Tuesday, 30 January 2007


Monday 29th was another of those calm bright winter days and the sunshine made viewing nice and clear along the Pyefleet Channel on the north side of the Island. Tide was out and plenty of mud on show but most of the birds were on the opposite side.

In fact the mixure of 200 teal, 100 wigeon and 500 lapwing / golden plovers close to the water's edge all clustered in a long line, made it look as if they had just been washed in with the last high tide. In amongst this group 6 pintail were picked out with the males showing off their bright creamy chests. Pintail are seen in very small numbers each mid winter along the Pyefleet but are generally quite scarce here.

A group of 16 Canada geese is not that unusual but there was a strange looking goose with them that at first looked like a bar headed goose. A very pale greyish goose with a bright orange bill and a band of brown on the head was enough of a weird combination to suggest a hybrid between a greylag and a Canada. Very odd and only worth a cursory glance.

Always good to see marsh harriers flying around and wherever you look, another pops into view. Four birds were seen over different parts of the Langenhoe marshes with two sitting on top of some bushes.

Grabbing the attention again was a peregrine seen flying in a very determined manner and looking as if it meant business. I watched it hurtle across Langenhoe towards the East Mersea Oyster Fishery Building, climbing higher and higher as if readying itself for one great big stoop. The lapwings not wanting to be caught below it also climbed to a great height of probably 1000 feet. However the peregrine turned north and rapidly headed up the Colne where I soon lost it as a tiny speck.

As the day drew to a close a pair of barn owls headed into the country park for a night-time's hunting session, seen by David Nicholls while in the middle of West Mersea a male tawny owl called in the middle of the night. It has been reassuring to know that some owls are still around in the town after an absence of about 6 years.

Saturday, 27 January 2007


Sat 27th - How could you not be outside enjoying the surroundings when it's calm, sunny and peaceful. Bright blue skies reflected off the mud in the sheltered creeks. As the tide crept quietly and gradually in, only the sound of the piping redshanks brought some life to the marshes. A green sandpiper also flew out of a creek and headed to the Pyefleet Channel.

This was a return to the Maydays corner of Mersea to check out the small birds in the game cover crops. Perched on some overhead wires were 110 corn buntings which made it easy to count. A very good sized flock these days and wonderful to hear them chattering and jingling away to each other. Every so often the flock would rise into the air and if one or two flew overhead, the clear chip chip, chip calls could be heard. This corner of the field seemed to be a real magnet for the buntings and as they flew up to the tops of the bushes, it made viewing easier with the scope. Twenty yellowhammers added some colour in one area and I'm sure there were more than the 5 reed buntings that showed. In another game crop there were 50 linnets flying round and round unsure where they should settle.

The fine views from the corner at Maydays meant you could see waders and wildfowl as far as the eye could see. 200 shelduck stood out the most with their bright white plumage against the muddy background. On the army ranges of Langenhoe a barn owl was out hunting about an hour before dark whilst two marsh harriers sat up nicely on top of some bushes. A group of about 100 fieldfares could be seen in the distant trees - not a common sight this winter.
Nolly, Monty and I reluctantly headed home leaving the setting sun to cast more reflections along the watery creeks.


Friday 26th- the sun trying to shine, good clear conditions and ducks and geese out in force again on the Cudmore Grove grazing fields. Around 500 brent joined forces with 400 wigeon to crop the grass. Beaks to the ground, they all seemed determined to strip the fields of every last blade of grass. Something spooked all the birds and there was the fantastic sight and sound of both flocks rising up together but going their seperate ways. The deafening sound of the brronking calls of the brent geese mixing with the whistling wigeon - this is what makes a visit to the Essex marshes so memorable.

Scanning the river Colne showed up a handful of great crested grebes, one or two of them already displaying their "great -crests". However the brief scan proved fruitful with the sight of a black-throated diver popping up every so often from the depths of the murky Colne. Despite it being several hundred metres away, the white flash on its rear flank showed up well enough to tell it apart from the more usual red-throated diver.

The incoming tide forced small groups of waders closer in and only a group of about a dozen knot were of real note. Closer to home a rock pipit rose up from the saltings to fly further along and the ubiquitous little egret flashed its snow white wings as it headed away.

Thursday, 25 January 2007


Wonderful sunny Sunday 21st brought out the birds and the birdwatchers. Alan Williams the professional bird photographer was making the most of the bright conditions with his mammoth 17 megapixel Canon. You can compare his photos on his website with my humble one above of the sanderling and turnstones taken with my shaky compact.

Around 12 sanderling scuttled along the tideline on the Point with 50 turnstone, providing very obliging views. Every so often the flock would take to the air before settling further along the beach. Despite it being a nice winters' day, there was little disturbance from walkers.
As the tide started to cover the mud, small flocks of knot, grey plover, dunlin and a few bar-tailed godwit flew past the Point on the way to their roosts.

Thousands of waders were already gathered on Langenhoe Point until the sight of a peregrine started bearing down on them. The bird hurtled over from the Pyefleet leaving chaos in its wake and causing havoc in front of it. The route of the bird could be traced by the ripple effect of the panicking flocks. Both Alan and I marvelled even at a distance, of the eye-catching display of the wader flocks twisting and turning, flashing the white underparts in unison and all carried out in split second synchronisation.

Much closer to admire were the regular pair of stonechats flitting between sea-blite bushes. In the grazing fields there were probably about 2000 waders and wildfowl, almost wall to wall birds and everyday there is something different to catch the eye. In amongst the 600 wigeon and 700 dark-bellied brent geese were 2 pale-bellied brent all joining in the great grass graze. Around 200 black-tailed godwits have continued to enjoy the feast of worms that have become easier to get with the fields being so waterlogged.
For a change 10 snipe finally revealed themselves but only because the sunshine showed up their bright golden stripes along the back as they hid well in amongstsome clumps of dead rushes.

Friday, 19 January 2007


Contrasting weather with the gale force winds and driving rain of yesterday being replaced by warm sunshine and a slight breeze. It shouldn't have been that surprising to have seen a red admiral basking on an old concrete pillbox at Cudmore Grove today the 19th. A splash of colour to brighten up the day even more. Where did it hide yesterday in all that nasty weather?

The grazing fields are saturated with rain-water which is great news for the ducks and those waders with long legs. The best sight was a large flock of about 350 black-tailed godwits probing and jabbing their long bills into the soft ground. Some were amongst the brent geese and the wigeon whilst others kept to themselves in a large group.
When something spooked this lot into the air, the flock flickered into the air. The bright white wing bars and clear white underneaths flashed rapidly as the birds chopped and changed direction as they decided where to go. In the end they dropped back down and carried on feeding.

Also in the wet fields were 150 dunlin, 10 redshank, 50 curlew and a few turnstone and as this was at high tide, this meant it was extra feeding time. For the birds they can still feed on worms, it's just that these ones don't taste of salt!

Having a great time feeding right above the high tide on the beach were a pair of stonechats. Perching on top of some straggly sea-blite bushes, the birds performed their little sallies, darting out to catch flies, before returning to the same look-out twig.


Bright winter sunshine on the 15th, perfect for a five mile walk on the north side of Mersea. Tide was out in the Pyefleet Channel so plenty of mud for the waders to spread themselves apart from each other. Even those mud lovers the shelduck appeared to be much more obvious or was it just because the large white flashes on the body reflected the bright sunshine.

Dotted along the channel several small groups of red-breasted mergansers doing various group activities that either involved synchronised diving, or lots of boisterous displaying by the males. Seems very comical watching the males jerk their head down whilst their sharp razor-bill points skywards.

Striding along the seawall I glanced at the channel to find I was being stared at by a common seal about 50 metres away. Its grey head looked rather mottled and after a while it dipped under and swam past. Further along another couple of seals also headed down-channel, one individual showing a much browner head this time.

Common seals
are present all year round and in recent years have had young along the Pyefleet. One of the areas where they have had young is by the Maydays saltmarsh. A very remote and undisturbed bit of coast, it's ideal for some peace and quiet. On some days the seals bask on the mud here at low-tide.

Along the edge of the fields here are some game cover strips that have been deliberately sown for wild birds as well as game. It was certainly worth the long trek to look for small birds. However it proved frustating seeing lots of finches and buntings fly out of the field and into the bright sunshine. About 150 birds were seen with over 50 chaffinch but what took my eye about 200m away were about 50 large chunky brown birds that could only have been corn buntings.
Elsewhere a pair of stonechats fed along the edge of the winter stubble and over by a thick hedge 3 song thrushes, a yellowhammer and some goldfinches flew around. There was the unusual sight for this middle part of the day of two foxes out on the prowl together in the middle of one of the fields.

For most of the walk there had been up to 5 marsh harriers quartering the army ranges of Langenhoe - a sight that has become very common now. However the best was being saved for last when a peregrine was seen playfully mobbing a male and female marsh harrier about 300 metres away on the nearby Reeveshall marsh. The birds tussled with each other in the air with the peregrine trying to wind up the bigger birds. After a while it gave up and sat on the ground and that's where I left it as I headed home.

Thursday, 18 January 2007


The grazing fields by Cudmore Grove were teeming with wildfowl on the 12th January. The sight of around 800 brent geese nibbling their way into every corner of the field is a memorable sight. It's fast and furious feeding for the geese and they never seem to let up. In the adjoining field a large flock of 500 wigeon were also gobbling up the grass at a rapid rate. It was like a competition to see who could eat the most grass. The wigeon probably had the more enjoyable time as they got to splash around in some of the flooded pools.

At the back of the fields a grey heron with its fearsome looking orange bill stalked the ditch for a possible meal and nearby 100 teal rested by a large pool. In the middle of the field a noisy flock of 150 starlings fed excitedly as always and eager to keep on the move too.


The mud along the Strood Channel has always got plenty of waders and wildfowl to watch. This is the channel that fills up at high tide and on several occasions each month, rises high enough to cover the only road onto Mersea Island. It was typically grey, overcast and breezy on Saturday 13th January. In these dull conditions, little brown waders become masters of camouflage out on the mud.

Only when a loud goose-scaring bang from a nearby field shattered the airwaves, were you suddenly able to see where all the birds were hiding. A loud flock of 1500 brent geese exploded into the air with most soon settling into a nearby channel. Elsewhere 100 wigeon, 100 teal and 50 shelduck were also seen taking to the air. About 500 redshank and 500 dunlin were the most numerous waders with both species dispersed along the length of the channel. Fifty knot were seen amongst a group of dunlin and their silvery grey plumage seemed to sum up the day.

Four red-breasted mergansers flew out of the Ray Channel heading out to sea. Other than the regular group of ten dabchicks, little else on the water.

The only small birds of note were 4 linnets feeding on the side of the seawall and a rock pipit rising up from the saltings with its distinctive call.

Wednesday, 17 January 2007


Dull, big grey sky, chilly breeze and a sea that got choppier as the day wore on. Wrapped up warm and the sight of wintering waders and wildfowl soon warmed the spirits up. 15 hardy souls headed out from the park, along the seawall to the Oyster Fishery on the north side of the Island.

Several times huge flocks of 500 lapwing and 1000 golden plover rose into the air, climbing high, circling round before gliding back down. The goldie-flocks seem to find it hard to settle in one place for long. Passing like wisps of smoke, they regularly passed overhead, heading to newer pastures elsewhere in the Colne estuary. Maybe there was a peregrine around but we couldn't find it.

In the river a handful of red-breasted mergansers were watched with some of the spiky crests on the heads of the males looking as if they had the hair gel treatment. Brief glimpses were had of two distant common seals also in the river.
Ten yellowhammers added a splash of real colour to some bushes with the yellow heads of the males easily spotted amongst the bare branches.

Patrolling the large lagoon at Langenhoe Point on the opposite side of the Pyefleet Channel were up to 5 marsh harriers. Wonderful sight to see these large raptors hawking over the marshes. One seemed to swoop down and snatch at a bird which may have been a teal.

In the country park fields 300 wigeon woddled across the pasture, grazing as they went. The fields have filled up recently with recent rains and even the waders were coming into feed. On the pond there was a good count of 24 gadwall - a very grey bird for a very grey day!


What better way to start the New Year off than going for a good beach walk in the bright winter sunshine. My wife Nolly, Monty the JR and I started at the very busy Cudmore Grove CP. Our two mile walk along the south side of Mersea Island felt like summer with the weather and everyone else striding out too.

It was perfect timing for wader-watching as there were all sorts of flocks arriving to feed as the tide receded. Twelve species were noted ranging in size from the large curlews to the silvery looking tiny sanderlings. The mudflats really seemed to be alive with activity and bird-calls. The sun showed up all the frantic feeding that was going on with each species identifiable by unique and subtle signs.
Plenty of obvious dunlin, redshank and turnstone but careful scanning revealed 10 bar-tailed godwits and 5 knot.
As the tide edged further out, so did the waders and the many groups of birds dispersed widely over the huge expanse.

A large raft of 300 wigeon bobbed about on the sea offshore from the park. They were probably recovering from the mad dash to the sanctuary of the sea after a peregrine was reported flashing over the fields earlier in the day.
Four little egrets added a touch of elegance on our walk, two stonechats perched on fence-posts near the Youth Camp, but a female common scoter amongst the boats off West Mersea hard was an unexpected find.