Tuesday, 24 July 2007


Tuesday 24th was a day to dry out and the insects like this small red-eyed damselfly, were out enjoying the sunshine. The best place to look for them was in the shelter of bushes and trees that were out of the fresh breeze.

Small red-eyed damselflies have become part of the park's wildlife in recent years. In fact it is hard to believe that prior to 1999, there was no population at all in Britain, until its first discovery in this country just opposite Mersea Island on the Dengie. Since those early arrivals from the continent, this dainty and delicate damselfly has become well established in many areas across southern England.

The normal place to see them at the park is out in the middle of the watercourses, like ponds, wide ditches and borrow-dykes, especially if there is some floating algae for the males to rest on.
The park dyke this year is lacking in algae and other floating vegetation, so there may not be the large numbers that there were three or four years ago.
Today the damselflies were having a stint away from the water and about ten were seen basking in the sun on some bushes, sheltered from the wind.

Here the male and female are paired up whilst mating and during the pairing, they fly around in tandem. This group won't have far to fly to the water to lay their eggs, as they were only about 30 metres away from the park pond.

Also out enjoying the sunshine were lots of migrant hawkers with about twelve seen in various corners of the park. They were regularly hawking along paths or behind bushes sheltered from the wind. Every so often they would take a break and rest in a bush hanging down from a branch.
This male black-tailed skimmer with its blue abdomen was busy hunting small flies over the long grass.
The sunshine brought out the usual butterflies with this female meadow brown basking in the morning sunshine. Many of the meadow browns are already looking very tatty with chunks missing from their wings. There was a brief glimpse of a purple hairstreak high up in the oaks.

The bird highlight was a hobby at the pond that put on a fabulous display of how to hunt dragonflies. I felt like I was at Wimbledon watching the tennis as I found myself repeatedly turning my head from one side to another, as the bird made numerous passes over the water. It was probably my best hobby show and certainly the first dragonfly-hunting to have happened here.

The bird appeared to be a sub-adult as it lacked the bright red trousers of the adult and the dark grey upperparts. It was generally a dark brown bird above with a distinctive white face and with a pale forehead. It was very agile at swooping low over the water and several times it snatched at a dragonfly with its talons, then rose back up into the air to pick at the insect in its feet with its beak. The swoops were carried out at break-neck speed which seemed to terrify the ducks and the ducklings and even the little egret perched in the tree seemed rather alarmed too.
After about 5 minutes of continual swooping and passing over the pond, the hobby headed east and high over the fields.

At dusk, the nightingale by the park entrance called out quietly whilst above it the first of many pipistrelle bats were already out hunting along the hedgerows. Several were seen above and along the East Mersea road as the light faded.
Also in the fading light a barn owl flew over the road near Weir Farm, heading northwards.

Monday, 23 July 2007


The juicy rowan berries in the car park of Cudmore Grove were being weighed down a bit in the early evening of Monday 23rd by lots of rain. Nothing of the scale that has inundated the west country in recent days. It may have been a wet summer here but water levels in the ditches have been falling rapidly in recent weeks.

Several rowan trees have been planted over the years around the park and the juicy berries are a real magnet for the birds during August. Several blackbirds have already started to gather beside the trees in the car park and soon the local mistle thrushes and starlings will join in the feast.

Luckily the soil in the park is sandy and free draining, so this waterlogged path was clear of water by the following morning. In fact all the large puddles in the car park had dried up by the following mid morning.

Whilst walking along this path beside the cliff-top, I heard the distinctive screeching sounds of swifts. I gazed skywards and saw a flock of about 100 birds wheeling round, screeching to each other about 200-300 feet up. I couldn't make out what direction the birds were heading but they seemed to let the wind carry them out to sea. There they drifted in the miserable conditions eastwards over the water to Point Clear. The earlier wheeling and circling by the flock above me might've been the birds plucking up courage before heading out to sea.

In the dull late evening light two of the young sparrowhawks could be seen perching beside the nest. They looked rather bedraggled as they sat still as the rain kept pouring down.

The only bright object at the park pond was the pure white outline of a little egret perched up in the weeping willow. It was all hunched up whilst surveying all the duck activity below. None of the ducks seemed bothered by the rain and the brood of tiny ruddy ducklings continued to perfect their synchronised diving as they went under for food.

Not much to see insect wise although this hedge brown was holding on tight to this grass stem. Elsewhere an Essex skipper rested on a yarrow flower and a meadow brown flew off a bush.

The very sad sight of a young rabbit is on its very last legs as it hopped along in the cold and the rain, thanks to the nasty myxomatosis virus. This virus strikes back every summer here and knocks the rabbit population for six. Rabbits are dropping dead all over the park and many of the dogs think that Xmas has come early when they realise that they can actually catch them for a change. Most years the population is knocked back by a third by late summer so the quicker it passes by, the better for everybody.

The local press came to photograph the avocet chicks for a short item in the Colchester Evening Gazette. The paper obviously agrees that these first ever Mersea avocet chicks is a bit of history. Three of the adults were present on the pool with one adult crouching over a chick to keep it warm, while two other chicks endured the cool weather themselves.

Andy Field visited Reeveshall earlier in the afternoon and saw 2 spotted redshank and 5 green sandpipiers on the pool.


Plenty of blue sky on Sunday 22nd was more than was forecast, as shown in the picture of a sea hogs fennel plant. This is a nationally rare plant that only occurs naturally in a small corner of north-east Essex and in north Kent. As part of a county biodiversity project to encourage a wider population, over 200 plants were planted earlier this year here on the park amongst the long grass and the success rate is almost 98%.

The flowering stalks have shot up on many of the plants to over a metre high in the last month and some flowers are still being swarmed over by little orange coloured soldier beetles feeding on the pollen.

The warm sunshine brought out all the usual insects to hunt and feed such as this red admiral butterfly sucking up nectar from this bramble flower with its long straw-like proboscis.
Other butterflies seen included peacock, comma, meadow brown, hedge brown, speckled wood, large white, small white and small and Essex skippers.
Several large emperor dragonflies were hawking insects over the long grass as was black-tailed skimmer while ruddy darters patrolled along paths.

The sun shone on the sand martin colony in the morning and many of the birds seemed to enjoy clinging onto the cliff-face to soak up some rays of sun. The beach started off peaceful for them but the crowds of people soon flocked to the beach in the afternoon, so the sand martins have learnt to spend a bit of time elsewhere.
Over a hundred hunted over the nearby grazing fields and many took to washing on the wing, flying low along the borrowdyke, the birds would dip themselves onto the water and then carry on flying. The split-second dip of the chest into the water would be the closest they get to a proper bath but it was enough of an eyecatching event, that even other passers-by were stopping to watch the strange behaviour.

Soaking up the sun on top of the cliff is this straggly low clump of everlasting pea. Its big showy pink flowers have been a familiar summer sight along the cliff-top here in recent years - almost everlasting in fact.

Common centaury can be found flourishing on the bare sandy soil along the base of the sandy cliff. It used to be widespread in the park twenty years ago amongst the poor grassland. Maybe the grasslands have become too thick and established with lots more scrub in recent years. The delicate pink flowers always stand out on the summer days.

Saturday, 21 July 2007


Living on an island is no barrier to foreign invaders and these alien harlequin ladybirds have been noted in large numbers in recent days by Michael Thorley in his garden alongside the East Mersea road. They are slightly larger than our common seven-spot ladybird and have a variety of colour combinations.

The harlequin is also known as the multi-coloured Asian ladybird as it is native to Asia and first arrived in the UK in 2004 in Essex. It is described as "the most invasive ladybird in the world." The first one on the Island was found nearly two years ago in the garden near the East Mersea church by Trevor Hearn.

A distant shot with my small compact camera of the avocet family near the East Mersea Point showing a chick on the right with two adults just left of centre. Checking the pools on Saturday morning, revealed three young from one pair and a single from the other. The little chicks fed continuously, sweeping their little up-turned bills from side to side as they waded through the shallow waters. The parents every so often would rise up in the air with lots of loud calling as they escorted gulls away from the airspace over the pools.

A common sandpiper flew low along the dyke and out onto the mudflats, while a bar-tailed godwit flew overhead as it changed feeding grounds. Reed warblers, linnets and meadow pipits were noted too along the seawall.

In the grassland strip between the dyke and the seawall are lots of pink clumps of the spiny rest harrow. A widespread plant especially around the Essex coast, it possess lots of sharp spines amongst the pretty pink pea flowers. Growing beside clumps of yellow slender birdsfoot trefoil provided a colourful contrast.

I wasn't expecting to see this drinker moth during the day, clutching onto a dead clover flower beside the path. If it could stay still for only another twelve hours, it will survive another day. It is quite a common large moth in the summer here and the large caterpillars are often seen too.
A six spot burnet moth was also seen flying past with a blur of its rapidly beating red wings.

The cloud and breeze restricted many of the butterflies to sheltered spots but peacocks, red admiral, meadow brown, hedge brown, skipper sps, speckled wood, small white and large white were all noted. Only ruddy darter and black-tailed skimmer and blue tailed damselfly were the only dragonflies noted.

Friday, 20 July 2007


The end to another day at East Mersea on Wed 18th with yet more exciting news on the breeding bird front to report. Local birdwatchers Martin Cock, Andy Field and Steve Entwhistle have enjoyed recent views of a pair of bearded tits amongst reeds in the dyke at Maydays Farm on the north side of the Island. A female and the male were seen flying into a dense stand of reeds, which seems to indicate that they maybe feeding young here.
It is almost 20 years ago since they last bred here following some severe winters in the late 1980's. There has been a small population on the nearby Langenhoe Marshes for the last ten years, so it has only been a matter of time that they wuld return here.

Andy was also able to report that the family of marsh harriers on Reeveshall appear to have at least three young, compared with just two young that I saw briefly last weekend.
The two pairs of avocets continue to look after their young chicks on the saltmarsh pools near East Mersea Point. Although each pair nested on separate pools, they have now all teamed up, presumably to use their collective resources to protect their four tiny youngsters.

On the mudflats at low tide, up to fifty black-tailed godwits many with ginger bellies, twenty dunlin in the distance and five little egrets stalking the mudflat rills and pools.

On the park pond a young grey heron was seen being chased off by a female mallard who was desperately trying to protect her one and only small duckling - successfully this time. Mallard numbers seem to have increased a little as the ducks go into moult with thirty noted. Also the young broods of ruddy duck and tufted duck continue to thrive.

Other birds on the park of note include the young sparrowhawks still at the nest, up to 40 sand martin holes now in the cliff by the beach, a male yellowhammer sort of singing near the hide and the occasional brief call of the nightingale in the car park.

Forty species of moth were noted at the trap on Thursday morning with these three big hawkmoths the main attraction. These are the three P's - pine hawk (left) and privet hawk above with the poplar hawk below. It was just as well that I scanned the short grass at 4.30am around the trap as the privet and poplar were resting motionless nearly ten yards from the trap, while a second pine hawk was only discovered when I went to carry the trap away.

This strikingly marked moth with lots of black spots is the suitably named leopard moth. Only one was seen last summer so this might be the only record this year here. The first ruby tiger of the summer was also seen and hopefully not the only one for the year.

Other moths noted included 3 drinkers, common emerald, 30 latticed heaths, 10 scalloped oaks, shark, dun-bar, lesser swallow prominent, 2 silver Y and buff ermine.

Two peppered moths turned up at the trap but each one showing different colour forms - the pale one and the black one. The pale form is the commonest one here at the park and if we have recorded peppered on about a dozen nights over the last two months, all have been pale ones.


This posting is the hundredth one since the beginning of the year and the sun was out on Tuesday 17th making it a nice and warm day at the country park.
Part of the park pond looking a bit empty of life in the photo. The little bit of excitement that I noticed without binoculars whilst standing here, was a brand new brood of ruddy ducklings. As the population drops elsewhere in the county it is reassuring to know that we still have one or two here to admire. Four tiny fluffy balls with sufficient energy to dive under to feed, whilst the mum kept an eager eye out for danger.

The water quality was crystal clear except for the seething mass of microscopic life that could be seen. Millions of tiny daphnia-type creatures revealed the pond to be in great health. Luckily the pond is spring fed with fresh water so water levels remain good even in dry summers.
One black-tailed skimmer dragonfly found the warmest basking spot to be on the brown hide of a resting bull!

Haven't been onto the park grazing fields above much recently as the cattle seem to be happy enough. The grass growth has been vigorous and all the other plants have done well too - including lots of thistles. Today was ragwort pulling day in the fields and with two helpers, the fields were cleared in a couple of hours, which was pleasing. The dots of white above are yarrow flowers with the yellow flowers being the very widespread smooth hawksbeard.

Lots of summer rain over the last couple of months have kept the ditches and creeks topped up with water in the grazing fields. The main ditch shows the thick reddish blanket of the water fern Azolla, covering the water surface. This alien water weed in recent years has restricted itself to this central ditch, sparing lots of the other watercourses from being suffocated.

The mute swan family were alongside one of the rush-choked ditches with all six cygnets still present. A family of five mallard ducklings were seen too on one of the small ponds. Few insects were noted as there was a reasonable breeze blowing, although lots of meadow browns were noted. The moth trap that was set on Monday night attracted 25 of these latticed heaths with their fine chequered markings. About 30 species were noted including poplar grey, lunar spotted pinion, coxcomb prominent, lychnis, dusky sallow, least carpet and the mother of pearl.

The day finished with another eyecatching sunset transforming the colour of the clouds into a variety of tints.

Monday, 16 July 2007


I've scratched my head and scanned my field guides but I can't quite place this plant that I came across on the Strood seawall on Monday 16th. Even Monty the JRT felt uneasy when he approached it, growling loudly at it. Someone has obviously thrown down the gauntlet and wanted a challenge. Or maybe it is a new user-friendly species that provides protection to admirers as this plant with the glove is actually prickly lettuce, with its sharp prickles under each leaf.

A two hour walk along the seawall, timed so that the tide was out and with a few waders to see. Using the telescope to scan the full length of Channel provided counts of about 250 redshank, 40 curlew, up to eight very vocal greenshank, one dunlin, two golden plover, 5 lapwing, ten oystercatchers and one turnstone.

While there was still some water in the Channel, a handful of noisy common terns flew in between the moorings. Four little terns also added to the noise and activity as they chased each other up the Channel. Three little egrets stalked the shallow water at various points and of course plenty of gulls feeding, resting or pacing about. Over the fields on the mainland a marsh harrier was seen flying along.

Had the luck to look up at a falcon that was just about to pass overhead when I realised it was a hobby, with its distinctive white face, bold belly streaks and reddish trousers, flying over from Ray Island. I watched it for several minutes through my 'scope as it raced over to the houses of West Mersea. It maintained the same speed and determination for at least a mile that I had watched it, without slowing down or even a quick glide. It was making for the house martins and swifts over the houses but despite locating the birds, it wasn't seen trying to catch any.
This has been the second hobby on consecutive evenings seen passing me on its way to its supper.

Usual small birds noted included 4 singing corn buntings, family of yellow wagtails, sedge warbler, several singing reed warblers, reed bunting, meadow pipit and skylark.
The set-aside corner where I had admired the butterflies and flowers on Saturday, has been mown by the farmer today, so I was lucky to take that photo of the poppies and mayweed.
Ten greenfinches were perched on the ears of wheat feasting on the ripening corn.

Sea wormwood may not deserve a second glance but it certainly has the most aromatic smell of any plant along the seawall and saltmarshes. This member of the Artemisia family has a powerful aroma which just invites you to crush a leaflet or two as you pass, just to admire the nice fragrance. The other plant providing a fragrance to sections of the walk were the large clumps of sea beet with their smell of honey.

Small heath, hedge brown and meadow browns were noted along the seawall as was a latticed heath moth.

Martin Cock saw three avocet chicks from one pair and one chick from the other pair near East Mersea Point today. Also 100 black-tailed godwits and several golden plover on the mud, while in the park the nightingale called.


I wasn't exactly alone when I went for my early evening walk along the north side of the Island on Sunday 15th, however the only conversations that these four-legged friends were engaged in, involved a lot of mooing and baaing! I did see one other human on my stroll, someone with a lot of time on his hands as he stood by his small yacht which had run aground on the Pyefleet Channel mud during the early afternoon high tide. His near twelve hour ordeal will probably last into the early hours of Monday morning, when it's high tide again.

The afternoon had been sunny and warm but it became hazy and cooler in the last two hours of the evening. It was nearly still and so all the various bird calls brought this remote Channel to life. In the deteriorating evening light, it was useful being able to locate certain species by their calls. Walking beside the saltings, the sound of the afternoon's high tide still draining off the marsh could be heard as it trickled away. As in the photo below the marsh was still saturated.
The big excitement on the walk was seeing two young marsh harrier chicks briefly in the air with the mum and dad flying nearby. The young birds are dark brown all over but with a cream coloured crown. It was a view lasting only a few seconds but occurring above the part of the reedbed where we believe the nest was located, this seems good breeding confirmation. This is the first successful breeding of marsh harriers on Mersea Island, although it has been on the cards for a few years. The neighbouring Langenhoe army ranges have had breeding harriers for about ten years now with a handful of pairs each year.
A close view of the male harrier was had earlier in the evening as it passed low over Shop Lane, hunting the grass fields near where I had parked the car.

On the Reeveshall pool, four green sandpipers, grey heron, little egret and a lone swan were the only birds of interest. Walking to the suitably named "spotted redshank stile", there were five spotted redshanks feeding in their usual part of the Pyefleet on the north side. Lots of waders could be seen on the mud right into the distance of which most seemed to be redshank. A silhouetted group of 70 black-tailed godwits could be made out against the hazy sun. Two greenshanks called out loud while one common sandpiper was seen crossing the Channel as it too called out. Five avocets gathered on the edge of the water, some having a quick snooze. Five grey plover and ten dunlin were the only other waders different from the regular curlews, oystercatchers and redshank.

In the Channel, two great crested grebes was a notable record for mid summer here as they don't breed anywhere nearby, so maybe they're a non-breeding pair or a failed pair. A couple of little terns could be heard plopping into the water as they fished.

In the large grass field two corn buntings sang to each other from the tops of thistles while along one of the reed filled ditches, a reed warbler sang lazily away and the bright male yellowhammer flitted between bushes.

At the end of the walk a hobby flashed across the Pyefleet in determined mood and as I followed it through the telescope, it was making for the evening sand martin roost. About 300 birds were gathering over Langenhoe Point and this hobby was definitely after a late night snack before bedtime. Through the fading light in the distance, the hobby made repeated attempts to chase down some of the birds without any luck.
A barn owl was seen in the distance over the Ranges and as I made my way back to the car, a couple of little owls duetted to each other.

The first part of the evening was lovely and sunny and a brief walk along a path near Shop Lane provided good views of lots of butterflies typical of hedgerows and grasslands. Virtually the same selection as yesterday except one or two large skippers were different. The large colourful peacock pictured above always steals the show though.
Black-tailed skimmer and ruddy darters were the dragonflies noted along the field edge.
Singing turtle dove and two singing yellowhammers were the birds of note here.

Earlier in the day I was rewarded with a view of the hyperactive hummingbird hawkmoth feeding on lavender flowers in the garden in Firs Chase. It spent less than 30 seconds in the garden before flying fast and high away to the neighbouring garden. Hopefully we will be treated to more views this summer as in recent years it has become a familiar sight.

Other local news comes from Andy Field and Richard Hull who visited the nearby Langenhoe Ranges and counted 5 young marsh harriers, successfully breeding stonechats, 5 greenshank and a ruff.

Saturday, 14 July 2007


On my walk to the Strood seawall on Saturday 14th early afternoon, I took a little detour along the footpath on the edge of West Mersea that encircles the Firs Chase caravan site. It should've been a detour lasting only 15 minutes but actually took me over an hour to complete. I got very engrossed in the butterflies along the route and ended up noting 12 species, which isn't a bad tally.

The hazy sunshine was also good for dragonflies and several ruddy darters such as this female pictured above, were seen. They certainly look like some alien creature if you get close enough to their face. The feature on the head that looks like a set of big head-phones are the compound eyes which help give the dragonfly ultra keen eyesight. Some of these darters would rest on a plant and then dart upwards to catch a fly before settling back down again. One or two colourful males with their dark red bodies were also seen. After a short period hunting over fields and beside hedges, these darters will return to the water to breed.
A much larger southern hawker was also seen hawking back and forwards after insects over a field.

One edge of the wheat field was not sown with any crop but deliberately left as a sort of set-aside. This has allowed patches of poppies, large daisy-type scentless mayweed, mallow, thistles, wild oats, grasses as well as lots of other field margin plants. It was a good place for insects to sunbathe or look for food, especially in the shelter of a tall hedge nearby.

There was a good variety of butterflies along the sheltered path where there were some flowering buddleia bushes. This comma with its small white "comma" mark just visible in the middle of the lower hind-wing, was one of several seen. Jostling for the same flowers and resting spots were the much more colourful peacock butterflies and one or two red admirals. Holly blue added a bit of colour and there were large whites and small whites also seen.

Lots of brown butterflies were on show both along the path and low down over the fields. This widespread butterfly is the male of the hedge brown, or gatekeeper, with its brown brand marks in the middle of the forewings. There were also lots of meadow browns flitting over the field and also feeding on the bramble flowers. Speckled woods are also a common feature along hedgerows now and one or two were noted.

The smallest of the butterflies here are the skippers and this Essex skipper shows the black on the tip and under the tip of the antennae, which separates it from its cousin the small skipper. I didn't get down on my knees to check all the skippers antennae that I saw, but it is quite common to see both skippers in the same grassy areas. Essex skippers were first identified as a separate species nearly 120 years ago here in this county of Essex and they can be found in many south-east counties of England. One small copper caught my eye low down in the grass near the seawall as did a fleeting glimpse of the small heath.

The jangling song of a corn bunting carried over the fields as it perched on some telegraph wires. The large house sparrow flock of at least 70 birds were tucking into the near ripe wheat ears. Every so often the flock would all dash back to the safety of a nearby bramble bush.
Over the fields near the houses the swifts, house martins and swallows circled around.

The search for waders along the Strood never took place as time ran out but I had been rewarded with plenty of butterfly action instead.


Early evening stroll along the Strood seawall on Friday 13th was lucky for me - lucky just to be able to enjoy this unspoilt part of the Essex coast. There was a breeze blowing but it was a warm summer air in your face. The tide was out along the Strood Channel so there was plenty of mud to look at, as well as the bright sunshine.

Despite scanning almost every bird feeding along almost two kilometres worth of channel, there was a low variety of waders. Most of the 200 birds were redshank, medium sized waders with a steady plod across the mud, pecking here and probing there. Numbers however have increased in the last fortnight since I last walked along here, presumably boosted by redshanks on passage.

I managed to hear and see a couple of greenshank, as well as a whimbrel, both also on their passage from northern breeding grounds. Several curlew were noted and a dozen oystercatchers were the only other waders although two young shelduck fed on the mud.

As always the musical accompaniment for the walk was provided by corn buntings, reed buntings, reed warblers and skylarks singing from the fields and along the dyke. Flitting along the path were a pair of yellow wagtails and a pair of linnets.
A female sparrowhawk crossed purposely over the fields back to the tree cover near the Firs Chase caravan site, an area where I recently heard there might have been a pair breeding.

The saltmarshes are at their most colourful at the moment with lots of sea lavender adding splashes and carpets of - well, lavender colours! There are extensive patches of sea lavender on the marshes at the bottom of the Strood Hill, which is where this picture above was taken
In certain corners of the Island bordering some of the saltmarshes is the tall straggly plant dittander with its dense clusters of tiny white flowers. It is quite a local plant along the coast in Essex but at this time of the year, dittander certainly towers over most of the other coastal plants as the plant stands over a metre high.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007


Various sightings of note to report over the last few days with the highlight being the sight on Monday 9th of the first two avocet chicks to have ever been born on the Island. This would've seemed really exceptional maybe ten years ago but now they are turning up all round the Essex coast to breed. Two pairs of avocets have frequented some saltmarsh pools near the East Mersea Point for the last couple of months and the nests were tucked away on some small sea lavender islands. Five pairs of avocets nested on Reeveshall three summers ago but the nests failed.

Andy Field counted 5 green sandpipers, ruff, two spotted redshanks, greenshank at Reeveshall on Monday.

On Monday late at night whilst driving back into the park, I had to slow down to allow a badger to cross the road safely. It jogged quickly across less than ten metres in front of the car. It has been a long time since I have seen any badgers at night crossing the road.
On the subject of crossing the road, I had to slow down as I approached West Mersea on Tuesday evening to ensure I didn't run over a hedgehog. I stopped the car and the alert little chap momentarily stared into the car headlights and decided to return back into the verge. This was just as well as a car at this moment came racing past, followed shortly after by a bus.

Still on the nocturnal theme, my sister in law was horrified to discover a monster of an insect occupying her bathroom one evening, causing her much frustration as she could not use the bathroom. Finding courage in the morning to capture the flying-beast, she delivered a shoe-box with beastly contents to me. Like finding a birthday present delivered by the postman, This present on my doorstep turned out to be the very large privet hawk-moth, although it looked very worn and faded.

Three sandwich terns called out to each other with loud grating calls as they flew close inshore at high tide on Wednesday morning. A short while earlier a group of 15 common terns and about 10 black-headed gulls hovered above a shoal of small fish-fry, only about 50 metres offshore. The birds swooping down every so often to try and pluck one of the fry out of the water.

Unusually a male yellowhammer has continued to frequent the park and its rather disjointed song "little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese" has been broadcast from the tops of bushes. Another declining farmland bird that is still clinging on is the turtle dove and it was nice to hear a second bird singing near the park entrance.

Whilst chatting to two regulars beside a hedgerow in the park, we watched in amazement as a flock of 37 long-tailed tits fly over, round, between us and in one case smack head-first into the window of the tractor cab. This group is probably made up of at least three different families that have come together as it will be safer for them foraging in numbers. We weren't expecting such a huge flock and there has never been one this size seen here before. Each little fluffy ball with a long tail, all following a leader, gave lots of close and confiding views with some perching only a metre away from us.

The warm weather has brought one or two adders out in their usual spot in the park with up to three have been basking in the sun.

There has been the wonderful colourful sight over the last fortnight in East Mersea of acres of blue fields, in some places in every direction you look. At first glance the crop looks like the familiar borage that has been grown here for the last few years. However a closer look at the flowers and the range of colour varieties within the crop reveal this is actually echium, or bugloss, a close relative of borage.

Like borage it has great health benefits through the rich omega oils and for aromatherapy usage. The flowers seem to be popular with many insects especially the local bees and apparently if the crop was left as stubble in the winter would provide valuable feeding for birds. I was surprised to flush a pair of grey partridge from the crop within a few metres of one of the field corners.

These are the two flowers for comparison with echium above and then the star-shaped flowers of borage below. There are one or two borage plants flourishing along the Bromans Lane verges.

Monday, 9 July 2007


Sunday for a change really lived up its name with lots of sunshine through the day. The large amounts of rain that fell during June have made their impact on the tree growth. A close look at some of the fresh leaves that have emerged recently reveal some stunning red colours. It is like autumn has come early. This branch of oak leaves has put on a spurt of over a foot's worth of growth in the last month or so. It is not just one bush or one type of tree, all kinds of trees are making the most of the perfect growing conditions.

The areas of long grass are losing their fresh green colour as they fade to brown. The bright yellow clumps of lady's bedstraw stand out in the summer grasslands with their dense blooms. Several patches of lady's bedstraw grow around the park and it seems to relish the poor dry soils by the coast here.

The sunshine was good for the insects such as this delicate looking azure damselfly seen resting on some grass not far from the park pond. There was also ruddy darter and black-tailed skimmer dragonflies seen along the park paths.
Purple hairstreak was seen again in the south west corner of the park over some oaks and more fresh commas were seen with their bright orange wings.

Managed to find this summer chafer after it buzzed passed me and crashing onto the grass as I walked along. This is the insect which is coming out at dusk in large numbers in recent nights and flying around the tops of trees. I have seen them in the past but not in such numbers. Even the local male kestrel has been staying up late in the car park until almost complete darkness, snatching these chafers in mid-air with its talons. The black-headed gulls too have been flying low over the tree tops and picking off chafers as they buzz round the trees.

Other birds seen during the day were sparrowhawk, turtle dove singing near the entrance, nightingale calling in the car park and the sand martins numbering about 100 birds over the park.

The moth trap was run Saturday night into Sunday morning and collected about 70 moths of 25 species - slightly down on the previous night but then the sky ended up clear. One of the least moth-like creatures was this buff-tip pictured above that mimics a snapped off twig absolutely perfectly. Two elephant hawks added some colour, the giant privet hawk again and a poplar hawk were some of the bigger boys. Most of the moths were the same as the previous night.

Moth traps can often attract other insects and this giant beast of a beetle was crawling his way through the grass towards the bright light. It is the great silver diving beetle and is almost an inch and a half long. On two occasions last summer this beetle was noted coming to the light. It is a beetle that by all accounts is becoming scarcer in south-east England because of the loss of wetland habitats.
This rather alien looking mass of slime is the common moon jellyfish. Masses get washed onto the beaches in mid-summer, sometimes every five paces you can find another one. This one here is one of the larger ones with its distinctive four purple rings visible. Luckily this very common jellyfish does not possess a sting that humans could feel.