Friday, 27 February 2009


Managed to catch up with the first adders at the country park on Thursday 26th, five days after the first one was noted after their hibernation. Two adders were out basking in their usual area, resting on the bare soil amongst the bramble bushes and rabbit holes. Their emergence in this last week of February has been a regular occurrence in recent years, even if there's still a few more wintry showers to be had.

Other than the pleasure of welcoming back the adders after 4 months absence, the other excitement was having a red kite fly over the car as I was driving to West Mersea today Friday. Whilst driving along the East Mersea road near Bocking Hall farm, a large bird of prey was flying slowly over the field with big deep wingbeats being pursued by a carrion crow. The bird looked like the commoner marsh harriers, except this bird had the long distinctive forked tail which it was twisting, to help steer it in flight.

I was able to stop the car and enjoy the sight of this majestic bird gliding over the road, right above the car. A wonderful view of this big raptor passing only about 100 feet above, it headed south-west towards Chapmans Lane and on to West Mersea at about 3.45pm. I noticed another couple in a car had also pulled up to watch the kite fly past and we both shared the enjoyment of this rare sight for the Island.

There have been a couple of sightings of red kites close to the Island in the last couple of days with one just to the north at Fingringhoe and another to the west of the Island over Old Hall Marshes. There are often sightings of red kites passing through north Essex in early spring with one or two in recent years over Mersea.

Other birds of interest seen just to the north of the Island in the last couple of days include more sightings of the spoonbill on the Geedon Saltings and an interesting count of 5 common buzzards close to the Langenhoehall marshes.

Birds of note on the Island in recent days have been a grey wagtail passing south-west over the park on Thursday, a scarce winter record. Also 5 snow buntings seen on the beach close to the park on Tuesday and Thursday, while on the park pond there were 4 pochard and 4 tufted duck. Andy Field did well to find 4 ruff along the Pyefleet on Tuesday, surprisingly the first records this winter on the Island. Michael Thorley saw the adult winter Mediterranean gull on the beach by Kingsland Road at West Mersea on Thursday.

This strange item on the wall of the bungalow at the park looks like a bird dropping. Closer examination revealed it to be one of the virtually wingless female dotted border moths. Several other moth species found in the winter, have females that are flightless without any wings or have stumps as wings. The males have the normal wings and have to fly around searching out the flightless females.

Monday, 23 February 2009


Spent a short session by the Hard at West Mersea where some fish were just being unloaded off a boat in the early afternoon of Monday 22nd. Not surprisingly a group of gulls circled noisily around with herring gulls, common gulls and black-headed gulls all looking out for fish scraps.

I was joined by Bruce Brown and together we scanned the Quarters for some birds. We were able to enjoy close views just in front of us, of a common seal swimming near the jetty, no doubt after some scraps, as was a shag seen perched on a buoy only 30 metres away from the end of the jetty. A female eider was seen amongst the far boats as were 6 red-breasted mergansers and 10 little grebes. The usual waders included turnstone, redshank, curlew, dunlin, oystercatcher and lots of lapwing on Packing Shed Island. In the distance over Old Hall Marshes were at least 4 marsh harriers flying around.

Glyn Evans reported seeing 2 great northern divers off the West Mersea Esplanade, while at East Mersea there were 6 snow buntings, red-throated diver, Slavonian grebe and a barn owl seen from the park. Along the Pyefleet a common buzzard was seen again on Langenhoe. Bruce saw one short-eared owl on his visit to the marshes near Coopers Beach.

Sunday, 22 February 2009


Joined Martin Cock and Andy Field here on the seawall near Shop Lane in East Mersea at the end of Sunday 22nd to look for the spoonbill that has been seen in recent days to the north of the Island. The bird has been frequenting the Geedons Saltings in front of the Fingringhoe Nature Reserve and for the three of us with our telescopes, we were determined to add the spoonbill to our island bird list.

After much scanning of distant saltmarshes and guidance by mobile phone from Steve and Glyn viewing from the hide at Fingringhoe, Martin and I managed to watch the spoonbill fly a short distance before it disappeared out of sight. Around 5pm the three of us watched what appeared to be the spoonbill flying with its long outstretched neck, up to the Nature Reserve where it landed in a tree. Twenty minutes later there was a much closer and better side-on view of the spoonbill flying onto the lagoon on the Langenhoe ranges, just opposite the Island, presumably to roost for the night.

During our hour and a half spent on the seawall we noted on Langenhoe peregrine, 2 hen harriers, about 10 marsh harriers, barn owl and 10 little egrets. Beside the river Colne a big flock of 2000 brent geese flew noisily off the fields at dusk. Along the Pyefleet 4 red-breasted mergansers were seen flying past. At least four yellowhammers gathered to roost in bushes along the ditchline near the Shop Lane seawall.

Andy had reported that his morning visit onto Langenhoe with Richard Hull and Richard Brown had not only yielded views of the spoonbill but also 2 common buzzards, peregrine, hen harrier, 9 marsh harriers and a count of 35 red-breasted mergansers.

There is always a nice display in early spring of the snowdrops and winter aconites in the East Mersea church-yard. After parking the car near here I headed to the Coopers Beach seawall and enjoyed views of one close short-eared owl and a distant second bird. Also noted were 400 brent geese feeding in the fields, 30 curlew, 4 displaying lapwing, 2 green woodpeckers and a singing mistle thrush.
Out at sea there were 300 great crested grebes, small group of 4 Slavonian grebes and 7 eider.

Around the Mersea Quarters in the morning, seen here from the beach near St Peters, great northern diver, 7 eider ( the presumed same group seen off Coopers Beach), 11 pintail, 12 little grebes and a red breasted merganser. Flying over the marshes opposite were a big flock of 2000 golden plover as well as 4 marsh harriers. Many of the regular birds seen in the area included curlew, oystercatcher, redshank, dunlin, turnstone, 40 ringed plover, 3 sanderling, grey plover, brent geese, wigeon, cormorant lots of lapwing and also lots of herring gulls and great black-backed gulls. A rock pipit flew over St Peters marsh calling.

From the beach by Kingsland Road there were 2 adult winter Mediterranean gulls sitting on the water at the high tide. At times they took off and flew with the other gulls over neighbouring gardens, their all-white wings making them easy to spot. Also 2 more great northern divers seen from here.

Thanks to Steve Entwistle who pointed me in the direction of these Med gulls, I was able to chalk up 100 different bird-species on the Island since the turn of the year. Martin joined the "century-club" at the end of the day too with his spoonbill sighting, while Andy ended the day close-by on two short of the ton. The year race continues!

Martin noted 6 snow buntings at East Mersea Point as well as a pair of pochard on the park pond, while David Nicholls saw the adder again in the usual spot at the park.

Saturday, 21 February 2009


The sun had shone for most of the day during Saturday 21st, finishing off with this view at the Reeveshall pool at dusk. The warmth of the day enticed a few species out of hibernation including the first adder at the country park seen by David Nicholls and then at the end of the day there were at least 3 pipistrelle bats hawking along Shop Lane in East Mersea as darkness fell.
Birds on this Reeveshall pool included grey heron, 2 little egrets, pair of mute swans, 2 tufted ducks, some teal, shelduck and mallard.

There was plenty of mud on show along the Pyefleet Channel with some of it reflecting the pink hue of the sky above just after the sun set. Scanning the Langenhoe ranges to the north of the Island, the marsh harriers headed to the Point for their roost with at least 6 birds seen. Two other marsh harriers were also seen late on over Reeveshall including a male bird.

A common buzzard perched on a bush for a while before flying low over the marshes. Two barn owls were out hunting just before sunset on the ranges with another bird seen hunting over Maydays farmland. A fourth barn owl was seen earlier, surprisingly at 3pm over the rough grass field at the south end of ShopLane. Kestrels on both Reeveshall and Langenhoe were also noted.

Along the middle section of the Pyefleet there were 300 dunlin, 100 redshank, 50 black-tailed godwits, 20 knot, 200 lapwing and a few curlew, grey plover, turnstone, oystercatcher and golden plover.

The wildfowl seen along the Channel included 12 red-breasted mergansers, 300 shelduck, 100 wigeon as well as a pair of pintail over Langenhoe. There were the usual small flocks of brent geese flying around although none seen feeding on nearby fields. Also a few of the regular noisy greylag geese were always to be heard.

Also seen were a common seal in the Pyefleet, 2 brown hares and a stonechat on Reeveshall.

Despite lots of scanning of the distant Geedon Saltings to the north of Langenhoe, there was no sign of the spoonbill that had been seen at the beginning of the day.

Earlier in the day 3 marsh harriers and a sparrowhawk were seen briefly soaring together high over Firs Chase at West Mersea.

Friday, 20 February 2009


A bright and sunny late morning walk along the Strood seawall on Friday 20th, provided views of the familiar waders and wildfowl as the tide receded. The most noticeable birds were the 500 noisy brent geese swimming in the Strood Channel, waiting to return to the nearby winter wheat fields. There were also wigeon, teal and a few shelduck, some on the edge of the saltings as well as on the mud too.

Several species of wader included 200 dunlin, 200 redshank and 200 lapwing being the most numerous while a few black-tailed godwits and some knot were also noted. Despite the fields still being very wet, the only waders seen here were 10 curlew.

The only small birds seen along the walk were singles of goldfinch, linnet, 3 reed bunting and a handful of skylarks with a few singing too.

In front of the jetty at the West Mersea Hard, there was the regular common seal swimming only about 20 metres away. Also in the Mersea Quarters were 12 little grebes but little else in the water.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009


The milder evening on Tuesday 17th saw the first few common toads of the spring making their way along the Firs Chase road in West Mersea to their breeding pond. The temperature recorded in the car as I drove along dodging the toads, was about 9 degrees which is the mildest evening temperature for some weeks. This toad pictured above was waiting in a drive-way, plucking up the courage to cross the road, to the nearby pond.

Not much to report from the country park for Tuesday other than the drake pochard was still present on the pond for the second day. Ten snow buntings were reported as being present at the Point.

On Monday Jeff Delve and Nick Green noted that 400 cormorants streaming up river was an impressive sight (presumably the Blackwater river). Also from the park 100 great crested grebes to add to another 200 seen off West Mersea, where there were also 3 Slavonian grebes, 6 eider and 2 pairs of red-breasted mergansers at the latter site. On the way to seeing a short-eared owl hunting over the Rewsalls marshes, 535 fieldfares were seen in a field.

Martin Cock also looked offshore on Monday from the Esplanade and noted great northern diver, Slavonian grebe and 2 eider on Monday. His walk along the Pyefleet provided views of peregrine, 2 marsh harriers, 200 golden plover, goldeneye and 2 corn buntings.

On Sunday from the country park a peregrine was seen perched on the low post on the Geedons saltings, a good distance of a mile to the north up the Colne estuary. Over nearby Langenhoe a well marked male marsh harrier flew low over the reedbed as did a female marsh harrier. A ringtail hen harrier provided a nice view as it crossed the Pyefleet towards the Oyster Fishery, being mobbed by crows when it arrived. A brief view of a grey dashing falcon may have been a male merlin, seen heading away from the park grazing fields. Late in the day a dark female merlin was seen flying fast out at sea, as it headed west.

In the Colne the calm conditions provided clear views of 30 red-breasted mergansers, 3 goldeneye and 22 pintail as well as a common seal. There were just 6 snow buntings at the Point on Sunday while at the pond a water rail called and 10 tufted ducks were seen.

Saturday, 14 February 2009


For a change there was no wind on the frosty start to Saturday 14th with the river Colne as flat as a mill-pond. The tall yellow bases of the wind turbines awaiting installation offshore, dominate the scene from East Mersea Point. For the third day running there was the obliging group of 7 snow buntings feeding on the beach at the Point.

The calm conditions provided good views up the Colne in the morning but only 10 red-breasted mergansers, 2 great crested grebes plus hundreds of brent and shelduck dotted along the river's eastern edge. However Andy Field did well in the afternoon to pick out a distant female long-tailed duck drifting out of the river.

The freezing temperature during the night had frozen the seawater when it came in on the high tide. As a result this normally muddy creek near the Point was coated in a thin layer of ice as seen in the picture above.

There weren't many waders or wildfowl in the frosty grazing fields early in the morning although 5 snipe were seen. High up over the fields there was the interesting sight of a male marsh harrier displaying in a very floppy and erratic flight, with its high pitched calls as it drifted south from the direction of Langenhoe. Later in the afternoon, hundreds of the waders and wildfowl were spooked off as a peregrine hurtled low across the fields, before heading west along the beach. The main wader flock in the fields were the 150 black-tailed godwits, although a group of 500 golden plover passed overhead.

On the park pond 44 shoveler was another good count, while in the arable field to the west of the car park were 5 red-legged partridges.

The last hour of the day was spent with Andy on the Reeveshall seawall where the tide was just starting to uncover the Pyefleet mud. There was a good concentration of waders with dunlin, knot, redshank, bar-tailed godwit, black-tailed godwit and grey plover the main birds. In the Pyefleet 2 pairs of red-breasted mergansers were the only duck of note.

On Langenhoe there was another good harrier show with 11 marsh harriers and the ringtail hen harrier all flying around or perching on the top of the seawall before they dropped into the reedbed for the night. A distant barn owl hunted over the Langenhoe area late-on too.

On Reeveshall 500 brent geese left it till almost dark before leaving the grass field for the Pyefleet Channel. Four little egrets flew to the nearby wood for the night and 3 Canada geese and 10 greylag geese arrived on Reeveshall at dusk.

Dave Ladbrook saw 2 short-eared owls and a peregrine near Coopers Beach and also 700 great crested grebes offshore on Saturday afternoon.

The last hour of Friday was also spent along the Reeveshall seawall and I was very interested in the large flock of 500 teal feeding along the flooded ditch beside the seawall, pictured above. The late appearance of a peregrine sent all the waders into panic and one poor grey plover was chased back and forwards across the Pyefleet trying desperately to avoid being caught. The birds disappeared out of view so the outcome of the chase is unknown.

Also on Friday a barn owl hunted over the fields at Maydays and on Langenhoe the ringtail hen harrier joined 5 marsh harriers for the roost. Thirty grey lag geese arrived noisily at dusk and 10 avocets fed close in. Five brown hares started to come to life at dusk in the big grass fields.

Earlier on Friday at the park there was the unusual sight of 24 white-fronted geese flying north over the park, towards the Pyefleet. A male merlin flashed low over the grazing fields scattering all the birds, then it perched in a tree for five minutes before flying rapidly to the north.

The tawny owl was seen again at nightfall perched on a low tree just inside the entrance on Thursday evening.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009


The grazing fields at the park pictured above on Wednesday 11th, are the wettest they've ever been following recent rains and melting snow. The area isn't used to having a month's worth of rain dumped in 24 hours, as happened during Monday. The dyke inside the seawall as shown above, has risen up and flooded the grass path alongside and is nearly up to the same level as the fields. The water here was a bit higher yesterday but today it has already started to drop, flowing out of the seawall sluice.

There was a good variety of waders on the fields during the high tide with 11 species present - 170 black-tailed godwits, 50 lapwing, 70 curlew, 50 dunlin, 40 redshank, 10 turnstone, 5 ringed plover, golden plover, 2 snipe, grey plover and the unsual sight on the fields of a single knot.

Various wildfowl included 300 wigeon with a similar amount also offshore at high tide, 70 teal, 22 gadwall, 25 shoveler, 50 mallard, 22 gadwall and 3 tufted duck. Even the pair of mute swans enjoyed swimming across the fields.

Other birds in the fields included 70 starling, 25 goldfinches, 3 stock doves, 2 reed buntings and a small group of meadow pipits and skylarks.

In the park the male sparrowhawk perched up near the car park. At the end of the day there was a close view of the resident tawny owl seen in the car headlights, sitting on a low tree just inside the park entrance.
Earlier in the morning 3 red-legged partridges were seen in a field opposite the Dog and Pheasant pub, a species that has been surprisingly elusive in recent weeks.

At Coopers Beach on Wednesday one short-eared owl was seen flying over the Rewsalls marshes and a huge flock of 500 - 700 great crested grebes reported by Dave Ladbrook. Tim Mendham also visited Coopers Beach the day before and saw a short-eared owl and a barn owl. At West Mersea he saw a black-throated diver, at least 2 great northern divers, red-throated diver and several eider and 100 great crested grebes.


Waited for the rain to stop on Monday 9th but it kept falling and the walk at the end of the day along the seawall near Shop Lane in East Mersea was a very wet walk. The cold breeze tried to put a dampner on the walk but as always a nice selection of birds in the last hour of the day made the walk worthwhile.

Many pools of water lie in the fields as in the picture above. There was an interesting selection of waders in this grass field with 300 golden plover, 50 black-tailed godwits, 50 lapwing, 20 redshank and a grey plover. On the nearby Reeveshall pool 6 pintail was an interesting sight amongst the 70 teal, 10 shoveler, 10 mallard, snipe and a pair of greylag geese.

Two marsh harriers were seen quartering the Reeveshall reedbed while over on Langenhoe there was the now regular sight of the ringtail hen harrier joining the 3 marsh harriers for the evening roost. Thirty jackdaws and 100 rooks flew off Reeveshall as they headed north to roost.

The only waders of any note seen along the Pyefleet on the short walk, were 10 avocets that arrived from the Colne. They joined what seemed to be mainly redshank feeding on the mud.
A male red-breasted merganser flew out of the Pyefleet heading east.

It was a very soggy walk across the field by the Shop Lane wood pictured above. At the end of the day a little egret flew into the trees to roost and 4 yellowhammers were settling down along the hedgeline. A brown hare sprinted away to the far side of the field.

There was a report of 2 short-eared owls seen on the Rewsalls marshes by Coopers Beach on the Monday. Andy Field managed to see 2 great northern divers, 6 red-breasted mergansers at West Mersea as well as a common seal close to the end of the jetty at the Hard.

Monday, 9 February 2009


It was still chilly on Saturday 7th but at least the sun was out, which helped make it an enjoyable mid-day walk at Maydays Farm. Pictured above is the view at the Maydays seawall corner where there was a great view of a common seal basking on the saltmarsh. Around the farm buildings were a small group of chaffinches and yellowhammers which dived into the hedge as a sparrowhawk glided overhead. A kestrel was also seen perched up on some overhead wires.

Whilst walking along the seawall a common buzzard flew away as if it had been perching on a nearby fencepost. The bird seemed to settle below the seawall but a short while later either this bird or a second common buzzard was seen circling with three marsh harriers over Langenhoe on the mainland. The harriers were enjoying the sunny weather with the male harrier doing some early season breeding display, climbing sharply into the air several times and then stooping back down in a rollercoaster fashion.

Just to the west of the army ranges a peregrine was seen hurtling into a group of wood pigeons that had been feeding on the rape crop. The peregrine singled out one pigeon and stooped rapidly down on it but without any success in catching it.

There was plenty of activity on the Maydays and Reeveshall marshes with 700 golden plover, 500 lapwing, 500 wood pigeon, 300 starling, 50 black-tailed godwit, 25 redshank, 10 grey plover as well as 400 brent geese. In one of the stubble fields was a group of 20 linnets and along the seawall were 5 meadow pipits.

There was the usual selection of waders and wildfowl feeding along the Pyefleet Channel as the tide uncovered most of the mud. Along the edge were good numbers of shelduck and wigeon while dunlin seemed to be feeding in big concentrations.

At the end of the walk I was joined by Martin Cock and we immediately enjoyed a distant flypast of a ringtail hen harrier heading east along the Maydays seawall. After the first winter period pre-Xmas without any hen harrier sightings, it now appears since mid January as if at least one bird is roosting on Langenhoe judging by the number of recent sightings. At least two marsh harriers were seen flying over the same area hunting low along the Reeveshall /Maydays ditches.

It had been a very satisfying birdwatching walk with the good tally of six species of bird of prey in just two hours. It is rare to see this number of raptors on just one walk here on the Island. Listing them again - sparrowhawk, kestrel, common buzzard, marsh harrier, peregrine and hen harrier. Maybe next time I shall catch up with the elusive merlin!

Driving back to West Mersea 15 fieldfares were seen feeding in a horse paddock at Chapmans Lane. Andy Field saw offshore from West Mersea great northern diver, 3 Slavonian grebes, 7 eider, 12 red-breasted mergansers and also by St Peters 3 rock pipits.

Friday, 6 February 2009


Met up with Andy Field along the Reeveshall seawall on Friday 6th on a day when the wind appeared to get fresher and colder during the day. Instead of the snow that fell in many other parts of the country during the night, there was just more rain fell on Mersea, lying on top of ground already waterlogged.

There appeared to be plenty of bird activity on the Reeveshall and Maydays fields, maybe this was due to fields being wet. Andy braved the biting cold wind and spent the whole afternoon along the seawall here. The highlight being a ringtail hen harrier flying over the fields and disturbing the thousands of birds. A second view of a ringtail later on Langenhoe could've been the same bird, or maybe a second individual. At least 2 marsh harriers a male and a female, were also flying over the fields.

The fields had the highest number of birds on them for several years with the most noticeable being the 1100 brent geese grazing in 2 flocks. One field held most of the waders with 2000 golden plover, 1000 dunlin, 500 lapwing, 250 black-tailed godwits as well as smaller numbers of curlew, redshank, ringed plover and a grey plover. A couple of hundred starlings mixed in with the waders and in another field 11 stock doves were noted as were the usual big flock of rooks and jackdaws. A pair of greylag geese flew onto Reeveshall during the afternoon.

On the Reeveshall pool there was a female pintail with 50 teal, 2 mute swans and 3 little egrets with 12 linnets on the saltings nearby. On the Pyefleet 2 goldeneye were seen along with a few red-breasted mergansers and little grebes.
As dusk approached Andy saw the barn owl and 8 yellowhammers near the Shop Lane wood.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009


After the snow flurries during Sunday at the country park, more snow arrived overnight and into the first part of the morning of Monday 2nd. It all looked very pretty for a few hours such as this view above of the car park, as the snow just managed to cover the ground with an average of 1 - 2 inches of snow in places.

The main part of the park pictured above had its thickest covering of snow by the late morning. By mid afternoon the snow had turned to sleet and then rain and by late evening most of the snow around the park had vanished.

During the brief walk around the park the only birds noted were several blackbirds and a couple of song thrushes feeding under the trees on the clifftop. Most of the grazing fields were deserted except for 5 snipe out in the open, 6 gadwall in a slushy pool and some of the wigeon grazing. The usual ducks such as shoveler, teal, gadwall, mallard and tufted duck were still to be seen on the park pond which remained unfrozen with a snipe feeding nearby.

It didn't seem possible while it was snowing during Monday morning, that it would all have completely disappeared by Tuesday morning the following day. The two pictures above and below are taken from the same spot 24 hours apart.

Having savoured the brief covering of snow on the Monday, it was equally nice to see the sun shining throughout Tuesday over the park. Four fieldfares flew over the car park first thing, 10 blackbirds and 2 song thrushes and a kestrel were also in the car park area.

At the Point one snow bunting was present on the beach, while 5 red-breasted mergansers flew past in the late afternoon and a little egret flew east to its evening roost. The incoming tide allowed close views of the regular waders here with lots of dunlin, redshank, knot, turnstone, ringed plover and grey plover.

On the grazing fields at least 300 wigeon fed, with a few teal, shoveler and gadwall seen feeding on one of the pools. Skulking amongst the grass tussocks were 14 snipe, also a few black-tailed godwits, redshank, curlew, 25 lapwing and 20 golden plover. Five stock doves perched in a tree to the rear of the fields. A harrier, most likely a marsh harrier, passed high over the fields heading north to the Langenhoe roost.

Martin Cock during his late afternoon visit to the Pyefleet near Shop Lane, counted 10 marsh harriers gathering over Langenhoe for the night-time roost along with the rare sight these days of a ringtail hen harrier. At dusk a woodcock flew over the small wood at the north end of Shop Lane and also here 2 little egrets roosted for the night and 10 yellowhammers roosted near here.