Friday, 27 May 2011


It was mainly gulls that were seen along a breezy Strood Channel as the tide went out on Friday 27th. A mixture of black-headed, herring and lesser black-backed gulls were seen feeding. Just the one little tern was seen as it headed east over the Strood causeway and along the Pyefleet. A whimbrel and a curlew were the only non-resident waders other than a few redshank and several oystercatchers.

It was also here that a male marsh harrier was seen flying about. Half an hour later another male marsh harrier hunted low over the Strood fields before crossing the seawall and heading over to Ray Island. The wind helped to carry the songs of a nightingale and a cuckoo across the channel from Ray Island, the latter bird was seen chasing a second cuckoo. Three little egrets were seen flying over the Ray Island saltings.

Around some of the Strood fields were 2 singing corn buntings, 3 sedge warblers, 3 reed buntings, 6 reed warblers, 3 whitethroats, meadow pipit as well as 5 yellow wagtails flying about. Overhead there was a gathering of 150 swifts circling high over the Strood fields. A handful of swallows and two house martins were also seen too.

A kestrel was often seen hovering over various points along the Strood fields and seawall. Later in the afternoon two sparrowhawks were flying high over Coast Road.

This big bramble bush has been a regular home for a sedge warbler over the years. This spring it has been devastated by masses of hungry caterpillars of the brown-tail moth. There are one or two small young leaves newly emerged but they're hard to spot amongst all the dead material. There are some similar looking bare bushes at the bottom of the Strood Hill close to the East Mersea road junction. These bushes have always been a favourite with the brown-tail moth except this year the bushes look as bare as in the winter.

Thursday, 26 May 2011


The Mersea Wildlife Forum had its annual tour around the country park on Thursday 26th with 25 members enjoying some evening sunshine. Some of the members in the picture above are watching the eight swan cygnets on the park pond. Also seen here were 8 tufted ducks, little grebe, coots with chicks and moorhens.

On the pools in the grazing fields 7 black-tailed godwits were feeding during the high tide and redshank and lapwing were also noted. Two mallard broods were seen feeding, one with 10 ducklings and the other with 11, while ten mallard and 4 shelduck were resting near the pools. A kestrel perched up in a tree, close to the tree where the female is sitting in the nestbox.

Earlier in the evening two cuckoos flew into a tree right beside me but quickly flew off when they realised I was standing only a few metres away. Both cuckoos did a circuit of the park before heading west to the nearby caravan site. The vixen fox was playing with one of it's cubs in the field and the dog fox walked in front of the hide early in the evening.

Thirty sand martins were flying over the park in the evening while earlier over the car park there was a little egret and a little tern noted passing overhead. Small numbers of swifts passed low over the park in the afternoon as they headed into the strong westerly wind.

The grass overflow car park should normally be green but the lack of rain over the last few months has turned the area brown as in the picture. This is normally the scene in early July but not during May. The brief five minute downpour in the middle of the day was the first proper rain for about three months.

There was an interesting colour contrast in the early evening as the last of the dark blue clouds headed off into the North Sea.

The moth trap produced a few more moths over Wednesday night with about 120 individuals of 34 macro-moth species. This one above is the dog's tooth which is the first record for the site. Although listed as scarce for Essex, most of the records have been in the eastern half of the county.

The pale prominent is a master of disguise as it pretends to be a bit of stick or some bark on the tree. Several of these are noted each year at the park.

The light emerald is a common moth and a regular visitor to the trap with half a dozen individuals noted by Thursday morning.

The aptly named treble-lines is a regular each year at the park in ones and twos, with this individual the first of the year.
Other moths noted included poplar hawkmoth, cream-spot tiger, treble brown spot, treble bar, sandy carpet, green carpet, common marbled carpet, willow beauty, clouded silver, buff ermine, coxcomb prominent, heart and dart, marbled minor, shears, Vines rustic, mottled rustic and snout.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011


Like lots of the other butterflies this spring, this first large skipper of the year has appeared earlier than usual at the country park. It spent most of the middle of Wednesday 25th sunning itself on a sheltered elder bush near the car park. The first meadow brown of the year was also seen in the same area, pausing briefly on a bush before flying off. Other butterflies seen were common blue, holly blue, small white, small heath and small tortoiseshell. A Mother Shipton moth flitted amongst the long grass during the day.

Birds noted at the park during the day included 2 whimbrel flying off the mud as the tide came in and also the cuckoo calling from the car park in the morning.

Andy Field managed to locate the tawny owl perching in a tree in Shop Lane, close to where an owl box has been installed. A turtle dove, yellowhammer and lesser whitethroat were singing in the same area. Later on Reeveshall he noted the greenshank and 2 avocets on the pool while along the Pyefleet mud were 92 dunlin, 6 black-tailed godwits and 30 grey plover. A pair of Mediterranean gulls flew over over calling, as a pair also did over his West Mersea garden.

The first lime hawkmoth, pictured above, was found in the moth trap at the park on Wednesday morning along with a poplar hawkmoth. About 40 moths of 20 species were noted in the trap. Also recorded were 4 cream spot tiger moths, pebble prominent, buff ermine, snout, setaceous hebrew character, mottled rustic, rustic shoulder knot, heart and dart, marbled minor, common swift, cinnabar, white-point and light emerald.

This was a fresh green carpet with dark green colouring showing up well. Several of the ones already seen this spring have been quite faded.

While some parts of the UK received a real battering from the strong winds on Monday, here on Mersea we escaped the worst of it. As the sun managed to shine all day here, it never felt that bad. The sea looked rough for this part of the coastline with the wind whipping up the white tops to the waves.

Luckily it wasn't one of the very high spring tides today as the waves could've done a lot of damage to the coastline.

The winter waves failed to uproot the only sea kale plant that grows on the park beach. Only a handful of these plants manage to grow along the south side of the Island but never to the big size often found on other beaches.

During a late afternoon walk on Monday along to the Point, 2 pairs of ringed plover looked as if they were holding territory, 3 avocets were on the nearby pools and a common tern fished along the dyke. Two male reed buntings were seen, as were 2 pairs of linnets at the Point.

In the fields 12 greylag geese, pair of gadwall, pair of oystercatchers were seen while 2 big broods of a dozen mallard ducklings were on the pools and a little grebe with young on the dyke.
Two cuckoos flew over the car park and a third one was seen later crossing west over the river Colne from Brightlingsea.

Saturday, 21 May 2011


Met up with Chris Nowers and Julie Shead on Saturday 21st at their East Mersea caravan, so that they could show me their almost complete bison skeleton that they uncovered recently on the mudflats. Steve Boreham from Cambridge University came and looked at the bones a fortnight ago and confirmed the bison bones as being about 120,000 years old.
The photo above was taken earlier by Chris and shows all of the bones on display. The ribs, skull, vertebrae, jawbones, femur and shoulder-blade are some of the recognisable bones here.

Chris had laid out the bones on his table for us to admire. These had been excavated within the last few weeks and he'd done a good job in cleaning all the mud off.

The bison skull was the very first bone that was sticking out of the mud and led to the discovery of other bones beside it. The short horns of the bison can be seen on this skull. Young Louie Shead, nephew of Julie, spotted the first bone sticking out and helped Chris to recover some of the bones from the mud.

These are the two parts of the upper jaw, still with some of the teeth in place. Although many of the bones have decayed a bit, it was still possible to hold the lower jaw next to the upper jaw and place it beside the skull, so that you could get an idea of the size and shape of the head.

Once the tide went out Chris took me out onto the mud and after a few sweeps with his hand in the hole, pulled out another vertebrae. It's likely there are more bones to be found and we're hoping that a professional dig might get organised in the near future.

This bison dates from the warm Ipswichian interglacial period 120,000 ago and appears to have come from a site very close to the East Mersea "Hippo site", where bones of a hippo, elephant sp, bison/auroch and giant deer were found several decades ago. Steve suggested that this animal may have walked into some swamp and got stuck, dying in situ. The bones had showed no signs of being attacked or eaten by a predator and that it had probably died naturally.
A bison bone was also recovered from under the country park cliff in the late 1980's.


It was a pleasant surprise to see eight very young mute swan cygnets on the park pond on Saturday 21st. I wasn't aware of anyone else seeing them before today although they already look two or three days old. They swam strongly behind the mother in a tight formation as she created an easy passage through the mat of floating algae.

The last hour of the day at the pond saw a sparrowhawk and a cuckoo fly over with a mix of 50 sand martins and a few swallows hawking over the trees. On the pond a pair of gadwall, 4 pochard and 6 tufted ducks were seen. On the pools in the grazing fields a mallard brood of 10 ducklings were feeding while nearby 3 young fox cubs were play-fighting with each other.

A pair of Mediterranean gulls flew over the car park in the morning and later a little egret passed over eastwards and then a little tern flew over calling as it headed to the beach. As the tide went out 4 whimbrel and 5 curlew were on the mud as was a small mixed flock of 20 dunlin and ringed plover.

The family of blue tits left the nest in the toilet building with this youngster having a traumatic start to its fledged life. It fluttered from the nest inside the store room and accidentally plopped into a water cistern. Luckily I was inside at the time and heard the splashing about and fished it out of the water tank by hand and took it outside so that it could dry off in the sunshine. The picture above shows it none the worse for its ordeal!

Had a rewarding walk around the park in the morning with Rob Smith the Essex butterfly recorder for Butterfly Conservation, who had wanted to see some of the park's green hairstreaks. The butterflies didn't disappoint and this green hairstreak pictured above was one of about 5 or 6 individuals we saw. Other butterflies seen were 2 brown argus, 4 common blue, small copper, 5 small heath, small white, 2 holly blue, 2 speckled wood and orange-tip.

The day-flying Mother Shipton moth was on the wing in a couple of places - the wing markings supposedly resembling the face of the old Yorkshire witch.

The morning sunshine also saw one hairy dragonfly hawking near the pond field and lots of damselflies were either blue-tailed or the azure damselflies. A reddish-brown youngish adder crossed the grass path in front of us. There was a report earlier in the day of a grass-snake being seen basking near to an adder.

Thursday, 19 May 2011


The family of blue tits nesting in the toilet store room in the country park, had seen two of their youngsters leave the nest a bit early on Thursday 19th. This blue tit chick fluttered towards me and clung onto my sweatshirt, while continuing to chirp loudly for attention. I picked it up on my finger as in the picture above and placed it and its sibling back into the nest. Regular checks throughout the day revealed the chicks were staying in the nest with the parents continuing to feed the whole brood.

There was the nice surprise of a garden warbler in the back of my garden at the park, singing at 5am while I checked the moth trap. It sang from inside some blackthorn bushes and allowed some brief views as it slowly worked its way amongst the foliage. A blackcap was also singing in another nearby tree for comparison.

Two cuckoos could be heard singing from different directions as day broke at the park. Later in the day 2 Mediterranean gulls flew over the car park, two whimbrels and a greenshank flew off the mudflats calling.

Enjoyed an evening walk along the Reeveshall seawall with the tide well out along the Pyefleet Channel. Feeding on one of the grass fields were 13 Mediterranean gulls with a variety of differing ages (except this year's juveniles). The field appears to have become a popular feeding site for them as 13 of them were also seen the previous evening too.

On the Reeveshall pool were 18 shelduck, 3 avocets, 4 redshank, pair of gadwall, mute swan, little grebe, coot, little egret, 4 lapwing and 2 oystercatchers. Feeding on various saltings and pastures were groups of geese with 10 Canada geese and 25+ greylag geese. A male yellowhammer sang briefly as did a turtle dove and two cuckoos were heard singing with a third bird also noted on the nearby Langenhoe ranges.

There was one one group of waders feeding halfway along the north side of the Pyefleet as the sun began to drop down at the end of the evening. Forty-five knot, 140 dunlin, 30 grey plover, 15 turnstone, 4 curlew and whimbrel were the main waders noted. Two little terns were seen fishing along the channel. The only marsh harriers noted were four on Langenhoe, otherwise the raptor activity was quiet.

At the end of the day a little owl was seen beside the East Mersea road at Bromans Lane and another bird near Meeting Lane too.

There was a good showing of these cream-spot tiger moths in the trap at the park during Wednesday night. There have often been evenings in previous springs when maybe up to eight cream-spots have been found but never double-figure counts like this. Most of these dozen moths arrived before midnight while it was still cloudy. The skies soon cleared and the temperature dropped for the second half of the night.

Nearly a hundred individuals of 24 species of macro moth were recorded when the trap was checked at 4am, before it got light and before the crows got to the trap.

One of the most numerous moths was the small common swift pictured above, with about 25 individuals noted with also good numbers of cinnabar moths.

This fresh shears moth with its pale grey scissor-like marks in the centre of each wing, was the first record of the spring here. One or two are often recorded each year at the park.

The muslin moth pictured above was also the first one of the year here and although its recorded each year, only one or two records.

The white ermine with the aptly described ermine-like appearance, turns up regularly at the trap in the spring.

Other moths noted included the poplar hawkmoth, iron prominent, heart and dart, white-point, marbled minor, brown silver-lines, green carpet, clouded silver, yellow belle, lime-speck pug, Chinese character, mottled rustic and light emerald.

David Nicholls counted at least 22 colonies of the ground lackey caterpillars around the Ray Island saltmarsh during a two hour search this afternoon.

At the park on Tuesday morning 6 green hairstreak, two common blue butterflies and a hairy dragonfly were noted. A Mother Shipton moth was seen in a grass field to the north of the park on Tuesday too.

Monday, 16 May 2011


Did a circuit around the Firs Chase area of West Mersea on Monday 16th after a female crossbill flew over calling and then landed in a tall cedar tree in our garden! It stayed for only a minute but it was long enough to grab the binoculars from inside and admire the unusual crossed-bill as it perched up and looked round. Having dashed back inside to let my wife Nolly see the bird too, it allowed another brief view before it flew away, not to be seen again. This cedar tree must be a good vantage point for passing crossbills as a group of ten birds stopped off here about 8 or 9 years ago.

The colourful scene in the picture above is the display of beaked hawksbeard amongst the grass next to the Firs Chase caravan site. Basking on a bare but sheltered tussock near the Feldy View were about ten common lizards. A hobby flashed over the caravan site and headed south over the houses scattering some of the swallows as it hurtled past. Up to twenty swifts were noted during the walk as were a pair of reed buntings. In the Quarters a little tern and a common tern were both seen too.

Martin Cock reported seeing a hobby at Maydays on Monday morning and Martin Dence also saw one to the north of the park upsetting the local swallows on the same day.

One or two butterflies were enjoying the brief warmth on Monday with this small white resting during a period of cloud. Green-veined white, orange-tip and speckled wood were some of the others noted.

Whilst walking over the St Peters saltmarsh at West Mersea, admiring some of the small patches of thrift, managed to find six balls of caterpillars of the rare ground lackey moth. It was also interesting to find one group only 5 metres from the Coast Road pavement on the saltmarsh by the houseboats. A further five balls were also found on the saltmarsh in front of the Firs Chase caravan site.

During a late Sunday walk along the Strood seawall it was noted that most of the white flowers of hoary cress had passed their peak. The tide was well out but few waders were seen on the big expanse of mud. Those seen were 2 turnstone, 2 curlew, whimbrel, 2 grey plover, 6 oystercatcher, 4 redshank while a greenshank was only heard as it flew over Ray Island.

A male marsh harrier flew over the Pyefleet side of The Strood and another one was seen over Feldy. The fresh north-westerly breeze helped blow the songs of the cuckoo and a nightingale from Ray Island. A yellow wagtail, 2 corn buntings, 4 reed warblers and a reed bunting were seen or heard alongside the dyke.

Saturday, 14 May 2011


Took to the water at West Mersea in a canoe with my wife Nolly and paddled up the Ray Channel on Saturday 14th. There were some colourful patches of pink in many places on Ray Island with lots of thrift or sea pink, plants in flower.

It was nice and peaceful on the Island although one nightingale was singing loudly from the scrub as was a blackcap, whitethroat and the cuckoo too. Other birds noted were a common sandpiper, kestrel, yellow wagtail, 2 great crested grebes, 8 little terns, one common tern and 2 little egrets.

It didn't take long to find the brown balls of caterpillars of the nationally scarce ground lackey moth on the saltmarsh on Ray Island. A quick walk around the eastern end of the Ray revealed about five separate spots where masses of caterpillars were gathered. Beside the caterpillars was often an extensive trail of silk, which helped locate them.

No doubt there were lots more ground lackey caterpillars elsewhere on this extensive saltmarsh. David Nicholls the Island's warden reported seeing more of these caterpillars on the saltmarsh close to the Strood causeway. The caterpillars feed on the leaves of various saltmarsh plants such as sea purslane and sea lavander.

It was a surprise to see this birds-wing moth inside the house resting on the side on a packet of biscuits! Having taken it outside and placed it on the flowers of chives, it started to probe the flowers to feed even in the middle of the day. The bird's-wing moth with the characteristic "bird's wing markings", is noted annually at the country park each summer in small numbers.

Friday, 13 May 2011


It was nice and sunny for a walk along the seawall to the Reeveshall pool in East Mersea on Friday 13th. The water level has dropped a little revealing the start of more mud to show. A greenshank was the main wader of note with the only other waders here being three lapwing and a redshank. A pair of mute swans, pair of shelduck, mallard and some black-headed gulls were also present.

Circling above Reeveshall were 4 marsh harriers, while on the grass fields were 2 Mediterranean gulls and 3 whimbrel. Along the Pyefleet there was little of note despite the tide being out and only a couple of marsh harriers seen over on Langenhoe.

Meeting Lane always has a nice display of cow parsley flowering in the spring - one of the few verges not taken over yet by the pernicious Alexanders plants. On the walk along the footpath east to Shop Lane two cuckoos were heard calling, yellowhammer singing, 2 lesser whitethroats, blackcap and five common whitethroats also singing. A kestrel and green woodpecker were also seen flying over the fields.

In the sheltered spots out of the breeze were several butterflies including this small tortoiseshell. Two green hairstreaks were also of note while small copper, 20+ small heaths, peacock, holly blue, speckled wood, orange-tip along with large, small and green-veined white were also seen.


The moth trap was operating through the nights of both Tuesday 10th and Wednesday 11th at the country park. The cream-spot tiger moth, pictured above, is one of the star attractions of a trapping session here during May and June. The moth is just as colourful above as it is from the underneath displaying it's striking markings and vermilion coloured body, as in the photo below.

One individual was in the trap on Wednesday morning followed by two in the trap the next morning. In previous years there have been half a dozen cream-spot tigers that come to the trap overnight. The moth is reasonably well distributed along the grassy coastline of Essex. During the day the occasional individual can get unwittingly flushed from the long grass, whereby its big wings flicker black, yellow and cream as it flies away.

This swallow prominent moth was the first of the season at the trap. It's a moth that prefers to stay very still during the day, relying on the long profile of its long wings with the swallow-tailed shape, to help it blend in with the tree trunk or branch its resting on.

Other moths noted included oak hook-tip, common swift, common carpet, red twin-spot carpet, latticed heath, marbled minor, poplar hawkmoth, white ermine, mottled rustic, pale prominent, coxcomb prominent, heart and dart and flame shoulder.

Whilst helping students from Writtle Agricultural College on Wednesday carry out a botanical survey of the saltmarsh near the East Mersea Point, three tight balls of these caterpillars of the ground lackey moth were found on Wednesday. I managed to count about 100 caterpillars in this ball and although I've seen the caterpillars on the saltmarsh before, I've only seen them as scattered individuals. The moth is restricted to saltmarshes mainly in the south and east of the UK and is listed as nationally scarce. The occasional adult turns up at the moth trap in early August.

The five regular eider were seen offshore from the park on Wednesday just after high tide. A turtle dove was heard singing from Bromans Farm on Thursday and 5 swifts were seen flying over the park on the same day. Small groups of swifts are now a regular sight over the skies of West Mersea, as more return from Africa.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011


There are masses of insects enjoying the continuing sunshine such as these mating azure damselflies seen at the country park on Tuesday 10th. Alongside the path near the hide, many of the brightly blue males can be seen resting or flying amongst the nettles and other plants. Also noted were lots of the blue-tailed damselflies and one hairy dragonfly hawking along the path.

One or two lesser stag beetles such as this one above, are often seen each year at the park. This beetle is much smaller than its cousin the stag beetle and the pincers at the front of the lesser stag are much smaller too.

It's turning out to be a very good spring for butterflies at the park, helped by the sunshine this year as well as the very sunny spring last year too. Two brown argus' butterflies flitted low over the grassland near the park entrance. This photo above was the best shot I could manage as they never settled for long enough.

The green hairstreak season might be at its peak with several pairs of males tussling in most corners of the park. There could be up to a dozen around the park although their green markings make them hard to spot if they're not seen flying. The brimstone, small copper, small heath were some of the 12 species of butterfly seen at the park on Monday.

This small yellow underwing moth must be the smallest of any of the "macro moths" recorded at the park. It flitted from flower to flower in the middle of the day and unsually for most moths, was enjoying the sunshine, quivering its wings when resting on a flower.

This scalloped hazel was one of 20 species of moth seen in the trap on Monday morning. Amongst the other moths seen were the peacock, blood-vein, pebble prominent, light emerald, green carpet, common carpet, red twin-spot carpet, brimstone, cinnabar, latticed heath, brindled pug, Chinese character, common swift, rustic shoulder knot, shuttle shaped dart, heart and dart and hebrew character.

The main bird of interest was the first turtle dove at the park this spring, seen perching on an oak tree at the back of the fields on Monday. A short while later in the morning it was singing from trees at the back of the pond. The male marsh harrier returned to hunt low causing a brief moment of panic at the pond and then over the grazing fields where it was chased off by lapwings.

Martin Cock was lucky enogh to be looking up in the sky from his garden on Monday and watched a ringtail Montagu's harrier fly north-east overhead. Needless to say it didn't stay around and wasn't seen again.