Wednesday, 30 January 2008


Chilly but sunny on Wednesday 30th with visibility very good. The yellow flowers of gorse have been the only splash of colour around the country park over the last few weeks. A cluster of bushes are teetering on the edge of the cliff, so it is great to enjoy their colours at the moment, before the sea undermines the sandy cliff below them sometime in the near future.

The moth trap hasn't been put outside this year yet as the weather has been either too wet, too windy or too cold. However this fresh dotted border with its rich brown colours, was fluttering on the outside of the sitting room window, attracted by the lights inside the room. It's quite a common moth so I should see a lot more in the coming month.

It must have been a good evening for moths as this spring usher pictured below, was found resting on the side of the building during the day. Last year there were a handful that came to the trap in the middle of February, so hopefully there will be more of them to admire in the coming weeks. Finding this spring usher on a sunny day is an early sign that spring is just round the corner.

The main bird highlight on the park were some snow buntings on the beach at the Point with six present again for the second day. A couple of birdwatchers had seen a bigger flock totalling 20 birds on the beach in late morning but the 14 other birds had flown off by mid-day and were not seen again. This is certainly the largest group of snow buntings to have been reported on Mersea this winter.

The only thing of interest in the river Colne was a common seal swimming powerfully up-river. It had a very dark colouration and as it regularly came up for air as it swam along, it had me thinking it was a porpoise to begin with.

The tide was coming back in and by mid-day, there were big flocks of dunlin swarming back up the river. The incoming tide also forced about 200 knot closer to the shore.

The sunny weather meant you could see from the Point, at least three marsh harriers flying around Langenhoe Point. The bright markings of the male stood out in the sunshine even at a distance of over a mile away.

On the grazing fields, the usual 500+ wigeon were feeding in various parts, especially where there were pools of standing water in the old winding creeks. Fifty black-tailed godwits, 20 redshank, 30 golden plover, 50 lapwing and 25 curlew were the main waders present. A little egret was huddled up behind a hedge, enjoying the sun out of the cold wind.

Also enjoying the winter sun was a fox having his afternoon nap in his regular spot by the pond. The familiar ducks of recent days were still present with tufted duck, shoveler, gadwall and mallard being the main ones seen.

On Tuesday a brightly marked male sparrowhawk with its orange chest and slate-grey upperparts flashed low in front of the hide. After that threat had passed, ten long-tailed tits fed out in the open in front of the hide, perching on weed stalks as they looked for food.

There was a good count of grebes on Tuesday offshore from the neighbouring caravan sites with 300 great crested grebes and 3 Slavonian grebes seen. On Monday Michael Thorley had a red-throated diver in the river Colne and he also reported a brambling in his East Mersea garden. A couple of brambling have also been seen in a garden near the Dabchicks area at West Mersea.

The black redstart was seen at the Wellhouse Green development again on Monday by Richard Brown and has also been seen yesterday and again today by Alastair Cock.

Graham Ekins made his weekly visit to West Mersea on Sunday and saw 10,000 gulls, mainly black-headed gulls feeding on the sprats offshore. There was a distant view of a possible arctic skua amongst the gulls. Also seen were 14 shag by Bradwell, 2 kittiwake, Med. gull, 190 cormorant and 17 red-breasted mergansers. Over Old Hall were 2000 golden plover, peregrine and 2 marsh harriers.

On the nearby Langenhoehall marshes, 6 short-eared owls, barn owl, marsh harrier and 11 pink-foot geese flying south-west, were also seen on Sunday by Graham.

Monday, 28 January 2008


For a change of scene, gave the seawalls a miss today and had a walk on Monday 28th along a footpath in the middle of East Mersea, near Meeting Lane. There is an interesting mixture of arable and grazing fields, copses and hedgerows here, providing an undisturbed variety of habitats for farmland birds. Over the years there have been one or two interesting sightings in this area but it sadly gets often overlooked as somewhere for a walk.

I was interested in seeing if there was any large flock of fieldfares and redwings. There were quite a lot of fieldfares seen but in scattered groups either perched on distant tree-tops, or passing overhead, totalling about 100 birds. No redwings but a couple of song thrushes and several blackbirds.

There have been lots of wood pigeons feeding on the rape fields with one flock of at least 1000 in one field. In another field there was a surprisingly large mixed feeding flock of meadow pipits and pied wagtails that took to the air with about 70 birds seen, most being meadow pipits.

There was a good view of the female sparrowhawk appearing out of a copse, flying with its typical powerful wing-beats as it headed over neighbouring fields and hedgerows. A few finches were seen in small numbers along the route with greenfinch, goldfinch and chaffinch all noted. A great spotted woodpecker drummed on one tree at one end of the walk and a second bird was noted at the other end.
(Earlier in the day two male great spotted woodpeckers obviously had spring on their mind in West Mersea as one drummed in Firs Chase, answering the drumming coming from another male near Victory Road).

Scanning the Reeveshall marshes to the north, two female marsh harriers were following each other as they appeared to head over to Langenhoe. The bright white of a little egret was seen flying along the seawall. Grazing one of the Reeveshall grass fields were 600 brent geese, that were happily feeding quietly until something spooked them and they all rose up calling out loudly together.

The highlight of the walk was coming face to face with a fox. Having spotted one trotting towards me on the opposite side of the hedge, it then crossed the ditch only ten metres in front of me and was ready to appear on my side. It stopped dead in its tracks as it paused for a couple of seconds to stare at me and then decided to detour round, trotting along the ditch alongside me. My faithful Monty sadly missed the excitement unfold right under his eyes but at least I was spared his loud and very excitable yapping!

Along one of the rape field-margins were a couple of brown rats feeding out in the open, much to the bemusement of some moorhens.

Richard Brown reported seeing the black redstart again today at the Wellhouse Green development at West Mersea. Despite several people looking it could not be found yesterday, but it's obviously back today, along with all the diggers, trucks and workers!

Sunday, 27 January 2008


Had to call into Maydays Farm on the north side of the Island on Sunday 27th, after which I stretched the legs along the length of the Reeveshall seawall. I walked along the side of the Pyefleet Channel, where I was able to watch the small flock of twite feeding on the saltmarsh. The rather poor picture above is of one of the skulking twite as it emerged briefly into view.

You can just about make out the yellow bill and the cinnamon colour on the throat in the photo. The eleven birds spent most of their time quietly working their way amongst the old glasswort plants, pecking at the seeds on the stalks. One of the birds was seen with a shocking pink coloured ring on its left leg, part of the twite ringing project in the English Peninnes. Occasionally the flock would fly off and appear to head to a nearby pool for a drink, before settling back down on the saltmarsh again.

I was pleasantly surprised to find myself stumbling across three snow buntings feeding on the side of the seawall path. As I walked slowly along, the buntings kept making short flights just ahead of me, until they decided it was easier staying put on the saltings, allowing me to pass them by.

A pair of green sandpipers flew along one of the ditches and later on there was another sighting, which may have been a third individual. Three stonechats were seen on the Maydays section with the usual pair seen near Shop Lane and a distant pair seen across the Pyefleet Channel on Langenhoe.

It seemed like there were two male nicely marked marsh harriers flying around the Reeveshall and Langenhoe areas. Not as many views of female or young birds today with only a couple seen, including a good view of a female hunting over Maydays. I was rewarded with two views of the ringtail hen harrier, the first one distant as it hunted over Langenhoehall marshes. The second view was much closer as it crossed the track in front of me near Maydays Farm as it headed east over Reeveshall.

Several kestrels were seen, with three at Maydays perched close to some of the set-aside fields. There were also three seen on Langenhoe, along with a sparrowhawk hunting low amongst the bushes.

No birds of note along the Pyefleet despite plenty of mud on show early in the walk. The usual waders of redshank, grey plover, curlew, oystercatcher, flock of 200 knot and also about 500 dunlin were seen. Along the water's edge were 200 wigeon and 100 teal with 4 red-breasted mergansers also along the Pyefleet.

Scanning the Maydays saltmarsh whilst following a group of 25 linnets, I noticed the large brown shapes of two common seals lounging on the marsh for the high tide period.

As I drove away from the Maydays Farm, I noticed this group of corn buntings perched on a bush near some set-aside. This group were part of about 30 birds seen flying around the fields.
Ten stock doves were seen feeding in one field near here and one brown hare lay close to the ground in the same field.
Over by the Reeveshall farm there were about 500 wood pigeons seen rise into the air but these were outnumbered by about 1500 starlings in the same area.


This is Adrian Kettle's close-up photo of the black redstart that was watched by several local birders on 26th Saturday on the edge of the new housing estate being built at West Mersea. This little unassuming brown bird blended in well with all the big mounds of earth. However a closer look at its orange tail, makes it no little dull brown bird.

We have sharp eyed Alistair Cock to thank for recognising the bird hopping around the building site, while he was driving his truck about during the week. It turns out the bird had been present for several days before the news got out and was confirmed.
Black redstarts are quite scarce on the Island with maybe one sighting every three or four years here.

Not the most attractive of habitats for birds but this black redstart was happy using all sorts of look-out perches such as clods of earth, stacks of pallets and steel fencing - as in the picture above. The bird would flash its orange tail as it swooped down to pick an insect or grub off the ground. It would return back up to vantage point and give the tail a quick quiver.

Whilst I was on the new land of Wellhouse Green soon to be sports pitches, I took the opportunity to have a quick walk over the site. A brand new hedge has been planted all round the edge and I was able to walk along the grass strip round the perimeter of the sports field which is soon to be earmarked as a public path.

The rough grassland was providing feeding for about 30 linnets, which flew around every few minutes before they dropped back down to search out more weed seeds. In the newly sown grassland for one of the sports pitches, a small group of 9 skylarks were happily feeding. It will be interesting to see what wildlife uses this big field in the coming months and years, having been a big arable field for many previous years.

One of the colourful winter sights in East Mersea at this time of year, is the colourful display of winter aconites and snowdrops at the East Mersea church. It feels like spring is just round the corner when these flowers are in full bloom.

In a field near the church beside the East Mersea road, was a big flock of 100 redwing and 300 fieldfares. In the bright sunshine, the colourful markings of these thrushes really stood out, as they hopped across the field. There were also 12 stock doves and a couple of song thrushes here too.

Friday, 25 January 2008


Masses of geese came raining out of the sky when I walked along the Strood seawall on Friday 25th. On a rather windy day, it was just the thousand brent geese and myself in the area - well nearly just us.

I laid down on the side of the seawall and enjoyed slowly scanning with my binoculars back and forwards through the flock. I then noticed some of the geese sticking their heads up, indicating that they were anxious about something. I scanned around and slowly flying along the edge of the field above the reeds in the dyke, was a marsh harrier, edging its way closer towards me.

I stayed lying low hoping it would pass along the dyke in front of me only 25 metres away. The strong wind allowed it to hang in the air as it quartered the reeds and rushes just below it. It probably got as close as about 50 metres when it hovered and then dropped suddenly down. A couple of big flaps of the big brown wings and it was airborne again and nearly continued towards me, when it veered sharply away. It must have seen me, as it turned and flew right over the brent geese.

As it passed over the flock it dropped an object from its talons which must have been a water vole. Dropping an object onto the geese was rather like a bomber shedding a bomb onto the various targets below. Needless to say, all the geese quickly took to the air, causing a bit of chaos and it took me a while to relocate the harrier.

The marsh harrier slowly flapped its way low over the far wheat fields , before returning back to the same dyke but just further along. It quartered the reedbed for a few minutes, passing just above the height of the reeds, before rising high and crossing the Strood Channel, heading west to Feldy Marshes.

Most of the geese returned to the field after the harrier had passed, while others headed to the water in the Strood Channel. The tide was well up and the last of the mud was nearly covered over. Along the edges were small numbers of lapwing, redshank, dunlin, curlew, turnstone, teal and wigeon. One single little egret was all hunched up against the saltmarsh bank, trying to shelter from the fresh wind. Around forty shelduck bobbed around in the choppy waters.

Close to the Dabchicks area, were about 6 dabchicks, a handful of bar-tailed godwits and one black-tailed godwit. Hovering beside a fishing boat were up to 150 big gulls hoping to pick up some fish scraps being thrown overboard. The gulls were mainly herring with a few great black-backed gulls circling round too.

Small birds seen along the seawall walk were rock pipit, meadow pipit, couple of reed buntings, five linnet and five greenfinches.

Two Slavonian grebes were reported today from just east of the boat moorings at West Mersea.

Thursday, 24 January 2008


Recent rains have left large pools of water in the fields. A walk to the East Mersea Point for the last hour of daylight on Thursday 24th, confirmed that the wetter the fields, the better it is for ducks and waders. There seemed to be birds wherever there was a bit of water.

As always the noisy 600+ wigeon seemed to enjoy their bit of "whistling whilst nibbling". The continuous calling from the wigeon was the main sound coming from the fields, bringing the whole area to life. In smaller groups were 70 teal close to the marshy areas as were a few mallard, while in the central ditch were 10 shoveler.

A long white neck of a little egret was sticking out from the clumps of rushes as it stalked the back of the fields. Seventy black-tailed godwits and 50 curlew were probing for worms in the waterlogged soil, in various scattered groups but few other waders here.

At the park pond the usual mix of ducks with 12 gadwall, 24 shoveler and 12 tufted duck were the main ones of interest.
As dusk approached, wood pigeons gathered in the copse behind for the night and there was also the loud child-like squealing noise of two foxes squabbling nearby.

The walk to the Point was again rewarded with a surprise view of eight snow buntings feeding on the beach. I didn't know they were here and I nearly stepped on them. I hadn't spotted them until they took to the air, flying a short distance before landing back down to feed along the strandline. Like little mice, they scurried along the beach, very well camouflaged in the fading light. The birds took to the air again, flashing the white patches in the wings and then landing back down, where I left them to feed undisturbed.

On the mud near the Point was a nice group of 100 ringed plovers busy feeding on the recently uncovered mud. In their usual spot was the large roost of 1500 golden plover with a few knot and bar-tailed godwits and redshank.

In the river Colne there were a masses of gulls mainly common and black-headed gulls, feeding and flying low over the water. They appear to be attracted to the masses of sprats in the river. Apparently fishermen at West Mersea have been reporting some huge catches with nets struggling to haul them in.
A pair of red-breasted mergansers flew rapidly out of the river to feed, as dusk approached.

Earlier in the day a male sparrowhawk swooped low over the car park as it headed north. A song thrush appeared in my back garden, which was nice to see. One has been singing recently near the park entrance when I open the park-gates in the mornings.

Richard Hull reported seeing the great northern diver on Tuesday 22nd near the entrance into the West Mersea quarters. He also enjoyed seeing a peregrine the same day at the Strood whilst waiting in the bus, for the high tide to drop down.

Monday, 21 January 2008


Welcomed members on Sunday 20th, of the Colchester Natural History Society to East Mersea for their annual winter visit. Following all the unsettled weather of recent days, it was nice that the rain held off for our walk round the seawall.

First stop along the walk was at the park pond where gadwall, tufted duck, mallard, shoveler, little grebe, coot, moorhen and mute swan were all admired. Gazing out to sea at high tide produced very little except a handful of great crested grebes to the west and a small number of turnstones flying past.

There was the usual variety of hundreds of waders and wildfowl on the grazing fields, providing plenty to look at. The numerous wigeon were also the most musical as they whistled loudly to each other. There were good views of lots of teal too and a handful of shoveler and shelduck as well.

One of the little egrets took to the air and was joined by a second bird, as they flew across the fields. At the back of the fields a female kestrel was watched as it perched on a tree, while behind it, hurtling fast and low over the fields was a sparrowhawk

We were able to enjoy watching a selection of waders arriving onto the newly uncovered mud near the Point, photo above. As always there were lots of dunlin and a few redshank and ringed plover too, while one or two bar-tailed godwits and grey plover were also arriving. Whizzing low across the Point were up to ten sanderling amongst various groups of turnstones. Flying out of the river were the sleek profiles of a few red-breasted mergansers.

Progress along the wall near the Oyster Fishery building pictured above, had to be halted while we all admired the bright yellow colours of a male yellowhammer sitting in a bush - one of the colourful highlights of the walk. Other birds of interest noted around some of the fields were 3 stonechats, fieldfare, 5 pied wagtails, 2 stock doves, reed bunting and one or two meadow pipits and skylarks.

As with the local RSPB group that visited a fortnight ago, we headed to the sheltered section of Reeveshall seawall to have our sandwiches. After Monty had checked we had no more scraps left, we were on the verge of heading home when a fleeting glimpse of some small finches was seen. We turned to track them down and whether they were the small group of goldfinches I had seen a short while earlier, I don't know.

However a short walk onto the very squelchy saltmarsh, proved to be the right decision as 11 twite rose into the air, circling round in their distinctive bounding flight. They soon settled back down out of sight and although the birds were typical little brown jobs in the poor light, it justified the long walk to our lunchtime stop.

Four marsh harriers including a well-marked male, were watched flying around the reedbeds at the end of Langenhoe Point. There was little else of note along the Pyefleet other than the wigeon, teal, shelduck and the usual waders. The main group of dark-bellied brent geese were grazing a grass field at the eastern end of Reeveshall. In amongst these 600 geese was one with whiter flanks, which was the pale-bellied race of brent geese.

One or two wader species caught the eye with 1000 lapwing and 2000 golden plover rising into the air above Langenhoe. There were good views of up to 70 bar-tailed godwits along the muddy sides to the Pyefleet with one or two black-tailed for comparison. The only knot seen were a group of about 50 feeding on the mud back near the Point.

As always, it was a rewarding walk with great views of the typical wintering waders and wildfowl.


There was a brief opportunity late on Saturday 19th after the rain had stopped, for a walk to the Point. However the mist descended and it was a pretty gloomy end to the day.
The visibility was poor and peering up the river Colne, it was difficult to tell where the sea finished and the sky began, as in the photo above.

There was a huge golden plover flock roosting on the mud beside the Point with about 2000 birds standing in a dense group. In the poor light there was no hint of any golden colour to the plumage. Alongside there was the gathering of a large gull roost with 2000 birds settling down for the night. Through the mist it seemed as if most of the gulls were black-headed gulls with lots of common gulls too.

Eight red-breasted mergansers flew out of the river past the Point, heading to the outer reaches of the estuary for dusk. There was no sign of the snow buntings that had been present two days earlier.

The grazing fields were looking wetter since the last visit and all the ducks were taking full advantage of the conditions. The wigeon seemed to be spread across most of the field with over 500 birds present along with 100 teal and 100 black-tailed godwits too. A few lapwing, curlew and a couple of redshank were the other waders seen here.

Duck numbers were roughly the same on the park pond as in recent days with 14 tufted duck and 14 gadwall still present, as were a few mallard and shoveler.

There was the welcome sighting of one of the elusive water voles along the dyke. The ripples spreading out across the calm water, betrayed its presence. It stood at the entrance to its burrow just above the water surface and I wondered if it was checking to see if the water level was still rising following all the recent rain. Glyn Evans had reported seeing a water vole along this stretch of dyke at the beginning of the week.

Thursday, 17 January 2008


Another stunning sky at dawn n Thursday 17th, between 7.30am and 7.45am when all the clouds to the south-east of Mersea seemed on fire. It certainly made a change to waking up to the dark rain clouds that we've had in recent mornings.
By 8am the bright colours had just about faded, although there was still a reddish glow to the mudflats in front of the country park, as the picture below shows.

It stayed dull for most of the day with the occasional spell of drizzle and a fresh breeze blowing.
At the park pond there had been an influx of tufted ducks with 14 being a good count for here. Also the usual 14 gadwall, 4 shoveler and 20 mallard were on the water while a handful of wigeon grazed the grass nearby.

Around the park there were 3 different sightings during the day of sparrowhawk of which the best view was of a colourful male perched on my back garden fence. The only other birds noted were 9 long-tailed tits foraging through some young trees at a speed as fast as I could walk to keep up with them.

The rains in recent days has left lots of pools and flashes of water around in the park grazing fields. As a result there was a good mix of wildfowl feeding in the fields. The most numerous were the 500+ wigeon in several large grazing groups, unfortunately most of them at the rear of the fields. Mixed in with them were about 100 teal while 200 brent geese grazed in their own flock in one corner.

Of the waders seen, 100 black-tailed godwits probed for worms in the wet soil, while 50 golden plover and 100 lapwing were gathered in the middle of the fields. A little egret stood beside one little pool all hunched up, while feeding amongst the grass were the regular charm of 20 goldfinches.

As always it doesn't take long before something frightens all the birds into the air and for a minute or two there was complete panic as flocks headed off in different directions, before most of them settled back down.

It was worth trudging along the beach to the Point as I unexpectedly came across 4 snow buntings flying around and calling. They settled down on the shingle in front of me and immediately blended in very well with their surroundings. They soon flew off and a few minutes later while trying to relocate them, found myself almost standing on them from just five metres away. These are the first snow buntings for the Point for over a month or more.

In the Colne a male red-breasted merganser took off from the water after a common seal surfaced right beside it.

The only bird of note seen in recent days was a close view of a barn owl on Tuesday 15th "ghosting" over the car along the East Mersea road near Weir Farm. In the dark gloom at dawn in the early morning drizzle, the white apparition crossed over the road, maybe heading back to the Rewsalls Farm area to its daytime roost.

Also on owls, Hugh Owen saw 4 short-eared owls mobbing a marsh harrier on Langenhoehall Marshes to the north of the Island on Wednesday 16th.

Monday, 14 January 2008


The sun decided to come out late morning on Monday 14th, just as I was finishing my walk along the Strood seawall. I didn't pass any other folk along the seawall but then it was drizzling and the wind was pretty strong.

There were lots of herring gulls, pictured above, that were hanging in the air above a fishing boat at the end of the pontoon at the Hard. One of the fisherman was throwing fish scraps every so often overboard and the big gulls were waiting to swoop down to pick them up.

A handful of little grebes could be seen amongst the boat moorings but there was no sign of any great northern diver. Several brent geese, turnstone and dunlin could be seen feeding along the edge of the mud.

Whilst admiring the gulls and the general colourful view from the end of the pontoon, I noticed thousands of plovers swarm into the air, over the farmland opposite the Hard. Over these Feldy Marshes must have risen about 8,000 lapwings and golden plovers and with their white underwings flickering in the sunlight, it looked more like a mini-blizzard in the sky.

Something like a peregrine must have spooked the whole lot into the sky but it was difficult in the mass of birds to find the culprit. Numbers of birds involved was probably equal 4000 lapwings and 4000 golden plover. There have been good numbers of plovers around in recent weeks but it's one of the spectacles of the Essex coast in winter to see these huge flocks fill the sky as they all swirl round.

Along the Strood seawall, the tide was out but few waders on show with a handful of black-tailed and bar-tailed godwits, 40 knot, 100 dunlin along with scatterings of curlew, grey plover and redshank. Most of the brent geese were feeding on the Peldon farmland today to the west of Ray Island. Small dark brown lumps dotted along the base of the channel were actually teal, that appeared to blend in well with the brown mudflats.

A green woodpecker left the Island for the smaller Ray Island and with the strong wind behind it, managed to cross over the muddy Strood Channel in just 15 deep bounds of its undulating flight. Also seen were 4 corn buntings, rock pipit, reed bunting, one lone linnet, 15 greenfinch and the regular fieldfare feasting in a ripe apple tree.

Glyn Evans carrying out the wildfowl count around the north side of the Island today, noted a male peregrine, 4 marsh harriers and a huge flock of 2500 golden plovers and 2000 lapwing on Reeveshall. On Langenhoe a ringtail hen harrier, merlin and another 4 marsh harriers were also seen.

Sunday, 13 January 2008


The weather forecast for Sunday 13th was wet and windy, which sounded like it was a day to spend inside by the fire. As it turned out there was no rain at all and the sun broke through the clouds to make it a pleasant afternoon despite the wind.

Opted for a walk along the Maydays seawall to check up on some of the small birds that were seen in good numbers on my last visit a fortnight ago. However there was no sign of the large mixed bird flocks in the various hedges and game cover crops.

Clinging tightly in the wind to an exposed bush near a set-aside crop were 18 corn buntings. A handful of chaffinches and a reed bunting were the only other finches and buntings seen around the fields. However a group of 20 linnets flew around the big expanse of Maydays saltmarsh, feeding on the seeds of the plants. Also feeding on the saltmarsh were four skylarks and two rock pipits.

Unfortunately the walk coincided with the high tide which meant there were no waders to look at on the mud. There were the usual small numbers of curlew and redshank, along with a few little egrets gathered on the saltmarsh. In the Pyefleet there were 11 red-breasted mergansers, two great crested grebes, 50 shelduck and several hundred wigeon.

The most interesting flocks noted were huge plover flocks both on fields by Maydays farm and on one of the main grass fields of Reeveshall. This latter group was the biggest involving about 2000 lapwing and about 1000 golden plover, whose numbers were only appreciated when they all rose into the air.

The marsh harriers were thin on the ground today with only one female seen as it quartered the fleet at Reeveshall. Two kestrels were seen at Maydays and another three on Langenhoe.

Elsewhere at East Mersea, a flock of 70 fieldfares were seen in fields between the shop and the pub.

Adrian Kettle had a rewarding visit to the Langenhoehall marshes on Sunday morning with 5 short-eared owls, male marsh harrier, ringtail hen harrier, common buzzard, 4 kestrels and a sparrowhawk. This area is still demonstrating that it's the number one site in north Essex for birds of prey this winter.

Saturday, 12 January 2008


Another of those big blue sky-days on Saturday 12th, helped to dry up the ground saturated by yesterday's continuous rain. Walked along the Strood seawall and enjoyed the sight and sound of the brent geese in the area. In the picture above there is the tiny speck of a lady just left of centre, trying to help the farmer save his crop, by scaring the big goose flock off his winter wheat. The brent seemed only slightly worried because when they took to the air, half the flock came back and landed in a different corner of the field.

A second attempt at scaring them was more successful and the geese flew onto the Strood Channel for twenty minutes. No sooner had the farmer's friend turned her back as she walked home, when the brent geese returned to resume their feeding frenzy.

By late morning the tide had covered most of the mud along the Strood with the last concentrations of waders being close to the causeway at the top end of the Channel. As usual 700 golden plover roosted in a tight group before heading inland when the tide had finally edged too close. About a thousand dunlin ended up in denser gatherings as they too were forced to move ahead of the tide to the last remnants of mud.

Equal numbers of black-tailed and bar-tailed godwits were seen with about a dozen of each. Most of the bar-tails were seen in what has become their regular feeding grounds just along from the Dabchicks Sailing Club. No other waders of any note other than the regular ones were seen, presumably because the tide had got too high by the time of my walk.

The familiar sight of huge flocks of golden plover flying high over fields and marshes opposite West Mersea, was once again on display. Something put about 500 up into the air over Feldy and then another 2000 could be seen slightly further away over Copt Hall. Around 1000 lapwing also filled the air, suggesting some bird of prey was in the vicinity.

The only bird of prey seen during the walk was a distant female marsh harrier to the east of the Strood, crossing onto the Island.
A few small birds were noted with 2 stonechat, 4 corn bunting, 4 skylark, meadow pipit, linnet and 5 greenfinches seen along the seawall. By the caravan site a fieldfare fed in an apple tree while a mistle thrush sang its loud fluty song nearby.

No sign of the great northern diver amongst the boat moorings but I'm sure it was probably still there. One male red-breasted merganser and ten little grebes were the only birds seen in the water.

Around Firs Chase gardens during the afternoon were the sparrowhawk, goldcrest, great spotted woodpecker, ten goldfinches, 2 skylarks passed overhead and a flock of long-tailed tits.

Andy Field and Steve Entwhistle ventured off-island to the nearby Langenhoehall marshes and were rewarded with good views of four short-eared owls.


There appears to be a lull in the birdlife around as there isn't much to report from the country park over recent days. One of the few opportunities to get out and see if there was anything of interest was in the afternoon of Tuesday 8th, when there was a brief break in the grey clouds.

The tide was out so any waders that were spotted on the mudflats, appeared as tiny specks in the distance. No large flocks of any description but the usual oystercatchers, redshank, dunlin, curlew, turnstone and grey plover, were some of the individuals that were seen. A couple of little egrets as always, stood out against the dull brown background, as did a handful of shelduck.

In the park grazing fields, there were plenty of waders and wildfowl but frustratingly, most were gathered at the back of the fields. At least 400 wigeon, 100 teal, 20 black-tailed godwits and 25 lapwing formed the biggest groups of birds.
In the oak tree at the back of the fields there were ten stock doves counted.

On the park pond the familiar ducks noted were 12 gadwall, 4 shoveler, 7 tufted ducks and 25 mallard. Near the pond there were two fieldfares seen again, which are probably the same birds seen over the last fortnight.

On Wednesday evening the little owl was heard calling from the nearby Cosways caravan site, while on Thursday evening, the regular tawny owl was calling from Bromans Lane.

Sunday, 6 January 2008


Glorious sunrise over the sea to the south-east on Sunday 6th, heralded an excellent day for watching birds. The local Colchester RSPB Members Group made their annual winter pilgrimage to East Mersea and as always, were handsomely rewarded by some great birdwatching.

In fact the impressive tally of just around 77 species for the walk is a very respectable total and with some fine winter sunshine, it was a memorable day. Six species of raptor including an owl, 13 species of wildfowl and 15 species of wader were just some of the main groups of birds noted.

Quite a few small birds were seen at the start of the walk in the park and from the hide. In a nearby garden a green woodpecker and great spotted woodpecker were seen, whilst a mixed feeding flock along the park path had song thrush, redwing, chaffinches and greenfinches.
On the pond there were the usual mallard, gadwall, shoveler and six tufted duck.

On the grazing fields 400 wigeon and around 100 teal were busy feeding but only one brent goose. Of the waders, one snipe was found snoozing, 20+ black-tailed godwits fed (including one colour-ringed), 20 lapwing, turnstone and some curlew. One little egret flew around as did a flock of 20 goldfinches. Along the hedge at the rear of the fields 6 stock doves perched in an old oak tree, a female kestrel and a female sparrowhawk were surveying the action on the fields almost side by side in adjoining dead trees.

The high tide in the morning provided the opportunity to scan the sea for birds but sadly there were only 3 or 4 great crested grebes seen. A rapidly flying raptor passing over the Colne near the Point, turned out to be a female merlin hurtling over to Point Clear. The bright conditions helped to show the dark breast streaks of the merlin and the brown wings that it beat continuously, helping it cross over the river in just a few seconds. Also at the Point were seen four sanderling feeding along the beach with twenty turnstones.

In the river Colne and in the Pyefleet up to ten red-breasted mergansers were seen as were three goldeneye and 5 great crested grebes. Behind Pewit Island 100 teal and 100 wigeon were noted and they were joined later by a male pintail. Also in this area were 50 black-tailed godwits, which turned out to be the only main group seen feeding on the mud.

Two common seals were also seen briefly both in the Colne and in the Pyefleet, sticking their heads out of the water.

To reach this section of the Reeveshall seawall pictured above, was our main objective and we settled down to have a bite to eat. After ten minutes we were rewarded with views of the dozen twite taking to the air with some of the 200 brent geese that were feeding nearby. Sadly the distinctive twite calls were hard to hear as they were drowned out by the loud geese as they passed overhead.

However the twite soon settled back down and after another brief fly-around, they settled down with the sun shining onto them. We could see the coloured rings on three birds, which probably indicates that these are twite from the monitoring project in the Peninne moors, in northern England, where they breed.

The Langenhoe ranges didn't disappoint as usual and good views were had of four marsh harriers including a nicely marked male. Unexpectedly a short-eared owl was seen in the very far distance being mobbed by some crows. It climbed to quite a height, circled round and then drifted east over the Colne, before heading back west over the extensive Geedon saltmarsh.

Whilst watching this owl another big bird of prey was spotted hovering in the far distance, which turned out to be a common buzzard. It too circled round a few times before drifting high towards the Fingringhoe nature reserve.

Small birds noted along the seawall were fieldfare, pair of stonechats, rock pipit, colourful pair of yellowhammers, reed buntings, skylarks and meadow pipits.

The return walk back was spent checking out some of the waders with 500 knot, 200 golden plover, 25 bar-tailed godwits, several ringed plover, plus the familiar dunlin, redshank, grey plover, oystercatcher and also 15 avocet seen flying up river.

An excellent day's birdwatching and everybody who had been on the walk went home very satisfied.

Saturday, 5 January 2008


One or two items to report over recent days. This harlequin ladybird above, is the first sighting on the country park of this foreign ladybird. They have probably been present here for the last couple of years but I've not actively gone searching for them. The first one on the Island was found two summers ago in a garden near to East Mersea church. Harlequin ladybirds are native to Asia but were first spotted in Britain in 2004 - in Essex. They have spread rapidly across central and southern England and have been described as "the most invasive ladybird in the world".

This one above was discovered in rather curious circumstances inside my house at the park, whilst flicking through the latest Essex Wildlife Trust journal. The ladybird appeared on the table when I picked up the journal but I couldn't say whether it actually fell out of it. The chances are that it was somehow already in the house but it seems quite a coincidence that it appeared to fall out of one of the magazines belonging to the main conservation organisation in the county! I wonder if it falls under the category of "biological warfare by post!"

Remains of another alien to Mersea Island, this time the jawbone of a muntjac deer. The striking features of a muntjac jaw are the very prominent tusks, something you wouldn't think deer possess. By all accounts you don't want to corner one of these cute little deer, knowing that they have tusks, as they will happily use them to make their escape. I recall being told of a muntjac tusk once being found found lodged in a fallow deer skull - so that must have been quite a clash of heads!

This jawbone was recently found at East Mersea Point and is probably the remains of a muntjac that was washed up about two years ago. There are currently no deer on the Island although in recent years, at least two individuals have managed to swim across, whilst several corpses have been found washed up at various points around the Island.

Other mammals of interest seen recently include a brown hare running over the wheat field next to Chapmans Lane early on Wednesday 2nd. It's encouraging to see a hare so close to West Mersea as they've normally stayed in undisturbed fields in the centre of the Island.

Graham Ekins watched a bull grey seal off Kingsland Road in West Mersea this Saturday morning, which is a noteworthy sighting. There were also three common seals seen from here too. A fourth common seal was also seen in the mouth of Colne.
Also off West Mersea were great northern diver, 2 red-throated divers, 2 eider, shag and a short-eared owl near the Strood.

At the country park 1000 brent geese flew noisily over the car park late in the afternoon as they headed to their night-time roost in the Colne. A thousand golden plover were noted on the mud near the Point.

Over the last month there have been one or two winter moths seen on the windows at night in the park. One or two have also been seen along Bromans Lane at night, fluttering about in the car headlights and also beside one regular bush in Chapmans Lane. Even on some of the chilly nights as low as three degrees, they have been seen flying about the park's car park.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008


It was a dull, misty and at times, a drizzly start to 2008 here on Mersea Island. Conditions never brightened up during the day and it was quite difficult seeing anything through the murk. During two walks around the country park at East Mersea, most of the birdlife was noted by the calls. Bird activity seemed very subdued and little was observed flying about.

The picture above shows some of the brent geese who were feeding on the algae on the mud close to the beach first thing in the morning. Along the park beach and to the nearby caravan site beach, several hundred brent took the opportunity to feed before the dog-walkers arrived. Very few waders were noted on the mud other than one or two oystercatchers, redshank and turnstones, as the tide was well out. The bright white figure of a little egret on the mud was one of the few birds to stand out through the murk.

On the park pond the swans seemed to shine through the dull conditions, whilst the 10 male shovelers were also easy to make out. There was the usual collection of wildfowl here with gadwall, mallard, tufted duck, teal, coot, moorhen and little grebe.

The only birds of note on the actual park were two fieldfares feeding with some blackbirds whilst a jay in the car park was trying to sing, like a robin with a very strange warbling call.

Several other birdwatchers perservered during the day, tracking down one or two species to start the New Year bird list. Andy Field bravely found 62 species on Mersea including the twite flock and the great northern diver. Others noted peregrine, 4 shags, red-throated diver and 7 red-breasted mergansers off West Mersea.

This strange looking "log-sculpture" is one of the wildlife features at the park, where these logs are being allowed to rot down and decay. This newly installed beetle-pyramid will hopefully provide a home for all sorts of creepy-crawlies. Setting the ends of the logs into the ground hopefully mimics an old tree stump, one of the typical breeding sites for the scarce stag beetle.

This spectacular beetle, the largest in Britain, still maintains a slender foothold on Mersea with the last authenticated record being one found dead in the Co-op car park in the middle of West Mersea in June 2006. More recent reports suggest individuals being present in a garden in Firs Road. Tracking down the exact location of Mersea's stag beetles could be one of my things-to-do for 2008.

As if to prove the value of deadwood, these fresh jelly-ear fungi were found growing on an old elder branch. Suitably named for the soft jelly-like texture, they grow with a strange similarity to human ears.