Sunday, 31 August 2008


It was quite a surprise at dawn whilst checking the moth trap to find thick fog covering the country park on Sunday 31st. The sun soon burnt off the fog and the lack of wind during the morning made for a very pleasant first half of the day. The river Colne was flat calm at the Point, pictured above, although the visibility was still hazy by mid-morning. Following the recent unsettled weather in recent weeks, it has been nice to have a sunny weekend for a change - probably the last of the summer.

There seemed to be lots of bird activity about the park with the highlight being a spotted flycatcher in the car park. Also in the same section of hedgerow were several common whitethroats, lesser whitethroats, chaffinches, blackbirds, roving mixed tit flock, song thrush as well as green woodpecker and great spotted woodpecker. House martins and swallows were passing over the park in small numbers as did a single swift.

On the park pond three little egrets roosted along the edge and duck numbers had increased with gadwall, 4 wigeon and 4 shoveler being the first of the "winter" ducks. Along with the 30 mallard were 4 teal and a single young tufted duck.

Along the seawall were 3 wheatears hopping ahead and a common sandpiper fed on a muddy patch of saltmarsh. The incoming tide forced lots of waders closer with a greenshank calling out loudly being of interest. Four hundred golden plovers gathered on the mud near the Point and there were 200 black-tailed godwits scattered across the same area. Through the haze 10 avocets were the only other waders of note to catch the eye. One kestrel was seen passing over the mud in very determined mood and kept flying southwards from the park heading out to sea.

More small bird activity was seen near the Golfhouse with 12 yellow wagtails feeding in a horse paddock and a few whitethroats and lesser whitethroats seen too. Nearby 25 goldfinches had plenty of thistles to feed on, while 10 linnets flew around the saltmarsh. Four reed warblers were seen in the reeds and a willow warbler had been feeding by the seawall.

Further round the seawall at Reeveshall, Martin Cock and later Andy Field saw the wood sandpiper on the Pool, along with 2 snipe and 3 green sandpipers. Despite lots of searching through the waders along the Pyefleet, there was no sgn of little stints or curlew sandpipers. Other than 20 knot and 40 avocets, it was the usual selection of waders there.

The warm weather brought out a few butterflies such as red admiral, meadow brown, small white, large white, green-veined white, common blue, speckled wood and a nice small copper at the Point. The usual dragonflies were southern hawker, migrant hawker, common darter and ruddy darter. A wasp spider was seen close to the area where a handful of common lizards were basking in the long grass.

Following the warm weather on Saturday, the moth trap was put out again and checked on Sunday morning. Over 25 species were noted including a few of this very distinctively marked frosted orange moth pictured above.

Amongst the regular moths of recent sessions were also canary-shouldered thorn, maidens blush, blood vein, white-point, engrailed, straw underwing, burnished brass, rosy rustic and coxcomb prominent

The most numerous moth was the large yellow underwing, some having the reddish-brown wings shown above. Concealed beneath these fore-wings are the striking yellowy-orange hindwings which are ready to burst into flight when the moth is disturbed.

Saturday, 30 August 2008


At least ten common lizards were taking full advantage of the sunshine at the country park on Sunday 30th. Along a short section of old fenceline the lizards were basking amongst the clumps of long grass. Some of them were very young judging by their small size, nearly a third of the size of the full adults. This one pictured above allowed the camera to get quite close, before scuttling off into the long grass. In the middle of the afternoon the lizards switched to the west side of the fenceline, catching more of the sun from fence posts and bramble bushes.

A few butterflies seen included small heaths, common blues, red admiral, speckled wood, meadow brown, small white and large white. Dragonflies hawking along the paths included southern hawker, migrant hawker, common darter and ruddy darter.

On the park pond 4 wigeon were the first of the autumn, also 5 teal, tufted duck, 30 mallard and 3 roosting little egrets. In the bushes nearby was a roving mixed tit flock of 25+ birds comprising long-tailed, great and blue tits, as well as a few common whitethroats and lesser whitethroats.

Three wheatears were seen by Marianne Jones along the park beach on Friday morning whilst one was seen by Martin Dence on the seawall the day before. The spotted flycatcher seen on Tuesday just north of the park, was also seen by Martin Cock the following day.

Had an evening stroll along the Reeveshall seawall, where the Pyefleet Channel water level was at low tide, with the base of the channel visible in places, as pictured above. Lots of gulls and waders made the most of searching out food along here.

The evening haze didn't make for ideal viewing conditions, especially looking at the various waders along the Pyefleet. The most interesting collection of birds was on the Reeveshall pool where a very vocal wood sandpiper was the most notable. Also 4 green sandpipers on the pool were probably different from another four seen later flying along the Broad Fleet of Reeveshall. Ten black-tailed godwits, snipe, 25 teal, 2 little grebes along with a few lapwings, gulls and Canada geese were also on the pool.

Several marsh harriers were seen mainly having a last hunt over Reeveshall before crossing over the Pyefleet for the evening roost. Two males, two females and a juvenile were all seen over Reeveshall and some of these were later seen flying over Langenhoe where four birds were in the air together late on.

Other waders of interest seen along the Pyefleet were 4 knot, spotted redshank, greenshank,5 avocet, 50 dunlin amongst the usual black-tailed godwits, redshank, curlew and grey plover.

A group of 4 wheatears fed along some recently cut grass, while a fifth bird was seen on the saltmarsh.

As the light faded several flocks of noisy geese flew onto Reeveshall to graze on the grass field. Most of the geese were 80 greylag geese with 25 Canada geese but the goose which stood out in the gathering gloom was the pure white plumage of a snow goose. It was watched flying in, appearing much smaller and more striking in flight with the black wing-tips.

A little owl flew away from the north end of the Shop Lane wood and on my return to close the park up for the night, a tawny owl flew off some overhead wires by Bromans Lane.

Martin Cock enjoyed seeing two short-eared owls in the air together over Maydays, flushed away to Langenhoe by the attentions of a marsh harrier. Interestingly I was told by Jo Watkins of West Mersea who watched a large brown owl hunting along the Strood seawall early in the day, which was most likely a short-eared owl too. Martin also saw at Maydays a whinchat, greenshank, common sandpiper and 3 marsh harriers.

The warm evenings have seen the moth trap put out at the park on a couple of recent nights with reasonable catches. The moth above is one of the very similar ear moths and is either the saltern ear or the ear moth, both of which have been recorded at coastal sites close to Mersea. Both species are difficult to separate from each other and need to be examined under the microscope.

Thirty-six species were noted on Thursday night with slightly less on Frday night. Most of the moths are large yellow underwings, flounced rustics, square-spot rustics and setaceous hebrew characters. Other moths seen have included canary-shouldered thorn, coxcomb prominent, frosted orange, rosy rustic, angle shades, blood vein, brimstone, light emerald, blue-bordered carpet, silver-Y, white-point, yellow-barred brindle and one poplar hawkmoth.

This fresh Webb's wainscot with nice clear markings pictured above, has been recorded here before but is listed as nationally scarce. Mainly found along the south and east coasts of England, it has been increasingly found inland.

Thursday, 28 August 2008


The most interesting moth in the trap at the country park early on Wednesday 27th was this Old Lady. Although it's quite a common moth, none were noted here last year. It is a large moth and it's dark band across the middle of the wings is supposed to be a likeness to a shawl draped over the shoulders of an elderly woman.

The conditions were nearly ideal for moths with a cloudy sky and light breeze. Both traps were set out and by the morning thirty-eight species of macro-moths were found. The more interesting moths included 15 latticed heaths, silver-Y, frosted orange, rosy rustic, angle shades, maple prominent, light emerald, willow beauty and square-spot rustics.

Two canary-shouldered thorns were the first of the season, holding their wings upright like the posture of some butterflies.

Also attracted to the bright light was this lesser stag beetle, with its small sharp pincers at the front. These beetles are seen each year at the park, usually during the day as they walk across the ground.

Had the opportunity on Wednesday to visit the famous walk-in moth trap that operates just 4 miles to the south of West Mersea, near Bradwell. This purpose built moth trap has been operated by the Dewick family since 1946 and is one of the largest in eastern England. On some nights the very bright 400 watt ray of light can be seen from West Mersea as it lights up the night-time sky on the south side of the river Blackwater. Any passing moth is sucked in by a fan that draws air into the trap. Over the years nearly 50 species of moths have been added to the Essex list for the first time as well as two species new to Britain.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008


Spent the last two daylight hours of Tuesday 26th on the seawall just north of Shop Lane in East Mersea. The tide was on its way in and the timing was ideal for looking at the various waders as they had one last feed before they headed off to roost. Looking from the same spot on the seawall, 12 species of waders were on show, providing plenty to look at.

The most notable wader was a little stint feeding with some of the dunlin and ringed plovers. Appearing smaller than the dunlin with a short bill and clean white underparts, the bird had the white braces on the back typical of a juvenile bird. The bird stayed in view with the other waders, feeding briskly across the mud for over an hour, until the tide came in. Little stints are scarce passage visitors to Mersea and it has been a few years since I've caught up with one on the Island.

Of the other waders 4 knot and 10 avocet were of interest, while 250 black-tailed godwits, 200 redshank and 150 dunlin were the most numerous. Also seen were 2 bar-tailed godwits, 60 ringed plover, 100 golden plover, 20 grey plover, 2 oystercatcher and turnstone. Calling as they flew across the Pyefleet were a greenshank and a spotted redshank, while a few lapwings were seen in flight.

Also along the Pyefleet were 2 grey herons, 3 little egrets, 10 common terns roosting on Langenhoe Point and 4 little terns flying along the Channel. On Langenhoe Marsh were at least 4 marsh harriers, some flying around, others perched on bushes or on top of the seawall. Thirty greylag geese flew across the Pyefleet to land on Reeveshall.

Ten yellow wagtails passed overhead, presumably disturbed from the nearby herd of grazing cattle. Also of interest was the large mixed flock of 250 rooks and jackdaws heading off Island to their night roost site near Alresford.

Martin Cock saw a curlew sandpiper, Mediterranean gull, spotted redshank, 12 yellow wagtails, stonechat, wheatear and 4 snipe amongst various other birds on his walk along the Peyfleet this morning.

Coming out of the Shop Lane wood pictured above, there was an interesting tit flock which caught my eye. Comprising mainly 30 long-tails, great and blue tits, there were about 10 willow warblers and a chiffchaff, foraging in the oaks and willow trees. The sweet autumn song of a robin provided more life to this corner of the wood and a little owl called from a nearby hedgeline.

There was no sign of the spotted flycatcher that Martin Cock had seen earlier in the day close to the wood. However a second spotted flycatcher was seen just north of the country park, perching briefly on a bush over the footpath leading to the bus turning circle.

Andy Field walked along the Reeveshall seawall on Friday 22nd and saw 11 wheatear, 5 whinchat, stonechat, curlew sandpiper, 3 green sandpiper, 5 greenshank, hobby, sparrowhawk and marsh harrier.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008


It was warm enough on Wednesday 20th, despite the strong breeze and the showers, for various dragonflies and damselflies to be on the wing. This one pictured, is the small red-eyed damselfly, seen basking on a bush, in the sun but out of the wind. Several were seen in the area of bushes located about 30 metres from the park pond.

Small red-eyed damselflies colonised the dyke and pond of the park several years ago, as part of the rapid colonisation of south and eastern England. Originally from the continent, these delicate flying insects were first seen in the UK opposite Mersea Island near Bradwell in 1999. The species became the first migrant damselfly to colonise the British Isles.

Various dragonflies were hunting along the sheltered paths, such as southern hawker, migrant hawker, common darter and ruddy darter. The strong breeze kept butterfly activity down although a few red admirals, small white, large white, meadow browns and speckled woods were all seen.

Birds seen around the park included 2 willow warblers, sparrowhawk, a few swallows passing through whilst two little egrets roosted at the pond at high tide. There was plenty of wader activity on the mudflats in the late afternoon as the tide went out. As the first 100 metres of mud from the shore was revealed, at least ten species were arriving in their hundreds. The usual oystercatchers, curlew, redshank and black-tailed godwits in good numbers. Scattered small groups of dunlin, turnstone, grey plover, ringed plover as well as 100 golden plover. Further out a little egret, little tern and common tern were noted.

Martin Cock visited the Pyefleet area of Reeveshall and noted 2 wheatears, 20 teal, turtle dove and ruff. Yesterdays visit revealed a good view of the ringtail hen harrier catching some small prey and then being mobbed by a marsh harrier. On the pool were greenshank, 3 green sandpiper, 2 snipe with 2 wheatear, whinchat and stonechat seen nearby.

The tawny owl was seen perching low alongside Bromans Lane just after dark on Tuesday evening.

Monday, 18 August 2008


This mega-sized and striking caterpillar was found in the garden of Glenna Russell in Woodfield Drive, West Mersea on Sunday 17th. This is the privet hawkmoth caterpillar and is one of the largest in the UK. Judging by the frequency of privet hawks caught in the moth trap at the park, the moth is reasonably common on the Island and is itself, one of the biggest moths in the country.

The bright green caterpillar with distinctive diagonal stripes and the curved horn at one end, was probably about 8cms (3+ inches) long and judging by its appetite, still had some growing to do. This caterpillar was originally feeding in a guelder rose bush and despite being offered some privet leaves later, was only interested in more guelder rose leaves.

The sunny periods brought out a few butterflies onto the buddleia bushes such as the comma, pictured above. There were four commas on the bush by the hide, photo below, on Monday 18th. The red admirals still outnumber all the other butterflies on the buddleia with 12 seen on the bush in the car park, along with a couple of small tortoiseshells also of note. A holly blue and green-veined white were also seen nearby.

Not much to report from this hide overlooking the pond except the noisy little grebe chicks and at least one young tufted duck still present. The plaintive calls of the young sparrowhawks can be heard across much of the park and at least two birds are often seen flying about. They may be keeping an eye on a large mixed tit flock of mainly long-tailed tits with about 25 birds foraging through the bushes. At least one willow warbler had joined the blue, great and long-tails. A blackcap was seen on the Sunday morning as well as the usual whitethroats, while 2 greenshank flew off the mud as the tide came in.

Glyn Evans had a very rewarding walk along the north side of the Island, as he carried out the monthly wildfowl count. He called me several times with his mobile to give me the latest exciting sightings. Starting near the Strood, he discovered a wasp spider in the long grass, the first sighting for the western end of the Island. Then a ringtail hen harrier was seen over Reeveshall, which soon dropped down out of sight. Bruce Cock reported a possible hen harrier a week ago near West Mersea.Whilst continuing along, a short-eared owl unexpectedly took off having been resting on the seawall. Over on Langenhoe a buzzard was seen flying around, the first there for a few weeks.

On the Reeveshall pool a wood sandpiper was still present along with 7 green sandpipers. Few waders were seen along the Pyefleet with the high tide, although two common seals were seen near Maydays. Four wheatears were noted along the seawall walk.

Walking back into the country park, a woodlark was tracked down by its call as it fed in the long grass. There have been only two other Island records of woodlark, both in the autumn, one of which was flying over the park three years ago, calling as it went. Despite Glyn showing me the area of long grass where it was seen a short while earlier, there was no sign of the bird in the middle of the afternoon. He had saved the most interesting bird till the end of his walk.

Ian Black phoned me from his Mersea Avenue home to say that he had seen 3 crossbills pass over his garden at the beginning of Monday. This follows the two I had seen in East Mersea a fortnight ago.

Martin Cock reported peregrine, shag and 70 common terns in the Mersea Quarters for Sunday.

The combination of warmth and rain has encouraged some fungi to appear such as this colourful boletus along one of the paths in the park. Puffballs have been out for a few weeks and the first parasol has just emerged in the long grass.

A badger crossed the entrance track at dusk as I walked to close the park on Friday night. Two adders were present in their usual spot, although both kept out of the strong wind.

The moth trap was operated on both Saturday and Sunday nights despite the strong breeze and the drizzle. In total about 25 species were noted such as white-line dart, oak hook-tip, silver Y, latticed heath, flounced rustic, spectacle, lesser broad-bordered yellow underwing, common swift, dingy footman and several brimstones.

One of the recently admired red underwing moths continued to hang around the toilet building in the mornings and on both Sunday and Monday mornings, it had to be collected and released outside. As it flew away the big red, black and white wings flickered rapidly, a sight reminiscent of a hoopoe's wings.

Alan Burgess at the East Mersea Pick Your Own field, pointed out several dense swarms of what appeared to be midges around some of the trees. At times the swarms appeared like thick smoke, wafting in the wind. We both remarked how we hadn't noticed this on the Island before and maybe the unusually damp summer has boosted the population.

Friday, 15 August 2008


The colourful painted lady butterfly pictured above, graced the buddleia bush again near the information room in the country park on Friday 15th. I wonder if any other individuals will be seen in the next few weeks, or whether this may be the only one for the park. Very different from last year's spectacular influx into north Essex when several hundred were seen over the park and thousands generally along local seawalls, gardens and fields. In an average summer only one or two are usually seen at the park.

Of greater interest was the sight of a small tortoiseshell on the buddleia. This very tatty looking tortoiseshell is only the second one seen at the park this summer. Numbers have crashed in the last two years and what was usually a common butterfly, is now only just clinging on with one or two individuals.

Other butterflies on the butterfly bush included a dozen red admirals, comma, meadow brown, small white, large white and peacock. The first holly blue of the second brood was seen in the car park.

Very pleased to find two red underwing moths, one pictured above, resting high up on part of the wooden exterior of the information room in the middle of the afternoon. They would never have been spotted if they had been resting on a tree trunk, their folded wings blend perfectly with the pattern and colour of bark.

However disturb the moth and the wings flutter their bright red hindwings patterned with black and white. It is a very eyecatching combination and supposedly helps to deter predators when it suddenly reveals the colourful markings.

Red underwings have been recorded in previous summers here, including another pair seen 3 years ago resting during the day side by side on the black weatherboarding of the toilet building.

The moth trap operated through Thursday night but it was a below average catch with only about 20 species found. The conditions were not ideal for moths as there was a clear sky which dropped the temperature, added to this was the near full moon.

The moths found included a poplar hawkmoth, swallow prominent, peacock moth, flounced rustics, orange swift, lesser broad-bordered yellow underwings, cloaked minor, brimstone, lime-speck pug, setaceous hebrew character, shuttle-shaped dart, dark arches, scarce footman, smoky wainscot and a small square-spot.

Had an evening walk along the Reeveshall seawall to check the pool and the Pyefleet Channel for waders. No wood sandpipers or curlew sandpipers were found on this occasion. Waders of interest in the general area included 3 greenshank, 3 spotted redshank, 6 green sandpipers, common sandpiper, 3 summer plumaged bar-tailed godwits, 100 black-tailed godwits, 60 avocet, 25 ringed plover, 100 grey plover, 40 dunlin, one golden plover plus lots of redshank, curlew and a few oystercatchers.

The male marsh harrier quartered the fields of Reeveshall as did a youngster, while two other youngsters were also seen on the nearby Langenhoe marshes. Three kestrels were the only other raptors seen. Ten little egrets were seen flying east along the Pyefleet to their evening roost at St Osyth and there was a late gathering of 300 sand martins assembling for their roost.

Four corn buntings passed overhead calling as did a yellow wagtail but other than a couple of skylarks and two linnets, no other small birds.

Back at the Shop Lane wood at dusk, there was a brief glimpse of a tawny owl gliding silently into the conifer wood. The same locality where a tawny owl was found dead recently.

Thursday, 14 August 2008


Received this grass-snake on Thursday 14th from a lady who lived in Empress Avenue in West Mersea. The snake was being blamed for eating the toads and fish in her garden pond. In fact she ensnared it in the pond netting, whilst it was in the middle of trying to swallow a huge toad.

This lively large female made a lot of hissing noise when a hand went near it but calmed down and nearly played dead when actually handled. Having been placed on the ground, photo above, it slid away into cover and was quickly lost to view. It will hopefully settle in to the new surroundings at the park and meet up with some of the other very elusive grass-snakes already in the park.
The grass-snake was delivered to the park in a small plastic tank with some water, where it was pictured, below.

I had already wondered about photographing snakes today - such as one of the three adders at their usual spot in the park but the one under the tin sheet was too wary whilst the other two were hidden amongst grass. In the sunshine during the morning, two common lizards were seen in different locations sunning themselves. A park visitor commented in the afternoon how he had been pleased to have seen three lizards during his walk-about.

A nice sunny summer's morning and the park beach is nearly deserted. A handful of sand martins were flying above the cliff where the nests are located. The very vocal and young sparrowhawk recently fledged was flying back and forwards in the evening between the different tree plantations. Thirteen whimbrel passed over the park calling as did four common terns.

A few warblers were noted in some of the bushes with two families of common whitethroats on either side of the pond totalling about 10 birds. Also female blackcap and three willow warblers in different corners of the park. On the pond a little egret roosted in a tree whilst on the water a young dabchick was a recent addition for the second pair of dabchicks. The Bromans Lane turtle dove was heard singing whilst at dusk the male tawny owl was calling by the park entrance.

Common blue butterflies have been very scarce this year so it is good to see this pair making sure there is another generation to follow them. The bigger and blue one is the male on the right-hand side.

The buddliea bushes are at their flowering peak at the moment and 8 red admirals were counted on two bushes, also peacock, comma, a lone painted lady first seen two days ago, small white and large white. The usual meadow browns, hedge browns, a few speckled woods and a small heath.
Several migrant hawkers and ruddy darters noted, also southern hawkers too.

Managed to locate three more wasp spiders close together, near a spot where a female was seen last year.

On Tuesday evening Martin Cock and I stopped our cars along the East Mersea road to watch a male marsh harrier passing low over the road and nearby wheat fields. Martin later saw two sandwich terns along the Pyefleet but not many other waders on the Reeveshall pool.

Monday, 11 August 2008


Armed with the telescope for the walk along the Strood Channel on Monday 11th, there were plenty of waders on the mud to scrutinise. One group to catch the eye were 170 golden plover, pictured above, roosting on the opposite side of the channel. Most of them still had their black underparts of their breeding plumage. Nearby for comparison were some of the 50 grey plovers some strikingly marked, showing their mix of silver upperparts and jet black underparts.

Having decided to count all the redshank, I was very surprised to find there were virtually 500 birds in this channel. An impressive count and it's not even anywhere near winter yet, when redshank numbers are normally at their highest. Amongst the other waders seen were 3 greenshank, spotted redshank, whimbrel, 50 curlew, 10 black-tailed godwits, bar-tailed godwit, 10 oystercatchers, 2 turnstone, 2 ringed plovers, 5 lapwing and only 2 dunlin.

Up to five little egrets were seen in various locations either on the mudflats, or amongst the Ray saltmarsh. Four little terns including a couple of noisy juveniles flew up and down the channel.

Flocks of wood pigeons kept rising into the air to the west, over Ray Island and the Feldy marshes on the mainland. I had nearly given up trying to locate the culprit when the dashing shape of a peregrine hurtled high over the Strood. It powered its way eastwards in very determined mood, creating chaos below it as it sped on by.
One kestrel left the Island and headed over to Ray Island, while a second bird perched up on some overhead wires near the caravan site.

The pair of wheatears were present for their second day along the shore side of the seawall. As with yesterday a yellow wagtail, corn bunting, 2 sub-singing reed warblers, 2 linnets and 2 pied wagtails were also present.

The mute swans were finding plenty to feed on in this section of borrow-dyke. A juvenile little grebe stopped calling repeatedly and hid in the club-rushes.

The weather turned cloudy and supressed the dragonfly activity. However it was good to see up to 5 of the recent colonists to the UK in the last few years of the small red-eyed damselflies resting on the weed in the middle of the water. Also seen were the emperor, black-tailed skimmer and common blue damselflies.

Sunday, 10 August 2008


Two contrasting walks on Sunday 10th along the seawalls of the Pyefleet and then the Strood. The picture above shows the Strood seawall with another big rain cloud heading towards the Island during the evening.

This black cloud over the back of the Strood Hill, had just passed by taking with it some weak rainbows. The walk was timed to take advantage of a lone blackthorn bush near the seawall that provided some welcome shelter from the rain.

The high tide and stiff breeze made it hard work trying to locate any birdlife along the Strood Channel. However a couple of wheatears flew along the side of the seawall in short flights, perching on the breakwater posts and muddy banks by the water's edge. Also feeding along the wall were a corn bunting, yellow wagtail and a couple of pied wagtails. Calling from the dyke were a reed warbler and reed bunting.

On the saltings around the Ray Island and by the Strood, there were 3 little egrets, 200 roosting redshank, a few curlew and oystercatchers, along with several hundred black-headed gulls.
Several common terns and little terns were seen flying up and down the Channel, pictured below.

Met up with Andy Field just after mid-day for a hot, windy and very rewarding session along the Reeveshall seawall. The tide was well out and plenty of mud on view, although the heat haze and the telescopes shaking in the wind made the viewing conditions tricky.

Andy located a couple of curlew sandpipers on the north side of the Pyefleet, both adults with one colourful bird still with most of its chestnut breeding plumage. This made it easy to spot in the distance amongst the 100 dunlin and other waders. Most waders were on the opposite shore and included 6 greenshank, spotted redshank, 250 black-tailed godwits, 25 grey plover, 200+ redshank and 12 turnstone.

There was little to see on the pool at Reeveshall on the first walk past, other than a greenshank and green sandpiper. However on the return there was plenty to admire, even despite the low tide in the nearby Pyefleet. The highlight was seeing 4 wood sandpipers feeding around the edge in the company of about 5 green sandpipers. Even through the heat haze and the shaky 'scope, the wood sands appeared more active and more elegant than the green sandpipers. Despite not finding the fifth bird that Andy had seen a few days earlier, this still appears to be the biggest group in the county at the moment, judging by recent reports. A few years ago there was a flock of six wood sandpipers seen at this pool.

Also on the pool were 8 black-tailed godwits, ruff, 2 snipe, 30 lapwing, while nearby a whimbrel flew off, 6 golden plover passed overhead and the first returning wheatear for the Island.

Also seen over Reeveshall was the male marsh harrier, a few swifts, swallows and sand martins on passage, at least a handful of stock doves and two kestrels. On Langenhoe a juvenile marsh harrier flew around while along the Pyefleet Channel 9 little terns, 6 common terns flew past, while in the water one great crested grebe and a brood of 8 shelducklings crossed the water in flotilla formation.

Staying low to the ground were various butterflies including a couple of common blues, small heath and lots of meadow browns, with speckled woods by the Shop Lane wood. Migrant hawker, southern hawker and ruddy darters were seen close to the wood too where it was sheltered from the wind.

David Nicholls had a good view of the regular Bromans Lane tawny owl by the country park entrance at dusk on Friday night.

Friday, 8 August 2008


Andy Field found this lifeless tawny owl clutching to some overhead electricity wires in Shop Lane at East Mersea on Thursday 7th. It appeared to have electrocuted itself, presumably by touching two wires at the same time, although there was no visible sign of any injuries or burn marks. A short while later the owl had dropped to the ground. There have always been tawny owls in the Shop Lane area with recent sightings near the wood at the south end of the Lane. Sadly it is one less tawny owl for the Island.

Andy visited the Reeveshall pool during the afternoon and found five wood sandpipers present, which is a good count of a passage migrant scarcely seen on Mersea. Amongst the other waders on the pool were 13 green sandpipers and snipe, ruff, 2 common sandpipers, greenshank, whimbrel and 4 black-tailed godwits. Also seen nearby were 12 whimbrel, 60 avocets 77 black-tailed godwits, corn bunting, 2 marsh harriers and a sparrowhawk.
Richard Hull saw the first returning wheatear and 3 whinchats of the autumn on nearby Langenhoe.
Birds seen around the park included a nightingale in flight near the pond, a willow warbler, the young sparrowhawk calling by the cliff-top and a turtle dove singing from the car park.

Enjoying the warmth and a break in the clouds were three adders out basking in their usual spot by the car park, while a common lizard was seen amongst the long grass. More surprising was nearly standing on top of another adder, that was coiled up in the late afternoon sun on the seawall path. I wasn't sure who would be more vulnerable, passing walkers, their dogs or the adder itself. I found a stick and gently nudged the adder, where-upon it reluctantly but obligingly, headed into the nearby vegetation without a backward glance.

On the subject of snakes, David Nicholls watched a grass-snake swimming in the salt-waters of the Ray Channel crossing between the mainland and Ray Island on Wednesday. A common seal was also seen in the same Channel.

Enjoying some of the sunshine on Thursday at the park were red admiral, comma, speckled wood, small white, large white, Essex skipper, lots of meadow browns and hedge browns. The southern hawker, migrant hawker, ruddy darter were some of the dragonflies seen along with blue-tailed damselfly and azure damselfly.

There was a reasonable selection of moths in the trap on Thursday morning despite the spectacular thunder and lightning display during the night. The trap managed to continue operating even during the heavy rain. Around 40 species were noted including this sallow kitten pictured above, the first for the year here.

Amongst the other moths seen were poplar hawks, pebble prominent, ruby tiger, chocolate-tip, drinker, orange swift, single dotted wave, least carpet, lunar-spotted pinion, mouse, smoky wainscot, mother of pearl, clouded border and maidens blush.

This small moth is the tree-lichen beauty which caught the eye because of the amount of fading green on it. This used to be a scarce migrant moth from the continent until recent years. Amazingly a complete clear out of the trap late on Thursday afternoon, revealed two more tree lichen beauties, still resting inside. The overnight storm that came over from the continent, could've brought these moths on the southerly wind.

The moth trap was taken just off the Island on Thursday night to Hugh Owen's garden at Langenhoe, where I joined seven other members of the Essex moth group and their four light traps. The night was successful in recording the continuing presence of one of Britain's rarest moths - the white-spotted pinion moth, pictured above. The striking moth with its chestnut coloured wings and bright-white spots, has declined in England due to the demise of many elm trees - the foodplant of the caterpillars.

Other moths found included lesser-spotted pinion, sallow kitten, pale prominent, swallow prominent, ruby tiger, magpie, chocolate-tip, copper underwing, straw underwing, least carpet, peacock, dingy footman, drinker, V-pug, green carpet, red twin-spot carpet, silver Y and cabbage.
One marsh frog kept up his loud chorus well after midnight from one of the garden ponds.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008


During the evening walk along the Reeveshall seawall on Monday 4th, I watched this emperor dragonfly hawking back and forwards along the side of the seawall. It snatched a smaller ruddy darter dragonfly and then proceeded to eat it, whilst clinging to some grass stalks. Both pictures show the emperor tucking into the brown body of the darter. The sound of the dragonfly crunching into its supper was certainly audible from a couple of metres away.

The large bright blue body of the male emperor, makes it a very eye-catching dragonfly, normally seen flying low over the water of ponds and dykes on the Island. The description in one dragonfly guide-book says "Its vigour, aggression and agility in flight are unequalled in Britain."

Before walking along the side of the Pyefleet Channel pictured above, I stopped to check the Reeveshall pool. There was an interesting variety of waders on it and I made sure I didn't frighten them off when I arrived, by staying behind the seawall and peering over the top. Through the telescope I quickly scanned the pool and made out 5 green sandpipers, 2 common sandpipers, 2 ruff, whimbrel, 10 black-tailed godwits, 20 lapwing, 5 teal and redshank.

Before being able to check every corner of the pool, all the birds suddenly took fright at something and flew off. Amongst the general commotion there was the very distinctive call of what sounded like a wood sandpiper with its chip-ip-ip call. Frustratingly I couldn't see the bird and although some birds settled back down, there was no sign of a wood sandpiper. A brown hare broke cover and jogged round the side of the pool.

Martin Cock visited the pool the following morning and was able to confirm that there was indeed a wood sandpiper feeding at the pool. He also saw an avocet, 8 green sandpipers and 2 snipe here.

Also over Reeveshall that evening were 2 young marsh harriers and the male, flying over the fields, a singing yellowhammer and corn bunting, 50 black-tailed godwits feeding on the pasture and 3 hovering kestrels.

There was hundreds of waders seen feeding on the mud of the Pyefleet as the sun went down. Many birds were just silhouettes but most appeared to be 500 redshank and 200 black-tailed godwits. A careful scan with the telescope also revealed 3 spotted redshank, greenshank, 4 common sandpipers, 20 grey plover, 10 dunlin, 4 avocet, 50+ curlew and 5 turnstone.

Four great crested grebes snoozed in the Channel, the plops of several little terns diving into the water were often heard and in the distance, a common seal basked on the mud.

As the breeze died down for the evening, the laughing sound of the marsh frogs could be heard from across the Channel on Langenhoe. Measuring the distance on the map, this sound appears to be carrying nearly a kilometre in the gentle breeze.

Earlier in the day at the country park, this striking wasp spider was located in some long grass. Following lots of reports from elsewhere in Essex of wasp spider sightings, I decided to check the long grass where two were seen last summer. This large female was found by looking for the distinctive web which has a broad vertical white zig-zag silk line from the centre downwards.

The wasp spider was a scarce spider in the county a few years ago but has spread rapidly northwards. The first sighting in the park was about five years ago and individuls have been seen in a variety of long grass locations around the park each year since.

Early on Monday morning a group of 4 willow warblers in one tree near the park entrance was noteworthy, as these would be migrants newly arrived during the previous night. There haven't been any willow warblers in the park this summer so these birds will probably be from Scandinavia. There were also reports of several willow warblers on the same morning, found in coastal bushes at Walton on the Naze in Essex and also at the nearby Suffolk coastal site at Landguard Point.

Passing high over the park early in the morning were two marsh harriers, probably on migration as they headed west. On the park a family of lesser whitethroats were seen near the entrance, the loud calls of a young sparrowhawk were heard and the rare song of a turtle dove called from the side of the car park. At the pond, the tufted duck brood of four young reappeared after not being seen for a fortnight.

There was lots of wader activity in the late afternoon as the tide went out from the park. In the river Colne the wonderful old barge Wyvenhoe dominated the scene as it sailed up river. On the mud 200 black-tailed godwits, 25 ringed plover, 100 dunlin, 5 grey plover were noted amongst lots of redshank, curlew and oystercatchers. Two little egrets and 7 little terns were also seen. Earlier there was a group of 12 whimbrel whistled their way over the park.

On Sunday night as I drove back to the park along the Bromans Lane, a tawny owl swooped low in front of the car almost colliding with it as it flew up into a nearby ash tree. I stopped the car to admire it for a few seconds before it flew off. Back at the park very late at night, the long-eared bat was seen hanging from its favourite ceiling light in the ladies toilet. There have been many mornings recently where the remains of moths have been found littering the floor.

Sunday, 3 August 2008


Whilst enjoying an early evening jaunt along the park beach on Saturday 2nd, I noticed masses of the common jellyfishes washed up, one pictured above. This regular mass beaching of jellyfish normally occurs in mid-summer during a warm spell of weather. The majority of the jellyfish are usually the common or moon jellyfish but occasionally others such as the compass jellyfish are sometimes seen.

The sand martins were enjoying the early evening sunshine with 50 birds flying around the beach, many perching on top of the wooden breakwater posts, out on the mudflats. Also on the mudflats were 300 black-tailed godwits, most of them dotted along the outer edge of the mud beside the river Colne. Two little egrets, a well marked grey plover still in breeding plumage and a little tern, were some of the other birds to catch the eye.

The long grass around the park has faded to its typical summer brown colour. One or two skylarks and meadow pipits are still feeding in these areas. On the short grass of the overflow car park a group of 3 young green woodpeckers were recognised with their dark spotted bodies. The calls of the young sparrowhawk was heard from the cliff-top trees.

Earlier in the day at the pond a very young brood of about 6 tufted ducklings were seen. This is a new and different brood from the previous one seen a fortnight ago which only had four young ducklings. The noisiest birds on the pond were the two little grebe chicks calling out to be fed by the adults. A little egret stood on a reedmace clump, passing the time while it was high tide.

The butterflies seen included lots of meadow browns, hedge browns, small whites, also speckled wood, red admiral and comma, also the brightly marked six-spot burnet moth.

Friday, 1 August 2008


The only wildlife of any interest to report on for the last few days has centred around the moth trap. Two recent sessions at the country park on Tuesday 29th and Thursday 31st, yielded a good variety of moths, as the mini-heatwave of recent days draws to a close. The warm weather has been good for the moths. Forty species were noted on the first session with 45 on the second one.

The brick-red coloured ruby tiger moth pictured above, is an attractive addition to the moth trap at the moment. It's usually seen during the second half of July and early August in small numbers. On Tuesday night four were noted while 3 were seen on Thursday night.

Some of the other moths seen included pine hawk, poplar hawk, iron prominent, peacock moth, scorched carpet, red twin-spot carpet, small blood vein, silver-Y, poplar grey, drinker, early thorn, white-spotted pug. There were also four of the scarce starworts, also the similar shark for comparison nearby.

The delicate latticed heath with its distinctive lattice markings on the wings, was found in one of the traps. It can be quite a numerous moth in the traps during late summer.

The small least carpet has become a regular visitor to the trap. It used to be a very local moth in the county but numbers have increased in recent years.

The only opportunities to check the mudflats has been on a couple of recent evenings but the tide has been well out and so have the waders. At least 200 black-tailed godwits have been the most noticeable waders seen with 5 golden plover, 100 dunlin, 50 redshank, as well as lots of oystercatchers and curlew. A couple of little egrets could be seen feeding in some mudflat pools.

Along the beach the usual 50 sand martins flew around the cliff where many are still nesting. The male sparrowhawk was seen on two consecutive evenings heading towards the trees on the clifftop where it has some hungry young to feed. The loud calls of at least one young sparrowhawk have been heard in recent days from the general area where they nested last year.

Two nightingales were heard calling to each other from the back of the pond with one "wheeting" and the other replying with a croak call. The other nightingale in the car park was also heard today calling, so both pairs will have bred this year. They will probably be around for only another fortnight before they head back south.

Around the park a migrant hawker dragonfly was seen along one path and later from the hide, two foxes were seen at dusk. On the pond a water vole was seen feeding for a few minutes at the base of a clump of reedmace.