Sunday, 27 February 2011


After a rainy Saturday, it was nice to see the sun shining on Sunday 27th and spring inching closer. This cluster of the lambs-tail catkins on a hazel tree in Bromans Lane near the country park are becoming more eyecatching with each sunny day. Some pussy willow catkins have also turned into their distinctive yellow clusters while many of the alder trees are covered in their long catkins too.

The BBC CountryFile programme about the Cudmore Grove geology is now going to be shown a week later than planned - now Sunday 13th March.

At the park pond 2 pochard and 12 tufted duck were the main ducks of interest here along with a few gadwall. The pair of swans rested on an island,a pair of dabchicks called to each other while two water rails were heard calling from the back of the pond.

As the light faded at the end of the day, two muntjac deer came out from the copse at the back of the pond to feed in the corner of the grazing field. This is the first time two have been seen together since the spring last year. I've also heard from Gerry Mason that he also saw a muntjac in this same area ten days earlier.

There was a nice variety of the usual waders and wildfowl on the fields with 500+ brent geese, 200+ teal, 300 wigeon, 70 redshank, 50 black-tailed godwit, 50 lapwing, 16 snipe and 30 curlew.

At the end of the day 100+ wood pigeons roosted in the copse behind the pond along with a few stock doves. Forty greenfinches also roosted in a thick hedge near the pond with a few chaffinches, while the usual 30+ goldfinches gathered by the car park. Two little owls were heard calling from different locations to the north and west of the park pond.

At West Mersea 40 lapland buntings, barn owl and the female scaup were seen by the Strood in the afternoon by Andy Field and Steve Entwistle. Sean Nixon had counted 47 lapland buntings in the weedy field on Saturday. Earlier on Sunday, by the East Mersea pub there was a mixed flock of 70 fieldfares and redwings in a rape field. Another sign of spring was the sight of a corn bunting on the usual "song-post" bush near Bocking Hall farm and 70 linnets were also in a field here too.

Friday, 25 February 2011


BBC TV's CountryFile visited the park on Friday 25th to do a story about the local geology. Beside me wearing the scarf is Matt Baker the presenter, with Steve Boreham from Cambridge University's geography department, along with his colleague Chris on the right.

Matt is holding a thigh bone of an extinct straight-tusked elephant discovered under the beach at Coopers Beach here in East Mersea about 80 years ago. East Mersea has been known for almost a hundred years as a place where 100,000 year old animal bones have been found.

This huge thigh bone of a straight-tusked elephant was borrowed from Colchester Natural History Museum where its jawbone is kept on permanent display. These elephants were almost twice the size of today's African elephant and weighed up to nine tonnes. They died out at the beginning of the last Ice Age.

Two other animal bones from East Mersea pictured above, on the left is a hippopotamus tusk alongside a molar tooth of an extinct narrow-nosed rhinoceros. The climate 100,000 years ago was probably similar to that of the current south of France.
Also found in the past at Coopers Beach, referred to by the geologists as the "restaurant site", were the bones of spotted hyaena and the giant deer whose males carried a massive three metre wide antler span.

At the base of the park cliff, Steve is boring down into the clay and gravel layers hoping to reveal the presence of small shells which would indicate a much older estaurine bed. Research on the Cudmore Grove beach and cliff has been going on for 25 years and one rich organic layer was meticulously dug out in the mid 1980's. Amongst the 1500 mammal bone fragments were found macaque ape, wolf, brown bear, beaver, red squirrel, lots of voles and shrews.

The various amphibians and reptiles such as tree frog, pool frog, terrapin great crested newt and aesculapian snake have given us huge clues as to the landscape of East Mersea 300,000 years ago. Knowing their various habitat requirements where they still live today, suggests to us a freshwater river, flowing into a brackish lagoon surrounded by marsh, grassland, scrub and woodland all fairly close to each other. The forty-eight species of beetle discovered here also tell us there were plenty of oak, alder, pine, ash and silver fir trees on East Mersea between the last two Ice Ages. Lots of other smaller plants have been identified by pollen remains.

Matt Baker is helping to pull a very powerful ground-penetrating radar across the park. Steve is following behind watching the laptop for the images the radar provides it of the different layers of sand and gravel underground. The sand and gravel cliff was thought to have been laid down by the river Thames /Medway 300,000 years ago when it flowed north over Essex. However a recent re-assessment helped by this radar suggests the gravels were probably laid down by the very early Colne and Blackwater rivers. This research is still ongoing.

The date for the programme transmission has now been scheduled for Sunday 13th March - a week later than initially planned.


Lots of rain fell during Wednesday 23rd and into the evening which enticed a few more toads and frogs to crawl and hop to their ponds. This toad above was on its way to the pond near Firs Chase. David Nicholls also reported seeing toads and frogs visiting his West Mersea garden pond on the 10th February - my first date too.

Found a trail of these little muntjac footprints along one of the muddy paths along from the hide. It turns out one was spotted a week earlier from the hide as it fed in the field near the pond.

On Thursday 24th a big flock of 700 brent geese flew off the grazing fields when a sparrowhawk passed overhead. When the geese flew across to Brightlingsea, there appeared to be a much larger gathering of 2000 birds here at the mouth of the Colne. Also in the fields were 250 teal, 300 wigeon, 15 snipe, 20 black-tailed godwits and 1oo lapwings, while a grey heron was also noted.

By the pond 6 siskin flew over while 25 fieldfares and 10 redwing landed in a hedgeline to the north of the park. On the pond were 9 tufted duck but no sign of the 3 pochard or snipe seen on Tuesday.

Offshore 3 eider flew out of the river on Thursday while 2 red-breasted mergansers flew up-river. A little egret flew over the mudflats at low tide on Friday 25th.

Glyn Evans noted along the Pyefleet on Tuesday 22nd, 8 marsh harriers, 2 peregrines and a common buzzard over Langenhoe while an Egyptian goose flew east and round to the Point. At West Mersea the female scaup was seen later that day at the Strood fishing lake. Alan Shearman saw at least 2 lapland buntings in the field by the Strood along with 10 reed buntings on Wednesday. Graham Ekins noted great northern diver, 2 Slavonian grebes, 1 eider and 36 great crested grebes off West Mersea, along with the scaup near the Strood on Friday 25th.

Monday, 21 February 2011


Andy Field took this photo of a sparrowhawk which perched in his West Mersea garden one day last week. Sparrowhawks have become regular visitors to most gardens throughout the year with 3 or 4 pairs now breeding in West Mersea and at least another couple of pairs in East Mersea too.

Walked along the Strood seawall from West Mersea to the fishing lakes at the bottom of the Strood Hill on a dull Monday 21st. There was just the one female scaup present which spent most of the time snoozing but no sign of the second female. Also seen here were 14 tufted duck, a vocal great crested grebe, 6 mallard, one wigeon and at least 20 coot.

In the Strood fields at least 3 lapland buntings flew around the weedy field calling, with Roy Hume and his son seeing another couple of laplands in flight a short while earlier. There was no sign of any lapland flock this morning with the only other small birds seen being 25+ skylarks and about 10 reed buntings. A rock pipit on the seaward side was the only other small bird of note on the walk.

The flooded arable field lured lots of waders in for the high tide roost with 500 dunlin, 50 ringed plover the main birds although at least 3 knot were seen flying about, while oystercatcher and curlew were also noted. No doubt more waders gathered here as it got nearer to time of high tide.
A little egret flew out of the ditch, 3 stock doves flew away from the weedy field and a kestrel was seen perched up.

Along the Strood channel with the tide coming in, a greenshank and a spotted redshank stood along the water's edge about 50 metres apart. These are the first ones to be seen on the Island this year so far. Other waders included 15 bar-tailed godwit, 50 knot, 300 redshank, 50 lapwing along with the usual grey plovers, curlews, oystercatchers but just the one black-tailed godwit. The regular wildfowl flocks were the brent geese, wigeon and shelduck with a few teal too.

Two sparrowhawks tussled with each other over the Ray saltings whilst by the Strood causeway, a marsh harrier was seen hunting on the mainland side.
Martin Cock saw a merlin at Maydays Farm on Monday with 150 linnets being the only other birds of note during a gloomy and dull visit there. A Mediterranean gull was seen on the Victoria Esplanade greensward on Sunday afternoon.


A group of eight eager birders were taken by Ray Hempstead on his Sorcerer boat along some of the local creeks and into the river Blackwater on Sunday 20th, in search of some interesting seaduck, divers and grebes. We were on the water for about four hours and took the opportunity to look at various inshore waters including near Bradwell on the south side of the river and behind Osea Island a few miles to the west.

Although there was only a slight wind, it was a cold one and we needed to be wrapped up warm. It even managed to stay dry which was a relief after the continuous rain of the previous day. Peter Triston is pictured above scanning the waters of the Mersea Quarters for some birdlife.

Offshore from West Mersea we noted about 25 great crested grebes, 2 eider, red-throated diver, common scoter and 10+ red-breasted mergansers. Along the north side of the Blackwater we noted 2 more red-throated divers, 10+ Slavonian grebes, 15+ red-breasted mergansers, 5 goldeneye, 2o+ great crested grebes and 50 pintail. A shag was seen perched on the baffle wall in front of the Bradwell power station.

Surprisingly the Salcott and Tollesbury creeks were very quiet for birds with the 8 red-breasted mergansers in Tollesbury being the most notable. Four marsh harriers were seen flying around Old Hall marshes. There was the familiar variety of waders and wildfowl noted on the trip with the waders especially dunlin, grey plover, golden plover and knot flying around lots as their normal hgh tide roosts became submerged.

Thursday, 17 February 2011


A group of thirteen shelduck were squabbling with each other on the park's grazing fields during the high tide roost on Thursday 17th. It's only been in the last few days that the shelduck have been gathering in these fields, which is usually an indication that they're thinking about the impending breeding season. Several pairs of shelduck stay in the area during the spring, prospecting rabbit burrows in the hedgerows for potential nesting sites.

Other birds present for the high tide roost included 100 redshank, 30 snipe, 70 curlew, 20 turnstone and 20 dunlin. Only about 20 black-tailed godwits were present compared with 150 a couple of days earlier and there weren't any groups of lapwing either. At least 250 teal were around the pools with a few shoveler and gadwall, while also present in the fields were 300 wigeon and 400 brent geese. Earlier in the week a grey heron and a little egret dropped onto the pools late in the afternoon. Also of very local interest for the fields was the sight of 2 pairs of rooks strutting across the grass looking for food. Considering there is a healthy rookery of 50+ pairs only a mile to the west, the rooks never come to the park fields to feed.

Not much to report offshore over the last few days although a distant group of 15+ eider have still been in the Colne. On Monday 2 Slavonian grebes were out at sea to the south-west of the park with 50 great crested grebes also noted here.

The park pond has been quieter this week with a few gadwall and 9 tufted ducks the main wildfowl present. In the car park a male sparrowhawk flashed across low as it headed to the cliff-top trees. Late afternoons has seen the daily gathering of 40 goldfinches in the trees getting ready to roost. The birds all take part in a cheery sing-song to each other before dropping down into the thick bushes at the end of the day.

Sunday, 13 February 2011


There was still the small group of nine tufted ducks, including this male pictured above, on the country park pond on Sunday 13th. The picture seems to show on this bird the top of the head and the tuft at the back as a black colour, while the face is a dark green colour. Also seen at the pond were a pair of noisy little grebes, pair of swans, several pairs of gadwall and one or two mallard. Nearby a male great spotted woodpecker, a small group of long-tailed tits and some goldfinches were also noted.

Members of the Colchester Natural History Society had to wrap up warm for their visit to the park on Sunday morning. The wind stayed chilly during the day but at least the rain held off. At this gap in the hedgeline, we managed to see three snipe on the pools, although there had been 24 birds the day before. Across the two fields and on the pools were roughly 300+ teal, 400 wigeon, 10 shoveler, 6 greylag geese, 25 mallard, 100+ brent geese, 100 lapwing, 25 curlew and 20 black-tailed godwits.

Amongst the small birds noted was a big flock of 1000 starlings as well as about 10 skylarks and 10 goldfinches. All the waders and wildfowl scattered off the fields in various directions, with a male sparrowhawk seen disappearing over an adjacent field the likely cause of the disruption. A short while later a song thrush was seen in a field while a skulking water rail called from a rush-filled borrrow-dyke.

There was plenty of the mudflats on show beside the park and some of the waders that caught our eyes were 70+ golden plover, bar-tailed godwit and some ringed plovers feeding in a group of 300+ dunlin. along with the usual redshank, grey plovers, oystercatchers and curlews.

There was a huge mixed-plover flock rose into the air off Langenhoe Point with 2000 golden plovers and 1000 lapwings seen circling round. Two marsh harriers were seen flying low over the Langenhoe reedbed at the Point. A large flock of 1000 brent geese flew off some East Mersea fields and landed in the nearby Pyefleet Channel.

In the river Colne two groups each of 12 eider were seen feeding with the usual big gulls attending nearby. Further up-river was a distant group of 10 red-breasted mergansers but not much else to see. Later the 24 eider flew out of the river in one flock past the Point.

At the beginning of the day a ringtail hen harrier was hunting the rape fields near the East Mersea pub. I stopped the car and was able to admire the bird without needing binoculars as it flew low nearby over one field, before it then crossed the road behind me and continued hunting another rape field on the north side.

On Saturday by the Strood, Jonathan Norgate saw the two female scaup on the fishing lake and also 24 lapland buntings in the fields with 30 linnets, 10 reed buntings, corn bunting and ten skylarks .

Just inside the entrance to the park on Friday afternoon, Ian Black was lucky enough to see a male bullfinch before it flew off towards the area of the pond. Recent late afternoons has seen up to 40 goldfinches gathering to roost in the bushes by the car park.

Thursday, 10 February 2011


It was bit of surprise to see the first frogs and toads emerge so soon after the winter and make their way along Firs Chase to their breeding pond, on Thursday 10th. This common frog above is the first one I've seen of the year and was photographed waiting at the side of the road at 10pm. There had been a lot of rain all day and into the night too and with a temperature that evening of about 9C, it was ideal conditions for the amphibians to be on the move.

A few common toads were seen emerging out of driveways and sitting alongside the road with the odd one succombing to the traffic. This emergence seems about ten days earlier than usual but maybe with this mild and wet evening, there was no point in them hanging around waiting for anything better. Over the last four years the first toads have emerged on various dates between the 17th and 24th February. There should be more toads still to make the journey over the next few days, if its wet in the evenings.

A barn owl flashed across East Road just past the Fox pub as it flew from the grass field next to the allotments, over to the fields next to Mortimers Farm on the eastern edge of West Mersea.
In the morning just as after it started to drizzle a ringtail hen harrier flew low over the saltmarsh at the Point disappearing into the gloom across the river towards Colne Point.

On Wednesday 9th Andy Field, Steve Hunting and Brian Churches saw the 2 female scaup on the fishing lakes by the Strood and also 7 lapland buntings in the nearby fields. Offshore from West Mersea there were 5 Slavonian grebes, black-necked grebe, great northern diver, 2 common scoter, 4 red-breasted mergansers and 40 great crested grebes. At East Mersea 30 red-breasted mergansers were in the Pyefleet, while another 9 were seen from the park as were 17 eider. There was an impressive high tide roost count of 376 black-tailed godwits in the park's grazing fields.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011


What a change in the weather on Tuesday 8th with the sun shining all day and hardly a trace of wind all day. The big blue sky brightened up the whole place and it seemed like spring wasn't too far away! Even some of the skylarks were starting to sing!

There were plenty of the usual waders and wildfowl in the park's grazing fields, especially during the high tide. The picture above shows some of the roosting 250+ black-tailed godwits and 100+ redshanks in the main pool, where there were also 100+ lapwings, 50 curlew and a few snipe. Also in the fields were a big flock of 1000 brent geese as well as 400 wigeon, 300 teal and a little egret.

The sun continued to shine throughout Tuesday right up until it set, providing the nice image of a few silhouettes of waders gathering in the fading light on the mud at the Point. Waders arriving to feed on the mud were redshank, dunlin, knot, grey plover, turnstone, oystercatcher and a few bar-tailed godwits.

In the river a few groups of shelduck were waiting for the tide to turn, while gathering for the night-time roost were the hundreds of black-headed gulls. Four red-breasted mergansers were noted and 22 jackdaws flew east to roost.

Earlier in the day the 2 female scaup were still present, along with 4 tufted ducks and a pochard on the farm reservoirs at the bottom of the Strood Hill,

There were still 24 lapland buntings flying around this weedy field on Monday. The flock were feeding on the ground initially before flying up and circling round several times, giving out the occasional distinctive call. The flock then split into two groups with 16 of the birds continuing to fly around the fields. Also seen were a few skylarks and reed buntings.

The 2 female scaup were noted again on the Strood Hill reservoirs on Monday for the second day. They were first reported on Sunday along with a male hen harrier and a few lapland buntings in the weedy field.

Sunday, 6 February 2011


Andy Field and I had a walk along a windy seawall at Maydays farm on Sunday 6th. Although some of the mudflats were showing, the tide was coming back in along the Pyefleet Channel. We scanned in both directions with our telescopes as most birds were in the distance.

In the Pyefleet there were about 15 red-breasted mergansers, great crested grebe along with 100+ shelduck and 200+ wigeon and teal. There was no sign of the hybrid shelduck that had been seen here yesterday by Martin Cock.

We watched a ringtail hen harrier fly out of the borrowdyke and fly low over the fields towards Reeveshall. At least two marsh harriers were hunting over Reeveshall with another five seen over on the Langenhoe side. A kestrel perching on a bush was the only other raptor seen, although something disturbed masses of birds off the fields.

Amongst the sheep was a huge flock of 3000 starlings along with 1000 lapwings that all rose into the air together. Also noted were 25 stock doves, 100 brent geese on the Maydays fields with 25 linnets and a few greenfinches too. A little egret landed on the Maydays saltmarsh, dropping out of view, while around the game cover / young tree plantation were 5 yellowhammers. There was no sign of any bearded tits in the borrowdyke reedbed, although a couple of reed buntings were present.

A brief walk the previous day on Saturday morning along by the Firs Chase caravan site, provided a great view of a peregrine over the Strood Channel. The big falcon was first spotted on the Feldy side of the channel as hundreds of lapwings, waders and wildfowl all rose into the air to get out of its way. The peregrine crossed over towards the Dabchicks and then flew south along Coast road. A minute later there were more big flocks of lapwings and golden plovers rising into the sky from the direction of Cobmarsh and Packing Shed Islands.

Jonathan Norgate noted 24 lapland buntings in the weedy field along the Strood seawall on Saturday along with a few skylarks and linnets.

Friday, 4 February 2011


There was a bit more wind blowing about on Friday 4th, during a mid-day walk beside the Rewsalls marshes on the south side of East Mersea. The fields are still very saturated with water and several birds were enjoying the muddy conditions.

Waders roosting during the high tide or enjoying feeding in the fields included 80 curlew, 200 dunlin, 15 redshank, 20 turnstone, 5 ringed plover and a grey plover. A flock of 200 brent geese were also grazing in some of the wet grass fields too. Eleven pied wagtails were noted amongst the pools and 20 moorhens were seen along the field edges.

A male sparrowhawk sat up on an exposed bush-top with the fresh wind ruffling its feathers, as it scanned the marshes. Near the entrance to the Youth Camp, the little owl was seen hiding beside an ivy-covered limb of a willow tree. Martin Cock had seen the owl here on Wednesday and if he hadn't described which tree to look at, this bird would've stayed undetected today. It stared down at me with its big yellow eyes, giving me quite a disapproving look. A green woodpecker perched on several trees near the Youth Camp entrance.

Two flocks of fieldfares were seen, one group of 20 birds were in a field near Rewsalls farm while another 40 were seen by Weir farm. There was no sign today of the 100 linnets that have been seen in recent days in a rape field near Bocking Hall.

Yesterday on Thursday 3rd, Andrew Thompson and Steve Grimwade visited Mersea and noted 4 Slavonian grebes, 2 Mediterranean gulls and a shag at West Mersea, while from the park there was another Slavonian grebe noted offshore.

There seemed to be more waders around the park pools during the high tide with 70+ curlew, 100 redshank, 50 black-tailed godwit, 5 snipe, turnstone, dunlin and 70 lapwing. A little egret feeding in the fields was the first one noted here for over two months, since before the snow fell at the end of last November. There were several hundred wildfowl in the fields with 350 teal, 400 wigeon and 300 brent geese, as well as the 6 greylag geese. Nine tufted duck were still present on the park pond. At dusk a sparrowhawk was seen by the clifftop and two pairs of little owl duetted to each other, one pair calling from Cosways caravan site and being answered by the pair at nearby Bromans farm.

On Wednesday 22 eider flew out of the river past the Point late in the afternoon and a peregrine and a marsh harrier were also seen here too. Martin Cock saw the long-tailed duck amongst 22+ red-breasted mergansers near Langenhoe Point. Earlier Martin was joined by Bruce Brown on the Strood seawall where they saw 24 lapland buntings on Wednesday.