Monday, 29 September 2008


Another day of sunshine on the Island on Monday 28th and this small copper was enjoying the morning's warmth on a sheltered patch of bare ground at the country park. This bright little butterfly with its striking orangey/copper-coloured wings, has been seen only sporadically around the park recently but maybe its been missed because of its small size. If the weather stays sunny into October, there should be a few more sightings to come.
Near this basking small copper was an adder also enjoying the sun.

This dead elm tree has now become an ivy bush and is currently the best place on the park to admire insects as they feed on the ivy flowers. This is the best time of year to see the real value of ivy to wildlife. Six red admirals and 3 commas enjoyed this bush in the morning sun. Lots of honey bees, one queen wasp, lots of flies and hoverflies were all buzzing around the flowers. A speckled wood butterfly basked on nettles nearby.

Looking along the dyke towards the Cetti's warbler corner, where the bird performed for the second day here at the park. Even from a distance of about 100 metres, the loud song could be heard before I got near the site. In the morning sunshine the bird was being surprisingly confiding, hopping slowly around at the base of a bramble bush, providing some clear views as I watched from the top of the seawall. It had also showed well to Martin Cock a short while earlier, calling loudly and singing as it moved about.

Other birds noted were 6 siskins, lesser redpoll, swallow, grey wagtail passing over the park. In the bushes were 10 chiffchaffs with the tit flock and a lesser whitethroat was also noted. One of the two sparrowhawks seen was a nicely coloured male, flushed from the top of the seawall as I walked along. On the grazing fields 13 wigeon, snipe, 60 goldfinch and 8 skylarks were seen. At the park pond 2 female pintail was an uncommon record for the site.

Along the beach at the Point are some eyecatching clumps of sea mayweed with their large daisy-type flowers. The shingle and sand here provide ideal conditions for the plants to flourish, although the increasing coastal erosion may prove a threat here.

Also seen from the Point feeding on the nearby mud were sanderling, bar-tailed godwit, 16 avocets and 100 golden plover. The four wheatears were present again along the beach and seawall.

Sunday, 28 September 2008


The distinctive song of a Cetti's warbler was heard from this wet and scrubby corner of the country park on Sunday 28th. The "explosive" song is normally a loud, brief burst that has been likened to it saying - "What's my name?...Cetti-Cetti-Cetti-that's it!"

I waited on top of the seawall and kept an eye on the small clump of reeds in the west end of the borrowdyke where a couple of bushes also grew. The bird duly appeared after a couple of minutes as it flew across a gap, a quick flash of a small rich-brown bird.

After a few minutes the skulking bird hopped into view at the side of a blackthorn bush, allowing a good view of its face and grey underparts. It dropped down out of sight into the thick mass of reeds, bramble and bushy growth around the ditch pictured above. It continued to give out brief bursts of song in the general area although it appeared to be moving further along a well wooded ditch when I left the area.

This sighting is only the second record for the Island with the last one seen near the park pond at exactly the same date three years ago. It was found on the 27th September 2005 and stayed for 4 days. Recent mild winters have seen a rapid increase of the population across Essex in suitable scrubby and reed habitat next to water. Although the last Mersea bird only stayed for 4 days, it shouldn't be long before the bird takes up permanent residence on the Island.

A quick morning walk to the Point produced a similar selection of birds as the previous day with 4 wheatear, 80 avocet, greenshank, 50 linnet, 60 goldfinch, 7 wigeon, while a water vole scuttled along the side of the dyke.

On the park the sunny weather kept the snake-tin warm near the car park where 3 adders were found lying underneath. Small copper, small heath, comma, 2 red admirals, small white and large white were the butterflies seen.

Richard Allen joined the throng of visitors to the park all enjoying the sunshine and was rewarded with the sight of 2 honey buzzards flying south as he walked back to the car park. He also noted yellow wagtail, 2 wheatears, 10 swallows, 4 common tern and 100 golden plover.

Spent the evening along the Reeveshall seawall looking at this big grass field pictured above where a distant view of a short-eared owl was seen flying around amongst the sheep. Martin Cock had just been watching the same field just before I arrived and had watched 3 short-eared owls as well as a common buzzard on the ground. As the light faded a barn owl hunted along the side of Broad Fleet at the back of the fields. Also 50 meadow pipits along the side of the seawall here and a wheatear by the Pool.

Despite the usual wide scattering of lots of waders along the Pyefleet Channel, there was little of note. Martin watched a juvenile curlew sandpiper near Maydays and saw just the one knot. Further along I had a knot too but no flocks of dunlin were tracked down during the evening, where there are usually a few other interesting waders with them.

In the Channel 6 great crested grebes and there was still one of the two common seals that had been seen earlier in the day by Steve Entwhistle. Ten little egrets headed east to roost as the light faded.

Andy Field and Richard Hull during their visit to the nearby Langenhoe Marshes noted a flow of 8 common buzzards that appeared to be heading up the river Colne. Also hobby, peregrine, 6 marsh harriers, 2 little stints, 4 green sandpipers, 4 greenshank, 2 wheatears, 4 stonechat, spotted flycatcher and a long-tailed tit flock with one bird having a white head.

Saturday, 27 September 2008


A few common lizards were out basking along thier usual hedgeline at the country park in the morning of Saturday 27th. This one pictured above had been resting on top of the fence-post when it seemed to reach up into the cluster of blackberries. I don't think it was trying to sneak a few berries but was probably after an insect amongst the fruit.

The chilly night left all the spiders' cobwebs around the park covered in dew-drops by the morning. The most recognisable webs are these distinctive circular ones hung between bushes and amongst the long grass, belonging to the common garden spider.

The dragonflies enjoying the sunny weather were southern hawker, migrant hawker and common darter but not many butterflies seen.

At the park pond there was the welcome sight of a kingfisher which proclaimed its presence with quite a show, flying round a couple of times, calling loudly as it went and then hovering high over the water for a few seconds before flying to a perch. Four little egrets stood at various points around the pond edge, while secreted away in the thick vegetation was a calling water rail. On the water a pair of gadwall, 10 teal, 2 wigeon and tufted duck joined the main group of mallard.

Several small groups of swallows passed over the park totalling about 2o birds. Three chiffchaffs were heard by the park pond with another one calling in the car park. Also noted by the pond were the usual green woodpecker, great spotted woodpecker, jays and kestrel.

The first rock pipit of the autumn was heard calling near the Point pictured above, and then seen dropping down into a saltmarsh creek. One wheatear flew along the beach and perched on the pillbox, meanwhile a further two were noted back along the seawall. Thirty linnets flew around the Point feeding on the saltmarsh and sea-blite bushes, two reed buntings were noted too.

Resting on the saltmarsh by the Point were 4 little egrets and other than lots of redshank on the mud, there was the nice sight of 65 avocets feeding along the water's edge.

On the park grazing fields, 7 wigeon and 2 snipe were seen in the central ditch while 50 curlew roosted in the field.

This female speckled bush-cricket was a few feet off the ground resting on an information board on top of the seawall. It had managed to find a big green noticeboard that offered a little bit of background colour to blend into.

The last hour of the day was spent enjoying the last of the sunshine along the Pyefleet at Reeveshall Marsh. For a brief spell the sun glowed a bright orange. As the sun faded, the mist started to settle in places and the visibility deteriorated when scanning into the distance. As usual the Reeveshall area always manages to put on a good evening show, it's just a shame there is less light in the evenings now.

Scanning the river Colne to the east, the first brent geese newly arrived, were seen at their regular drinking spot by the Brightlingsea seawall. Ten avocets and 2 common terns also seen in this area while by the Oyster Fishery were 100 black-tailed godwits.

The only birds on the Reeveshall pool were three mute swans and a couple of teal. However the two resident short-eared owls put on a great performance over Reeveshall up until dark. The first sighting was of one being mobbed by a group of carrion crows as it flew over the big grass field. A short while later the two owls could be seen mobbing a marsh harrier that happened to cross their territory as it headed back to the Langenhoe Marshes roost. The owls tussled with the crow and performed a few acrobatics as it passed by.

One of the owls was then mobbed in turn by another crow and the two birds circled higher and higher above the fields. The whole time the crow was calling repeatedly with lots of high-pitched notes that were very un-crow-like. After about 10 minutes the crow retreated followed by the owl which did some dramatic free-fall manuoevres as it dropped back to the field.

At least 7 marsh harriers were seen over or heading to the Langenhoe Point evening roost, including three arriving from the west over Maydays Marsh. Arriving onto the Reeveshall pool from Langenhoe for the night were 50 noisy Canada geese. Two little owls called from the Reeveshall hedgerows at dusk.

Friday, 26 September 2008


Called round on Friday 26th to see David Nicholls, on the left above, along with Ian Black on the right, to admire some old sperm whale bones found locally. David has recently taken temporary possession of a handful of the bones that had been discovered back in May, protruding from the mud by Cobmarsh Island at the entrance to the Mersea Quarters.

Ralph Merry made the initial discovery and with assistance from Donald Rainbird and advice from Jerry Bowdrey of the Colchester Natural History Museum, some of the bones were removed and cleaned up. Apparently the bones of the whale have become scattered across the mud rather than being an intact skeleton. At this stage no-one has an idea of the age of the bones suffice to say there is no recent documentation of one being located there by Cobmarsh.

The two photos above show the long lower jawbones with the empty sockets where up to 22 teeth in a row would've been situated. The jawbone has had the tip broken off but still stands at just under 7 feet long. There was no sign of any teeth in the jawbone or in the mud where it was found.

This photo provides an idea of the length of the bones, as they lean against a garden shed with its' six-foot five inch doorway. The large wide bone in the middle, is the flat roof plate of the mouth. The upper jaw only has small vestigial teeth that apparently rarely break through the gums. This flat roofplate almost had the appearance of an old bit of fibreglass from an old boat.

No other whale has such a distinctive jaw with a long row of teeth, which the sperm whale uses when feeding on squid, octupus and occasionally fish. Sperm whales normally feed in deep waters or near the continental shelf, so it is unusual to have one washed up on the shallow Essex coast. One of the vertebra from the back-bone is pictured below, this is about 12-14 inches long.

The Mammals of Essex book by John Dobson makes a couple of references to sperm whale in the county. "One was captured in the Thames and brought ashore at Blackwall, London around 1732, and two were washed up at unknown locations on the Essex coast following an east coast storm in 1763."

John Dobson lists the only other documented whale records for West Mersea were two northern bottlenose whales on 30th July 1939. On 7th August 1939 an unidentified whale 5.49m long, stranded at East Mersea may have been this species too.

Three more unidentified whale remains were found at East Mersea on 9th August 1956.

Another still and sunny morning, with the cattle at the park's grazing fields helping to keep the grass in good condition for the geese and ducks, soon to arrive for the winter.

The gentle north-east breeze has kept the small trickle of migrant birds flying into the wind. A group of 12 swallows flew north-east over the park in the afternoon. Five siskin and 3 lesser redpoll flew over in the morning, again heading north-east, as did a few meadow pipits. Feeding with the tit flock around the car park bushes were three chiffchaffs and four goldcrests.

Three common lizards were seen basking in the sunshine, one on top of a fencepost.

The common toadflax with its yellow "snapdragon" flowers is generally a common plant in north Essex but appears to be scarce on the Island. There have been regular clumps at the country park for many years and this little patch of flowers pictured above, caught the eye along a hedge near the park seawall.


The sunny start to the morning and near calm conditions, made it a very pleasant autumnal Thursday 25th at the country park. There was a light passage of birds but strangely they were heading into the direction of the light breeze, which was north-easterly.

A group of a dozen swallows passed over the park, a mixed group of thrushes with 8 local mistle thrushes homing in on the rowan tree berries in the car park, also three newly arrived continental song thrushes flying high overhead calling. The plaintive calls of 10 siskins were heard as they trickled north-eastwards in ones and twos. Three lesser redpoll were also heard heading in the same direction over the park during the morning.

The various bushes and trees around the car park were popular with the local mixed tit flock which included 3 chiffchaffs, blackcap and a handful of goldcrests. These tiny "crests" were hard to spot amongst the thick foliage on the trees but they did call persistently to each other, so you had a rough idea where they were.

A sparrowhawk hunted low along a field hedge with a couple of carrion crows chasing it. Two kestrels headed towards the grazing fields and the seawall for some morning hunting for food.
On the fields there was a roosting group of 75 curlew, waiting for the tide to recede.

At the park pond, a little egret perched high on a willow tree, while below 2 wigeon and 5 teal joined the larger group of mallard.

The warm weather brought out a few butterflies such as comma, red admiral, speckled wood, small heath and small white. Southern hawker and common darter were the dragonflies noted.

The moth trap operated throughout Wednesday night into Thursday morning which was the first opportunity for two weeks. A few more different species were found including this interestingly marked buff arches pictured above. It's a common moth in early summer when most are seen, whereas this individual will be from the second generation this year.

About 70 moths of 20 species were noted including lunar underwing, sallow, dusky lemon sallow, frosted orange, rosy rustic, feathered ranunculus, common marbled carpet, spruce carpet, L-album wainscot, white-point, deep-brown dart, mallow, brindled green and burnished brass.

This neatly marked Silver-Y moth will probably be the last one of the summer. Like a lot of migrant moths, it has not been as numerous this summer as in previous years. Close up the silver-Y has a wonderful contrast of various shades of brown from chestnut through to pale grey-brown.

Up to 15 black rustics were found in the morning, some inside the trap, while others were trying to hide in the nearby grass. The jet black velvet appearance makes it a very striking moth, when seen alongside the more regular brown coloured moth species.

Another very autumnal looking moth is this barred sallow pictured above, a regularly recorded moth in previous Septembers here at the country park.

Martin Cock had good views at Coopers Beach on Tuesday of a male hen harrier that came in off the sea and hunted over the grass fields. Also seen were 3 of the first brent geese to arrive from Siberia for the winter, a grey wagtail, kingfisher and wheatear noted here too.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008


Walked along the Strood seawall pictured above, on Monday 22nd and one or two things of interest as usual. A couple of chiffchaffs and a lesser whitethroat were the only small migrants of note in the bushes. However there was a small bird that flew into a hedge that looked as if it might've had an orange tail, suggesting a redstart, but it was just a very brief glimpse and despite lots of looking, the bird was not relocated.

Several flocks of siskin were seen flying westwards off the Island totalling about 50 birds. One group of 30 birds flew across the Strood Channel and headed towards Ray Island. One lesser redpoll was heard calling as it passed overhead and three swallows were seen.

Along the Channel there were plenty of waders scattered across the mud. The biggest concentrations were 1000 golden plover in two flocks, also 500+ redshank seemed a high number. Three greenshank, 5 knot, 25 ringed plover, 50 dunlin, 100 grey plover, 5 black-tailed godwits as well as curlew, turnstone and a few lapwing.
At least five little egrets on the mud and in the saltmarsh, while 10 teal were the start of the winter ducks in the channel. The yellow-legged gull was perched on its regular lump of concrete near the Strood causeway later in the afternoon.
Whilst scanning the waders on the mud, there was the distinctive loud whistle of a kingfisher that called nearby. The flash of blue was watched as it flew low and fast away along the water in the borrowdyke pictured above. It alighted on a small wooden post sticking out of the water and when I eventually walked along the seawall to get nearer, I was able to watch it close-by dive into the water a couple of times. The bird faced away, providing a nice view of its bright blue back. The bird soon took off and headed rapidly back along the dyke, disappearing out of sight amongst the stand of club-rushes.

In the recently cultivated arable fields, the regular flock of 30 corn buntings flew around, sometimes perching on some overhead wires and at other times feeding on the ground. Five skylarks were only noticed when they took to the air calling, while two reed buntings were seen along a ditchline. Two kestrels were the only birds of prey seen during the walk.

On one of the bramble bushes by the seawall were several fresh-looking clusters of dense silk. These are the protective"tents" which protect the very young caterpillars of the brown-tail moth. The caterpillars will hibernate through the winter and then start to feed on the bramble leaves next spring, emerging as adult moths in the summer.

The overcast conditions meant the insect tally for the walk was low with common darters over the dyke and small whites and large white butterflies along the seawall, the only things noted.

Sunday, 21 September 2008


The fine weather of the last week continued on to Sunday 21st, with the Island enjoying more of this late summer sunshine.

The various rows of flowers at the East Mersea Pick Your Own field such as the Helichrysums above and the Stachys below, added some late summer colour. Lots of small white and large white butterflies fluttered around the flowers with comma and peacock noted too. One or two goldfinches were heard near the row of ripening sunflowers.

Spent an hour in the early afternoon on the Reeveshall seawall, where the tide was coming in along the Pyefleet Channel. The picture below shows the seawall section just north of Shop Lane. Very few small birds seen although a chiffchaff called from a small bush by the dyke and another from the Shop Lane wood. A little owl was heard calling from a hedgerow near the wood.

The main waders noted on the Pyefleet mud were 30 avocets close in, along with 125 black-tailed godwits and 25 knot. Redshank, ringed plover, dunlin and grey plover were also seen in small numbers. In the channel were 60 shelduck, a mix of adults and youngsters. Five grey herons and 10 little egrets were also noted along the edge of the Pyefleet Channel.

On the Reeveshall pool 2 greenshanks, little egret, teal and 2 pairs of mute swans were the only birds seen here. Little else seen over the large expanse of Reeveshall except a kestrel and a flock of rooks and jackdaws mobbing a sparrowhawk in flight.

The recent mowing of the grass inside the seawall has benefited the slender birds-foot trefoil with lots of the big yellow clumps catching the eye. Several small heath butterflies were seen and a couple of small whites.

Martin Cock on his walk earlier in the day past the Oyster Fishery, saw stonechat, kingfisher and a chiffchaff.

Richard Hull and Andy Field visited the nearby Langenhoe Marshes on Sunday and recorded common buzzard, peregrine, hobby and 3 kingfishers. Richard Hull's last visit to Langenhoe with Richard Brown on the 14th turned up 8 spotted flycatchers and pied flycatcher.

Glyn Evans with friends doing the monthly wildfowl and wader count around the Island on Monday 15th, noted short-eared owl, hobby, marsh harrier, 2 wheatear, whinchat mainly all along the north side as well as 2 little stints on the East Mersea Flats. An unidentified buzzard species was watched over Brightlingsea.

Andrew Thompson could not find the red-necked phalarope on Sunday 14th at Coopers Beach(the bird having been present for the last eight days), but was rewarded with views of a honey buzzard and two common buzzards during his visit to East Mersea.

Sunday, 14 September 2008


The initial walk around the country park on Saturday 13th seemed to produce the same birds as yesterday. Once the gloom had lifted, there was blue sky and a light northerly breeze - the sort of summery day we should've had in August.

It turned out to be a memorable day for birds of prey over the park with six species recorded - the previous best daily tally was five. Weather conditions were ideal for raptor migration with the light winds and warm air with the sun shining. I got reports to keep checking the sky for honey buzzards as several had been seen during the morning along the East Anglian coast, involving migrants that had just arrived from Scandinavia.

A marsh harrier was watched gliding along the south shore of Mersea heading west in mid-morning. In mid afternoon a large gull circled high over the car park, except on closer inspection the bird turned out to be an osprey which passed right overhead and glided westwards towards the caravan sites.

Amazingly while Andy Field was telling me on the mobile phone to look out for honey buzzards, one passed overhead following the same route as the osprey and about a kilometre behind it. It glided swiftly over the car park, showing the long tail, longish wings, short head, pale body with dark carpal patches under each wing. Twenty minutes later a second honey buzzard also glided over the car park along the same route. The same bright plumage with dark secondaries on the wings along with pale body and barred tail and wings, would indicate a juvenile bird. The bird glided away on very flat wings but in a profile unlike common buzzard. A kestrel was also seen in the air while the honeys were passing over.

A visit was made to the hide by the pond as it can provide a good view, pictured above looking north. Two separate sparrowhawks and a marsh harrier were seen over the fields from here. By late afternoon Andy joined me and we both saw a hobby fly east over the car park area, which notched up the sixth bird of prey for the day.

The bushes with berries such as this elder bush have been good places to look for migrants, both in the car park and by the pond. The same sort of warblers as on Friday were still with the mixed tit flock, such as whitethroat, lesser whitethroat, blackcap, chiffchaff, willow warbler and also a couple of goldcrests.

By the pond one large group of elder and rowan bushes proved popular for 10 blackbirds and 5 song thrushes, as well as four blackcaps. Six siskin flew over the pond calling as they headed west. Also during the day was a continuous flow of small groups of meadow pipits, possibly numbering about 50 birds. Martin Cock also noted 2 siskin and groups of meadow pipits flying west over West Mersea in the morning. Mixed flocks of swallows and martins flew over the park with up to 150 during the day.

At the park pond 4 little egrets roosted in the tree, while below a pair of gadwall and 20 teal were seen amongst the mallard. Andy Field saw a spotted flycatcher near here in the afternoon.
At the end of the day a little owl called from the area just north of the park, while the regular tawny owl perched on wires over the exit track out of the park at dusk.

Meanwhile along at Coopers Beach there was nearly as much excitement with the red-necked phalarope still showing well in the dyke. There was also the great early evening sight for Andy Field and Steve Entwhistle over the Rewsalls Marshes, of two short-eared owls hunting over the fields along with a barn owl.

The warm weather brought a few more insects out, such as this long-winged conehead, only the second record of this bush cricket in the country park. This species has spread rapidly north and eastwards across the county in recent years since its first discovery in south-west Essex in 1995. This individual above, was found on the side of a rubbish bin in the car park - not exactly an expected habitat for them! This one pictured is the female with the long curved ovipositor - the long blade it uses to help lay her eggs.
Of the butterflies, speckled wood, comma, red admiral, small white and large white were all noted.

At West Mersea a thousand golden plover were seen flying over the Mersea Quarters. William Baker one of the local oystermen, enjoyed seeing the two ospreys during the week with one seen catching a fish.

Friday, 12 September 2008


The rain cleared away around the middle of the day to leave a sunny and still afternoon on Friday 12th. Andrew Thompson arrived at the park having seen the red-necked phalarope still present in the dyke by Coopers Beach. The bird has now been present for its seventh day, still swimming back and forwards along a fifty metre section of water.

Andrew also noted 2 Sandwich terns and a small selection of migrant warblers in some elder bushes. These included chiffchaff, willow warbler, blackcap, lesser whitethroat and common whitethroat and appeared to indicate a small "fall" of migrants overnight. The birds had probably been migrating overnight in clear skies, only for them to encounter rain early this morning at about 6am, forcing them to make land-fall.

We didn't have to stray far from the car park to find more evidence of migrants feeding-up in the bushes, photo above. Amongst a large mixed tit flock of about fifty birds were mainly long-tailed tits, great and blue tits as well as common whitethroat, lesser whitethroat, blackcap and willow warbler. There was also a small group of 10 chaffinches sometimes associating with the other birds as they foraged through the bushes and trees.
Overhead a flock of 100 hirundines passed through of mainly house martins but also sand martins and a few swallows too. There was even the unusual sight of a corn bunting passing overhead calling as it went. Further along the park a couple of wheatears were seen later on.

By the park pond there were at least four blackcaps in one bush with lesser whitethroat and common whitethroats present too. A handful of blackbirds feeding on elder and rowan bushes may've been newly arrived migrants too. A little egret perched in a willow tree over the water was certainly not a migrant.

The moth trap was run on both Wednesday and Thursday nights with a typical autumn tally of around 20 species found. One of the most strikingly marked moths is the widespread burnished brass pictured below, with the amazing metallic bronze sheen on the wings. At the right angle, sunshine can reflect brightly off the bronze bands on the wings - a real little dazzler!

Conditions weren't perfect for moth-trapping as the skies were mainly clear and the moon has been quite bright. Some of the moths found included latticed heath, lunar underwing, sallow, white-point, turnip, engrailed, willow beauty, brindled green, frosted orange, angle shades, rosy rustic, oak nycteoline, square-spot rustic, snout and light emerald.

One of the moths with a distinctive wing-profile is the aptly named oak hook-tip, pictured above with the corners of the wings each in the shape of a hooked-tip.

Autumn moths are often the same colours as the autumn leaves, especially members of the sallow family of moths, most of which are various shades of orange. This orange sallow pictured above, is a typical eye-catching one. Strangely it was not recorded last year at the park and yet the year before it was noted throughout the month.

The most notable moth found was this one below, the dusky-lemon sallow. This is a scarce moth now, declining in many areas including Essex in recent decades becuase of the demise of elm trees, the food-plant of the caterpillars. The moth has been previously recorded at the park two years ago in the middle of September.

At the end of the day there were 80 mallard gathered on the pond, as well as a pair of gadwall, wigeon and two tufted ducks. A fox jogged round the near side of the pond as dusk fell and a little owl called from Bromans Farm area. A common sandpiper flew high over the car park calling. The resident Bromans Lane tawny owl was perched on wires over the road as I drove underneath. When I stopped to admire it, the bird soon flew back into the the thick cover of the Lane, giving out the territorial call of the male bird.

At West Mersea the osprey has been reported as being still present around the Mersea Quarters and Salcott Channel, being seen on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. On one occasion it was seen to perch on one of the flimsy withy-markers stuck in the channel.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008


Had an evening walk along the park beach on Wednesday 10th and found the dead deer first reported at the weekend by Nigel Pepper. This is yet another muntjac deer that has obviously got into difficulties swimming in the river in search of new territories and ended up drowning. Muntjac are quite short and dumpy deer, about the same height as a labrador-type dog. There is a muntjac already on the Island as I saw one late at night in the car headlights about two months ago beside the East Mersea Pick Your Own field.

This latest muntjac corpse was found in the same spot at the Point pictured above, where the previous corpse was washed up about three years ago.

There is still one of the wasp spiders amongst the long grass just inside the start of the seawall. The dull evening light doesn't do the colours justice on the photo above.

When I looked for one of the large female wasp spiders last week, it was clinging to the grass beside this small papery ball which I guess is its cocoon of eggs, which she was guarding.

The tide was coming in and a few thousand black-headed and common gulls were gathered for the evening roost on the mud near the Point. The usual mix of waders were scattered across the mud too with 250 redshank the most numerous and 70 black-tailed godwits the most interesting. Also seen here were little egret and 5 common terns.

Returning along the seawall where one wheatear was seen, there was the dashing silhouette in the fading light of a hobby flying over the grazing fields and park pond. In the borrowdyke were two fledged tufted ducks.

There were lots of mallard at the park pond with about 75 seen, although more probably remained hidden in the reeds. A pair of gadwall, shoveler and teal were also present. Two sand martins flew late over the pond and may still be nesting in the nearby cliff.

Earlier in the day 6 mistle thrushes have recently discovered the rowan trees in the car park laden with ripe berries. Butterflies seen in the last few days include holly blue, red admiral, large white, small white, green-veined white and speckled wood.

On Tuesday there were a couple of sparrowhawk sightings over the park as well as a barn owl hunting over the long grass at night-fall. A common sandpiper flew along the beach at dusk, while at low tide there were about 300 golden plover resting on the mud.

There have been a few adder sightings recently including a couple of small youngsters that were about the size of a worm. One of them was under a sheet of tin on Monday while the other was stumbled upon amongst the long grass on the side of the seawall yesterday, which I thought at first glance was a large brown caterpillar!

At Coopers Beach the red-necked phalarope was seen on Tuesday morning by David Darrell-Lambert but there has been no news about it for Wednesday.

Monday, 8 September 2008


Enjoyed a rain-free walk for a change, along the Strood seawall on Monday 8th. The bright conditions in the morning along with a south-westerly breeze, saw various birds on their move across the Island.

Six wheatears were still on the seawall and in various places, 5 whinchats were still present for the third day. There was a steady passage of small flocks of swallows, a few sand martins and the occasional house martin heading low over the fields as they headed west. There was a small number of up to 20 meadow pipits also passing westwards and one yellow wagtail.

The very distinctive call of a tree pipit came from two birds that rose out of the grass near the seawall. Along with a meadow pipit they flew a short distance and dropped down onto the saltmarsh. A minute later they took off again and headed west off the Island towards the Feldy Marshes. Tree pipits are scarce passage visitors in the autumn to the Island but they never stay around.

Another bird itching to keep migrating was a willow warbler that was seen flying along the hedgeline towards the seawall. The bird flew to the top of the seawall, perching in some vegetation, before flying out across the mud towards Ray Island. However it had only flown 50 metres across when it had second thoughts about the crossing. It turned back to the safety of dry land and landed back beside the seawall. Another two willow warblers were seen with a tit flock foraging along the dyke.

A red admiral butterfly was watched crossing low over the fields in a very determined fashion, heading in the same westerly direction as the pipits and swallows.

At the back of the fields 25 corn buntings perched up on some overhead wires, sometimes dropping down to the field below. Also feeding near here were 30 house sparrows and a kestrel was noted too.

A sparrowhawk crossed eastwards onto the Island near the Dabchicks area. Two marsh harriers were seen on the mainland, one over Feldy and the other near the Strood. There was no sign of the recent osprey hunting to the west over Salcott Channel.

There were plenty of waders feeding along the length of the muddy Strood Channel although most appeared to be redshank with about 500 seen. Three greenshank were the main species of note while 25 black-tailed godwits, 30 golden plover and 50 grey plovers were also seen.

An early evening visit to Coopers Beach revealed the red-necked phalarope was still present for its third day, happily swimming back and fowards along a fifty metre section of rather rank water (pictured above) Maybe feeding in close proximity to the outflow of the nearby sewage treatment works, provided some rich pickings for the bird.

Having checked the bird records for the Island, this red-necked phalarope is actually the second record for the Island. The first one was seen 46 years ago in September 1962 by the Strood. There is one record of grey phalarope which was seen in November 1969 from West Mersea, while in 1995 a few of us took the boat from the West Mersea Hard across to Old Hall Marshes to see a Wilsons phalarope.

Also seen in the area were 20 pied wagtails, yellow wagtail, wheatear and kestrel, while out at sea 7 common terns flew past.

The last port of call for the evening was to the Pyefleet Channel as the tide ebbed. There was a nice selection of waders gathered in the muddy bay to the north of Shop Lane. A single avocet and four common terns stood out amongst the brown waders, with 200 black-tailed godwits and 150 redshank the most numerous. Ten knot, 20 dunlin, turnstone, along with a group of 50 grey and golden plovers were also noted.

There was the interesting sight on the pool of 42 recently fledged shelducklings being nannied by four adults. This group must be the local breeding success of several shelduck families getting together at the end of the breeding season. Also seen here were 30 teal, snipe little grebe and six black-tailed godwits.

As the light faded, a very distant short-eared owl was seen perched on a fence post at the west end of Reeveshall. It flew low over the nearby grass field, at one point swooping quickly down unsuccessfully after something. There have been quite a few recent sightings of short-eared owls on the Island - the most recent being at Coopers Beach yesterday.

A little owl called from the hedgeline at the back of Reeveshall and 3 brown hares were also noted

Sunday, 7 September 2008


There was a steady flow of birdwatchers to see the red-necked phalarope, showing well for the second day on the dyke by Coopers Beach on Sunday 7th. Richard Brown kindly passed on this photo he took of the bird. The photo shows one of the two white lines along the top of the back that form a "V" pattern - a feature of red-necked phalaropes.
Richard has more photos of local birds on his new blog-site-

The bird was very confiding and Sean Nixon from Colchester here, was one of many photographers who were rewarded with some good close-up shots - in Sean's case a thousand shots were reeled off! The bird can just be made out in the photo as the white speck on the far side of the water. It was quite content to paddle up and down a fifty metre section picking off tiny insects on the water as it went. On one occasion it tucked its bill under its wing and tried to have a snooze. There was also a lot of wing stretching which appeared as if it was getting itself ready to carry on its long journey south.

One of the other bird photographers to visit was Andy Cook who took his eyes off the phalarope briefly and found himself watching a flypast of five swallows - one of which was thicker bodied and with a pale rump, typical of a red-rumped swallow. This group of swallows passed quickly over the marsh in front of him and then flew over the seawall, heading westwards and not to be seen again.

Red-rumped swallows are rare annual visitors to Essex from the Mediterranean and have not been recorded on Mersea Island before.

In the short time I was on the seawall in the middle of the afternoon, dodging the showers, a few other birds were noted. Three wheatears were seen on some nearby kids play equipment, 3 swifts were seen passing over by Andy Field, little egret and kestrel, 18 mistle thrushes and a little owl were seen by the caravan site. Ahead of a squall a group of 50 mainly swallows passed over the East Mersea church. Nick Green was lucky enought to see a short-eared owl over the Coopers Beach fields late in the afternoon.

Flying past during the high tide of interest was an adult Mediterranean gull, 5 common terns and a common sandpiper.
Martin Cock saw a spotted flycatcher again at the country park today and a few yellow wagtails in a field just north of the park. A marsh harrier was seen quartering fields alongside the East Mersea road near Bocking Hall.

Alan Burgess of the East Mersea Pick Your Own field told me that he was amazed to see a grey squirrel by his field on Friday 5th. Mersea prides itself on being squirrel-free although the occasional one gets reported once or twice a year.
I also gather that the fresh corpse of a deer was found yesterday, washed up on the beach at the East Mersea Point. Like the grey squirrel status, Mersea is just about deer-free and there has been no proof of breeding of either in recent decades.