seen on the field with a few curlews. Amongst the sheep 7 yellow wagtails headed off to their eveing roost as did another group of 9 from the cattle. As the light faded a female marsh harrier crossed swiftly over the Reeveshall field, heading over the Pyefleet to the roost at Langenhoe Point. At least five marsh harriers were seen over Langenhoe including two youngsters playfully talon-grappling with each other in the air.

On the Reeveshall pool five green sandpipers were very noisy this evening while 25 lapwing roosted in a group on the muddy margins. An avocet, three black-tailed godwit and a greenshank were the only other waders noted. A female tufted duck dived a few times and 7 shoveler passed overhead with 3 teal.

Amongst the many hundreds of waders along the eastern half of the Pyefleet, there was little of unexpected interest with good numbers of redshank, grey plover, curlew and black-tailed godwit. Surprisingly there was only one dunlin and one knot seen but none of the other familiar summer passage waders. Two great crested grebes were seen in the Channel.

Heading back along the seawall I stopped by the small patch of reeds and strained my ears as I thought I heard the brief "ping" of a bearded tit. I waited but it didn't call again - until I did a crude imitation of the "ping" call. I did it from three different positions and each time I had a reply from the bird but it refused to show. This is presumably the same bird that was first seen here a fortnight ago.

In the country park the notable birds were a passing group of about 150 swallows and martins, feeding over the park and neighbouring fields. Two willow warblers called from near the car park as did chiffchaff, whitethroats and lesser whitethroats.

Twenty-two species of moth totalling about 75 individuals found in the trap on Friday morning included frosted orange, bloodvein, small square-spot rustic, latticed heath and orange swift.

Heard from Hugh Owen tonight who lives just a couple of miles north of the Island that he was lucky enough to see the rare and spectacular Camberwell Beauty in his garden a few days ago. It seems there has been a small influx recently from the continent with a few being seen in Essex.

Thursday, 30 August 2007


The moth trap was run on the nights of both Tuesday 28th and Wednesday 29th. The cool wind is blowing from the north-west and combined with a clear sky and full moon, the trapping has been below average with Tuesday the better evening.

The moth above is the canary-shouldered thorn with its distinctive posture of holding the wings upright. This individual didn't quite have the pale lemon head of some specimens.

The most interesting moth in the trap was this peacock-type moth. Separating the more widespread peacock from the scarcer Essex cousin the sharp-angled peacock isn't easy. This moth above is showing features of both but the darkness of the paw-print marks on the forewing probably indicate this is the peacock.

The copper underwing pictured below is a common moth with one or two individuals turning up in the trap over the last two or three weeks. It was very reluctant to show off its orangey / copper hindwings except when it took to the wing and it flew off into a bush.

The main bird interest at the park seemed to be centred round the bushes and hedgerows near the park entrance. As I walked past the area at 8am to open the country park, I could see and hear a lot of small bird activity. The highlight being 3 spotted flycatchers perched up clearly in bushes and on top of dead branches. This could've been a family on its way south and strange to think that the same bushes hosted a spotted flycatcher only four days earlier.

This field corner was sheltered from the cool breeze and there were all sorts of warblers, finches and other birds all feeding on berries or insects in the area. Even the local sparrowhawk was tempted to check out the area with a couple of fly-pasts. A few more warblers seemed to be evident with 2 willow warblers, 3 chiffchaffs, 5 whitethroats, 5 lesser whitethroats and blackcap all noted with some loosely associated with a tit flock. There were a handful each of greenfinches, chaffinches and goldfinches calling out and flying around. The great spotted woodpecker looked down from a tall tree calling loudly, while later in the day the male yellowhammer sat up in a bush here.

Martin Cock reported seeing two clouded yellow butterflies at Reeveshall on Tuesday. No real butterflies of note at the park in recent days because of the cool weather. Small white and green veined white and speckled woods have been the only ones noted.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007


By the time I went for a stroll to the East Mersea Point in the early evening of Tuesday 28th, the clouds had turned very grey and the breeze was blowing from the east. The big grey clouds north of the river Colne looked threatening but stayed away from Mersea. It was low tide so there was plenty of mud on show but many of the waders seen were tiny specks in the distance.

Any bird that was big and white like a little egret were easily seen with seven noted. Up to 40 avocets fed together in a tight group along the outer edge of the mudflats with a further 12 on the east side of the Colne near Brightlingsea. Also dotted along the distant edge were about 100 black-tailed godwits, although there were other small groups scattered across most of the different mudflats.

Around the Point were 5 meadow pipits feeding in the saltmarsh while nearby among the shrubby sea-blite bushes was a flock of 25 linnets which flew around briefly before settling back down to continue feeding.

One of the saltmarsh pools near the park showing the big grey cloud just missing Mersea.

Walking back along the seawall the loud squealing of a rabbit in distress could be heard. I scanned one of the grazing fields and saw a red fox with a rabbit in its mouth. It soon picked it up and then sprinted across the field past some bemused cows and calves towards a nearby hedgerow. Scanning the other field a second red fox was seen surveying the surroundings and probably weighing up his foraging options for the night ahead.

A grey heron flapped menacingly and ponderously over the fields with huge wing-beats. The local carrion crows took great offence with the heron trying to perch in their favourite look-out tree. They cawed loudly and mobbed it repeatedly so that it was forced to fly away and past the pond. A snipe was seen dropping down into the fields.

Near the pond a young cuckoo was unexpectedly seen perched on top of a fence post. It provided good views of its finely barred chest, the brown wings and back as well as the white spot on the back of the head. This is probably a migrant from further north, stopping off for a brief feed on the local caterpillars.
Two blackcaps also seen here were the first at the park for nearly a month. A pair of yellowhammers perched briefly by the pond before flying strongly away.

On the pond a water vole was seen swimming from one clump of reeds into the cover of a willow bush. The sight of three teal is a sign that autumn is not far away.

A sparrowhawk was seen by the beach at dusk chasing after a sand martin by the cliff but without any luck. Over the nearby fields about 100 swallows, sand martins and house martins spent time feeding low over the grass.

Earlier in the day a passage grey wagtail flew east over the park calling as it went. Also a group of 200 golden plover passed swiftly over the car park with their rapid wing-beats sounding like a strong gust of wind blowing through the trees.

One of the exotic plants that has been growing happily on the sand at East Mersea Point for several years is this garden escape variety of Clematis tangautica. One of the yellow flowers is giving this motionless bumble bee some shelter as dusk approached.

Monday, 27 August 2007


For a change this was an August bank holiday with lots of sunshine. For a change too, there were actually people out walking and enjoying the north side of the Island. However an hour's walk on the seawall between the Oyster Fishery and the Reeveshall pool was hard work finding birds as the tide was high.

The sunshine did bring out the buttterflies and the picture above shows one of several painted ladies feeding on the golden samphire growing just above the waterline. Elsewhere meadow browns and small heaths were seen amongst the grassy seawall.

I caught sight of this small brown butterfly pictured below, flying low amongst the grass which I eventually managed to get close enough to photograph. It is a very worn butterfly but I believe it showed enough features to be the brown argus, as opposed to the very similar female common blue butterfly. The small size, the line of orange spots along the hindwing appear quite bold, the lack of blue-ish from the base of the wings, whilst underneath I managed to see the very worn but distinctive pattern of spots, all characteristic of the brown argus.

Brown argus butterflies were first identified on Mersea about ten years ago on the Reeveshall seawall. There followed an expansion of the population for a few years as mirrored on the mainland. However the butterfly on Mersea in recent years appears to be just clinging on and it has often been hard to locate any individuals anywhere.

One very distinctive butterfly that flashed past that needed no second close inspection was an eyecatching clouded yellow. This is bright yellow with a black margin to the upperwings but with its quick and erratic flight, a close view proved elusive. This scarce migrant butterfly from the continent is often seen each summer on Mersea with one or two individuals seen near the seawalls.

I could only follow this butterfly through the binoculars as it flew further away from me. It eventually settled after 50 metres but before I could get closer than 5 metres, it was up again and fluttered away over the nearby field. The yellow of this butterfly seems to mirror the bright sunshine that always seem to accompany it on a late summer's day when it flashes past.

On the Reeveshall pool, there was little ringed plover, green sandpiper, 10 lapwing, 8 teal, 2 snipe and one black-tailed godwit. A whinchat perched in a nearby bush whilst a common sandpiper called loudly as it flew along the seawall and a yellow wagtail also called
Two grey partridge were having a dust-bath alongside Bromans Lane earlier in the morning.


Summer returned just in time for the bank holiday weekend with Saturday 25th being the first hot day for two or three weeks here on Mersea. A combination of increasing numbers of visitors and the increasing heat, produced only a few things of interest during a late morning walk along the north side of the country park.

A female yellowhammer which had been calling quietly from bushes on the side of the car park, climbed higher up the bush and into view. Although there has been a male in the park up until a fortnight ago, there hadn't been any sign of a female this summer here to keep him company - until now.

Around some of the big bushes and hedgerows there seemed to be a bit more small bird activity than usual. Near the entrance to the park a spotted flycatcher which perched up on a bare branch caught the eye. This passage migrant has become harder to find each year on the Island as numbers in the south-east of England have declined sharply.

This bird flew out from its perch to catch a fly, then flew straight back to the same bare branch to continue watching. It then flew off to another hedgerow and was later seen from the hide sitting at the top of a big hawthorn bush. Hopefully this won't be the only flycatcher to admire during this autumn passage on the Island.

Up to ten common whitethroats and five lesser whitethroats were busy feeding in the hedgerows of the park, many presumably migrants from further north. A group of ten long-tailed tits were foraging along the bushes with great tits, blue tits and one or two chiffchaffs.

At the park pond a snipe circled over the pond before swooping down onto a little muddy island. This is an early record of snipe for the pond as they're not usually expected here until late autumn.

One group of visitors to the park were spending some time enjoying close views of an adder tucked into the sunny bottom of a hedge.


It was still cloudy for most of Friday 24th but the wind dropped, making it more pleasant. An hour on the Reeveshall seawall around mid-day proved worthwhile as always. No sign of anybody else wanting to enjoy the peace and quiet of the north side of the Island. Not that's a complaint about the lack of people here!

On the migrant front 4 whinchats were seen, three perched up in the top of a bush to survey the surroundings together. The bulk of the whinchats pass through Mersea from mid-August to mid-September and in the prievous years there has been the occasional double figure count in some parts of the Island.
Two wheatears also flitted along the seawall ahead of me flashing their white base to the uppertails.

On the pool the cattle were plodding around the margin so there weren't as many birds to be seen. One avocet, green sandpiper and five teal were the only birds to be seen here.
A small flock of a dozen stock doves were seen feeding on a grass field which makes a change from seeing flocks of the commoner wood pigeons.

The only harrier seen was a male marsh harrier sitting on the seawall on Langenhoe. There may have been another bird of prey flying around the edge of the river Colne as something was disturbing the large wader flocks feeding. Up to 100 avocets rose into the air along with a similar number of black-tailed godwits, flying round a few times before settling back down again.

On the pool three small red-eyed damselflies were seen resting on the pondweed, the first time they have been noted on this pool. Also emperor dragonfly and common darter seen here too.

Just when the sun found its way through the clouds for the first time in almost a week, it was a bit too close to sunset to enjoy any warmth or blue skies. The setting sun across the mud near the Dabchicks Sailing Club made for a pleasant end to the day.
The tall lanky silhouette of a grey heron stalked the water's edge as the tide slowly crept in.

No mud was visible along the Strood Channel with the high tide close-by. However three greenshanks noisily called out from the Ray Island for several minutes before taking to the air.
In the distance to the west, above Copt Hall and Old Hall Marshes, the loud honking calls of skeins of greylag geese could be heard as they headed off to their night-time roost.

The most interesting group of birds were the roosting corn buntings and pied wagtails. The long section of reedbed in the dyke by the seawall was attracting lots of pied wagtails, many arriving in small groups overhead to join the roost. Others had a last feed on the edge of the mud and saltmarsh before heading into the reedbed. It was difficult to estimate numbers but at least fifty were present.

Whilst watching the wagtails settle in, around 50 corn buntings flew out of the reeds before dropping back into the reedbed further along. As corn buntings decline across the country it is nice to see flocks of them still present on Mersea. I recall seeing similar flocks in late summer here in previous years, many of the birds feeding on the seeds from the various seawall plants.
At least four reed warblers were also seen in the reeds, some of them rising up to catch flies in the air.

I discovered later that I had missed the opportunity to see a pied flycatcher in the garden of Martin Cock at Broomhills Road. This irregular passage bird is occasionally seen in the autumn here and this one was already continuing its long journey to Africa by the next morning.

Thursday, 23 August 2007


No sign of the much talked about global warming here on Mersea Island over the last few days. Another grey morning on Thursday 23rd with a cold northerly wind and fine drizzle threatening at times during the day.
A brief glimpse in the morning at the receding tide revealed a good variety of waders on the mud in front of Cudmore Grove. About 10 sanderling was the most interesting group as this is the first group back onto Mersea this autumn. Most were scurrying around pecking frantically at the mud, in the company of 70+ turnstones and 50 ringed plovers. One knot looked a little bit lost as it stood by itself on the water's edge, showing off its cinnamon belly.

The lack of walkers on the beach meant the waders could feed quite close to the beach. Up to 50 redshank were dotted along the mud with more reinforcements arriving all the time. Not many curlews or oystercatchers in the first 50 metres of uncovered mud but they wouldn't have been long in arriving.
A dozen common gulls were noted later by the beach in the company of black-headed gulls and a common tern.

More dull weather restricted numbers of birds noted although several passage chiffchaffs were heard around the park. House martins, swallows and sand martins hawked together along a path swooping after their insects along the side of trees sheltered from the wind. It was more sheltered on the beach too and here the sand martins could be seen feeding some hungry faces in the holes in the sandy cliff.

At the park pond a gadwall has returned after a summer away as has a teal. Yesterday three little egrets roosted at high tide in the shelter of the copse overlooking the pond.

The attempt at mothing last night on Wednesday was cut short by a downpour of rain. A public demonstration to several families of night-time wildlife at the country park was prematurely abandoned just as the moths were beginning to arrive. Only about ten moths were noted.
One of the very regular visitors to the trap in recent weeks has been the flame shoulder pictured above, with its pale flash along the edge of the dark-reddish wings.

The large yellow underwing is a very common large moth which looks like a very dull brownish uninteresting creature. It is only when it is disturbed or seen in flight that the bright orange hindwings add a splash of colour and make it stand out from the many other brown moths.

The night-time walk on the Wednesday evening rewarded some members of the group with views of up to five badgers at the park as well as a red fox. However the badgers decided not to come out until the light was almost gone, so our views were rather poor as dusk fell.
On Thursday evening one badger was seen as night fell, the animal emerging from one entrance and then disappearing down into another part of the sett. In the gazing fields two well grown fox cubs were out playing and foraging together in the middle of the field well before darkness fell. At one point the playing developed into a stand-up face-to-face bickering, although as they held each other with their outstretched paws, it looked like they were about to do the tango with each other! Or was this an attempt at doing the "fox-trot!"


There were brighter spells of grey amongst the overcast and windy conditions on Tuesday 21st. After a period of almost a fortnight, the painted lady butterfly has not been the commonest butterfly around. Several whites including this green-veined white, pictured above feeding on purple loosestrife, were noticeable across the park and even alongside the East Mersea roadside verges. The blustery conditions were not good for many butterflies although speckled woods, red admiral, meadow brown and holly blue were some of the ones that were seen in the park.

Not much to report on the bird front at the country park other than several sand martins still hawking over the park and a few chiffchaffs calling.

Martin Cock visited Reeveshall and noted 100 teal, pochard, snipe, two spotted redshank and a little ringed plover. Also on that windy day Richard Brown saw at Reeveshall a bearded tit, marsh harrier, wheatear, 7 house martins, 5 avocet, 7 green sandpiper, 2 common sandpiper, ringed plover and a peregrine.

Martin was lucky enough to glimpse a harbour porpoise swimming offshore from West Mersea. Apparently one had been reported recently in the area.

The local Colchester newspaper carried a story on its front page of a common seal that was being seen near the pontoon by the West Mersea hard, attracted to the scraps of bacon that the children are using to catch their crabs with. As the article pointed out, the seal is supposed to feed on fish - not bacon!

The moth trap that was set examined on Tuesday morning had a small selection of moths in it with just as many lying motionless in the surrounding grass as in the actual trap. Around 40 moths of about 20 species was the tally which included this grey dagger(with a balding head), pictured above.

A handful of these orange swifts were found along with other moths like swallow prominent, angle shades, coxcomb prominent, flounced rustic, yellow belle, yellow shell, straw underwing and copper underwing.

Monday, 20 August 2007


It has felt more like autumn over the last few days on Mersea with grey skies, cold winds and a few showers thrown in as well. Much of the wildlife has been keeping a low profile and remained well hidden - just like the sun. Despite the weather there have been one or two things of note over the weekend.

The only turtle dove at the park this summer continues to sing either from Bromans Lane or in the bushes in the car park. Three birds were seen flying around together on Saturday, perching on wires near the park entrance.

The breezy conditions have kept many of the small birds sheltering inside the bushes but one willow warbler was heard calling as were several chiffchaffs around the park. Many of the local common whitethroats and lesser whitethroats may have left for Africa already as there has been little evidence of them around recently. One lesser whitethroat and a couple of whitethroats were seen briefly. Their favourite haunts at this time of year are usually the elder bushes which are laden down with ripe berries.

Five swifts passed over the park on Sunday as did a yellow wagtail heading westwards along the Island. The whistled calls of the whimbrel could also be heard as one headed out onto the mudflats.

On the park pond forty mallard, the ruddy duck family, two little grebe families and a few young tufted ducks were the main wildfowl along with several coots and moorhens.

It seems strange to get excited about house sparrow flocks on Mersea these days but two separate flocks were seen away from the gardens of West Mersea. One group of 25 were seen near the road by Blue Corner- a regular site, as is the East Mersea village shop where another 20 were seen nearby.
Two grey herons were seen disputing territorial rights close to the East Mersea road early on Monday morning between the pub and the village shop.

At high tide on Monday afternoon around 20 common terns could be seen flying around while perched on one of the breakwaters was a common gull which is the first autumn sighting. Lots more to follow over the next few weeks. Three sandwich terns flew into the river Colne on Saturday.

On Saturday Martin Cock visited the Reeveshall area and saw a bearded tit, 7 green sandpipers, whimbrel, little ringed plover, 20 teal, 100 swallows while 380 black-tailed godwits fed on the grass field. At Maydays on the Friday Martin noted 2 whinchat and a yellow wagtail.

The dull weather has discouraged many insects from flying although several painted ladies were seen on Saturday with up to about 50 still present by the beach where there was less wind and more warmth. Other butterflies on the park were speckled wood, red admiral, holly blue, common blue, small white and meadow brown. Common darter, migrant hawker and southern hawker were the dragonflies noted hunting in the shelter of bushes.

The regular adder remained tucked well into the long grass, keeping out of the cool breeze.
A fox appeared in the grass-field near the pond and although he could see rabbits close-by, it seemed he was more concerned about all the itches that needed scratching with his paws.

A fox was also seen in the car park as darkness fell on Monday evening, while nearby the tawny owl was heard calling along Bromans Lane.

Not the most inspiring of wildlife to look at in the park but you can't fail to notice the many slugs and snails all over the park, especially in the damp conditions. These common garden snails were clustered around an old flower-head of a wild carrot plant on the side of the seawall.

Friday, 17 August 2007


Morning sunshine on Friday 17th was good basking weather for many insects such as this male common darter. Lots are starting to appear around the park with the territorial males chasing rivals away whilst trying to soak up the sun at the same time. The common darter is the most numerous dragonfly in the park during the late summer and early autumn.
Southern hawker, migrant hawker and a blue-tailed damselfly were also seen.

Numbers of painted ladies still remain high with around 150 about the place feeding on all sorts of flowers. The first common blue butterfly of the mid summer period was seen flying low over the grass.

An adder hid well in the long grass, conditions warm enough that it didn't need to be out in the open. The wasp spider was still clinging motionless and patiently on its large web.

The moth trap was checked on Friday morning and produced a below average tally of moths with only about 40 moths of 25 species noted. One of the strangest looking moths is the one pictured above- the Chinese character. A small moth that looks like a bird dropping, it is reasonably common and three were found in the trap. The small white squiggle-mark on its wing supposedly looks like a Chinese letter or character, giving the moth its name.

Other moths found were flounced rustic, orange swift, yellow belle, burnished brass and quite a few lesser broad-bordered yellow underwings.

The purple flowers of the lesser knapweed are attracting several bees and butterflies especially the painted ladies.

On the bird front, five swifts circled over the park in the evening and up to 100 swallows flew over the park in the morning. One of the young sparrowhawks welcomed the return of one of its parents with loud calling. A female wheatear flitted along the seawall in a series of short flights in the evening.

Out on the mudflats 25 avocets fed along the edge of the river while the local avocet family look like they have moved from the saltings by the Point onto the nearby mud as three well grown young birds were watched feeding there. The golden plover flock is slowly building up for the autumn with 200 seen resting on the mud, many still with their black chests. A whimbrel was heard as it passed over the park, one of the few waders not seen along the Pyefleet the previous day. Two yellow wagtails also flew over in the morning.

On the mammal front a water vole was seen swimming across the borrowdyke into a thick clump of reeds. Its little snout and eyes just above the surface made the little mammal just visible, although there were plenty of ripples to be seen as it paddled across the open water.

As dusk fell I visited the hide overlooking the pond and was rewarded with a clear view of one of the resident badgers emerging before darkness fell from the artificial sett. It stuck its head out of the hole to sniff the air before emerging with trepidation. It didn't travel far as it trundled about ten metres over the top of the sett before disappearing down one of the other holes.

Thursday, 16 August 2007


Most of Thursday 16th was sunny and the morning sun glistened across the mudflats. When the mudflats are looking bright and silvery, then the atmosphere and the mood of the coast is really lifted.

The other satisfying view from the park beach was seeing the first autumn wheatear. Stopping off for a brief refuel, this female briefly headed out onto the brushwood fenceposts out on the mud to escape from the dogwalkers. Up to 50 painted ladies were enjoying the warmth on the beach out of the cool northerly breeze. Several sand martins continued to flash back and forwards to their nest-holes in the cliff.

Managed to find this large two inch long female wasp spider on its web two feet off the ground in the park. This very distinctive spider with its wasp-like markings was first found on the Island four years ago and has been found in a slightly different locality in the park every year since.

This spider has been spreading rapidly northwards from southern England in recent years and the first record in the park four years ago was only the third record for north Essex. Since then it has turned up in a number of north Essex sites as well as spreading north into neighbouring Suffolk.

It is not just the spider that is eyecatching but also the large web with its thick stabiliser zig-zag thread down the centre. The web is normally low down amongst the long grass where the spider hopes to catch crickets and grasshoppers.

The sunshine brought out this common lizard to bask in the warmth. It was a bit wary and turned its head round to watch me pointing the camera at it, before darting off into the long grass. In the usual spot near the car park one of the sandy coloured adders was only just noticeable amongst the tall brown grass. It too was wary and soon slid off into the cover of the nearby bramble bush.

By the park pond a willow warbler sang, while on the water were young tufted duck, ruddy ducks and noisy young little grebes.

The painted lady is still the commonest butterfly around with about 70 on the park, also meadow brown, hedge brown, small heath, holly blue, small white and speckled wood. Common darter, migrant hawker and the azure damselfly were seen around the park.

Spent another rewarding evening along the north side of the Island enjoying the wonderful skies and a record number of wader species along the Pyefleet Channel. Big dark clouds skirted past the Island whilst the sun continued to shine down on the fields of Reeveshall Farm.

Many birds are already on their journeys south and wader numbers continue to increase. Nineteen species of wader in my two hour stroll is a personal record for me here and just goes to show how rich this area is for birds at this time of year. The breeze picked up only slightly but generally the combination of low tide and lack of wind made viewing conditions ideal.

The full wader list was 100 curlew, 350 black-tailed godwit, 1 bar-tailed godwit, 2 greenshank, 200 redshank, 1 spotted redshank, 25 oystercatcher, 2 avocet, 20 lapwing, 50 grey plover, 2 golden plover, 20 ringed plover, 1 little ringed plover, 6 knot, 20 dunlin, 25 turnstone, 2 snipe, 4 common sandpiper and 6 green sandpiper. Not a bad haul for the eastern section of the Pyefleet.
Most of the black-tailed godwits fed in a grass field which has just been baled for hay. The little ringed plover was seen in the fading light on the Reeveshall pool actively picking at items around the muddy edge.

Other birds of note included 4 marsh harriers, 4 swifts, 200 swallows, 2 wigeon, 4 teal, 3 gadwall, 5 little egret, 2 wheatear and a whinchat.

Martin Cock was also out along the Pyefleet at the Maydays end and noted 2 whinchat, a little owl and a very late cuckoo. He told me that if I used my telescope I could see the three common seals basking on the mud in the distance on the north side of the Pyefleet.

Another sunset to catch the eye with the dark clouds turning orange as the sun dropped down.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007


Back in circulation and normal service is resumed after taking a short break(North Wales this time). A very strong wind on the Wednesday 15th meant it was hard work locating much wildlife across the park. Birds stayed in the bushes and kept quiet and my only view out to sea was to watch the big waves crashing onto the beach. It was rather awesome seeing the normally calm and sedate sea, turn into a real raging force that thundered down onto the sand with each wave. The rough conditions led to the cancellation of the famous annual round the island yacht race.

On the park chiffchaff and willow warbler both called amongst a large roving tit flock. Up to thirty painted ladies, three small heaths and a red admiral were seen.

In the last few days, Andy Field and Richard Hull visited the nearby Langenhoe Ranges on Sunday but had little to report other than stonechat and a couple of marsh harriers but few waders were seen.

On Monday Nick Green and Glyn Evans walked round the Island as part of the monthly wildfowl and wader count. Their tally included 3 whinchat, 2 hobby, 5 whimbrel, 2 cuckoo, 4 yellow wagtail, 2 comon sandpiper, 4 knot, 2 marsh harrier, 2 bar-tailed godwit, 8 little tern, 25 common tern, 2 turtle dove, 5 corn bunting and 5 avocet.

Most of the swifts appear to have left West Mersea and the young bird under Andy Field's roof of his house in High Street North flew off recently. Martin Cock watched a group of about 50 swifts fly west up the Blackwater river on Tuesday.

Friday, 10 August 2007


The hot weather on Friday has seen the gardens of West Mersea invaded by thousands of painted ladies. There have been some good years for painted ladies in the past but I've never seen so many in every garden. No buddleia, lavender, verbena, hebe was free of them. Very eye-catching. Some will be home bred but such vast numbers must point to a big influx from the continent.
The postman told me that a buddleia bush in Rosebank was swarming with painted ladies which burst into life when he walked past. The big bush on the corner of Rosebank and Victory Road must have seen a cloud of 100 rise into the air when a van sped past.
Also on the bush were large white and red admiral.

Amongst a few of the other insects on this bush was this very striking and colourful hornet-hoverfly. Looking just like a hornet with near similar markings but without the pinched in waist.
The golden samphire along the Coast Road was also alive with painted ladies. The tide was still up in the Mersea Quarters and the flat blue waters made for a very tranquil scene.

One of the more unusual plants growing out of the concrete along Victory Road was this wild carrot. It is normally found along the grassy seawalls on the Island not in the streets. This is the wild ancestor of our familiar vegetable

The young sparrowhawks continued to call near Firs Chase and both the green woodpecker and the great spotted woodpecker called out loudly


Rose early before dawn on Thursday 9th to check one of two moth traps tat had been running overnight. This one above is the "Gardiner trap" with clear perspex sides and three bulbs on top. Moths fly disorientated to the light and either land nearby or hopefully drop through a narrow slot into the box where they settle down until they are released.

Before I had started to look at the other trap, a "Skinner trap" actually in my back garden in the park, I heard the loud repeated calls of a nightingale. I shone my big torch into the thick tree and was surprised to locate the little bird anxiously calling out. The size of a robin, the pale underparts caught the torch-light as it perched on a branch. Instead of flying away, I was treated to a rare close-up view but it was obviously rather worried as it cocked its ginger coloured tail repeatedly. Maybe it had set its eyes on some of the moths in my garden as a breakfast treat for itself. A short while later I heard this bird being answered by its mate across the other side of the car park. It won't be long before they head off to Africa for the winter.

The previous evening had started off promising for moth activity as Wednesday evening had been warm and cloudy. However it turned chilly overnight with clear skies and there was a heavy dew by morning. Fifty species totalling about 160 moths was the final tally. Around a dozen swallow prominents, pictured above, were the most eye-catching moth noted with many fresh looking individuals newly emerged. Poplar hawk, drinker, grey dagger, pale prominent,treble bar, chocolate tip, copper underwing, straw underwing and several spectacles were some of the moths found.

The bats during the night had a great feast on some of the moths as they fluttered above the traps. There was also the very audible swoop of the bats as they dived down in hot pursuit. Surprisingly one or two moths could be seen successfully evading the bat-attacks with some very swift manoeuvres, presumably discovering that the bats sonar was locking onto them.
The scarcest moth was discovered lying in tatters under the feeding point for the regular long-eared bat in the toilet block. On the floor in the morning were the wings of the star-wort moth.

Joined members of the Essex Moth Group just north of Mersea Island on the mainland to carry out the annual survey of the nationally very rare White-spotted Pinion moth. The large garden near Langenhoe of Hugh Owen is one of the few British sites where the moth still survives, where there is still lots of elm, the foodplant for the caterpillars.
We ran five traps and while we waited for the moth to show, Hugh showed us one of the pinion moths pictured above, that he had caught the previous night. Around forty species were noted in the three hours of trapping, including canary-shouldered thorn, small square-spot rustic, white-point, green carpet, and rosy rustic.
As the traps were being dismantled at 12.30am a beautifully marked white-spotted pinion was found which made the evening end on a high.

Earlier in the day at the park, the male sparrowhawk was seen flying over the car park carrying a small bird. As it got closer to the trees where the young wait to be fed, one of the youngsters rose steeply up to meet the adult. It seemed as if the male didn't want to be mauled by the hungry youngster, so it lobbed the food over to it almost disdainfully, before it quickly made its quick getaway.

Other wildlife seen included a darkly marked female adder which I nearly stood on whilst pulling ragwort in the long grass. A couple of small red-eyed damselflies rested on a bush whilst many of the painted ladies kept a low profile out of the cool breeze and a whimbrel flew over calling.


Managed to cram a quick half hour visit at the end of Wednesday 8th, to the small pool on the north side of the Island at Reeveshall. Although it was high tide and no mud was visible along the Pyefleet Channel it turned out to be a productive visit. Just watching the sun setting leaving its red reflection across the pool made it a worthwhile walk. Lots of birds on the pool could be seen in silhouette but the fading light made their identification tricky.

A small wader flock gathered on the nearby saltmarsh waiting for the tide to recede. Up to 50 black-tailed godwits, 30 lapwing, 50 redshank were seen and at least one avocet called out. Some waders flew onto the pool where two green sandpipers, spotted redshank, four teal, three gadwall and a mute swan fed.

On the Pyefleet Channel around 300 black-headed gulls bobbed on the high tide waiting for the mud to appear. Five common sandpipers flew past while on Langenhoe Ranges opposite, two marsh harriers were just seen flying in the fading light.

There was no sign of the little ringed plover or whinchat that Martin Cock had seen the previous day here.

The big excitement on the short walk was in this postage-sized clump of reeds near the seawall(pictured above), just north of Shop Lane. The distinctive "ping-ping" calls of a bearded tit were heard coming from the reeds as I approached. Within a minute of waiting I caught a glimpse of the little sandy coloured bird with its long tail, flying over the tops of the reeds. It appeared as if it wanted to fly further along the borrow-dyke but changed its mind when it realised there were no more reeds to hide in. It kept up the pinging calls which made it easy to locate in the thick reeds and it soon reappeared for another short flight. I left it calling from inside the reeds where it stayed out of sight.

It is only a month or so since a pair of bearded tits were seen taking food into a clump of reeds further along the seawall at Maydays Farm, in West Mersea parish. It is almost twenty years since a bearded tit has been seen in East Mersea parish, after the small original population fell victim to a severe winter in 1987. Up until that time a small group of four or five pairs bred at Reeveshall along a private fleet. I watched a small family flock in almost the same reeds on once occasion twenty years ago and each time I have walked past over the years, I have wondered if the birds will ever return. Today one bearded tit did return and it was great to see.

Earlier in the day, a little owl and a turtle dove called near to Bromans Lane. In the park the large numbers of painted ladies continued to fly around the park in the sunshine. It was interesting watching the reaction of visitors passing the buddliea bush, as it exploded into life with at least thirty painted ladies rising into the air together.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007


The bright blue skies on Tuesday 7th brought even more painted lady butterflies out than previous days. In every corner of the park, they were to be seen flashing past or fluttering around a clump of flowers. In previous summers there has never been more than about fifty in the park. Today the main buddleia bush in the car park has about 30 around it while a clump of the yellow flowers of the bristly ox-tongue(pictured above) on the seawall also seemed to have a further 30 painted ladies.Gazing across the grazing fields more painted ladies could be seen feeding on many of the thistle flowers.

Difficult to estimate numbers but probably 200 about the place which is an unprecedented number for here. Last year the painted ladies peaked on 5th Aug when 20 were seen - so the numbers this summer is a veritable swarm. It's possible that some of these butterflies could have arrived from the continent but it would be interesting to hear if other sites in Essex have recorded large numbers too.

Other butterflies included a small copper high up in the oaks, lots of meadow browns and hedge browns too, speckled woods, Essex skipper and one or two peacocks, commas and red admirals.

Moths found on Tuesday morning in the trap included this silver Y moth. The moth breeds in this country but numbers are sometimes boosted by influxes from the continent - just like the painted lady. This is the moth which can sometimes be seen feeding during the day in gardens, hovering amongst the flowerbeds especially lavender. The moth has the distinctive silver Y mark on the wing.

It was not a big haul of moths although there was a reasonable variety but with very low numbers of each. About 60 moths of 34 species seemed a low tally for mid summer. Other moths included the first lesser broad-bordered yellow underwing, also lychnis, spectacle, single- dotted wave, purple bar, ruby tiger and a square-spot rustic.

The rowan trees in the car park are laden with ripe red berries and they provide a really colourful scene when viewed against the bright blue sky. One or two blackbirds are finding them irresistible while a pair of mistle thrushes are never too far away either.

The main bird interest on the park involved a large mixed flock of probably 50 warblers and tits feeding together along the bushes in the car park, early in the morning. It was difficult to establish how many birds of each species but at least three willow warblers were passage birds joining the lesser whitethroats, common whitethroats, great tits, blue tits and long-tailed tits.

One of the plainest of white flowers amongst the grass on the park is the yarrow. However in one or two places there are groups of bright pink varieties (pictured above) which help brighten up the grasslands.

Monday, 6 August 2007


This poorly oystercatcher was handed to me on Sunday 5th having been attacked by an oyster! It was found on the park beach with an oyster firmly closed round part of its foot. The foot was freed but the "attack" seemed to have stunned the bird as it behaved as if all its limbs had been injured and put out of action. It wasn't flapping its wings or trying to hop away whilst being handled. It was left in a cardboard box for a short while but when it was granted its freedom in my back garden, it trotted towards the nearest nettle patch, as if it were a partridge.

Last year I came across a black-tailed godwit which was limping along the beach with a cockle clamped around one of its long toes. The bird was obviously in a lot of discomfort and as I slowly walked over to it, the bird hopped further away and the cockle then dropped off - with the toe still inside the shell! I presume the bird was able to lead some sort of toe-less life after this incident.

I didn't think anymore about the poor oystercatcher in my garden assuming it had made its flight to the nearby mudflats. However the following day, when I went to investigate some bashing and clattering sounds coming from a corner of my garden beside my house, there was the oystercatcher trying to get out of a big metal rubbish bin. I don't know how the bird ended up inside the bin which had been standing upright amongst a very overgrown flower border.

I tipped the bin over but the bird was very reluctant to emerge, so I left it staring at my garden from the comfort of a smelly old bin! Later in the afternoon I heard the loud piping sound and beating of wings which I recognised as the bird, which had suddenly remembered how to call anxiously and flap its wings at the same time. Off the bird flew.
The poor bird will never trust another oyster again and to think that it came to literally kick the bucket in my back garden!

Here is the oystercatcher resting in my garden, showing off its bright red eye and the thick orange bill.

Plenty of sunshine on Sunday and Monday provided perfect weather for the painted ladies. The buddliea in the car park is the favourite plant for them although they could be seen all over the park with maybe fifty or so present. A small tortoiseshell was also seen on the Monday along with many of the other familiar butterflies.

On Monday morning I had a brief chat with the nightingale in the car park, so it was good to hear they haven't left for Africa just yet. I was curious to know if it was still present, so I called out to some bushes with some "wheet" calls, and was instantly answered back with one of the birds croaking like a frog! There was no view of the bird as it hid well inside the bush.

The other birds calling out loudly but remaining well hidden were the young sparrowhawks with their mournful sounding "kew" calls.

Two young sparrowhawks were also heard calling on the Monday evening near Firs Chase. These are most likely from the brood of four young birds recently raised in a garden in The Lane.

On the mudflats from the park, five little egrets stalked the shallow pools while two of their larger cousins, grey herons, were seen crossing the Colne to feed on the outermost mudflats.

Whilst scanning the distant edge of the flats, I noticed something splashing around in the shallow sea. Through the binoculars I could see it was a common seal wrestling with a large fish. It then carried this fish in its mouth for a short distance before tucking into it.

Two adders were seen basking in the sunshine in their usual spot in the park. Both were well camouflaged amongst the pale brown grass especially as they were sandy brown in colour but with the distinctive dark zig-zag mark along their backs.

Field bindweed is not a favourite of gardeners but here in the park, it is free to clamber all over the long grass and show off its pretty pink flowers.

Just after darkness fell a tawny owl was seen in the car headlights, perched halfway up a telegraph post along Bromans Lane. The owls have been surprisingly secretive this summer and I wonder if the pair failed to raise any young.

Saturday, 4 August 2007


It really feels like the height of summer with clear blue skies on a hot Saturday 4th. Here at East Mersea Point at high tide the only activity to watch in the afternoon was the human variety messing about on the water. On the saltmarsh pools near the Point, the two pairs of avocets were still present although their chicks must've been having a siesta amongst the vegetation as they couldn't be seen. Four lapwings and two golden plovers were the only other waders seen here.

Bird activity is often very subdued on the park when the weather is very hot and it's often difficult to see many birds. However a willow warbler called for a second day which is of interest as this bird has only recently arrived at the park for a stopover on its long journey south. Autumn migration has already begun! A yellow wagtail passed over calling and it too may've been on the move south as well. A little egret rested at the park pond while waiting for the high tide to recede on the mudflats.

Dotted along the grass path inside the seawall are several large clumps of slender birdsfoot trefoil. It is adding a real splash of colour at the moment as much of the surrounding grasses are dying off and turning brown. As the name implies this variety of trefoil has thinner leaves than the common birdsfoot trefoil. Both plants are present on the park and both are popular with the butterflies and the bees.

Golden samphire is at its peak at the moment along the back of saltmarshes and also on the side of seawalls just above the high tide-line. The plant is well distributed around the Island, as it is around many of the saltmarshes of the Essex coast but it's actually a nationally scarce plant, growing here on the northern edge of its European range.

Making the most of the bright yellow flowers were lots of painted lady butterflies. On one clump on the park seawall were about a dozen painted ladies, which made an attractive sight. There seems to be lots of painted ladies around at the moment and their fast powerful flight with flickering orange wings were catching the eye all over the park. There could've been up to fifty seen around the park today making it another good season for the painted ladies.

An evening stroll along one of the footpaths near the Firs Chase caravan site revealed this very innocuous clump of Japanese knotweed hiding along a hedgerow. We should be grateful here that this pernicious alien is only on the Island in less than a five metre section of hedge. It is a real pest in many parts of the UK where it has colonised many areas especially riverbanks, squeezing out the native plants.

A large group of about 300 black-headed gulls circled high over the fields feasting on the swarms of flying ants that have taken to the skies in the warm weather. One gull seen flying around with very white translucent wings was a Mediterranean gull, which was noteworthy.

West Mersea does sunsets very well and it provides a scene that you can never tire of admiring. This is the view from the Hard of the sun dropping below the horizon with some of the boats moored in the Mersea Quarters.
Also admiring the scene was Denis Smy who told me that he had recently watched a grass-snake climb off the mud in front of the Coast Road car park and slither away along the pathway!
You never know what unexpected delights you're going to come across on Mersea!