Monday, 30 June 2008


Plenty of warmth and sunshine on Monday 30th for a walk along the Strood seawall. Amongst the various butterflies were a couple of large skippers - one pictured above. Lots of meadow browns and small heaths amongst the grass too with small white and large white seen as well.

Enjoying the sunshine in a nearby set-aside field were lots of ruddy darters, resting on the tops of some of the tall plants. Along the borrowdyke were the usual dragonflies with emperors, black-tailed skimmers, azure damselflies and blue-tailed damselflies all on show.

The most notable bird was seen at the start of the walk, a male marsh harrier slowly hunting along the various ditches and dykes inside the seawall. The bird slowly quartered the long grass field too, before heading back over the wheat fields towards the Strood Hill. A second bird was seen in the distance flying low over the Feldy fields on the mainland.

The tide was out along the Strood Channel so lots of mud on show. Scanned the full length of the mud looking for waders and found a greenshank, spotted redshank, 90 redshank, 10 curlew, 4 oystercatchers and 5 lapwing. Amongst the various gulls was one little egret feeding in the channel.

Of interest inside the seawall were 4 singing corn buntings and 3 singing reed buntings, with about 3 reed warblers joining in too. A male yellow wagtail gave out a sort of song from a tall clump of wheat, and also noted were a pair of turtle doves flying off the Island and beyond Ray Island. A sedge warbler was seen also and 50 house sparrows appeared to be feeding on some of the ripening wheat at the south-western end of seawall.

Dittander is a typical coastal plant in flower at the moment, especially along the foot of the Strood seawall. Many areas of the saltmarshes are turning pale purple with the sea lavender coming into flower.

Sunday, 29 June 2008


After holidaying on the mainland for the last few days, it was back to business along the Pyefleet Channel on Sunday 29th. It was nice and warm along the Reeveshall seawall with patches of blue sky above. The tide was out but only a few birds of note on the mudflats.

As usual it didn't take long to notice a marsh harrier, with a female crossing the Pyefleet from Langenhoe. As I followed it, I noticed another one flying over the Reeveshall pool, frightening all the gulls and waders away. Two avocets, greenshank, 2 oystercatchers, 4 black-tailed godwits, 6 lapwing and 15 black-headed gulls all flew off. A male marsh harrier was later seen hunting further away over the Maydays fields.

Along the Pyefleet mud, there were 2 very black spotted redshanks amongst 18 redshanks and the only other waders of note were 15 more black-tailed godwits. A little tern hunted along the channel and 4 shoveler dropped onto the water from the nearby Ranges.

There must have been lots of insects high up as there were lots of swifts circling high over the fields with about 300 seen. Swift flocks of any size have been scarce this summer so far. Three sand martins also joined the swifts feeding lower down. Two kestrels were seen and two corn buntings were heard singing.

The pink flowers of the spiny rest harrow pictured above, add some colour to the side of the seawall, which helps you to notice the plant before you unwittingly sit down amongst the grass and feel the sharp spines.

A typical seawall walk in the summer, is always memorable for the numbers of brown butterflies disturbed from the grass as you walk along. The summer breeze kept many low down but there were good numbers of meadow browns, such as this male pictured above, lots of small heaths and a few small skippers. A few dragonflies noted were several common darters, black-tailed skimmer, azure damselfly and lots of blue-tailed damselflies.

Last night at the country park, I stumbled across a group of at least ten pipistrelle bats at dusk emerging out between the weatherboarding of the toilet block, ready for the night-time feeding. I've not seen this number roost in this building before, although I have watched a couple appear from the opposite side, about four summers ago.

Thursday, 19 June 2008


One or two things of interest at the east end of the Island on Thursday 19th. The field of poppies amongst the mayweed just at the end of the East Mersea road was one eye-catching scene.
The horse paddock next to the Golfhouse also caught the eye with a dense carpet of creeping buttercups across much of the field, pictured below.

On the saltmarsh pools opposite the Golfhouse was a surprising amount of avocets. Fourteen birds is a good count for here and four birds were sitting on nests. The first attempt to nest failed about a month ago and the influx of other birds now, may indicate that they failed somewhere else and are having a second attempt here. Fingers crossed the predators stay away and that the pools don't dry out too quick. The picture below shows 3 or 4 avocets and a couple of shelduck too

Elsewhere on the park today were noted the sparrowhawk, the nightingale calling near the cliff and an increasing number of sand martins with at least 40 nest-holes counted behind the beach.

The breeze kept many insects down although one sheltered corner had large skipper, holly blue, meadow brown and speckled wood. A red admiral was seen near to the flowering cotoneaster in the car park.

The last hour was spent along the Reeveshall seawall along the Pyefleet. I missed the best part of the sunset because a barn owl out hunting Reeveshall distracted me. You can never get enough barn owl watching done, even if there is a pretty sunset to admire!
The Reeveshall marsh harriers were flying about too with both male and females seen over the fields. The cuckoo was also heard here as were at least two singing corn buntings.

On the Pool was one very smart looking spotted redshank, completely black all over except for some fine spotting on the wings. Four other spotted redshanks were also seen but not quite in their full breeding plumage. One greenshank, four green sandpipers and six black-tailed godwits have also come back from their northern breeding grounds. A dozen lapwing may be local birds, while 2 wigeon, 3 teal and 3 pochard have been present all summer.

Along the Pyefleet were 3 more spotted redshank, 40 grey plover, greenshank, 30 black-tailed godwits, 4 turnstone, one dunlin, which all appear to have arrived in the last week. The annual mid-summer pre-roost gathering of sand martins took place over Reeveshall and Langenhoe with about 300 birds flying around.

Driving along Shop Lane at dusk a tawny owl was seen perched on top of a telegraph pole and headed into the wood. A short while later a barn owl swooped over my car on the East Mersea road near the pub.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008


It threatened rain at various times during Wednesday 18th but the wind kept the clouds moving along. The wind whipped up the sea, creating choppy conditions for the one or two boats including the restored fishing smack Pioneer, as they sailed out of the river Colne, photo above.

The most unusual wildlife sighting was a very colourful male banded demoiselle damselfly near the East Mersea Point. The insect was taking refuge from the wind behind the seawall and each time it beat its dainty looking dark-blue banded wings, it got blown back again. It had to make do with sheltering amongst the shrubby sea-blite bushes beside the seawall.

These male banded demoiselles appear to have quite an urge to travel a few miles in search of new waterways as they don't breed anywhere near Mersea Island and yet this is now the third record for the park in the last 8 years. They normally require the moving waters of rivers for egg-laying and the nearest regular colony is along the Roman river about 5 miles to the north of the Island.

Dragonflies seen over a sunny park yesterday included the large emperor, one or two black-tailed skimmers and a female broad-bodied chaser. Although not specifically looking, the only butterfly noted were a couple of meadow browns. One of the notorious Harlequin ladybirds was found for the second week running at the park, so they seem to be well established here.

The moth trap was run through Tuesday night and the haul resulted in about 30 moths of 12 species. Four elephant hawkmoths were the main colourful sight inside the trap. Other moths included the first grey dagger of the season, pictured above, also spectacle, latticed heath, lots of marbled minors and shuttle shaped darts, dark arches, heart and darts and hebrew character.

The white-point moth pictured below displaying the a white dot on each wing, used to be regarded as quite scarce but in recent years it has become more widespread in Essex.

Haven't had much of an opportunity to look for birds in the park in recent days and it has just been the regular residents on show. On the grazing fields a little egret and grey heron were out stalking the ditches, lapwing, tufted duck, reed bunting and three reed warblers were noted.
Over the main park, the kestrel was seen, a few swifts passed over, 20 of the resident sand martins, skylarks singing and meadow pipits calling.

On Tuesday night the little owl perched on top of a roadside pole near Bromans Lane while a brown hare jogged along the road in front of the car at dusk.

Despite several visits by local birders to the Reeveshall pool over the last week, the garganey have not been seen again. Birds of note here have included 5 green sandpipers, 2 spotted redshank and a couple of greenshank as well as 70 black-tailed godwits.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008


Martin Cock had me scurrying down to the Reeveshall pool for the last hour of daylight on the evening of Wednesday 11th to have a look at a drake garganey. Armed with telescope, it didn't take long to locate the bird but I was pleasantly surprised to find it resting alongside a second drake garganey. Both ducks eventually got in the water to feed and the photo above shows two distant brown lumps (garganey), either side of the swimming gull. Both birds still had the fine white stripe above their eyes and also the long drooping scapular feathers hanging over the side of the grey flanks.

Garganey are one of the rarest breeding wildfowl in Essex and some of these birds are only brief visitors to Mersea in some springs. Most of the few Mersea records over the years have come from Reeveshall but birds never stay around long and breeding has never been confirmed.

There was a nice selection of birds on the pool with 3 wigeon, 2 pochard, 3 teal, 2 gadwall, 2 shelduck, 4 mallard, 6 avocet, 10 redshank, 8 lapwing, green sandpiper and two little egrets. A singing corn bunting was heard from a nearby grass field.

Marsh harriers seemed to be all around both over Reeveshall and over the nearby Langenhoe ranges. Most of the ten birds seen seemed to be adult birds looking very tatty with one count being 8 birds in the air together over Langenhoe well after sundown.

Also on Langenhoe was a barn owl hunting, cuckoo singing, 300 starlings gathering to roost as were 30 sand martins.

Not much seen along the Pyefleet despite the tide ebbing fast. Ten curlew were the only waders waiting for the tide, although avocets kept swopping the mud for the nearby Reeveshall pool.

Martin Cock had watched a hobby on a Reeveshall gate on Tuesday, the first sighting this summer for the island. Michael Thorley counted six avocets back on the saltmarsh pools near East Mersea Point on Tuesday.

Earlier on Wednesday at the park, the nightingale continued to sing by the car park and hawking over the park were some swifts, house martins, swallows and the only park hirundine residents - the 20 or so sand martins.

The noisy great spotted woodpecker chicks are still in their nest hole alongside Bromans Lane but must be ready to leave soon. The pair of little owls were both by the Lane at dusk on Tuesday evening, with one perching over the road on some wires. A couple of birdwatchers who hoped to hear the grasshopper warbler went home disappointed although they heard the Bromans Farm turtle dove singing.

Recent sunny weather has brought out the first common blue butterfly and the first meadow brown of the summer. Speckled woods and small heaths are the only other two regularly encountered at the park at the moment.

The moth trap has been running over the last few nights with several hawkmoths being found, including this lime hawkmoth dressed in its desert camouflage. Like the good haul last Saturday, elephant, poplar and eyed hawks have continued to show although cream spot tigers have petered out. Thirty-four species during Sunday night, 27 during Monday and 24 during Tuesday night.

Other moths have included the shark, light brocade, lychnis, cabbage, light arches and dark arches, buff-tip, green silver lines, pale oak beauty, common white wave and broken barred carpet.

Sunday, 8 June 2008


Our familiar friend the long-eared bat, has been leaving signs of its presence at the park during recent nights. For nearly ten years it has regularly rested up in the park's toilet block, munching through one or two moths that it has caught outside. In the morning various moth wings litter the floor under the ceiling light where the bat hangs from in between its foraging forays.

After several late-night trips into the ladies loo in recent weeks, I finally found the little chap as pictured above - its great long ears curling back towards the head.

Saturday 7th was National Moth Night and so the moth trap was switched on at the park under the shelter of a gazebo to keep any rain off the equipment. There had been continuous rain for most of the day but luckily it ceased in the early evening just in time for the moth-trapping. A handful of species arrived within the first hour although the only excitement was a cream-spot tiger. However by dawn at 4am, a great variety of moths had appeared with 40 species found.

The star attractions were four species of hawkmoth pictured above with elephant(top), poplar (top left), privet(bottom right) and eyed(bottom left) all discovered at dawn.

This elephant hawkmoth dropped onto some long grass and stayed motionless with its wings partially open to reveal the pink hindwings. Other moths of note were cream-spot tiger, white-point, shears, archers dart, lychnis, pale oak beauty, green pug, swallow prominent, maidens blush, silver Y, peppered, shoulder striped wainscot, green silver lines and cream bordered green pea.

I was passed this young grass-snake by a lady who had found it dead on the Strood seawall. It was only the size and length of a pencil but showing the distinctive pale yellow collar on the neck.

Sadly another creature found dead on Sunday was this hedgehog by the side of the East Mersea road. This one is showing off its fine set of sharp teeth.

One of the stranger discoveries underneath the Skinner moth trap was the sight of two earthworms happily locked together mating, until I had to take the trap away. The faintest touch of a nearby grass stalk, triggered an immediate de-coupling, with each worm rapidly disappearing down their own holes.

After the soaking on Saturday, Sunday stayed sunny all day. Birds are becoming harder to track down as their song period comes to a close and they busy themselves with raising their young. However the nightingale, lesser whitethroat, whitethroat and skylarks still fill the air with their songs around the car park.
There was the welcome sound at dusk of a nightingale singing by the pond - the first time it has been heard this spring here. The entrance bird was also singing although the cliff-top bird hasn't been heard for over three weeks, although the calls have been heard here.
By the cliff a dozen sand martins were seen flying around while meadow pipits, skylarks and linnets flew out of the long grass in various places.

The main butterflies seen were several small heaths and speckled woods, while several black-tailed skimmer dragonflies were hunting over the grasslands.

Thursday, 5 June 2008


Spent the last hour of daylight on Thursday 5th, taking a stroll in the evening sunshine along the seawall north of Shop Lane at East Mersea. The tide was well out in the Pyefleet Channel, leaving lots of mudflats on show. Other than a few oystercatchers scattered along the Channel one curlew was the only other wader seen. A few shelduck were the only other birds other than lots of gulls.

Six great crested grebes was an interesting summer count for the Pyefleet. It also seemed notable seeing more grey herons than little egrets along the Channel for a change, with four herons seen but only one egret. Six little terns noisily flew up and down the Pyefleet, calling excitedly to each other as they looked for food.

Before the light faded at the Reeveshall pool several ducks were seen here. Three teal, four gadwall, two wigeon, three pochard, four tufted duck, two mallard and four shelduck seemed a varied group of ducks. Eight lapwing and a pair of oystercatchers were the only waders present. A male marsh harrier hunted over the nearby fields, probably the local Reeveshall bird. Three male yellowhammers sang from various bushes and the distinctive rasping call of a grey partridge at dusk was a worthy record.

At the Cosways set-aside field-edge, the grasshopper warbler was singing loud and clear close to the road. It was eventually tracked down and watched singing from a low bramble bush in the fading light. A little owl was also seen near the field and a pipistrelle bat was seen flying low over the field.

During the day at the park, two adders were found enjoying the heat under a sheet of tin, while nearby a discarded adder skin was found. To the rear of the grazing fields a pair of large red damselflies were seen flying in tandem beside a pond. This is the first record on the Island of this widespread colourful Essex damselfly. Also seen were the usual azure damselflies and blue-tailed damselflies. Several small heath and speckled wood butterflies were seen in the park during the day.

This is the scarce water ermine moth found last night in the moth trap at the park. Appearing like the common white ermine moth, this water ermine only has a handful of small black dots on its wings. The night's haul using two traps produced about 90 moths of 28 species, with the clear sky and heavy dew probably affecting the catch. The highlights were seeing four elephant hawkmoths and eight cream-spot tiger moths.

The neatly marked light brocade pictured above, stood out amongst the other brownish moths in the trap.

Had reports recently that a grey squirrel was seen near the East Mersea shop by Donna Moncur while Terry Lancefield recently enjoyed seeing a badger along Shop Lane one night.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008


Found two of these colourful elephant hawk-moths in the moth trap on Wednesday 4th June at the country park. Although it is quite a common and widespread moth, it is one of the most colourful and striking moths to grace the trap.

The picture below shows the moth at rest side-on with its shocking pink coloured body and underwings. The moth gets its name from its large grey caterpillar which swells its front end out when threatened and appearing like an elephant's head.

The other striking moth resting inside the trap was a cream-spot tiger with its bold creamy spots on black wings. Underneath these forewings are the tiger-coloured hindwings and the bright red body. A photo of one of these moths was posted earlier on 23rd May.

About 50 moths of 18 species were found in the trap, these included the shark, white-point, small square-spot, light emerald, heart and dart, sandy carpet and lots of marbled minors.

Two moth traps were set up on Wednesday evening at the park for Renee Hockley-Byam to record the goings-on for the local radio BBC Essex, to help publicise the forthcoming national moth night on the 7th June.

As the traps were being set up at dusk the nightingale was singing loudly across the empty car park and the reeling song of the nearby grasshopper warbler became clearer to hear after it became dark. A couple of pipistrelle bats were seen swooping low over the area near the traps just after dusk.

More elephants and tigers were out in force in the first three hours of darkness with 3 elephant hawks and at least 7 cream-spot tigers - a good showing. The most notable moth found was the nationally scarce water ermine which was first recorded here last summer. Other ones to catch the eye were the peppered moth, green silver lines, figure of eighty and pale tussock.

Earlier in the day, ten sand martins were flying around the sandy cliff, a little egret flew over the park and a whimbrel called from the mudflats. In the early evening a male peregrine was seen flying along the beach by Steve Entwistle.

An adder was reported basking in the afternoon sunshine in the usual place at the park.

Monday, 2 June 2008


It has been a very dull Monday 2nd with lots of rain during the second half of the day. One of the few bright spots on the walk along the Strood seawall was this clump of poppies flourishing on a heap of soil dumped about three years ago by the Environment Agency.

Before setting out for the walk, the distinctive high pitched song of a firecrest was heard from our garden in Firs Chase. The bird was first seen and heard yesterday in a thick cherry plum bush, underneath a tall cedar tree. Luckily the small bird was easy to locate and to track as it moved around amongst the foliage, as it sang reasonably often. The bird was watched for about fifteen minutes before it headed west along Firs Chase into some nearby gardens.

It didn't take long to find the firecrest again this morning, tracking it down by the song. At one point the tiny bird came so close I could almost have reached out to touch it! I certainly didn't need to use my binoculars as it was too close! It flitted from branch to branch in an old holly bush, singing its quick zee-zee-zee song as it went. Stopping to scratch its head, it flashed the bright orange stripe on its head in my direction - a real "fire-crest".

Most firecrests seen on Mersea are passage migrants during the early spring months of March and April. This one is unusual for June as this is when they should be busy breeding, so it will be interesting to see if likes this area and stays around.

The local Firs Chase great spotted woodpeckers have bred successfully with one youngster seen flying onto a tree, sporting the characteristic red cap of young birds.

The high tide along the Strood Channel meant there was no mud on show but the gulls and terns were busy feeding. Small numbers of both little and common terns were diving into the water to feed. The usual mix of herring, lesser black-backed and black-headed gulls were dotted along the Channel, some resting on the adjacent saltmarshes.
As the tide started to ebb, two little egrets joined the gulls to feed beside the brushwood breakwaters, hoping to pick up one or two trapped fish fry.

The dull conditions suppressed the bird activity although 3 corn buntings sang along with 3 reed warblers and a sedge warbler. Over the fields a kestrel hovered and there was a mixed feeding group of swallows, swifts and house martins swooping low along the seawall. A bright male yellow wagtail danced across some floating algae on the dyke as it chased after some insects.