Thursday, 28 February 2008


More sunshine on Thursday 28th provided perfect sunbathing conditions for the early adders at the park. The first adder out was a female two days ago on Tuesday, curled up on some bare ground near rabbit burrows and bramble bushes.

On Thursday another female, pictured above, as well as the first male were discovered in the same area soaking up the early spring sunshine. The first adders of the spring here are normally seen during the last week of February, although the first one last year was seen out on the 21st February.

Within seconds of entering the pond-field in my tractor, there was the dark-brown blur of a woodcock as it flew rapidly out of a ditch and headed over to the copse by the pond. This is the first woodock of the winter here at the park, although I've heard that a couple were seen on one of the Island's pheasant shoots last November.

At the park pond there was the regular group of 13 tufted duck, 4 shoveler along with the resident mute swans, a few mallard, little grebes, coots and moorhens. Having a snooze in the sun near the pond was one of the resident foxes.

There seems to be more song thrushes around at the moment with three being heard singing from the park entrance. Another three were seen along the hedges by the pond.

Took the rare opportunity of visiting the park grazing fields for the first time this winter and took the chance to check how wet the fields were. This photo above shows the pool at the rear of the fields which is the main area for the ducks and waders.

Lots of birds flew around the fields as I approached with the 500 wigeon the most numerous and noisiest. Fifty teal, 12 shoveler and 10 shelduck circled round a few times, whilst a grey heron flew off low with big wing-beats.

Walking around one of the boggy areas produced 12 snipe which took to the air. This is nearly the largest group of snipe seen here this winter, as they have been very secretive previously and staying hidden in thick cover.

Later in the afternoon I noticed some of the birds take rapidly to the air as a peregrine passed overhead clutching a bird in its talons. It continued westwards in a determined mood and disappeared out of sight near the park entrance.

The warm weather is bringing many of the flowers out and trees into leaf. Some of the catkins are already in flower on some of the pussy willow bushes at the park, as in the photo above.

Some of the hedgerows are being brightened up by the sight of the white blossom of the cherry-plum bushes as in the photo below, taken near the Golfhouse.

Recent bird sightings of note on Wednesday included a male yellowhammer singing near the car park and also on the same day 100 fieldfares alongside the East Mersea road near the pub. A male sparrowhawk was seen crossing the saltmarsh at low level as it headed inland. There is still a large flock of brent geese feeding on many of the local fields and 1000 flew off the park grazing fields.

On Tuesday one snow bunting was seen on the beach at the Point by Martin Dence, who also saw a marsh harrier cross over the park. Michael Thorley saw a kingfisher at the Youth Camp on Monday.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008


This is the pond just off Firs Chase where all the toads have been heading to over the last couple of wet nights. On this Monday morning the 25th, it was relatively quiet at the pond with only some half-hearted chirps from some toads. Not as loud as the previous night, when the pond came to life in the darkness.
This morning only the resident pair of moorhens were seen but more unusually for a town garden, a male pheasant made its presence known with some loud calling.

Nice blue sunshine for the walk along the Strood seawall although there was quite a fresh breeze blowing. The tide was coming in during the walk, pushing the waders further up the channel. The most unusual wader was a partial albino redshank which stood out clearly out on the brown mud, even 150 metres away. The feathers were predominantly white but with brown blotching. When it flew, the wings were mostly white instead of usual brown, while the legs and bill were the regular bright red. It was certainly a distinctive bird and one to look out for on future visits.

Amongst the other waders the very pale markings of a wintering greenshank was noted beside some redshank. Only 10 knot were seen and 200 golden plover, which is less than previous visits.
About a dozen black-tailed godwits was probably more than in recent visits whilst four bar-tailed godwits were seen near the Dabchicks.

About 300 brent geese were dotted along the edge of the water in the channel, resting up, preening or some doing some feeding.

Three stonechats were noted along the seawall, a male reed bunting sang a brief song, whilst near the caravan site a kestrel flew to some bushes which upset three fieldfares that had been feeding in some apple trees nearby.

In the air over Old Hall Marshes, four marsh harriers were in the air together, scattering lots of waders in the process.

Sunday, 24 February 2008


The drizzle early on the evening of Sunday 24th was perfect for the annual amphibian pilgrimage. Amongst the great toad movement were a couple of common frogs, one pictured above. They were all heading to the pond near Firs Chase to pair up and breed, having just emerged from hibernation.

Some toads managed to hitch a ride on the backs of others, although I don't know how happy the female below was, carrying an extra weight on her back.

Several females struggled to get to the pond without getting involved in a scrum with over-amorous males, such as the two males clutching the female in the picture above.

The biggest danger to the toads was the long crawl along the road as many had been run over by cars. I scooped about ten into this little blue bucket to help them reach the other side of the road safely. There would've been more still to cross the road later in the evening but sadly I couldn't help them all.

Earlier in the day a walk along part of the West Mersea beach turned up one or two things. The most unexpected was in the main ditch inside the St Peters reedbed, where a water rail and a snipe were seen. The water rail quickly scuttled into the reeds as I approached whilst the snipe flew rapidly away calling as it headed low over the reeds.
Some of the reeds have been cut down as part of the annual management to keep the area as a reedbed and to stop the scrub from taking over.

Around the Hard a shag was seen feeding in one of the channels as were about 6 little grebes. A group of 150 dunlin fed frantically on the mud quite close to Coast road as the tide came in. The usual brent geese, redshank, turnstone, oystercatcher and curlew were also seen.

Just outside the Mersea Quarters a great northern diver was seen intermittently as it dived under to feed. A group of 25 great crested grebes were also noted.

Saturday, 23 February 2008


It's that time of year when the local toads have to make their perilous journey to the local ponds. I hadn't realised it had rained last night in West Mersea until I walked along part of Firs Chase. Within a couple of paces onto the road on Saturday 23rd the first dead toad was seen, one of about 30 individuals along a 100 metre section.

It has remained dry at night for the last 2 or 3 weeks and the toads will be eager to get to the pond when the first sniff of rain at night comes along. The mild weather will have brought the toads recently out of hibernation. Sadly there will be more road casualties in the coming period as more toads make their way to the local Firs Chase pond.

Although the skies were grey and the wind was cool, there was plenty of spring birdsong in the air. The male great spotted woodpecker was drumming on a tree in the nearby caravan site and the fluty song of a mistle thrush was heard loud and clear. On a brief circuit past various gardens, the usual birds seen included goldcrests, goldfinches, greenfinches, chaffinches all busy singing. Two fieldfares were also seen near some old apple trees and across the fields a corn bunting sang its jangled song from some power lines.

The tide was out along the Strood Channel and the only waders of note near the Dabchicks were a small group of bar-tailed and black-tailed godwits feeding together on the same area of mud. About 400 brent geese were gathered along the edge of the Channel, waiting for the signal to head to the nearest farmers winter wheat field for a spot of grazing.

Friday, 22 February 2008


Returned from a fortnight's break to find spring has come on in leaps and bounds. There has been a noticeable lack of rain everywhere and many fields look very dry. In the park grazing fields, the water levels have dropped down and there aren't as many pools and wet flashes as a fortnight ago. Many bushes in the hedgerows are springing into life with the white blossom of cherry plums already out as are one or two sallow catkins.

In the picture above taken on Thursday 21st, the flock of wigeon have voted with their beaks as to which side of the water has the greenest grass. The grass in the fields in the background looks very brown, so it wasn't surprising to see about 300 wigeon taking the opportunity to graze the lusher grass on the path below the seawall. Very few folk had visited the park today because of the cold wind and grey skies, so the ducks were generally undisturbed.

The only things of interest at the Point were a male sparrowhawk crossing the river westwards very low onto East Mersea, 400 golden plover on the mud, 5 great crested grebes and 10 red-breasted mergansers in the river Colne.

At the park pond 11 tufted duck, 8 gadwall, 4 shoveler and one snipe were seen while a group of 11 wigeon were grazing the green grass near the pond edge.

Another cold wind on Friday 22 meant you had to wrap up warm for a walk round the park. This sadly coincided with the high tide, so the only bit of bird interest in the area was on the grazing fields. Something spooked the birds into the air and great flocks of several species wheeled round in different directions.

The noisiest were the 500 wigeon, then the 400 golden plover circled round along with 100 lapwing. Also into the air were 50 black-tailed godwits, 30 turnstone and various other birds like starlings, teal, wood pigeons and one or two stock doves.

Brief round-up of interesting sightings on Mersea over the last two weeks,
21st - Reeveshall - 15 twite and green sandpiper seen by Michael Thorley.
17th - Pyefleet - 11 twite, stonechat, 4 red-breasted mergansers, common seal with 5 marsh harriers and barn owl on Langenhoe seen by Steve Entwhistle and Andy Field.
16th - West Mersea - Red-throated diver, Slavonian grebe, 10 red-breasted merganser, eider, goldeneye, pintail and 14 little grebe. Also 120 pintail seen in Mersea Quarters from Old Hall.
Cudmore Grove - 280 golden plover, 550 wigeon, 650 brent geese. Pyefleet - 5 stonechat, 5 yellowhammer, 4 marsh harrier and 14 red-breasted merganser.
14th - West Mersea - eider, Slavonian grebe, red-throated diver seen by Martin Peers. Also at Reeveshall - hen harrier, 3 marsh harriers, buzzard; 2 snow buntings at the Point.
11th - Pyefleet - 2 common buzzards, 3 marsh harriers, 5 stonechats, 4 green sandpipers, 12 twite, hen harrier, common seal. Wellhouse Green - Black redstart still present. Langenhoehall marsh - barn owl and little owl. All noted by Glyn Evans.
10th - West Mersea - 3 great northern diver, eider, 3 red throated diver, 2 shags, 6 Slavonian grebes, 2 red breasted mergansers, 55 great crested grebes, 8 little grebes, 2 marsh harriers all seen by Graham Ekins.
10th - Reeveshall - 5 marsh harriers, 6 red breasted mergansers, stonechat, 500 knot seen by Andy Field. Also visited Wellhouse Green - Black redstart, 16 skylark and 21 linnet.
9th - Wellhouse Green - Black redstart seen by Tim Mendham.

Sunday, 3 February 2008


It felt rather exposed in the raw wind at East Mersea Point on Sunday 3rd. I think the three snow buntings had the ideal posture in these cold conditions, which was scuttling as low to the ground as possible. As with previous days, the birds were still picking at seeds and other items washed up along the top of the beach.

In the river were a couple of hundred gulls mainly black-headed, hovering above a presumed shoal of sprats. Straining the water-filled eyes, trying to keep the binoculars steady in the wind and scanning the choppy waters of the river Colne is what makes winter birdwatching so memorable here. Only 6 great crested grebes were seen including one with the "great-crest" around the head.

The main wader noted at the Point were the 40+ bar-tailed godwits on the mud.

The usual good variety of wildfowl around with the mute swans being the biggest and most striking. Both pairs have settled down since the turn of the year on their own stretches of water with one pair on the pond and the other one along the dyke, pictured above.

The wigeon were present in large grazing groups again while the black-tailed godwits were feeding in smaler numbers than yesterday with only 13 seen.

The main bird of prey to pass over today was a male marsh harrier, that was first seen circling high over the mudflats, before turning to the park and letting the wind blow it back to Langenhoe.

Near Fen Farm there were 25 fieldfares feeding in one of the fields.

At West Mersea the black redstart was seen again in the Wellhouse Green site.

Saturday, 2 February 2008


Andy Field and I scoured the park for anything interesting on Saturday 2nd. Amongst a group of 43 black-tailed godwits feeding in the grazing fields, was this colour-ringed bird. Having noted the exact combination of the colours, I checked my records and discovered that I had already seen this exact bird in the same fields in early March 2005! It's like seeing an old friend again.

This bird known as WN-RW is a female at least ten years old as it was ringed at Terrington, Lincolnshire by the Wash in August 1998 having just arrived from Iceland. It was then seen during several winters at Fingringhoe further up the Colne in 2000, Snettisham by the Wash, Norfolk in 2002, the Blackwater estuary, Essex in 2003, Cudmore Grove in March 2005 and then in the Stour estuary in north Essex a month later. I don't have more up to date sightings at the moment.

I shall relay the sighting to the research team at the University of East Anglia, who have been tracking a number of these birds from their breeding grounds in Iceland. There should be other sightings of this bird from elsewhere in England over the last few years, as well knowing that it flew to Iceland several times to nest.

Also on the fields were the usual large numbers of 600+ wigeon, 100 teal, 50 lapwing and 30 curlew and 2 snipe. Feeding in the grass field at the rear, was a sizeable flock of 1000 brent geese.

The bright sunshine enticed three foxes onto the edge of the fields near the pond. Its rare to see three together here sunbathing in the daylight at this time of the year. One of the foxes was helping the other one out with its morning bathing, by licking behind his ears!

Around the pond area were seen stock dove, kestrel, 2 fieldfares whilst 16 tufted duck and a snipe were the main birds of note along with the usual numbers of shoveler, gadwall and mallard on the pond. Earlier in the day 4 redwings were present by the entrance to the park.

At the Point four snow buntings stayed very low along the top of the beach, making them difficult to locate. It was only when they scuttled about, that you noticed where they were. The buntings were present until the end of the day.

Great flocks of waders were sent flying in different directions at the end of the day by a peregrine that passed slowly over the mud. However I had to take my eyes of it to find out why all the hundreds of wigeon and other waders were disturbed off the nearby grazing fields. The distinctive profile of a male marsh harrier was flying low over the fields. This east end of the Island at the moment seems to be a popular place for raptors at dusk, what with the hen harrier passing here yesterday.

Amongst some of the waders noted in the area included 1000 dunlin, 500 knot, 200 golden plover and 30+ bar-tailed godwits.

At least ten great crested grebes could be seen in the river while at dusk, 11 red-breasted mergansers flew out of the river. One common seal was also seen in the river

Earlier in the day, Andy saw the black redstart still at Wellhouse Green, while offshore there was an eider by the Dabchicks and a Mediterranean gull by the Kingsland road beach

Friday, 1 February 2008


Only found time at the very end of the day to get outside and take a walk across the park to East Mersea Point. No sign of any snow buntings but was very pleased to see the ringtail (female / immature) hen harrier flying low over the saltmarsh at the Point. All the waders and some of the wildfowl scattered in different directions, as the bird came over from Colne Point, across the river returning back to the regular roost site on Langenhoe. Two carrion crows rose up to the harrier to escort it out of their territory.

There used to be a dozen hen harriers 20 years ago roosting each night on Langenhoe but that has dwindled down to this one solitary ringtail. Sightings locally have become much scarcer this year and this hen harrier over the Point today, is the first record for the park this winter.

Straining the eyes in the fading light towards Langenhoe, five large dark brown birds were circling over the marshes, these being the regular marsh harriers gathering for their night-time roost.

The main group of waders that were disturbed by the hen harrier were 800 golden plover, enjoying the last bit of mud before the tide came in. The picture above shows the dark mass of the plovers gathered on the water's edge. Also here were 50 shelduck, several dunlin and redshank.

The distinctive flight-silhouettes of 5 red-breasted mergansers flew high and fast out of the river.

Walking back along the seawall there was the surround-sound of hundreds of whistling wigeon, with some in the fields, some in the nearby dyke, others in the air flying overhead, while most appeared to be settling down on the edge of the nearby sea.